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More Flat Rate Debate

I don't understand the value in dollars Mr. Secor puts on technicians ("Point/ Counterpoint," September 2001). I think he needs to spend some time looking at the cost of living and realize that $40,000 is ridiculous to consider "reasonable pay" for someone who is considered to be a professional.

The wages needed for someone to have a nice home, save for retirement, provide for family, be able to take a real vacation, send children to college, and just have what every other individual wants in life who seek out to be a "professional" should be no less than $70,000 before taxes.

It's not important what billing system you use. What is important is to know your costs and apply them to whatever billing system you chose to recoup your company's costs of operating. And within that system be able to pay the employees on your staff what is considered a reasonable and comfortable salary.

Why don't the young people of this world want to pursue plumbing and heating as a profession? If we don't make the compensation package worth their while, they will never even consider it.

Kenneth J. Midgett
A.S.A.P. Plumbing & Heating Inc.
Quakertown, Pa.

Last month's debate about slugs vs. flat rate was great. It finally exposed the bias very clearly that PM unknowingly has favored Frank Blau and the flat rate pricing system.

Flat rate pricing is basically a preconceived average price (materials, labor/fringes, overhead times desired return or markup) no different from a quoted or custom price that is more accurately based on job conditions and easily pulled apart if the customer wishes to see the breakdown.

The consumer today is smarter than the flat rate proponents give them credit for. They are taught to get three prices for larger work. When they do, that usually blows Frank's approach out of the water because he simply has too much overhead to compete.

We go into many homes with our servicemen (from the same local with the same pay scale) and hear horror stories about pricing that is anywhere from 1.75 to 3 times our prices.

Yes, Frank makes money, but can he even think about being competitive?

Please take off the blinders and come to the Milwaukee area and visit the successful service providers who have learned to deal with the box stores and also realize that overhead has to be constantly monitored and adjusted to remain competitive.

I applaud the courage it took Jim to break ranks and start this debate. I would ask that he interview or have someone neutral research how the 90 percent still prefer to do business. You will find we are value-oriented with a fair return and want satisfied repeat customers.

Richard M. Kontny
Meyer's Plumbing Service Ltd.
Menominee Falls, Wis.

I'm a one-man shop, and I think flat rate pricing is the way to go. Too bad that too many of the so-called old timers and some of the younger ones like me still don't want to understand this.

If you tell yourself that the quality of the work performed is more important than how long it takes for the price, you'll see that flat rate pricing is more profitable than T&M.

The problem is that too many of us have doubts about ourselves and are afraid to change even when it's better for both ourselves, business and, most of all, our customers. Guys, get on with it -- enough is enough. It's time to do away with T&M.

Sylvanus Bloice Sr.
Roots Plumbing Services
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

How So Low?

As an engineer who designs radiant heating systems, I was quite pleased to see your article on radiant heating making front page news ("The 'Plain Vanilla' System," October 2001). However, I must admit I was appalled at some of the claims made.

I checked the AHSRAE weather data for Albuquerque and have no idea where the "local temperatures can easily swing 45 degrees in the afternoon and another 15 degrees at night" statement is derived from. Are you suggesting that the daily range is 60 degrees? If it's 50 at night it's 110 in the day?

Also, you seem to perpetuate the thorn in PM's side that this contractor has to pay the "going rate." No amount of math I did paid the average crew member more than about $10 an hour. Perhaps leaving out the vapor barrier and ground insulation (as is evident in the photographs) helps keep costs down. Maybe plain vanilla is good, but it shouldn't be served in your hand.

Wilbur Gay
WG Engineering
Albuquerque, N.M.

I read the cover story featuring radiant heating for $2.50 per square foot. I was surprised that you would give credence to this story with PM supposedly trying to "raise the bar" of the plumbing and hydronic industry.

There are several questions I'd like answered: first, how is the boiler protected from thermal shock and condensation issues without correct controls installed? Second, are heat loss/loop length calculations completed before the tubing is installed? Third, if the company can install a system for $2.50 per square foot, what is the true profitability of the company, and what are the wages and benefits paid to employees? Lastly, is the industry well served by promoting the least expensive installation methods?

To quote John Ruskin: "It's unwise to pay too much, but worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money -- that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing what it was bought to do.

"The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot -- it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better." Mr. Ruskin lived from 1819-1900. Some things never change!

Paul Pollets
Advanced Radiant
Seattle, Wash.

Ruskin Was Right!

I have been in this great trade for 39 years and have owned my own business for about 18 years. During this time, I have encountered many surprising situations and would like to share one.

Recently, a customer called me to look at a problem she was having with the plumbing in her upstairs bathrooms. Apparently, she had a carpenter take out two sinks and vanities, but after removing them, he informed her that he could not hook them back up.

Stuck, she then asked around to see if she could find someone who could help her. Her landscaper's 20-year-old assistant, who helped cut lawns and rake leaves, said he could help. But after $500 and numerous trips to the hardware store, she finally had to tell him enough was enough!

He hooked up the sinks all right, but the bathrooms now had a constant septic odor and she heard running water every time she used water anywhere throughout the entire drain system. It turns out the sinks were hooked up without traps!

This homeowner learned a very valuable lesson -- you get what you pay for -- and has vowed never to use an unlicensed contractor ever again. Thanks for providing a great forum for an "old plumber like me" to tell a story.

Frank Machado
Bigelow Plumbing & Heating
Brookfield, Ct.

Editor's Note: Frank did send us a "before" shot of his work, but it wasn't the type of film we could use to reprint the image. Suffice to say, it looked exactly like you'd think.

Black Day

Super editorial on the Black Day that befell us ("The Darkest Hours Are Before The Dawn," October 2001). You expressed your views and the facts in a beautiful, dignified way. This is a gift -- the "power of the word." Here's something I've copied on my desktop. It's a little poem from Herman Melville written after the death of Abraham Lincoln:
    There is a sobbing of the strong
    And a pall upon the land;
    But the people in their weeping
    Bare the iron hand;
    Beware the people weeping
    When they bare the iron hand.
Chuck Garot
Edwin C. Garot Co. Inc.
Green Bay, Wis.