High-End Lake Retreat Receives Expert Attention

By BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTORs staff LAKE GENEVA, WIS. A newly renovated home here features a piece of equipment not normally found in a mechanical room a telephone. The owner of the home told us that he wants to be able to call us while he is looking at his heating system, in case he has any questions, said Harold Wodicka, who owns Expert Plumbing & Heating with his partner, Frank Rizzo. So far,

By BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff

LAKE GENEVA, WIS. — A newly renovated home here features a piece of equipment not normally found in a mechanical room — a telephone.

“The owner of the home told us that he wants to be able to call us while he is looking at his heating system, in case he has any questions,” said Harold Wodicka, who owns Expert Plumbing & Heating with his partner, Frank Rizzo. “So far, he hasn’t had to use it.”

The private residence on the shore of Lake Geneva actually is a family executive retreat owned by a Chicago businessman, who requested that his name not be published. The home is used for business and family activities.

The size of the home nearly doubled when 3,200 sq. ft. was added to the original 3,700 sq. ft. New rooms were built on either side of the existing structure in the yearlong project that wrapped up in late 2004.

Expert installed the home’s new radiant floor system, which replaced a noisy, forced-air system powered by two furnaces. Expert also put in new air conditioning equipment as well as plumbing in the new bathrooms. The plumbing, heating and cooling contracts exceeded $100,000.

Although he hasn’t used the mechanical room’s phone yet, the homeowner was in continual communication with Expert about the design of the radiant system, said Jon Steinke, the contractor’s heating expert for the past seven years.

“He was very specific about the system,” Steinke told CONTRACTOR.

The equipment in the radiant system includes two Burnham boilers, Grundfos circulator pumps, tekmar controls, Rehau manifolds and tubing, Webstone valves, Spirovent air eliminators and Wirsbo extruded aluminum plates. Steinke designed and built the system’s custom control panel.

Four Trane variable-speed air handlers with hot water and cooling coils operate off the boilers, and each air handler has a Carrier Totaline two-stage thermostat. A flip of an occupied/unoccupied switch turns off all the radiant when the building is unoccupied, although the air handlers continue to operate. The switch turns the radiant back on when occupants arrive. Expert installed Trane air conditioning equipment as well.

“We’ve been Trane dealers since Day 1,” Wodicka said.

Expert installed a staple-up system under the existing rooms and covered the radiant tubing in Gyp-Crete in the additions. The system maintains 19 heating zones with the domestic hot water.

With 300,000 Btuh input, the DHW system features an ITT flat-plate heat exchanger that provides the indirect water heating. The system maintains 240 gal. of hot water in two A.O. Smith storage tanks. All that hot water, supplied from a well, is to fulfill the specific expectations of the homeowner, who was concerned about water pressure as well.

“He told us, ‘I never, ever want to run out of hot water,’” Wodicka said. “It was the ‘ever’ that made the impression.”

The water is delivered at 70 psi without a booster pump, he added.

Expert installed Speakman showerheads in five bathroom suites, which also feature custom-built shower bases and enclosures along with Steamist steam generators and Brasstech accessories. The bathrooms derive a traditional look from the Kathryn one-piece toilets from Kohler. The faucets are from Dornbracht. Each bathroom is equipped with Myson towel warmers, which are electric rather than hydronic.

Started a dozen years ago with only Wodicka, Rizzo and two trucks, Expert now has 26 employees. That includes 15 plumbers.

“Frank and I were both plumbers in Lake Geneva who wanted to start an employee-oriented company that treats people the way that we wanted to be treated,” Wodicka said. “We never have to recruit; people gravitate to us.

“Our top priorities are quality craftsmanship and providing a nice work environment.”

About 90% of the company’s revenue is derived from residential new construction with most of those being homes priced at $180,000 and above in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. A number of these are secondary or vacation homes.

The remainder of Expert’s work comes from commercial (7%) and industrial (3%) projects. The contractor does not promote its service work, although it employs two service plumbing techs and two heating service techs.

“Our service is designed for our new construction customers,” Wodicka said. “We pamper our customers.”

That brings us back to the phone in the mechanical room. Expert is willing to do whatever it takes to build rapport with its customers and keep its word-of-mouth reputation strong, Wodicka said.

Still, he added, he hopes that a phone in a mechanical room doesn’t become a regular feature in the designs of Expert’s heating systems.