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Sticker Shock

I agree with Jim's editorial ("No Bidding Allowed," July 2004). I even believe the survey results - that 81percent say they would most likely hire contractors based on personal recommendations.

The problem for us is there is a big difference between what people say and what they do. Our company may not be perfect, but we have always taken our game to the next level - showing up on time, looking and smelling professional, giving the price upfront, training for sales, etc.

But I tell you, our experience is more like 81 percent of our calls end up going to a low bidder. And then when the customer gets the royal treatment Jim writes about, the customer will call us back and apologize for not choosing our company like their friend, neighbor or relative recommended.

I'm a bit jaded, but the buck rules. Talk about sticker shock. I am usually the one who suffers sticker shock when the customer confesses just how low the low bidder's price was. I am usually astounded at how low the price is.

Perhaps that's why people choose the low bidder. The price is so low that it makes most of the other prices look ridiculous. And with those dollar signs in their eyes, the customer is blinded to all the other more important details that a truly professional company has to offer.

We've even had close friends who chose another company over us because of the price discrepancy, and then come crying back to us to help them complete the job on time and correctly.

Our reputation for doing great work and getting it done in a timely manner is not a mystery around here. However, the mystery is, why do these customers continue to go with the low bidder? I guess they have to experience pain first.

Name Withheld Upon Request

In Carol's Defense

I'd like to respond to David Moser of Moser Electric for his criticism of Carol Fey's April PM column ("Letter To The Editor," August 2004).

Controls are nothing new to the electrical industry? Think again.

Being involved in the radiant floor and hydronics industry, I have found that most electricians are lost when it comes to control wiring in these types of applications.

I started out as a plumber, never daring to venture beyond piping when performing our boiler replacements. Wiring used to scare the heck out of me. Whenever I needed one of my systems wired, I'd call a licensed electrician because that was (and is) the right thing to do.

Typically, however, they would find themselves lost with the different controls that must all work together as one. Never fully understanding what they were doing, we'd always end up holding their hand through it.

With the advancement of hydronic controls, my systems have progressively elevated to become a whole lot more complicated since then.

Being tired of the ignorance and lack of professionalism, I now perform all of my own wiring (high and low voltage), even though the code tells me I cannot. I spent the time and money, went to night school for electrical under the state's accredited schooling program and even got enough hours to take my journeyman electrician's license. And what did I learn about control wiring? Nothing! I wasn't taught even one thing related to what one needs to know about wiring a modern hydronic system.

The only way an electrician will know how to properly wire a system such as this is to either sit through manufacturers' specific training classes or through his own field experience listening to and learning from the guys who designed and installed the hydronic systems themselves.

Gary Wallace
Wallace Radiant Design
Natick, Mass.

In response to the letter from David Moser, he, indeed, is an exception in being an electrician able to wire heating controls, especially the low-voltage side. One of my tasks in tech support is helping technicians, installers, etc., when they have a problem wiring or troubleshooting one of our heating systems.

Most have the sense to read the manual. Ours is one of the simplest systems on the market to wire. In fact, we do most of the work in the factory before it goes out the door.

It's unbelievable how many electricians call because they can't figure it out or how many techs call because the electrician they hired (because of state code) to do the wiring replaced the factory wiring with their own idea of how it should work.

I learned control wiring from night school, working with other techs, and reading the manufacturer's instructions. I've been in the oil heating field for well over 30 years and have yet to learn it all but I'm trying.

I appreciate the articles by Carol Fey and John Siegenthaler and just wish more trade magazines would publish this type of helpful information.

The industry isn't standing still and any practitioners of the trade who want to have a future in it must keep up with new equipment as it's available.

Jim Hankinson
Energy Kinetics
Lebonnon, N.J.

And Then Again ...

After reading "Controls Are Nothing New," I just had to put in my 2 cents worth.

Carol Fey's original column indicates she sat down with an electrician for a Q&A in which she asked, "Why do you accept work wiring controls?" The answer, "The plumbers (hydronic heating guys) beg us, so we feel sorry for them and say OK."

I'm appalled at this response by an electrician! Let me explain why. First of all, most of us plumbing "hydronic heating guys" don't beg electricians. We ask them to quote us for a portion of our scope of work because of the nature of that work.

Let me enlighten Carol and this person she interviewed, as well as anyone else who thinks plumbers are electricians. There happen to be 50 states in this country of ours, of which every single one of them have different codes, regulations, licensing and insurance requirements. I know that it is a simple task to wire a pressure switch on a pump, a zone valve or aquastat in a boiler system. But the fact of the matter is, most plumbers do not have the licensing and insurance required to perform these minor wiring projects.

We cannot by law wire controls, let alone power wiring to plumbing devices or appliances. Hence the need to ask electricians to perform this portion of our scope of work.

I have several master plumbing licenses, and not one of them permits me to perform power wiring or low voltage controls without having a specialty electrical license.

The same is true for electricians. They do not have the licensing to install plumbing fixtures or piping.

Furthermore, I wish that those who write up these scope of work requirements would get a clue about the differences in trades. For example, take sprinkler fitting and fire protection. This is another gray area in CSI format and the like. Most plumbers do not have the licensing or insurance for even doing limited sprinkler work, which is why it gets excluded most of the time.

I know of other cross-trade scope conflicts that seem to get bounced back and forth. Take roofing. It's one thing for a plumber to drill a hole through a wood-framed structure with asphalt shingles and install a vent flashing; it's another thing for him to structurally support a 60-ton air handler and flash in the curb on a flat membrane roof.

I hope I've made my point here. Plumbers are not cry babies about doing wiring. Most just aren't licensed to do it.

Rick Hodgson
New England Air Systems Inc.
Williston, Vt.

'Create' Not The Word

Jim is right on. It's the litigators who do us and this country the most harm - and only for self-interest ("Toxic Mold Hysteria, Part 2," August 2004). They have succeeded to create an industry - and to use the word "create" really insults the true creators that this country was and is based on - in which mold is only the latest dollars these creatures are chasing. This country has a lot of enemies. We can handle the ones off our shores, but it's the ones among us that really worry me.

Anthony Caruso
A.C. Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical
Cleveland, Ohio

Ellen's No. 1 Fan

When my Plumbing & Mechanical magazine showed up each month, the first columnist I used to read was Frank Blau. I learned about how plumbers should not be fearful of charging enough to have a decent life for themselves and their employees.

Now I can't wait to read Ellen Rohr's column each month to see what she's come up with. I remember a column in the recent past that said something about how she had never seen a really successful business that had a dirty and sloppy office and shop. That one really hit home. I'm still cleaning.

Duane Jenks
Basin Refrigeration & Plumbing
Moses Lake, Wash.