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It’s about your business!

By Rory Macnamara
Plumbers are in the water business and can make money from it if done correctly.

Water harvesting, water collection, water conservation and all aspects of water rightly belong in the domain of the plumber. Your training through those ‘dark’ days of an apprenticeship to a journeyperson, when you went from being shouted at to being a respected member of the plumbing community, paid off when you became a fully trained and qualified plumber.

We all know the sad story about how the current government successfully screwed up education from pre-school to matric and now tertiary. But not for this issue — here we will talk about things that matter more to qualified plumbers who want to grow their businesses. IOPSA is doing a great job showing members how to cost themselves correctly and this is the starting point. In this article, we will dwell more on the opportunities for a plumber to grow their business and make more money (profit) in the water space. Why? Because you are qualified to do so. The past has seen some of the plumber’s work being taken over by others at the expense of the plumber — guttering is one example.

The country’s — and the world’s for that matter — biggest issue is potable water and its potential to disappear for all the wrong reasons, like leaks, lack of attention to water wastage, incorrect or incompetent installations, use of incorrect materials … the list goes on.

We all know the answers to these problems and we dwell on the negatives rather than on the reality and the positivity of the potential that plumbers have before them.

As a plumber, you are in that envious position of going into a customer’s home. This is an opportunity to chat to the customer about water and their needs. We have included a simple checklist whereby you can work through the list and identify where water and money can be saved.
It has been said that plumbing is a grudge purchase and/or emergency only service. That may be, but we need to change that perception by being a part of the customer’s ‘advisory body.’

The cost of water is creeping up and now is the time to start them thinking about saving.

The first and most important one is rainwater harvesting. In the checklist, you will see our suggestions as to going about questioning the customer. Sadly, in some quarters, tank manufacturers are ready and willing to sell a tank without offering any suggestions as to what to do with the tank other than to collect rainwater — for what purpose?

This isolated thinking in most of the components that make up a rainwater harvesting system is unhelpful. It usually results in a number of people becoming involved and offering the wrong advice when the plumber can offer a one-stop solution to suit all budgets.

Choice of material is critical for proper performance. The DIYer (save us from this group when it comes to plumbing) will go for the cheapest material and will not understand why the system does not perform properly!

We are now discussing the simple above ground harvesting that will provide water for gardens, car washing and general outdoor cleaning. We also look at the innovative systems on offer like the Wash O - Toi from Atlas Plastics, which is the start to some affective grey water usage.

Next issue we will look at the bigger underground systems for harvesting and grey water that should become compulsory for large buildings.

Saving water (and money)
For now, let us move to the questionnaire. The idea is to engage your customer. Arrange an appointment with the lead in that you would like to do an assessment on their water usage and how they can save water/money and also use water sensibly. Have, if at all possible, the family present so they can all start the buy-in process because without it nothing will be achieved.

Remember, you are going in at their level to save them water and money, and that as a plumber you are best qualified to assist them to achieve this goal.

  1. Assess their water needs. Cleaning, washing, hygiene, drinking, and cooking, as well as baths and/or showers, toilets and the numbers of each, including domestic quarters. Remember gardening and literally go through each room in the house and outside area.
  2. Take them through the mains connection through to the various water points in the house, pointing out the potential water wastage possibilities.
  3. This should also include the switch off points at the mains and stop cocks (which are never maintained by the way).
  4. Explain the geyser to them and what happens when boiling hot water comes pouring out of the overflow pipe (cold water as well) and where to switch it off. Explain the function of valves that they need to be aware of.
  5. Look at each water usage place and calculate the amount of water used. This will never be 100%, but by questioning how many times the shower or bath is used, the kettle filled up and so on, the homeowner will be amazed at their water usage, which they might not have cared much about until now.
  6. Look at their water bill (which impacts on sanitation charges) and the kilolitres consumed. Again, the plumber could calculate potential savings.
  7. Suggest a maintenance contract whereby you or a member of the team will come around, check for leaks, and inspect whether any system you have installed is functioning properly.

At this stage, you would need to do some calculations, so set up a time for a follow-up visit when you can discuss your suggestions, which would include a rainwater harvesting system(s) to be properly installed using compliant materials and positioned at points where the components, such as pipes and pumps, work at their maximum and therefore last longer.

This is really for established homes where one is attempting to make better use of a precious commodity — water — and at the same time accept their responsibility towards water conservation.

Part of your recommendations will be around piping being above ground or below, and whether the Wash O - Toi can be installed in other areas to maximise water savings. Atlas Plastics also has a 20-litre water holder that can be positioned at sinks and basins so instead of cold water pouring out while waiting for hot water, the cold water can be collected and used for various household purposes. This includes watering indoor plants, although rainwater collection should be the first choice for this — not potable water.

People, I think the message is simple. The plumber has many opportunities to grow and develop their business and what we have provided is a very simple bunch of thoughts that you can mould and fit according to your needs, the area in which you operate, and the affordability of the area.

Do not, please, go in with the idea of making a killing first time round. Water is still relatively cheap so it is not top of mind when other expenses are more pressing. Slowly develop a relationship with your customer so when it comes to water/plumbing needs, you will be the go-to-person.

Also next issue we look at tank designs and tank sizes, as most manufacturers have become quite creative.

Let us hear of your ideas.


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