Safety First

Combustion analyzer helps plumber ensure customer safety while bolstering efficiency and profitability.

Safety First

Anthony Tosco, owner of Avanti Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Audubon, Pennsylvania, uses a combustion tester to measure the combustion efficiency and carbon monoxide levels on a Laars Mascot mod-con boiler.

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When master plumber Anthony Tosco installs equipment such as boilers and water heaters, safety ­— for him, his technicians and his customers — is always top of mind. As such, the owner of Avanti Plumbing, Heating and Cooling swears by the BTU 900 combustion tester made by E Instruments International.

“There’s no way to just look at an open flame and make adjustments for efficiency and safety,” says Tosco, who opened shop in 2006 in Audubon, Pennsylvania. “You can’t smell carbon monoxide, so you need this tool to execute jobs and make sure equipment is performing up to manufacturers’ specifications. During storage, shipping, and setting things up, you never know if something is going to get out of whack, so you have to be able to follow through and do your due diligence.

“In the end, it’s a safety issue for both me and my customers,” he adds. “It also eliminates liability (if something goes wrong later).”

At a cost of more than $1,000, the combustion tester represents a significant investment, notes Tosco, who owns three BTU 900s. But for plumbers who care about their customers and ensuring optimal performance of the equipment they’re installing, it’s a small price to pay, he says.

Besides, the testing unit eventually pays for itself by increasing productivity. Before Tosco bought his first BTU 900 six or seven years ago, he used a more cumbersome mechanical oil-and-gas testing kit that included six or seven different items to perform various tests. But the digital, hand-held BTU 900 can perform and display the results of five different tests; it has enough memory to store up to 600 test results, he says.

The unit tests for things such as combustion efficiency; levels of flue gases, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide; and all required draft, pressure, and temperature readings. Moreover, the unit performs those tests faster and more accurately, Tosco says. “An average combustion test used to take 25 to 30 minutes,” Tosco says. “With the BTU 900, I can do it in five or 10 minutes once the system is up and running.”

Another handy feature is a heat-exchanger tester, which indicates if a heat exchanger is cracked. “If you don’t perform the test, you would never know,” he explains. “And a defective heat exchanger could be dumping carbon monoxide into the air.”

The unit also is compatible with wireless printers. That enables Tosco to leave behind with customers a printout of all the test results. This provides verifiable proof that whatever appliance was installed or repaired was in good working order when he left the job. “If you leave a job and everything was kosher when you left but you can’t prove it, that can be very problematic,” he points out.

Tosco also touts the unit’s durability, which is enhanced with metal connections and comes with a thick rubber housing that protects it from drops. “It’s like an OtterBox cover for a cellphone,” he notes. In addition, the rear of the cover is magnetic, so he can work hands-free by attaching it to a gas line or appliance while doing combustion tests.

The BTU 900s must be sent back to the manufacturer annually to be recalibrated; that’s why Tosco owns more than one unit. A calibration-certification sticker is affixed to each recalibrated unit for verification, Tosco says.

Overall, the unit is very user-friendly, he reports. All operators have to do is turn it on outside the building where they’re working and wait for 30 seconds to a minute; this allows the unit to sample fresh air, which provides a baseline safety level. “Then you go to the fixture and perform the test,” he explains. “If the appliance uses oil, you have to first do a smoke test. But if it’s powered by natural gas, you just drill a hole in the vent connector (if there’s not one already provided by the manufacturer), then insert the probe, and let it do the test.”

The tool also helps Tosco differentiate his full-service company — which does everything from service-and-repair plumbing to kitchen and bath remodeling to bringing in underground utility lines — from competitors. (The company runs three Ford service trucks: a 2010 Ford Transit, a 2014 Ford F-350 with a 9-foot aluminum box body made by Reading Truck Group, and a 2015 Ford Transit van.) Tosco also relies on drain cleaning tools from RIDGID and General Pipe Cleaners.

Furthermore, the unit also helps Tosco justify the cost of his services. For example, if a customer complains that Avanti Plumbing, Heating and Cooling’s service is more expensive than a competitor’s rates, Tosco says he asks them if the competitors perform combustion tests, as well as other safety checks and measures. “They usually say, ‘No, the other guys are usually in and out of here in 15 minutes,’” Tosco notes. “Using the BTU 900 shows customers that I provide a different and better level of service.”

And does so with customer safety first and foremost in mind.


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