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As we’ll see from our interview with William Montgomery, director of national accounts for Hydrolevel Co., not many companies can claim to have started out quite like Hydrolevel did.
Since its start 55 years ago, Hydrolevel has provided controls for the boiler industry, including low-water cutoffs, which have gained wide industry acceptance through supplying most major boiler manufacturers as an OEM and serving the repair needs of heating contractors through plumbing and heating wholesalers.
And all because company founder Michael DeLeonardis, an engineer specializing in steam pressure vessels, had a better idea than the float-type level controls of the day that often resulted in dangerous dry-firing of steam boilers.
PHC: Give us a quick rundown on how the company got its start in 1965.
MDL: On Oct. 3, 1962, a boiler explosion that claimed the lives of 21 people occurred at a New York Telephone building in Manhattan. This disaster, caused by an undetected low water condition in the boiler, forever changed the way all steam boilers would be manufactured and installed. Not long after this tragic event, New York Telephone began investigating better ways of protecting their employees and property from such hazards.
At the time, Michael DeLeonardis was experimenting with a new electronic water level device for steam boilers. He had developed his idea in Italy, where he trained as a steam engineer in the years before WWII. After immigrating to America, Michael further refined his ideas working on shipboard steam boilers with the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Michael’s idea was simple, but effective. Using water as an electrical conductor, he designed a control utilizing a “probe” sensor. The electronic control monitored the level of the boiler water without the use of moving parts that can wear and stick.
A revolutionary time delay mechanism was also incorporated, which allowed the probe to be used in the violent water of a steam boiler without short-cycling the burner.
Michael took his idea to New York Telephone, and they quickly recognized the advantages of his design. In 1965, his electronic control was specified for all New York Telephone buildings – and Hydrolevel Company was born.
As with many inventors, Michael overcame early opposition to his new device and soon other government agencies, utilities and manufacturers began specifying probe-type cutoffs for both commercial and residential boilers. It was Michael along with partner Russ Rymer and son Dominick’s staunch defense of the time delay feature that paved the way for the electronic LWCOs used today.
PHC: How has your product line evolved over the years to the electronic cut-offs used today?
MDL: Well, I can tell you this – 55 years later, Michael’s inventive spirit lives on. Today, Hydrolevel Company, now partnered with sister company Carlin Combustion, is located in a 250,000 square-foot facility in North Haven, Connecticut.
Hydrolevel offers a full line of innovative products for boiler protection and liquid level control.
The new generation Hydrolevel controls, for example, include CycleGard foam compensating LWCOs, VXT programmable water feeders, Safgard LWCOs and multi-purpose liquid level controls and HydroStat which combines multiple functions, including temperature limit, LWCO and fuel-saving boiler reset functionality into a single control.
PHC: What differentiates your product lines from other competitors offering similar solutions?
MDL: Hydrolevel has been in the business of protecting boilers from low water conditions by the means of an electronic cutoff longer than any other manufacturer.
Our experience shows in the great track record of the HydroStat line of controls. Sensing water presence and temperature in a boiler are strong suits for our experienced group of engineers. Our Hydrostat is a “universal” control in that it can be mounted on an existing (e.g. competitor’s) well and replaces the functionality of the unit it is replacing. Whereas, our competitors can’t say that because ours is the only one offering boiler reset, temperature control and LWCO.
PHC: Are there any misconceptions about your product lines that contractors may not completely understand?
MDL: Not really. Hydrolevel has strived to educate contractors using our products for their entire history. Our first appearance at ASHRAE/AHR was in 1973 when we showed the probe control in a tank that had goldfish in it – attempting to show how the current produced by an electronic LWCO was completely safe. We’ve been at every ASHRAE/AHR northern event ever since. Our last booth was a 30x30 island. We have been members of OESP and its predecessor NAOSHM for more than 40 years. We constantly look for opportunities to train and inform the trade.
PHC: What features and benefits do your products offer that you consider are the best for the contractors and specifying engineers?
MDL: Made in the US, high quality, competitive cost and a high level of customer support, and 55 years working exclusively in the steam and hydronic heat market has made us very good at what we do.
PHC: What type of training do you offer to contractors and specifying engineers?
MDL: Hydrolevel training now falls under the auspices of our long-standing and well-known Carlin University. Carlin University classes are held during the year at the factory and through Carlin University’s “On the Road” series of classes. Scheduled classes are available on Carlin Combustion’s website, www.carlincombustion.com.
PHC: Can you tell us what you are doing to help wholesalers stock your products?
MDL: Hydrolevel now has a fully staffed marketing department that oversees sales programs, website development, social media and incentive programs that help wholesalers stock and sell our product. Our annual “Pre Season Buy” program offers wholesalers a great opportunity to stock product for the upcoming season at significant savings.
PHC: Is there anything you would like to share regarding the OEM markets and the replacement market?
MDL: Hydrolevel’s success is most definitely tied to its success in penetrating the OEM boiler market. The CycleGard control has been adopted by virtually every manufacturer of cast-iron gas and oil steam boilers while the HydroStat is the primary temperature and LWCO control on nearly all oil boilers currently shipped in the US. HydroStat’s use on cast-iron gas boilers is growing steadily as well. Its ability to provide LWCO, temperature limit and boiler temperature reset in one control makes it an unprecedented value to the boiler manufacturer and a welcome convenience to the installer.
PHC: Are you able to tell us what you might be researching and developing for new products?
MDL: Hydrolevel is constantly researching and developing new ideas and products. The knowledge base that our merger with Carlin Combustion created with combining of two engineering departments has fueled a lot of new product ideas.
Our new product release philosophy is conservative. Most projects are measured in terms of years in development.
For instance, our Carlin Combustion Air Proving System, which we call our CAP system, was almost three years in developing and involved a great deal of cold-air lab testing, field install monitoring and code official education. Product releases in our industry are too important to the health and well being of the public to take lightly.