Ron Poniatowski; philanthropist, Jets fan, dog lover, alternative rock listener and steam boiler specialist. The man knows steam boilers better than most people alive. He’s installed roughly 1,000 during his 28 years in the trade.
Ron has been with Meenan Oil, in Wantagh, NY for 17 of those years. On the boiler install crew, Ron puts in an average of three boilers each week. “Steamers” — as he calls them, provide a nice change of pace during a week full of water boilers.
“Pulling a steamer out, and putting a new one in isn’t all that complicated if the original was piped correctly,” said Poniatowski. “But you feel it in your back that night. The old ones are heavy.”
His first steamer job of the 2013/2014 heating season took place in late October, in a big home built in the early 1920s. Much to his dismay, the boiler that waited for him in the basement was the original.
Steam for steam, oil for oil
When Poniatowski and his associates, Ken Kerr and Dave Allen, arrived at the home in Hempstead Village, they knew exactly what they were in for. The Meenan sales team did a thorough job assessing the boiler room and sizing the new Burnham Mega Steam boiler, which came through Blackman Plumbing Supply.
They even arranged for the removal of the old insulation. Stripped bare to its cast-iron, the big “pancake” boiler sat in the basement awaiting its fate; sudden death.
“We had this boiler apart in a half hour,” said Poniatowski. “The fittings broke with 4 hammer swings, and the sections split apart with ease. Getting the bottom section out was another story!”
“Like I tell my partners, with enough practice, anyone who takes pride in their work can install a steamer pretty fast, make it look good, and perform great.”
Once the old boiler — which looked like a very angry R2D2 on steroids — was hauled out, the much smaller, lighter Mega Steam was brought down. The new, three-section unit provides 396 MBH.
“The Mega Steam is probably the easiest steam boiler to install,” said Poniatowski. “It steams up faster than any others of its size, and the three-pass design takes it to 85 percent efficient.”
The oil-fired unit is also designed to provide 99% dry steam. The lack of moisture boosts efficiency, because the steam doesn’t condense in the pipes before it can reach the radiators. Dry steam also means no “banging” noise that’s often associated with steam boilers.
“We’re usually in and out in a day,” he continued. This day was no different. They arrived at 9am and were cleaned up and in the truck by 4:00, even with a few challenges in between.
According to Poniatowski, if a building has more than one steam main, as this house did, things can get a little complicated.
“Joining a single steam main is easy because you can always move the boiler a little to line up the one pipe,” he explained. “If you have more than one pipe, you have to line both up perfectly. And two-inch nipples and fittings can get somewhat hard to line up exactly.”
One thing the three men didn’t need to worry about was supplying hot water. Although the Mega Steam is available with an internal coil for DHW production, the home’s natural gas-fired water heater was still healthy.
By the end of a “steamer” day, everyone’s ready to go home. But Ron is a glutton for punishment. He works on boilers during his free time as well. He volunteers because there are plenty of people in New York that need his skill set, but can’t afford it.
“Ron is the only guy who has volunteered to help with every single Oil Heat Cares job done by the Long Island chapter,” said Robert O’Brien, who is a member of the board of directors for Oil Heat Cares. The not-for-profit organization provides assistance to those that can’t afford to repair or replace their oil heating equipment.
O’Brien, who is also the owner of Technical Heating Co., in Mt. Sinai, NY, met Ron nearly 10 years ago on Dan Holohan’s HeatingHelp.com. After watching Poniatowski rapidly post boiler retrofit pictures, and seeing the quality of work, they started talking about different projects. Eventually, the two met on an OHC charity boiler retrofit.
“I feel like we all have a responsibility to give to those who are in need,” said Poniatowski. “I’m good with boilers, so that’s how I help. And I hate to think of anyone living in a cold house.” Aside from the gratification that comes from improving someone else’s life, Ron enjoys meeting new people through the organization.