Canadian Rental Service

Don’t get burned!

By George Olah   

Features Tech tips

Heating season is upon us again. As a general manager of a rental company, I have already begun the arduous process of responding to the requests for quotations for temporary winter heat. The majority of these quotations are going to the larger and more experienced construction companies. Nevertheless, I am often called upon in mid-season (and during a snowstorm)  to help “size” a particular job for temporary heat.  It can be a challenge for the best of us.

 We've come a long way, baby.


Heating season is upon us again. As a general manager of a rental company, I have already begun the arduous process of responding to the requests for quotations for temporary winter heat. The majority of these quotations are going to the larger and more experienced construction companies. Nevertheless, I am often called upon in mid-season (and during a snowstorm)  to help “size” a particular job for temporary heat.  It can be a challenge for the best of us.

Recommending the wrong heaters or undersizing heater units could potentially ruin a concrete pour, chill workers, or cause indoor air quality issues, just to name a few pitfalls.  Sizing a construction project for heat can’t be rushed and it requires both extensive training and hands-on practice. And it’s essential to keep up to date with the latest construction heater products and of course to be on top of any new regulatory changes and requirements – federal, provincial and municipal.

The real challenge for a good rental company is to help the mid-size and smaller contractors who have winter heat requirements choose the right temporary heater or mix of heaters.


Remember, even if a contractor walks in the door and just asks to rent an ever popular and simple 150,000 BTU salamander, as a good rental professional, you should ask him some simple questions and not just fulfill his request to get him out the door. It’s not just a matter of increasing business; it’s a matter of keeping your customer well equipped and safe.

A good idea is to ask him what type of job he is planning on using the requested heater(s) for. Some heaters give off more moisture during the heating process, others provide dry heat, some are noisy, others require specific electrical requirements, while some need specific gas regulators. Nothing is worse than renting equipment that will not complete what the contractor thinks he needs it for. As the renting company you will be called to task for allegedly giving him the wrong product. Often too, you will have to visit a site and try and correct problems. With pricing equipment today, a few needless trips to the job site to ameliorate silly issues results in very skinny margins or none at all.

A few years ago I was called to a construction site of a small hotel to help trouble shoot a heater installed by another company. The electricians were about to walk off site because their fingers were too cold to work. When I got there you could use the site to hang meat. It was that cold. 

 George Olah


On one side there was a single 400,000 indirect propane fired unit with ducting twisting up the first storey into the stairwell and another set of ducts twisting into a bigger room. This heater was connected to an old generator that was showing around 59 cycles instead of 60 with about 300 feet of cheap extension cording. Another part of the building had another 400,000 propane indirect unit that was cutting in and out (also on long extension cords but connected to a newly installed 15 amp indoor circuit used by some of the workers for power tools). Finally, there was a single venerable propane fuelled 150,000 BTU salamander heater roaring away in the middle of a big room (that would be the lobby of the hotel one day).  Oh, I should add that both of the indirect heaters had the wrong size regulators hooked to the system. Bottom line, nothing really worked except for the salamander. It was -15°C and snowing outside.

After three hours of checking and resetting and getting new regulators and new power cords I got the heaters going. Oh yes, we also put a few more heaters on the site…propane radiant 100,000 BTU units to provide more heat for individual areas the electricians were working in.

Lessons learned from this? The contractor was placing heat on site based on dollars not on BTUs required. This is a very common mistake. As well, cheap electrical cords are the bane of any construction site and many users still don’t understand that correctly rated and lengths of electrical extension cords must be used or the best of heaters won’t do their job.

Please remember too that there are several easy to use formulas to size a project for heat.  Better yet, ask your experienced rental construction heater expert.

Incorrect installation of regulators is a common problem too. As an aside, I always make it a point to ask renters if they need or have the right regulators and the right diameter and length of hose (if it’s gas) to do the job safely and properly. And finally, a poorly maintained and battered contractor owned generator from the Viet Nam era will not do the job or save you any money in the long run.
In my rental showroom, I try to display many different types of temporary heaters available to my customers.  Quite often they are surprised to discover some newer products.

Heaters are available as direct fired, indirect fired, radiant, hydronic, and convection to name a few of the major types. Most of these will be offered in a variety of fuel types:  propane, natural gas, diesel, kerosene and electric. Some come on little wheels, bigger ones for towing, on skids, and others on sturdy stackable steel feet. And then some you can lift by yourself if you had a good breakfast while others require a crane. I have even found recent heaters on the market that both suck and blow air…truly a useful and remarkable feat.  Anything seems to be available from a few thousand BTU units to heat small room spaces of a few hundred cubic feet to several million BTU products to heat hangar size spaces.

It is your responsibility as a rental company to make certain that all your heating equipment is test fired before you release it for rental. Ensure the rating plates are on the equipment and meet the manufacturers’ specifications. Keep the instruction booklet and parts list that came with the product.

There are excellent North American manufacturers of construction heaters. Some of the best of these are located right here in Canada. The Canadian choices available are wonderful from a product, service and parts quality perspective. Needless to say, there are also many off-shore product choices. Don’t buy on just price. I never do. Whatever you choose as a rental company make sure that you buy and rent equipment that is approved by all the necessary regulatory authorities such as ULC and CGA.

I always ask my customers what equipment accessories they might need to meet their heat needs.
The check list of items for customer consideration include:  pressure regulators, fuel and product filters, approved hoses and fittings, manifolds, air/heat ducting, air blowers, CO detectors, power cords, generators, fuel for the heaters, and safety and regulatory signs and placards. A rental company like mine can also rent you propane cylinders of all sizes and even large size propane tanks for seasonal use.

A checklist like the aforementioned is beneficial to the contractor resulting in less downtime for him and is also great for the rental company providing additional income and less wasted time on potentially needless onsite call-backs. It can be a win-win for all sides.

One other area that I think does a great and important service to the user, our rental industry and the community at large is the provision of authorized contractor training. I often undertake training on site for a contractor or at my own training facility. In Ontario, at least, it is a requirement that those handling equipment fuelled by propane and natural gas for instance have appropriate records of training (ROTs). Every individual connecting, activating and disconnecting propane products for instance must have a valid Record of Training card on their person at all times.

There are extremely important safety issues when it comes to heaters, and ensuring that sufficient training has been taken can greatly reduce or eliminate your potential liability in the case of an accident. Training goes a long way in clarifying and determining how to choose the right regulators, or how to select the appropriate size hoses and fittings or how to allow for proper air ventilation and air exchange when using hydrocarbon fuelled appliances. A trained rental customer is less likely to install a patio heater inside of a tent or close all the openings of a room while using a propane heater to save fuel. Or use a radiant heater to reheat a slice of pizza or meatball sandwich. Not one year goes by that I am not forced to smile at the customer who wants to attach his own ½” 50-foot-long hose to a 1.5 million BTU heater and then call to say that the heater I provided is not staying lit.
Training will always go a long way to reduce such issues and help prevent needless accidents.

Don’t just rent a heater and walk away. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that you will be making an unscheduled service call to your customer in the next couple of days. So don’t be afraid to speak up and recommend the right equipment and training to your customers. Size up your customer as well as his heating needs. Not only is it a matter of safety, but it will increase your business while building ever important customer satisfaction.

George A. Olah has over 35 years of experience in the training, marketing, and renting of commercial appliances and equipment. He is presently the general manager of operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family owned rental company located in Weston, Ontario.

Print this page


Stories continue below