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When premium wholesale plumbing supplier, Winston Water Cooler, decided to build a large training and distribution center in Phoenix, not only did they choose to stock Viega products, but they chose to show them off in their own plumbing and piping as well. The 35,000-square-foot building was recently completed for use with customer training. “The Read more

When premium wholesale plumbing supplier, Winston Water Cooler, decided to build a large training and distribution center in Phoenix, not only did they choose to stock Viega products, but they chose to show them off in their own plumbing and piping as well.

The 35,000-square-foot building was recently completed for use with customer training. “The Workbench” gives tradespeople the opportunity to do hands-on product demos and learn about the situations they might find on the job, as well as learn about products they can use.

“This is all live fire,” explained Phillip Clark, Partner of Winston Water Cooler in Phoenix. “There is water pumping through the heaters, gas running to the heaters, that sort of thing. We can simulate certain problems by putting different parts in and having people troubleshoot to find the issues. It’s all hands-on, which makes it valuable in our industry for these guys. We want them to be comfortable with the products, and it gives them a comfort level so they can come up here and screw up something instead of potentially screwing up their customer’s stuff!”

Viega ProPress, Viega MegaPressG, Viega, pressing technology, press tools, plumbing, HVAC, heating, hydronics

Clark said the training center includes products seen in multifamily buildings, plus parts of a mechanical room setup, including boilers, booster pumps and mixing valves. The building contains equipment supplied by a variety of manufacturers. Originally a data center, Winston remodeled the space into a training center.

All the water in the building is piped with ProPress, and gas lines are run with MegaPressG. About 200 feet of 2½” and 3” copper lines connect to storage tanks, where water can be circulated through heating and pressure-boosting segments. The gas lines have 1½” MegaPressG fittings.

“We wanted to become a stocking distributor for Viega for years, and in 2019 we jumped at the opportunity when it came,” Clark said. “We phased out Apollo as we brought in Viega. We realize the value in the product and know it’s good – and that a lot of customers only trust Viega.

“The product line with Viega is more diverse with the larger-diameter fittings, and Viega has some fittings in configurations and tighter tolerances. It’s just a good market presence that speaks for itself. We’ve had issues with other [brands], where we’re responsible for going back and taking care of the customer after hours. But Viega’s track record for quality and consistency is far superior to the competitors’ and it makes our customers happy.”

Clark said it’s a great advantage to hold training classes and show products at work that they also have in stock on their shelves. Attendees can see how Viega fittings work and that they’re a clean installation. All the piping in the facility is exposed on the walls and anchored so it can be used for show-and-tell.

These days have been pretty busy for Bulldog Contractors. “When COVID first appeared, there wasn’t enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. And once stimulus checks hit, there was a huge spike in work flow. We have been very blessed and fortunate to be working through the pandemic,” says Jeff Keller. A licensed Read more

Jeff Keller, Bulldog Contractors, plumbing, heating, septic, drain cleaning, HVACThese days have been pretty busy for Bulldog Contractors. “When COVID first appeared, there wasn’t enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. And once stimulus checks hit, there was a huge spike in work flow. We have been very blessed and fortunate to be working through the pandemic,” says Jeff Keller.

A licensed master plumber, Keller works for his father in running Bulldog Contractors in northeast Texas. Bulldog Contractors is a well-rounded company that strives to provide a one-stop shop for its customers, and that’s why Keller specializes in service work for plumbing, electrical and septic, and carries multiple licenses in electrical and septic as well.

Yet, the career path for Keller wasn’t always defined early on. When Keller was in high school, he wanted to be a veterinarian based on his love for pets and animals. “I honestly didn’t have the grades for it, so if I had to guess, I would be in the oil field chasing that dollar,” says Keller.

But watching his father succeed in business—and life—was huge for Keller. “I honestly never thought of following in his footsteps growing up. But as I got older, and needed a summer job, I fell in love with the overall variation of different types of jobs and people I encountered on a day-to-day basis,” says Keller.

To Keller, his father was his biggest motivator. “He put me on a higher pedestal than I would have liked growing up as a kid, but in the end, it turned out very well and it kept my mindset on track. Also, some very deep guidance was from my grandfather—on my mother’s side—as well. The advice, stories, and memories that I have retained has been priceless. If I could be half the man my grandfather was …. they just don’t make them like they used to!” says Keller.

Keller has never looked back as his love for the trades has grown over the years. “In the service industry, you just never know what you are getting yourself into that day,” he says. “I like the uncertainty. The jobs are never identical. It keeps you on your toes and the mind busy,” says Keller. Oh, and as for Keller’s love for animals? “With my current career, I get to see multiple houses a day and their pets; I bond with them and that’s a cool small aspect of my day.”

Moving the Trades Forward

Concerning to Keller about the trades, though, is the quality of work and labor. “With the trades dying, so does the manpower to get projects completed. So, it’s a rat race to get in and out and onto the next one. Years or even sometimes months down the road we are fixing issues that could have been resolved if some time and quality was put into a job,” says Keller.

One of the biggest concerns for the trades overall is to infuse young, skilled labor into the trades. “It’s all about advertising and education; they go hand-in-hand. We really need to be getting into the school systems and reaching out to the youngsters. With the way this world is going at this moment, this will be a never-ending battle and a hard one to tackle. ANYTHING is possible, though!”

And when those recruits are ready, Keller suggests not going to school—unless required—to learn the trades, especially if you are going into the service industry. “What a service technician knows and understands isn’t taught in a book. Get into the trade, get your eyes and ears in the field, and become a sponge. Learn everything you can,” says Keller.

Work/Life Tilt & Spare Time

Balancing family time and work is often tough to navigate. Keller’s family understands that sometimes the phone rings and he has to take the call, yet he will always make time for them. There will be work and money to be made, regardless, says Keller and his family is the most important thing that he has and cherishes.

“Some days I make a lighter work load to pick the kids up from school and take them on a field trip, or doctor appointments. I took my middle girl, Elyse, out to ice cream the other day, just us. The little things are what they will hold onto and remember for years to come. My father did the same for me and I plan to pass that onto my family, as well. You must make time for your family because the kids will be grown and gone before you know it,” says Keller.

For Keller, though, it’s hard for him to sit still so you’ll normally find him in the shop tinkering around mostly cleaning and keeping it organized, and playing with the kids. “The same with my yard, I’ll go mow dirt if I have time! It’s my quiet place if you know what I mean. On the weekends, I enjoy my main hobby, which is fishing—mainly night fishing so the wife and kids sleep through most of it while I’m gone,” says Keller.

Social media has opened many doors for Keller that he would have never imagined. “If someone told me 10 years ago, I would be traveling all over the country—anything from factory tours to trade shows to attending early tool/product releases, I wouldn’t have believed them. I appreciate all the new friends and connections I have made. It’s a true honor.”

What people may not know about Keller is, “I’m a nerd when it comes to numbers and efficiency of my house. During a day I might check the water pressure of my house 2-3 times. Same goes for my current water heater temp—digital display on heat pump unit. And my solar input and output. I keep a close eye on efficiency.”

The last time Jeff Keller said “today is a great day”? “I took off work super early, surprised my wife and we went out and about for the day, no schedule at all.”

BY JOHN O’REILLY 35-year industry veteran discusses why his employer, CPI Plumbing & Heating, has chosen to invest heavily in developing the tech skills of local high school grads, working with various vendors and suppliers to create a 2,500-sq.-ft. learning facility from scratch.  The headlines tell the story with increasing urgency: The shortage of skilled Read more

BY JOHN O’REILLY

35-year industry veteran discusses why his employer, CPI Plumbing & Heating, has chosen to invest heavily in developing the tech skills of local high school grads, working with various vendors and suppliers to create a 2,500-sq.-ft. learning facility from scratch. 

CPI Plumbing & Heating, COVID-19, Wirsbo hePEX, CPI Career Center, plumbing, heating, HVAC, UponorThe headlines tell the story with increasing urgency: The shortage of skilled workers in the trades hampers our economy. Work takes longer to complete and costs more because of inevitable delays and fierce competition. This list of reasons why this shortage has reached critical mass is as long as your arm. What isn’t as clear is what to do to correct it.

That is, unless you’re Steve Murray, a 35-year veteran of the PHCP industry and currently HVAC Division Manager at CPI Plumbing & Heating, a full-service contractor based in Mt. Vernon, Washington, a 60-mile drive north of Seattle on Interstate 5. For Murray and CPI owners Brad Tully and Michael (Oly) Olsen, developing a team of properly trained plumbing and HVAC service technicians is a task just as important as—if not prerequisite to—successfully managing the day-to-day operations of this fast-growing company.

The key to the company’s training effort lies in its recently completed “Training Lab” where young apprentices get to practice the skills taught in the company’s classroom. To outfit the 2,500-square-foot space with the plumbing, hydronic and forced-air HVAC systems the company installs and services, CPI went to the vendors that they rely on every day.

Among the most critical was Uponor North America, because its PEX-a piping and fittings offering are at the core of the company’s plumbing and heating disciplines. Uponor responded in a big way: donating nearly $5,000 of Wirsbo hePEX plus pipe for radiant and hydronic heating applications, as well as fittings, manifolds and controls. Also included was nearly 200 linear feet of Quik Trak plywood panels, used mainly for retrofitting a residential space with radiant heating.

“The CPI Training Lab has been a significant investment for us,” says Murray. “We spent $25,000 to $30,000 outfitting the space. Thanks to Uponor and our other vendor partners, we’ve been able to get much of the material donated. But it is a serious expense, for sure—yet one that we think will pay off, long term.”

In the following interview, Murray tells how CPI ensures it has access to a ready and reliably stable of service technicians, as well as how his background positioned him to lead this important initiative for CPI.

Question (Q): How did the idea for the training room develop?

Steve Murray: The closest training center to Mt. Vernon is 50 miles away, and it isn’t practical to ask guys who have already worked a full day to drive 90 minutes in rush-hour traffic to get to a training class. While there are a few local colleges with some HVAC classes, there is nothing in plumbing. Nor did the available curriculum offer any hands-on learning, which we believed essential.

CPI Plumbing & Heating, COVID-19, Wirsbo hePEX, CPI Career Center, plumbing, heating, HVAC, UponorWe started by expanding an existing classroom and outfitting it with all the newest audio/visual equipment for online learning. Next, in 2018, we began to transform a junk space every contractor’s shop has into a hands-on lab where apprentices could actually practice what was taught in the classroom. We can now accommodate up to 30 students at one time. Our top techs, Coady Pike and Jake Petterson, help with the training and the curriculum planning as well.

To create an authentic environment, we framed a floor above existing plumbing connections for waste and water connections. The renovated space now has full plumbing facilities: a working bathroom, urinal and kitchen. We also have all the mechanical systems our techs work on in a home: two combi-boilers, two furnaces and air handlers, an electric furnace and, with Uponor’s help, radiant heating on the wall. We also have all kinds of water heaters, tank and tankless.

Q: What is your background and how did you gravitate to training?

Murray: After high school, I joined the Coast Guard. The trade skill in that branch of the military is called “damage control.” On a ship, damage control involves everything from firefighting, to taking care of plumbing systems, to welding and carpentry. That’s where I learned how to maintain plumbing and hydronic systems.

After five years, I left the service and got a job working for a maintenance/property management company, maintaining large apartment buildings in the older part of Seattle. From there, I worked for various contractors, becoming a journeyman plumber and HVAC service technician. Eventually, I opened my own shop for a time.

The one constant at every company, including my own, was a need for trained personnel. Most applicants lacked the necessary skills; or, worse, they had really bad habits. So, I started devising in-house training programs.

At the same time, I taught the plumbing apprenticeship track at a local trade organization called the Construction Industry Training Council. Working two jobs and commuting two hours each way for work eventually became too much. So, in 2016, I joined CPI, which is just 10 minutes from my house.

The owners wanted to grow their HVAC business, and I took on the role of HVAC Division Manager. We’re still working to grow it, and it has been a challenge, mainly because we just don’t get a lot of already properly trained candidates. That’s really what it boils down to.

Q:  Who are the students and how do you find them?

Murray: Most are high school grads who CPI has hired. The average age of our apprentice crew is 20, although the average apprentice nationwide is 27, so we’re significantly below that.

Recruitment isn’t easy. Our marketing person participates in all the Chamber of Commerce meetings and all the local contractor trade groups. Last year, we started an outreach program to the local high schools, hosting meet-and-greets at the schools with graduating seniors, talking to them about the opportunities in the trades. We also host monthly open houses for interested kids and their parents. They tour the CPI Career Center and talk about what it’s like to work in the trades. That is really our best opportunity.

There is no perfect system to find the right people, and it is pretty easy to get disillusioned. So many high school guidance counselors still think every student needs to go to college to have a meaningful life. It makes no sense to me. Kids need to hear the message that the trades are a real career option that can provide a good living, post-apprenticeship training.

Q: How many young people are a part of the CPI apprenticeship program right now? What is the curriculum they follow?

Murray: Pre-COVID 19, our classes had 8 to 10 students, now it’s 3 to 5 students per session, so we can spread out.

We have done a couple of things to create the curriculum. We’ve pulled pieces together from Skill Mill (Interplay online for task-based learning), the National Center for Construction Education and Research, NATE [HVAC Courses], as well as content from the Illustrated Plumbing Manuals. I am in the classroom and can monitor what each student is learning online and can supplement that with real-world instruction on what we encounter in the field. Half a day is spent on online lessons; the other half, we’re going to the training lab to practice those skills, hands-on.

Right now, the curriculum is based on a three-month, eight-hours-a-day learning. We call it “boot camp.” Once a student graduates boot camp, he or she works in the field, side-by-side with a journeyman-level technician. Six months to a year down the road, we bring each apprentice back in for a refresher and a hands-on evaluation. There are performance tests each must pass before working independently with a customer.

Q: Do most students pick one track or another, plumbing or HVAC?

Murray: Some do both. From our perspective, it would be great if everyone did. But some lack the interest; others lack the proper skill set. Michael Olson and I are fully licensed journeyman plumbers and fully licensed HVAC technicians. We have the advantage of being able to model that opportunity for students who want to do both.

Q: What’s the advantage to CPI in developing its own young talent?

Murray: We have the confidence that the people we train know how to do things correctly. So much of what goes on in the trades is learning, one person to another. That system relies 100 percent on the person doing the training, teaching the right way to do the work. Without standardized curriculum, that is a crapshoot. The Training Lab allows us to make sure, before we send anyone into the field, they are trained to do work correctly — the way we want it done.

Q: Cynics say: Why spend the money on training, knowing that a trainee may leave and take the skills and all that investment to a competitor?

Murray: We hold ourselves to a very high standard. We want to be the best at turning out quality people. Better to train someone and run the risk of losing them, than not train them and run the risk that they will stay.

They say good things come to those who wait. Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others who spend their days in and out of courtrooms in San Diego waited more than a decade for a proposed new state courthouse to become reality. Most will agree the 25-story tower at the intersection of Union and C Read more

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

Photo © Bruce Damonte

They say good things come to those who wait. Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others who spend their days in and out of courtrooms in San Diego waited more than a decade for a proposed new state courthouse to become reality. Most will agree the 25-story tower at the intersection of Union and C streets, which officially opened in December 2017, was worthy of their patience.

The 370-ft.-tall structure replaces a three-block-long, seven-story county courthouse that opened in 1961. Local and state officials initially proposed the project in 2004, but plans were put on hold until 2010. The new courthouse consolidates San Diego County’s criminal trial, family and civil courts into a facility that is loaded with high-tech features, including a radiant heating and cooling system that runs throughout the public corridors on each floor and the expansive, multi-use public space on the building’s first three floors.

“The intent was to make this the most sustainable project possible,” explains Steve Sobel, FAIA, managing director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), the architectural firm that designed the courthouse. The courthouse earned a LEED® Silver certification.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

The 704,000-sq.-ft. courthouse is expected to be used by more than 1.2 million people per year (approximately 4,000 per day). Sobel says the building’s transitional spaces—its airy multipurpose spaces on the first few floors, the hallways and elevator areas—are ideal for the energy-efficient REHAU radiant heating and cooling system. The building’s courtrooms, offices and other private areas, which are more enclosed and handle widely varying occupant loads, are heated and cooled with a traditional HVAC system.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

RAUMAT w/ RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe

SOM has used radiant heating in similar public spaces in lobbies, office buildings and other large spaces. The San Diego courthouse is one of the largest SOM projects in which radiant has been used. Approximately 112,000 ft (34,138 m) of 5/8-inch RAUPEX pipe runs through the courthouse carrying temperature-controlled fluid. For the floors that have an identical footprint, the pipe was preassembled on customized RAUMAT that was delivered in rolls, providing significant time and cost savings. Building chilled and hot water are mixed to appropriate temperature, depending on the operation (cooling or heating) of the radiant floors and zones.

“We looked at traditional HVAC systems for these spaces, chilled ceiling elements and chilled beams. In the end, [radiant] was the right system to use in these high-traffic areas,” Sobel says. The radiant system reduced the amount of duct space needed in the public areas (air ventilation is still preserved) and minimized concerns about coordinating between ducts with electrical and other infrastructure.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

“We’ve done a lot of buildings with radiant floors. In these types of climates, they are really great systems,” says Ben Weerts, the lead mechanical engineer for the courthouse project. “Radiant makes the space really comfortable, especially when you’re dealing with large volumes of space. You don’t have to heat and cool the whole volume. You can just heat and cool the bottom strata where occupants are and it creates a comfortable environment,” he explains.

Project: San Diego Central Courthouse
Type of project: Municipal building, opened 2017
Scope of project: 112,000 ft (34,138 m) of RAUPEX pipe
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)
Mechanical Engineer: WSP
Mechanical Contractor: University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors
REHAU Systems Used: Radiant heating and cooling (RAUMATTM, RAUPEX® O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE® manifolds)

With an enrollment of more than 27,000 students, the University of New Mexico is the state’s largest college. It’s known for its strong and historied athletic programs, particularly the Lobos football and basketball teams, which compete in the Mountain West Conference. Dreamstyle Stadium has been home to the Lobos football team for 60 seasons.  The Read more

With an enrollment of more than 27,000 students, the University of New Mexico is the state’s largest college. It’s known for its strong and historied athletic programs, particularly the Lobos football and basketball teams, which compete in the Mountain West Conference.

Dreamstyle Stadium has been home to the Lobos football team for 60 seasons.  The 39,224 seat football stadium is attached to the L.F. Tow Diehm Athletic Facility. Tow Diehm, who’s known as the “Father of Athletic Training” in New Mexico, served as UNM’s athletics trainer for 31 years.

Navien NPE-240S tankless water heater, Navien, tankless water heaters, plumbing, water heating, service and repair, retrofit

Inside, the facility includes athletic offices, common areas, locker rooms for both home and visiting teams, and a weight room that underwent an $800,000 renovation in 2014.

A more recent renovation took place in the facility’s primary mechanical room.  Over the past few years, the domestic hot water system began failing. Nonstop pump failures, electrical problems, and a leaking hot water storage tank plagued maintenance crews.

Navien NPE-240S tankless water heater, Navien, tankless water heaters, plumbing, water heating, service and repair, retrofitThese problems inevitably surfaced at the worst times, like game day. The system provides hot water to all fixtures within the building, including the home and visitor locker room showers.

“We were frequently called in after hours to tend to the old system,” explained Richard Van Damme, HVAC master for the University of New Mexico. “At one point, we had even drained the 1,600 gallon storage tank for replacement, only to fill it again a few days later for game.”

Hot water was being supplied by two large, atmospheric volume water heaters with capacities of 490,000 BTUH each. The maintenance department had been pushing for replacement for a number of years.  The cost of maintenance was rising, outright failure was imminent, the system’s dependability was lacking and efficiency was a concern.

Navien NPE-240S tankless water heater, Navien, tankless water heaters, plumbing, water heating, service and repair, retrofit

“When we received a work order to replace the failing system, we evaluated a straight, in-kind replacement with standard efficiency water heaters. Installing a similar storage tank would’ve required removing part of the roof. We also looked at tankless style system options. Energy savings was a big consideration, as was redundancy and serviceability,” said Jesse Hart, facilities engineer for UNM’s facilities management department.”

“There are short periods of high demand, with low or no demand otherwise,” he continued. “The showers aren’t even used year-round, so the application lent itself perfectly to a hi-efficiency, low-volume hot water system. Standby heat loss from the big tank was significant.”

UNM looked at various tankless products and contacted their local Navien representative, Jordan Mahboub, at RepNet. Mahboub and Hart worked closely with Navien sales engineers to create a design based on the peak hot water demand at the L.F. Tow Diehm Athletic Facility: 82 gallons per minute at 120F. The university wanted the ability to meet peak demand with one or two units offline.

Navien NPE-240S tankless water heater, Navien, tankless water heaters, plumbing, water heating, service and repair, retrofit

Once the design was approved, Futures Mechanical was hired for the replacement. The volume water heaters and storage tank were removed and 18 Navien NPE-240S condensing, tankless water heaters were installed.

The NPE-240S is a 199,900 BTUH condensing, wall-hung water heater that features dual stainless steel heat exchangers, a 10-to-1 turndown ratio, and efficiencies up to 97 percent. The unit also provides LEED points, where applicable.

Water heaters were installed in two independent systems, one on either side of the mechanical room to serve each locker room. Navien’s Ready-Link manifold system was used to simplify the installation and save space.

The Ready-Link Manifold System provides everything required for a multi-unit installation, including manifolds for water and gas, racks for floor mounting, valves, connections and flex lines.

Up to 16 NPE-240 units can be common vented, so only four roof penetrations were needed at the athletic facility.

“No intricate programming was needed to cascade this many units in a single system,” said Van Damme. “By using the factory-supplied cascade cable, the logic built into the units does all the thinking. If for some reason the master unit goes down, the next unit in line takes over, so there’s no downtime in the event of a unit failure.”

“Having Jordan Mahboub here during commissioning helped us learn all the advantages of the Navien system,” Van Damme continued. For example, each rack requires a single gas regulator, not every unit.  The manifold system lets us isolate any unit in the group for service without taking the others off-line.”

Navien NPE-240S tankless water heater, Navien, tankless water heaters, plumbing, water heating, service and repair, retrofit

When the new system was tested, every hot water fixture in the facility was opened for almost two hours. The units cascaded to meet demand, but never fired to 100%. According to Van Damme, full capacity was met and sustained while the systems are operating at 60% input.

“The modulating component was a feature we really wanted,” Hart said. “Each of these units provides a 10-to-1 turndown, so no matter if there’s one sink or 20 showers running, we can accurately match the load. We’re not using energy beyond what’s needed to meet the actual demand. Now that the system has been operational for over a year, we’ve found an annual natural gas savings of 2,282 Therms.”

The entire project took three months over the 2018 summer break. The installation was seamless, and was completed just in time for football season.  There’s now more space to service the water heaters or work on other equipment within the room.

“I think this system is a great asset to the stadium,” Van Damme said. “The money saved on maintenance alone is significant. We’ve been so impressed with these units that we’ve decided to use Navien systems in other locations across campus.”