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Rant of the Week


Rant of the Week

eric aune 2Part of my job, when I’m not out plumbing a boiler or servicing a client’s plumbing system, is to do my best to keep up with what is going on around this great country [and yes, Canada too because no matter how many jokes us Minnesotan’s have for our apologetic neighbors to the north, I have friends there and ultimately respect them for their innovative energy policies and building codes]. I visit multiple websites, most are sites I frequent but occasionally I’ll stumble upon one or two I have never visited. Magazine sites, manufacturer pages, forums etc. Forums can be fun but they often require some sort of login and I tend to shy away from the commitment. Others, like the social media sites Twitter and Facebook, are always a good source of current happenings in the plumbing and HVAC industry and I’m there already with an understanding of how they operate.

The other day I happened to be scrolling through my FB newsfeed, liking this and yes, hiding that when I stumbled on a picture posted by a friend proclaiming his disgust at how another contractor had used PEX tubing in a way that left the job looking bad [it did] and how he wouldn’t have ever done that. I’ll tell you he wasn’t lying, the PEX was actually fine but my preferences align closely to my contractor friend who, by the way, consistently shares photos of his own work and every one of them displays true craftsmanship anyone would be proud of.

Now I already said I agree with my friend but what I haven’t mentioned are the comments included on his post by others. Now the actual comments, word for word, are not important here. The ideas are what get me going and they are found all over, not just on the sidebar of his post.

I’ve seen it time and time again, whether on the awesome site heatinghelp.com or contractor blogs and websites. What I’m talking about are statements like: “We don’t use PEX, copper is better” or “ProPress is ruining the trades, it takes no skill to install it…”. I’ve seen many times other contractors take the time and effort to defend their reasoning for using such “modern” methods of piping and joining processes but it is always in response to someone professing their complete disdain for those who choose to do so.  Pricing seems to play a big role in the ranting as well. Often I see many who think a newer product like press fittings or PEX should be considerably lower than the existing materials/methods they are using now and if it isn’t then it can’t be worth their time and effort.

I’m a huge fan of copper press fittings. I also use plenty of PEX but only where it makes sense. Also, the right pex product for the application can make all the difference. I don’t like the price of press fittings either but I stopped complaining long ago, right about the time when all of my labor (for piping) was consistently cut in half or more. I simply don’t understand anyone that knows what it takes to run a successful business that resists new technology designed to make our work faster and more profitable. That’s like saying you wont install a switching or zone valve relay because it makes the wiring too easy, yet we see them on every job!

I get the purist mentality but I cannot cash that in at my bank and it WONT win me more jobs. I have yet to be told from a customer that they would rather hire a contractor that is resistant to new technology or that insists on taking longer to perform simple work like piping installations. In fact, clients have literally awarded me work, be they architects, builders or homeowners because of a modern skill set and mentality. Their words, not mine.

End of rant.


  1. John Barba
    John Barba12-05-2014

    Agree with your rant – it’s been an age-old argument, going back decades. My uncle hated PVC drain pipe. “Real plumbers use cast iron and pour lead joints,” he’d tell me. “That was real craftsmanship. Any idiot can glue that stuff together”

    Then he watched me try to do it.

    “I stand corrected,” he’d say.

  2. Rocky Pavey
    Rocky Pavey12-06-2014

    That’s a rant? Seriously? Obviously your idea of a rant and mine are WAY different! But more to the point, there is a time and place for “old school”. Sometimes we get so busy trying to find a slick way to do something, that we would have already been done had we just, as my dad was so fond of telling me, “…grabbed a double-handful of work and got after it…boy.” Not a “handful”, mind you, but a “double-handful”. His next favorite saying was, “the best way to get something done is to commence.” I have found myself trying to “technology” my way out of a problem, when often what I needed to do was commence. That being said, I fully embrace technology whenever it makes me more productive/profitable…which are often one and the same. I was an early adopter of press technology and heard the same laments of those who thought it would destroy the trades. Um…do you still use an outhouse? If not, thank God for technological advancement. The outhouse diggers union probably fought tooth and nail against indoor plumbing, but I’m sure even they eventually came around!

  3. Mechanical Hub Team
    Mechanical Hub Team12-06-2014

    John, don’t sell yourself short…you’re s tremendous slouch. Ha! Also, Rocky, I tried to keep the words on the page tame (as you have indicated they are) as to not offend anyone outright. Trust me, your grandfather and mine sound like they might’ve crossed paths once or twice. Thanks for the comments, its great to hear from you guys!


  4. Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton12-11-2014

    This is an ages old argument. I suspect all of our dads and grandfathers came from the same “old school”. My dad was chastised by his boss for turning out too many caulked 4″ joints per hours (he was capable for doing 4 per hour but was told he could do no more than 1 per hour…)

    In a sense, we are what we teach. If you haven’t had an opportunity to walk through a tract housing project and look at the QUALITY of work being performed, you’re missing an opportunity to hang your head low… Even something as simple as digging a trench correctly (straight side walls, perfectly pitched bottom) has been lost to the need for higher production, and lower costs. Seeing horizontal drains propped up on rocks waiting for a manual laborer to back fill who doesn’t care if the pipe falls off and develops a belly causes problems in the long run. We have to train our employees to idiot proof their work… And the Home Builders Association is NOT our best friend. They want cheap, and don’t care about long term reliability, so long as any issues don’t happen on their watch or under their warranty,

    Back to profitability, this is something that I’d say 95% of the contractors who are out there have no idea what their actual breakeven costs per hour are, and consequently, they charge what they think the “market will bear”, and it’s not even enough to break even. How can we expect these same people to adopt a newer, faster, more efficient method of installation when the only thing they look at is the HIGHER material costs?

    I did what my father taught me to do business wise, which was to take my known material costs and double them, and that was my selling price… It only took me about 15 years of being in business for myself to realize that I was NOT making ANY money, and that I’d dug a hole so deep that there was no way out short of personal bankruptcy.

    Smart people like Rocky and Eric understand these basic principles, and apply them at every turn. Labor is without a doubt, our most expensive commodity. Sure, you might pay $100 for a cast bronze press ball valve, but the labor you save by not having to completely shut down and drain a building will MORE than pay for the fitting differential when you can wet press the ball valve into place, with the water still running out of the pipe… Been there, done that more times than I can remember, and won a customer for life every time I did it.

    One thing for sure, and this echo’s everyone else’s sentiments, it is important to understand from whence we came (soldered pipes and lead caulked joints), because as Rocky pointed out, sometimes THAT is the best solution, and if you don’t know how to use them, you will be relegated to using 2 part epoxy (unapproved) to perform that work.

    Lastly, employee attitudes are what we teach. If you teach each employee to run their jobs as if THEY own the company, and you are willing to share the “profits” (assuming there are any) with them for any savings they can produce in the way of labor without compromising work quality, it’s amazing the net affect it has on their work. No more walking from point A to point B with nothing in their hands. SOMETHING needs to be moved ALL the time. This was instilled in me by my master (dad) and I instilled it in every employee I had. You can see the difference in those people who have YOUR best interests in mind, versus those who are just there to get their 8 hours… The soap box is now free…

    Work smarter, not harder, and share the profits with your employees, and they in turn will discover new ways of saving the company money.

    Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone.


  5. Barry Campbell
    Barry Campbell12-12-2014

    Great conversation guys! I agree with most of what’s said here, and couldn’t resist the urge to mention that heat-fused polypropylene offers yet another outstanding “new technology” that’s actually been around for four decades. With the ability to handle 180 degree water at 100 psi and tremendous labor savings possible, and several other benefits, polypropylene is yet another arrow to put in the quiver. And Aquatherm has rolled out an excellent contractor profitability course designed to help illustrate this point.

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