Iowa Contractor Keeps Workers Busy

September 9, 2005
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John Mudd gives the furnace a clean bill of health during his first stop.
DAVENPORT, Iowa - The rain had fallen long enough to cool down the hot summer temperatures and provide relief to area farmers who have endured a long dry spell in eastern Iowa. But what makes some people fret makes others happy - as in Davenport-area HVAC contractors.

Not only are the contractors happy with the hot summer weather and the additional service and maintenance calls, their employees are happy to log some extra hours and have a marked increase in their income. And the extra money is not the only reason service techs are happy, at least not the only reason why service tech John Mudd is smiling these days.

Mudd hosted a ridealong for The News in mid-August and gave some insights into the HVAC market in and around the Davenport community. Mudd works for Gabrilson Indoor Comfort Solutions, one of several major union contractors serving the commercial and residential markets in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. His boss is owner Tom Gabrilson, a man that Mudd is very happy to work for.

"Tom is an awesome boss," he said. "I knew about the company long before they hired me. I worked at the golf club where Tom is a member. I wanted to work for him when I got out of high school, but the economy was bad. I went to college and just as I got my associate's degree, Tom called again and offered me a job.

"I went through an apprenticeship, and here I am today."

Mudd grew up across the Mississippi River in East Moline, Ill. and has since relocated to Davenport. He enjoys his work in both the residential and commercial markets because of the variety both offer.

"Residential is nice because I see a lot of different homes," Mudd said. "Commercial is cool because I can be left alone a lot [e.g. rooftop units] and work with a lot of different gadgets."

Mudd also likes the steadiness of his workload - something he has a lot of control over. He and his fellow service techs are encouraged to sell service and maintenance agreements. All techs get an extra perk for selling an agreement. And it ensures future work.

"Each agreement guarantees 45 minutes to an hour of work the next year," he said. "We do enough of this work to keep busy. I've never been laid off in the 12 years I've worked here."

It’s a tight squeeze for John Mudd as he checks out a noisy condensing unit during his second stop.

Trusting Customers

The two stops The News went on with Mudd involved maintenance and service checks on residential air conditioning equipment. In both instances, the customers were not home. They had given Gabrilson permission to enter the homes by providing the pass codes for the garage door openers. Mudd said that 40 percent to 50 percent of Gabrilson's customers allow techs into their homes by themselves.

Gabrilson had serviced both homes in the past as evidenced by the bright yellow sticker on the furnace. Gabrilson is well-known throughout the area for its yellow theme. Mudd said the yellow sticker is common "when you consider that seven service techs do about five to seven stops per day."

The first stop was routine maintenance, resulting in a clean bill of health for the equipment and the recommendation by Mudd that the homeowner level off the four-year-old pad below one of the condensing units, as it was leaning toward the house.

The second stop involved a service call where the customer heard a buzzing noise coming from the condensing unit. Mudd noticed that the contactor was badly pitted and was the likely source of the noise. He replaced the contactor. The job was made a little more difficult by an overgrown shrub near the condensing unit.

"I'll recommend to the owner that he trim it back so there is at least a foot of clearance here," Mudd said.

There are so many yellow Gabrilson vans around Davenport that John Mudd’s daughter put a surfer on the antenna of his van so she knows which one is his.
These two calls were typical of the workload at Gabrilson this summer. While temperatures had cooled a bit by mid-August, the demand for service and maintenance had been a welcome sight for most of the summer.

"During the first week of hot weather, I worked about 80 hours," Mudd said. "But I was also the on-call guy for that weekend. There is a lot of rotation for weekends and nights and none of the guys get burned out. And everybody here is good about calling in and helping out."

That camaraderie is evidenced by the low turnover rate in the Gabrilson service and installation crews. Mudd only remembers three turnovers in the staff in his 12 years - two retirements and one firing. One crew member has been on staff for 31 years.

Mudd pointed out another way that Gabrilson service techs keep busy: Homeowners can have an air conditioning cycling device, designed to cycle off the unit during peak demand times, installed under an "EnergyAdvantage® SummerSaver air conditioner cycling program" sponsored by the local utility, MidAmerican Energy Co. "It's good fill-in work during the spring slow times," he added.

As he looked at the workload ahead of him and the hot summer days still remaining, Mudd said, "I tell customers I am happy when they are miserable."

Publication date: 09/12/2005

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