Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Small Step For Your Contractor – One Giant Leap For Mankind!

Back in 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American to be launched into space. It’s been reported that while he waited for that historic moment to take place, strapped into his capsule seat atop the Redstone rocket, one thing crossed his mind as Mission Control counted down to zero. He was at the mercy of technology and human ingenuity that was in fact built by the lowest bidder.

While we all put our faith in manufactured items during the course of our daily lives, very few have to be as trustworthy as early pioneers, such as astronauts. And while nothing compares in our homes to going into space, we still expect that quality workmanship in the manufactured items within our homes will live up to a standard that is safe, durable, and yes even cost effective.

But unfortunately, there are people out there whose mantra is, “Who cares?” “What’s the difference?” and “It doesn’t matter!” Over the years I’ve heard them all. What’s a guarantee worth when most of the time it includes only parts, not labour? Lifetime guarantee means what exactly? There is the old saying, “anything uttered before a ‘but’ is a lie.” In some guarantees you could almost say the same thing before an asterisk. You really, really have to get out that magnifying glass to read the fine print. You may find that your item only has a partial guarantee.*

It’s sad to say that many items that are returned to suppliers (or distributors) are credited, but a lot of the times defects are not reported to the manufacturers. I once brought a defective item to a supplier’s attention. They exchanged the piece and proceeded to throw the defective part in the garbage. Aghast, I asked, “What are you doing?” Their response, “Do you expect the manufacturer to care about this one piece; you are the only one complaining. If we have more complaints, MAYBE we’ll bring it to their attention.”

That kind of lackadaisical response angers me so. If distributors of plumbing supplies could be so cavalier about the quality of material, then what about precision welding facilities where they could be manufacturing pieces for airplanes or hospital equipment? How would you like having an MRI machine built that doesn’t work well because of faulty material? Now, do you begin to understand Alan Shepard’s concern?

I only wish there were more caring contractors out there. Unfortunately, there are many that put money before compassion. Fellow contractors don’t forget; our clients are of the utmost importance to us, and should be treated as such. Clients must realize that there ARE compassionate contractors out there who are NOT trying to take advantage of them. There are those of us who are trying to help, not just make a buck.

I’ll go one step further. I personally am there for my peers as well. I’m here to help my fellow professionals. But I have no qualms about condemning the ones who do not care. So wake up fellow contractors. In our daily lives there is not only theoretical knowledge, but practical knowledge as well. Work together with inspectors and other trade professionals by sharing information of technique and material quality. Let’s make it easier for us to do a better job and provide a more efficient service level to our clients. Let’s try to save money and time for our clients where necessary; not only for the short term, but also the long term. Without our clients, we are nothing. But on the other hand without us caring for them, our clients would be lost. And if we do our job right the first time, like Alan Shepard, the sky’s the limit.

See you around the drain!!!

*Many people will never read the asterisk here at the bottom. Sadly that’s almost a guarantee.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Teamwork – It Makes Sense With Your Dollars

I remember in my younger days when I worked for a company building single and multi dwelling properties. It was always great going to work with a positive attitude, having a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Dinner tastes better, sleep was more restful and all was right with the world when the daily grind was hassle free of bad attitude.

But that Utopia is not always the case. I shudder to reminisce about one past horror story of a project I was on. The drywall had been completely installed in the bathroom before the shower faucet was put in the wall. After approaching the drywall installers with the problem, they informed me that they were on a tight schedule. Really?!?! That’s like putting an empty casket in a burial plot because your schedule it too tight to wait for the body!

When I informed that I would have to remove the sheet of drywall to install the piping, and it would have to be their job to then reinstall the drywall, to my horror, the installer said, “No problem, we’ll just sign off an extra on the job!!!”

WHAT A CROOK! Gee it’s nice to see so-called professionals being cavalier with other people’s money! I cannot tolerate that word --- EXTRA!!! That means larger, unjustified costs to the consumer.

Or how about not-so-bright plumbers, who are clearly still wet around the seal, installing toilets and lavatories before the walls have been painted? It’s uncanny how many times I have to change toilets where either wallpaper or paint becomes visible because it wasn’t done properly in the first place. That’s like trying to tie your shoes tightly, before putting your feet in them.

And speaking of feet, what about flooring finishers, whether it’s for tile, carpet or hardwood, who install too early, meaning other workers have to traipse across newly unprotected flooring, with all the grace of a herd of buffalo? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happens to a finished floor that isn’t covered properly. It could end up finished in more ways than one.

Why do these screw ups occur? One good reason is a lack of coordination. When the coordinator of the job just executes and delegates work to subcontractors without keeping all trades people in the loop, mistakes will occur. The correct procedure is capsulated in a single word – Teamwork.

Everybody working on a project must know scheduling and devise a work strategy to properly execute the renovation. While coordinating a renovation isn’t exactly like planning the D-Day Invasion, there is something to be said for when the battle plan, or lack-thereof, greatly affects the quality and cost of the finished product.

Frankly, when it comes to teamwork, I really don’t care which rusty wrench of a brain is responsible for bad coordination. It’s up to us, the subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc) to work together and make each project run as smoothly as possible. It’s imperative, not only for having a good work attitude, but also to have thoughtfulness for the end user, the paying client. It’s bad enough that certain circumstances could arise that might alter scheduled work from getting done, so let’s not try to add gasoline to the fire.

If you’re a consumer getting work done on your home, make sure you’re in the know of ALL aspects of the renovation itself from the basis of the general contractors scheduling. Ask if the contractor’s scheduling is on plan, and if not, ask why. If for some reason you are coordinating the project yourself, make sure all your subcontractors follow the proper schedule and ask if your scheduling is reasonable. One thing you don’t want to happen is to discourage your subcontractors. Have on site meetings frequently, making sure everything is running to plan.

Withholding changes to all the subcontractors is another no-no. A lot of prep is sometimes needed for a change order by one or many subcontractors. That means more cost to you if things have to be done twice. Understand that all projects don’t always fall into plan. Be prepared to make quick decisions based on on-site conditions and circumstance.

Listen to your subcontractors. Most do have experience, however many have a lot of bad experience! Sadly, I come across some so-called professionals on the lower end of Darwin’s evolutionary scale on a weekly basis. “I have 30 years of experience,” one subcontractor might say. To which I could easily respond, “And from the looks of things, it appears to be 30 years of bad experience!” Usually that retort leads to my not being on their Christmas card list, but I believe in standing up for the client and doing what’s right. If that puts me at odds with trades people who do shoddy work, or worse, don’t care, then so be it.

Finally, home owners should try and chose fixtures that can easily be repaired in the future and make sure replacement parts are readably available. Conventionality is the word of choice. Buy fixtures that you can easily find generic replacements for. Options are extremely important in a “reno.” Look for or ask your general contractor for different options way in advance of the project start date. Perfectly executed jobs are far and few between. Reno disasters are more and more in style. Please try to prevent those disasters from happening. I really do not need the extra work!

See you around the drain!!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

With This Deed I Thee Wed

Have you ever been on a blind date? What’s your success rate been? I’m willing to bet that a high percentage of blind date stories you’ve heard don’t have the required happy endings that were originally desired. These are stories usually shared long after the fact in a humorous, anecdotal way. The only real damage done from the experience is hours wasted, and, if you play the traditional male role of paying for the evening, a lighter wallet.

Let’s take this analogy one step further. In our Western culture we are expected to meet the person we fall in love with, date for awhile, get engaged, and then marry. While some parts of the world still rely heavily on the arranged marriage, which involves sight unseen of your mate until you say the “I do’s,” this idea is pooh-poohed in our civilized world. And yet, with all the pre-nuptial preparedness we go through to make sure you have the right one, the divorce rate is still above 50%.

Okay, so by now you’re probably saying to yourself, “why is a plumber talking about marriage?” Well, to make a very valid point. While most people wouldn’t think of marrying a mate sight unseen, there are many who will plunk a huge down payment on a condo that doesn’t even exist.

Arguments can be made that gambling on a pre built home is less expensive, but in the long run, it is much easier to buy a visibly finished product. If you’re the kind of person who likes to roll the dice, then at least let me give you a recent example of what you might be up against.

A person I know, and for the sake of argument, let’s just call him “Ralph,” made an offer on a pre-built condo. The unit was optioned for the choice of either shower or bathtub. The shower was chosen. One particular brand of toilet was shown in the model condo, with the promise that an equivalent type would be installed in the finished dwelling.

The end of construction and occupancy date was given. A price estimate was made for the municipal tax and “welcome tax” (in the province of Quebec new homeowners are expected to pay an addition tax called a “welcome tax.” Most Quebecers would prefer to be not so welcomed). Two choices of kitchen cabinet doors were shown and specific subcontractors were supposedly executing the work.

The first week of April was chosen as date of possession. The first sign for Ralph that things might be going off course was having the move-in date pushed back several times. At the time of this writing it is mid June, and just like Dorothy, all Ralph wants to do is go home, but no amount of heel clicking will get him into house any faster.

When asked to see the almost finished condo, a bathtub was installed in place of a shower. Ralph was told by the vendor that an extra charge of $4,000 would be incurred to change to the already agreed shower. It’s ironic how the price has gone up, since it was a mistake on the builder’s part and also the original selling price for either the shower or tub was the same. As if that wasn’t enough, the toilet installed was less expensive and of a different brand than originally agreed upon. Like so many people in such a stressful situation, Ralph just decided to agree on sticking with a tub. A compromise was to have glass doors installed. The end result was that now poor Ralph will have to step over the toilet bowl to enter the bathtub; a tricky Olympic maneuver that would no doubt be made even trickier with wet feet on a slippery surface.

The vendor agreed to change some but not all the mistakes made by the builder. The plumbing contractor that was supposed to execute the work was not the one chosen. Welcome tax and municipal tax was at least 20% higher than the estimated value.

So through this nightmare, what has Ralph learned? Well, he now knows that every decision, as far as style of finishing are concerned, should be documented and brought to the attention of the vendor upon completion of the work. If not, Ralph is stuck with what he’s got.

When buying a property after construction, you pay for what you can physically see. Usually in a multi-unit dwelling, mistakes are more likely to happen (whether intentional or not) because many finishing products are bought in bulk for better price.

If you still want to be as brave as Ralph and buy the proverbial sandcastle in the sky, sight unseen, then it is imperative that you hire an independent licensed building inspector. One who is legally allowed to enter a construction site. Usually if the vendor is on the up and up, they would allow this type of inspection.

Just like someone who goes into a marriage on a wing and a prayer, buying a condo that you can’t even see, might cost you way more than you bargained for in the end. When you’re making such a huge investment, make sure everything to your specifications are written down in a concrete, iron clad contract. And it doesn’t hurt to actually have the physical concrete up as well. You don’t want your condo investment to be the nightmare blind date you can’t get away from. That will eat an even bigger hole in your wallet.

See you around the drain!!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Here's Looking At Your Pipes

I’m going to give you several opportunities to stop reading this blog post. Your first opportunity is if you’ve never seen the last line of the movie Casablanca. If you’re still procrastinating and haven’t watched this classic film that was made over 70 years ago, please skip to a YouTube video of cats playing the piano and stop reading now.

For the rest of you in the know, the last line of the classic 1942 film has Rick walking along the foggy tarmac with Louie. Rick turns to Louie and says, "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

That line speaks volumes. It’s a friendship that is based on shared experiences and understanding someone’s expertise. Experience – there’s that word again. But it’s not what you’re thinking.

To keep one step ahead, this experience must be different from the rest. Plumbing or other trade businesses offer both sales and services to the client.

We sell material and offer our service to install. Experience in this context means a memory or feeling accepted by the client. Services rendered should not be felt by clients and trades people as a job; but an experience the client should learn from.

For example, if you were to dine in a restaurant, is the service part of the experience important to you? If not, then once again, you can stop reading this blog (and just carry on ordering your meals at the drive-thru).

In a dining experience, service should be prompt, accurate and pleasurable. If it isn’t, many customers will take their palate elsewhere. Service for the trades should also be prompt, accurate and pleasurable.

Okay, I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re just shaking your head saying, “Dave, Dave, Dave, whatever do you mean? When I hire a plumber, electrician, etc, this will not constitute a pleasurable experience. I still have to pay them!!!” Yes, you are right, but what is the reason of the service call in the first place? Either a problem needs to be rectified or a renovation is in the making.

For many, it’s hard enough to have someone traipse through your house, let alone work in areas that make you feel a bit uncomfortable. From previous blog posts, you know when a tradesperson exits your home; there should be no “bad” trace that they worked in your house.

Well let’s go one step further and create an experience together with that service. Take advantage of the tradesperson’s knowledge and experience. Save some time and ask questions about other issues. Trust me; we are capable of working and answering your queries at the same time.

The tradesperson should be willing to explain maintenance or preventive programs and possible future pending issues or potential problems. They should also allot some time to talk about the job at hand, sort of like a mini tutorial. They should talk about various options especially in the case of a renovation. One of the worst things a tradesperson can hear is “how come you didn’t tell me that before?” Well that is the fault of the tradesperson. They should establish a trustworthy bond by mirroring the client without patronizing them. To use the restaurant analogy once again, a good waiter brings your meals promptly with a smile. A great waiter also might make suggestions of side dishes or the right beverage to go with what you have already ordered.

When it comes to plumbing, we usually show up in your most private of places. I mean, what’s more personal than someone’s bathroom! It’s always best to make a client feel comfortable when you’re working in their home. It’s heartwarming to know the tradesperson is catering to your needs . . . not just your pocketbook.

After the tradesperson leaves, the client should not only feel the job was executed correctly, but if there’s a problem, the tradesperson would act swiftly in correcting it. Of course we are not living in a perfect world. Some clients just want their problems fixed and don’t care about establishing a relationship. Same goes for some trades people. If you are in the latter category, again, you have read too far. Feel free to stop now. The cats are waiting for you.

When I leave my client’s home, I feel that they have learned something of value. Usually we exchange smiles and everybody is happy. If my clients are not interested to understand what service was just done for them, I usually cease working for them. I’m reminded of the last line of yet another classic movie; 1939’s Gone With The Wind, when Rhett Butler said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Trades people should appreciate their clients and vice versa, because we do give a damn.

See you around the drain.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cast Your Vote Correctly

We seem to be living in a world of "undecideds." No one is able to make a decision on the big issues that matter. Just take a look at the number of people who couldn’t make up their minds in some recent elections.

So if you can’t choose who should be your President, Governor, Prime Minister or Premier then how will you ever be able to make up your mind on the truly major questions in your life such as; what plumbing fixtures, kind and colour of paint, type of tile, or variety of flooring do you buy when renovating?

These are not weighty issues you say? Not true! Being undecided about such issues has broken up many a relationship (both between spouses and contractors) and some people might find it easier to settle the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Here’s a news flash. I’m not about to solve your problems on this one. I’m only here to make your decision easier by giving you the right questions to ask the pros in order to make your choice.

Step 1: Think About Longevity
Are you the kind of person who has happy feet, moving from place to place, or are you the type who expects to be carried out feet first from your property? How long you intend to stay in your current home should factor into your budget.

Step 2: Think About Durability
Is your home more functional or museum like? (Hint: if your living room is roped off and the sofa is covered in plastic, it’s the latter). How often the fixtures or material will be in use is important to know to determine quality of product.

Step 3: Think About Colour
There are certain colours of products you might tire of after a period of time; or colours that might not be pleasing to buyers (yes, I’m talking to you folks who still have harvest gold or avocado green kitchen appliances!)

There is a test. And you are going to have to live with the answers to that test, in some cases, for years to come. So study up before you give your final answers.

Plumbing Fixtures:

  • Choose a faucet with parts that are readily and speedily available. Call distributors to find out how long that particular faucet and or parts have been in existence.


  • Choose a toilet that answers to your needs. Do you want a showcase or a workhorse? Your choice depends on balancing your need for pretty or functional.
  • Choose a toilet that fits to the existing area.
  • Choose a toilet that uses conventional parts so you may repair it easily with generic pieces.


  • Make sure the type of paint is right for the specific purpose. For instance you will need epoxy paint for concrete, or exterior paint for exterior weather conditions. Not all paints are created equal.


  • The type of paint finish is important to know. A more glossy finish will be easier to wash off junior’s creative crayoning, but more gloss also shows more wall imperfections.


  • Certain tiles are textured or grooved and might collect dirt more easily.
  • Certain types of tiles are more porous than others and might stain easier.

On Site Condition:

  • What type of material is the tile being laid on?
  • Does this tile need a membrane installed beforehand?


  • Heavy traffic areas sometimes not only require specific flooring but might need a special rough base preparation.

On Site Condition:

  • Think of what type of finished flooring best suits your needs. Do you want something that keeps your toes warm and toasty? Do you have members of your family that are allergic to certain fibers?

There are many questions to ask and answers may differ between pros. It is fine to double or triple check responses. You’ve always been told to get a second opinion when it comes to your health. It’s no different here with your house. You have to live with the work that is done long after the hired professionals are gone.

One good place to start asking questions is not only to representatives but manufacturers as well. It's also good to find out the pros and cons to materials. Then you can figure which material gives you less problems than others.

Take your time to decide. Only then, just like in an election, you can vote your conscience knowing you’ve debated all sides of the issue. If your thoughts get blocked and you’re still undecided, feel free to ask a professional. We’re usually easy to find. In my case, I’m just around the drain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bowled Over

There is currently a television commercial for a popular bathroom tissue that is trying to entice people to use their product in combination with another one of their products . . . flushable wet wipes. They’ve even come up with a contest to name the act of using the combination. Some people have been calling it “the freshy-fresh” others have tried, as the commercial says “the smooth ride” and regionally some think of it as “Southern hospitality.” Whatever name you’ve come up with among the myriad of names, here’s what I call it . . . “money in my pocket!”

One can debate whether wet wipes by any company are really flushable. Yes, you can put them in the toilet and yes, you can flush them, but at what cost? It has been my experience as a plumber that the only thing you should flush down your toilet is toilet paper. Not paper towels, not baby wipes, not any other kind of cloth or paper. Your toilet should never be confused for a Garburator.

I have seen all manner of items that I’ve been called to snake out of a toilet; combs, marbles, kids’ toys, cellular phones, pens, plaster, paint and more. About the only place where you would find more junk is the garage sale from Hell! Here’s a basic rule of thumb. With the exception of actual toilet paper, if a substance didn’t come out of you, from either end, than it shouldn’t be in the toilet. (If on the other hand, you have managed to ingest combs, marbles, kids’ toys, cellular phones or pens; then you need to call a professional with a far different set of skills than mine!)

Why am I so adamant about this? Well, let’s discuss what happens to the items you toss down the loo. If a plumber is called to unblock something stuck in the bowl, there is a possibility the item in question might not be retrieved but instead will continue down the drain like Alice sliding down the rabbit hole. Depending on the type of building, retrieval might require the use of camera or even worse, the ceiling or flooring might have to be opened. Usually a homeowner uses a plunger to clear a clogged toilet. If the toilet is blocked with anything but toilet paper, a homeowner can actually create more harm than good by attempting to remedy the situation themselves.

To many people, I may be talking to deaf ears. I’m certainly not making any friends in the baby wipe industry. But just remember. I see the end result of their product more than they do. And a flushed baby wipe doesn’t always make a clean getaway. It can just often end up with me . . . around your drain.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Fifth Season

Anyone who owns a home knows that there are really five seasons; winter, spring, summer, fall and renovation. And while there are a variety of enthusiasts who wish the four primary seasons would last forever, when it comes to renovation season, it could never end soon enough!

And the one thing that scares folks about renovation season is that it can contain the worst climatic conditions of the other four seasons combined. If you don’t do it correctly, you can find yourself in a tsunami of sawdust, snowed in by unforeseen bills or under an avalanche of construction debris. What you really want is the seeding period of renovation to go quickly and smoothly so that you can enjoy the fruitful sunny days to come when the work is done. And the best way to prepare for any season is to properly plan ahead.

That’s right, planning. Let’s repeat that slowly. PLAAAANNNNINNNNGGGGGG. Who should be doing the planning for your renovation? Ideally you need someone who can adeptly coordinate a battle plan. Since both General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Rommel are not available, you’ll have to come up with Plan B.

Whether or not you commission a general contractor or designer (notice the term decorator was not used) to oversee your project, special concern should be taken in getting involved wholeheartedly towards each part of the “reno” (don’t you just love builder-speak?)

If you feel brave enough to tackle the administrative duties of self-contracting, a great trust must be established between you and your sub contractors, the folks who whistle while they work, such as plumbers, electricians, drywall installers, jointers, painters, etc. If you’ve never done this before, prepare to count the additional grey hairs you’ll have from whatever few hair follicles remain when the job is done.

This is one of the most crucial tasks during a renovation. Many factors can determine whether or not the job will be completed upon deadline. Finishing items, such as windows, bathtubs, shower faucets and recessed lighting should be chosen and purchased well in advance of the project’s commencement. Another thing to consider when dealing with a general contractor (and I use THAT term loosely) is to make sure that a daily to weekly schedule is available at your disposal, otherwise a brief daily meeting or phone call is sufficient for updates of the project. Nothing frustrates a homeowner more than when they get the feeling that somewhere during the middle of the job the contractor has suddenly gone into the witness protection program.

That dirty, dirty, dirty word EXTRA. Folks don’t like hearing the word “extra” because that only means more money coming out of your pocket. A good tradesperson will not only describe possible extras that might spring up during renovations, but possibly assume certain extras that might occur when walls are opened. Theoretically speaking, the real worry of a disastrous extra would occur only if a structural problem would be detected. Sometimes a visual inspection of the attic could determine if a load bearing wall or support is missing; or if vents are properly connected.

Licenced Sub Contractors And/Or General Contractors:
Trades people that work in your house or place of business should be licenced. Holding a valid licence is step one. But, just because someone holds a licence to work does not merit their ability to work correctly (you’ve seen how some licenced people drive on the roads, haven’t you?)

Referrals are important as well as asking a battery of questions to that individual. What type of questions do you ask? Just about anything short of blood type or political affiliation. Topics such as preparation:

  • Will they be cleaning the premises after each work day?
  • Will all the garbage be disposed of by the general contractor?
  • Will the general contractor be providing their own cleaning supplies?
  • Would any furniture need to be moved or stored during the project?
  • Will there be any prep done to ensure minimal amounts of dust accumulation?

You should also question them on technical expertise. Queries like:

  • What type of plumbing material would you suggest on using (water and drain piping)?
  • What installation pattern of tiles would best suit the size of room to be worked in?
  • Is it necessary to re insulate the exterior walls of the project area if any?

And the killer topic that has wrecked many people’s sanity and perhaps a marriage or two - deadline and work hours

  • When will the project commence and end?
  • Will you work weekends?
  • What time do you start and finish your day?

These are just some of the things you need to know, however, as they say in all those late night infomercials, “But wait . . . there’s more!” In future blogs we’ll be more detailed in examples of renovation practices. By preparing a plan of action and hiring the right people, no one needs to wear a T-shirt that says, “I survived a home renovation.” The idea is to not merely survive, but to thrive. Remember, the more detailed planning the smoother the project should be.

I’m tapping out for now, but I’ll see you soon...Around The Drain.