Many hydronic installers look for ways to differentiate their work, to craft a specific look — maybe even a “brand” — that resonates with customers. For Fernando Lobo, owner of Fairfield, Connecticut-based 1 Call Services, that unique look begins with the raw material list he builds when sizing a boiler replacement, or new boiler install.
When he leaves Shelton Winnair, Winsupply of Shelton (both part of the Winsupply Group), or Bender Supply in Bridgeport (his three suppliers), there’s usually a few 10-foot lengths of 1 1/2-inch black pipe strapped to the truck. The motto could be (though isn’t yet official), “Have Reed threader, will travel.”
During his earlier years in the trade, Lobo learned to use a threader well. “It’s a skill that stuck, and so I transported it into my business,” he said.
In 2010, Lobo opened One Call Services; his intent — now fully realized — was to build reliable hydronic and forced air systems, and to provide mechanical systems maintenance or repair services. “My wife Rhonda does all of the bookwork. My techs and I don’t do plumbing. I plan to keep it that way.”
Lobo realized that he had a marketable skill and one that could form an important part of the company he started more than a decade ago, when he considered how often other techs and supervisors came to him for help when solving complex jobsite challenges. “Understanding electronic controls has always been intuitive for me,” he added. “I’m a solutions person, and I love a challenge.”
Lobo’s name isn’t one that thousands of homeowners in the Southern Connecticut region know, but the name rings a bell with enough of them to keep the phone ringing regularly, keeping him and One Call Service’s four technicians on the road year-round. Those who do recognize the name know him as a man with a good sense of humor and a recipe for installations that sports plenty of black steel pipe between the heat plant and hydronic system components.
Every (hydronic) chef’s got a recipe
Most One Call Services jobsites begin with 3/4-inch ply, cut neatly to size; it’s the “artist’s canvas” — typically painted with two coats of dark charcoal gray. From there, and working with a layout that he develops for each installation, HTP high-efficiency boiler(s) are hung.
Then, the fun begins as Lobo or his techs — closely following that recipe — make measurements to cut and thread pipe lengths with the Reed 701 PD threader, each piece tailored for the careful arrangement of Taco zone controls and 007e ECM circulators. Isolation valves are used on each circulator, and a host of green components, including air and dirt elimination, boiler feed valve and backflow preventer.
“Each zone deserves its own pump; I prefer them over zone vales,” he says. “My rep doesn’t mind that, either,” he added with a wink while turning to Jeff Quickel, field sales pro with Emerson Swan. The two banter back and forth during Quickel’s visit to a few jobsites. Quickel visits his installers routinely — a key to Emerson Swan’s great success in the Northeast region where they reign as one of the largest stocking reps in the USA.
Quickel’s been with “Swan” for 16 years, a role that he insists fulfills the Mark Twain quote: “Find a job you enjoy and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” He and Lobo exchange verbal jabs, but the conversation takes an unusually serious tone when Quickel aims a jab at Lobo’s use of black pipe.
“How many times have you told me that water and steel aren’t compatible?” replies Lobo. “Hey, I know what the others do, and why. They’ve got their techniques and I’ve got mine which includes clean water system fill, the right mix of Fernox water treatment, and a magnetic filter to protect the ECM circs from ferrous sludge. That’s why my system water looks as good as any other — whether they use PEX or copper or whatever.”
“Well, you’ve got me there,” Quickel says, bested by Lobo’s logic.
Lobo explains that he developed an affinity for Fernox water filtration and treatment technology and Taco components after years of trial and error. “I’ve learned to install only those components that are durable and work reliably. My customers are willing to pay a few bucks more for that assurance.”
Masterful hydronics for residential masterpiece
Lobo led Quickel to a large custom home in the Greenfield area of Fairfield. Last year, Lobo’s One Call Services spent several weeks installing hydronic and A/C systems for the 4,500-square-foot, five-bedroom home on a nicely landscaped acre half a mile from Long Island Sound (currently for sale at a cool, $2.5 million)
True to form, Lobo jokes with the homeowner as he and Quickel made their way into the home’s lower level. There, the One Call Service’s crew expertly installed two 199 MBH condensing boilers.
“This was an oil-to-gas conversion that made sense,” Lobo says. “The lead-lag boiler operation is an arrangement I like, and it also offers the safety of redundancy for customers. And, while we were on site, the homeowner saw the value in our replacing old air conditioning components, too.”
Outside near the pool are four American Standard condensing units, also arranged to provide staggered operation and redundancy.
“The boilers provide hot water to in-duct hydronic coils,” he adds. Hydro-air heat is another common feature for Lobo’s system designs, favoring the use of ducts to carry warmth throughout typically complex custom home layouts. “I installed ‘hydro’ in my own home and came to love it, so I’ve become something of a champion for the cause.”
Lobo’s preference for “hydro” prevailed when another customer called several months ago for a hydronic system retrofit in Westport, Connecticut. This home, with 10 bedrooms and five baths, featured a radiantly-heated master bathroom floor. Just as they did at the other home, the pipe threader was pulled from the truck, right behind a large box of Taco components and two boxed HTP 199s.
“After a long call from the customer telling me how comfortable they were during the first winter season following the retrofit, they referred me to a few others in the neighborhood,” says Lobo. “This is the sort of work we can do all year long.”