Outlaws in New Mexico

 

With tens of thousands of registered mechanical firms around the country, naming a new company isn’t easy. Each approach can have advantages and drawbacks. For example, giving it the founder’s name might avoid availability issues, but it could hurt when it comes time to sell the company years down the road. Acronyms can be great, but confusing if not done carefully.

Sometimes, the best names are a bit off-the-wall. But a unique, memorable name isn’t a ticket for a smooth ride into a lucrative market, as Keefer Rader learned after starting Outlaw Mechanical, LLC., in 2008.

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Keefer and Dorian Rader co-own Outlaw Mechanical. Official “outlaw dog,” Kayla, oversees daily operation.

 

“With a name like Outlaw, the first year was pretty tough,” said Rader, whose four-man shop in Sandia Park, NM installs and services all types of residential HVAC systems. The company’s name and logo (a skull and cross wrenches, wearing a cowboy hat and bandana) definitely has a lot of “cool factor,” yet was disconcerting for some customers at first. However, the unusual name resonates with Rader.

“We’re industry ‘outlaws’ in our area because I don’t pay my technicians based on commission,” he explained. “That approach is pretty standard here in the Southwest, but it doesn’t align with our company culture. It’s the only way we can ensure our customers receive the highest quality and most honest service possible.”

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Keefer Rader, of Outlaw Mechanical, prepares to fire a new Alpine boiler.

 

A self-admitted perfectionist, Rader has intentionally kept the company small. Any more than four employees, he says, makes it tough to maintain his high standards. “We install only the best equipment, period. If you want cheap, look elsewhere.”

Climate of extremes

As the crow flies, Sandia Park is 15 miles East of Albuquerque, with a slender mountain range between. Like many high-desert regions, both heating and cooling seasons can be intense. Outlaw Mechanical uses a -38°F outdoor design temperature for heating, and cooling systems are designed to handle long, dry days above 100°F. New Mexico is one of the few places where a technician may work on a boiler and an evaporative cooler — sometimes called a swamp cooler — in the same day.

“When most people think of New Mexico, mountains don’t come to mind,” said Rader. “But we have boilers installed from 4,000 feet above sea level to 9,000. They’re almost all Burnham Alpines, which has been a phenomenal product. My competition uses other brands, and all I ever hear them talk about is electrical problems. Meanwhile, we’ve had no issues at all.”

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Outlaw Mechanical LLC., in Sandia Park, NM, used a Burnham Alpine 210 to increase comfort, but fuel expenses, and drastically reduce noise in a local church.

 

When the Alpine’s wireless outdoor reset control was introduced, Outlaw Mechanical probably appreciated it as much as any installer in the country. Southwestern homes are notorious for tight mechanical spaces located in the middle of the building, and with the “adobe” style being so prevalent, many homes don’t have an attic through which to pull a wire.

“Outdoor reset is critical in this area,” said Rader. “As is adjustment; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a home that’s 90°F inside, in March. With our big temperature swings from night to day, it’s easy to overshoot the slab on a radiant system if the outdoor reset isn’t set properly.”

Custom homes with in-floor heat make up a large portion of the company’s work. On occasion, they’ll take on a project that strays from their residential focus, but because the Alpine’s size range is from 80 to 800 MBH, it’s flexible enough for almost any application.

Hydronic conversion

A nearby, 5,000-square-foot church was plagued by a 40-year-old furnace. The obnoxiously-loud unit was installed adjacent to the auditorium, where worship services are held. Hours before church on Sunday, congregation members would fire the furnace, bringing the building up to nearly 80°F, then shut it off for the duration of the service so it wasn’t a distraction. In August, they decided to make a change for the coming winter.

Initially, the church planned to install a new furnace, but the old ductwork left cold spots in various rooms. After looking at a number of options, Rader proposed a plan to install hydronic baseboard as a quiet, comfortable, efficient alternative.

A month later, the facility had a new, seven-zone heating system, as well as a stub-out for the future addition of domestic hot water. From the new Alpine 210 condensing boiler, Rahau PEX was pulled through the crawlspace to feed 430 linear feet of fin-tube baseboard. Each zone was individually served by a three-speed Taco 0015.

Fits the room, fits the budget

According to Rader, there were two challenges: Installing baseboard in an existing building while limiting disturbance, and packing all near-boiler piping into a 48” x 48” closet.

For the first obstacle, Outlaw Technicians took their time cutting through walls to limit the damage to the structure. Moving slowly and carefully while assessing each wall penetration was key. As for the mechanical room, laying the piping design out before starting a torch ensured there would be plenty of room for all components.

The Alpine boiler was placed on a custom built equipment stand with all secondary piping overhead. The row of circulators wraps around a corner, with a Taco 4900 air separator installed on the supply.

“I don’t want my name on a messy or inferior installation,” said Rader. “So when the baseboard work drug out because we were being so cautious about cutting holes, we made it fit the budget by donating some labor to the church.”

Church members have been thrilled with the comfort improvements. There are no cold rooms anymore, and most importantly, the heat can be on during a church service without the roar of an antique furnace in the background.

“The old furnace was 50% efficient, and the Alpine is 95%,” said Rader. “They love the system already. Wait until they see the fuel savings this winter.”

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