By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Talk to Seth Goldkamp, vice president of Design Aire heating and cooling company, and you know within minutes that he is a SMART contractor.
He’s not just smart because he continues to grow a 112-year-old family-owned and operated business. He’s not just smart because Design Aire has 62 highly-trained employees taught intricate technical details through the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Apprenticeship and Training Programs.
He’s smart because his company is a card-carrying member of the SMART initiative, a partnership between Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 and its signatory contractors.
The SMART program promotes the highly-trained and skilled workers used by Local 36 HVAC contractors, pushing them above the fray of the usual $19.95 non-union, bait-and-switch heating and cooling companies in the area.
“The difference between calling a SMART contractor and any other company who rubber bands an ad to your front door, comes down to integrity,” Goldkamp said. “If a person calls my company, we show up, and our goal is to make sure your furnace is operating safely. If anything stands out, we’re going to let you know.”
He added, “The SMART contractors are dedicated and professional. A lot of companies want to get into the house and all they’re trying to do is find a way to sell you a new furnace or expensive parts.”
Goldkamp says the SMART contractors hold a higher level of integrity because most have been in business for many years.
“We’re not trying to get rich quick. We want to earn our customer’s trust, then a lot of the time we’ll be getting calls from their kids and their neighbors because they know you can trust us,” Goldkamp said.
TIMES CHANGE, BUT 'PAPPY' AND BUD GOT IT RIGHT
Aside from accolades and credentials for the company, Design Aire operates with a small business attitude and big business services, an ethic built at its base.
The business got its start the year St. Louis hosted the World’s Fair. Great-great grandfather Frank “Pappy” Fischer started his own hot water and steam heating business working out of his home in South St. Louis. It was 1904 and only the wealthy had furnaces that managed steam heat.
Pappy had material delivered directly to the job while he traveled by streetcar with his tools. The one-man business continued for 30 years, until 1941 when his daughter Margaret “Margie” met her true love, Raymond “Bud” Goldkamp. When Bud returned from World War II, the two were married, and the three of them took the business to new levels. Margie kept the books, and Pappy and Bud worked together installing radiant heating systems during the post war housing boom.
Bud had a three-employee company with no trucks, so pipe was hauled by slipping it under the car and roping it to the front and back bumpers, Goldkamp said.
In 1904 it was all boilers and steam heat, no air conditioning, Goldkamp said.
Grandpa and grandma signed their first contract with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 during the early 1960s when forced air was more prevalent. Sheet metal workers were employed to fabricate and install ductwork.
“That was a big change. Like most industries they change a little, but going to forced air was a big one,” Goldkamp said. “I’m sure my great grandpa would be surprised to see what the industry is like now.”
Today’s HVAC technology is definitely more sophisticated than earlier days and there are certainly more safety features on today’s furnaces, Goldkamp said.
“But the same problem still exists, and that’s if you have a cracked heat exchanger,” Goldkamp said. “There is no technology that can warn people ahead of time.”
With cold weather coming, Goldkamp says now is the time to get a furnace checkup, because one of the most dangerous conditions during cold months can be a cracked heat exchanger. As part of the SMART program, a $25 rebate is available for homeowners who use a SMART contractor for spring and fall maintenance.
The heat exchanger operates when the gas burns in the furnace. A blower generates air flow and goes across a high degree heat exchanger. The problem can come after being heated and cooled, with the contraction and expansion possibly causing cracks over time, Goldkamp said.
“In really old furnaces that haven’t been maintained, you can have a crack or a hole,” Goldkamp said. “I’m always very cautious when talking to homeowners. Too many use the word carbon monoxide and scare customers, but if there is a hole or crack or it is compromised, it’s possible for the byproducts like carbon monoxide to get into the air of the home. That’s why it’s important for people to get it checked every year. Furnaces have a lot of safety features that can prevent disastrous things from happening, but that’s not the case with the heat exchanger.”
Goldkamp said with a damaged heat exchanger, a furnace will work and you won’t know the difference.
Technicians must take the gas manifold off, get into the furnace, and remove the area where gas goes into the burners. Even once that’s off, it’s still not a visual inspection, Goldkamp said.
Goldkamp says SMART Sheet Metal Worker contractors hold a list of certifications specific to the work. All of his technicians and installers are licensed by St. Louis City and County to perform this specific type of work and receive continuing education (PEU) to keep those licenses.
Fall tune-up, fall check, maintenance call - anything that has to do with a tune-up, the most important thing to remember is to have a SMART contractor check the heat exchange, Goldkamp said.
Design Aire offers service contracts providing for a fall and spring furnace and air conditioning checkup for $175, but because they are a SMART contractor, the Sheet Metal Workers offer a $25 rebate.
Call Design Aire at 314-739-1600 or visit them at 3940 Taussig Road, St. Louis, MO 63044.