Training Competitors

I always enjoy and find Jim Olsztynski’s articles interesting. The one titled“Gone But Not Forgotten”(January 2010) knocked my socks off. What he said is so true. The joint apprenticeship training programs (collaboratively overseen by the unions and the employer representatives) undoubtedly provide the highest caliber of training, thereby making their journeymen the best of the best in the industry. The labor organizations and the trade associations are justifiably proud of the training.

But we’re inadvertently paying to train the open-shop competition, too. They have no incentive whatsoever to invest more or anything at all in proper education because we’re already doing it for them. It’s like hitchhiking but still getting to the same destination ... for less.

S.J. Peters
Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Authority
of Northern Illinois
Downers Grove, Ill.

Read Jim Olsztynski’s piece on labor shortage (“Gone But Not Forgotten,”January 2010); very good. Keep up the good work.

Ron Crement
Plumbing inspector
Schiller Park, Ill.

Communication Breakdowns

Thanks to Jim Olsztynski for his piece on communication (“Failures To Communicate,”February 2010). The timing was perfect. I was able to share the story with my team and make the comparison to several communication breakdowns that we have been having at our own company. Thank-you again; I always enjoy his column.

John William Baethke III
John Baethke & Son Plumbing, Heating & Cooling
Chicago, Ill.

Multipurpose Fire Sprinkler Systems Offer Benefits

I would like to clarify some misleading statements in the“Weighing Today’s Residential Fire Sprinkler Options”article posted toPM’s Web site on Feb. 8.

First, the claim that a multipurpose system would activate an alarm every time a toilet is flushed is not true. A multipurpose system can have an alarm bell without falsely activating each time a plumbing fixture is used. For example, a multipurpose riser recognizes the difference between regular plumbing flow and fire sprinkler flow. For plumbing fixtures that meet or exceed the flow requirements of the fire sprinkler system, a simple homerun before the multipurpose riser can eliminate false activation. And adding these design options does not significantly increase cost to the design layout or installation.

Second, the statement that multipurpose systems cost more than CPVC stand-alone systems is misleading. The Engineered Fire Systems Inc. case study fails to take into account other factors affecting system cost, such as yearly maintenance fees. Because stand-alone systems require an expensive backflow preventer, which come with annual inspections, they truly are the more expensive alternative over the life of the system. In fact, a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology states that, over the life of a fire sprinkler system, PEX multipurpose systems are actually more cost-effective when compared to CPVC standalone systems. According to the NIST cost-analysis study at, a PEX multipurpose system “yields the minimum life-cycle cost alternative among the sprinkler systems currently available.”

The study also revealed that multipurpose CPVC installations require significantly greater labor time compared with a flexible PEX multipurpose system - something the article failed to mention. The article also neglected to point out that a flexible PEX multipurpose system requires fewer fittings, which eliminates additional potential leak points. Also, the shape memory of PEX makes it highly freeze-resistant compared with CPVC, so there are no costs or hassles related to antifreeze or system repair if a line cracks or bursts. Furthermore, PEX has no dry-fitting issues and no solvent-cemented connections, which carry a number of problems when trying to make fittings in cold or wet climates.

Lastly, the declaration in the article that many jurisdictions still do not allow the installation of multipurpose systems gives the impression that those jurisdictions are in the majority. However, multipurpose systems have been listed in the NFPA 13D standard for years and the vast majority of jurisdictions recognize this standard’s authority.

With the fire sprinkler mandate fast approaching and many looking for valid information, I appreciate this opportunity to clarify the facts for those in the residential building industry.  

Paul McCulloch, NICET III
Lead Fire Protection Designer
Uponor Inc.