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Dec 4, 2012 5:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Boilers In Short Supply After Sandy

Dec 5, 2012 12:23 PM

More than a month after Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge flooded homes, East End plumbers and heating supply companies say the industry has not yet fully recovered from the spike in demand—and some residents are still without heat, simply because they are unable to replace damaged parts due to the enormous backlog.

Bill Nill, who lives in the East Quogue community of Shinnecock Shores off Marlin Road, said he has been heating his house with his wood-burning stove while he waits for a new natural-gas fueled boiler. His old one was damaged in the late October storm.

But rather than order an identical boiler, Mr. Nill, like many others in his situation, is opting to install a new unit on higher ground to protect it from flooding in the future. Frank Mulvey, the owner of Mulco Plumbing and Heating, the Quogue business that is replacing Mr. Nill’s boiler, said that decision has further delayed the process, because it has been difficult to locate the correct size equipment to meet his customer’s needs.

Mike Finocchiaro, the assistant manager for Nugent and Potter Inc., a plumbing and heating supplier located in Shinnecock Hills, estimated that in the month after the hurricane, the business tripled its sales of wall-mounted boilers. “I have orders I can’t fill because I don’t have the product,” he said.

Mr. Mulvey said this week that he had at least one other customer who was without heat because a replacement boiler wasn’t immediately available.

He also estimated that his business has done the amount of work in the month after Sandy hit that it normally does in a little less than a year. The storm also delayed the start of new construction jobs, as workers were moved from those assignments to help clients who were without heat after the storm, he said.

“I’ve never seen this kind of a delay in getting equipment,” Mr. Mulvey added, explaining that it could take a few more weeks to get pieces delivered because of the high demand across the tri-state area.

He and Mr. Finocchiaro said many systems have been “Band-Aided” to temporarily relieve various problems until new boilers become available. But Mr. Mulvey pointed out that residents then face paying hundreds of dollars in repairs, and then thousands of dollars to replace the equipment. A new boiler could run anywhere from $3,800 to $7,000, according to Mulco Plumbing employees said.

Though many plumbers in the area, including Mr. Mulvey and Mr. Finocchiaro, agree that the added business was good for their industry, they were quick to note that it came at the cost of far too much destruction.

“It’s a hard subject to comment on,” Mr. Finocchiaro said. “It helps with business, but you can’t really feel good about sales being boosted by a catastrophe like that.”

Jeremy Brandt, a Hampton Bays resident who owns Brandt Plumbing, said he has seen the situation ease a bit this week as more shipments of supplies continue to arrive from all over the country. “Last week you couldn’t get your hands on anything, but it’s starting to loosen up now,” he said, adding that suppliers were not prepared for the number of homes that needed new units or parts. “How can you forecast that?”

Kevin Rooney, the CEO of the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, said the increased demand and shortage of supplies have been his focus since the gas shortage eased. “Ever since that point, I have been up to my eyeballs in trying to figure out how do we get the equipment back into people’s homes,” he said. “You would hate to say that some degree of equipment triage—customer triage—is going on, but, in actuality, it is. It’s taking what you have and moving it to where it is needed most.”

Mr. Rooney added that supply houses in Southampton and East Hampton towns shipped their products west, where demand is greater. He said larger companies pulled equipment from as far south as Richmond, Virginia, and as far north as Plattsburgh, which he called a “tremendous help.”

Mr. Rooney said it could be several months before the supply and demand evens out, as more groups of houses in Nassau and Queens counties are being repowered, making them ready for heating system installations.

“It’s an enormous problem, but it’s not an insurmountable problem,” he said. “This is logistics. It’s matching need and demand with available supply.”

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