Place your bets at 'Casino Spec Build'

BY JOEL BOUCHER HEATING CONTRACTOR IT'S LATE IN the afternoon, and I am on edge and running behind. At the last minute, I had received a call for free tickets to tonight's Red Sox game. It's been a harried week, and I want nothing more than to stand on Landsdown Street in the midst of the crowd with a sausage sandwich in one hand, an ice cold Sam Adams in the other. Not from New England? Sorry, I'd

BY JOEL BOUCHER
HEATING CONTRACTOR

IT'S LATE IN the afternoon, and I am on edge and running behind. At the last minute, I had received a call for free tickets to tonight's Red Sox game. It's been a harried week, and I want nothing more than to stand on Landsdown Street in the midst of the crowd with a sausage sandwich in one hand, an ice cold Sam Adams in the other. Not from New England? Sorry, I'd like to explain it to you, but you wouldn't understand ...

Before that can happen though, I've got to look at one more house. "A new custom home with hydroair," my secretary says. OK, well I'm beat, but why not? I'll squeeze it in. If they want a boiler, that means hope for adding some radiant or some other fun stuff.

As I pull into the lot, I notice the "For Sale" sign. My spirits begin to sink. This can't be a custom home if it's for sale. I have once again entered the world of what I call " Casino Spec Build." A world where HVAC contractors gamble their lives away hoping to walk away from the table with a little more than they walked in with.

The builder steps from his truck screaming into his cell phone in one hand, holding in the other a cigarette that he quickly sucks into the filter faster than if you had taped it to the end of a shop vac.

"Let's take a walk through and you give me a price," he says. So we walk through quickly and go back out where he inhales another cigarette. "Look. I don't want any long sales pitch. I'm busy and I've heard them all."

"Well, sir, in that case I won't waste your time giving you a long sales pitch. I'll call you with a price."

As I drive away from the Casino Spec Build, my only regret is that I would probably be late for the game.

Do you play at the Casino Spec Build? Like every other casino, the odds are all in favor of the house. And it's not your house, so why bother playing? If you're going to gamble in the contracting business, than why not tilt the odds in your favor?

In a past column, I wrote about offering hydronics to builders, to get them to take cost out of the picture and allow you to sell directly to the homeowner ("Hydronics can be sold to builders," June, pg. 52). Let's examine an actual recent example of how this can work.

Jack is a builder that we've worked with in the past, but we've always submitted a bid to him directly. He's always been nervous about letting me talk directly with the homeowner.

I meet him at his latest project, and he is very nervous. The house has two gas furnaces and is about 12 years old. The owners are adding an in-law apartment, pool and expanded kitchen. He has proposed to them a new gas furnace for the addition and another to split the second floor into two zones.

"I carried 20K for this. And now they want to know about heating the pool and lots of other stuff. Can you do it for 20K?" he asks with pleading eyes.

"Jack," I sigh, "why don't you let me go talk to them and see what I can do to help?"

"OK. Maybe that will work."

I meet with the homeowners, and it quickly becomes apparent that the second-floor duct system is horrendous; adding a furnace up there will not solve the problem. Instead, I propose that we junk both furnaces and the entire attic duct system.

Our design centers around a wallhung, condensing German-made gas boiler. The boiler will power variable-speed ECM hydro-air systems to replace the furnaces and a new duct system with zone dampers for the second floor. We have an another air handler for the addition. The boiler is also piped through a stainless heat exchanger for the pool.

I carefully explain to the homeowners that everything they want is way beyond what Jack had carried in his estimate. I glance at Jack. This is new for him. I see signs of sheer panic. I'm hoping he doesn't blow a heart stent. I look at the homeowners. They understand the value I'm bringing. This is the solution they are looking for. Total estimate about 60k, or 300% more than Jack carried. They say: "Great. Go ahead." Quick, somebody get Jack a chair.

Fast-forward a few months and within a few days of each other, I get an e-mail from the homeowners who are thrilled with their new system and a call from Jack.

"I've got this big house to do. Can we handle it like the last one?"

I did make it to the ballgame that night after fleeing Casino Spec Build. I stood on the street, staring up at Fenway surrounded by thousands of people with a sausage sandwich in one hand and an ice cold Sam Adams in the other. The smell of roasted nuts fills the air. The Sox get hammered, but I'm smiling anyhow.

Like I said, if your not from here, I'd have to explain it to you, and you'd never understand.

Joel Boucher is vice president of Boucher Energy Systems in Mendon, Mass. He can be reached via the company's Website at www.boucherenergy.com