Steve Harriman works on the oil filter from the fuel oil tank at the first stop in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
PORTLAND, Maine - The outside temperatures were inching above 85°F. It was not necessarily typical Maine weather and it was certainly not the type of atmosphere for heating equipment tune-ups. But on this day - like many other summer days in this Maine community - the schedule includes many tune-ups and cleanings.

That's because Union Oil is busy working with its planned maintenance customers, people who depend on the company to deliver oil year-round and be ready for any no-heat emergencies during the colder months. Summer is a busy time for taking care of some of the 28,000 customers. In order to maintain a regular schedule for its service techs and handle the workload, it is a necessity to run routine maintenance calls throughout the year.

Perhaps the key word is maintenance as opposed to cleaning. "Our boss doesn't like the word cleaning," said service tech Steve Harriman, who hosted the ride along. "The word implies that something is dirty and it may not be."

Harriman said it is his primary job to run maintenance calls during the summer - there's not a need for no-heat calls and very little requests for air conditioning tune-ups. Summers in Maine don't include a lot of cooling days and as Harriman said, "Most folks are happy with window units."

Harriman likes the work, having spent the last five years with Union Oil. He has been a service tech for 30 years, starting as a tech in his father's business in the late '70s. He spent a lot of time "wrestling with the large commercial equipment" and it has taken its toll on his back. These days he prefers residential service work and keeps very busy.

Union Oil stays busy by scheduling maintenance calls for its long list of service customers. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. "Performing service on heating equipment is like servicing a car," said Harriman. "There is no defined time of the year to do it."

Harriman is very conscious of leaving a good impression with each customer. He makes sure the area he works in is as clean or cleaner than when he arrived. He makes a note of the condition of the home when he arrives, such as oil stains or dirt. He does not want to take the blame for a mess he did not make.

As part of his service, he makes note of the oil level in the customer's tank, adding that many times he will leave with a job ticket for an oil refill. "We don't want our customers running out of oil in the middle of the night," he said.

As for the maintenance call itself; it is usually scheduled well ahead of time with an automatic post card mailing. Harriman said that customers appreciate that because they can plan their day around the service or call and can change the time with one call to Union Oil. "It's great because it doesn't cost us anything to set up the appointment," he said.

Harriman vacuums out the inside of the Burnham boiler during his routine maintenance on the home.


Harriman's first stop in the Cape Elizabeth community was to a 2,500-square-foot home with a multizoned Burnham boiler positioned very close to the oil tank. It was in an ideal spot - in an open area with easy access.

Harriman's first procedure was to check the maintenance log, which was lying on the water heater. The log gives a detailed service history and provides insight into any service problems or parts that were replaced. He then proceeded to check the oil tank level and clean the oil tank filter. He discovered a blockage in the filter line, which he blew out with a push/pull pump. "I think I got the booger out," he said. "This would have been a service problem come fall."

Harriman once again emphasized the importance of taking accurate notes. "It is important to keep notes of what you do here, including whether or not you adjusted the pump pressure. If you don't check the notes, for example, incorrect pump pressure may cause pump failure, which could result in an emergency service call."

The second scheduled stop didn't happen as planned. The homeowner was gone. Harriman left a door hanger message to call Union Oil to reschedule. Dispatch gave him another home that needed service and maintenance on a Buderus boiler stacked over a water heater. The location was nearby as Union Oil likes to schedule as many stops in one area as possible - to reduce drive times and have time for more stops.

Harriman had serviced the equipment four years earlier and even remembered the brand of equipment when his dispatcher gave him the name and address of the homeowner.

He noted that Buderus and Riello are two manufacturers who come to Union Oil and conduct a lot of training. "Our company does a good job of getting the training we need," he said.

Harriman added that his company also sends its service techs to day classes in hydronics.

On this stop to the condominium unit, Harriman discovered a very dirty interior of the boiler. He said that condensation inside the chamber looked like flaky dirt. He attributed it to low stack temperatures, which caused a buildup of moisture. The flaky material was a lot of unburned fuel oil.

After finishing up the work, Harriman cleaned the area, leaving it better than when he arrived. It was time for lunch and then an afternoon of more service and maintenance - the summer schedule of a Union Oil service tech.

Publication date: 08/14/2006