Glad To Be On My Own
No Miso Paste In Real Life
Savings Exaggerated

Glad To Be On My Own

In response to Randall Hilton’s column,“Don’t Even Think About Going Into Business,” (January 2007)I was very impressed with the accuracy of the pitfalls of a mechanic attempting to put out his own shingle.

As owner of a “one-and-a-half-man” shop for the past 20 years, I am well-acquainted with the whole scenario. However, there have been many times when I have stopped for a moment on a job, looked around at where I was and what I was doing, and said to myself, “Man, I love this!”

For me, the only way to achieve my own full potential is to be truly independent, which means no full-time employees and no boss. 

There are indeed many caveats when it comes to being a self-employed tradesman. For myself, it has worked out very well. I am making more money than I could as an employee, I love what I do, I have equity in a business and I probably average 40-50 hours a week.

Although the schedule can be demanding at times, it is ultimately my own schedule. There are certainly easier ways to make a living, but I don’t think I would be as happy doing them. 

I think perhaps the biggest hurdle for guys like me is the industry’s lack of recognition for owner-operated businesses. The focus of business training seems to always be on the contractor who wants to “grow” his business or issues that are relevant to the larger shops, rather than dealing with the peculiar issues of the one- or two-man operation.

Gaining the respect of vendors as well as favorable pricing has also been a challenge. Some manufacturers won’t even sell to a contractor without a commitment to a minimum annual purchase level that the small shop cannot reach. Personally, I think loyalty and professionalism should be rewarded and respected rather than just sales numbers.

As a result of these challenges, perhaps some tradesmen who really would do well to turn their own wrenches feel compelled to enlarge their business in order to compete - only to find themselves in a situation that they are simply not well-suited for and will ultimately fail at.

To me, remaining an employee is like staying single. Going into business for yourself is like getting married and raising a family. There’s a lot more responsibility and it can all end in disaster, but with planning, hard work and some character, it can be very, very rewarding!

Bruce Dix
Dix Air Conditioning & Heating Inc.
Bradenton, Fla.

No Miso Paste In Real Life

Great publication, and I enjoy every issue. I have to comment on the recent stories on water-saving fixtures and fittings, particularly“Questions And Answers On The EPA’s WaterSense Program” (January 2007).

I’ve been a journeyman plumber since 1980, doing lots of service and repair. For the typical new home that has smooth, clean, plastic DWV, there is sufficient water to move waste.

But take a 25-year-old commercial building hung with cast-iron pipe: The public restrooms have been upgraded. Hands-free lav faucets, 1.6-flushometers, etc. Lots of double-ply toilet paper, toilet seat “gaskets,” liquid hand soap, sanitary products, urinals that won’t flush or don’t get flushed every time.

We are not talking miso paste and plastic balls here.

Now the fun. This soil moves about 7 feet down the horizontal line. Stoppage builds up in the main line, starts “day-lighting” through the floor drain. All the above material starts overflowing at the spill rim of the closet bowl. Waste all over the place. If you’re lucky, it’s the first floor. Just some wet, dirty floors and a clean-out.

The second floor or above, there’s no clean-out, none required. The tile floor of the restroom leaks like a sieve. Graywater is pouring through the ceiling, into the lunchroom, computer room or the conference room, the one with the long, nice wood table.

“Plumber, can you swim through this mess and get a full-size cable head into the line? Go ahead, pull the toilet. The restrooms are already wiped out.”

Gee, hope nobody here is sick. Airborne water droplets, pathogens, hep A, B or C, etc. Big clean-up, then sanitize and disinfect. The stoppage is clear, but the hands-free lav faucets won’t stay on long enough, and the water’s not hot enough to wash away the smell.

Plumbers used to protect the health of the nation. Saving water is great and it’s the law. The best part: We probably get to do it all over again in two months.

Steve Evans
Sun West Plumbing
San Diego, Calif.

Savings Exaggerated

The article in the September 2006 issue ofPM,“Why Wait For Water To Get Hot,”has a subtitle implying that conventional water heating systems “can waste as much as 38,000 gallons of water each year just waiting for hot water.” The article refers to some studies, but does not mention specifics.

From the date I have seen, the total indoor water consumption, both hot and cold, for residences averages from 50,000 to 70,000 gallons per dwelling unit per year. Therefore, the average hot water consumption must be less than total water consumption.

Thus, to save 38,000 gallons of hot water out of a total of 50,000 to 70,000 gallons per year is an obvious exaggeration. Sure, that much waste is possible, but it is at the extreme of believability and is most certainly not representative.

While some water may be saved, it is at the expense of more water-heating energy and more electricity. It is necessary to have an unbiased statistically significant evaluation of the plusses and minuses. Where water is cheap and energy and electricity are expensive, this concept could end up with higher total operating costs, to say nothing of the sunk cost to install the system. Where the opposite is true, this concept could be beneficial, but a presentation of the first cost and consumption specifics will allow those conclusions to be made.

Larry Spielvogel, P.E.
L.G. Spielvogel Inc.
King of Prussia, Pa.

Editor’s note: Larry Spielvogel is correct. The water savings are much more modest compared to our figure. Grundfos, for example, says its studies show that a recirculation system saves about 12,000 to 16,000 gallons of water each year for a family of four.

Spielvogel wrote us back contesting that even this smaller number is worth debating: “If the maximum distance from the water heater to a fixture is 40 feet, the pipe is 1/2-inch copper, and all of the water in the pipe is cold, the amount of water ‘wasted’ each time the fixture is used is less than 1/2 gallon. Of course, this also assumes the user decides to wait for hot water to arrive, as opposed to using whatever temperature water comes out of the tap. To ‘waste’ even 12,000 gallons of hot water per year would require that the hot-water-using fixtures in a house be used at least 24,000 times per year, or 66 times per day, every day, or almost three times per hour for every hour in the year. I doubt there is responsible evidence to support those assumptions for typical houses.”