As weather turns cooler, volunteer Pipefitters keep the heat on

Project Heat’s On, the Twin Cities Pipefitters’ volunteer effort to service and clean furnaces for low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and the mayors of both cities issued official proclamations declaring “Heat’s On Day” in their communities.

Since the start of the program in 1986, Heat’s On – which stands for “Handicapped and Elderly Assistance to Service Our Neighbors” – union pipefitters have volunteered more than 28,000 work hours, servicing furnaces in more than 6,700 households.

The total value of the contribution Heat’s On has made to the community over the last 25 years – including hours worked by volunteer pipefitters and materials donated by the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association – exceeds $3 million.

The Minnesota program is now a model for similar programs nationwide.

“We started the Heat’s On program 25 years ago and believe in it today,” said Gary Erlander, business manager of St. Paul-based Pipefitters Local 455. “It’s easy to feel good about what you’re doing when you hear a homeowner say thanks several times.”

On Sept. 25, 158 volunteer pipefitters from Local 455 and Minneapolis-based Local 539 traveled to 148 homes in the Twin Cities. Smaller locals from Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud reached out to an additional 60 homeowners in their areas.

Pipefitters cleaned and repaired furnaces in those homes, greatly increasing the furnaces’ performance and efficiency, reducing fuel consumption and, ultimately, saving the homeowners money.

The volunteer pipefitters also monitored carbon-monoxide emissions from the furnaces they serviced, and they checked to make sure smoke detectors in the houses were working.

Additionally, union pipefitters in the Austin area postponed Heat’s On. Instead, they pitched in with community efforts to sandbag against rising floodwaters.