BOSTON — As a child, Bruce Sison was always disassembling things, much to his parents’ chagrin. Commonly, a trail of parts n’ pieces for the VCR, toasters and flashlights could be found in his wake.
His parents eventually learned that they could spare household appliances by giving him toy cars and trucks to dissect.
“Somehow, I just needed to see how things worked, and came apart,” chuckled Sison, owner of Walpole, Massachusetts,-based Sison Plumbing & Heating. “Putting them back together again, functionally, took a few years to learn.”
By the age of five or six, Sison watched his father do body work on old cars. It was a revelation. He realized that even adults enjoyed pulling things apart and putting them back together again.
By the time he was able to drive, he and his buddies would do engine swaps and upgrades in his parents’ garage until the wee hours of the morning.
Sison attended a Vo-tech certification program with a focus on auto mechanics and electrical.
When work meets play
It was around that time Sison realized his hobby didn’t pay for itself. Ultimately, he found a job that was tailored to his fascination with all things mechanical.
“My friend worked for a plumbing company and they had a job opening,” said Sison. “I learned the ropes quickly.”
Sison picked up plumbing in no time. For 10 years, he worked in the plumbing industry and in 2011 he decided to branch out on his own.
Fast forward five years — today, Sison Plumbing & Heating serves a large area from South of Boston to East of Worcester, Massachusetts.
Sison Plumbing & Heating takes on both new and retrofit jobs; routine service work keeps Sison busy year-round. Right now it’s just Sison, but that’s been intentional (so far).
“It’s been important to me to establish my business and build a strong reputation,” he explained.
Reputation leads to repetition
Sison doesn’t see himself as “just a plumber” — especially now that he’s moved into sophisticated hydronic work. In addition to maintaining familiarity with new technology and installation techniques, he enjoys building and maintaining customer relationships. As part of that, he listens carefully to find out exactly what a customer wants and needs.
It’s this outlook that gets him lots of repeat customers.
Two years ago, a building contractor hired Sison for a home he was flipping for a customer. It was apparent from the start that Bruce was a perfectionist; he even left the jobsite cleaner than it was when he got there.
“This summer I got a call from those homeowners, who bought another house, and wanted me to do the plumbing again,” explained Sison. “The same contractor was on the job, as well.”
But, unlike the last home, this one was a foreclosure, and the contractor was unsure if the old heating system was functional. Cracked copper domestic water lines were evidence enough of a hard freeze inside.
Sison started from scratch, giving the homeowners two options:
- Replace the plumbing, and reinstall inefficient boiler heat, or —
- Install a more efficient hydronic system.
They chose the latter — not only with the guarantee of month-to-month energy savings, but with state energy rebates adding to the enticement, as well.
After completing heat loss calculations for the 3,500-sq.ft. home, Sison piped the new system accordingly. Sleek, efficient Runtal baseboards were chosen to heat the home. Heat for the low-temp system is supplied by a 150-MBH Burnham Alpine condensing boiler.
“I’ve been using the Alpine for about four years now,” said Sison. “I have about 50 units in the field with minimal issues. It’s dependable and easy to install.”
The 95 AFUE Alpine boiler line includes models from 80 to 800 MBH and provides a 5-to-1 turndown ratio.
It’s an art
Sison views each mechanical room he works in as his canvas for the day. “It really is artwork,” he said. “The piping, the mechanicals — they all fit together to create the masterpiece.”
The components he chooses to build his mechanical art stem from years of experience. The boiler’s main circulator is a Taco 0013; 00e Delta T pumps provide the flow to each zone.
A new, super-efficient Taco 007e, ECM-powered circ controls the domestic hot water through an indirect.
“The 007e is perfect for a lot of the work I do, and sells at a price point real close to the old 007 circs,” Sison added
Sison was also eager to install Taco’s latest boiler fill valve with backflow preventer, the 3450; also their 4900 air separator, and a 5003 thermostatic mixing valve to temper domestic hot water coming out of the indirect.
“Taco is the most recognizable name out there for us ‘heating’ guys — especially in this area,” said Sison. “Some of that recognition comes from the quality of their training.”
Sison Plumbing & Heating does mostly residential work, although some light commercial work comes in through residential customers that also own restaurants.
“I do a lot of remodeling now because that seems to be in demand.”
“Personally, service work is one of my favorite things to do,” said Sison. “Service challenges can be tough, but very rewarding in what I learn through troubleshooting exercises,” he said. “Even with small jobs: I feel like I get more satisfaction out of that sometimes because I’m fixing something and actually helping someone. That’s also how customer relationships are built.”
Another facet to Bruce Sison is his work ethic and, as part of it, his desire to improve the industry — one step at a time.
“One of my goals for the future — especially considering the work of Mike Rowe — is getting young people into the industry,” Sison said. “Americans in general need to get their hands dirty, and to work harder to understand how things come apart and go back together again. We’re not only losing our curiosity, but our ability to solve problems.
“Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad to have service work; it’s challenging and it usually pays well, too,” he added. “But I do feel that we’re losing touch with how things work. As a trade pro with interests in teaching others a thing or two about this. I want to be part of that. Academic study isn’t for everyone, and many kids these days seem to be put off by it. The trades are a great way to learn a profession and also about themselves.”
Sison believes that young people should take their best skills and apply them, and that their mentors and educators need to loosen-up on the insistence that most kids simply enter academic programs.
“Some of us simply aren’t wired for bookwork and spreadsheets,” concluded Sison. “I’d like to explain to some young people that a world of challenge and opportunity awaits them, and it’s not always through the big, expensive doors of a university.”