Keeping these boneheaded predictions in mind, here is what I see in my crystal ball for the future.

Here we are — at the start of another New Year. We have crawled to within two years of that inevitable date when old computers will just give up and die. I have heard so many predictions of the doom and gloom that will arrive in the year 2000, that I thought I would take out my crystal ball and look into the future of plumbing.

Of course, it can be dangerous trying to predict what will happen in the future. Many of our predecessors look really foolish today for their wild predictions of the future. In 1949, Popular Mechanics predicted, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” I know that my notebook computer feels about that heavy when I am running to catch a plane. In 1876, Western Union, the telegraph company, wrote, “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

When I observe the turf battles that are going on today in the plumbing industry, I reminisce about battles and predictions made by our politicians. In 1829, New York Governor Martin Van Buren (and future president of the United States), wrote a letter to the president saying, “The canal system of this country is being threatened by the spread of a new form of transportation, known as ‘railroads.’ As you may well know, railroad carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by engines, which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such a breakneck speed.”

What I See: Keeping these boneheaded predictions in mind, here is what I see in my crystal ball:

Within five years there will be one national model plumbing code. At the current time, we have two codes that are fighting a so-called “code war” to determine who has the best national model plumbing code. The two groups, ICC and IAPMO, are not really talking to one another, which makes no sense. Both groups have done some things right and both have done some things wrong. The smartest thing they could both do is to talk to one another. In the next five years, either that will happen, or one of the groups will belly up on their plumbing code.

In the next 10 years, residential sprinklers in all new homes will be as commonplace as a whirlpool tub. Furthermore, plumbing contractors, not sprinkler contractors, will install the bulk of the work. Those plumbing contractors who don’t enter the residential sprinkler market will be shut out of the new residential plumbing business. My only hope is that the 10 years I am predicting for this to occur is more like three years.

Within 15 years, all standard residential faucets will be electronically actuated. There will even be voice-activated faucets that allow a person to say, “Turn on,” or “Warmer.” Electronics will enter every segment of the plumbing industry. Electronic faucets are currently available for residential installations, however, it will still take time for the concept to catch on in our homes.

By 2018, the tank-type water closet will go the way of the old crapper box water closet. (You know, the tanks that are suspended 7 feet in the air and you pull the chain to flush.) The standard water closet will be either a pressure-assisted flush or a flushometer valve. This is an easy prediction because in the long run, people demand performance. If the plumbing contractor doesn’t provide the performance in a quality flushing water closet, then consumers will either buy it in Home Depot, or find a plumber who knows quality.

If you don’t believe the public will pay for a quality product, just look at the changes in the automobile. When I graduated from college in 1975, I bought a high performance Dodge Challenger for $3,600. It was a nice car, but compared to what I drive today, it had nothing. Now, I pay for a more comfortable car with all of the gadgets and safety devices. Although the car’s cost has increased to $38,000, I lease it for $499 a month.

Out On A Limb: I am going to go way out on a limb with this last prediction. I predict the United Association will change the way they do business. Rather than looking for ways to increase labor and use traditional methods, I predict the UA will become the force of change in the plumbing industry. They will abandon their old ways (circa 1950s) and move into the 21st century.

The UA will support the use of new and innovative materials. They will embrace new engineering concepts for plumbing design. They will also begin to train their people to be the most knowledgeable in the installation of new and innovative technology. Rather than fighting management, manufacturers, and engineers, the UA will become an integral part of the industry.

You might ask why I see this in my crystal ball. I base this last prediction on one individual, Marty Maddaloni, the UA general president. The union ranks in the plumbing industry have dropped significantly. They will continue to drop unless change takes place. I believe Marty Maddaloni recognizes this need for change within the union ranks. As one of my UA friends said, “It is time for the old bastards to die off. Let us younger guys in there to straighten things out. We recognize that PVC is as good as cast iron, but it weighs less, is easier to install, and requires less labor. So what!”

For the start of 1998, those are my predictions for the plumbing industry. I only hope that no one quotes me in 50 or 100 years as the idiot who had no concept of what the future would bring.