Mrs. McCabe answered Tom's knock and smiled. "I'm here to size up that boiler for you," he said.
"Oh yes, come right in!" she said. "Will you be able to give us a price today? We'd like to get this work done as soon as possible."
"No problem," Tom said. "I'll have the price for you in a few minutes." She opened the door wider and stepped back. "No, that's okay, ma'am. I don't need to come inside. It's easier for me to do the engineering from out here. I'll knock again when I have the price. I just wanted you to know that I was here."
"Okay," Mrs. McCabe said. "You're the expert."
Tom walked to the corner, looked over his left shoulder and sighted down the edge of the house. Then he paced across the front lawn to the opposite corner of the house. He kept the line as straight as possible as he walked, stepping over the garden hose, the lawn sprinkler and the bushes alongside the front walk . "One, two, three, four, five," he mumbled as he counted his paces from one side of the house to the other. Tom knew that each of his paces was about three feet, give or take, and that his rule of thumb measurement was nearly as accurate as you would get with a tape measure, but who has time to lay a tape across a lawn nowadays? And besides, none of this is rocket science.
Tom reached the corner of the house, multiplied the number of paces it took him to get there by three, made a mental note of that, and then turned to his left and paced down the side of the house. When he got to the corner of the house, he made another mental note, and then glanced upward. "Two stories," he mumbled. "That's about twenty feet, give or take." He added that into his mental arithmetic and came up with the cubic volume of the house. The shape of the roof was a triangle, of course. Most roofs are, but he always treated them like rectangles. A rectangle is close enough to a triangle when it comes to figuring heat loss. And let's face it, it never hurts to have a little bit extra, especially with an older house.
He multiplied his cubic volume number by a factor that he uses for homes that are located south of the Long Island Expressway and that gave him his boiler size. He walked back toward the street so that he could count the vent pipes on the roof. "Two baths," he mumbled, and then he added his rule-of-thumb load for domestic hot water. He glanced around the yard for anything that might indicate that a lot of kids lived here. He liked to throw in a bit more load if he saw swings and slides or skateboards and bikes but the McCabes didn't seem to have any children, so he went with the numbers he already had.
Adding it all together, he came up with a four-section, cast iron boiler. He clucked his tongue and made it five-section boiler, just so that it would agree with the Finger Method. It never hurts to have a little bit extra with an old house. Then he walked back to his truck and put his price together.
Tom has a rule of thumb for figuring prices. This, he has found, saves him time. He charges by the BTUH. In this case, the boiler was 175,000 Gross BTUH. For jobs south of the Long Island Expressway, Tom charges 1-1/4 cents per BTUH. That would make the price of this job $2,187.50. Jobs north of the Long Island Expressway go for 1-1/2 cents per BTUH because that's where the rich folks live, but Tom hardly ever gets to quote on those jobs. It's out of his marketing area.
He was going with Gross BTUH pricing on this job because Mr. McCabe didn't appear to be at home. When both husband and wife are home they will often beat up Tom on the price. When this happens, he usually has to drop to the boiler's Net BTUH ratings instead of the Gross ratings for the pricing. The difference between Gross BTUH and Net BTUH on a hot water job is 15 percent. On a steam job, it's 33-1/3 percent and that hurts, but what can you do? Fortunately, this was a hot water job. Or at least he thought it was. The house wasn't that old. It was probably hot water.
He knocked on the door and handed Mrs. McCabe the Gross BTUH price. He had written it in pencil on the back of his business card. She looked at the number and then at Tom. "You sure you don't you need to go downstairs and look at the old boiler?" she asked.
"Nah," Tom said. "I've seen a million houses like yours. I know what's down there. After a while, it's all rule of thumb, ya know? This is a good price I'm giving you. Trust me."
She looked at the business card again. "I have to ask you, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but my husband said that I have to ask."
"Can you come down on the price?"
Tom sighed and looked at his fingernails. "Well," he said, how about if I knock off about two hundred bucks, give or take. How would that be?" His rule of thumb when it's just the wife or the husband is to try dropping to the nearest round number before going all the way down to the Net BTUH number. People, for the most part, like round numbers. How about if we make it an even two grand?" Tom said. "How would that be?"
"But you said you'd come down two hundred dollars," Mrs. McCabe said. "If you bring the price to two thousand dollars that's only a discount of one hundred eighty-seven dollars and fifty cents. I'll have to check with my husband."
Tom, not being the sort of guy who lets chump change get between him and a job, said, "Okay, how about if we just call it nineteen fifty? Would that do it for you?" Tom also likes round numbers. It makes the accounting easier.
"Okay, that sounds better," Mrs. McCabe said. "I'm sure my husband will agree. Nineteen hundred and fifty dollars it is. May I have a new quote?" She handed Joe the business card. He crossed out $2,187.50 and wrote $1,950. He added his initials and handed the card back to her. She looked at it and smiled. "So when can you do the work?"
"Oh, let's figure next Monday or Thursday, more or less," Joe said. "One of those days should be okay with me. That be okay with you?"
"Okay," she said. "Do you know what time you'll be here?"
"Figure morning or afternoon. I can't say for sure at this point. This business isn't an exact science. We have to play it by ear, ya know? Ride with the tide and go with the flow. Ya know?"
"Okay," she said.
Tom walked away a happy man. He didn't have to drop to the Net BTUH level on this job. That would have cost him an extra hundred bucks, give or take. "Cash in my pocket," he mumbled as he got into his truck.
He had five more estimates to do that morning. More or less.