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Gadgets help contractors conduct inspections when in right hands

| Saturday, April 26, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Ron Herrea HVAC service manager for Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville shows the Inspector which is used to detect crack in furnaces. Herrea demonstrates the device on Tuesday April 15, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Ron Herrea HVAC service manager for Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville shows the Inspector which is used to detect crack in furnaces. Herrea demonstrates the device on Tuesday April 15, 2014.
Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville has a thermal imaging device used for electrical work shown on Tuesday April 15, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville has a thermal imaging device used for electrical work shown on Tuesday April 15, 2014.
Adam Carson of Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville shows the Pipe Stent which is used for repairing broken water lines on Tuesday April 15, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Adam Carson of Gillece Plumbing and Heating in Bridgeville shows the Pipe Stent which is used for repairing broken water lines on Tuesday April 15, 2014.

Like cyber-junkies constantly upgrading their digital equipment, many contractors involved in home inspections are on a steady search for high-tech equipment.

“You always want something new,” said Joe DiSanti of Prevention Plumbing in Penn Hills.

Some of the equipment has changed the way jobs are done. Tom Gillece of the like-named plumbing, electrical, and heating-air conditioning firm from Bridgeville, is so excited about a new way to clean out and repair pipes he trademarked a name for it: Pipe Stent.

Bill Loden, the president of the Illinois-based American Society of Home Inspectors, advises consumers to make sure contractors know what they are doing with the equipment.

Tim Bartman, owner of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in Eighty-Four, Washington County, said staying in touch with changes in equipment simply is a matter a good business.

“There is so much technical stuff out there, if you don't keep up, you get left behind,” he said.

Gillece and Bartman both use a device called The Inspector, a camera connected to a PC-monitor-sized device that can examine the inside of furnaces, particularly the heat exchangers. It can detect cracks and other flaws and convey a clear image on the screen, where it also can be recorded.

Bob Yearsley from the Illinois-based Shamrock Industries that makes the devices said they cost about $3,000.

Gillece's Ron Herrera, an heating and air conditioning supervisor, said the cost is worth it. He compares the image from a smaller, hand-held camera with the one recorded on the screen to illustrate the greater clarity.

“The equipment is the best way to go because it shows if things are safe,” he said.

Ron Smith, general manager of ARS Heating in Allison Park, still finds the hand-held cameras to be effective in detecting heat exchanger problems. He remembers the day when furnace repair workers would shine a bright light into the heat exchanger area to try to detect problems by seeing some of the beam passing through the crack.

He agrees that a repair service company has to invest in equipment to make the jobs better. Such spending is never-ending, he said. He purchased a combustion analyzer for about $3,000 that checks the efficiency of furnaces. It's a great piece of equipment to have, he said, but it has to be regularly calibrated to ensure its validity — so there is constant spending.

Bartman said such equipment is necessary for correct job decisions.

“If someone calls me to look at their furnace and I don't see something, then it's my responsibility,” Bartman said.

The equipment can be costly, but it can save money, too.

Andy Csech of O'Hara said he thought he would have to have part of his driveway dug up when he found a drain clogged at the front of his property.

“You ever have that feeling in the pit of your stomach?” he asked.

But he said Gillece was able to use the Pipe Stent to cut out the roots from a nearby maple and seal the pipe from the inside to correct the problem. He does not remember what he paid, but he is sure it was less than the cost of doing the repairs and replacing the driveway.

Gillece seems more excited about the Pipe Stent than any of his other gear. He said he can go into a drain with a camera, detect a problem and correct it without removing the pipe.

If roots have invaded a pipe, they can be cut out with high-pressure water, he said, and the hole can then be sealed using a long, inflatable device. It expands to attach a mesh-reinforced patch — the stent — that seals the hole, he said.

The best part, field supervisor Adam Carson said, is that the inflating tube can enter the pipe system from practically anywhere, eliminating the need to dig.

Gillece acknowledged that the repair job can cost “thousands,” but said it is less expensive than doing repairs “under a driveway or a porch.”

Roger Newman of Stahl Plumbing in Swissvale said that jobs under a hard surface might be the only time to get involved in a stent repair.

“I think if it is just dirt on dirt, it is just as cheap to dig up the pipe and fix it that way,” he said. “Restoration of the driveway or patio is the real killer.”

But Loden, of the home inspector's association, believes there are “a lot of advantages” to the equipment that has been developed in the past 10 to 15 years.

He urges consumers to “properly vet” a contractor to make sure they have the skills to operate the equipment. Check for training certificates, he said, and with groups such as Angie's List or the Better Business Bureau.

But home inspections definitely have taken a step up, he said.

“It is far different from the days you would go into a house with a flashlight, screwdriver and voltage detector,” he said.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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