Life in the Trades: One Woman’s Perspective

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“Tradesmen.” It’s a generally accepted term in this industry. Every once in a great while, you’ll hear the term “tradespeople.” It’s rare that there’s a need to substitute “men” for “people.” Our industry is definitely male-dominated, but exceptions do exist.

Deb Page is one such exception. Aside from being a certified Master HVAC Technician and mechanical business owner, she leads a relatively “normal” existence. She grew up in Howell, NJ, has five kids, and loves nothing more than to spend time in her meticulously-kept garden.

heat pump, Antigua Mechanical, HVAC, Contractor, Women in the Trades

Deb Page checks the refrigerant charge on an existing heat pump.

If you’d have asked her 15 years ago if she thought that she would become an HVAC technician, she’d have told you, resoundingly, no. She used to manage a large food truck. She was a PTA member and single soccer Mom while raising three kids of her own.

Making the leap to the HVAC trade was more of a necessity that a choice for Deb.

heat pump, Antigua Mechanical, HVAC, Contractor, Women in the Trades

Running soft copper for a heat pump installation.

“I got divorced and was losing my house to foreclosure,” she explained. “My ex-husband was a plumber, and I took a job working in the office of a local HVAC company where I learned the ins and outs of the business; load calculations, billing, estimates, etc. At roughly the same time, I started dating my now-husband, Jim, who was a mechanical contractor before a serious illness took him out of the trade for awhile. I knew that the mechanical industry was the only trade where I could make enough money in time to save my home and keep my children in their schools.”

When Jim and Deb started dating, he told her that he could teach her everything she needed to know about the trade. After all, Deb already had a firm grasp on the business side of things. He was willing and excited to teach a woman who wasn’t scared to dive in.

There was a lot to learn. They stayed up late every night. Jim is an excellent instructor, and Deb was in her own private HVAC school.  They had blackboards, white boards and bulletin boards all over the basement. Jim taught her the terminology, how to look up codes, high voltage, low voltage, gas piping, venting, and just about everything Deb needed to build, as Jim called it, “a solid foundation of learning the trade.”

Today, Deb does it all with Jim as her mentor. She’s the owner and operator of the small company, while also being a mom and avid gardener. Their oldest son helps out when an extra person is needed.

heat pump, Antigua Mechanical, HVAC, Contractor, Women in the Trades

Deb drills through a concrete block while beginning to run high voltage for a mechanical system.

“More than anything else, I love wiring and piping,” said Deb. “Both are like puzzles. They take calculations, and you have to follow a path to complete them.

To say that Deb’s venture into the trade didn’t raise some eyebrows would be incorrect. Family and friends might have thought she was a little crazy when she started out. But when they started to see the business take off, everyone was soon pulling hard for her.

heat pump, Antigua Mechanical, HVAC, Contractor, Women in the Trades

Wiring a ductless mini-split.

“People know I’m serious,” said Deb enthusiastically. “Friends and customers alike see that I put 110% in everything I do. I managed to pull my home out of foreclosure, I learned a trade with a lot of help from Jim, and now I have a very rewarding career. Life is stable for the kids, and I get to make people happy.”

heat pump, Antigua Mechanical, HVAC, Contractor, Women in the Trades

Furnace maintenance is just part of a day’s work at Antigua Mechanical, LLC.

For Deb, gratification comes from a job well done. It’s hard work, but providing comfort, savings and solutions for people in need makes the job worthwhile. Really though, the best part of the work she does is getting to work with Jim every day.

Only once did she ever feel as though she was looked down upon being a woman in the trade. A general contractor was very rude, and made it apparent that he didn’t approve of her being on the job. That isolated experience didn’t come close to taking the wind out of her sails.

Three years have gone by since Deb earned her Master’s License. She enjoys interaction with a variety of people. She works hard to build sincere customer relations, and more times than not, she makes new friends.

“My advice to anyone looking to get into the trades is to do it while you’re young, and don’t be afraid to call tech support,” said Deb. “My advice to women is…. Kiss your finger nails goodbye!”