New Hampshire contractor Steve Berger is — like the state he lives in — somewhat of a nonconformist by his own admission.

For example, his truck, a 2005 Mitsibuishi 14- by 8-foot box truck that’s uncommon in the HVAC industry, is large enough to store the average service tech’s van inside. The size enables a huge inventory that eliminates time-consuming trips to the wholesaler. Plus, the truck outfitter installed a roof-mounted hydraulic aerial lift bucket — also uncommon in the industry — that permanently eliminates carrying heavy equipment and tools up and down ladders and saves job time.

With complex refrigeration leaks, the president of Berger HVAC of Northwood uses a refrigeration system sealant for indiscoverable or inaccessible leaks because of time restrictions. Not only does this practice save customers thousands of dollars in most cases, he said, but repairing presumably unfixable equipment and making it efficient again saves the environment from many pounds of leaked refrigerant — another important consideration for those living in the Granite State.

Nonconforming Strategy

Nonconformity isn’t a goal, Berger said, but merely a strategy when more conventional practices sometimes cost the customer more money. For example, Berger went the unconventional route when a machine shop customer’s light commercial rooftop units spewed smoke every fall heating season start-up because the plant’s computer numerical control (CNC) machinery processes had oil-coated the heat exchangers throughout the year. Instead of replacing the units with industrial-grade heating equipment, Berger designed his own sheet metal filter holders, outfitted them with washable Pre-Vent equipment protection filters by Permatron, and installed them on the units.

Berger learned long ago that saving older equipment, or at least prolonging its services during recessionary times, creates a loyal lifelong customer. It also generates many referrals that have helped him build his four-year-old business, which he operates with his wife, Margaret, after being laid off as a service tech for another contractor.

He said vacuum-packed sealants and moisture removal agents are two proven methods of increasing new and old refrigeration system operating life cycles by several years, so owners can budget and plan for equipment replacement at a later time. 

Taking the Bait

Northwood Country Market be-
came a customer since Berger successfully fixed the convenience store’s
40-gallon refrigerated seafood/live bait tank, which is responsible for selling 300 to 400 pounds of lobster weekly in the summer and 25 to 30 pounds of live bait in the winter. Previous service techs couldn’t find the CFC-12 leak that periodically brought water temperatures up to 56°F from the recommended 36° on the ½-ton, 7,000-Btu system. The last service company suggested new components at a cost of over $1,000 or replacing the entire unit at more than $4,000, according to Eric Enos, the convenience store’s owner.

After pulling the R-12 and replacing it with HFC-409a, Berger couldn’t find the intermittent leak either because it was most likely hidden in the evaporator coil. The low pressure side was still in a vacuum, which indicated internal moisture was causing sludge and soft particulate formation that blocked the capillary tubes. Berger applied one can of Cliplight’s Dry-R™, a drying agent capable of removing up to 60 drops of moisture, thereby freeing up the partially blocked capillary tubes and returning the system to normal operating pressures and conditions. Instead of the conventional method of replacing the capillary tube(s), applying the drying agent eliminated the existing blockage and future particulate formations caused by moisture.

The leak was still indeterminable, however, even after inspection with two different leak detectors. Berger applied one can of Super Seal ACR (also made by Cliplight) designed for smaller refrigeration systems under 1.5 tons. The absence of moisture allows the sealant to do more work while ensuring the optimal life cycle and performance of the system, the manufacturer said. (Both products use a patented vacuum-packed can.)

“Berger HVAC saved us a lot of replacement costs, not to mention lost sales from downtime,” Enos said. “We call them for all of our HVACR repairs now.”

Wholesale Support

Countermen Kevin Blanchette and Derek Reposa of the Manchester, N.H., branch of wholesale distributor, Bell/Simons, introduced Berger to Super Seal as well as a myriad of other product trial samples, according to branch manager, Stephen Ribecca. Along with samples, Bell/Simons counter day seminars are held. For example, manufacturer’s representative Edison, N.J.-based MarketAir Inc. and its New Hampshire territory sales rep Jim DeSantis routinely hold seminars on sealants and drying agents at wholesalers.

Since the Bell/Simons introduction, Berger has applied the drying agent and sealant combination to more than 12 systems including small restaurant refrigerated reach-in appliances, salad bars, walk-in freezers, ice machines, and rooftop air conditioners.

Since commercial service is 80 percent of his business, saving one piece of equipment can lead to many other equipment repairs on the premises. For example, Berger said he saved thousands of dollars in construction costs for the Saint Ann Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Dover, N.H., when a can of Dry-R and Super Seal HVACR eliminated system moisture and sealed recessed line sets for a 24,000-Btu walk-in cooler, according to David Sanders, maintenance director. The 100-bed nursing home has many other types of refrigeration equipment that will be serviced by Berger in the future.

While some might consider Berger a nonconformist, nonconformity is not a negative when considering he’s moving with the pace of scientific advancements in ACR repair to save customers time and money. Berger said he will continue this listening and learning process in an attempt to grow his new business in a rapidly changing world.

Publication date: 10/10/2011