Water, breaks vital in hot jobs as temperatures soar in Clark County

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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Temperatures already climbed to 73 degrees by 10 a.m. Wednesday when Chad Goodson, Michael Moon and Derek Hylton started installing new heating and air conditioning at one Felida home.

The four-day job will send them cutting through carpet and drywall, laying 70 feet of ducts, and crawling through the home’s nooks and crannies. A sweltering attic can easily bake to 130 degrees during the heat wave, said Jeremy Hedges, of Entek Corp., a local heating and air conditioning supplier.

“Lots of breaks and lots of water,” Hedges said. “Safety first.”

With thermometer-busting temperatures settling on Southwest Washington this week, companies are taking extra precautions. However, the heat is an opportunity for some.

Construction crews are offered water and Gatorade on sites headed by Tapani Inc., in order to stave off dehydration and heat exhaustion. The Battle Ground-based firm said jobs are starting earlier in the morning to avoid peak, midday heat.

Some jobs, such as those in residential neighborhoods that prevent them from starting earlier than 7 a.m., will just be cut shorter, said chief financial officer Kevin Tapani.

“The extreme heat definitely affects the productivity of the guys,” Tapani said.

While the season is prime for ice cream trucks, some food trucks are steering clear of the heat. Pizzeria La Sorrentina, which is getting ready to relocate to 9811 N.E. 15th Ave., is taking the week off because temperatures inside the truck are usually 10 degrees hotter than outside.

Co-owner Amy Matsumoto said in an email that the cart “gets to 118 degrees in 100 degree weather. Any hotter and we melt just as much as the mozzarella cheese.”

Many will work through the heat anyway. At the house in Felida, Goodson said installing air conditioning makes him feel accomplished; and the work doesn’t get much easier even when it isn’t hot.

“You just tough it out for a couple months, then it’s back to the mud and the rain,” he said.

Work gets busiest in the summer, though. It’s not unusual for Goodson and his peers to work between 12 and 14 hours a day. Some are on-call at odd-hours in case a customer needs emergency maintenance, too.

Dave Campbell, a partner at Entek, said workers are taught at regular staff meetings to take regular water breaks during heat waves. The company has about 20 technicians out servicing homes this week.

“Our technicians know it’s hay season and this week’s going to be busy, so they all clear their schedule and everyone goes as hard as they can go without hurting themselves,” he said.

Business doesn’t spike as much as one might think during these times, though. Campbell said maintenance work stays steady, and new jobs are added to a backlog. Campbell said they do meet a lot more customers, though, and workers tend to earn more money.

“We’re steady. There will be overtime. Our hours will pick up, our revenue will pick up,” he said. “Clients will realize ‘Maybe I need to do something’ and there will be a little spike in installations for everybody I’m sure.”

Business has been on the rise for heating and air conditioning installers, according to Campbell and Hedges. More homes are being built with the capability of HVAC systems and rising temperatures have tripped alarms for more people.

“It’s kind of gradual,” Hedges said. “We’ve seen more and more demand. It’s always been a luxury, but it’s getting hotter lately.”