I.C.E. Heating & Cooling Goes the Extra Mile
A couple of brothers prove hard work pays off
When it comes to technical excellence, Brett Miller, Vice President of Fredericksburg, VA-based I.C.E. Heating & Cooling, knows his employees are the best—with an understanding of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) that is second to none. The challenge comes in translating that technical speak to customers. “We spend a fair amount of time teaching employees how to talk to customers, breaking down technical information in a way that can be easily understood—just like you want your doctor to explain things to you,” he says.
It’s this special care that sets I.C.E. Heating & Cooling apart from others, Brett says. “We are very customer-driven. Employees explain issues clearly to customers, they’re dressed well in nice uniforms and they show up to the job in clean trucks that are well taken care of. Going that extra mile shows trustworthiness,” he explains.
I.C.E. Heating & Cooling provides residential and commercial HVAC services to customers that include homeowners and commercial general contractors. With a 10,000-square-foot metal shop, the company manufactures its own ductwork and takes on projects that range from $200 on up to $3 million in cost.
“We are very diversified,” Brett says. “We do day-to-day residential service work and design and installation for about 300 new homes a year within Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. Additionally, our commercial work takes us across the state with large projects that include medical practices, fire stations, churches and assisted living facilities.”
With 70 employees, I.C.E. Heating & Cooling has the capacity to meet the needs of a growing market. “We have seven crews dedicated to residential service, roughly six crews that do new construction, and commercial crews of varying sizes depending on the size of projects,” Brett says.
With in-house design services, customers have access to tailor-made HVAC solutions. “Instead of relying on a third party, we can do residential new construction and commercial design from start to finish. Our in-house designers make sure the systems and ductwork are sized and designed correctly,” Brett says.
He explains that particularly with commercial design, customers rely on I.C.E. Heating & Cooling to inject a bit of sanity into the project cost. “We do a lot of value engineering redesign on commercial projects. Sometimes, architects and engineers can get a little carried away on the design. As the HVAC experts, we’re good at identifying ways to get the project done with less money,” he says.
And commercial customers have the benefit of working with President Matt Miller personally. “Matt does all of the value engineering design for our commercial projects,” Brett adds of his brother.
From Desk to Field
Matt got his start in the HVAC industry right out of high school. Though the brothers hail from Springfield, Virginia, Matt moved to Fredericksburg after meeting his wife, and Brett followed soon after. “We’re very close. I used to ride around with Matt when he was working for other companies,” Brett says.
When the owner of an HVAC company Matt was working for decided to retire in 1998, Matt purchased the customer list and a van and started I.C.E. Heating & Cooling, serving residential customers.
“At the time, I was working for the FBI doing background investigations,” Brett says. “Our parents worked for the FBI and the U.S. Department of Defense. I chose that same route right out of high school and stayed with it for eight years.”
But sitting at a desk all day wasn’t nearly as fun as riding around with his brother doing HVAC service calls. “The desk job wasn’t all that fulfilling, and I had so many years until I could retire that I thought I could jump back into government work if HVAC didn’t work out,” Brett says.
With both Brett’s and Matt’s wives making good money at their jobs, the brothers were able to put their money and time into growing the fledgling business. “I was just 26 years old at the time, and my wife was pregnant with our first child,” Brett adds.
Days were long during those first few years. “We were working 10- to 12-hour days since we were doing everything ourselves,” he recalls.
It didn’t take long for the business to start growing. “Customers have always liked us. We’re easy to talk to. We’d show customers what was wrong and fix it. We were never about trying to make a mint on a customer. We got the problem fixed and moved on,” Brett says.
In 2001, with the residential services business booming, I.C.E. Heating & Cooling got its first opportunity to enter the new construction market. “A builder who constructed Matt’s house asked him if he’d be interested in doing HVAC design and installation for new homes. With our peak times in the summer and winter, our guys weren’t busy all year long. New construction was an opportunity to keep them busy year-round,” Brett says.
Just two years later, the company entered the commercial arena—a move Brett considers to be fortunate. “After the housing crash of 2008, we went from 500 to 80 new homes a year, but because we were diversified, we moved people into our commercial division and just kept going,” he notes.
Today, the company takes on about 50 commercial projects and 300 residential new construction projects each year, all while balancing service contracts for 1,000 customers. “Our diversity is our strength,” Brett says.
Opportunities For Advancement
The company’s diverse array of services not only ensures year-round, stable income but also provides opportunities for advancement. “The manager of our residential department has been with us for 19 years, and about six or seven guys have been with us for 15 years. These are people who came into the company as technicians and have worked their way up in the company,” Brett says. “We keep employees busy, but we provide opportunities and move them up the ladder.”
And when it’s time to blow off steam, there’s nothing like a game of paintball. “We’ve played paintball for team-building. I let everyone take their anger out on me,” Brett jokes. “I come back with so many bruises. It’s painful!”
In addition to giving to youth sports teams, the company travels up to northern Virginia each year for the Autism Walk and Family Funfest, sponsored by the Autism Society of Northern Virginia. “Our middle brother has a son with autism,” Brett says. “About 15 or 20 of us from the office participate in the walk.”
Over the years, I.C.E. Heating & Cooling has taken on many noteworthy projects—from schools and libraries to fire stations, courthouses, office buildings and senior living facilities. “We have had great success working on military installations, meeting the needs and requirements of customers,” says Estimator and Sales Representative Svetlana Kaloferova.
She adds that the company has completed over 30 HVAC projects for assisted living communities. At Spring Arbor of Fredericksburg, the company designed and installed the HVAC system. “We worked with the architect and engineer to redesign the HVAC plans so they were up to code,” she says. The client was so happy, the company received three additional assisted living center projects.
For an upscale retirement community called The Wellington at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia, I.C.E. Heating & Cooling met the heating and air conditioning needs of the expansive facility, which includes 212 rooms, a kitchen, a restaurant, a library and a recreational room. The company teamed with the architect to make sure all the ductwork and grills were well-hidden but still met the needs of the community.
Another project, acac Fitness & Wellness Centers in Richmond, Virginia, challenged the company to create appealing ductwork. “The ceiling was open and ductwork was exposed. We fabricated and installed the ductwork so it looked attractive,” Svetlana says.
Similarly challenging projects include libraries, she adds. I.C.E. Heating & Cooling served as a member of the building teams for Virginia projects at the Mechanicsville Branch Library in Mechanicsville, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg and the Fairfield Area Library in Henrico. “Each design featured high-quality architectural details. Our ductwork had to be designed and tailored to meet these rigid requirements and installed in an abbreviated time frame,” Svetlana says.
For a dormitory at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, I.C.E. Heating & Cooling installed a geothermal system, using energy sourced from beneath the school’s parking lot. “In the wintertime, temperature-conducting fluid moving through an underground loop collects thermal energy deposited in the earth from the sun. The heat is circulated back using a pump and then distributed evenly through the building. In the summer, the heat transfer works in reverse,” Svetlana explains. “This design provides a very eco-friendly heating and cooling solution.”
Whether a small residential service call or a multimillion-dollar commercial project, the team at I.C.E. Heating & Cooling treats everyone the same, according to Brett. “We’re just a couple of local guys who started a business and are sticking with it. Everyone here works really hard, and we do everything to the best of our ability,” he says.