Maintaining a Legacy

Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, and generally most of Northeast Ohio, is as much hydronic country as anywhere.  Big, old homes are heated with lots of cast iron; some steam, some water.“The men who installed these systems 100 years ago were engineers in every sense of the word,” said Tony Caruso.  “They didn’t have a degree, but anyone who has ever worked on a large steam system understands what I mean.”

Here, not far off Lake Erie, Caruso and his three children operate AC Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical Inc., a full-service company focused on both residential and commercial work.

“We make it more affordable for homeowners to keep their big, beautiful old homes,” said Caruso.  “From an efficiency standpoint, the houses around here leave a lot to be desired.  We can often drastically shrink heating bills by simply installing new technology correctly.”  In the process, the historic value of the home isn’t lost.

Big iron

“I’m a fan of antiquated chunks of metal,” said Caruso.  “Whether it’s old steam locomotives that moved our nation, or huge fire-tube boilers that have been sitting cold in basements for 50 years, they tell the stories of the brilliant people that came before us.” 

“During the 1920s, gas companies in our area were in their infancy,” explained Caruso.  “In an effort to gain market share, they were giving away gas-fired boilers. Folks took the offer but were still skeptical.  Homeowners converted to gas, but left the piping connected to the original coal units as backup.” 

In many of the houses AC Plumbing (for Anthony Caruso) works on, the coal boilers are still in place long after the gas boiler has been swapped several times.  Often, owners keep the unit in the basement, adding to the home’s historic ambiance. 

Service company x2

AC Plumbing got its start a little differently than most similar companies.  Caruso just retired from a 27-year Firefighting/EMS career with Cleveland Heights Fire Dept.  Son Anthony now does the same, as a Fireman/Paramedic for the City of Independence Fire Dept.   

In 1980, while Caruso was still working as a machinist, he started the company in his off-time.  Through hard work and dedication, the firm has grown into the multi-generational business it is today.

“Spending your formative years in old firehouses and machine shops inevitably leaves with you with a reverence for hard working people and equipment,” said Caruso.  “I guess that’s the reason for my fascination with fire trucks, boilers and trains.”

Full steam ahead

“Steam anything is exciting,” continued Caruso.  “One time, Anthony and I got the opportunity to fire an old steam locomotive to 245 PSI.  That was a thrill and a check off my bucket list!  What’s neat about some of the old boilers is that they’re literally locomotives with the wheels knocked off.  And now we’re replacing them with units smaller than a kitchen oven, and so much more efficient.”

About 90 percent of the big homes in the AC territory heat with steam, and they’ve developed an aptitude for making steam systems more efficient and comfortable.  One effective way is to get dryer steam, resulting in faster, more even heat transfer.

“The Burnham Independence is our bread-and-butter boiler,” he continued.  “It comes in so many sizes, each of which can accept existing pipe orientations, that we can put it in virtually any steam application we come in contact with.  We’ve found that – with correct installation – the Independence will deliver dryer steam than just about any other boiler out there.”  The gas-fired Independence is available with outputs from 62 to 385 MBH, in chimney or power-vented models.

But, AC Plumbing goes a step further to get the driest steam.  Early in his career, Tony learned the art of the drop header.  According to Caruso, this design captures condensate before steam travels to the near-boiler piping. This allows for the dryer steam to travel at a higher velocity to its point of use.  “We like to use this design to increase the efficiency to a steam heating system, much like the railroad men tried to create super heated steam for their locomotive boiler efficiencies.”

Stark contrast

“As neat as it is to look back at equipment of yesteryear, it’s exciting to compare it to today’s technology, and see just how far we’ve come,” said Caruso.  “Every once and a while, we see the glaring differences in the same mechanical room.”

Last year, a 5,000 square-foot brick home from the 1920s offered the opportunity to compare.  The home’s old natural-gas boiler had reached its point of no return.  After Tony’s daughter, Monica (31) took the no-heat call in the office, sons Michael (26) and Anthony Jr. (28), went to the job.  The home originally used a gravity water system, with a coal boiler in the basement and cast-iron radiators on all three stories.  Over the decades, the monster boiler sat cold as several gas-fired units came and went.  Circulators were eventually added as different zoning was desired.  With some help from Steve Armstrong, a US Boiler rep at StoryEquipment Sales, they designed a new hydronic system around a high-efficiency boiler. 

The high water volume, low head pressure, and a big delta-T begged for a condensing boiler.  It didn’t take much to sell the homeowner on a 210 MBH Alpine once Carusos pointed out the benefits.  The Alpine shares little with the original coal boiler aside from a grey exterior color.  Today, the two units sit three feet apart.

“I’ve been using Burnham boilers since I started in the industry over 30 years ago,” said Caruso.  “The Alpine is like all their other products; it does what they say it’ll do.  In this particular case, it took a monthly gas bill of $2,500 and cut it down to $500.”  With such a large heat load, the 95 percent efficient boiler didn’t take long to pay for itself.

“Removing the old gas boiler took longer than installing the Alpine,” said Anthony Jr.  “We re-piped the mechanical room, added new zone controls. The existing water heater was fairly new, but, we added an extra zone so we can add a Burnham Alliance indirect tank when the time comes.

Investing in people

AC recently moved into a 5,000 square-foot building.  A training facility was a must, and a room specifically for that purpose was the building’s first add-on.  Being a company that grew out of a firefighter’s background and mind-set, there was no ignoring the importance of being prepared for a task, or the necessity of team work.”

“I’m truly blessed to have the help of my wife and children,” said Caruso.  “But I give tons of credit to the guys that I trust in the trenches.  Our techs are educated in their fields, loyal and just a pleasure to have on our team.  I’m lucky to call them my friends, and our company will continue to provide them with every training opportunity possible. With an education backing, there is no limit what we can achieve.”

A Cleveland Legacy

A Cleveland Legacy

Family businesses work when everyone is invested in a common goal. Half-hearted efforts and attitudes, jealousy or near-sightedness are the kiss of death when parents, siblings and in-laws are involved. But when all are engaged and aligned fruitfully, the result can be an uncommonly strong enterprise with long-term potential.

AC Plumbing, Heating & Mechanical in Cleveland, OH, seems to have written the handbook for success in family business, though that wasn’t initially the plan. Tony Caruso started the firm with his wife LuAnn, in 1980, while also serving as a professional fireman. Today, their children operate the 14-person company in Bedford Heights, OH.

Daughter Monica runs the office and her husband, Kelly Miller, is head of the HVAC shop. Anthony, like his father, is a professional fireman and paramedic, working 24 hours on, 48 off. When he’s not on duty at the firehouse, he’s the lead hydronic technician. Michael, who has a construction management degree, is the company’s lead plumber. Under their direction and Tony’s mentorship and guidance, the business has flourished.

“I never envisioned all of this with my children,” said Tony Caruso. “I didn’t plan for them join the company, let alone see the potential for them to propel us forward. But I’ve always believed this profession was something special. Having them join me has been a tremendous source of pride.”

Today, the company’s reputation for outstanding craftsmanship is validated by long-standing customer relationships, both commercial and residential. Some of those clients haven’t changed since the early years, when LuAnn was still writing invoices from notes that Tony scratched in the firehouse breakroom.

As Tony takes a back seat to day-to-day operations, it has given him time for volunteer work, and to tackle personal projects.

Restoring antiquity
“I’m drawn to old things, especially mechanical in nature,” said Tony. “Volunteering at a historic railway has been rewarding, especially when I can involve my grandchildren. I love to bring things back to their proper vintage and grace; cabooses, automobiles, buildings, etc.”

In part to scratch an itch and partly as a long-term investment, Tony and LuAnn purchased a 100-year-old building near downtown Cleveland in 2017. The Detroit Avenue area is slowly experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Young people are moving back in, small businesses are cropping up, and property values are plodding patiently upward.

Caruso bought the old building as a rundown residence. Police were frequently called to the address for one sort of disturbance or another. But with plenty of vision and know how – not to mention the involvement of a team of mechanical technicians – Tony and LuAnn had other plans.

They’re just now finishing the details on the 5,000 square-foot building. An upscale salon and spa occupies the ground level, with floor-to-ceiling windows along the sidewalk. The upstairs is divided into two apartments, with a third being added behind the salon.

Half of the basement slab received a pebble finish called Natural Stone. No sooner had the top coat cured before water backed up into the basement.

“We thought we’d need to hammer out a part of the new floor to access a clog in the old porcelain plumbing, and install a drain at that spot,” said Caruso. “So we purchased a Watts Pronto!™ floor drain because of the ability to do post-pour adjustment between the concrete and finished floor.”

Then Michael and Zac Wood, one of the company’s plumbers, scoped the pipe. It became apparent that the clog could be remedied without digging up the floor. Jagged edges on the old cast iron pipe within a fitting were catching sewer debris. By snaking the pipe with a heavy cutter tip, the issue was remedied.

In an adjacent basement room without finished flooring, the building had a plumbing stack coming down from the first floor. It was no longer in use, and just in the way.

“We wanted to remove the stack for more storage space,” said Michael. “But in a building like this, where the use of occupied space can easily change in the future, we try not to eliminate sewer connections. We already had the Pronto! drain in the van. It’s a little overkill for an unfinished slab, but it definitely served the purpose.”

Zac hammered-out the floor, installed a new trap, then poured new concrete and installed the drain.

“The real benefit of the Pronto! floor drain is that the drain can be adjusted twice,” said Zac. “The basin can be raised or lowered to match the initial concrete pour, and then the strainer can be adjusted to match the finished floor grade. It comes with a set of shims to get a perfect level. On this installation, though, we only needed to make one adjustment. Using the drain’s integral bubble level, I was able to plumb-in the drain perfectly just by adjusting it after making my PVC connection.”

The Watts Pronto! floor drain is available in either cast iron or PVC, and comes in grate sizes of 5”, 6” or 8”.

“We’ve used a variety of Watts products since I started the company,” said Tony. “Our hydronic installations are covered in Watts valves, and we often use tekmar controls. We also like their backflow assemblies. We picked the Pronto! drain, despite it being a completely new product, based on the quality of products we’ve come to expect from the brand.”

With the plumbing issues resolved at the investment property, the Carusos can focus on finishing the final rental unit. The building is now an integral part of the Detroit Avenue urban revitalization effort, inside and out. Two walls on the building feature giant murals, a theme throughout the area. It’s another source of pride.

Doing right
“Not everyone at AC Plumbing is family, but they may as well be,” said Tony. “Every member of our team is vital. We hire people that want to provide service. That is, in my judgement, the finest pursuit. The responsibility to our team is never to do less than the right thing. That may include engineering the correct system, performing the proper replacement or repair, or taking responsibility for mistakes. Good business ethics.”

Tony’s quick to note that the industry and market is changing rapidly, and is thankful that his children are proactively keeping pace with it. Clients have become much more astute in regard to what they want in their homes. Systems are now “on demand,” “green” or otherwise designed primarily for comfort.

“The daily challenge we now face is installing a system that never compromises safety, comfort or efficiency,” Tony continued. “In years’ past, things were simpler, and efficiency wasn’t as critical. These factors have truly raised the bar on what it means to be a plumbing or HVAC professional. Fortunately, manufacturers and reps are providing more support than ever before.”

“I feel that being trusted in a customer’s home is the greatest responsibility,” Tony said. “As my career winds down, I feel that my family has that same passion. At the end of the day we can all rest knowing we’ve done what is dutifully right.”

See article here https://mechanical-hub.com/a-cleveland-legacy/

Why Workplace Mentoring Works

Why Workplace Mentoring Works

BY TRACEY MACLEAN DOWDY PHCC CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Article pulled from PHCC official publication for plumbers, heating and cooling contractors.

It’s no secret that skilled workers are in high demand but in short supply across the trades. Industry leaders recognize that the best way to face this challenge is through the development of a highly trained workforce focused on innovation and growth. How do you cultivate such a staff? Look no further than your own employees and industry partners … and pair them with your newest recruits.
By creating a mentorship culture, companies ensure those entering the trades can draw on knowledge that classroom teaching alone cannot provide. Continuing education and experiential learning are the keys to training the next generation of tradespeople.

At its heart, a successful mentoring initiative has two primary elements: to reflect and reinforce the company’s strategies and vision, and to ensure long term sustainability and growth.

Training from Within

Those are two things that Tony Caruso, owner and president of AC Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical (ACP) in Cleveland, Ohio, understands. Every month, the company brings together its technicians for seminars and classes at its onsite training facility, building on the training and experience of ACP’s own team. Topics vary and often are based on real-life situations that have arisen in the field.

Along with the class or seminar being offered, the team sits down for breakfast together and enjoys a break from their busy schedules. Many of Northern Ohio’s old mansions are still heated by high mass steam and hot water systems, something that younger techs may not have encountered. Caruso explains that the opportunity to talk one-on-one with guys who’ve been out in the field for years gives the less experienced technicians the chance to ask specific questions about systems that may not have been covered in school.

Caruso spent years as a firefighter, simultaneously learning the plumbing trade, and the lessons he learned are invaluable. “Every day is a near-miss in the fire department. We train, we train, we train. There’s a culture of constant mentoring, teaching, learning from one another.”

Mentorship culture means the veteran has the opportunity to assess the strengths of the novices and guide them as they hone their skills and improve on their weaknesses. Not only do the veterans have the skill sets necessary to do the work, but they have an understanding of the culture and environment of a worksite and can the pass on these intangibles.


“We invest in continuing education and build on the knowledge that only comes from experience. If one guy runs into an issue on a job, next month that will be the topic we cover at school. Or, maybe we have one of our reps from [a supplier] come out and teach us about a new piece of equipment we’ll be using. They’re great; it’s mutually beneficial.”
Tony Caruso, AC Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical

“We had the honor of installing this boiler at the Western Reserve Fire Museum in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Tony Caruso. “The boiler and all adjunct material were donated by Burnham Boiler, Becket Burner Inc. and Famous Supply. My sons, son-in-law and myself volunteered installation. That’s Gordon next to the boiler. He hangs with me every Thursday when he’s off from pre-school … my favorite day.”

Any construction tradesperson knows that effective communication on the jobsite is critical. For those new to the industry, however, learning to work alongside tradespeople from different fields can be challenging. Differing ages, personalities and skill levels need to be considered, as well as the ability to work in harmony to successfully meet deadlines.

Caruso’s role at ACP has morphed from leading the company into one of mentoring, as his children Anthony, Monica and Michael now run the day-to-day operations. “I tell my kids, you gotta run the business if you’re going to take it to the next level. You have to give back. You need to invest in the company and the community.”

Caruso is active in his local PHCC chapter; is a fire instructor, investigator and inspector; and teaches hydronic and steam courses at a local supply house. A particular favorite is “Near Misses,” an accident avoidance course that walks attendees through a common sense approach to the safety protocols that can sometimes get overlooked in the hustle of a workday.

ACP’s mentoring culture carries over into personal and long-lasting friendships with customers. “Our goal is to leave the customer with confidence in our work and the understanding of what exactly was done and why. By connecting the old and the new, the knowledge, relationships and level of trust between our customers and us is strengthened,” Caruso says.

“We aren’t the unlicensed guys working out of our trunk on a Sunday afternoon. We invest in continuing education and build on the knowledge that only comes from experience. If one guy runs into an issue on a job, next month that will be the topic we cover at school. Or, maybe we have one of our reps from Edelmans or Famous Supply come out and teach us about a new piece of equipment we’ll be using. They’re great; it’s mutually beneficial.”

The insight from a mentor also fosters an understanding of the need to show respect for the veterans’ experience and expertise. This respect is then reciprocated by those more seasoned professionals, enabling jobs to be done more efficiently, effectively and, most of all, safely.

Great mentors are those who are approachable. A mentorship culture is as equally dependent on the accessibility of the mentor as it is on their leadership qualities. By fostering an environment where employees aren’t afraid to ask questions, companies open the door to constant learning.

PHCC: Part of the Mentoring Process

Businesses that cite lack of time or lack of infrastructure to support a mentorship culture – or that possess the mindset that team members lack the necessary skills to be a mentor – are at risk of falling behind. Those who are intentional about pairing seasoned industry veterans with newcomers cultivate a culture of loyalty and consistent growth. It’s the age-old principle, “You reap what you sow.”


A Family of Courage, Hard Work and Dedication

Article from the 2018 Ohio PHC Contractor Volume 3 describing our family principles. Our goals surrounding deep convictions and hard work has brought us to where we are today, we hope our dedication to you is evident and hope to bring in new customers to prove our value. Please read and contact us for your plumbing and HVAC needs, we will look forward to serve you.

All in the Family.. a Caruso Legacy

All in the Family.. a Caruso Legacy

From a Contractor Magazine article:

“We are proud to share this with our Clients and Friends, after all it is your trust and confidence with us that placed us here”

Multi-generational, family-run AC Plumbing, Heating & Mechanical specializes in hydronic retrofits,
serving commercial and residential clients in the Cleveland area.

BEDFORD HEIGHTS, OHIO — In Cleveland, the name Caruso might come to mind
if you’ve spent any time in a fire hall, a supply house or a historic train station. That’s
because the Caruso family legacy is one of courage, hard work, and a dedication to
serving others.

In 1912, at the age of 13, Antonio Caruso stepped off a boat from Sicily and onto U.S.
soil. Upon arriving, Caruso immediately went to work for the Nickel Plate Railroad
in Conneaut, Ohio, working on steam locomotives and roundhouses.
A love for big equipment, steam and water piping was passed on to Antonio’s son,
Tony, along with an affinity for hard work. Young Tony grew up around the railroad,
became a professional firefighter and simultaneously learned the plumbing trade.
After decades of managing two careers, he’s a retired fireman and is turning the
family plumbing and heating company over to his three children.

Anthony, like his father, is a professional fireman and paramedic, working 24
hours on, 48 off. When he’s not on duty at the firehouse, he’s AC Plumbing’s
lead hydronic technician.

Family­ Oriented
Siblings Monica, Anthony and Michael now operate the 35-year-old, 14-person
company in Bedford Heights, Ohio. Anthony, like his father, is a professional
fireman and paramedic, working 24 hours on, 48 off. When he’s not on duty at the
firehouse, he’s AC Plumbing’s lead hydronic technician. Michael has a construction
management degree, which has brought the company to a new technical level. He’s
also the lead plumber. Monica runs the office full-time, and her husband, Kelly
Miller, heads up the HVAC portion of the business.
When they’re not working at one of their multiple jobs, the Carusos are active in
their local PHCC Chapter. What’s good for the company is good for the trades, and
ultimately good for the community. So, they take the opportunity to learn as well as
teach.

“We have turn of the century homes where giant coal-fired boilers have been converted to natural gas, and are still in operation,” said Anthony. “When we retrofit these, the original boiler is usually left in the basement, alongside the new condensing boiler. Other times, we’re installing completely new radiant systems in mid-century-modern houses. There’s really no ‘typical’ day when it comes to our hydronic work.”

Hydronics in Action
Working on residential or commercial hydronic projects in the area result in a lot of referral and return boiler customers. Such was recently the case at a 3,000-sq.-ft. home in Pepper Pike. “This home was built in the ’60s, and the owner bought it as a foreclosure about eight years ago,” explained Anthony. “He completely renovated it, and at the same time, we installed a radiant in-floor system and retrofitted the ductwork.”

Bolier Check

The Burnham boiler feeds a hydronic coil in the existing ductwork, plus supplies DHW.

Half-inch PEX was stapled up to provide two zones of heat on the ground floor of the
two-story home. Upstairs, a custom-made hydronic coil was placed in the existing
ductwork.  The 105,000 Btuh Burnham ES2 boiler also supplies DHW through a 60-
gallon Burnham Alliance stone-lined sidearm tank. Control for the whole system is
provided by a tekmar system.  Fixed-speed circulators were used on the boiler, indirect tank
and upstairs zone. The two radiant zones each used a three-speed Taco 0015 pump.
The near-boiler piping also includes a Fernox TF1 Total Filter and Taco 4900 series air separator.
“Of all the components used here, two that were selected for a very specific purpose
at the time of installation were the Burnham ES2 and the three-speed Taco pumps,”
explained Anthony. “The three-speed pumps give us more flexibility to tune the flow
rate to the radiant loop without using a variable-speed pump. Plus, we’re always
well-stocked with 0015s because they fit nearly every residential application out
there.”
“The owner didn’t want a condensing boiler,” he continued. “The Burnham ES2 is a
cast iron boiler that’s designed to tolerate lower return water temperatures than
most similar models, making it a perfect choice for a radiant system.  And at 85
percent AFUE, it’ll still provide a fuel savings over other atmospheric boilers.”

Service, when needed

This past summer, the system needed a little more attention than in previous years.
An air vent needed to be replaced, as did a radiant circulator. Instead of using
another conventional three-speed pump, Caruso installed a new ECM-powered Taco
0015e3. The three-setting pump provides the same functionality, higher efficiency,
and a number of technician friendly features that speed up installation and service.
“It feels like this pump was built for the technician,” said Caruso. “The details really
make a difference, like the universal flange-to-flange width, nut holders that are cast
into the flanges and the double-insulated construction, which eliminates the need  for
a ground wire. Also, the indicator light means I don’t need to put my ear up against
the pump to see if it’s running.”

Piping Passion

In the end, Tony and Anthony’s shared passion for piping serves them well when
working on some of the area’s old mansions — like the Pepper Pike project — still
heated by giant, high-mass steam and hot water systems. Maintaining, fixing and
retrofitting these systems consumes most of Anthony’s time.
Tony built the company based on family principals.

“Despite the fact that AC
Plumbing, Heating & Mechanical has grown substantially, those family principals
haven’t changed; it’s the reason that customers often become friends, and we
wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Anthony.

Spiders in your Grill?

If you have noticed that your Gas Grill is becoming hard to light or that the flame isn’t as strong as it usually is, then take the time to check and clean the venturis.

In some areas of the country spiders have been known to cause “flashback” problems. The spiders spin webs, build nests and lay eggs in the venturi tubes(s) disrupting the flow of gas to the burner. the backed up gas can ignite in the venturi behind the control panel.  This is known as flashback, and it can damage your grill and even cause injury.

To prevent flashbacks and ensure good performance, the burner and venturi assembly should be removed from the grill and cleaned before use whenever the grill has been idle for an extended period.

Venturi