BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
BROOTEN, MINN. — After years of experience in the hydronics industry working for other people, eventually it’s time to run your own show. That’s what Dave Laursen and Bob Mandigo did when they left Weil-McLain to buy a wood-fired boiler company here called Aqua-Therm.
They’ve been joined by radiant engineer Bill Wright from Weil-McLain.
Brooten, which bills itself as, “The heart of Bonanza Valley,” is a little town two hours west of Minneapolis that is, Mandigo said, “the black dirt capital of the world.” It boasts an eatery called Friends Kountry Dyner and the local paper is the Bonanza Valley Voice.
It’s also the hometown of Aqua-Therm, a wood boiler company that appealed to Laursen and Mandigo because the boilers will work with anything else in a hydronic system — conventional boilers, radiant floors, indirect water heaters, even fan coil units in forced air systems.
And Laursen and Mandigo appealed to the previous owners of Aqua-Therm because they wanted to run a small-town Minnesota boiler company. The founders, who wanted to retire, had offers from their competitors, but they were close-the-factory-and-throw-everybody-out-of-work type offers, Laursen said.
“They were looking for somebody who would grow the business, keep the employees and make it a good place to work,” he added.
Mandigo and Laursen will also distribute Weil-McLain equipment and components as part of the package. Laursen said they want to be able to palletize everything a contractor needs for a job, including plans and drawings, and ship it to a jobsite.
The company has been in business since 1983. The boiler was first shown at the Minnesota State Fair and drew so much attention that a business was born.
Mandigo had spent 10 years working for Weil-McLain and had done consulting work there before that. Laursen joined Uponor-Wirsbo in 1993 as training manager, rose to general manager of their radiant group and then left to go to Weil-McLain in 1999.
“We had extensive experience working for two of the largest hydronic companies in the world in Wirsbo and Weil-McLain, having senior executive positions for both companies,” Mandigo said. “So we decided to take both skill-sets acquired over the years and put them to work for ourselves as independent businessmen.”
Aqua-Therm has a number of things going for it, Mandigo said. First, it has good people. The firm has excellent sales, design and technical people, he added. The firm has experience in radiant heating sales and design work.
Secondly, while most wood boilers are open systems, the Aqua-Therm boiler is pressurized. That means it can sit outside in a shed piped in tandem with an electric or gas, oil or propane boiler and work at the same pressure.
The boiler is a stainless steel jacketed boiler that comes pre-piped and pre-wired and can come with its own 6-by-8-ft. shed if the customer wishes. It’s stoked through a large fire door and can burn for eight to 12 hours. The boiler can also be packaged with a conventional boiler. It has dual aquastats, and when the water temperature drops to 40°F, one aquastat fires the backup boiler.
“It’s typically tied in with another system, like a forced-air system,” Mandigo said. “Or it could be an electric boiler. So if you’re gone and not able to feed with wood, it automatically switches over. Or you may just want to use another fuel source.”
Wood is a good fuel source these days in the agricultural areas the company serves. In these uncertain times, Laursen said the company’s sales increase as the cost of heating oil and natural gas increases.