Blake Rosenberg is an inspired plumbing and hydronic pro in the Northern Massachusetts area who readily admits that his inspiration and success stem from the influence of a special mentor. Well, two of them.
Many in the trade have made similar claims, so we can thank them for giving back. Rosenberg does. He thanks his mentor Randy Affeldt every time he sees him. Sadly, his other mentor, Chuck Collie, has passed away.
As Rosenberg’s story goes, he was encouraged and helpfully influenced by Affeldt during his high school years, now almost two decades ago. Imagine the ability of that: a trade pro turned hydronic champion with sufficient influence to win the admiration, time and talents of a high school student.
During this period in Rosenberg’s life, as he was growing up on Nantucket Island, his other mentor, Collie, was in Rosenberg’s words, “Nantucket’s long-standing shop teacher and tradesman who was instrumental in inspiring kids who didn’t see the value of a college education.
“At that age, I had no interest in college, and nothing interested me professionally,” Rosenberg recalls. “But, I began to work on oil burners and heating systems with Randy, who knew me since I was a baby. His sons were like my brothers.”
Rosenberg went to NEFI (New England Fuel Institute) after high school and got his oil burner license. From that point onward, Rosenberg readily affirms that Affeldt and Collie were “rock solid pillars in my life as a tradesman and always the biggest fans of my work. Randy was the one that taught and encouraged me initially, and it seems like he’s always there to cheer me on, still — even now as I’ve excelled in my work and have learned to develop my own style.”
Affeldt, for 40 years, has owned and operated Randy Affeldt Heating and Cooling, based on Nantucket Island. “Now, his oldest son Sean and middle son Cody are both master tin knockers and HVAC pros,” Rosenberg adds. “Randy throws himself into his work with a lot of energy, and never seems to skip a beat.”
Clearly, the admiration between these two hydronic pros is mutual.
Affeldt says, “Blake’s as good as they come. What an incredible honor it was for me to have some role in his life, and to have helped him develop a good life and career. Heck, his kids call me ‘Grandpa.’”
Affeldt explains that, though he’d known Rosenberg “since he was in diapers,” Blake (at 17 years of age) was referred to him by Collie, Blake’s other mentor, for involvement in a school-to-career program. Affeldt readily agreed. “That was the beginning of something real special,” he said.
Though Affeldt has mentored other apprentices, he affirms that “Blake’s one of those rare people who instantly gets it: everything from how to develop mechanical skills, and professional mindset, to neatness and courtesy, and keen business sense. All of it. He absorbed everything like a sponge. I helped with the foundation; that’s all. But that, for me, is the greatest honor. Seeing his success makes my heart so happy.”
Rosenberg worked closely with Affeldt for more than a year. And though that experience is now 18 years in the rear view mirror, the two remain good friends, and their families have close ties.
It’s a good thing that Rosenberg didn’t mind the chaotic mix of plumbing, piping and hydronic tasks demanded of him when he was new to the trade. Some people, new to the trades, seek simpler challenges, or to specialize. “Not me,” asserts Rosenberg. “I came to thrive on the variability of work, and now it just energizes me. I love it.”
Rosenberg says that, though he loves the challenge of service work, and is good at it, installation work’s in the lead. He does 90% residential work; 10% commercial. But his time’s split evenly between plumbing and hydronic work.
A hydronics mixed bag
These days, as owner of Blake Rosenberg Plumbing & Heating, Rosenberg says that throughout his time in the industry, he’s worked on just about every brand, style and type of boiler there is — everything from giant, “porkchop” cast iron or three-pass fire tube boilers and everything in between, he’s seen them all.
“Some [boilers] are a lot better to work on that others, and I’ve developed a few opinions about what I like, and what I don’t,” says Rosenberg. “For residential installs, I prefer wall-hung, modulating-condensing boilers, especially Alta, Aspen and Alpine by U.S. Boiler. And, I just installed an Apex boiler — it was a 425 [MBH system] for a restaurant — solid technology, too. I also install plenty of light commercial, water-tube boilers by Thermal Solutions, and ‘USB’s’ Independence steam systems.
And, when he has the ability to control what goes into a system — whether for retrofit work or new construction — Rosenberg favors a few trusted, go-to products. There are systems and technologies that he can rely on to meet, or preferably exceed, his customer’s needs, giving him the greatest assurance of few (if any) call-backs.
“At the top of my list would be Taco pumps, zone valves and circulators, 4900 series air separators and its new magnetic separators for big improvements in system reliability and performance,” Rosenberg says. “Also, its zone controls and relays. As for circulators — I’ve come to love the 0015e3, 007e ECMs, and the 0010 and 0013. I use their circs and pumps exclusively.”
Rosenberg’s additional favorites include:
- Webstone isolation valves for all heating system components. “Their functionality is great, and they make post-installation service work so easy.”
- F. W. Webb ProPress fittings, typically purchased at Webb’s Salem, Massachusetts branch. Rosenberg says that Bob Mavs, who runs the branch, and Peter Hill who manages counters and the downstairs area go out of their way to assure that he and other customers always get what they need — and with loads of value-added service, too. “I couldn’t do without them,” he added emphatically.
- Fernox TF1 filters on older systems with steel mains or old radiators. “They offer really fine magnetic filtering and a wide variety of chemical solutions to achieve and maintain water quality.”
- “For a lot of the high end homes we work on for J.N. Picariello Construction, I use a lot of Runtal panel radiators. They’re elegant and work so well, with great heat transfer. And, if we need custom panels — say, for a half-round room — we can get Runtal panels for a perfect fit.”
- And, Watts — the brand he seeks for various hydronic components, backflow prevention and vacuum breakers, up to 1- and 2-inch sizes. “Also, tekmar controls help me turn a ‘dumb’ system into a smarter version of itself by using outdoor temp and header sensors to modulate boiler fire and operation, all the while adjusting water temps based on the outdoor temp.”
- Finally, US Boiler’s new Sage2.3 control relay panels. “I love this technology. Being able to actually pair a relay panel to US Boiler’s high efficiency (Alpine, K2 and Aspen) boilers, set limits for each zone and pre-set the actual max Btu load per zone is great for the environment and great for the system as more efficient running equals less run time.”
Rosenberg’s go-to list is full of proven performers, all, for a guy who knows his craft, and whose customers demand — and are gladly willing to pay for — the best equipment and installation work money can buy.
Rosenberg’s customer base is largely on the north shore of Massachusetts, including towns like Marblehead and Hamilton. It’s an affluent area, and he’s found that — as his reputation is established — he’s able to choose his customers based chiefly on those who appreciate his commitment to quality work, materials and equipment.
“I don’t advertise my company,” he says. “All my business is generated by referral. One of the many things I learned from Randy [Affeldt] is, ‘No one’s gonna’ retire off of one job, so treat everyone like family.”
Rosenberg’s own family consists of his wife Kathleen, and daughters, 10-year-old Lola and 13-year-old Olivia.
“I do everything myself from scheduling to all the work and everything in between,” he says. “Lola’s my biggest fan; she’s so proud to wear our company’s sweatshirts and t-shirts to school and out in public. She comes on service calls with me sometimes after hours or weekends and my customers absolutely love it. My oldest, Olivia, is absorbed in being 13, and sports. She made a club volleyball team this year in her first year playing, so we are all really excited for her.
“No matter what’s going on, I’m always able to make time to spend with the girls even if they join me on a call or ride along to the supply house,” he continues. “I’d love for one of them to follow me into the heating world.”
Fortunately, says Rosenberg, he’s found that Northern Mass is an area where even competitors help each other. “I get a lot of calls during the winter from trade pros who need boiler tech support when they’re in a pinch,” he states. “So I return the favor whenever I can. It’s really kind of awesome to think that we do this, and flattering, too.”
Rosenberg’s very appreciative of it all. “I don’t think I could’ve mapped out a much better life, or career. It just happened, seeming to be almost by accident at times,” he says. “So, with that, I see the need to give back. I’m exploring the possibility of teaching in a trade school. It’s so important that we educate the next generation, and the trades are a great way to live well and to support a family.
“Beyond work and hangin’ with my kids, my list of hobbies is manageable — trucks, outdoors stuff and catching up on the newest stuff coming out in the heating world,” he concludes. “Honestly, the art of heating has always been such an all-encompassing interest for me that it’s become my work, my hobby and a way of life. It’s given me everything I need to support all the other stuff — most importantly and at the top of the list: family.”