More Americans worry about water and air pollution than they do about climate change, according to a survey I cited in my column last month. This research should motivate plumbing contractors to take another look at the water-treatment business.

The Washington Post and Stanford University conducted the survey earlier this summer, just days before record-setting temperatures led to violent thunderstorms in many Eastern states. The poll followed the warmest U.S. spring on record.

Nevertheless, respondents to the survey no longer see climate change as the world’s No. 1 environmental issue. Almost a third of them (29%) say water and air pollution are their most pressing concerns. That’s followed by 18% who point to climate change.

I’ve been surprised that more plumbing contractors don’t offer water-treatment services, even before this research came out. The quality of the water in a home or business would seem to be the natural domain of the plumber.

I’ve attended the national convention of the Water Quality Association a couple times in recent years, and I’ve been even more surprised by the lack of interest that many exhibitors have in plumbing contractors. When I describe Plumbing & Mechanical’s audience to them, they’ve looked at me as if I’ve stumbled into the wrong trade show.

I’m not the only one who has experienced this disconnect. Precision Plumbing Services President Matt Morse told us two years ago that when he attended a water-quality trade show, the exhibitors “were shocked to see that we were plumbers. A number of them told us we were the first plumbers they had seen. That told me in this whole show focused around water quality, the plumbers have nothing to do with it.”

 As it turns out, the Chicago-area plumbing contractor has been successfully marketing water-treatment services to its customers for a decade.

More recently, I visited Thompson Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electric in Cincinnati. The contractor has offered water treatment to its customers for two years.

Owner Wesley Holm and plumbing department head Rick Robinson see water treatment as a natural fit with the company’s residential plumbing services. They agree with Morse that many plumbing contractors missed the boat on water treatment due to a lack of understanding or an unwillingness to educate themselves on the subject.

“That created the opportunity for other companies to come in and allowed people who know nothing about plumbing to work on our own systems,” Robinson says.

A “Healthy Water Solutions” brochure on its website and a “How Safe is the Water in Your Home?” video on Thompson’s YouTube channel make a strong case for having a plumbing contractor install and service a water-treatment system. Rather than emphasize the system technology or water chemistry, Thompson highlights the benefits of treated water to its customers’ bodies, homes and environment.

The contractor recommends a whole-house approach over a point-of-use filter. The whole-house system treats water used in showering and bathing, which is better for the user’s skin and hair. Thompson also tells customers it will add life to a home’s plumbing fixtures, appliances and drain systems.

The marketing materials convey a pointed green message and seem to acknowledge that bottled water presents the biggest competition to a water-treatment system. Thompson’s brochure states that bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of plastic waste each year because 80% of bottles wind up in landfills rather than recycling plants.

Further, 17 million barrels of oil annually are required to produce plastic bottles for the U.S. market. The contractor raises questions about the purity of bottled water, stating the FDA regulates only the 30% to 40% of bottled water sold across state lines.

Holm and Morse agree that training is an important investment for plumbing contractors that enter the water-treatment field. Once plumbers master the technology and terminology, they can focus on the presentation to customers, which is fairly straightforward.

Both contractors use an in-home test that shows immediate results of chemicals, minerals and contaminants in the water. This can give plumbers a leg up over HVAC techs making indoor air quality presentations.

“People are more attuned to clean water than to clean air,” Holm says. “They’re more concerned about what they drink than what they breathe.”

Given the recent research on your customers’ concerns about water and air pollution, water treatment is worth a second look.

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