ESPCO January / February 2013 Newsletter

Are your employees ‘like family’?

Do you tell your employees they are ‘like family’ to you? Has your boss told you that you ‘are like a son’ to him? If you answered yes, how did it make you feel?

I ask these questions because I have become increasingly convinced that this practice of equating one’s job environment to ‘family’ is not a good thing for either employer or employee. Unless you’re Tony Soprano, your family is your family and your work / business is just that.

I understand where the sentiment for this now common practice comes from…we all want to feel that we are an integral part of something…something that couldn’t exist and / or would be less if we were not involved. The problem with telling an employee he is ‘family’ or ‘like a son’ is that it diminishes one’s actual family.

I was at a sales meeting years ago for a predominant radiant floor heat manufacturer and during the course of the meeting one of their reps got up and gave a presentation about his company. I won’t give his name or his company but it is one of what I call the ‘mega-reps’ on the east coast.

This fellow had a video presentation of his facility and discussed the many product lines he represented and the significant investment he had in product inventory…frankly, stuff we have all heard a million times at sales meetings. The owner got my attention when he began to speak about his employees and the ‘culture’ within his agency.

Before I go any further, let me say that this rep was second generation in an agency that was started by his dad. I think this is significant to mention because this fellow actually did work with family and most of the people who now worked for him, (his dad had retired), saw this man literally grow up from a young boy to now, their boss.

As the speaker went through descriptions of key employees and their roles in the company, he ended by saying that he was not going to describe his company as a ‘family’…he said that each employee had their own family…he described his company as a ‘community’. I really liked that…a ‘community’.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word community as follows; ‘a class or group with common interests’.

I like that! A group with common interests…that’s what I want my company to be!

The familiarity that comes with true family usually does not make for good business. Think about this…how many HVACR contracting companies can you think of that were fragmented, (or worse), by dueling brothers? The trades are notorious for this phenomenon!

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions and we all can probably think of a company where the owner uses the expression ‘family’ when speaking about his employees and he / she truly feels a kinship with them…this is wonderful but probably not practical and certainly not typical.

We all know families that we would like to be a part of…Rockefeller comes to mind…and we all know ones that we are happy not to be a member. Communities, however, are generally choices we make willingly to belong to and to leave as our needs and interests change.

So, the next time your boss says to you, ‘you’re like family to me’, ask him if you are in his will and if you can have the keys to his 1969 Corvette Stingray this weekend…I suspect you will feel more like a citizen than a son.

Remember the HydroPulse boiler?

Where was the first condensing boiler offered in the US manufactured? Germany? NO…it was Dundalk, Maryland.

Where was the technology developed? Germany? NO…the technology for the Pulse combustion boiler was developed by a man named Thomas Kitchen who was a Canadian national. Mr. Kitchen sold his patent and technology to the HydroTherm boiler company of Northvale, New Jersey back in the mid 70’s.

I actually communicated recently with a nephew of Mr. Kitchen who works for Danfoss as a trainer up in Canada.

Pulse combustion technology actually dates back to the late 1800’s. It has seen many applications over the years…some good and some, well, actually evil.  The Nazis used pulse combustion to propel the V1 rocket used to attack Great Britain the WWII. The V1 used a pulse jet engine for propulsion…it was nicknamed the ‘buzz bomb’ because of the distinct noise created by the pulse combustion process. I actually got the chance to see a real V1 when my wife and I visited the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England some years ago.

Jump about 35 years ahead and it’s 1979 and the United States is smack in the middle of an energy crisis…people are waiting in long lines for gasoline and home owners are suddenly faced with higher utility costs. The time was right for a newfangled boiler that could boast efficiencies of 90% + that was fueled by natural gas or propane…and so the HydroPulse boiler by HydroTherm was introduced.

In 1979 I was seventeen years old…two years later I would join HydroTherm as a nineteen year old long haired, (some things haven’t changed), pimple faced kid who was looking for money to go to college as well as support his wife and child, (new wife since then, same kid).

The HydroPulse boiler was met with much excitement back in the day…HydroTherm’s moniker was ‘innovators in energy conservation’…and they were living up to the hype with the HydroPulse! HydroTherm engineers were being interviewed by Sue Simmons on ‘Live at Five’ on NBC New York television and an ad for the HydroPulse was featured on the entire back cover of Time magazine…it was the days of ‘wine and roses’ at HydroTherm.

HydroTherm was officially a ‘player’ in the US boiler market reaching #3 behind the likes of
Weil McLain and Burnham. They drew the attention of investors and speculators and were purchased by Penn Central…yeah, THE Penn Central!

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Problems began to arise with the HydroPulse fairly early on in its inception. The earliest vintage Pulse boilers utilized a mechanical sequence timer that would engage the gas valve and ignition transformer with a mechanical timing device that looked like the insides of a cuckoo clock. If the timer malfunctioned and delayed the ignition sequence but left the gas valve open…once the ignition transformer did engage it was possible, (and it happened), that the combustion chamber now contained a double or triple charge of fuel…ignition took place and, well, let’s just say that the concrete base of the boiler now looked something like a shattered clay flower pot.

Another early issue was the blower fan. The HydroPulse was a sealed combustion boiler…no open flame and it took 100% of combustion air from the outdoors through small diameter PVC tubing and discharged the bi-products of combustion through small diameter CPVC tubing. The blower assembly was used to purge the combustion chamber of any gases from the previous combustion cycle and at the same time induce outside air into the boiler for the next combustion process. The problem with the blower was that it was in a pretty harsh environment sitting atop the upper air chamber with temperatures of 1800 degrees taking place in the combustion chamber not all that far below. Fresh outdoor air coming in would cause condensation on the blower…it was susceptible to precipitation coming down the air intake tubing and the result was a rash of premature blower failures.

The early HydroPulse had what in some cases was a fatal flaw, (fatal to the boiler that is), and that was upper chamber leaks. The Pulse boiler had essentially three components…the base…the heat exchanger…the upper air chamber. The combustion chamber was suspended to the upper plate of the heat exchanger which was a closed vessel…literally made of steel the same gauge as tank armament. In between the combustion chamber and the upper plate was a red rubber gasket.

Now we all know the purpose of a gasket…to prevent a leak…well, in the case of the early HydroPulse, the red rubber gasket actually was the cause of the leak…a fatal leak that could not be field or factory repaired because the heat exchanger was a sealed vessel.

For many, the early problems with the HydroPulse were too much to overcome and the boiler began to get a bad reputation in the trenches.

…and of course there was the noise.

Pulse combustion by its nature is a noisy process…remember the nickname of the V1 rocket?

The noise, in the end, was the final blow for the HydroPulse boiler. Those of us who hung in there with the boiler through its 27 year run knew that all the early flaws had been resolved along the way and by the end of its run the HydroPulse had finally lived up to its early hype and expectations…but alas, long term success for the boiler was not to be.

European condensing boilers began to flood the market in the 2000’s and they were silent…no noise whatsoever…and so was the last nail in the HydroPulse coffin.

I’m still a Pulse believer to this day…a Pulse boiler is the heat source for low temperature radiant floor heating in my shop here in New York, (you can actually see a picture of the system in the January issue of Contractor magazine, page 21, for an article I wrote). I own and operate which is an internet based business for OEM Pulse boiler repair parts and through that business I offer technical support for the tens of thousands of Pulse boilers which are still out there chugging along, producing BTU’s like crazy at efficiencies still rivaling today’s new condensing boilers.

The HydroPulse boiler wasn’t perfect, but it’s a part of US hydronics history…a part that I’m proud to say I had a small part in and still do today.

Are you on LinkedIn? You should be!

Look, I’m the last guy who would ever recommend ‘social media’…LinkedIn is NOT social media’. It is a wonderful resource for business networking where you can ‘connect’ with others in your same industry…or in an industry that you are interested in.

Bottom line it works…I have connected with people and companies which ultimately became clients and that is invaluable! Yeah, you might see your high school girlfriend on there but chances are she looking for work…not to rekindle and old flame…and by the way, don’t think so much of yourself…she could care less where you are today.

I’m on LinkedIn so if you want to connect with me to get started then send me an invite…I would be glad to help you get started!

AHR EXPO / ASHRAE Show, Dallas, TX

I will be at the show on Tuesday, January 29, so if you see me floating around looking lost please stop and say hello!

See you all soon!