2016 June-July

“Service, service, service” is the official motto at Randal’s Plumbing Inc., in Palm Desert, CA. The owner, Randal Williams, started the 10-person company in 1994. As their motto suggests, service is key, along with a healthy dose of remodel work. The majority of that business comes from high-end residential customers. Randal’s Plumbing lives on referral Read More

“Service, service, service” is the official motto at Randal’s Plumbing Inc., in Palm Desert, CA. The owner, Randal Williams, started the 10-person company in 1994.

As their motto suggests, service is key, along with a healthy dose of remodel work. The majority of that business comes from high-end residential customers. Randal’s Plumbing lives on referral, spending not a single dollar on advertising beyond truck wraps and cycle graphics.

You read that correctly; Randal’s uses a “Service Cycle”. It’s a Yamaha 650 outfitted with a special sidecar for jobsite visits and running parts. Southern California’s climate is conducive to year-‘round cycle riding.

Randalls Plumbing CA - Plumbing News

Unfortunately, it’s also conducive to drought. While the lack of rain has been a real concern for California in the past few years, it’s ushered in a lot of calls from homeowners looking to conserve water. Even heavy rain from the recent El Niño has not quenched the drought in California.

“The EPA has specified 1.28 gallons per flush as the standard for all new toilets being installed,” said Randal, “and a lot of folks are looking to do even better. We started offering Toto’s 1 GPF models, and have since put them in our showroom.”

But according to Randal, they’ve gone beyond low-flow fixtures. The company has installed hot water recirculation systems for more than a decade, but today it’s a main focus. Demand for hot water recirculation is way up, and today’s products are easier to install and offer more functionality.

“When people hear that they can save as much as 12,000 gallons each year, the only question is, ‘When can you do it?’” said Randal. “Of course we’ll save you water, but we’ll also save you time. I can buy more water, I can’t buy more time; it’s really our most precious commodity. Waiting on hot water for five minutes each day adds up to 30 hours per year.”

Plumbing Contractor with Harley Davidson

Return without a return line

For years, Randal’s has installed hot water recirculation pumps in homes with a dedicated return line. Today, the volume of calls means that they’re running into a number of different applications, with and without dedicated return lines.

“We went shopping for flexible solutions and discovered two different reliable options for homes that don’t have dedicated return lines: the TacoGenie and the Hot-Link system.”

Both systems operate by sending cool water back to the water heater via the cold water line instead of letting it go down the drain..

Replacement work

“Many of the big homes in this area had dedicated recirculation lines installed during construction,” said Randal. “Whether their pump fails or they need a new water heater, we often find ourselves replacing the existing pump.”

It’s a regular occurrence; the call comes in saying there’s no hot water. Randal runs out to the job on his motorcycle to check the water heater. The Service Cycle has its limitations though, so if the water heater is shot, he goes back to the shop to load a new Bradford White tank and a recirculation pump on a truck. Randal’s plumbing socks plenty of water heaters and special recirculating pumps that reduce electric consumption when compared to a conventional recirculation system that runs non-stop.

Randalls Plumbing CA

Hero on two wheels

“My sister-in-law comes for a long visit every year,” said Randal. “After waiting for hot water to arrive at the shower, she’d ask my wife, ‘Isn’t your husband a plumber?’ Well, it’s like the cobbler and his shoes…”

Last year, just before his sister-in-law arrived, Randal installed a hot water recirculation system at his own home. From what he says, it made him a hero. It’s not the first time he’s blended his profession and his personal life for the benefit of both.

The idea for the Service Cycle took hold as he was searching for a way to fit in a little more riding time. After having a friend custom build the big sidecar to haul tools, wax rings and recirculation pumps, he realized he’d stumbled into a great publicity stunt.

“I really just wanted to have fun with the Service Cycle, but now everyone around town knows me,” said Randal. “People wave and take pictures, and every once in a while, a new customer will say they called because they saw the bike.” According to Randal, the bike is a throwback to the early 19th century.

“The sidecar was in broad use in the US before Henry Ford introduced the Model T,” he explained. “Once average folks could afford four wheels, they moved away from three. But until then, the sidecar was used as a delivery vehicle, tradesman’s transportation, and later, even had some tactical applications in the big wars.”

Whether throwing back to days of old on the Service Cycle or looking forward with water and time conservation, Randal’s Plumbing is on the move.

Randalls Plumbing - Plumbing Perspective Magazine

A previous article, “Microorganisms in Plumbing Systems”, warned that under certain conditions microorganisms can grow out-of-control in plumbing systems. When this happens, a “biofilm” of microorganisms and acidic enzymes that they secrete can become attached to pipe walls (Figure 1). This can lead to: Increased metals concentration (such as copper, iron, and lead) in the Read More

A previous article, “Microorganisms in Plumbing Systems”, warned that under certain conditions microorganisms can grow out-of-control in plumbing systems. When this happens, a “biofilm” of microorganisms and acidic enzymes that they secrete can become attached to pipe walls (Figure 1). This can lead to:

  • Increased metals concentration (such as copper, iron, and lead) in the drinking water that comes in contact with the affected pipe
  • Pitting and pinhole leaks in metal pipe
  • Increased possibility of water-borne illnesses from microorganisms that are toxic to humans

Stagnating or slow moving water with inadequate disinfection allows microorganisms to grow rapidly. Microorganisms also need surface area to attach to – the more surface area, the more colonies of microorganisms can attach and grow.

This article identifies critical locations in a plumbing system where microbiological growth and biofilm formation tend to start. These locations are important to keep in mind as methods to prevent microbiological growth are discussed in future articles.

 PRS Biofilm Pipe high res white background

Biofilm in a Residential Copper Pipe
The light coating on the pipe in Figure 1 is a biofilm. Not all biofilms look like this. But, the one in Figure 1 is smooth, thick, and tightly adhered to the pipe wall. 

The Water Source

A biofilm problem in a building can start with the water source. The water can carry microorganisms into a building’s plumbing system. If conditions are right in the plumbing system, the microorganism population will grow.

When private wells are a building’s water source, microorganisms can enter the well in the groundwater which has had contact with the surrounding soil and sometimes with surface water that has percolated down into the aquifer. Once in the well, microorganisms can form biofilms and attach to screens, casings, and piping. For this reason, wells should be cleaned periodically with high concentrations of chlorine solution. This is called shock chlorination and usually involves a solution of 200 to 300 mg/L free chlorine held in the well for twenty-four hours. Well owners may not realize the importance of this cleaning procedure and may neglect to have it done.

For buildings with water provided by a municipal or community water system, microorganisms are present in the water to varying degrees. In the drinking water industry, the emphasis is on microorganisms that are toxic to humans and can cause illness. However, the absence of illness-causing microorganisms in a water system does not mean that other microorganisms are not thriving. The lowest presence of microorganisms is found in municipal or community water systems where disinfection concentrations are maintained at effective levels and monitored throughout the distribution system. There are some water systems where disinfection is not maintained sufficiently and some where no disinfection is added at all. In those systems, the presence of microorganisms entering a building can be quite high. 

The Water Service Line

A building is connected to a water source by means of a water service line. This can be piping between a building and a privately-owned well; or, it can be piping between a building and a water main in a municipal or community water distribution system. The longer that water stays in the water service line, the more likely it is that microorganisms will form biofilms on the pipe walls. This can lead to microbiologically influenced corrosion of the water service line with the effect of increasing metal concentrations in drinking water or creating leaks through holes in the pipe wall. Microorganisms from the biofilms can also be carried away by the passing water and taken into the building’s plumbing system to start new colonies.

Point of Entry Water Treatment

Water treatment is sometimes installed in buildings just as the water piping enters the building. This is called “point of entry” water treatment. Any water treatment device should be considered a critical location for microbiological growth in a water system for three reasons:

  1. Many water treatment devices include tanks that hold a large volume of water. Depending on water usage in the building, water might stay in a water treatment tank for an extended period of time. This long residence time in slow moving water allows for the growth of microorganisms.
  1. Along with the large volume of water in water treatment devices comes increased surface area. Many water treatment tanks are filled with particles that perform the water treatment, where the higher the surface area of the particle, the better the treatment. Examples of such particles are sand, ion-exchange resin beads, and granular activated carbon. The increased surface area gives great advantage to the attachment of microorganisms and the development of biofilms.
  1. Any disinfection in the water that enters most water treatment devices is removed in the device. The disinfection might be removed because that may be the purpose of the water treatment device, like granular activated carbon filters. It might also be removed because the disinfection is used up fighting microorganisms that have already taken up residence in the device. With the disinfection gone, downstream piping is no longer protected against the microorganisms that are carried out of the water treatment device in the flowing water.

Water Softeners

Water softening is a type of water treatment device. It is typically installed farther downstream from the building’s point of entry, but all of the problems of microbiological growth discussed above affect water softeners.

In areas of the country where water high in calcium carbonate (also called “hard” water) is used, water softeners are needed to keep calcium carbonate out of hot water systems. This is because calcium carbonate can fall out of the water as solid particles that build up on heating surfaces. The energy required to transfer heat from the heating surface through the increasing layer of calcium carbonate and into the water becomes greater and greater. Therefore, it is more cost effective to remove the calcium carbonate before it enters the hot water system.

Unfortunately, if microbiological growth has occurred significantly in a water softener, the hot water system downstream receives microorganisms in the water and no disinfection to fight them.

Hot Water Systems

Hot water systems have some additional characteristics that encourage the growth of microorganisms. For example, if the storage tank is oversized for routine water usage, water is in the tank for an extended time, creating the conditions for microbiological growth. An oversized hot water storage tank is installed when there is an infrequent but large demand for hot water, such as for filling a large bathtub. When the tub is not in use, water has a long residence time in the tank making it prone to microbiological growth.

For large buildings, hot water recirculation systems are typically used so that hot water will be immediately received at each faucet, no matter how far away from the hot water storage tank. The recirculation system contributes to microbiological growth by adding more residence time and surface area to the plumbing system. It also helps to spread microorganisms from an infected site to other sites that have not yet been infected.

Point of Use Water Treatment

Water treatment devices at or near faucets are referred to as “point of use” water treatment. The same issues of microbiological growth can occur on those devices as discussed above. The good news is that there is little to no piping downstream of the device that can be affected by microbiological growth. The bad news is that the consumer is directly downstream of these devices. For this reason, the manufacturers’ instructions on equipment cleaning and replacement of filters must be followed closely.

Faucets

Biofilms can form upstream and inside faucets as with any surface area in a plumbing system. Faucets and associated upstream plumbing that are reached a long time after the water has entered the building have a greater potential for microbiological growth. Faucets and associated upstream plumbing that are used infrequently also have a greater potential for microbiological growth.

Summary

In a plumbing system, the conditions of water stagnation, high surface area, and lack of disinfection contribute to the possibility that significant microbiological growth and biofilm formation can occur.

This article has discussed critical locations in a plumbing system where microbiological growth and biofilm formation tend to start, beginning at the water source and continuing through the water service line, point of entry water treatment, water softening, hot water system, point of use water treatment, and faucets. These locations are important to keep in mind as methods to prevent microbiological growth are discussed in future articles.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Abigail F. Cantor, P.E., Chemical Engineer

Process Research Solutions, LLC
PO Box 5593
Madison, WI 53705

www.processresearch.net
Phone: 608.233.3911
Email: info@processresearch.net

Process Research Solutions, LLC is an engineering consulting firm specializing in water quality investigations for drinking water and industrial process water.

The company has also developed tools and protocols to proactively monitor and control water quality, lowering the chances of developing serious and expensive issues in water systems.

Data management computer software, My Monitoring Data®, has been developed by Process Research Solutions, LLC so that water quality and water system data can be quickly interpreted and utilized.

 

While many contractors make a lot of money in a 4 month period during the summer, is there a chance you could do even better? Perhaps serve the customers better and improve your chances for referrals where there is no competition while earning trust from the consumer? Of course, YES. Here are 10 ways to Read More

While many contractors make a lot of money in a 4 month period during the summer, is there a chance you could do even better? Perhaps serve the customers better and improve your chances for referrals where there is no competition while earning trust from the consumer? Of course, YES.

Here are 10 ways to improve your company performance and keep your sanity during the hot weather.

  1. Listen to your customers. Contractors often get too rushed in summer, realizing there are more customers to see in this time period then a few months ago. When moving too fast, this can cause many to stop or forget to do the very things that made them the kind of company the customer wants to see. Really pay attention to the customer. Listen to their story and don’t jump to conclusions before they finish. Repeat back what they said so you can begin earning their trust because they know you are listening. Then you can fix the problem.
  1. Stay focused. Focus on the customer. Set aside the personal problems as they are not interested in your daughter’s broken arm, for instance. Leave the other customers outside your home, your family issues should not come in the house with you.
  1. Make a good first impression. Yep, gotta get them booties out. I know it takes about 20 seconds to put on the carpet protectors, but it shows respect. Do it every time. And take 2 breath mints before you ring the doorbell. They don’t need to know you had garlic pizza for lunch. If you’re a smoker, at least put some Fabreeze spray on or something to help repel the smoke odor.
  1. Clean shirt. Take a minute to be sure you are not wearing the last dirty service call. If you’re last service call made your shirt dirty, put on another new shirt. Yes, the back up shirt you should keep and always have available in your truck. When you use it, take the soiled shirt out of the truck that evening and get it cleaned. Also, clean up and straighten up that truck. Take 5 minutes at the end of each day to throw out the trash and make sure you have adequate supplies, with a simple quick overview to make sure you are always prepared for upcoming jobs.
  1. Do a complete exam. When you go to the doctor, they take blood pressure, weight, pulse, and more, even when you tell him you have a rash on your arm. They are looking for other problems that may be a factor. We have to have that same attitude as contractors to look the entire system over. You may find a valve that leaks or another issue that, if found, could save your customer lots of money by correcting the problem early.
  1. Quality over quantity. Recently, a contractor in California told me he had a tech who ran 12 calls the day before. Really? In California traffic? I did not ask how many he had to go back on, but when we are rushed, mistakes happen that can cost customers money and ultimately, yor company more future business. So a company may have to tell a customer the reality: to do this job correctly, you will be there tomorrow, or in two days if necessary. Realize the customer doesn’t want to hear this, but the dispatcher has to know there is a physical limit to what the company can do in a given day. This ultimately is good for the customer and your business. Stacking on more calls can weaken your effectiveness and your bottom line.
  1. Start a maintenance agreement program. Yep, start it now! This is especially beneficial when you service HVAC units in addition to plumbing services. When you come upon a nasty problem, tell the customer the truth, they need a precision tune up and professional cleaning. In many cases, the unit has a problem that can be traced back to a lack of maintenance. You can even schedule that tune up for October, when the units are not used as much and it’s a more convenient time for your customer.
  1. Do immediate maintenance on older equipment. If you have a customer contact you that has older equipment, schedule maintenance to be done quickly. Especially before summer for HVAC equipment, before it breaks down. That way you have a better chance to pick up a new customer when the competition can’t get to them.
  1. Develop a “go now” attitude for replacement sales. Some contractors get the information for a quote and then take it back to the office to put together a proposal. Then “tries” to make an appointment to go back to share the numbers. When a call comes in, get to the home now and put together a proposal on the spot. Make it happen. And while you’re in the neighborhood, don’t fax or email a proposal. This stuff is sold face to face where people like to buy from people they like. 7% of communication is words, 38% is tone of voice, and 55% is body language. So you can gain more customers using good body language face to face.
  1. Praise the successes. Publically. Thank the team members who go the extra mile and help a customer in unexpected ways. Correct the mistakes privately. Make sure the team understands you value them.

Although these ideas are simple, they are always good principles for every business and everyone needs a refreshing reminder from time to time.