HOLLISTON, MA — Did you know that the average age of a plumber in Massachusetts is 49? To make matter worse, there aren’t a lot of new young plumbers in the pipeline. And the problem isn’t limited to plumbers. Hvacr installers and technicians are in almost equally short supply.

For a company like Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning here in Holliston, that could be a big problem. The lack of good people is “the constraint on our growth,” says company president Andy Rodenhiser. Having had limited success with traditional recruiting, the contractor is now coaxing established, independent plumbers to come on board as employees. Besides the usual lures of a good salary, benefits, and the opportunity to advance, the contractor pays the former independents commissions whenever their old customers hire the Rodenhiser company.


The move has brought in new talent and business. And freed from the headaches of running a business, the new workers can concentrate on doing what they do best — using their mechanical and troubleshooting skills.

Jamie Miller, 31, closed Kerns and Miller Plumbing in Millis, MA, and joined Rodenhiser last October. “It’s a lot better for both me and my family,” he says. Miller had operated his business for a year and a half, taking over from his father-in-law. His office was in his home (actually his dining room), and he could hear the messages coming in on his answering machine at all hours. He set his own schedule, paid the bills, and dealt with vendors.

“I could never turn off the business and relax. I’m a lot less stressed now,” he says. Miller has seen his horizons open. Previously he did only residential work; now he works on commercial jobs, too.

On his own, “There was no one to learn from,” he says. As an employee, he can get hands-on experience learning about heating and air conditioning systems.


Rodenhiser sees his company as operating in a comfortable middle ground between larger, consolidated contractors and small, independent shops. The contractor is large enough to have the latest computer systems and use sophisticated management and marketing methods. To recruit new workers, Rodenhiser advertises on local rock radio stations and talks to people in the field.

The plumbers are organized in five- to 10-person teams responsible for a certain geographic area. The teams set their own budgets and meet weekly to solve problems and set priorities. “We’re bringing Harvard Business School practices to a traditionally blue-collar industry,” Rodenhiser says. “We’re listening to each other and improving customer feedback.” It also is involved heavily with community service. The company and its employees donate time and materials to the South Middlesex Opportunity Council and the Christmas in April program, which both help needy families.

The company has tripled in size the last three years. “It’s been a real challenge to maintain a good corporate culture, recruit staff, and exercise leadership,” Rodenhiser says.

Sidebar: Pursuing the Energy Angle

Rodenhiser is also taking advantage of the recent increase in energy costs, pointing out to homeowners that many of them can save at least $500 a year on their electric bills by upgrading to a more-efficient central air conditioner, says Scott Burroughs, an air conditioning expert with Rodenhiser.

People with older, inefficient units can save even more, he says. Today’s top-end central air conditioners are far more efficient than those made just a few years ago, Burroughs says. Newer units have a two-speed compressor and a variable-speed fan. The fan and compressor operate at energy-saving low speed most of the time. Only on the hottest days do they need to kick up to the higher speeds, and even then, only for as long as needed.

SEER ratings also show how much the technology has advanced. Before 1992, most units had a SEER of 6. Now the government requires a minimum rating of 10, and top units can achieve a SEER of 18. The Bush administration recently announced it will propose a 12-SEER standard, while a few manufacturers are pushing for 13. Clearly, older air conditioners are energy hogs and homeowners can save a lot by replacing them, Burroughs says. But even homes built in the last several years rarely have the most-efficient units. Most homebuilders install “builders’ specials” — low-end, low-priced air conditioners, he points out.

Anyone with a unit more than five years old should think about having an expert work out some figures on how much energy could be saved by upgrading, Burroughs says. Besides saving on electricity, newer, high-end units provide these benefits:

  • More consistent temperature — With older units, the temperature in the home can vary significantly as the compressor cycles on and off. With newer, multispeed air conditioners, the temperature will stay within a couple of degrees of the thermostat setting.
  • Lower humidity
  • ;
  • Less noise — The unit is usually operating at low speed.
  • Better air quality — Some high-end units have built-in HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) filters. These filters effectively remove 99.97% of all pollen, mold spores, animal hair, dander, dust mites, bacteria, smoke particles, and dust that pass though them. This can be a blessing for people with allergies or asthma.
  • “Though it may cost several thousand dollars to completely replace your air conditioner and redesign the ducts, the savings on electricity can give [homeowners] an excellent return on investment,” Burroughs says. “And besides saving money, [they’ll] have quieter, more comfortable homes. And [they’ll] be helping reduce the demand for electricity and benefiting the environment.”

    A Consortium for Energy Efficiency study says energy bills can be cut up to 50% with proper installation, sizing, and maintenance of commercial central air conditioners. While the study didn’t measure residential systems, some experts believe homeowners can save as much too.

    How could homeowners resist a valid sales pitch like that?

    Founded in 1928, Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning serves residential and commercial customers. It was recently named Residential Contractor of the Year, Northeast Region, by the Excellence Alliance, Inc. Call 800-633-7473 for more information.

    Publication date: 07/30/2001