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Cold weather keeps repair shops busy

Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 11:49 p.m. CDT
(Kyle Grillot –
Fox River Grove public works employee Mitch Rogalski of Cary spreads salt along the sidewalk of Lincoln Avenue Monday in Fox River Grove. Subzero temperatures are expected through Tuesday morning with wind chills ranging from 30-50 below zero.

People in the heating and air conditioning business have two peak seasons: Really hot and really cold.

When the mercury surges into the triple digits, people’s overtaxed air conditioners break down. When the mercury plummets into the single digits and lower, furnaces give out when they are needed the most, and water pipes freeze.

The record-breaking cold snap McHenry County is suffering through, courtesy of a huge mass of Arctic air known as a polar vortex, means busy times for repair companies.

Black Diamond Plumbing and Mechanical in Crystal Lake has been receiving at least triple its usual winter call volume, President Rick Sperando said Monday. Calls have run the winter weather gamut, from no heat to frozen pipes to broken water heaters.

“It’s been about a week that volume has been increasing, but in the past few days it’s been skyrocketing. My guys are working 12, 14 hours a day,” Sperando said.

The company is not alone. Nearby Althoff Industries, which also does heating, plumbing and air conditioning work, is seeing a similar surge in calls, director of residential services Blake Wiltshire said.

“We’re kind of the firefighters of our industry. We go out when emergencies happen,” Wiltshire said.

Both experts said that many heating, air conditioning and plumbing emergencies wouldn’t happen if more people had their systems regularly maintained.

Wiltshire equated a home furnace and air conditioner to an automobile – regular maintenance not only helps ensure peak efficiency, but also lowers the odds of facing one of life’s little surprises at the worst possible time.

Furnaces, air conditioning and pipes are easy to forget because they’re “out of sight and out of mind,” Sperando said. Sperando and Wiltshire said the customers who get their climate-control systems regularly checked rarely end up with emergencies in extreme temperatures.

“By and large, our contract customers have far fewer furnace breakdowns,” Wiltshire said.

Wiltshire said his company advises getting the furnace and air conditioner checked twice a year. The furnace is checked before winter, and again with the air conditioner before summer.

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