Maine-Based HVACR Cleaning Business Is a Model of Innovation
In this latest installment in our series of Just Venting interviews with HVAC professionals, we introduce you to Matt Jacobs, owner of Northeast Coil. Based out of Limerick, Maine, this company is, in the words of its website, “a family-owned company dedicated to optimizing HVAC/Refrigeration efficiency and improving indoor air quality.”
They’re worth your attention today because their method of approaching this crucial HVACR need is innovative, interesting, and highly relevant to the current and future shape of a business world that is defined by the convergence of efficiency, smooth operations, and environmental friendliness as chief operational values.
We spoke with Matt recently and asked him to describe what he does and how he does it. He was most enthusiastic and accommodating, and we think you’ll find him and his business as interesting as we do.
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JUST VENTING: Thanks for talking with us today, Matt. Let’s start by getting right to the point: We focus on HVAC issues at our blog, so would you tell us specifically what you do in that capacity?
MATT JACOBS: Well, I should point out at the beginning that Northeast Coil isn’t an HVAC mechanical contractor. We strictly do the cleaning of HVAC and refrigeration coils and cooling towers. The kicker is the way we do it. We clean a lot of grocery stores, for example, and we have two trucks, and each truck can do about ten to twenty grocery stores a day. Our speed is due to the way we’re set up. Our trucks are box utility trucks. It takes a mechanical contractor up to a day to clean one grocery store rooftop, but we can do ten in one day with a single truck. In fact, right now a lot of mechanical contractors are actually hiring us to do the cleaning for them.
JV: So what exactly is your method?
MJ: We have four high pressure reels, and each holds over 400 feet of line. All we do is bring our line up on the roof. There’s no separate piece of equipment to add chemicals to the coils. Again, that’s why we can be so fast and efficient compared to other methods.
JV: What chemicals do you use for cleaning the coils?
MJ: We use AerisGuard products. What the chemical is, is an enzyme, so it’s all “green” and environmentally safe. We don’t use any caustic or acid chemicals. Nothing we use is harsh to the environment or the staff. This product can go right down onto the ground or into a sewer or onto our hands without any danger.
JV: What about mechanical equipment?
MJ: We use all Goodway stuff. At first we just went to our local guy to buy the cleaning equipment, but with Goodway’s products we buy it now and they’re good for it, and we’re going stick with it. We use Goodway portable pressure washers, and also their two different vac packs. And then we use their cooling tower vac system.
JV: Sounds like you have a really unique thing going. What kinds of businesses are hiring you?
MJ: We do everything from small commercial businesses all the way up to huge hospitals. Hospitals are big for us. We do a lot of them throughout the Northeast. And I already mentioned the grocery stores. We do approximately 1500 of them from Florida all the way up to northern Maine. For example, we do Hannaford, a supermarket chain that reaches all the way from New York back to Maine and has 168 stores.
There’s just no limit to the applications of our stuff. We can do any manufacturing facility. For example, we do food manufacturing facilities and distribution centers. We do Cisco. We do office buildings like Unifirst. Our range is all the way from small commercial buildings to skyscrapers like the ones we do down in Boston. That’s what so great about this business.
JV: What you’re describing sounds like quite a heavy workload. I’m assuming there’s no lack of business?
MJ: Right now, at this time of year, we work seven days a week from sunup to sundown.
JV: So how did you ever get started in something like this?
MJ: For fourteen years I was a facility technician. I ended up being the head facility guy at a semiconductor plant. My background is electrical power instrumentation, but they kind of threw me into the facility role. One day I went up on our rooftop and was looking at the HVAC units and condensers, and they were unbelievably dirty. You just can’t imagine it. Pollen, dirt, everything. So I called up a mechanical contractor to ask when they would be around to clean it, and it turned out they didn’t want to do it.
But when they finally did come out, I went up there and watched, and I couldn’t believe how they did the cleaning. The guy was using a caustic based and acid based cleaner, and it just ate up his skin. I immediately thought there had to be a better way. So I did some research and found there were no companies in the Northeast that specialized in cleaning coils. They were all mechanical contractors. They were getting big bucks to repair but not clean this type of equipment. I just couldn’t find anybody who did this business, so I went home and talked to my wife and asked if she thought it would be a good idea to invest our—and her—money in something like this, since I had some good ideas about how coil cleaning could be done better. The next person I called was my brother. I asked if he’d willing to help with this kind of business.
The rest is history. My wife Laura and I are the sole owners of the company, but my brother Jason is the backbone. He has no ownership but he helped to build it with us. He’s a mechanical engineer. If it weren’t for him and for my wife, Northeast Coil wouldn’t be here.
JV: So it’s a family affair, so to speak. How involved are you and your family in the day-to-day operations of the company?
MJ: I wanted to create a company that’s a class act, and to do that, I knew my brother and I would both have to be up there working. We both quit our jobs and started doing it, and to this day we’re both part of the crew. We have ten guys working for us with the title “Coil Cleaning Technicians,” and every day we’re right up there with them. We’re not just behind the scenes.
JV: You’ve talked about the environmentally friendly aspect of the chemicals you use. Just how important is the green angle for Northeast Coil?
MJ: We knew our business had to be environmentally friendly right from the start. When I watched that mechanical contractor cleaning the coils on the roof at the semiconductor plant, it was really a mess. Those caustic based and acid based chemicals are harmful not only to people but to coils, since they can corrode them. As we were forming Northeast Coil I knew we didn’t want to worry about our guys or the coils, so we were glad to find the AerisGuard products. We’ve had excellent results with them.
And the companies we work for care about the green angle, too. Now they don’t have to worry about sending their guys up there with harsh chemicals to do get the job done. The green angle is a positive plus for them, since they can advertise that they use us and that we use no harsh chemicals. That’s especially helpful at places like Genzyme, a pharmaceutical company we work for, where they can’t use those harsh chemicals.
JV: The possibilities sound endless. What are your future plans for the business?
MJ: One thing we don’t want to do is to get too big, because what built this business is the fact that we actually care. We do what we say we’re going to do, and we do it in professional manner. If we get too big, we won’t have that control any more, and that’s our biggest fear. We have a great rapport with our customers, and we like it that way, so that’s how we’re gonna grow.
JV: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Matt. We wish you and your business the best of fortune.
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