DETROIT, MI — Greg Adkins is a kind-hearted guy. When he isn’t installing and repairing residential hvac systems, he is playing in his band for local charities. He and his band, “High Caliber,” have performed for a fundraiser benefiting the local Goodfellows and the Toys for Tots programs. But that’s not the only charitable work that Adkins, the owner of Adkins & Son Heating & Cooling in Belleville, MI, has done this winter.

He also got a call from a friend in the home renovation business asking him to help out with a senior citizen who had no heat in her Detroit home. As it turned out, several people joined Adkins to help.

Mike Harvey, owner of American Renovation in Wayne, MI, got a message from Improve, a consumer website where homeowners can look up local contractors for all different types of home improvement and repair projects. The family of a Detroit woman had contacted local television station WDIV and requested a favor from consumer reporter Ruth Spencer. Spencer’s popular “Ruth to the Rescue” segment investigates consumer fraud and helps citizens in need reach out to the community for assistance.

Spencer’s staff called the office of Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to see how they could help. That’s when his staff went into action and contacted The website had previously signed up American Renovation and put the company on its referral list for consumers who were shopping for renovation work. representative Bob Secorda contacted Harvey’s fiancée, Vanessa Hyde, who also runs the business. Hyde and Harvey said they would love to help out the Detroit homeowner. Since Harvey did not service hvac systems, he called his friend Adkins, and the plan was set in motion.

Coordinated Effort

ImproveNet contacted Harvey the day before Thanksgiving and asked if he could locate a supplier in the area who had a replacement boiler in stock.

“The problem was finding a supplier who had the boiler,” said Harvey. “We finally located one [a Utica model from Sampson Supply in Detroit] and picked it up the following Monday.” ImproveNet picked up the tab for the boiler.

Charlie Smith, owner of Your Heating & Cooling in Belleville, added his boiler installation and service expertise to the mix. Smith joined Harvey and his crew at the Detroit home of Mrs. Gladys Wilson.

“That old boiler was a nightmare waiting to happen,” said Harvey. Adkins concurred, stating that it was one of the worst heaters he had ever seen.

“The heat exchangers were scorched, the fill valve was bad, the low-pressure safety switch was bad, and two burners wouldn’t ignite,” Adkins said. “She had to manually push the fill switch to get water into the tank. The two-inch return pipe was totally rusted out. It took four of us to haul out the old boiler. It was probably the original furnace, installed in the 50s.”

Harvey said the job took three days to complete because of the condition of the old boiler, the deterioration of pipes, and some overdue repairs to the electrical wiring.

The help came just in time for winter. “It was probably 50°F outside and colder inside,” he said. “She [Wilson] had four space heaters in her living room and heavy blankets hanging over the door openings to keep the heat in.”

A Helping Hand

Adkins, who has owned his business for eight years and employs four workers, said that people like Mrs. Wilson can always find sources for help, but they often suffer before something is done.

“There are ways for people to get help, like ‘Ruth to the Rescue,’ but some people are too worried about the cost or are stubborn,” he said. “Wilson was quoted a cost of $6,500 for the repair. She is on a fixed income. There is no way she could afford that.”

Adkins thinks the coordinated effort of his fellow business owners is something that more businesses should do.

“There has got to be a way we can help the older people out,” he said. “I’d like to get several contractors together and go out one day to fix furnaces and get people heat who can’t afford repairs.”

Adkins is proud of his efforts to help others.

“I’ll never get rich in this business because I’m big hearted. I’ll work out payment plans with people who can’t afford a lot, and they usually are the ones who never burn me. Impoverished people will work harder to pay because they really appreciate what you do for them.”

Thanks to the work of Harvey, Adkins, and the open checkbook from, an elderly homeowner will be comfortable and secure in her home for many years to come. Santa Claus came a little early for Mrs. Wilson in 2000.

For more information about American Renovation, call 734-721-2595.

Sidebar: Pays Off

When Vanessa Hyde and Mike Harvey visited a Home and Builder’s Show in suburban Detroit last year, they met Bob Secorda of, who had a booth at the show. ImproveNet was looking to sign up contractors in the area for its new consumer website,, where homeowners and business owners can shop for prequalified, prescreened home improvement contractors.

“They were looking for someone in our area and they really wanted us to join up,” said Hyde, who along with Harvey, started American Renovation in 1998. “ImproveNet provides us with leads from consumers. If we choose to follow up on the lead, it costs us $10. If the consumer isn’t really interested in getting a quote, ImproveNet will refund the $10. Once ImproveNet gets four companies who want to offer quotes, they don’t solicit any more. We then give the customer a quote.”

If a business like American Renovation gets the job, ImproveNet takes out a small percentage as a commission.

“We did a $5,000 job that ImproveNet referred to us, and I think we paid them $50 for the referral,” said Hyde.

Harvey, who worked doing home improvement for other people for several years, now employs four workers and recently moved into a new office on a busy street. He plans on opening a showroom in January. His website will be up and running soon, too, and it will be linked to’s.

“For new companies like mine, the service is great,” he added. “Now we can get our names into other communities that we wouldn’t normally reach. It would cost us a lot of money to advertise outside of our area.”

Hyde said visiting the website is a good way for people to get the basic comforts, like heat, while being serviced by a qualified contractor. She points with pride to her company’s charitable work for Detroit homeowner Gladys Wilson.

“Customers don’t necessarily want a $6,000 system,” she said. “They just want heat.”

Publication date: 01/22/2001