A suburban Chicago plumbing contractor explains why our industry is best-suited to test and treat customers' water.

Matt Morse feels water treatment will increase in popularity with plumbing contractors in the future.

Matt Morseattended a water quality show in the Chicago suburbs last year with a fellow plumbing contractor.

“It was all manufacturers,” recalls Morse, president of Precision Plumbing Services in Lombard, Ill. “They were shocked to see that we were plumbers. A number of them told us we were the first plumbers they had seen.”

Morse, himself, was somewhat taken aback at that revelation.

“That told me in this whole show focused around water quality, the plumbers have nothing to do with it,” says Morse while sitting in one of the company’s two conference rooms at its west-suburban Chicago headquarters on a recent morning.“I was shocked and then again I wasn’t. I know from my business and other friends’ businesses that it’s a piece of what we do that is kind of pushed off to the (water treatment) dealers.”

Morse was at the show to further educate himself and his crew on the various water-treatment options available. Morse, whose company has been in business since 1992, has been proactive in offering water-treatment products and service in some form ever since he took three of his crew members to Fort Wayne, Ind., eight years ago to be trained (one session a month for six months) on the nuances of the subject.

A common water treatment setup for homes on Chicago municipal water is a carbon filter with a water softener system.

Minority Opinion

Yet, Morse is still in the minority when it comes to plumbers having direct involvement with water treatment.

“I know a lot of plumbers, and even us in the past, that didn’t want to get involved with it,” says Morse, whose company belongs to the Nexstar best practices group. “Any type of water treatment is an afterthought for plumbers because we’ve pretty much backed away from it and allowed the water-treatment companies to have all the business.”

Morse feels that plumbing contractors generally have thumbed their noses at the thought of water conditioners and reverse osmosis systems for a number of reasons.

“It’s a lack of knowledge, a fear of the unknown, a fear of looking at the equipment and not knowing how to take it apart and not knowing how it works,” he explains. “There are a lot of varieties of treatment depending on what the problem with the water is. Over time, it takes a lot of education and a lot of understanding.

“If I hire a plumber, I’m going to assume he is knowledgeable about all aspects of plumbing. But then you run into water treatment and plumbers don’t consider that plumbing. Very few plumbers are going to know how to set, program, or troubleshoot a water softener or a carbon filter. That’s just the way it’s been. All the training involved with being a plumber has nothing to do with water treatment.”

While Morse admits the training is tough due to the terminology and the scientific nature of the material, he has seen his technicians who have been educated on water treatment embrace it wholeheartedly.

“They got it right away,” says Morse, whose goal was to have all his technicians trained in water treatment by April (he estimates 70 percent have already been trained). “I sent five more guys and they had the same reaction. They start to get passionate about it. If you are going to take care of your customer, you have to believe in it first, understand it and then deliver it to the customer.”

Morse offers free water-quality testing as part of service calls and yearly inspections. He’s also simplified his water-treatment inventory to three main solutions (water softeners, carbon filters and whole-house water conditioners), though other products are available.

“The beauty of it is you can do a simple water test right there for the customer and show him what’s going on,” says Morse, who used to charge for the testing but quickly changed that practice. “There is no pressure. There is no scare. It’s cold, hard facts. This is what it is. Are you interested in solutions? Here’s what we can do. I like doing value-added things for customers.”

A reverse osmosis system is one of many different water-treatment options available.

'A Good Thing'

Karen Viciktook advantage of Precision’s free water testing on a recent inspection. She ended up having a whole-house carbon filter and a water softener installed.

“We knew we had hard water,” says Vicik, who had used Precision for other previous work in her home. “We decided this would probably be a good thing. We went with a complete system. It’s better for drinking water. We drink a lot of bottled water. This way, we’ll be a little greener.”

Jesse Mortensen, the Precision Plumbing Services tech who installed Vicik’s equipment, sees water quality as a prevalent culprit when he goes into a customer’s home for service.

“What we find coming into a customer’s home is bad water quality causes a lot of issues,” he explains. “Our goal is to make customers aware of that fact and put the ball in their court. A water-treatment system is going to make their plumbing system last longer.”

On the municipal water side, Morse says his company deals with common issues such as Vicik’s complaint of hard water and the eradication of chemicals from the water, specifically chlorine and ammonia (when mixed together they create chloramine).

“The municipalities, with the money they are given, deliver safe, clean water to us,” Morse says. “But at the same time, the cost to do that is adding chemicals, which are still in the water. The question is, if you can remove those on your own, would you be interested in that?”

A specific problem Morse and his crews run into is defective toilet flappers - a malady that can be a direct result of chemicals in water.

“Why do you think they wear out?” he asks. “The chemicals in the water dry the rubber out and the flappers fail.”

And that is why Morse believes plumbers are in a perfect position to help customers when it comes to water-treatment options.

“Let’s get to the issue, not mask it and replace the flapper,” Morse says. “That’s incompetence to me. With anything we do, I want to give the customer a reason why this is happening and then give the customer the option of having a permanent solution.”

Another common water-treatment solution is a point-of-use carbon filter.

The Health Of The Nation

Eric Brockmire, national business development manager and master trainer for ProSystems (a division of Aquion), has trained some 600 plumbers on water treatment in the last 15 months (including some of Morse’s techs). A former plumber, Brockmire is a staunch advocate of plumbers installing water-treatment systems and offering education to their customers.

“There are say eight million people in the greater Chicago area,” he explains. “If eight million people all woke up at 6 a.m., got in the shower, were using 2.2 gallons of water per minute and took a shower for 10 minutes, that’s 22 gallons [approximately per person]. Trillions of gallons of water in this country go down the drain in 10 minutes. Do you think municipalities get it right every single time? It’s an unrealistic goal. The only way they can do it is by shoving in (a ton of) chemicals.

“The plumber’s creed says plumbers protect the health and safety of the country. If we don’t provide the opportunities for our clients to have options to make their water better, then shame on us. It’s our obligation to tell clients that this exists and here’s the equipment that can help. It’s common sense.”          

While being proactive with water treatment has created another source of business, Morse feels what he’s doing should almost be standard operating procedure in the plumbing industry.

“We are in people’s homes every day,” Morse says. “We are very familiar with everything that is going on with water. One affects the other. I’ve always had a desire for it because everything we do involves water.”

Morse wants to see the plumbing contractor reclaim the spot of industry leader when it comes to water treatment.

 “Sometimes plumbers aren’t held in the highest regard,” he notes. “But the minute something goes wrong and the minute we take care of it, we are instantly held in high regard because of what we do. If you are a reputable contractor, you have the customer’s best interest at hand and you have got the personnel carrying it out; it’s a natural transition. It should have never gotten away from the plumbing contractor, but it did.”

As for the future, both Morse and Brockmire predict water treatment will become a hot topic within the plumbing community.

“We haven’t seen the true benefits yet,” Morse says. “Our customers trust us and they want that knowledge. This is an instance where we can be proactive. You are not going to sell a system to a customer every time, but that’s OK. But if every one of the service calls we do, if we are doing the test for them and informing them and doing it the right way, then we’ll be very successful with this.”

“Plumbers are resilient and smart,” Brockmire adds. “We’ve got a ways to go, but watch this in the next 10 years.”