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Why Workplace Mentoring Works


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.”

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

“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
“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.

Tips from Cleveland Water Department


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.


Five Questions From the Plain Dealer


On January 17th 2014

The Plain Dealer Interviewed us with these Questions.


Q : With the winter we’ve had so far, what free advice can you give to folks about how to prevent their pipes from freezing or bursting?

A : During the winter season residents must maintain their heating systems in good working condition. Pre-season preventive maintenance is suggested. Since no guarantee can be made when or if a heating system will fail, we always recommend to our customers the following do-it-yourself preventative maintenance methods:

If you are going away for a period of time, turn off your water main and drain your water lines at the lowest level of your home. Turning off the water and draining the home will help prevent a frozen line. If the water in the piping does freeze, it expands, which can cause a break in the line. If the water main is not shut off and the already frozen and failed water line finally thaws out, the water damage that follows can become quite devastating. Don’t forget to disconnect hoses from your outside hose faucets as well — we see many burst hose lines this time of year. If you have any exposed water lines in attics or basement crawl spaces you should have that area insulated to help keep the cool air from entering the area. If any water lines are buried behind kitchen and bathroom cabinets we recommend leaving the cabinet doors open during these frigid events — especially if these cabinets are on outside walls. If you have frozen pipes, never apply a torch to thaw them. Try to find isolation valves to that particular fixture and turn them off. When the temperature rises, slowly turn on the water source and monitor for any failures. Do not leave your home unattended unless you are positive the isolation valves are off. The last thing you want to do is leave a potentially failed water line unattended and have it thaw out which can create further damage by water.

If your heating system is dependent on water, such as steam or hot water heat, we recommend to call your professional heating specialists to install a dedicated water line to keep the heating system operating while the domestic faucets are out of service.


Q: Can you describe a time when you were faced with a situation that tested your skills?
A: How about last week (1/7/14). Our company responded to over 300 emergency calls in a three-day span due to frozen or burst water lines. In addition to no heat calls and maintaining our regular scheduled work, keeping people and their homes safe was the priority. Unfortunately, we were confronted with a lot of damaged homes due to what was mostly found to be minor pipe failures in water systems that ran unnoticed for hours.

Q : Many plumbers are on call nights and weekends. What do you do to balance work and personal life?
A: My father started this business over 30 years ago, along with being a professional firefighter. His hours have never been “a regular 9 to 5.” The demands of this business can stretch into your personal life. However, we have made so many friends over the years in the servicing of people’s homes that the work does become a part of our personal life, and we like that.

Q: How have changes in technology affected your job?
A: The technology in the plumbing trade is constantly changing from the material we use to the complex heating and cooling mechanical systems we install and maintain. The technology becomes quite a challenge because of the ever-changing demands of more economical ways to heat, cool and serve a home with comfort systems. In order to stay knowledgeable we must educate ourselves and staff to understand and service these developments in engineering. Our company understands the importance of continuing education and we strongly believe here at A C Plumbing that knowledge moves our industry forward.

Q:  What would people be surprised to learn about your profession?
A:  The men and women in this profession have a definitive passion for quality and craftsmanship. We as plumbers, heating and cooling specialists must be licensed from the state to perform these technical skills and must have continuing education documented by the state in order to keep those licenses. We have worked and studied hard to achieve these credentials. Homeowners should expect these professional requirements in their plumbing, heating and mechanical professionals. We take pride in serving our customers safely, promptly and professionally and will continue to do so for many years to come.

 For those who want to see the article in the Plain Dealer click here


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A.C. Plumbing Heating and Mechanical
5186 Richmond Rd, Bedford Heights Ohio 44146
Phone: 216-831-1719