Start to think globally about the products you install.

One of the questions I have received from contractors is, "Are there any plumbing products that China doesn't make?"

I would venture to guess that there are some plumbing products that are not made in China. However, there are a host of plumbing products now made in China. And yes, many of those products are shipped to the United States.

During this election year, we hear and read a lot of political rhetoric regarding offshore products. One of the latest countries to receive our ire has been China. There is no doubt that China has become a major trading partner.

But, contrary to the political messages, George W. Bush did not send all of our manufacturing jobs over to China, nor did his cronies. Actually, Bill Clinton was the President that granted China favored trade nation status, thus, opening fair trade with China. Prior to that, trade with China was difficult for the United States. In support of President Clinton, granting favored trade nation status was not a bad decision.

The world has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. We truly are a global economy. Products are made all over the world, including plumbing products. They are shipped to this country and every other country. At the same time, we want to ship products made in the United States to other nations.

Many plumbing manufacturers are multinational companies. This includes companies that you may have thought of as being strictly U.S. corporations.

Going Global

Today, there usually is not a single company when it comes to manufacturing. There is a separate company that makes the product in the plant that is wholly owned by the parent company that sells the products. They sell through sales representatives that are independent companies. You buy from a different company that is the wholesale house. Then you, as a company, sell it to the customer.

If you think about it, there are a whole lot of companies involved from the time a product is manufactured until it is installed in a building.

Some have blamed the tax structure in this country for the movement of manufacturing jobs off shore. The tax structure in the United States both hurts and helps manufacturing jobs. For example: if an offshore parent company is located in a country without corporate taxes, they can open two subsidiary companies in the United States. One company can make the product, the other one can distribute the product.

Let's say that the manufacturing company makes a product for $5 each. The offshore parent company buys it for this price. They then turn around and sell it to the distributing company in the US for $15. That company sells it to the wholesalers for $18. During the entire transaction, the product never leaves the United States, although the money does.

While the offshore company just made a profit of $13 on each item, the U.S. government only gets to receive taxes on a profit of $3. The remaining $10 profit is made by the offshore corporation that has no corporate taxes. This is why companies have offshore headquarters.

They kept the manufacturing jobs in the United States with this tax code provision, but they kept a greater percentage of the profits. After all, isn't that the job of a corporation, to make a profit?

I know, I don't like the concept either, but this is one of the examples of how a global economy works. But this advantage may leave manufacturing jobs in the United States. By the way, a U.S. corporation could not do what I just described. They would throw the corporate officers in jail for tax evasion.

Are The Products Any Good?

While I am a proud American, we have to put aside our nationalism and see things as a part of a global economy. Whether it is China, other Asian countries, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Central America or South America, we really need to ask, "Are these plumbing products any 'good'?"

Fortunately, the plumbing codes and standards industry in the United States has implemented a very good system of checks and balances for plumbing products. In a way, it has leveled the playing field so that every country must play by the same rules if they want to ship their products to the United States.

Since the 1970's, there has been an explosion in the number of plumbing product standards that are published in this country. These standards regulate the quality and performance of the various products. Once the standard is developed, it is introduced and adopted into the plumbing code.

Just pick up the International or Uniform Plumbing Code and you will find a laundry list of standards. The International Plumbing Code does a much better job of identifying which standard applies where. Hence, if you want to make sure you have selected a product meeting the proper standard, I would suggest that you check out the requirements in the International Plumbing Code. (The product requirements in the Uniform Plumbing Code are basically the same.)

Both plumbing codes require the plumbing products to be listed or labeled by a third party testing agency. These testing agencies test the physical product to determine if it meets the appropriate standard. To assure continuous compliance to the standard, they send inspectors, unannounced, to the manufacturing facility to inspect the plant and determine whether the product is still in compliance with the standard.

Speaking of China, these testing agencies have satellite offices in China with inspectors to check out the Chinese manufacturing facilities. Hence, the product saying "Made in China" should have the same quality assurance as a product saying "Made in some other country."

What you really need to question is whether a product is properly listed, not what country is it made in. Start to think globally.

If you want to be a proud American, when two products are the same price and the same quality, buy the one made in the United States. You may even want to pay a few dollars more for the one made in the United States.

Enjoy all of the plumbing products made around the world this month at the two major plumbing trade shows (ISH NA in Boston and ASPE in Cleveland). I'll see you at the show.

Ballanco At ISH NA 2004
Julius Ballanco, P.E., is a scheduled speaker at this year's ISH North America trade show held Oct. 14-16 in Boston. On Thursday, Oct. 14 he will present "Hot Water Scalding And How To Protect Your Company & Customer" at 9 a.m., and "DVW-Design/ Protection Against SARS And Infectious Diseases" at 3 p.m. To register for the show, visit