Bend businessman David Hart says he knew when he was a child that he would grow up to be an inventor.
“When I was asked at 8 years old what I want to be, I didn’t tell you what I want to be. I said, ‘I’m going to be an inventor.’ I knew it.”
What Hart did not know is that he would find success as an inventor while running a carpet cleaning business.
In fact, he’s found success because of his experience as a carpet cleaner. The founder of Guarantee Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning, Hart was recently awarded a patent on his third invention to arise from that business and shortcomings he identified in commonly available equipment.
Hart’s most recent invention is a high-output ozone generator, the OzoGen 16g, which is used by disaster restoration companies, real estate agents and property managers to remove unpleasant odors such as smoke.
A gas with three atoms of oxygen, ozone is highly reactive. It removes odors from the air by combining with stinky molecules, which usually contain nitrogen or sulfur, said Zelda Ziegler, a chemistry professor at Central Oregon Community College who advised Hart as he was pursuing the patent.
“It turns it into something that is less offensive to the nose,” she said.
The OzoGen isn’t the first ozone generator ever created. To Hart’s delight, his patent follows a tradition that includes Nikola Tesla, who patented an ozone generator in 1896.
Hart said his product — which generates 16 grams of ozone per hour, weighs 14 pounds and costs $1,495 — is more efficient, portable and affordable than others on the market.
“I actually rented about six different units, just so I could take ‘em apart, see how they were built,” Hart said.
That was one step in Hart’s quest to generate more ozone than the competition. His obsession, which consumed the summer of 2015, began with copying a small project he found on YouTube.
Next Hart bought an $800 ozone monitor, and soon he was spending every evening at his shop. He experimented with sending electricity through a metal mesh separated by two nonconductive plates of varying thicknesses.
At one point Hart accidentally touched a 10,000-volt transformer. The jolt felt like a professional wrestler was squeezing his heart, he said. He drove himself to the emergency room, and doctors said his heart would be OK.
Back at the shop, where he was charting ozone output, Hart said, “Something was keeping me at this 2½ to 4 grams an hour, like the competition. So I put my nose to the grindstone. I started studying electricity more and more, and (dielectrics),” which are insulators that can be polarized.
Hart eventually found his maximum ozone output with stainless steel mesh behind borosilicate glass, the same material that’s in Pyrex cookware.
The OzoGen builds up an electrical charge behind the glass plates. As electricity passes between the plates, it combines with oxygen in the air to form ozone.
“This is the way science really is — you fiddle with it until it works,” Ziegler said.
Hart, 51, said he’s always tinkered and built things, but in school, he daydreamed. He never attended college, and for a long time, he bought into his parents’ belief that he wouldn’t amount to much because he wasn’t a good student.
Hart worked a series of dead-end jobs before serving in the U.S. Army, where he found out he was eligible for military intelligence training and worked on laser guidance systems for tanks.
Exiting the military in 1991, Hart slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment in Portland and landed a job as a carpet cleaner’s assistant. Right away, Hart said he decided he wanted to start his own carpet cleaning business someday.
“I saw the revenue that was generated by the company, compared to what was put into it, and I thought, ‘This might be something cool,’” he said.
Hart owes part of his success as an inventor to the marketability of his ideas. The portable duct-cleaning system he created in 2007 works better than others on market, he said, and it allows the customer to see how it’s working.
“The thing was with carpet cleaning, it’s exciting,” Hart said. “Because right in front of the customer’s face, as you’re cleaning the carpet, they can see the difference that you’re making. There’s that wow factor.
“And with duct cleaning, there was no wow factor,” he said.
So Hart created a duct-cleaning system with a clear plastic box that’s placed over a vent. The box is outfitted with LED lights, so customers can see all the dust and debris that’s being sucked out.
The ClearView system was never patented, and as a result faces direct competition from a major cleaning-supply company, Hart said.
The product still sold well enough to form the foundation of RamAir International, which has annual sales in the seven figures, he said.
With a patent behind the OzoGen, Hart recently hired two executives to run the company and increase sales.
Hart said he has other ideas he wants to pursue.
“What holds people back is (thinking), ‘If it really was good, somebody would’ve thought of it by now.’ And that’s a big bunch of B.S.,” Hart said.
“People think that it takes tens of thousands of dollars to patent something. I’ve never spent more than $3,000 on the entire patent process for any of these things,” he said. “It’s just follow-through is all it is.”
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