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Tips For Making Older Homes More Efficient

In this recent Plumber Magazine article, master plumber Anthony Pacilla shares some insight on how to convince customers that newer, more energy efficient water systems are worth the investment. Below is a shorter version for easier reading, but you can read the entire article here

Differing Situations

As a plumber, it may be obvious to you that newer systems like tankless water heaters, ultra-high-efficiency toilets, or rain collections systems are valuable for water conservation. But for people who live in older homes and in parts of the country with plentiful water supplies and relatively inexpensive utility costs, the benefits aren’t as clear. Most people in areas like this don’t look at their appliances or water waste as a worthwhile investment.

So how then can you “sell” customers on more efficient products? Start small.

Thinking Small

You don’t always need to overwhelm customers with big-ticket, state-of-the-art (and expensive) items. Instead, try to think of case-by-case opportunities where you can pair a “green solution” with an immediate result.

One simple example is telling a customer about the benefits of a lower water heater temperature. Not only does hotter water use more electricity to make, but it also wears down the water heater quicker. That sort of tangible suggestion resonates with a customer more than hypothetical energy savings after an expensive product installation. Or if you work in a warmer climate with a customer who has an electric water heater, tell them how a heat pump water heater takes humid air and uses it to heat the water. 

Making a Difference - Step By Step

For many homeowners, smaller changes are better for their home and their budget than large upgrades. If you can learn how to tie simple solutions into real-world applications, you can make customers feel like they are making a difference with their bills, while simultaneously helping the environment.

What are some of your favorite suggestions to give customers? Let us know on social media! 

New Wastewater Surveillance Programs Are Saving Lives

Back in July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they were “getting their hands dirty” by tracking COVID-19 data from an unexpected source: wastewater.

The goal of the newly formed National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) is to work with states and local entities to collect COVID-19 data from wastewater testing and provide: 

  • An efficient pooled community sample.
  • Data for communities where timely COVID-19 clinical testing is underutilized or unavailable.
  • Data at the sub-county level.

Why Test Wastewater?

Lawrence Goodridge, a microbiologist who teaches at the University of Guelph, says “wastewater surveillance works because many infectious agents are excreted in bodily fluids, before and during active infection.”

It also allows local health officials to gather data without relying on people knowing that they’re sick and seeking medical help. To address a virus like COVID-19, which is often asymptomatic, Goodridge says “we need active surveillance systems that don’t rely on the actions of sick people.”

Wastewater surveillance first emerged back in the ‘60s when researchers at Yale University conducted several experiments to assess the effectiveness of polio vaccination. They tested sewage in Middletown, CT for various strains of the polio virus before, during, and after the vaccination program.

Wastewater Warnings

Monitoring wastewater also helps identify potential viral outbreaks before anyone visits a medical facility with symptoms. In 2013, researchers in Sweden reported that wastewater surveillance provided warnings of outbreaks of norovirus and hepatitis A virus, two causes of foodborne viral disease, two to three weeks before identifying any sick people.

Observed and theoretical time lags between infection and detection of increasing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in wastewater and the health system. Source: nature.com

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), COVID-19 “can be detected in wastewater up to seven days before infections lead to increases in clinical cases.” This early detection can “alert public health agencies of a potential surge in cases in a specific community and allow additional precautions to be put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Local-Level Data Collection

With the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to rise in the US, multiple states are starting to adapt wastewater surveillance measures.

In November, Michigan announced the creation of a COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Pilot Project, headed by both the MDHHS and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The pilot project is working with 29 local health departments, 19 laboratories, and at least 135 partner agencies/organizations to establish a “standardized network of wastewater monitoring systems across Michigan that will test wastewater for the presence of this virus.” You can click here to view an interactive map of current locations undergoing wastewater surveillance in Michigan.

Michigan’s Testing Process

According to the EGLE, Wastewater entering sewage pipes or wastewater treatment plants is sampled for COVID-19’s viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) pieces. The wastewater comes from homes or buildings in the corresponding service areas and represents sewage from the total number of people in that area, not individual people.

Samples are then analyzed by a laboratory to determine the number of virus gene copies present, which are then compared to the wastewater flow that occurred on the sample day and the population that contributed to the flow.

Depending on the turnaround time of the laboratory, results can be available up to seven days prior to routine notification of clinical test results to public health agencies. As an example, Michigan State University recently conducted local monitoring of wastewater, which identified a spike in COVID-19 one week before clinical and public health identification of a COVID-19 outbreak in East Lansing related to a local restaurant.

As plumbers, your work is truly vital. By ensuring everyone has properly functioning and efficient waste drainage systems, you’re contributing to effective wastewater surveillance and saving lives in your community! What are your thoughts on wastewater surveillance? Let us know on social media!

New Space Toilet Design Makes Long-Term Space Travel Possible

Back in June, we wrote about the increased demand for more eco-friendly and efficient “low-flow” toilets, and the potential plumbing challenges they can bring.

While low-flow toilets mainly rely on gravity to help use less water, imagine designing or installing an ultra-efficient toilet where there’s no gravity. That’s exactly what NASA engineers figured out for their astronauts with the new Universal Waste Management System (UWMS).

Image from nasa.gov

During a recent resupply trip to the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts installed the UMWS in order to measure how well it “recycles” liquids for long-term space travel. Yes, that means all liquids.

“We recycle about 90% of all water-based liquids on the space station, including urine and sweat,” explains NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. “What we try to do aboard the space station is mimic elements of Earth’s natural water cycle to reclaim water from the air. And when it comes to our urine on the ISS, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!”

According to NASA, the UWMS was mainly designed around astronaut feedback relating to comfort and ease of use. It’s 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the old current space station toilet, and features improved integration with the ISS water system that aids in recycling more urine, which the astronauts do drink after it is filtered and processed.

How Toilets  Work In Space

With no gravity to rely on, space toilets use air flow to pull urine and feces away from the body and into the proper receptacles. A new feature of the UWMS is the automatic start of air flow when the toilet lid is lifted, which also helps with odor control. 

By popular (astronaut) demand, it also includes a more ergonomic design requiring less clean-up and maintenance time, with corrosion-resistant, durable parts to reduce the likelihood of maintenance outside of the set schedule. Less time spent on plumbing means more time for the crew to spend on science and other high-priority exploration focused tasks.

The Importance of Efficient Plumbing for Future Space Missions

As NASA prepares to return humans to the Moon and looks forward to the first human mission to Mars, life support systems like the UWMS will play a major role in keeping astronauts healthy and safe as they live and work farther from Earth than ever before.

Creating plumbing systems that operate at maximum efficiency is important for roundtrip missions to Mars, for example, which take about two years. The long journey means no opportunities to top off the water supply, which is why NASA’s goal is to reach 98% recycling rates before the first human missions aboard a proposed Mars transport vehicle.

The next time you spot the ISS moving through in the night sky, remember that the work you do is just as important in space as it is here on Earth.

Source: NASA.gov

How to Fight Jobsite Complacency & Stay Safe

When it comes to workplace safety, it can become easy to overlook the “small things.” For example, using small tools like a hammer or drill without a second thought. Or when someone takes seemingly “small risks” by failing to use fundamental personal protective equipment (PPE).

But “small” is relative. Losing a finger is not as horrific as losing a limb, but it is still disabling nonetheless and oftentimes is avoidable. No matter what you’re doing, think small — like good company safety managers do.

In this blog, we’ll cover ways to mitigate potential safety mistakes related to “small” hand tools and PPE by summarizing some U.S. Department of Labor guidelines. In short, those guidelines include:

Use the right tool for the job

You already know that a screwdriver is not a chisel, nor a Crescent wrench a hammer. But most of us have been guilty of using one hand tool to mimic another for the sake of convenience – even though they’re poor substitutes.

 The screwdriver lacks a chisel’s tempered and sharpened edge. The adjustable wrench is without a hardened, flat surface designed for a percussive strike. Misusing a tool, therefore, is not only ineffective in most cases, but also unsafe. The unhardened edge can shatter, sending shards toward your eyes; the rounded surface of the wrench can slip off and strike your hand instead.

“I’ve been there and done that. Everyone has,” says John Flanagan, safety manager of North American Pipeline Services in Freehold, New Jersey. “Usually it is using a wrench instead of a hammer or a hammer as a pry bar — the right idea, the wrong tool.”

Examine each tool for damage before use, and do not use a damaged tool

If the handle of a tool, whether plastic, wood or metal, is cracked or burred, tag it as damaged and ask your supervisor for a replacement. A cracked handle can fracture when pressure is applied, possibly injuring the user.

You might be tempted to “fix” the handle with something like duct tape. But all that does is impart false confidence in the tool’s integrity.

Avoid Complacency and Properly Use the Correct PPE

Failure to don the correct PPE, such as eye and face protection, when using hand tools is mostly a consequence of complacency.

“When an employee has done something a million times, there is a complacency risk,” says Chris Ravenscroft, owner of Koberlein Environmental in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. He says the risk is increased by the fact that jobs in the field, versus in a factory, present a variety of unique situations and conditions. However, the hand tools remain the same in every case, and protective gear is designed to work in all those situations and conditions.

Operate a tool according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If a drill job has the potential to penetrate a live electric circuit, safety rules require using an insulated drill to protect the user against shock. Wrapping the handle of an uninsulated drill in electrical tape – get this - does not insulate it. Shocker, right?

Despite what seems like common sense, some time-pressed workers do it anyway for psychological comfort. These are often the same employees who can be seen passing a drill from one level to another by dangling it from its cord, a mishandling that can lead to damage of the tool or injury of another worker.

Beyond the Labor Department guidelines

While the Labor Department guidelines are helpful, they don’t cover every contingency. How about falling hand tools, for instance? If a falling wrench doesn’t strike and injure someone working below, the tool’s fall at least requires a worker to descend to a lower level and retrieve it.

“A lot of times a worker doesn’t attach a tool to a tether, uses the tool, and then goes on working and the tool falls out of his pocket or hands. And there you go,” says Kyle Irwin, founder of Irwin’s Safety, a Canadian safety management firm. “In most cases, if they are tied off, then the tools do not become a hazard. The problem is you don’t see that tying-off happening enough.”

Bad safety habits are generally universal in nature, but local conditions can produce one error of judgment over another. For example, working in colder climates usually means bulkier clothing, increasing the chance of clothes being snagged by a rotating machine or catching fire if unknowingly pressed against a hot drill bit.

Ravenscroft listed a couple of small tools that in his experience have proven to be the most problematic for workers. One is a device that spins wire cable to scour clogged pipes.

“It requires hands-on operation, and that requires a level of awareness. It calls for the right kind of gloves that don’t catch the material and cause it to twist.”

The other tool is an Arctic Blaster, which uses hot water and steam to thaw pipes through a hose. “It’s very efficient, but it’s a personal burn hazard and a fire hazard. Techs know when they take these tools off the truck that they represent real danger,” Ravenscroft says. To offset the intrinsic danger of the thawing tool, its use is addressed in annual training and the process of working with the tool is reviewed regularly.

A sometimes-unspoken issue in respect to wearing PPE is comfort. Is discomfort a reasonable excuse for not donning a hard hat or bulky gloves? 

“Yes and no,” Irwin says. “There definitely is ill-fitting equipment. But there are so many pieces of equipment manufactured: find one that will work. The larger problem is avoiding manufacturers’ recommendations. When using a respirator or dust mask, it should be a good fit, but a lot of people just grab a mask. That can give you false security that you’re being protected.

“Do what the manufacturers say you should do. It is the responsibility of an employer to see that employees follow the recommendations. It all boils down to everyone in a program taking some responsibility for himself.”

Flanagan acknowledges that equipment can be uncomfortable. “They are hard hats. I was in the service and had to wear a helmet. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing.” On the other hand, as safety manager, Flanagan says he tries to provide PPE that will be used. “I go out and order a couple dozen pair of gloves and say, ‘Here, try them out. Let me know how you like them. If you say it doesn’t work for you, OK, we’ll try something else.’ I try to accommodate each crew.”

Ravenscroft acknowledges that comfort “sometimes is an issue. So, making sure PPE is available and comfortable is as important as the expectation that employees will use it. We try to be understanding. Safety committee members are close to operations, and they know that safety glasses fog up and what can be done in that environment. We try to find the best glasses we can. The best might cost twice as much, but we’re not going to save a couple dollars and provide PPE that doesn’t work for our employees. It’s a balancing act.”

Seemingly small decisions like these by safety committees and managers are vital. They have a large impact on the lives of employees working in potentially dangerous situations.

Do you have any job-related safety stories? Let us know on social media!  

The unedited version of this article can be found here

How to Maintain a Successful Plumbing Business

This is the second part of the Plumber Business Development series. Part one covers our video course that will help make sure your new business is profitable. Now we’ll cover some tips on how you can build a solid customer base without spending any extra money. 

Delivering A VIP Customer Service Without Raising Prices

Once you get your business up-and-running, there are few things more important than providing an excellent customer experience. Here are a few highlights from a recent Plumber Magazine article that explains how to improve your customer service experience without raising your prices. 

Simply Be Kind

When a customer interacts with your business, the experience they have can be first-class, adequate, or sub-par —  it all costs the same amount to deliver. Simply being kind, courteous, and considerate can make your customers feel like they’re getting the “VIP treatment” - without costing your business a thing. 

Consistency Is Key...To A Great Customer Experience

Being consistent in how you treat your customers and how you deliver service is an easy way to improve the customer experience and your customer’s perception of your service. Consistency doesn’t have to cost your business anything. All it requires is that you systemize your service and that your employees know — without a shadow of a doubt — what the customer experience should look like. 

From there, it’s just a matter of following processes and aligning all actions and words with the company’s core values.

Empower Your Employees 

Have you ever spoken with someone at a business who has no power to help you? It’s frustrating and a waste of everyone’s time. Don’t force your employees to feel the powerlessness that comes with telling a customer, “I’m sorry...but...

Instead, give them the power and authority to help. Not all decisions need approval from the top. Let your employees know when they can make customer-centric decisions without approval. 

Let them know how important it is to you that every customer feels heard and has their problems solved. Give them some general guidelines and then let them go. It typically won’t cost you, but it’ll vastly improve the customer experience. 

This article can be found in its entirety in Plumbers Magazine.

How to Start a Successful Plumbing Business

If you’ve reached a place in your career where you feel ready to become your own boss and open your own business, this is the first part of a two part series that will help you get started! Part two will cover tips for building a dedicated customer base by providing an excellent customer experience.  

Plumbing might be your passion (good for you!), but unfortunately you can’t pay your bills with passion alone. That’s why we developed the Pricing Plumbing for Profit course. For only $99 (or bundled with continuing education course packages in many states), you get a step-by-step tutorial that explains how to to accurately account for your costs, then apply those costs to an estimate. The course also includes a downloadable workbook, so you can customize all calculations to your liking!

Here's a preview from the first lesson:

If you have any questions about our courses or your continuing education requirements, give us a call to talk to a licensing expert: 1-800-727-7104

Pricing Plumbing for Profit - 2 Hours

Utah Plumber Continuing Education Course Preview

When you take a continuing education course with Plumbers Training Institute, it’s like having a personal tutor with you wherever you go! Instead of trying to navigate every part of the IPC codes yourself - let us help you work through every section! 

Below you’ll find a preview from a section of the Fixtures, Faucets, and Fixture Fittings video course, as well as a snippet from the written course text. As you’ll see, there are times when being able to “pause and rewind” an instructor can prove extremely valuable for fully understanding course material!

To view the entire course, as well as all the other courses available in the Utah 12 Hour Business Growth CE Package, click here

Course Preview: IPC Chapter 4 – Fixtures, Faucets, and Fixture Fittings

403.1 Minimum Number of Fixtures 

Plumbing fixtures shall be provided in the minimum number as shown in Table 403.1, based on the actual use of the building or space. Uses not shown in Table 403.1 shall be considered individually by the code official. The number of occupants shall be determined by the International Building Code.

Table 403.1

Being familiar with this table and knowing how to reference it quickly and correctly is critically important. We are going to cover two code sections that directly relate to the use of Table 403.1. Then we are going to familiarize ourselves with the table by working through example problems. 

Make sure your book is out and you are following along.

Table 403.1.1 Fixture Calculations

To determine the total occupant load of each sex (male/female), we need to take the total occupant load and divide it in half. Unless you have specific statistical data that has been approved by the code official, you cannot assume any other ratio than 50% men 50% women. If you get a fraction during the occupant load calculation, round up the nearest whole number.

Table 403.1.2

Where two or more toilet rooms are provided for each sex, the required number of lavatories shall be distributed proportionately to the required number of water closets. 

Table 403.2

Where plumbing fixtures are required, separate facilities shall be provided for each sex. Exceptions:

  • Dwelling units and sleeping units
  • Occupant load of 15 or fewer
  • Mercantile occupancies (retail establishments) with 100 or fewer
  • Business occupancies with a load of 25 or fewer 
424 Urinals (OUT OF ORDER)

 

424.2 Substitutions for water closets

In each bathroom or toilet room, urinals shall not be substituted for more than 67 percent of the required water closets in assembly and educational occupancies. Urinals shall not be more than 50 percent in other occupancies.

This is the part of the course that is covered in the video preview. In both the video and text course, there are many more sample calculations! 

We are going to work through a few calculations using Table 403.1. Please follow along in your book during these exercises.

  1. How many women’s lavatories and water closets are required for a skating rink with an occupancy load of 1500?

The first step is to divide the 1500 by 2 to get the number of women, 750. Water Closets at 1 per 40 for 750 females = 18.75, round up to 19 lavatories at 1 per 150  for 750 Females = 5

 

Table 403.1 Image

How to Turn a Trainee Into a Valuable Team Member

We may specialize in exam prep and continuing education, but we also know that the learning doesn’t stop once someone finds a job. That’s why we’re highlighting a simplified version of this article by Bo DeAngelo, master plumber and manager of technical training at Viega. He has some helpful tips on how to effectively teach a new trainee in a way that helps them succeed right away.

Determine the best way to teach your trainee

Don’t be afraid to ask trainees about their preferred learning style. Even if they don’t know, you’ll see evidence of what method is best as you work together. In DeAngelo’s experience, it’s best to use a combination of visual, auditory, and “hands-on” instruction.

Keep it simple

Being an expert in your field can make it easy to assume others know more than they do about that subject. Assess your trainee’s level of knowledge and be sure to teach at that level.

Trainees might be reluctant to ask questions or admit they don’t know something, so make sure they feel comfortable speaking up or asking you to explain something a second time.

It's important to make the trainee comfortable with asking questions.

Give the “Why” along with the “How”

Showing someone how to do something is best paired with an explanation of why it’s done that way; whether it’s efficiency, safety, or some other reason. Knowing “why” will reinforce the correct approach and decrease the chances the trainee will try to find a “better” way on their own.

Use other sources

Encourage your trainees to supplement on-the-job training with other sources of knowledge, such as manufacturers’ training videos and manuals, trade associations, etc. Knowledge they gain on their own has a tendency to stick with them.

Be patient

You weren’t born knowing how to install a hot-water tank or snake a sewer line. Someone had to show you and correct your mistakes. Teaching someone else is a chance to repay the favor.

Keeping these steps in mind will help bring along the next generation of tradespeople and maybe even allow you to retire someday.

If you need an easy way to keep your employees up-to-date on their continuing education, check out our company wide training solutions!

The Health & Efficiency Benefits of Linear Drain Design

In this recent article written by Chris Oaty from Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine, he argues that the pandemic has been reshaping the way home owners view their bathrooms. Instead of being places to “get business done,” they’re evolving into “relaxation and well-being sanctuaries.” Throughout the article (you can read our own “Reader’s Digest” version below), Oaty argues that “linear drains promote well-being, cleanliness, sustainability, and accessibility in the modern bathroom.”

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The Bathroom as a "Sanctuary"

Inspired by luxurious “wet-room” spa baths in upscale hotels and health clubs, consumers of all ages now seek to enjoy the same look and feel at home to promote well-being. Part of that look is linear drains used in curbless showers, which are widespread thanks to the way they marry style and functionality.

A curbless shower means cleaner lines in the bathroom, less visual clutter, and added accessibility, all of which enhances well-being.

Superior performance in a curbless shower starts with a single directional slope with a linear drain spanning wall to wall at the bottom of the slope.

Eliminating the compound slope in the shower pan opens up new opportunities for design, allowing users to create an uninterrupted flow from bathroom to shower with beautiful large format tile and solid surface materials.

An example of QuickDrain USA’s ProLine linear drain

Cleanliness

COVID-19 has definitely heightened the importance of illness prevention and health optimization. A linear drain offers increased health benefits because it can be integrated with larger-format tiles. This reduces the number of grout joints and seams where mold, mildew and grime can take hold. The idea of a wall-to-wall linear drain, from a design perspective, not only maximizes drainage, but also offers a clean look that enhances the homeowner’s shower experience.

Linear drains create a seamless design, while also promoting a cleaner space

Multi-Generational Living 

According to Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), the senior living industry has embraced wellness to address shifting expectations and mindsets toward aging. Per USA Today, multigenerational households are on the rise as a result of the pandemic, as some families find themselves isolated due to travel restrictions. To accommodate different generations in the home, we’re seeing an increasing demand for accessibility in the bathroom and shower.

Linear drains in curbless showers are an ideal design solution for creating ADA-compliant showers and universally accessible wet spaces. With no barrier to cross, the floor more easily accommodates a freestanding bench, a wheelchair, or other mobility aids.

An added benefit: Linear drains avoid the institutional look of so many ADA bathrooms, especially with upscale options that disappear into the wall.

As the pandemic keeps shifting consumer expectations, it will also continue to impact the future of home-design for years to come. One place to start is in the bathroom, where linear drains nicely align with the surging consumer trends of wellness, cleanliness, sustainability, and multi-generational living.

*An unedited version of this article was originally published in Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine - written by Chris Oatey.

Tips for Recruiting Young Plumbers

Statistics show that despite many aspects of life either stopping or slowing down during the pandemic, your plumbing workload isn’t one of them! If you’re struggling to find new skilled employees to help you juggle your projects, Plumber Magazine recently published an article that has some good tips for attracting young talent.

You can read the whole article here, or check out my “readable during your break” version below.  The original author, Anthony Pacilla, is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania with 23 years of experience.

Mr. Pacilla’s first point is something I’m sure you already know: workforce demographics are changing. Many skilled trade workers are reaching retiring age, and the country is struggling to make recruitment meet the demand. With most high schools pushing college as the “best option” after graduation, Pacilla argues that you need to get creative and use their own weapon against them: effective marketing.

“Begin by getting involved locally with high schools, vocational schools, and trade schools. You need to take that aspect more seriously if you want to recruit employees. Run advertisements on social media promoting how you can have a great career with zero college debt.” Here are some of his advertisement examples:

  • “Don’t spend $200,000 and be in debt until you're 70 years old...start making money immediately!”
  • “Make money, don’t spend money.”
  • “The front line of defense protecting the health of a nation and its environment.”
  • “Tradition, glory, and big paychecks without the weekly exams and debt.”

Pacilla says in order to convince high school students that a profession like plumbing is a viable alternative to college, you need to “create a clear path to success from a new employee’s first day to how and when they get raises and training.” It also helps to emphasize the college debt aspect.

“These high school students are shopping for the next step in their life, and until we make adjustments to how we sell ourselves, they are never going to buy it. As the knowledge gap gets wider, and more of your employees retire or die, the situation will only get more desperate. Get a plan of action and take some steps now before it’s too late.”

What do you think? Have you already been trying ways to recruit younger workers? Let us know on social media!

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