Port company has found niche making homes, workplaces comfortable
J & H Heating and Air Conditioning has been keeping residential and commercial customers comfortable since 1950, but seldom has it had an installation as splashy as one last Friday.
The Port Washington company contracted with Midwest Helicopter of Chicago to deliver 15 heating/air conditioning units to the Jeneil Biotech plant on North Dekora Woods Boulevard in Saukville.
Each unit weighed about 3,000 pounds.
“We normally use a crane and boom to make this kind of installation, but after checking the numbers we found it would be more cost-effective to bring in a helicopter,” said Jeff Mayer, president of J & H.
“Everything went pretty quickly. From the time the wheels left the ground to the time the units were off the helicopter took 26 minutes.”
Mayer said the Jeneil Biotech job is just another sign of how business has changed for the heating contractor.
“We started out serving residential customers, but now I would say 95% of our business is commercial and industrial,” he said.
“There are still a lot of smaller guys doing heating and air conditioning work for the residential market, but you need some pretty heavy equipment and training to handle the commercial side.”
Mayer said the history of J & H Heating largely parallels that of his family.
The company was founded by Hank Mayer, Jeff’s grandfather, and Hank’s brother-in-law.
“The original building was on Pier Street in Port Washington. I remember seeing an old sign from those days, and the company’s telephone number was 58. Just two numbers,” Mayer said.
“In the early days, the company specialized in furnaces and appliances. Air conditioning — or even TV — was not that common.”
As the business grew, Christian Mayer, Hank’s father, started working for the company, as did Hank’s son Jay (Jeff’s father), who ran the operation from the 1970s to the 1990s.
“In the 1980s, I started working here as my first job out of high school and I have been here ever since,” Jeff Mayer said.
His son Ben now works for the company, making him the fifth generation on the job.
Jeff Mayer said the heating and air conditioning business has become increasingly sophisticated over the years.
“With all the electronics and circuit boards built into the systems now, our technicians have to go through a lot of training. That is probably the area of the job that has changed the most,” Mayer said.
Technological advances have made heating and air conditioning units incredibly efficient, he said.
“They say there are units that are 98% efficient. In the old days, the natural draft would draw the heat up the chimney. That’s when you would see birds huddled around the chimneys trying to warm up on the heat that was rising out,” Mayer said. “That isn’t the case with these more efficient systems.”
He said heating contractors realize theirs is generally a thankless job until disaster strikes during cold stretches like the one we are in the middle of.
“Most people take their furnaces for granted. It is a case of out of sight, out of mind. They turn up the thermostat and it instantly gets warmer,” Mayer said.
“Furnaces are not like cars, where you have to go to the pump to get gas regularly. The customer presumes furnaces will keep working as long as gas or electricity keeps coming.”
J & H carries Lennox and Trane heating and cooling systems, but can usually get whatever brand product the customer wants.
“We work with the customer when they are ordering a new system, usually judging on what they had and how well it worked for them,” Mayer said.
He said J & H has been around so long it has witnessed the shift in popularity of fuel sources, from coal and heating oil to more modern fuels like natural gas.
Regardless of what is keeping a home or business toasty, Mayer said simple foresight can avoid a lot of problems.
“The cheapest insurance you can get is keeping your filter clean, especially as your furnace gets older,” he said.
Mayer said the company has about 100 customers who schedule regular maintenance visits for their heating and cooling systems. Some of those visits are as often as four times a year.
Although he said the preference to catch furnace problems before they happen, the company has an emergency call-in line to handle off-hour problems.
“When it gets real cold and the furnace goes out, you don’t want to have to wait too long so your pipes don’t freeze,” Mayer said.
The company has about 45 employees.
Image information: A helicopter was used to deliver heating and cooling units to Jeneil Biotech in Saukville last week.
Photos by Sam Arendt