Below freezing temperatures across the Cape Fear Region this week and chance of snow Wednesday has spiked business for heating and air companies.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington issued a winter storm watch for New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties on Tuesday morning. Forecasters at that time predicted up to 1 to 3 inches of snow and sleet for the advisory area on Wednesday, which is expected to develop late Wednesday morning through the night.
Forecasters are predicting daily low temperatures in the teens and 20s for the rest of the week.
Jimmie "J.P." Petroro, general manager with O’Brien Service Company, said the locally owned business is experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls since the temperatures started to drop. Contract customers and customers new to the company are calling in, many experiencing basic breakdowns of their systems and no heat issues, he said.
“You can never prepare for this kind of weather, especially in the South,” Petroro said. “Our volume of calls are going up. We’re asking people to be a little more patient.”
O’Brien has a 24-hour on-call technician and information on its website for tips on how homes and businesses can stay warm.
Defrost cycles and the axillary heat turning on are generally normal for systems when temperatures drop, Petroro said. “Winter came early and for a lot of people. The biggest thing they are going to see is the auxiliary heat come on more often,” he said.
Justin Anderson, owner of Anderson Air, said Tuesday, "We are flooded with calls today." Anderson Air is another local residential and commercial HVAC service established in 2013.
Anderson said the company had 25 calls before 1 p.m. Tuesday, which were mostly no-heat calls. On a normal day, he said the company receives 3 to 10 service calls a day.
“I think maintenance is very undervalued for homeowners these days. They don’t take into consideration that heating and air units operate on a 24-hour basis,” he said.
That's when customers sometimes run into trouble, he said. Anderson Air recommends customers get their units checked twice a year. However, for those experiencing issues, the company is keeping up with the calls.
"We’re just trying to balance out all the calls we have ... business has been good this winter," Anderson said. The company has normal business hours but does make exceptions for some after-hours and weekends calls, as well as on-call emergency service from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
A local distributor of propane is also experiencing a large service demand. Chris Saba, the owner of Azalea Gas, said some people have not been prepared for the cold weather and calls have been ringing in.
"We have been so wide open," Saba said Tuesday.
When the company returned from a long weekend Tuesday, he said they had more than 60 missed calls. During the winter months, the company's general business is through propane tank leases.
Azalea Gas has been family owned and operated since 2001 and currently has four full-time employees. Just this fall, the company had launched a new online ordering system for its propane tank systems, including installations. Between the calls and new ordering system, business has been steady this year, Saba said.
When the heating fails, people tend to use propane as a secondary heating source to keep the house warm and pipes from freezing, said Belisa Lea, office manager at Azalea Gas.
"Right now, when temperatures are cold enough to kill, we are running as fast and hard and heavy as we can," she said. "We are having this unprecedented amount phone calls ... We're helping customers when we can, even when they are not our customers.”
Saba’s advice is to remain patient and to be more prepared next season by servicing and refilling tank systems in the off-season.
“All the different propane companies are in the same boat … you just can’t serve everybody’s needs instantly. I would just ask customers to be patient. We are trying to get to everyone.”