From Basement to HVAC Powerhouse: Interview with Joe Sbarra

By: Edwin Warfield, Publisher, CityBiz

After beginning his career as a degreed sales engineer for the Trane Company, Joe Sbarra founded Gil-Bar Industries with his partner John Gill in July of 1986. The company had a family feel from the start: working out of the basement of a residential home in Brooklyn, the city where Joe was born and raised. In fact, the company’s first employee was Joe’s mom, who did everything from answering the phone to cooking meals for clients and factory visitors.

As Gil-Bar grew, Joe built and preserved a company culture that extends the values of family to every individual within the firm, and to every client the firm serves. These values are reflected in the way Gil-Bar cares deeply about every single project and all of the people who come together to make it work. They’re reflected in the way Gil-Bar protects everyone associated with the firm by insisting on excellence and taking responsibility for finding solutions where everyone wins.

As Joe says: “In order to maintain a great working relationship with our clients, we have to be friends with them. We have to have their backs.”

This philosophy has allowed Joe and John to attract and retain the “cream of the crop” in the HVAC industry, now including 24 degreed sales engineers and 22 inside engineering support staff. Today, Gil-Bar offers the strongest solution-based HVAC engineering team in the tri state area and is widely regarded as the nation’s premier engineering rep force.

“We’re entering our 35th year of providing expert guidance to our clients and we’re proud of the projects we’ve built together. We’ve become the largest solution-based HVAC company in the industry, proving ourselves with over 2000 clients daily across multiple market segments. But as we’ve grown, our philosophy and focus have never changed: we build working relationships as a family. We work together to find the best solutions, always. There is no project or problem too big or too small for Gil-Bar. We will figure it out.”

Connect with Joseph on LinkedIn

Interview questions:

Founding | You founded Gil-Bar in a basement in Brooklyn in 1986. Please tell us about the launch of Gil-Bar.

Introduction | Can you provide a snapshot of Gil-Bar today? How many locations, employees…?

Timeline | What are some of the key milestones since 1986?

Partner | Tell me about the role of your other partners and their part in Gil-Bar’s growth”

Private Equity|When did you decide to pursue private equity? Tell us about the Intermediate Capital Group.

Merger | Last November, Gil-Bar Solutions merged with HC Nye. Tell us about the merger and the results to date.

Growth | What are the growth plans for Gil-Bar?

Global Warming Potential: Is It Time for a Change?

What to expect with refrigerant phase-outs in HVAC


Chris Plummer, Product Manager, Gil-Bar Industries


If you’re a professional within the HVAC industry, you know that the EPA is constantly changing codes and regulations to be better to our planet. Sometimes, those changes can seem hard to understand or adapt to, but knowing the true impact of your equipment can help. Lately, the EPA has made changes to ensure equipment is not using “high global-warming-potential” (or GWP) refrigerants. Within the scientific community, there is a fear that the high GWP refrigerants can leak and in turn add to Ozone depletion.  As a result, we’ve seen certain refrigerants in the industry begin to “phase out.”

But what is Global Warming Potential and what are the other determining factors for a “sustainable” refrigerant? Well, it turns out there are three main criteria:

Global Warming Potential (GWP): The metric used to compare the global warming impact of greenhouse gases compared to a reference gas, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), where its GWP is equal to 1. For example, R-134a refrigerant has a GWP rating of 1,430, indicating that it has 1,430 times the 100-year warming potential of the same volume of CO2. R-410a has a rating of 2,088, indicating that it has 2,088 times the 100-year warming potential of the same volume of CO2. In this case, R-134a would be considered a more sustainable refrigerant.

Toxicity: Relative toxicity to humans, broken into two classes:

  • Class A (Lower Toxicity): Refrigerants for which toxicity has been identified at concentrations less than or equal to 400 parts per million (PPM).
  • Class B (Higher Toxicity): Refrigerants for which toxicity has been identified at concentrations greater than 400 parts per million (PPM).

Flammability: There are four classes of flammability (From Figaro):

  • Class 1: When tested, the refrigerant saw no flame propagation at 140°F (60°C)and 14.7 psia (101.3 kPa).
  • Class 2: When tested, the refrigerant exhibited flame propagation at 140°F (60°C)and 14.7 psia (101.3 kPa), had a heat of combustion less than 19,000 kJ/kg (8,174 British thermal units BTU/lb), and had a lower flammability limit (LFL) greater than 0.10 kg/m3.
  • Class 2L: When tested, the refrigerant had a maximum burning velocity of 3.9 in./s (10 cm/s)or lower when tested at 73.4°F (23.0°C) and 14.7 psia (101.3 kPa). The purpose of the 2L subclass is to reflect the lower flammability properties of the new low-GWP refrigerant options on the rise, such as hydrofluorolefins (HFOs), like R-1234ze.
  • Class 3: When tested, the refrigerant exhibited flame propagation at 140°F (60°C)and 14.7 psia (101.3 kPa) and either had a heat of combustion of 19,000 kJ/kg (8,174 BTU/lb) or greater or a LFL of 0.10 kg/m3 or lower.

Standards (like ASHRAE 15 and EN 378) and guidelines use this number to determine what size charge is permitted in an occupied space such that if one were to leak, it would not exceed the concentration limit.

So What Does It All Mean?

Over the past 30 years, some of the phase outs brought on by the EPA we have included: Ammonia, R-22, and R-123. The next refrigerants to be retired will be R-134a and R-410a. R-134a is commonly used in large tonnage HVAC equipment including Air-Cooled and Water-Cooled Chillers. R-410a is used in smaller HVAC equipment like Roof Top Units (RTUs), Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) units and even window units.

There are 12 states, including New York and New Jersey, that are seeing the phase out of R-134a by the end of 2023. The challenge we face now is that there is no replacement. R-134a had the best heat transfer properties and flammability rating compared to known legal refrigerants. As a result, the only options now will be to utilize a less efficient refrigerant or one with a higher flammability rating. A less efficient refrigerant will lead to more energy usage in order to get the same amount of cooling. Considering that most of our energy comes from fossil fuels, we will be adding more carbon to the atmosphere to obtain the additional energy required, having the opposite of the intended effect. Similarly, moving to Class 2 refrigerants introduce whole new challenges, having to take life safety into consideration. Moreover, most localities do not allow flammable refrigerants to be present in buildings, so we are at a crossroads.

Even for R-410a (Freon), we see the same challenges, with it being replaced by R-454b and R-32. Both of which are A2L refrigerants. Luckily, the R-410a phase-out will not happen until the start of 2025.

Almost all major manufacturers have decided already to go with an A2L refrigerant, compounding the effects previously outlined. While the end goal is to stay compliant and reduce global warming potential, we will need to see some local code changes to account for new equipment in the coming years.

Chris Plummer is a product manager at Gil-Bar Industries. Since 1986, Gil-Bar has been the HVAC solutions company that offers greater engineering expertise, with deeper commitment to client success, than any other firm.

Chris Plummer
(646) 584-5031

Gil-Bar Expands Philadelphia Office and Continues Expansion Across East Coast

NEW YORK – August 10, 2021 – Gil-Bar Industries (“Gil-Bar”), a leading provider of heating, ventilation and air conditioning solutions and services in the U.S., announced its existing partnerships with ClimateMaster, ClimaCool, ClimateCraft, and the International Environmental Corporation (IEC) is now expanding to the Philadelphia office. Gil-Bar opened its doors with the IEC line, and has continued to represent them for over 30 years and is excited to expand its ever-growing relationship with Climate Control Group (CCG) to its Philadelphia territory.

“Gil-Bar is incredibly proud of the long history it has with the Climate Control Group and its companies,” said Joe Sbarra, founding Partner, Gil-Bar. “Our missions of providing environmentally friendly and efficient HVAC solutions are uniquely aligned, and our expansion into the Philadelphia area means that Gil-Bar is poised to maximize successful project delivery and customer satisfaction.”

The Philadelphia office was started as part of the GBS and GBI merger earlier this year. The sales teams in place there have 40+ years of experience in engineering and HVAC sales combined. As Gil-Bar continues to grow along the East Coast, it will look to expand more product offerings through existing manufacturer partnerships.

“With roots in New York and New Jersey, Gil-Bar’s Philadelphia office was as inevitable as it is exciting,” added Chris Bisaccia, Partner, Gil-Bar. “As one of the country’s major cities, Philadelphia and its citizens face unique HVAC-related issues for which our team has spent over three decades developing unparalleled expertise. This latest development is the next step in our journey to offer custom HVAC solutions to every building in need.”

About Gil-Bar Industries
Founded in 1986, Gil-Bar has become the largest and most comprehensive provider of HVAC solutions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Gil-Bar partners with building developers, architects, engineers and contractors to help design, install, problem-solve and service HVAC solutions for commercial, institutional, healthcare, life sciences and residential buildings. Gil-Bar has a team of more than 60 degreed sales engineers and works with over 40 equipment manufacturers. Gil-Bar delivers on more than 5,200 projects per year, with more than 85 percent of its business coming from repeat clients.

Gil-Bar in the News: “HVAC Solutions are Crucial to NYC’s Most Ascendant Asset Classes Right Now”

The following article originally appeared in the March 2021 edition of Mann Report.

Over the past few years, four property types have been gaining steam with commercial real estate investors, especially in the Tri-State area, where commercial and residential were king before Covid-19. Now, the talk is largely about life sciences, healthcare, warehouses and fulfillment centers, and data centers. Recent research by leading brokerages shows that favorable supply and demand metrics for these assets are not abating. 

For instance, the supply of U.S commercial laboratory space has grown 12% this year to 95 million square feet, with another 11 million square feet under construction, according to CBRE, which says rents will continue to climb despite supply. In terms of data center space, about one-third of the 373.6MW under construction has already been leased, according to CBRE, a figure that reflects stronger preleasing for the asset compared to last year. Regarding healthcare facilities, total private construction spending for healthcare has been at its highest in over a decade, per FRED data. And the volume of investment into medical office buildings is settling into a higher equilibrium, according to JLL, which cites $13.4 billion invested in 2019, nearly double the $6.8 billion spent in 2012. Meanwhile, an October report by NAIOP predicts that by 2025, there will be enough demand to satisfy 1 billion square feet of additional industrial real estate state space.  

What isn’t necessarily discussed are the specifications necessary for these facilities to perform optimally, especially HVAC requirements. Consider the following:

Life Sciences 

Life-sciences properties require some of the most highly specialized HVAC systems, and the property types are enjoying a renaissance in New York City. Nationally, demand for buildings that can accommodate life sciences research continues to climb, bolstered by public and private funding. 

These buildings typically house research labs, creating distinct challenges in airflow and filtration that need to be addressed by a robust HVAC system. These labs operate by BSL (biosafety level) ratings mandated by the CDC for containment of bioagents. The structure of HVAC systems becomes more complex to answer higher biosafety levels. A project may need separate breathing air systems, air handling units, exhaust systems and decontamination systems. These systems need to be structured within the building as to ensure researchers and scientists have a fresh supply of air and are not inhaling dangerous chemicals and bioagents.

Healthcare facilities

For healthcare and medical facilities like hospitals, medical offices or nursing and rehabilitation centers, it’s crucial to keep air as clean as possible. Infectious agents can spread quickly between rooms and common areas. In addition to temperature control, HVAC systems implemented into healthcare facilities need to be able to offer infection and odor control. Optimizing these systems to be able to operate with resiliency in the face of a power outage is also crucial. For larger facilities, HVAC systems need to carefully account for the number of air changes and proper filtration, based upon the number and types of rooms that could be in use at any given time.

Data Centers and Warehouse/Fulfillment Centers 

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted our reliance on ecommerce, a crescendo of demand for industrial space was fueling speculative development and repositioning of fulfillment centers. 

Although data centers and fulfillment centers represent different types of industrial space, they have similar HVAC needs. Data centers, for instance, require an optimal humidity and temperature to ensure their server rooms don’t fritz. Specialized HVAC solutions for data centers include systems that pump refrigerant, chilled water or indirect air evaporation. Environmental sensors are exceptionally useful to a data center HVAC system for tracking humidity, air flow and temperature.

Likewise, fulfillment centers humidity and temperature levels to shelter goods from damage. In the case of centers that may employ robots or other automation technology, humidity and temperature is especially critical. Another consideration for these types of warehouses is whether they function for distribution and are trafficked by cargo trucks. In those cases, a DOAS system or OA/RA system can provides a dedicated supply of outdoor air and combat the threat of high carbon monoxide levels.

Covid-19 and digitization continue to drive the need for industrial and data center square-footage, many commercial and retail spaces are repositioning to meet these needs. But it will take more than a remodel or a white box solution to deliver an effective and strategic space; HVAC considerations are crucial, as they are for all development and construction plans.

See this article and other coverage at Mann Report here!

One Year Post-Covid, It’s Time to Reassess Your Long-Term HVAC Needs

After over one year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gil-Bar continues to be the solution in the battle for greater indoor air quality (IAQ). Offering an array of products to provide a clean and safe return to offices and indoor dining, Gil-Bar is partnered with several U.S. manufacturers to bring us back to a “new normal” through a variety of applications.

Currently, Gil-Bar products include HealthWay portable units, bi-polar ionization technology, enVerid air cleaners, and High Intensity UV emitters.

Through ongoing research and lab reports, these manufacturers show their individual efficacy of disinfecting the air and reducing the spread of COVID-19, as well as other common contagions. Please reach out to Gil-Bar for information regarding stocked inventory on all your buildings’ IAQ needs as we begin recovering and reopening the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware regions. Gil-Bar’s sales team is available for on-site and virtual space surveys offering turnkey solutions for all applications in the Northeast Market.

For Your Next Project, Look to Gil-Bar’s Unrivaled Manufacturing Relationships

Through 35 years of business in service of your HVAC needs, we’ve built an extensive repertoire of manufacturing partners, who enable us to answer the specialized equipment needs of diverse property types.

As you weigh options for your next HVAC project, look to our connections to ensure a timely and efficient completion with the most up-to-date hardware and technologies.

We’re sharing our full line of access to more than 40 manufacturers below to help make your decision process more convenient.

Don’t hesitate to contact your local Gil-Bar engineer for retrofitting or new installation work!

Gil-Bar in the News: HVAC Leader Lands Private Equity Deal in Latest Expansion move

This article first appeared in Real Estate Weekly on June 9, 2021.

New York-based HVAC leader Gil-Bar Industries has secured an investment from Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) as the company continues to expand its footprint in the northeast.

“We are very pleased to partner with ICG as we move into the next phase of Gil-Bar’s evolution,” said Joe Sbarra, founding Partner, Gil-Bar. “Having co-founded the business in 1986, I am proud of what we have accomplished to date. Gil-Bar is well-positioned for the future, and with ICG’s capital and experience, I am excited about what we can achieve together.”

Since inception 35 years ago, Gil-Bar has become the leading HVAC solutions provider in the New York metropolitan area. Last year, the company acquired GBS Limited as part of its wider initiative to grow the company’s reach into new markets by partnering with existing HVAC providers.

“We believe there are multiple avenues for Gil-Bar’s continued growth as we expand our service and solution offerings and build our footprint both organically and through acquisitions,” added Chris Bisaccia, partner, Gil-Bar. “We selected ICG as our partner because they share our vision for the future and have the resources and experience to help us succeed.”

“We are delighted to announce our investment in Gil-Bar,” said Uzair Dossani and Evan Eason, both Managing Directors at ICG. “Gil-Bar has the key hallmarks we look for in an investment opportunity: a market leader with an excellent management team and significant runway for growth. We are excited to partner with Joe Sbarra, Chris Bisaccia, Joe Cohen, Ken Corio, and the rest of the Gil-Bar team.”

ICG will work in partnership with Gil-Bar’s management team to support the firm’s growth initiatives. Financial terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

See the article in its original form and read more Real Estate Weekly here!

Gil-Bar Industries Acquires GBS Limited

The Merger Will Further Gil-Bar’s Leading Ability to Update Buildings for Complex, Post-Covid-19 HVAC Needs

Gil-Bar Industries, New York’s leading HVAC design engineering firm and provider of complex HVAC solutions, has completed the acquisition of GBS Limited, expanding Gil-Bar’s footprint into the North and Central New Jersey regions. The expansion is the latest in a wider initiative to grow Gil-Bar’s reach into new markets by partnering with leading existing HVAC providers that share Gil-Bar’s culture of high-level expertise, complex service capabilities and uncompromising ethics and client service.

As part of the merger, Metro Air Products NJ, a Gil-Bar Industries affiliate, will join the GBS Limited team and Gil-Bar’s New Jersey operations as a single entity: Gil-Bar Solutions NJ. This will bring added breadth of engineered ductwork, air movement and specialty HVAC product solutions to the new organization and provide clients with an even deeper level of engineering insight paired with extensive local market expertise. The fully integrated service offering and an unmatched commitment to finding the best solutions for the most challenging projects in the state will enable Gil-Bar to deliver much-needed post-Covid-19 HVAC work to a range of buildings looking to upgrade and keep occupants and guests safe.

“We’ll be combining GBS’ leading market knowledge and local relationships with the depth and breadth of Gil-Bar’s extensive manufacturing partnerships and engineering experience,” says Chris Bisaccia, Partner, Gil-Bar Industries. “This is a win-win for our clients and our business both for this challenging time and for the long term. We look forward to helping clients across the region deliver on public safety needs through HVAC engineering solutions.”

Since its founding in 1986, Gil-Bar Industries has become the leading design engineer of HVAC solutions in the New York metropolitan area. The company offers integrated services from design consultation through specification, installation, certification, parts, and maintenance. Further, Gil-Bar prides itself on preserving a unique family culture that considers every customer to be part of the family. Gil-Bar delivers on more than 5,200 projects per year, with more than 85 percent of its business coming from repeat clients. The combined firm will field a team of more than 60 degreed sales engineers and leverage long-standing relationships with more than 40 of the world’s finest manufacturers, including major filtration, ionization and UV light technologies helping to combat the spread of Covid-19 and other pathogens.

“The merger is a natural move,” says Eric Mueller, former Principal of GBS and new CEO of Gil-Bar Solutions NJ. “Gil-Bar and GBS shared similar cultures and values, and this brings unparalleled market expertise together for our clients. The integrated service offering turns Gil-Bar into an even greater resource on both sides of the Hudson River.”

Former GBS Principal Greg Peifer will join the Gil-Bar as the Sales Manager of a new Gil-Bar office in Philadelphia. Peifer, a Philadelphia native with an engineering degree from Drexel University, will expand Gil-Bar’s expertise, integrated service offering and commitment to client success in the Pennsylvania region.

About Gil-Bar Industries

Founded in 1986, Gil-Bar has become the largest and most comprehensive provider of HVAC solutions in New York and New Jersey. Gil-Bar believes HVAC is about a lot more than just moving air. It’s about creating places where we can live our best lives and do our best work. It requires understanding the total indoor environmental experience and providing optimal thermal and acoustical comfort. And we know that doing so, efficiently and sustainably, is an ever- greater engineering challenge. We partner with building developers, architects, engineers and contractors to help design, install, problem-solve and service the right custom HVAC solution for every building. We do it with the largest and most experienced team of degreed application engineers in the industry.