Cool Business

Hot weather isn’t here yet, but some fuel oil dealers went ahead and shifted some of their manpower to air conditioning installation projects weeks ago.

Conti Oil is installing air conditioning and heating for a 6,000-square-foot space in a two-story walling stone brick commercial building that is being rehabilitated in downtown Barre, Vt., the same town where Conti Oil, founded in 1963 by Rinaldo Conti, is based.

The job involves installation of Thermo Pride Premiere series equipment, specifically, three five-ton condensers on the roof and three air handlers above the ceiling. The system incorporates Honeywell thermostats that also control humidity in the space.

‘We started about three weeks ago,” Marc Conti, Rinaldo’s son and now owner of Conti Oil, said in mid March. ‘We’re putting in a hydro-air system. I’d say we’ve got close to a month to go.” That would mean finishing up the project some time around mid April. ‘We’ve got all the main trunk lines up. Now we’re going to start running the branch circuits for the diffusers. We’ve got to seal the duct work, and insulate it.”

‘It comes at a nice time,” Conti said of the project, because typically in the oil business this is a slow period for the service department.

Two technicians are working full-time on the job at the commercial building, and two others pitch in when their work load allows, Conti said. ‘Any [oil heat] service call that comes up they can break away and go and do,” he said. ‘It’s worked out great.”

The space in the commercial building is on the second floor.

‘Each air handler is going to have a hot water coil in it which will be supplied off the hot water boiler [in the basement] and then we’re going to have the AC coil as well in each air handler,” Conti said. ‘So we’re going to do heating and air conditioning all through the same duct work. Normally we’ll just put in a straight AC system, but this is a little unique. It has everything combined.”

In the case of the Thermo Pride Hydro Air handlers, the blower measures the static pressure in the duct work and varies the RPM of the motor accordingly, said Mark Santangelo, New England regional manager for Thermo Products, North Judson, Ind., the manufacturer of Thermo Pride equipment.

Once the space is occupied ‘ by the Council on Aging, a state agency ‘ Conti Oil will be supplying the fuel oil and performing regular maintenance and service on the entire HVAC system.

Conti Oil’s air conditioning business had been ‘very limited” for years, Conti said, but ‘in the last four, five years it has picked up quite a bit.”

Vincent R. Boltz Inc., a fuel oil dealer in Lebanon, Pa., has been in the air conditioning business for some 40 years, said Gary White, a salesman and design consultant with the company. The air conditioning business is focused more on the residential than the commercial side, White said.

The residential work is in houses that never had central air, or need to replace the system they have.

‘We do more work in existing structures than we do new homes,” White said. ‘We go into homes that are one-hundred-and-some years old to maybe ten years old and put air conditioning in them.”

Last year Boltz’s residential AC business was stimulated by tax credits and rebates from utilities.

‘We do a lot of central air conditioning systems ‘ totally new installs in existing residences,” White said. In some cases, the residence has an oil-fired, warm air furnace, White said, ‘and we can put the air conditioning system right onto it.” And some installations are for houses that have a boiler, but no duct work ‘ ‘and then we’ve got to go in and design a system.”

Another development last year that stemmed from the availability of federal tax credits and the utility rebates, White said: ‘We were selling a lot of the wall-bounded air conditioning systems ‘ the mini splits.” The units had the efficiency ratings to qualify for the federal tax credits, White pointed out. ‘They work pretty effectively for row houses. We’ll put in anywhere from two to four units in some cases because a row house may not lend itself to duct work.”

Boltz worked largely with Fujitsu mini-split air conditioners, but such units are made by a number of manufacturers, including Mitsubishi, Samsung and Sanyo.

‘Many of these units in the high efficiency models actually are heat pumps,” White pointed out.

But the outlook for air conditioning might not be as robust this year, White noted, as federal tax credits, ‘for the most part,” have been eliminated. Last year the break could total as much as $1,500, he said, but ‘this year about the max you can get is $350. So we’re kind of going into an unknown this summer.” However, he said, ‘If we have a really hot summer, it could be really good.”

The commercial work that Boltz does tends to be replacing air conditioning systems in strip retail centers, indoor malls and department stores. Those kinds of projects can get very involved if the duct work isn’t already in place, White observed.

For instance, a strip mall might originally have been built so that each store occupied 2,000 square feet. But over time, with turnover, a new tenant might want 3,000 square feet ‘ ‘one-and-a-half stores,” White said. The contractor then tears out a wall and Boltz, as the AC contractor, does the necessary duct work.

Filling More Customers’ Needs

Bobby Parlett recalls well the reason Besche Oil Co., Waldorf, Md., got into the air conditioning business.

‘We used to have alignments with HVAC contractors,” he said. When a customer asked about air conditioning, Besche Oil would refer the customer to the HVAC contractor. ‘Over time we saw that we were giving our customers to someone else,” Parlett said, because the contractor would talk the customer into switching to a heat pump. ‘Next thing, the customer would call us to come and get the oil tank.”

Today ‘ and for years now – Besche Oil Co. is a dealer of Carrier and Trane equipment, which includes heat pumps. They cut into oil consumption, Parlett noted, but the oil dealer ‘would rather have part of the pie than none – so we do a lot of heat pumps.”

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