Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, Missoula, Montana, specializes in plumbing, HVAC and boiler service, and high-efficiency systems. Starting his own business out of necessity, or perhaps the illusion of it, Andy Mickelson (@mick_plumb) launched Mickelson Plumbing & Heating New Year’s Day, 2011. I guess you could say it’s all part of Mickelson’s fabric and mental make-up—there Read more
Mickelson Plumbing & Heating
Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, Missoula, Montana, specializes in plumbing, HVAC and boiler service, and high-efficiency systems.
Starting his own business out of necessity, or perhaps the illusion of it, Andy Mickelson (@mick_plumb) launched Mickelson Plumbing & Heating New Year’s Day, 2011. I guess you could say it’s all part of Mickelson’s fabric and mental make-up—there is no end result other than success. “I am a terrible loser; I hate not winning daily,” says Mickelson.
Turning the clock back to where it all began, Mickelson was eight years old when he got his taste of real hard work, helping out his father, a remodeling contractor. “It was easy to have my brothers and me helping out, and at that time, we were eager to get dirty and learn how to build things, and THAT has never stopped,” says Mickelson.
Soaking up knowledge whenever he had the chance, Mickelson has had many great mentors in his first shop, and the UA produces an incredible brotherhood of knowledgeable folks. “Dick Darne was one of the Journeyman that I learned the most from; he had a hip replacement, and a few weeks later I began my service career, carrying his tool bag and being his hands in the field when he couldn’t. All I had to do was listen to directions and retain the methods of his madness. The troubleshooting tactics I learned in a roundabout way were invaluable.”
Nearly 10 years after venturing on his own, who could’ve ever foreseen the situation we are faced with today? “The first quarter was one of the best we’ve ever seen, but April produced only 68% of the average business produced in the first three months of the year,” says Mickelson.
Thankfully, Montana has seen fewer COVID-19 cases than the rest of the country, and the state has re-opened for business. But that’s not to say Mickelson isn’t taking the necessary PPE precautions, and Mickelson is screening all customers at this time. “For the most part, we are not taking on work that can be postponed.”
In general, needless to say, Mickelson loves what he does—creating solutions for his customers. “Service work allows me to do that several times a day. It’s a good thing.”
But thinking of going out on your own? A heavily-involved Boy Scout leader, Mickelson suggests taking its motto to heart—Be Prepared. “Plan, Plan, Plan. There are fantastic resources available to help people prepare to start a business. USE THEM! Also, you have to answer the simple question, am I ready to be a business owner first and a plumber second? If yes, then proceed. If no, rethink the approach get your mind right. Businesses hire good plumbers, not the other way around.”
And those who are thinking of getting into the trades? “Do it, unless you have a better plan that actually pays,” says Mickelson, but he stresses that we need to kill the stigma that the trades are all about hard work. Concerning to Mickelson, those who discourage others from entertaining the idea of becoming a tradesman based on the work being too tough or man’s work. “Anyone who indulges in this tactic is merely afraid of their own deficiencies and nervous about being replaced by someone who may work smarter or harder.”
Sure, there are aspects that are hard, continues Mickelson, but with continued education and exerting oneself, reaching a higher level of employment in the trades is a real possibility. Good work ethics and attitude are noticed—one may not hear about it—but it doesn’t go unnoticed. And, share the knowledge others have shared with you. “I have always found that it is far easier to share knowledge with a willing listener than it is to intentionally with hold it,” says Mickelson.
Mickelson’s career has afforded him a good life with his wife and two kids. “Family time is my favorite. Second would be exercising my 2nd Amendment rights. Both of which usually occur outdoors.”
Yet balancing work/family life is a careful endeavor for Mickelson. “It’s really easy for family to take a back seat and be lost in the hustle. I traditionally try to make sure that work is done during the day and that my ‘Night Shift’ doesn’t start until everyone has begun to wind down for the night. All in all, business has taught me to use my time efficiently, and set priorities, Family, friends, money, seems to be a good flow.
All in all, waking up every day is a blessing for Mickelson. “I’ve told my kids for years that they are the only person who can make their day a bad day, so go into battle and aim for a great day, and worst-case scenario it’ll be OK.”
Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, in Missoula, Montana was recently hired to add back-up heat to a wood-fired hydronic system serving three buildings; a home, a shop and a lodge. The system, which draws heat from an Econoburn gasification boiler and 800-gallon buffer tank, served the family well last winter. But in the spring of 2014 Read more
Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, in Missoula, Montana was recently hired to add back-up heat to a wood-fired hydronic system serving three buildings; a home, a shop and a lodge. The system, which draws heat from an Econoburn gasification boiler and 800-gallon buffer tank, served the family well last winter. But in the spring of 2014, their lives changed.
The family’s oldest daughter, who’s 10 years old, came down with a mysterious illness that rendered her incapacitated from the neck down. After spending time at several hospitals, she ended up in critical care in Spokane, WA. Here, doctors discovered that she was plagued by a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The life-threatening disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system, and recovery times – when patients are fortunate – last a year or more. Needless to say, the girl’s parents are spending as much time as possible by her side. This means that more often than not, nobody is home 200 miles away in Montana.
They realized that their daughter’s condition wouldn’t stabilize before the onset of heating season, so Mickelson was called to install a supplemental heat source for when nobody is available to put wood in the existing boiler.
In September, owner Andy Mickelson and Service Technician Chris Paul arrived with a 399 MBH Burnham Alpine condensing boiler and a Fan-In-A-Can combustion air system for the wood boiler.
“The first thing we did was plumb the new boiler into the two-inch supply for the big buffer tank,” said Mickelson. The tank supplies water to Watts manifolds and PEX for in-slab radiant, domestic hot water tanks, Modine Hot Dawg H20 unit heaters, and Magic Aire coils in the home’s ductwork. Connecting all the buildings is pre-insulated, 1-1/2-inch Watts R-Flex supply-and-return tubing underground. A variety of Taco pumps and zone controls are used throughout. The tank and system are designed for 160°F water on average.
They were surprised by how quickly the big buffer tank heated up after firing the boiler. “It went from about 70°F to 125°F in about 40 minutes. Of course that’s on hi-fire. They’ll see much lower fuel consumption once the boiler is just maintaining setpoint and firing at a lower input.”
With efficiencies up to 95% and sizes from 80 to 399 MBH, the Alpine comes standard with a five-year parts and labor warranty. Mickelson and Paul used a Honeywell T775 staging control to fire the Alpine if the wood boiler does not begin to raise the buffer tank temperature within the programmed interstage delay period.
“The T775 control gave us the benefit of a multi stage, outdoor reset control which is completely stand alone,” explained Mickelson. “The buffer tank was programmed to maintain a 160°F at design conditions with a low reset to 110°F. Most of the terminal units are fan coils, requiring a slightly higher supply temperature. With the wood boiler’s built-in bypass control and the Alpine’s heat exchanger design, low return temperatures are not a factor.”
When the wood boiler was first installed, the property owner hadn’t been concerned about leaving the boiler room open to supply combustion air to the wood boiler. But the reality that the two youngest daughters could make their way to the boiler room on their own sunk in. Young hands and hot pipes being incompatible, they decided they wanted a way to shut the door without choking the boiler.
Mickelson’s solution was to use a Fan-In-A-Can, made by Field Controls. The unique product is what the name implies; a fan inside a “can”, attached to a pipe that draws air from outdoors. Fan-In-A-Can is an engineered system, and when properly sized to the application, supplies the precise amount of air needed in close proximity to the combustion appliance.
With several configurations and single-fan sizes that range from 50,000 to 1.8M BTUS, the Fan-In-A-Can can be used to supply combustion air for just about any atmospheric combustion appliance.
Wired to the power supply from the wood boiler’s combustion blower, the Can actually starts before the blower comes on. Half a second later the Can proves, and the blower starts. When the temp control on the boiler is satisfied, the Can shuts off with the blower. The system will allow the boiler room to be sealed without concern of having adequate combustion air.
With the boilers, buffer tank, and hundreds of feet of underground PEX, the hydronic system contains more than 1,000 gallons spread out among three buildings. Given Montana’s wicked winters, Mickelson wanted to be sure that if makeup water was being added to the system, antifreeze wasn’t being diluted. An Axiom MF200 glycol feeder was added to round out the new system upgrades.
With any luck, the family’s little girl will return to Montana before spring. Whether LP or wood is the source, she’ll have a warm homecoming.
Date started: 9/2014
Date Finished: 9/2014
Size of Project: Approx. 7,700 sq. ft. total in three buildings
Workers onsite: 2
Boiler — Burnham Alpine condensing LP boiler, 399k BTU input
Buffer Tank – Niles Steel Tank, 800-gallon ASME
Pumps — Taco Bumble Bee, Taco 0015, Taco 2400, Taco 007, Taco 0013
Underground Pipe – 870 lineal feet of 1-1/2-inch Watts Radiant R-Flex insulated pipe
Relays — Taco SR and ZVC relay boxes, Honeywell T775 staging control
Manifolds – stainless steel Watts Flowmeter
Piping — Watts RaniantPEX+, Watts Onix EPDM
Tools Used — Rothenberger ROPOWER portable compact threading machine, Milwaukee M18 cordless power tools
Valves — Taco Zone Sentry zone valves, Watts ball valves
Separators — Taco 4900 Series
Combustion Air Supply – Field Controls Fan-In-A-Can model CAS-3 with 120 VAC control circuit.
Other — Axiom MF200 Glycol mini-system feeder, Axiom acid neutralizer