SELECTING A HEATING SERVICEMAN

Finding and selecting a serviceman for your gas or oil heating system is not a simple task. Merely calling up your fuel supplier to send someone over or asking your work associates whom they use from our experience will not usually get it done. Neither will shopping the Services Offered sections of Craigslist, Freebie Advertisers or local Newspapers for the $99.95 Annual Cleaning Special do it. You simply have to do your homework.

Your goal should be to engage a serviceman who knows your particular system — in its entirety! After all, unless you live in a Condo Complex or Tract Development the chances of a reasonably generic heating system is minimal. Most heating systems evolve, driven by upgrades to the central heater, fuel changes, expansions and adaptations to the structure and so on. So no two systems can therefore be identical and all have peculiar deficiencies.

Let us first address oil burning equipment. The argument can and should be made that there are only a few oil burner variations in common usage, predominated by the American-made Beckett, Carlin and occasional Wayne Burners. The European Riello is also encountered, but far less often. Therefore selecting a serviceman who knows how to swap nozzles, filters and tune these is all you need. WRONG! There is no “Jiffy Lube” heating analogy to oil or gas maintenance.

Referring to our other blogs on heating system upgrades and efficiency we must emphatically reiterate — that efficiency report card you get from a serviceman is BURNER EFFICIENCY, NOT SYSTEM EFFICIENCY! It only documents the fuel combustion quality and NOT the heat energy conversion and transfer efficiencies of your system. System efficiency comprises other factors, particularly exhaust temperature and heat exchanger performance. This is why a Heating Appliance receives an “Energy Star Rating”, not a burner.

With gas combustion equipment the variations particularly within the newer “condensing” system technologies are more pronounced. Manufacturers have developed similar but more unique methodologies that differ also in sensory and control applications. Gas equipment tends to necessarily be more sophisticated and “intelligent” than oil to achieve superior “Energy Star Ratings”, but subject to ultimate fuel cost considerations, particularly with propane fuel.

Now addressing your particular system servicing, the starting point must be knowledge of your particular heating appliance. This can be simply addressed by referring to your Appliance Manufacturer’s Web Site and to their listing of Approved or Referred Contractors. This gives you some surety of knowledge, but not necessarily of comfort in that an individual with personal acquaintance with your system will arrive. Let’s elaborate.

Servicemen are typically mechanically inclined individuals that have acquired knowledge and aptitude with heating systems. This is typically attained via journeyman or apprentice training within a trade organization, and prevalently within a fuel dealership or organization. The fuel dealers in particular become “training mills” for servicemen, but prompted by market competitiveness subsequently “spin off” most of their finest as independent servicemen.

Within a Manufacturer’s Approved or Referred Listing find the local independent serviceman. Let’s face it, he’s flying solo and doesn’t have the luxury of organizational protection. He has to perform or not eat regularly. There is similarly no significant correlation between his performance and the appearance of his vehicle and advertising in our experience. Our only caution is reflected in our prior blog “Plumbing Guys Plumb, Heating Guys Heat” wherein the dedicated heating professional seems to be the most effective performer, overall. Similarly be especially wary of the TV Advertisers! There are just too many complaints of shoddy workmanship, pricey “bait and hook” complaints on these Plumbing and Heating “entrepreneurs”.

Test your prospective serviceman on a preliminary visit. He should not only be familiar with your appliance, but offer observations related to system components, performance, serviceability and quantify prospective improvements. Particularly solicit opinions related to your heating distribution (ducting, piping, radiation, etc.) and boiler domestic hot water generation where applicable. If your system is say 15 to 20 years old, expect a suggestion to replace particularly the gas appliance, but make him quantify it!

Now solicit another serviceman and repeat. Compare notes.

After your selection has serviced your system, measure his performance particularly in respect to service calls. They should be minimal and not repetitive for the same symptom(s). Cut a little slack on ignition and control inter-dependency issues — but only on two calls and how he treats the situation. Otherwise, go shopping again. The successful independents typically have excellent diagnostic capabilities, low service call occurrence and a larger clientele.

Again, refer to our other blogs for background in assessing your serviceman. Good hunting.