Booming construction and remodeling boosts the industry.

We saw another year of steady growth in the construction industry, as Americans spent $1.12 trillion on new construction in 2005. Of nonresidential construction, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the largest chunk came from educational construction (both private and public), which was $77.15 billion - a 6.7 percent increase from 2004. Total commercial construction spending was $71.91 billion (8 percent increase), office spending was $46.42 billion (3 percent increase), healthcare construction was $36.68 billion (an 8 percent increase), and spending on both private and public power projects was $33.80 billion (down 2.3 percent from 2004).

Sewage and waste disposal construction rose 13.9 percent last year to $17.83 billion, construction spending on water supply increased 11.6 percent to $12.22 billion, and lodging construction was $11.99 billion (down 0.2 percent from 2004). Construction spending for manufacturing rose nearly 21 percent - $28.61 billion.

Total residential construction spending increased 11 percent from 2004 for a total of $632.65 billion last year. An estimated 2.14 million building permits for houses were issued in 2005 (a 3.4 percent increase), and 2.06 million housing units were started (up 5.6 percent from 2004). About 1.93 million homes were completed last year, almost 5 percent more than in 2004.

On the remodeling front, it's now estimated that homeowners spent $215 billion on residential remodeling last year, an 8.3 percent increase from 2004. Improvements account for 75.2 percent of that number, with 24.8 percent spent on maintenance and repairs.

Plumbing, Piping & Hydronics

For the pipe trades, almost 73 percent of respondents to our Pipe Trades Giants questionnaire reported increased revenues, with 72 percent of those with double-digit increases. About 6 percent reported flat revenues, and 19 percent of respondents had decreased revenues from the previous years.

Commercial/industrial work still outweighs residential work - 86 percent to 12 percent. And respondents said that 62 percent of their work came from new construction.

In our rankings, the Top Five haven't changed much from last year - EMCOR, American Residential Services/American Mechanical Services, Roto-Rooter, Kinetic Systems and Limbach Facility Services. But we have some newcomers in the Top 10 - Comfort Systems USA, S.A. Comunale and Midwest Mechanical Group.

Some of our utility friends have dropped down or dropped out - FirstEnergy Facilities Services Group dropped from No. 40 to No. 82, PPL Energy Services dropped out of the Top 10 to No. 12; KeySpan Business Solutions and Exelon Services didn't make the list, as the remainder of their mechanical contracting businesses have been sold (see cover story on page 54).

Editor's Note: The Pipe Trades Giants are not ranked on total sales volume, but what we call “pipe trades volume” - the percentage of a company's revenue that comes from plumbing, piping, hydronics, fire protection and water/wastewater treatment. HVAC and related revenue is not added in to our computations (the “Other” category).

How The Pipe Trades Giants Happens

The information that Plumbing & Mechanical uses to rank the 100 Pipe Trades Giants is the most accurate we can gather. We use several different methods, but by far the most effective is the questionnaire we send to every company in our 300+-firm database.

There were some companies who opted not to supply some or all of the information we requested. So we have estimated sales volume and percentage breakdowns for those companies, indicated with an asterisk. For some public companies, we used information from annual reports or SEC filings. The only way to present a meaningful report on the state of the industry is to include every company that is a significant player, even if it has had a bad year or is in turmoil for some other reason.

However, we did have one request from a company to not estimate figures or include them on the list at all: Harris Cos., based in St. Paul, Minn. (No. 34 last year).We have honored that request.