Fighting Misinformation About the Plumbing Trade

It’s up to everyone in the industry to play a part in making sure the public understands the complexities of plumbing and why professionals — not handy do-it-yourselfers — are needed to fix problems

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How many times have you heard something along the lines of: “My buddy knows a lot about plumbing, he came over last month and made a repair, but it leaks now.” Or, “My buddy who does some plumbing said that shouldn’t be very expensive to fix.”

Oftentimes, plumbers are servicing systems that have been recently “fixed” by other “plumbers.” Since some of these installations are far from safe and what is code, as licensed techs we make fun of them on Facebook, send photos to our coworkers in the field, or laugh about them in the shop the next morning.

But think about how dangerous these types of errors can be to our customers’ health. Most everyone these days is at least making an attempt to fix their own plumbing before calling a professional, which is leading to important details being overlooked. These misinformed homeowners and nonplumbers see a simple repair, but we see the true dangers and details. We see how small mistakes can turn into very large health concerns, property damage, and sometimes loss of life. We see the whole picture and it is our responsibility to take action and make customers aware of the dangers when they or their handyman makes a mistake.

Everyday Danger

I call them the “outsiders.” Some old-time pipefitters like my father call them the “drunken misfits.” Whatever term you apply, they are a collection of people who are either in a construction trade other than plumbing, a handyman, or someone trying to dabble in our field because they just watched a video on YouTube. Drywallers, remodelers, carpenters, flooring guys, tile guys, concrete masons, handymen, painters — everyone is out there installing plumbing. Ultimately, because of their lack of expertise, they usually end up hurting the families they work for — not only costing them more money, but also potentially causing major health problems. At the end of the day, they have to call a real licensed plumber and we redo all of the work.

Some of the potential problems: Kitchen remodelers cut and cap vent lines to install windows over the kitchen sink. Drywallers put screws into copper piping and leave it that way. Flooring guys bury the toilet flanges below grade. Concrete masons pour concrete over floor drains to abandon them. Forced-air technicians try to apply forced-air principles to a hydronic system. The handyman decides to plug the “valve thing on the side of the water heater because it won’t stop dripping.” Sanitation and healthy drinking water are too important to civilization to let it go to the Band of Misfits.

The Physics and Complexities of Our Profession

Our profession is so much more complex than the general public thinks. It requires expertise in nearly all facets of physics and science — the properties and behaviors of gases, liquids, and pressure under different climate conditions, and how just one change in one variable in a system can cause a variety of problems. On top of that, we need to diagnose problems and make repairs in homes we didn’t build that have had decades of work completed by different generations of — potentially misinformed — individuals, which only makes problems more complex.

Many of these people are basing their installations off a 5-minute video on the internet filmed by other misinformed people. The installation guidelines and industry practices we use weren’t learned in 5 minutes. Hartford loops, venting, siphons, pressure issues, expansion tanks, steam, etc. are very complicated things that should not be entrusted to just anyone.

Many people take for granted not only our knowledge, but also everyday luxuries such as having clean running water or a hot shower. They do not understand the expertise and how many professionals it takes to properly size and install the waterlines from the treatment plant to their house, and install it in a way that will be safe and last a lifetime. They don’t see the value in what most of our industry does because they have never had to live without it.

Explaining the Benefits of Professional Service

Homeowners won’t understand until we make them understand. We need to all do our part in explaining the benefits of using licensed plumbers and do a better job of thoroughly explaining how dangerous some of these things are in the wrong hands. Every chance we get we should be pointing out the little things like “siliconed up” tub shoes and rubber tape on waterline leaks. We should be explaining how that is not at all acceptable.

We need to come together as an industry. Instead of trying to bad-mouth our competition, maybe we say to customers, “Hey, this is a more complex issue than you should trust with a handyman. We are inexpensive for what we provide — health, well-being, and peace of mind. How much is your family’s health worth? If you think we are too expensive, try getting quotes from other licensed and insured companies in our area. The last thing you want to do is put something this important in the hands of the guy you saw at the bar last Saturday who says he fixes things.”

If we emphasize to customers how dangerous plumbing matters can be when in the hands of the misinformed, they will eventually come to realize just how complicated and deadly plumbing can be. If explained thoroughly, the next time they have a problem they might immediately call us instead of considering Gary the Handyman. Let’s make a concerted effort to inform homeowners of some of the crazy things that we’ve seen on plumbing jobs that actually hurt people, and point out stories about cases of gas explosions and sewage crises that spread disease. We have one of the most important jobs of all time and we need to remind people of that.

About the Author
Anthony Pacilla is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has 22 years' experience in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and has a bachelor’s in business and economics from Thiel College. 


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