Dustin Thomas – Temperature Difference LLC
OK, everyone who aspired when they were young to have a career installing and servicing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems step forward.
The rest of us can now say hello to Dustin Thomas, the owner of Temperature Difference LLC, a Salt Lake City HVAC contracting firm he founded with his wife, Trisha, and $50 in the bank in 2007.
He launched the company nearly 15 years after he began working in the HVAC trade when he was 15. His inspiration came from observing that a family friend who worked in the industry was also the person who could fix nearly anything for everyone.
“I’m just somebody that wanted to do this from a time I could remember,” Thomas says. “And starting this company was about more than money. I wanted to do this industry my way and saw a better way going forward.”
Built from a customer base
While Thomas didn’t have money in the bank—or even access to credit—when he opened Temperature Difference, he did have a customer base he developed in his years of working for other contractors.
Since its inception, Temperature Difference has worked mostly with commercial and industrial customers, but Thomas says they will do residential work through word-of-mouth advertising. The company works as a subcontractor on new construction, remodeling and rehabilitation jobs.
The company takes on jobs mostly in Utah—a decision Thomas says is based mostly on the mileage and travel time needed to work in neighboring states.
Temperature Difference is also embracing new technologies in the HVAC industry, as seen by its work at Kiln, a 40,000-square-foot co-working space in Provo that was nearing completion as Thomas spoke with Blueprint in October.
New technology, solid partnership
The building’s open design and lack of ceiling tiles may provide great visual advertising for Temperature Difference as co-working tenants can observe how the heating and cooling system works, but Thomas says what excites him more is the variable refrigerant flow, or VRF, technology used at Kiln.
As he explains, VRF uses heat pumps to heat and cool buildings, doing so in a more energy-efficient manner. The technology has been improved well enough to be used in places such as Salt Lake City, where climate swings from the heat of summer to the cold of winter can be dramatic, Thomas adds.
He and his team worked with engineers from JTB Engineering on the design, focusing on practicality that extended to installing the system.
“We worked with JTB to make sure we dotted the I’s crossed the T’s,” Thomas says. “VRF is changing the industry immensely, and I think this job has turned out phenomenally.”
Redesign and reuse
VRF technology is also a feature at the Acaydia Med Spa and School in Provo, Utah, another collaborative project between Temperature Difference and JTB Engineering.
Thomas says the project got underway in October as they converted a three-story building resembling a house into a center for skincare education and a spa providing services including facials, dermasound treatments and Botox injections.
The challenge for Temperature Difference and JTB Engineering, who collaborated on the design and build processes, is the building. It’s not new construction, and a pizza shop formerly occupied the first floor. Acaydia also has a very specific vision for what the building should look like.
“Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome is to make what we’re doing fit inside the existing building and still be aesthetically pleasing for the owner, clients and customers who will come in,” Thomas says.
However, repurposing the building and providing state-of-the-art heating and cooling shows how well the companies work together and how Thomas communicates during projects.
“JTB complements my company the most, and we work flawlessly amongst ourselves and the architects,” he says. “Translating the system to our customers can be challenging, so I try to be transparent in normal, everyday terms.”
Growing the trades
One of Temperature Difference’s largest efforts in residential work is underway in Wanship, Utah, for Blue Sky Ranch, where the company has been working with JTB Engineering and Blue Sky Ranch’s owners on their personal home.
This home is the first of up to 60 custom homes that will be designed with geothermal heating & cooling. The home features unique features such as a living grass roof—the same features can also be found at the property’s resort, The Lodge at Blue Sky, known for luxury accommodations in a sustainable environment, including its Earth Suites that were built using locally sourced limestone & living grass roofs.
“The people at Blue Sky have been wonderful to work with, and we value their continued business,” he says.
The property also features a distillery, riding arena & event venue—Temperature Difference installed some of that site’s HVAC systems.
“I’m always looking at ways to improve our company,” Thomas says. “That includes everything from improving processes and making things more efficient to ensuring we’re putting our people in the right places to be successful.”
To do that, the company has an apprenticeship program and hires individuals who want to learn on the job. Thomas says they can take classes, get certifications and work in every aspect of this trade and learn hands-on.
“We have a saying here. We are our brother’s keeper. We have to teach our knowledge to the next generation of tradesmen. That is a mandate here and knowledge is shared with your brothers and sisters. We want to make sure this trade continues forward with well-educated tradesmen,” Thomas says.
Thomas got his start in the HVAC industry at a young age, and he and Trish Thomas got married when they were 16. Together, they have raised three children, two of which have joined the family business. Their oldest son, Bailey, leads installation teams. His wife & daughter Brianna provide the needed back-office and administrative support to keep operations going.
“My family has always been there during the trials and tribulations we faced,” Thomas says, adding they enjoy spending time outdoors and with their grandsons when away from work.
Temperature Difference also works with Fortis College in Salt Lake City to hire graduates of the school’s HVAC program, saying the school is crucial to building a skilled workforce ready to use new technologies to help the company grow.
No matter what new technologies emerge, Thomas says the approach to doing business remains constant—being true to themselves and their principles. Making sure company decisions reflect who he is keeps him grounded.
“When you work for someone, you may have one or several bosses,” Thomas observes. “When you go into business for yourself, you have many bosses. It’s not a 9 to 5 thing; it’s all-encompassing. But I still wouldn’t do it differently.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.
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