Earning & Keeping Big Customers

Written on: May 1, 2023 by Dan Vastyan

For residential-only contractors, multi-family heating projects have a unique set of challenges. These jobs progress like commercial projects and need to be designed as such. Of course, they’re still residential in nature, but for the most part, it’s commercial work.

J.A.M. Plumbing & Heating, Inc. has built an interesting space within the skilled workforce of Rockland County, NY. The company, while smaller in comparison to most commercial/industrial contractors in New York, does very good work. The owner, Joe Mezzasalma, started the company in 2003.

“People don’t hire J.A.M. if they’re simply price shopping,” said Tom Dwyer from rep firm Venco Sales, who has known Mezzasalma for 12 years.

“Joe is a craftsman. People hire him because they know he can make a difference.”

J.A.M. never works outside of Rockland County. In fact, the four-person crew, which includes Mezzasalma, is almost exclusive to five towns: Orangeburg, Sparkill, Tappan, Blauvelt and Piermont. There’s more than enough work there for the company without travelling further.

Multi-family service and replacement
One of J.A.M.’s areas of expertise is multi-family housing units, and there are plenty of them in Rockland County in the suburban areas. Blue Hill Commons, a condominium neighborhood built in the 1970s with 15 buildings, is one of them. It ranges in size from 4–12 units per building.

“We’ve done service work at Blue Hill Commons for more than a decade,” said Mezzasalma.

“Each year, we assess the health of the boiler systems and, if needed, schedule replacements.”

After 30 years in service, the boiler in Building #3 was showing its age. The nine-unit condo building was served by a single large boiler and an indirect tank. Fin tube radiation had been installed with zone valves on each apartment, one zone per apartment.

“Tom Dwyer visited the job with me in September of 2020,” said Mezzasalma.

“He sized and designed the new system. It was his idea to use two boilers instead of one, for efficiency and little redundancy.”

Dwyer’s plan was to install two, 140-MBH X-2 boilers, made by U.S. Boiler Co. Since the complex’s budget didn’t have room for condensing boilers, the new system could still have two stages of input by placing the cast iron Series X-2 boilers in a lead-lag-rotate configuration with an external staging control.

Work began in October and was finished in two weeks. Heat wasn’t needed at the time, and domestic hot water (DHW) was temporarily supplied with an electric water heater. The hardest part of the job was getting the old boiler out, and the new boilers in, since the basement mechanical room could only be accessed through a tight stairwell. The existing chimney was used to vent both X-2 boilers and J.A.M. installed a new, indirect water heater.

“This was out first time I used the X-2, and I’ll use it again,” said Mezzasalma.

“It’s everything a cast iron boiler should be—simple yet compact, with easy-to-access controls.”

The Series X-2 is available in seven sizes from 70 to 280 MBH (MBH = 1,000 British Thermal Units [BTUs]). Design of the U.S.-made, cast iron heat exchanger promotes turbulent water flow for efficient heat transfer, providing an impressive 84% annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE).

With four of the Blue Hill Commons buildings tied to the same gas meter, there was no way to quantify gas savings. However, after one Winter in service, and a Winter when many residents stayed home, no complaints came in.

“No news is good news,” said Mezzasalma.

“You never get positive feedback, either, so silence is golden. I have to hand it to Tom [Dwyer] on the design of this system. He didn’t want to want to replace one large boiler with another single boiler, and I know, whether the gas savings are immediately evident or not, we’ll be saving gas in Building #3.”

Educational work
Shortly before J.A.M started the Blue Hill Commons project, the company was busy with a larger project at St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) in Sparkill, NY. An expansion at the college required a new dorm building.

“We’re on the college’s preferred contractor list, so we got a call when they built the new 36-room dormitory,” said Mezzasalma.

“The engineer actually asked us which condensing boiler we preferred to use—U.S. Boiler Co.’s Alpine mod-con—and he then designed the system around that.”

J.A.M.’s work on the dorm included all plumbing in addition to the hydronic system, which serves the building’s common areas and provides DHW. The two common areas each include a fan coil unit, and individual dorm rooms are heated and cooled with packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) units.

Two 210-MBH Alpines boilers were installed on the second floor, along with a 34-gallon instantaneous indirect tank.

“Weight was a consideration for everything in the mechanical room, due to its second story location,” explained Mezzasalma.

“That’s one reason we installed the Alpine boilers and was also a consideration when the water heater was selected. The Alpine boilers each have a five-to-one firing ratio, so by pairing them, the system effectively has a 10–1 turndown. The 410 MBH input provides ample capacity to heat the space and create 15 gallons per minute (GPM) of domestic hot water. After all, there are 36 bathrooms in the building.

“Other than weight, we chose the Alpine because we trust the unit,” Mezzasalma continued.

“We’ve installed them in much larger multi-boiler systems before. The controls are great, it’s easy to service and it’s very efficient,” he said.

The project started in March of 2020 and culminated that August. The COVID-19 pandemic halted progress entirely at one point, and created scheduling conflicts throughout the project. Weather was an issue too, as heavy rain complicated the outdoor plumbing portion of the job.

When Dwyer conducted system start-up before the Fall 2020 semester began, the building was ready—whether the students would return to campus or learn from home.

Today, J.A.M. Plumbing & Heating, Inc. is currently installing two more Alpines at STAC and rezoning the Romano Student Center. Stellar craftsmanship, paired with solid product and design support, wins and keeps big customers. ICM

Dan Vastyan is President of Common Ground, based in Manheim, PA.