Steve Ehrlich’s 47 Year Journey Through HVAC and Refrigerants
After returning from military service overseas during the Vietnam War, Steve Ehrlich had several choices to make. The year was 1974. Steve was smart, ambitious, and already an extremely experienced technician, having serviced flight instrumentation in various military aircraft. Of all his options before him, Steve certainly was not planning a career path in the HVAC/R trades. But, like many others who followed him into this exploding industry, Steve was curious and looking for something interesting to do.
“I enjoyed my time in the Air Force. I enjoyed playing with those fantastic toys.”
The Son of a school administrator, Steve was accustomed to frequent relocations. Moreover, he was ready for a challenge that would surpass those he faced while in the Airforce. “I enjoyed my time in the Air Force. I enjoyed playing with those fantastic toys,” Steve recalled recently. And after a short time studying physics, Steve realized the fundamental shifts taking place in the energy industries. “Energy was a big deal back then because of the oil embargo and gas shortages. So, I thought I’d get into solar engineering.”
While studying for a solar thermal degree in Colorado Springs, Steve conducted his first full fledged energy audit at a small Bible College. “It had about 25 buildings. My job was to go into every building to conduct the audit. This was going to be my senior thesis instead of solar design. So I assembled all the information for everything in each of the 25 buildings. That meant looking at everything connected to electrically, gas, water. Basically, I was beginning the study of facility management, finding out what’s in a building, what makes a building tick. And you couldn’t Google things back then. You actually had to put a stamp on something, write out your question, and send it to the manufacturer’s address that you found on the data plate of a unit.”
It was during this time that Steve met a representative at Johnson Controls. “I showed the Johnson Controls guy this book with all the information I put together for my thesis on the Bible College Buildings. And of course, it’s everything that Johnson Controls service people do,” Steve says. Johnson wisely hired Steve while he still had three months left in school. “They let me pick anywhere I wanted to go. So I picked Albuquerque.
Steve was assigned to manage the facilities of a large telecom company and several other projects that shaped his future in managing refrigerants – and the people who work with them. “We kept those buildings running. We started building a new data center for them. And that’s when I got to know the technicians. I got to know that they specialized in various areas of refrigeration. We had chiller people, the big chillers, water cooled chillers, where you had a cooling tower. Those guys were prima donnas. Then we had the air-cooled guys, whether it was a little five ton unit like you had at your house, or a window unit, refrigerators. Then we ran a wind tunnel out of Kirtland Air Force Fase. So we had ultra low temp cascade people who ran this thing to meet Air Force specs for the temperature they wanted to achieve in that wind tunnel when they were testing different things.
We had Sandia National labs where they made top secret things along with Los Alamos. And then we had White Sands missile range for the really cute stuff. This was the beginning of Regan’s Star Wars push. I got involved in that. We had to build a 747 with a laser that was supposed to shoot things down. But when it was on the ground you had to clamp air conditioning to it for refrigeration so that you could keep all the computers and the laser pieces and parts cold. So, it was a fun time technology-wise.
“That’s a fundamental part of compliance. You have to walk in the shoes of the guys that do it. So you know how to beat them up when they’re not doing the paperwork.”
And that’s where I got the knowledge to work with technicians, to know what was going on. Because that’s a fundamental part of compliance. You have to walk in the shoes of the guys that do it. So you know how to beat them up when they’re not doing the paperwork.”
As Steve moved through, and help build, the refrigerants industry, he began to realize the importance of top influencers in the growing field. He recounts, “the early people that were investing in compliance were the technicians. They wanted a way to quickly document what they were measuring.”
Decades later, upon his retirement, Steve sees the same challenges. How do facilities managers, compliance officers, sustainability advisors, and CFO’s navigate the ever-changing, confusing world of refrigerant management in 2022 and beyond? “And the only way you can do that is tracking. And you’ve got to have a strategy for what’s happening,” Steve explains. “Using the lessons learned from last generation refrigerants, nothing happens overnight. You have to have fear to have compliance. There’s still CFC machines out there and they will be till the end of their life. So, knowing your assets is the secret to success. We see this with companies that might join Trakref as a customer. If there’s not a fire under your seat from your boss or if senior management isn’t behind refrigerate compliance and sustainability, it doesn’t happen. It has to be driven from the top down.”
“And then my favorite words were, ‘Hey, as long as you care, I care.’’’
“It’s been fun,” Steve says about his four decades in the industry. “And then my favorite words were, ‘Hey, as long as you care, I care.’’’ And Steve sees that as the determining factor in both refrigerant compliance and sustainability. “ I know if you care, you’ll call me. And I’ll take care of you. That’s what made Trakref such a good fit for me in this work. They come alongside people who care and do the best job. And that’s why I still have lots of relationships with people that I worked with over the years, the care, right?”
Steve Ehrlich stated it perfectly. Trakref works with people who care about refrigerants and keeping them as safe as possible, while reporting the best possible data in the compliance process. Our goal is to help organizations generate investor grade data that goes beyond EPA and SEC compliance. For years, Steve has worked with Trakref to do exactly that. We wish him all the best as he enjoys a long retirement and hope to occasionally call on his expertise again.
Thank you, Steve Erhlich. For your service to our country, thank you. And for your curiosity, professionalism, and experience, you have our deepest appreciation.
Watch the full interview with Steve Erhlich here on Youtube.
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