For Mialek Mechanical, in Hoboken, N.J., the combination of family ownership and product-specific work has been the ticket to success for the past nine years. One thing that sets the business apart from other small mechanical outfits is that they only use equipment that they’ve come to know and trust. The name of the seven-person firm is derived from the first names of the co-founder, Mia Szymanski, and daughter, Alek. Since Mia and her husband, Rich Szymanski, started the business, he’s turned down quite a number of jobs simply because the homeowner wants something that won’t work. “I just don’t want the company’s name on a job that’s not going to live up to its potential,” he explained.
“Our main territory is Hoboken,” said Szymanski. “There’s rarely new construction, and all of the 100-year-old homes are unique, which means we have to know what works. Even more importantly, we know what doesn’t.”
According to Szymanski, his insistence on specifying and sticking to a select few products puts him in a category of installers that makes up roughly 10% of the total; what he calls “product-specific contractors.” Over the years, the rigid approach to specifying certain products has certainly lost the company some volume of work, but the rock-solid reputation it’s produced has resulted in more than enough to make up for it. The referrals and repeat customers are proof. Mialek uses Burnham boilers and Alliance indirect water heaters, Unico Systems small duct heating and AC systems matched with product from, Lennox, Grundfos circulators, Honeywell comfort controls and Kohler generators. The exclusive selection process allows him to know his products inside and out.
Word of mouth
Early last year, Mialek was called by Walter Cullen, a homeowner who’d gotten the company’s number from neighbors. Cullen had two problems; he was paying far too much to heat his home, and he wasn’t getting enough domestic hot water. He had just added two more residents to his five-bedroom home.
“My daughter and my grandson, Max, moved in,” said Cullen. “It’s a blessing to have them here, but it initially meant lukewarm showers. Our water heater couldn’t keep up.”
“I had a few companies bid the project,” he continued. “Mialek wasn’t the lowest price, but Rich didn’t pressure me, and really made an effort to help me understand why the system he was suggesting had the most advantages.” The goal was to retrofit the home’s fin-tube baseboard system with a high-efficiency modulating boiler.
Work started not long after Mialek’s initial visit to the home. A 175 MBH steel Burnham boiler from the 1970’s was removed. Although the 40 year-old unit still heated the house, the home only needed 100 MBH, even with the addition of DHW production. A 40-gallon gas-fired water heater was also removed from the basement; a space that doubles as Cullen’s workshop.
Unlike the atmospheric boiler, which vented through a chimney in the center of the basement, the replacement boiler was hung on a wall, out of the way. Mialek technicians teamed a 105 MBH, 95 percent efficient Alpine boiler up with a 50-gallon Alliance indirect tank.
“There are three reasons we use Burnham boilers,” said Szymanski. “First and foremost, it’s an American-made product that works very well. Second, there’s literally a product for every single application we encounter, from oil-fired steam to modulating natural gas, and we’ve successfully installed every model they make.”
“Last but definitely not least is the support we receive from Venco Sales,” he continued. “Tom Dwyer is a walking hydronic encyclopedia, and Bobby Bruno is an expert with the Burnham line-up. We owe much of our success and growth to the Venco team and products they rep.”
“Under- and over-heating certain rooms in the house was an issue before we got to Walt’s,” said Szymanski. “We split one zone – for a total of eight – and used a variable-speed pump, both of which helped us balance the heat distribution. Having more, smaller zones isn’t an issue because we can capitalize on the Alpine’s ability to modulate to a lower output.”
Szymanski also wanted to ensure that nobody was stuck with a cold shower. He has a mixing valve on top of the tank set at 120°F, for a safe supply water temperature, but the boiler is set to keep the Alliance at 160°F. This not only raises the amount of DHW he can supply with that tank, but also eliminates the possibility of legionella bacteria living in the tank.
All told, Cullen’s gas bill fell by more than 50 percent. That’s quite an accomplishment considering that his DHW load doubled, controllability went up, and the home now stays warmer than it did in winters past.
“The only thing that surprised me was that now, our basement stays cool,” said Cullen. “Before the retrofit, it was warm in the winter, simply from the presence of the old boiler.” The condensing Alpine boiler – without a large water jacket and standing heat loss – doesn’t throw away energy by heating the space.
Cullen admits that’s he’s “old-school,” and enjoys fixing and making things in his basement shop. There’s rarely a time when he doesn’t have a project or two in the works. The retrofit opened up the floor space so that he has more room to work, and doesn’t need to worry about bumping into equipment.
“We can always add another zone, to warm the basement up,” said Szymanski. “It’s was a great retrofit, and we haven’t had a call-back,” said Szymanski. “It proves that when you trust the products you install, and know how to apply them correctly, the outcome is predictable and positive. We’ve added Walter to our list of proponents, and he’ll send more business our way.”