You know I get by with a little help from my friends. Sometimes not even friends, just others in the trade.
I’ve been very lucky to meet some of the brightest minds in the heating trade over the last twenty or so years. When I started my business I was pretty sure I knew a lot about heating. I sent my self to the IBR School to learn how to do heat loss’s and layout systems. Do they even do those anymore? I felt I was pretty good at doing heating work.
Then I found out about a guy named Dan Holohan. Dan was a guy who had worked in the heating supply side of the business and I’m not sure when he come up with the idea but he realized there where a lot of heating techs out there who really had no place to meet and discuss work. He jumped on a new thing called the Internet (OK not that new) and created a website/chat room called Heating Help. Heating help had a site called The Wall. It was place where heating techs could past questions and give answer and basically talk about the trade. I remember Dan called it a cross between a class room and a biker bar.
I don't remember how I found the site but I did and man were my eyes opened. Like I said... I thought knew heating; I knew squat.
I started following thread about GPM flow rates and delta t and delta P. Stuff I should have learned at the IBR School. Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention but there were guys at The Wall who knew this stuff inside and out. Not only did they know it … they shared it. Ideas were posted and questions asked and yes the “biker bar” part of The Wall created some very heated discussions.
As friendships where made and some advisory’s created some of the guys and girls started talking about getting together in person so Dan put together a meeting called Wetstock. The first was in Marlborough Massachusetts. Only an hour from where I lived and it was a great time. I met guys who I had spoken to at the site. Meet some of the brightest guys and sat in on round table discussions on varying topics.
I learned a lot, but more than that I made lifelong friends. Friends I have been able to bounce questions off of and get help with on problem jobs. Sometimes just to be able to say “Hey what do you think, am I going down the right road?” is a big help. When you’re at the supply house guys will talk about trouble with parts and jobs, but more than often they hold back a little. Nobody wants to give the competition the answers, but rumors and guess work can cause problems. I remember a teacher who I met at Wetstock who talked about holding a Hot Surface Ignitor in his hands as he started the class. At the time the rumor was that if you held the ceramic end in your hand the oil from your fingers would damage the ignitor. Not true, but the teacher got a kick out of seeing the faces in the class.
Another great part of the wall was other guys posting pictures of their jobs. I got some great ideas from guys who were thinking outside the box. One great installer showed photos of a radiant job he had done. He didn’t have enough floor space to get the needed BTU’s out of the floor. He wound up installing the radiant panels half way up the wall. I remember thinking, “That’s not right ... radiant belongs on the floor.” I asked, “Why would you do that?” I got a great answer back: “Why not?” I had never thought about putting radiant in the walls, but it works. He even thought ahead to not go too high on the wall so the owner might puncture the tubing when hanging pictures. It was a Wow moment for me and I’ve used that design a number of times. I did it in my own bathroom; put radiant panels across the floor, up the side wall of the tub and across the ceiling. I have a toasty bathroom now. I wouldn’t have known how to do that without seeing his photo and getting his insight.
Pumping away, Primary/secondary tee’s and low loss headers were piping designs I knew nothing about. Seeing photos of other techs’ installs at other websites really opened my eyes to installs. One guy used to install his wall hung boilers on aluminum diamond plate he would hang on the wall. Man, his work was nice and neat.
There are a lot of websites that you can get information from. See other installs and gather information to make your installs better. Ask questions of the installers and learn more. Keep an open mind and make friends. The owner of one of the supply houses we use was great at getting guys to talk and break down barriers at the supply house counter. “Hey Bob do you know Bill?” Friendships are made like that. Questions asked and installs talked about.
I’ve got a lot of friends in the trade who has not only helped make my business what it is and not only increased my knowledge but have made my life better with their friendship. You guys know who you are. Talk to others in the trade, ask questions, and give answers. You’ll be amazed at how much it comes around. You get by with a little help from your friends.
Scott Milne is the owner of Milne Plumbing and Heating. He and his company have been serving the greater Boston area for nearly 30 years. He specializes in high-efficiency heating systems for custom homes.