Business Q&A | Mechanical contractor loves to help

John Mason is the owner of JBN Mechanical in State College June 16, 2015.
John Mason is the owner of JBN Mechanical in State College June 16, 2015. CDT photo

John Mason comes from a blue collar family.

He has stories of working with his father as a fisherman — 40 to 50 miles offshore and “risking our lives,” for the job.

Sea life wasn’t for him, but he found his niche in mechanics.

“I worked for several mechanical contractors and more recently at Penn State as a supervisor, and I got tired of being in the office,” Mason said. “I wasn’t able to do the things I love, which is helping people and solving problems.”

That’s why he started JBN Mechanical in November 2013.

“I knew the business was out there and that I was good at it,” he said. “I knew that if I took the leap it’d work out if I worked hard.”

Q: Was business slow at first?

A: I sort of did it moonlighting. I was working at the university and was bored out of my mind. To answer your question, it was a little bit slow at first, but I didn’t have a lot at stake at that point. When it started to pick up and consume all of my time at home with my family I decided I had to make a choice. I just had to try and do it.

Q: Around when would you say it picked up?

A: I started to get a lot more referral work. There was a jumping off point at the Corner Room doing some work for the university and just for fun I started to draft my resignation letter. I thought to myself, ‘I’m not getting any younger’. If I wanted to do anything like this, I had to do it and not wait. I pushed all my chips into the middle of the table and bet on me. I’m glad I did.

Q: Where does most of your business come from?

A: It varies by season. Most of my business right now is residential in the add-on and replacement market. The things I’m doing are efficiency upgrades for systems that are 10 years old. Sometimes it’s a much better investment for the customer to replace the system with a high efficiency system. The popular way to go today is high efficiency heat pumps. If gas is available, it’s by far the best choice, but in many areas around here it’s not available.

Q: What are most people coming to you for now?

A: A lot of people are panicking, because their units have been breaking down, maybe because they’ve been neglected and not gotten enough maintenance. It seems like people would rather burn furniture in the winter to stay warm before they call you. In the summer, when it gets really hot, there’s not much you can do besides opening the refrigerator door. Many people just don’t like that discomfort and cannot sleep without air conditioning.

Q: What are the most common issues people experience with their air conditioning units?

A: The most common issue I see is older systems beginning to leak refrigerant. Typically, I find that these older systems are using a refrigerant that’s phased out, and the older, phased out refrigerants are becoming more and more expensive to buy.

Q: Are there ways people can check air conditioning systems on their own?

A: I think the easiest thing and what will have the biggest impact on the longevity on their system is to make sure they’ve got plenty of air flow. I don’t know how many times I go out to a home owner who doesn’t have air conditioning, and it’s because they haven’t changed the air filter in a couple of years. Maybe they’ve got a couple of dogs and a couple of kids that stir up a lot of stuff that ends up in your filter. It’s extremely important you have enough air flow in an air conditioning system to get it to go the distance of its life cycle.

Q: Are there any misconceptions about why an AC might stop functioning?

A: A lot of people think you need to add refrigerant every year. The thing I hear most is people telling me they need to top off their refrigerant before the summer, and that’s just not true. A properly installed air conditioning system does not require a topping off of refrigerant, because it shouldn’t leak.

Q: Do people try to fix systems themselves only to create a bigger mess?

A: I have run into that. It’s funny, because I know when it happens. Sometimes there’s no possible way that things ended up the way they are. They usually won’t say anything, and I won’t say anything because I don’t want to embarrass them. A lot of times that creates a dangerous situation. People should not mess around with things that they don’t understand. There’s danger involved