Meet Your Merchant: Heating, cooling contractor adjusts to business climate

When the mercury drops business picks up for Capital Control Systems, said Rick Lepe, owner of the Carson City-based company that installs and repairs heating and cooling systems.

And while Lepe said he's seen a jump in business as temperatures reached double-digit negative numbers in some parts of the region this week, he said people have become increasingly cost conscious in this economy.

"In the old days they'd say, 'Just give me a new furnace' or, 'Go ahead and fix it, whatever it costs,'" Lepe said. "Now it's like, 'I only have X amount of money ... we just need you to limp it along, the bare minimum."

Still, "when you have no heat at all, you got to have something," Lepe said. "It's now a matter of survival. People don't have to have air conditioning, but you have to have heat."

Lepe, who grew up in Carson City, said he got into the heating and cooling business 22 years ago after attending a technical college in Arizona. He decided to stay in the capital because of its central location in Northern Nevada near Reno, Gardnerville and Lyon County.

"So it was just perfect for me to live here," Lepe said. "It's home, it's where I raised my family. ... There are so many contractors in Reno - I don't want to be another contractor."

Lepe opened Capital Control Systems in 2005, specializing in heating, air conditioning and control system installation. He eventually expanded the business to do more electrical work and green energy installation.

In 2007, the company was purchased by Las Vegas-based A1 Mechanical, which Lepe said gave the company the resources to do larger projects, such as shopping markets and high schools.

But after a record year for the company in 2008, which included 35 employees and $2.7 million in business, things made a dramatic turn in 2009.

In August, A1 Mechanical decided to end its Northern Nevada presence as a result of a frozen construction market, but helped Lepe restart his original business. This year, with seven employees, Lepe said Capitol Control Systems is poised to do about $1.5 million in business.

"Obviously construction is way down from where it was in past years, but we're mainly focusing on service," Lepe said. "Heating, air conditioning service as well as the electrical service."

Lepe said it all comes down to good work.

"The word spreads faster here if you do bad work than if you do good work," he said.

Lepe's company also installs green technologies, such as solar panels and windmills, for homeowners who are willing to make the investment to decrease a carbon footprint or power bill.

"You could completely customize it and the sky's the limit," Lepe said. "These systems are getting more affordable, but they're still out of reach for the normal, middle income family."

Lepe said a federal $1,500 tax credit for green energy investments has helped, adding the technology likely will come down in price in the next five to 10 years.

But given the amount of energy Americans are consuming, Lepe said the first place to save energy and money is by living more efficiently.

"The biggest thing I tell people is we can really save them money," he said. "But the first place they have to look is ... at themselves to really conserve energy."


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