Project HEAT’S ON – UA members provide free furnace repairs

Project HEAT’S ON – UA members provide free furnace repairs

Project Heat's On

Project HEAT’S ON (Handicapped and Elderly Assistance To Service Our Neighbors) is a program developed in Minnesota in 1986, where professional union pipefitters and contractors volunteer to provide free furnace and heating inspections for elderly, disabled and low-income homeowners in the Twin Cities metro area, Rochester and St. Cloud. 

Over the past 35 years, 7,050 Minnesota union members and contractors have volunteered more than 37,150 hours and helped 8,208 homeowners at an estimated value of $3,889,245.

Members and contractors work together with the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association (MMCA) to identify which homeowners need their services.

This year’s event was held on Saturday, Oct. 1 and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared the day as “HEAT’S ON Day.” 

Nearly 100 members from Pipefitters Local 455, St. Paul, MN; Pipefitters Local 539, Minneapolis, MN; and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 6, Rochester, MN, fanned out across the state in partnership with local Community Action Partnership agencies to provide furnace repairs and inspections for homeowners in need. 

Furnaces require cleaning, maintenance and regular tune-ups to run properly, safely and efficiently. For homeowners, the service is 100 percent free due to the hundreds of UA members who give back to their community. 

Local 455 Business Manager Tony Poole noted that supporting local communities with their skilled labor, time and financial resources is a priority of the building trades unions in Minnesota. 

This year was the 11th year Local 6 members have inspected furnaces for Rochester residents in need. 

Local 6 Business Manager Jeremy Andrist and HVAC apprentice Nick Pettitt, with Harty Mechanical, Inc., cleaned and inspected Sheila Sulkowski’s furnace, replaced the filter, changed the batteries in her smoke alarm and checked for gas leaks. 

While Sulkowski’s furnace didn’t have any gas leaks, at least two of the dozen homes checked uncovered a dangerous leak.

“We are blessed to have such an amazing skillset and it is great to be able to use those skills to help people in need,” Andrist said.

 Project HEAT’S ON became a national program and members from Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 434, Central and Western, Wisc. and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 400, Appleton, Wisc. volunteered their time on Saturday, September 17, 2022, to help homeowners – especially veterans – in need of heating services. 

Minnesota UA members give back to the community 

This year, the HEAT’S ON event helped an estimated 45 homes get ready for winter. 

Local 400 volunteers included fifth-year steamfitter apprentice Matt Bice and fourth-year HVACR service apprentice Ben Eckert, both with J.F. Ahern. Bice and Eckert checked on the operation of homeowner Betty’s furnace, cleaned the flame sensor and checked the gas pressure. 

“I wanted to give back to the community we work with,” Bice said. 

Homeowner Betty said she is thankful and that because she lives on Social Security, she doesn’t have money to spare and probably wouldn’t have had it checked if Local 400 didn’t come. 

Journeyman steamfitter James VanDyke with Coenen Mechanical and fifth-year HVARC service apprentice Jake Benz with Hurckman Mechanical Industries worked on a 16-year-old furnace at the Mollens’ home. 

They cleaned the flame sensor, burners and drain trap and fixed the venting. 

“It feels good to help the less fortunate and gain knowledge,” VanDyke said. 

One of the goals of the HEAT’S ON project is to bring awareness to all homeowners that there are inherent dangers when any fuel is being combusted in a home and a seasonal check of their system is highly recommended. 

By volunteering for the HEAT’S ON project, UA members not only provided a safer home, but one with lower operating costs for those who can’t afford higher fuel bills.