Co-Existing With The Plumbing Engineer
One of the first things I learned in the plumbing profession was, “The engineer is a yidiot!” That is how it always sounded when my father said it so quickly.
We loved the term, because he really meant to say, “You idiot!” It just went together so fast that it came out as “yidiot.”
I often wondered what my father thought when two of his sons decided to go to an engineering school. Did he think that all of the common sense he beat into our heads would disappear and we would become yidiots?
When we were in engineering school, life in the plumbing business became much tougher. Whenever something needed special attention, the boss would say, “Go ask the engineers.” My brother and I always loved that.
One of my favorite stories, which I told at my father's funeral, was the time my brother and I were putting in a sewer together. In those days, the code required extra heavy cast iron. My brother, the engineer/fighter pilot/plumber, was operating the backhoe. I was overseeing the trench. While backfilling, he took a swing and knocked a hidden rock - about 2 ft. in diameter - into the trench. The cast iron shattered.
He told me to hurry up and get it fixed before the boss (our father) got there. Sure enough, the boss pulled up five minutes later while I was hand-digging the pipe back one length. We got a balling out, starting with, “Yidiot.”
So he told us we would have to undig the trench until we hit a bend. My brother, acting like a true engineer, said, “Don't worry, we have it all figured out. We are going to lift the two sections of pipe on either end of the length that was broken. We'll put the hubs together, then push the pipe down, and they will snap together.” Keep in mind we were using rubber gaskets.
My father's response was simple, “Yidiot engineers, is that what they teach you in college? Go ahead; let's see you do it. Then we can do it the way I said.”
My brother and I lifted the two sections of pipe, slid the 10-footer in between the two lengths, and pushed the pipe down and heard it snap into place. My father just turned around, walked to the truck, and left the jobsite. He never said another word about the job. Nor did we ever bring it up to him.
This month, the plumbing engineers gather for the biennial meeting of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) in Tampa, Fla. Along with the meeting is the Engineered Plumbing Exposition (EPE). Many contractors will be joining the engineers in Florida. Of course, many contractors are members of ASPE.
The plumbing engineers gathering in Tampa are not a bunch of yidiots. Unlike my father's generation, today we have highly educated plumbing engineers that are very familiar with the profession. They are not just sitting in their offices, drawing lines, having no idea what really happens in the field.
While in Tampa, they will be taking many hours of continuing education on numerous subject matters in plumbing engineering. There are five different tracks of training programs. In addition, they will be walking the show conversing with the engineers of various manufacturers. Unlike other plumbing trade shows, at the ASPE EPE, many manufacturers bring their engineers in addition to their sales people, so they can talk turkey with one another.
Today, plumbing engineers love discussing plumbing design concepts with plumbing contractors. They appreciate the input contractors provide. It is not uncommon for a contractor to inform an engineer, “That faucet looks nice, but inside, it is nothing but junk. So please don't specify it.”
This field experience helps guide the plumbing engineers. At the same time, the plumbing engineers aren't afraid to pass that information along. First, they talk amongst themselves at monthly meetings. Secondly, they will tell the manufacturers representative, “Oh, by the way, that pretty-looking, expensive faucet - my contractor tells me that it is nothing but junk on the inside. So we aren't going to specify it until you change the design.” That information gets back to the factory, and low and behold, many times the junk becomes quality on the inside.
The one complaint the plumbing engineer will have with the contractor at the biennial meeting is their specifications. Many times, you chose to ignore the plumbing engineer's specifications. One of the themes of engineers is, “Hold the spec!”
Plumbing engineers are becoming more adamant about having the plumbing contractor follow the specifications. If an engineer specifies a “Pluto” urinal, don't install a “Neptune” one. It doesn't matter the price difference, or what the general contractor says. The legal document is the plumbing engineering specifications.
Once you change the specifications, you assume all liability for the job. If you follow the specs, the liability shifts completely to the engineer.
On a recent project, the engineer specified a certain piping component. Contrary to the knowledge of the contractor, the engineer knew that the component would be subject to adverse conditions. The contractor, unbeknownst to the engineer, changed the component to a slightly less expensive component that is commonly used in the profession.
You know what is coming. Within four years, the components failed and cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace. Both the contractor and engineer are being sued. The engineer shows up on the jobsite to look at the removed components. The first thing he says is, “I didn't specify this. The contractor installed the wrong component. No wonder it failed.”
The engineer's liability immediately disappeared. Everything shifted to the contractor.
So help yourself out by making the engineer pay the price. Just follow their plans and specifications.
If you are in the Tampa area at the end of October, stop in at the ASPE EPE. I'll be there; come by and say hello.