Servicing and Storing Window A/C Units

November 1, 2010
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The storage bins in Air-Wave’s warehouses hold up to 2,500 window air conditioners, primarily for winter storage.

For the record, not a lot of HVAC contractors are likely to boast about the “lucrative” market of selling and servicing window a/c units. This is often a business segment that is left to the big box retailers and their service departments.

“There is no significant money to be made in servicing window air conditioners,” said Mike Kimmet of Swiss Air Heating & Cooling, Columbus, Ohio. “The units are relatively inexpensive and can be replaced cheaper than repairing - sort of like the TV sets of today.”

But despite the belief that there is little money to be made in servicing units that are often considered disposable, there is one Bronx, N.Y., HVAC contractor who specializes in this market - and is doing very well by making it their only business.

Air-Wave A/C has enjoyed its position in the niche market of servicing and storing window a/c units for over 56 years. Owner Bill Saferstein is proud of the fact that “no other business does what Air-Wave A/C does.”

A MODEST BEGINNING

Saferstein’s curiosity with window units and how to service them was the real reason he started the business. “I was looking for some type of work when I noticed an apartment building with a single window unit,” he said. “It made me think about how the unit could be serviced. You didn’t see too many of them because, back then, air conditioning was simply opening the window or door. You can’t do that today.

“I decided to go up to the apartment and talk to the owner. But I needed a way to get her to open the door. When I knocked on the door, she asked who it was. I replied “Air conditioning service.” She was very curious and opened the door. She said she hadn’t called anyone about service.

An Air-Wave worker steam cleans a window air conditioner – one step performed every time before storing or servicing each unit.

“I told her I must have the wrong address, which surprised her since she had the only window unit in the whole building. But I asked her if she knew how to service her unit. She said, ‘No.’ I got her permission to service her unit, so I got out my tools and can of oil and performed my first service call.”

From that point on, Saferstein began to build his business, although the customer base was very limited at the time. “I think there were only five window units in all of the Bronx,” he laughed. “So I started with $15 and a broken-down cab.”

Air-Wave employees label storage cards to ensure that every window air conditioning unit is inventoried and accounted for.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY

Today he employs 25-40 people and houses his operations in five separate buildings in the Bronx. The buildings contain his showroom, factory, and storage area for up to 3,000 window units. Why does the company have a storage area?

Saferstein recommends storage to his customers for several reasons:

• The unit’s life will be extended by less exposure to elements and by being lubricated, wrapped, and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse.

• No window unit installed means fewer cold drafts felt by the customer in the wintertime.

Workers offload new window air conditioners in one of Air-Wave warehouses.

• Removal is essential anyway for a thorough cleaning with chemicals that may be harmful to building occupants.

“There is no way we could clean a unit while still in the customer’s home,” he said. “The only way to effectively clean a unit is by using air pressure and chemicals - and we will not subject our customers to anything like that.”

Saferstein noted that servicing a window unit is very labor intensive, and his service technicians are trained to take full “ownership” of each unit they remove. They work in and out of the field. “The guys only have one job here: to remove the unit and service it themselves. The outside men have to know how to take apart a unit,” he said.

The Air-Wave staff also works the telephones, taking orders for window air conditioner replacement or service.

A window a/c unit can be repaired and reinstalled in three-four days if the customer needs it right away. Otherwise, the unit can be stored and reinstalled at a later time.

Not only is this procedure convenient for customers, it keeps the Air-Wave service technicians busy during the slow months, working inside the shop. So even during the slow times, there are few layoffs and job losses - two things common with the traditional HVAC service and replacement trade.

Saferstein is proud of his company and what it means to his community. “We’ve been a good, legitimate business for 56 years,” he said.

For a glimpse into the Air-Wave business model, visit www.airwaveac.com.

Sidebar: Adding a Service

In a recent poll at Linkedin.com, 22 HVAC contractors replied to the poll question: What have you added to your business mix besides HVAC installation, replacement, service and repair?

Although no one answered “appliance repair” most (77 percent) used the opportunity to check the “other” option and explain what services they have added. Below is a sampling of their replies.

“We added parts and filters. It has grown to about $50,000-$60,000 extra a year for us.”
- Bill Bradley, Airtronic Heating & Cooling

“Repair and maintenance of water-cooled systems.”
- Lisa Kelly, Manatee Air Heating & Cooling, Inc.

“Solar.”
- Fred Hutchinson, Hutchinson Plumbing Heating Cooling

“We’ve been performing air duct cleaning since 1993. We tried chimney and carpet cleaning and neither worked for us.”
- Greg McAfee, McAfee Heating & A/C Co., Inc.

“Servicing pool heaters and gas, propane, heat pump, and geothermal work.”
- Chris Zimmer, Zimmer Heating & Cooling

“Insulation.”
- Pat Quinlan, Coffman & Co.

“Centrifugal chiller service.”
- Robert Oetjen, M&O Corp.

“Whole-house generators.”
- Craig Jones, Slasor Heating & Cooling, Inc.

“We added the Owens Corning Attic Cat insulation machine.”
- Matthew Stewart, 72 Degrees/AC Systems LLC

“We have and are doing more unique things, leaning towards consulting versus just pricing and just what is asked for. We are much more active in the power side, too.”
- Greg Crumpton, Air Tight

“For the past three years we have become heavily involved in building performance testing and repairs. This includes audits, blower doors, duct blasters, pressure pans, foggers, data loggers, combustion analyzers, moisture meters, etc.”
- Rich Morgan, VP of Arizona Chapter of ACCA

“We have done chimney service for several years and have recently added residential energy audits.”
- Tom Santa, Santa Energy Corporation

“We’ve always been a green and progressive, energy-conscious company. We tackled the fragmented solar industry and sorted through the wannabe products and now are able to provide customers with systems that really do work!”
- Barry Kindt, SECCO Inc.

“Nothing added, other than more emphasis on IAQ products. We have taken a more organized approach to getting existing customers interested in replacing older systems, mainly for energy savings.”
- Dave Hutchins, Bay Area A/C

What have you added or are considering adding? Drop a line to John R. Hall at jrhidea@gmail.com.

Publication date: 11/01/2010

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