Last year, Keefer Rader, owner of Albuquerque-based Outlaw Mechanical, had one of those experiences that confirmed the value of an investment he’d made just weeks earlier. He didn’t buy cryptocurrency or Spotify stock at just the right time. No — the event that triggered confirmation of a diagnostic tool’s purchase was a new boiler’s inability to fire.
As is usually the case, the no-heat call came in the middle of the night and in the middle of winter. Making matters worse, he’d recently installed the boiler, a natural gas-fired appliance that also served as the source of heat for the home’s domestic water.
Of course, the customer wasn’t happy about it, and neither was Rader. Oddly enough, when he arrived at the house an hour later — about 20 miles from his shop — all systems were functional.
“We played this game three more times; I’d leave after checking on things, driving there and back several times,” he said. “He’d call me back. I’d return to dig deeper while the boiler and all components were working fine. It was very frustrating.”
The Right Tools
A few days later, and on his third return to the house, Rader took with him a diagnostic tool he’d purchased a month earlier: the Dormont FloPro-MD, a hand-held device for performing gas equipment start-ups, commissioning, and maintenance. The device quickly measures gas pressure and flow for gas-burning appliances while logging data via Bluetooth.
“The first thing I did was to check gas pressure at the manifold within the home, and everything looked perfect. The [gas] pressure was exactly where it should’ve been,” he explained. “Then, I installed the FloPro on the incoming gas line to the home and left it there. Sure enough, around 11 p.m. that evening when it got cold enough to freeze the gas line buried underground, the line clamped shut. Gas doesn’t freeze, but water does — so I thought I was onto something.”
“The tool logged data showing that there was a loss of gas pressure within the home that night, so I visited the customer early the next morning,” he continued. “Not long after the sun began to warm the turf above the clogged gas line, pressure into the home was restored. The FloPro told me everything I needed to know, down to the exact moment pressure was lost, and when it returned, as well as the pressure at every stage of freeze-thaw cycle.”
That afternoon, after turning the heat up within the home for a short while, Rader disconnected the gas line at the regulator outside the home and at the main trunk to it at the street. He then used compressed air to blow out the gas line, pushing about 10 gallons of water out of the line.
“Not one drop of water should’ve been in there, and I filled up almost two five-gallon buckets,” he reported.
Needless to say, whoever installed gas service to the home didn’t protect it from rainwater when the home was constructed.
“I was just glad that the challenge was over and done with, and that I’d had the right tool to diagnose the problem,” Rader said. “It’s a very beneficial tool. Having the right tools on hand always increases productivity and efficiency, especially when the jobsite is remote.”
350 Miles From The Shop
Several years before he founded Outlaw Mechanical at the age of 21, Rader worked in remote Colorado, maintaining the property and mechanical systems on a private ranch. Though his firm — now 15 years old — has won recognition as the “No. 2-rated” mechanical firm in Albuquerque, he’s maintained ties in Colorado.
“My family and I love the area, and there are still folks in Colorado who insist that I serve as their mechanical systems pro, even at a distance of 350 miles,” he said. So it wasn’t a complete surprise to hear from a man who manages a mountaintop wedding venue outside of Durango, just several days before a large gathering was to lease the facility for a ceremony.
Apparently, a large kitchen broiler — “absolutely needed by the caterer,” he said — wasn’t performing well. The new manager was instructed to get Rader out to fix it.
“I tried to help him diagnose and troubleshoot the problem, but I quickly learned that they’d already attempted to solve the problem [to no avail],” said Rader. So, with less than a week before the large group arrived for the wedding, Rader cleared his schedule for a Friday night drive to Durango, hoping to have the problem solved for a drive home the next day.
“The challenge with remote-site work is the need to pre-think everything,” he said. “Would I have the right materials and supplies and spare parts with me, and anything else I might need to complete the job in one trip?”
By Friday afternoon, Rader visited a local supplier, buying some spare parts for the large, commercial kitchen broiler. He ran between the truck and his shop’s well-stocked shelves a dozen times before his departure and was soon on his way, driving most of the distance that evening.
The next day, Keefer drove the last 20 miles to the wedding venue. He found the griddle and set to work.
“I found that the broiler worked, but not well enough. It needed more [LP] gas for more heat,” he explained. Rader was unable to use a conventional manometer, as the broiler didn’t have the test ports that he typically used for diagnosing hydronic boiler problems. Among the supplies Rader learned long ago to keep in his truck: several gas regulators. He went to the truck for the FloPro-MD.
“The FloPro showed that the pre-regulator gas flow and pressure were good, but on the regulator’s other [outgoing/supply] side, I began to see my problem,” he explained. “The FloPro made it perfectly clear that the broiler’s regulator had failed. Once connected, the new regulator provided greater gas pressure to the broiler, which worked as intended, with plenty of heat for the caterer set to arrive that afternoon.”
Rader explained that, as the tool is connected to the gas line and is out of the way, he especially likes its ability to diagnose problems while the appliance is operating.
“Managers at most commercial kitchens refuse to allow troubleshooting or maintenance work during hours of operation because of the need to shut the appliance down — or, even worse — to cut gas service at a manifold to several gas appliances.” This tool, however, is designed to work while the appliance is in use.
“It offers the function and intelligence of a manometer, and a gas flow meter, too,” he added. “It offers precise diagnostics, with plain English on the screen. The FloPro now has a permanent place in my truck.”