Melink’s Bold Steps Towards Sustainable Innovation

MILFORD, Ohio — In an open field surrounded by solar panels, founder, CEO, and visionary Steve Melink stands where Melink Corporation’s second headquarters will be erected. Just across the street from the first building, the second headquarters will be similar in structure but will improve on its design.

As Melink says, the company is “taking building science to the next level.” Even throughout the winding driveway of the company’s property, Melink’s prioritization of sustainability and energy efficiency is prominently on display. The parking lot allocates spaces to charging electric vehicles, and the field next to the parking lot hosts large solar panels…and that is just the exterior of the building. Upon entering the Melink HQ, natural daylight illuminates the workspace in contrast to the anticipated fluorescent office lighting. The building is not only designed to be energy efficient. It also strives to cultivate a productive work environment for employees. Windows can be opened for fresh air to circulate throughout the building. Employees share that they are much happier and more productive in the space that puts the priority on them compared to the all too common stale workplace environments.

Since the first headquarter building, HQ1, was completed in 2006, it has been regularly upgraded. Today, Melink is proud to have achieved net-zero energy use in their headquarters building. It actually produces more energy than it consumes. The building’s innovations have received public recognition including several awards, but Steve Melink is not content. He sees an opportunity in the upcoming building (HQ2), to push the boundary even more and implement new innovations that have been developed in the last 15 years.

An Idea and a Basement

Steve Melink founded Melink Corporation in 1987 after developing its first product, a Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) test and balance system, in the basement of his home. Thirty years later, the company has expanded to over 100 employees throughout the country with a focus on four business products.

Melink specializes in the installation and design of their Intelli-Hood product, solar PV panels, and their most recent expansion: a geothermal HVAC system. Each of these systems offer energy efficient solutions and save Melink’s clients money. The Intelli-Hood is used on commercial kitchen hoods. Melink’s website explains that “the patented Intelli-Hood controls visually monitor the level of cooking activity and automatically instructs the exhaust fan to operate only as fast as necessary.”

“When we slow those fans down during idle, non-cooking periods, we’re not throwing away all that conditioned air,” Melink said. The Intelli-Hoods are staples in many nationally-recognized chains, including McDonalds and Walmart. Over the past 10 years, Melink has expanded into solar PV and geothermal systems. One of its most prominent local solar projects is the 1.56 megawatt solar canopy over the Cincinnati Zoo’s parking lot producing about 20 percent of the zoo’s electricity and providing shade for visitors’ cars.

Melink’s products are in niche markets, yet as corporations increasingly become cost- and energy-aware, their sales continue to
grow. As a privately-owned company, Melink does not release their revenues publicly, but they aim to grow their profits by 15-30 percent annually. Their geothermal service includes innovative new technology that drastically reduces the heating and cooling costs for residences and commercial buildings. As Melink’s website explains, “geothermal heat pumps use the ground as a heat exchanger via a closed-loop water circuit.” In the winter months, the geothermal pumps take heat from the ground and transfers it into the building. In the summer, the system does the opposite, bringing warm air from the building and pumping it into the ground. Melink expects that geothermal can experience the same growth as solar and will become a mainstream solution to powering buildings.

Residential and commercial building owners often look for the smallest upfront cost, neglecting to consider the hidden costs that will impact them for the rest of the building’s life cycle. Melink’s message is that people should not be afraid of the up front investment in a better building design. The more efficient a building is, the lower the long-term hidden costs will be. He thinks of this as an iceberg. “The cost of most homes or buildings is the tip of the iceberg that you see,” Melink said. “The rest of the iceberg that you can’t see under the water is what you are going to pay for the life of the building.”

Taking Sustainable Building to the Next Level

Though their employee base has expanded more slowly, the company is nearing full capacity in its first building, which prompted Melink to look to expand. Melink plans for the new HQ2 building to serve as a showcase of innovation and prove to the public that such an energy efficient design is accessible and feasible for most companies. “Sustainability, renewable energy and energy efficiency are ways of the future, and the world needs more of these,” Melink said. “We want to be a leader in this space.” In the design, Melink first focuses on reducing the electric load of the building as much as possible, and then covering the significantly reduced electric power needs through solar photovoltaic cells.

Strategies for improving the efficiency of the building’s envelope, will include increasing insulation values, and specifying window glazing designed to reduce winter heat losses while reducing summer heat gains. To most people, the window frames might seem like a small area of the building, but as they are often made of aluminum, they have a dramatically higher thermal heat transfer than other building materials.

By minimizing the exposed surface area and providing thermal breaks to reduce heat loss, the window frames will be much more efficient. Through these and other efficient construction-detailing measures, the heating and cooling loads for HQ2 will be dramatically lower than other similar building structures. This will in turn reduce the amount of electricity the building needs. HQ2 will feature a solar PV array sized with the goal of reaching netzero energy. Although the company is already known as an innovative and sustainable company, its employees constantly search for opportunities to improve, whether it be on the design of products or the space in which they work. As Melink said, “this is what leaders do, you take bold steps.”

by: Sarah Siegel