The Evolution of Surna

Surna has evolved into a full-scale MEP design firm, manufacturer and provider of HVAC equipment, controls company, and implementer of all components in cannabis cultivation. We provide MEP drawings, support permitting, and coordinate with other design disciplines as needed.
July 16, 2020

When Surna was founded in 2006, no one could have predicted what the cannabis industry was really poised to do. It would be really fun to be able to claim that we saw the successful state by state (and country by country) legalization efforts coming, and that we knew the industry was on the edge of a revolution, but it wouldn’t be true. The truth is, we didn’t predict the future—it was our intention at our founding to serve the indoor gardening industry, as it existed at the time, with high quality products and practical, innovative solutions for managing cultivation environments. That changed within a few short years—and what ultimately happened with the industry, and with Surna, was really the result of some lucky timing and a lot of hard work.

As you can imagine, most of our business at the time came from California and Colorado, although we worked with retailers all over the country. Back then, we were primarily a product-based business, without engineering or service components, although we provided a lot of phone support to our clients. Our expertise was practical and applied, coming from both commercial construction and cultivation backgrounds. The products we developed at the time came from direct experience with both. Our first product was a custom fitted radiant barrier heat shield. It minimized the amount of radiant heat leaving the air-cooled reflectors that were the industry standard back then, lowering the load on air conditioning systems. From there we developed a water-cooled CO2 generator, and then hydronic heat exchangers, nutrient cooling devices and small tonnage chillers.

The industry started to take off, and so did we
Toward the end of the decade, the industry began to evolve in a major way. We began to see the writing on the wall and responded accordingly. We implemented our first full scale climate control system in a licensed, commercial cannabis facility in Arizona in 2011. Colorado’s medical laws were really starting to crystallize around that time as well. This allowed for larger scale cultivation. As a result, two things became abundantly clear: the emerging commercial cannabis industry would desperately need practical climate solutions that addressed the specific challenges of cultivators, and real, applied experience like ours was truly limited.

In early 2012, Hydro Innovations moved to Colorado and shortly after, became Surna. Around the same time, Colorado passed Amendment 64 legalizing recreational cannabis, Washington followed shortly after, and Canada legalized medical cannabis for medicinal use, all in a very short span of time. The industry changed almost overnight. Despite all the changes, we understood that cultivators still needed all the same things:

  • partners with expertise
  • solutions that worked
  • energy efficiencies to reduce operating costs

We quickly began designing products intended for larger scale facilities in conjunction with developing relationships with major suppliers in the HVAC industry to expand product offerings. During this time, our conviction that HVAC and climate control systems were among the most, if not the most, critical indicators of a commercial cultivator’s success only grew.

In a two-year span, Surna’s growth was astronomical. This sounds like a fairy tale, and in a lot of ways it was, but it was also incredibly difficult, resulting in long hours and a lot of airline miles. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but it taught us so much about who we really needed to be for our clients. Not just product suppliers, but also engineers, project managers, and in some ways, hand-holders to help our clients navigate the very difficult process of building a commercial cultivation facility. In order to accomplish this, we turned our focus to improving and expanding our infrastructure, processes and services to ensure that we could be and do what our clients really needed.

And we grew
As the industry continued to grow, so did Surna. We added a mechanical engineering department and a project management department to our team. This was the beginning of our migration from equipment manufacturer to providing a whole solution. From engineering, to equipment, and the coordination of all the moving parts associated with the HVAC related design and construction aspects of a cultivation facility. At the time, our focus was still primarily on hydronic (chilled and hot water) systems for cultivators.  We still believe these systems provide enormous value to most cultivators, but we also understand there is no “one size fits all” solution. It has always been our goal to be an educational resource for the industry, so we would lay out all the options with an honest assessment of the pros and cons of any approach. We continued to expand our product lines to offer our clients more and more options to fit their specific needs, and to continuously improve energy efficiencies and operability.

The need for sophisticated climate control systems became evident
It also became clear to us that there was a gaping hole in the HVAC controls offerings in our industry. While there were many “controls” companies in our industry, most of them had primary expertise in irrigation control, with the ability to turn things on and off to a set point—essentially, web-enabled thermostats. We understood that the modulating requirements of the more sophisticated climate systems were not achievable by most controls companies, and the benefits of that type of approach were going to be vital to keep cultivators competitive as the market continued to mature. In April of 2019, we released our SentryIQ® controls platform, with functionality required by more sophisticated climate control systems. This allows for perfection of climate conditions and data collection to help cultivators make decisions about their business over the long term. Over a year later, the performance of our controls platform has been stellar and we are so excited to continue rolling it out to more and more facilities.

But we weren’t finished
We understand that, beyond the common challenges that every cultivator faces, each facility is unique. We understand every possible approach to HVAC in cultivation facilities and the associated benefits and challenges with each. Our professional mechanical engineers can design anything, and we will. That means not just the hydronic systems that we started with, but every other possible approach as well. We review all the options with our clients to help them make an educated decision about their HVAC options—choosing a design approach that meets their needs and fits their budget.

And our full MEP engineering services advanced
We began to offer electrical and plumbing design as well—allowing us to provide a full mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) plan set required for permitting, all under one roof. Our direct experience with so many cultivation facilities, and the coordination requirements between engineering trades, put us in a unique position to be able to provide significant value to our clients this way.

Today we are a full-scale MEP design firm, manufacturer and provider of HVAC equipment, controls company, and implementer of all components. We provide MEP drawings, support permitting, and coordinate with other design disciplines as needed. We ensure that our client gets the best possible price for the mechanical equipment called out on drawings by leveraging our own manufacturing power along with our buying power with other manufacturers.

We drive down the cost of controls by deeply understanding the intent of the mechanical design—resulting in less design time, no waste, and faster implementation of systems to improve our clients’ time to market. We can monitor and review performance of our clients’ climate systems, ensuring that performance is optimized and clients are informed if something needs attention. We work closely with the construction trades onsite to make sure that installation is done correctly and corners aren’t cut. And we have a boots on the ground commissioning team that starts everything up, ensuring that it’s working as designed. And if it’s not, we figure out why, and we make sure it gets corrected. While we’re happy to provide some or all of these services to our clients, there is enormous value in this concept to commissioning service, particularly when it doesn’t result in any additional cost for our clients.

Surna is committed to providing first-class services and products to this evolving industry. We haven’t rested since our beginning and we’re not about to now. We’re excited about our company growth over the last 14 years and look forward to helping you grow yours too.

We’ve written a whitepaper discussing HVAC technologies available along with their pros and cons. You can download it from our web page here.

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