Balancing Act: Drain Cleaning and Plumbing Work

Do you offer plumbing and drain cleaning services? If so, here’s a look at how to create a happy balance between the demands of each.

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For Paul Rockwell, plumbing and drain cleaning work have always been one and the same. He’s offered both services to customers the entire time he’s been in business in Paso Robles, Calif., and the company he worked at for 10 years before opening his shop in 2009 did the same.

Rockwell, owner of Rocksteady Plumbing, also subcontracts for a few local plumbers who don’t offer drain cleaning services. “It’s not that rare that you’re out doing something – fixing a faucet or a water heater – and someone says, ‘While you’re here can you take a look at this bathtub?’ or ‘My shower doesn’t drain,’” he says. “I’m sure there are a lot of guys who can’t do it right then because they don’t carry that equipment on their truck.” 

There are some obvious differences between the two service offerings: Mainly, the fact that plumbers have to have a license and go through years of apprenticeships, whereas drain cleaners generally do not. The type of equipment, of course, is another major different between the services. But the essence of the two services is the same – fixing problems with the various apparatuses involved in delivering water to customers and taking wastewater away. So it makes sense that many contractors are like Rockwell and have both plumbing and draining cleaning on their menu of services.

Rockwell strikes a balance by always being ready to tackle both drain cleaning and plumbing jobs, but scheduling the work in a way that keeps him efficient.

“I don’t really market after one or the other,” he says. “Whatever comes in is what I do. It’s more about trying to schedule it the best I can. If I have two or three drain jobs to do, I try to get them all at once so I can tuck that stuff away in the corner of the van after I’m done with it.” 

Efficiency is particularly important to Rockwell because he’s a one-man crew. He says, on average, drain cleaning encompasses approximately 40 percent of his workload. That can fluctuate in either direction though. 

“You don’t clear a drain for a week and then you’ll do nothing but that for three or four days,” he says. “It definitely has its roller coaster ups and downs just like with any other calls I get.”

That’s why on the equipment end, Rockwell says he doesn’t place a priority on any one tool and tries to keep everything in good working order at all times. 

“I don’t have backup equipment for all my machines, so if something starts to wobble or squeak or cables start to get a little kinked up, I try to get that stuff ordered preemptively and just keep everything working,” Rockwell says.

There are also things like continuing education to factor in since Rockwell has plumbing license requirements to maintain. He says the Internet helps.

“There’s a lot of it that can be done online with the forms. Even Facebook now has groups where we pass a lot of information back and forth,” he says. 

Still, it’s difficult to find the perfect balance. 

“It’s hard to break away for a day to go take a class or go renew a certification,” Rockwell says. “You just have to hope it’s not a busy day with a lot of calls where you have to turn too many jobs away.” 

But for Rockwell, it’s worth it to be a one-stop shop for customers’ drain cleaning and plumbing needs. 

“Otherwise you’re missing out on a fair amount of work,” he says. “I can’t imagine not doing it. That’s the way I’ve always thought about it.”


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