I remember thinking, as a kid, how silly and ridiculous it was that adults always came up with a New Year’s resolutions each Jan. 1. Why would anybody set aside one day that they proclaimed was going to change their lives? My response was, “It just ain’t going to happen.” Of course, being young, I was allowed to be cynical.

Nowadays, my three children think I’m one of these old people. My stubbornness prevents me from ever considering making New Year’s resolutions. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think about change. The New Year seems to be a kick in the butt. I think about the past year, then I think about the past five years, and I keep on going up to the past 20 years.

Like most of you, I ask myself what I can do to improve or change or accomplish or .... well, you get the idea. The technology explosion makes me feel even worse. I keep thinking that I’m being left behind. It seems to be getting harder and harder each year to keep up. So now, every January I think of one small area that I am going to force myself to consider. I long ago realized that when I made the items too big, I never got around to even one thing.

Choose One: My recommendation is to choose one area that you will definitely get to this next year. I can give you many ideas in this ever-changing plumbing world. Last year, I was determined to learn how to be proficient in AutoCAD. One of my employees could get the computer spinning out riser drawings like crazy. I would always watch in amazement and think what it might be like to be young again. Finally, I said, “Hey, I can do that.”

My computer whiz kid showed me many of the basics. Then, late at night, I would sneak onto the computer and try to repeat the same things he would do in designing plumbing systems. After beating on the computer and cursing the stupid machine out, I would have a line of questions for my morning meeting. I would usually start off with a statement of how dumb or useless the computer was because it did not pay attention to what I told it to do. He would calm me down and say to tell the computer to do it this way the next time, with an emphasis on reading the command lines and following what they say. “Oh, yeah,” I would respond.

However, I can now say that, one year later, I have mastered AutoCAD. When I speak of mastering this diabolical computer drawing program, many plumbing contractors ask: “Why bother? If we need to sketch a layout, out comes the piece of paper and, presto, we have a riser diagram.” Of course, I used to say the same thing. Then my CAD guy would put me to shame. The computer has the additional capability of saving all of the old jobs, which can then be modified faster than I could find a pencil in my desk drawer to start sketching with.

What this proved to me was that if I limit myself to one major accomplishment, it can be achieved. Forget about all those long lists of resolutions that are stuffed in a drawer by Feb. 1. Try one — when you get there, try another. Of course, mastering any one of the hundreds of computer programs that will make your life in this business easier would be a good start. Then again, I have many other things you can try.

Attitude Adjustment: There are hundreds of inventors out there trying to make life easier for you. So often, we view the inventor as some major corporation that is only concerned with making millions of dollars. Perhaps the best change we could make is in the attitude we have toward new products, tools and concepts. Although it is true that most inventors want to make millions, you have to ask, “What is so wrong with wanting to make money?” Isn’t that one of the reasons why anyone is in business — to make money?

Many inventions come about because an individual analyzed a problem and came up with a solution. The least we could do is give it a try. Forget about this idea that everything new is cheap junk that won’t hold up.

If making an attitude adjustment to be completely open-minded about every new concept is too much, again take my advice to select one product to try, or take just one job and try some new concept. The different ideas that I have floated include products that are no longer new, however, they have not been completely welcomed by the industry:

  • Try piping your next water distribution system job in CPVC or PEX, if all you’ve ever done is copper tubing. You may like the change. You may hate the change. But you will never know if plastic water piping is in your future unless you try.
  • How about buying one of those toilet trucks for you and your employees? There are many different styles of toilet trucks out there and they sure do save your back. I think the toilet trucks (or dollies) are a great invention. Unfortunately, they came about too late to save my back.
  • If you do remodeling work, offer to install an air admittance valve for your next island kitchen sink. Such a small job will give you the opportunity to see if you can trust air admittance valves. I have had many plumbing contractors start out this way. Now that is all they use.
  • Maybe on your next small gas piping installation, you can install corrugated stainless steel tubing. If the job is real large, just install a few of the more distant appliances in CSST. This will give you the ability to determine the true cost savings before you switch to nothing but CSST.
  • At a recent plumbing show, I saw a water heater stand for water heaters installed in a garage. The stand was real slick, providing the protection required by every plumbing and mechanical code, plus it was listed by the AGA. I asked the owner how he was doing, and his response was that many plumbers still think it is cheaper to build their own stand because wood is so cheap. However, if you think about the business side, you would quickly realize that there is no labor involved when you just place a stand on the ground. Maybe a simple product like this is the place to begin with one new idea for this year.
  • How about taking the time to read more technical reports regarding plumbing design and plumbing products? Research the new pipe sizing methods for drainage and venting systems. Stop over-sizing pipes for no reason whatsoever. Perhaps build the next four-bath, single-family dwelling with a 3-inch sewer, since a 4-inch is too large.
  • If all of these concepts are still too much for you, try a real easy change by vowing to never again install an air chamber on a water line. Convince yourself how dumb the idea of air chambers are. It doesn’t take much thought process to eliminate air chambers from your plumbing life forever.

I certainly don’t want you to abandon everything old. We always need to keep something old, but we also need to try something new. Make it a vow to give at least one new concept a shot in this New Year.