Predicting What Could be Ahead for Plumbers

Smart technology could change the way the industry works post-COVID

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

We are moving into a new era. Like pre-and-post 9/11, there will be pre-and-post COVID-19. The ripple effect of shifting social and economic areas will drive change and innovation. 

Two of the areas touched by both the pandemic and the plumbing industry are in-person services and sanitation. 

This got me thinking about the changes we can expect in our industry in the coming years.  I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have an active imagination. 

Here are my predictions on the future of plumbing:

Prediction 1: Self-cleaning bathroom fixtures, powered by nanobots.

For me, nanobots fall in the same category as artificial intelligence. They sound impossibly cool and futuristic, but also terrifying. Yet, a small amount of research after this idea popped into my head showed it isn’t very far-fetched at all.

In fact, nanotechnology is apparently being researched aggressively to prevent the spread and detection of SARS-CoV-2. (Source: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-020-0751-0) Nanoparticles work better than disinfectants, according to some researchers. 

Since surface sterilization is a known application, self-sanitizing toilet seats may not be too far off.

Prediction 2: Touchless takeover.

While touchless technology has become common in the commercial sector, it is still an outlier in residential applications. I predict that will change. 

Some brands are already having limited success with high-end fixtures that feature touchless technology. Kohler’s Sensate is the first I’m aware of to include voice-activated features. Considering how we’ve all gotten used to Siri and Alexa as personal assistants, increased use of voice commands sounds like the wave of the future.

Prediction 3: Self-healing pipes. 

I made this up, but a quick Google search told me someone’s been working on it since at least 2006. Some futurist I am. According to technologyreview.com, a Scottish company developed the technology for gas pipelines. The concept uses flow to carry an elastomeric material to the point of rupture, where pressure helps it coagulate and seal the leak. 

There is no reason to think this can’t eventually make its way to commercial and residential plumbing applications. It would probably have limiting “patch” functionality, but hey, it’s got to be better than flex seal, right?

Prediction 4: Remote and smart maintenance, diagnostic and repair.

Smart fixtures and equipment with an internet connection could be remotely reset, maintained, diagnosed and possibly even repaired.

I’m sure there is already a tankless water heater that sends a push notification when maintenance is due. It’s only a matter of time before the manufacturers take it a few steps further. 

I’d like to think there will always be a place for an on-site technician. But then ... 

Prediction 5: Augmented reality repair remote service.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, augmented reality, or AR, it uses a device such as a smartphone camera to overlay virtual objects on an existing environment in real-time. You know, like Pokemon Go.

The trend has already infiltrated the home services sector with popular painting apps helping you virtually try new paint colors or the Measured by Lowe’s app that uses a virtual tape measure to gather project specs.

I predict future applications will include fixture replacement AR to help homeowners pick out a new kitchen faucet (perhaps one with voice commands?). But an AI or a live technician could also use augmented reality to walk a homeowner through an advanced DIY situation. 

Prediction 6: Smart water shutoff valves  become the norm.

While the prices on these things are still a little high to be an easy sell, we are installing more and more. I predict insurance companies will require them. 

Smart water shutoff valves that offer real-time leak detection and limit water damage are attractive to the folks paying out water damage claims. 

It’ll start with incentives, but I don’t think it will be long before we are seeing them as standard requirements at real estate transactions (like termite inspections where I live) and on all new construction.

Prediction 7: Plumbers trained in virtual reality.

Hands-on training for plumbing is subpar, difficult to access, and expensive to produce in many areas. While virtual reality hasn’t taken off recreationally the way Hollywood made us think it would, it has made inroads in corporate training. 

Fortune 500 companies use virtual reality in safety and operations already. As the technology becomes more widespread and better understood, I predict we will see VR labs in high schools and community colleges using simulations to train skilled trades. 

Prediction 8: Water-free plumbing.

The world is running out of water. Bill Gates has already paid for a waterless toilet design. You do the math. 

Hopefully, we won’t go full Fifth Element or Mad Max, but given a long enough timeline, I see this prediction coming true. There are many places in the world where low-flow won’t cut it. Water-free sanitation is coming!

Here’s the ultimate question. Without lead, our namesake, and without water, are we even plumbers at all?  

------------

Anja Smith is the managing partner at All Clear Plumbing and writer/speaker at Tradebiz Toolbox. Contact Anja at www.tradebiztoolbox.com. 



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.