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Technology speeds work on plumbing, HVAC jobs

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Plumbing and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technicians can count on a busy workday, especially in the changing of seasons, when people switch on the air conditioning or fire up the furnace. The beginning of a new season is usually trouble-shooting time at the HVAC business.

It can get pretty hectic, according to Juanita Harman, owner of Bowman & Drussa Inc.

Bowman & Drussa has been in business in Springfield since 1920. After Harman's father died in 1961, she and her brother, Jack Drussa, bought Earl Bowman's share of the business and became partners. When Jack Drussa died in 1990, his wife, Vesta, stepped into his shoes and the company, in an industry traditionally dominated by men, has been run by the two women ever since.

The company primarily bids commercial work on the construction side of the business, although it also takes service calls for both business and residential customers on the repair side. Several years ago, Bowman and Drussa added sprinkler system installation, maintenance and repair to its list of services. The company employs specialists in this field, along with plumbing and HVAC technicians.

In both the plumbing and fire protection services, Harman said, her crews have no problem keeping up with the general contractors on construction projects. The plumbing work is done as the project progresses, beginning with the underground installation, followed by the rough-in work and then finish work, including fixture installation.

Bowman and Drussa has kept 25 employees busy for a number of years, Harman said.

Harman added that she has seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years. Computer databases now keep records that once had to be kept by hand. Cell phones and pagers make it possible to make instant contact with work crews, she said, and high-tech equipment reduces the amount of time required for many jobs.

There are also more environmental and safety issues to deal with today, according to Harman. Technicians working on lifts have to wear safety harnesses, and government regulations require that freon be reclaimed instead of released into the atmosphere and disposed of under strict guidelines.

Recently, Vesta Drussa retired from the business, leaving Harman, who has no plans to retire, to run the business solo.

Ronald Ward, owner of Ward Plumbing and Heating, has departmentalized his busy shop of 50 employees. He estimates about one-third of his business comes from repairs and remodeling projects, while the other two-thirds is in new construction.

The company, which performs about 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential work, hasn't experienced a slowdown in demand in several years, according to Ward.

"I though there would be downturns in the past, but it didn't happen," Ward said.

He added that he believes the fact that Springfield is not tied to any one industry has helped the steady growth of the city, which has kept the construction business alive and active.

At Ward Plumbing and Heating, new construction crews are allocated to the job sites while service crews handle the repair work.

Ward has a showroom with a full-time salesman who makes sales calls and does estimates. Ward also employs an estimator for new commercial projects and he or one of his supervisors works up the estimates for residential jobs.

In addition to the plumbing and HVAC services of his business, Ward also offers back-hoe service.

"There is no such thing as a typical day," Ward said.

Turnover is low at Ward Plumbing, although Ward is always on the lookout for skilled people, who are hard to come by.

Technology, Ward said, has made the industry more efficient in several ways. "I don't think you can run a business today without a computer," he said.

Picking up where new construction leaves off, Same Day Service keeps 48 technicians busy with service work year-round, according to owner Ron Bass.

Bass, who has 25 years of experience in the plumbing business, started Same Day Service in 1992 in response to a need for quick service.

"So many people get left out because contractors are too busy to get to them right away," Bass said.

Same Day Service receives a lot of referral business from plumbing contractors, as well as call-in customers from both the residential and commercial segments of the community.

The workday, which starts at 6:30 in the morning, can run all the way until midnight, Bass said.

Bass has branched out into appliance repair, carpet cleaning, electrical and handy-man services.

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