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It’s that time of year again where media, prognosticators and media prognosticators try to look into the immediate future to predict, and make sense of, the short-term economy. And, yes, even in this uncertain climate. Mechanical Hub will be featuring a series of exclusive Q & A sessions with industry leaders and players to get Read more

It’s that time of year again where media, prognosticators and media prognosticators try to look into the immediate future to predict, and make sense of, the short-term economy. And, yes, even in this uncertain climate. Mechanical Hub will be featuring a series of exclusive Q & A sessions with industry leaders and players to get their views on the future, and living in a COVID world. The second part of the series, we talk with Matt Erickson, CEO, C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co., Alsip, Ill., a plumbing contractor for commercial and site work since in the Chicago area since 1906.

non-residential construction, plumbing, commercial plumbing, commercial construction, industry forecast, short-term economic forecast

MH: When it comes to 2021 industry forecasts, the most resonant word I hear is optimistic. That word can become hollow if it doesn’t have any substance backing it up. What does the short-term economy look like as it relates to your company?

ERICKSON: I hear the same “optimistic” description but believe that it is a National forecast and includes all sectors.  We’ve been following the AIA info since March and believe non-residential construction will be down in 2021 and look brighter for 2022 in the local Chicagoland market. Our estimating has been steady so far this year compared to 2020 but don’t feel the pace will remain the same for February and March.

MH: Piggybacking off of that , what are some indicators you look at to determine trends, movements, etc.?

non-residential construction, plumbing, commercial plumbing, commercial construction, industry forecast, short-term economic forecastERICKSON: In addition to the AIA data, we follow local trade employment statistics (how many tradesmen are out of work), we look at hours worked by our field employees and compare week, month and year over year. Our estimating data can point to general trends in quantity and size of projects in the market.

MH: Do you think companies have enough backlog to carry them through at least the first half of 2021?

ERICKSON: That’s a tough one… we’re seeing a fair number of opportunities but they are smaller in value and duration. I think there will not be enough large, long duration (12 – 24 months) projects available this year to maintain the collective industry hours worked in 2020. Prices are falling and end users are getting great deals as everyone competes for fewer good opportunities.

non-residential construction, plumbing, commercial plumbing, commercial construction, industry forecast, short-term economic forecastMH: I read somewhere that at the rate the U.S. is distributing the vaccine, we should be back to “normal” by 2024. Perhaps that’s a bit overly dramatic, but how does (has) C.J. Erickson positioned itself from the “fallout” of COVID-19?

ERICKSON: The non-residential construction process can be time consuming and I believe the industry will feel the pain from the pandemic long after the some sort of “normal” returns for the most affected industries. We are taking some time to clean-up some processes and update our training, in preparation for the gradual climb back to normal.

MH: Does a change at the presidential level change outlook for your company, if at all? (Infrastructure, green energy initiatives, stimulus, etc.)

ERICKSON: Possibly, if any of the programs or spending props up the commercial and industrial constriction market. Otherwise, I do not believe the new administration will change the outlook for our company.

non-residential construction, plumbing, commercial plumbing, commercial construction, industry forecast, short-term economic forecastMatt Erickson is CEO of C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co., a Chicago-area plumbing contractor since 1906. C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co. employs over 100 people including union plumbers, laborers and operating engineers. We specialize in commercial plumbing, industrial plumbing, hydro-excavation and site utility and underground services.

 

When approached by Greenlee to test a new product late last year, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to work with a couple of our favorite electrical contractors, Adam Sperry and Jon Block. Jon and Adam have been friends of The Hub for several years and bring a ton of electrical experience and knowledge Read more

When approached by Greenlee to test a new product late last year, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to work with a couple of our favorite electrical contractors, Adam Sperry and Jon Block.

Jon and Adam have been friends of The Hub for several years and bring a ton of electrical experience and knowledge to our sites. We connected them with Greenlee and after a few projects over a couple months, they share their experience with the Greenlee GSB Series Step Bits.

Jon Block reviews Greenlee GSB Series Step Bits

First off, the step bits are ideal for advanced hole making solution and feature an improved split-point tip for even faster penetration and a patented split-step design to optimize chip load for a faster and smooth cutting experience while achieving more holes per charge.

“These are perfect for making holes in conduit and steel junction boxes as well as enclosures for conduit knockouts or enlarging holes to accommodate larger conduit openings,” said Jon Block, LH Block Electric.

“There’s no reservations in using these bits, Greenlee has a long history in the trade of high-quality products. I’m sure Jon and I both look for a product that is priced appropriate to the results attained and Greenlee is a brand I trust and believe in due to their quality products,” Sperry shared.

Both agreed that the progressive cutting edges on the bits provided balanced aggression to maximize torque efficiency and minimize stalling when using a cordless drill.

Additionally, an improved double flute design provides enhanced chip evacuation, while also increasing cutting speed and bit life. Laser markings on the bits allow for easy part and size identification.

The GSB Series Step Bits for mild steel are offered in two sets, available in 10 Imperial-sized step bits ranging from 1/8-inch to 1-3/8-inch, and three Metric-sized step bits ranging from 4mm to 32.5mm.

Adam’s Final Assessment:

  • “These bits are the fastest, smoothest, most durable bits I have used and have performed beyond expectations even when subjected to less-than-ideal conditions.”
  • “Personally, I see step bits as a “consumable” item, which I feel is contrary to popular opinion. Most people feel as though the price associated with quality step bits somehow means they should last forever. I disagree. There are a lot of situations where the drilling is less than ideal, or the driller is less than adequately trained which can lead to more wear and tear on a bit. I also prefer the bits to NOT have the quick connect shaft or be impact rated.”

Jon’s Final Assessment:

  • ” I love the double flute design and the marked with common conduit knockout sizes and long-life durability.”
  • “The split step and the longer step for the common conduit hole sizes makes this a great tool for quick knockouts instead of grabbing a hydraulic knockout set. Greenlee tools are the best in the electrical contracting business.”
  • Facebook Product Video

Professionals interested in the GSB Step Bits can visit Greenlee.com/StepBits to learn more information. To request a hands-on tool demonstration from a Greenlee Pro Tool Specialist, visit Greenlee.com/requestdemonstration. For more information on Greenlee, visit Greenlee.com.

ProStaff Reviewers:

Adam got his start in the electrical industry 20+ years ago from his father who was an electrical distributor general manager. Adam has always been keen on working with his hands and takes an extreme satisfaction in watching a project come together from start to finish. One of the keys he brings to our ProStaff is his ability to share whatever tools, insights, tips, tricks, and lessons that have helped him in his career. You can find him on social media at:

Jon, after serving his apprenticeship and acquiring his Chicago Supervising Electrician License, Jon joined his family at LH Block Electric in 1998. Jon brings a unique and extreme work ethic and his many new innovative ideas to the company and currently serves as the job superintendent and chief estimator. He is also a certified electrical inspector and loves teaching the trade in the classroom and in the field. Jon can be found on Facebook at:

What lessons did the Bradford White team learn in 2020? In a year dominated by COVID, COVID, COVID, we learned the value of flexibility and communication above all else. Early in the pandemic we were able to successfully assert that we—as a company, in our factories, our distributors and our contractors—are essential to the health Read more

What lessons did the Bradford White team learn in 2020? In a year dominated by COVID, COVID, COVID, we learned the value of flexibility and communication above all else.

Early in the pandemic we were able to successfully assert that we—as a company, in our factories, our distributors and our contractors—are essential to the health of the country. We can’t do without hot water for sanitation, cooking, cleaning, and bathing in hospitals, nursing homes, military installations, food processing plants and in America’s homes. Our contractor customers are vital and essential providers of heat and hot water. There was much that we didn’t know back then, and supply chains began to shut down. Adding to the confusion, the U.S.-based supply chain was operating under different COVID rules and restrictions than what we saw with non-U.S. suppliers. We worked through the initial uncertainty about how we could best protect our employees and stabilized our factories in Middleville and Niles, Michigan, and Rochester, N.H.

We’re entering a new phase of COVID-19 these days, with an evolving sense of normalization. We’re still currently running our plants to maximize employee safety, and we’re doing so in a market where there is high demand for our products.

Bradford White Corp., Carl Pinto, water heating, water heaters, plumbing, HVAC, COVID-19

Photo Credit: Alan Carlson, Armbrust Plumbing & Heating

We follow state and national requirements for PPE. We run through health protocols daily with a questionnaire and a temperature check for all employees, and we’ve adjusted our scheduling to handle that. We exercise social distancing where possible and employ contact tracing measures when necessary. We clean and sanitize our factories frequently. It’s been gratifying to hear feedback from those business partners who are authorized to come into the factory that we are going above and beyond to keep employees safe compared to what they’ve seen elsewhere. I feel very good about what we’re doing to look out for the health of our employees while striving to meet our customer commitments.

You can’t communicate enough. Constant communication with our customers is crucial. We understand our distributors’ day-to-day demands and frequently communicate with them through our sales team and rep network. All their manufacturers have been affected and in different ways, so distributors have a lot of questions. We share information with contractors through our For the Pro® site, and the contractors we talk with have all been busy.

The same goes for our employees. Communicate and then communicate some more. It’s imperative to share reliable (and factual) information with our employees to avoid confusion. If people can’t get reliable information, they may fill in the blanks and fuel an already overflowing COVID rumor mill. We had about 150 employee communications last year and 80% of them were associated with the pandemic. You have to make sure your employees understand what it takes to be safe both in and out of the workplace. The coronavirus has been particularly difficult because information on the disease and availability of vaccines varies from state to state and even county to county.

Where’s the best guidance coming from? It’s difficult to say what’s the best source, but the CDC appears to have been the most consistent central source for national guidance on what to do for health and safety during the pandemic. Local information can vary by county or parish or municipality. In southwestern Michigan and southeastern Pennsylvania for example, where two of our facilities are located, the guidance varies from county to county, so one county may be on the second phase of shots while another county is barely in phase one. Our Canadian-based team must look to the Canadian government for guidance nationally and then understand what each of the provinces are saying.

Bradford White Corp., Carl Pinto, water heating, water heaters, plumbing, HVAC, COVID-19

How many of these practices will live on beyond the COVID-19 era? As far as products, we’ll continue to see increasing levels of connectivity and remote diagnostics, particularly on the commercial side of things where building management systems are commonplace for monitoring performance. This is not new, but the constraints of COVID have caused an acceleration in the development of more remote capabilities.  Virtual learning will continue, but we believe that “hands-on” training experiences will continue to be preferred. In terms of our general industry dynamics, a lot of us are anxious to reduce our time in the virtual/remote world. For us, this is a relationship industry and we like to see our customers and suppliers face to face. We’re most effective when we can be with a contractor in their own space to understand their challenges. You need to ride shotgun in the truck so you can see what they see and hear what they see and hear. And a virtual trade show is not a substitute for the discoveries you can make seeing and touching new products. For a company like Bradford White that prides itself on its face-to-face customer relationships, this has been painful.

This pandemic has altered almost everything in our lives, including food, water, healthcare supply, healthcare delivery, supply chains, insurance plans and contracts. As we prepare for the next pandemic, the planning must include economic recovery along with the health aspect. We were looking at the bullseye, but we missed many of the rings around it. Now we can see how big of an impact COVID-19 has on all facets of our lives.

When it comes to doing business during a pandemic, you can’t deny the human element. When you talk about somebody’s health and well-being, including any challenges they’re experiencing regarding their financial health and well-being, it becomes emotional. As much as you might want to employ common sense and logic when it comes to work, people have lost loved ones and lost jobs. Plus, the coronavirus has become part of the partisan political landscape when we need to be bipartisan when it comes to taking care of the health of the country.

Carl Pinto, Jr. is senior director of marketing communications for Bradford White.

 

 

When I asked Conrado Ensenat Jr.—aka @conradtheplumber—if he ever considered himself a role model to young people thinking of entering the trades, he unequivocally answered, “No, absolutely not.” Yet his answer wasn’t completely without, perhaps, an internal epiphany. You see, according to Conrad, the way he does things may not be the way others do Read more

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaningWhen I asked Conrado Ensenat Jr.—aka @conradtheplumber—if he ever considered himself a role model to young people thinking of entering the trades, he unequivocally answered, “No, absolutely not.” Yet his answer wasn’t completely without, perhaps, an internal epiphany. You see, according to Conrad, the way he does things may not be the way others do things. And that’s okay. But in reality, unbeknownst to Conrad, he may just be moving into that role model role as we speak. “What I am is a plumber that has no problem taking the time to answer any kind of question an apprentice or a student in school may have about our trade,” says Ensenat. “I believe we are more approachable today more than ever; communication is so much easier with social media. So, for me, a role model I am not. But a plumber with the love for the trade and wanting to see young people succeed if they want to pursue a career, then I most certainly am.”

His Calling

Early on, Conrad was working for a restaurant and just starting at a local community college, yet he wanted something more. Working with his hands always appealed to Conrad so he quit the restaurant and started working as a carpenter’s helper. “It was okay, but saw what the plumbers were doing with the soldering and PVC, and I was intrigued,” Conrad says.

Conrad was hired as a helper cutting and removing cast iron pipe in a building in downtown Miami and loved it right away. “Sure, I was dirty and smelled bad but learning about the pipe and how it works was just really cool. Seventeen years later and I’ve never looked back; plumbing was my calling.”

Conrad’s journey into the plumbing trades technically began full time in 2002 where he started on “snake patrol,” as he was given a van full of all types of machines for drain cleaning—RIDGID, Electric Eel, General Pipe Cleaner, etc. “I learned quickly how to use these machines—I got slapped in the face by a cable, had my shoelaces ripped off after the cable got tangled on them and got splashed with sewer and grease—and all of this happened within my first two days.”

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaning

After one year, Conrad begged his boss for an upgrade and was moved over to camera inspections. Here, Conrad learned the insurance side of things for residential and commercial applications—how it all works and the importance of video and the location of problems. At this time, Conrad also was installing temporary sinks and water heaters, and doing leak detection as well. After about six months, Conrad went into new construction, completing multiple high-end buildings and renovations in multiple hotels. After about a year, Conrad took over as lead plumber on two high-end homes in Sunset Island and Hibiscus Island, Miami Beach. “One project took seven years to complete while the other took four, and that meant a lot of money and a lot of change orders,” says Ensenat.

At this time, Conrad bounced from lead plumber to supervisor—in charge of about 17 plumbers and 10 helpers—ordering material, pricing out jobs, and meeting with contractors and owners. “I didn’t carry a tool or do any labor for about four years; it was mostly delegating and office work. It was a bit boring at times and the days were long and sometimes stressful, but you go on,” says Ensenat.

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaning

Conrad with Omar Harris (left).

After the company closed its doors and went into new ownership, Conrad decided it was time to go on his own. He opened a company with a partner and ran it for four years.

“I tip my hat to all the business owners, but there’s another side to that coin. The long days and nights—being held accountable for what your plumbers and helpers do, calling contractors for payment, supply houses, bills, gas, insurance, marketing, etc. It was great for a while but I was working a lot, and when you’re on your own, you want every call and every job as the stress of business falls on you. You need to bring in the money for your plumbers and office staff. They depend on you.”

But in the end, family was most important to Conrad. There was a time Conrad was working 6-7 day a week, 15-20 hours per day. “So, I closed shop and went and worked for a commission company, which was not the best decision, but I did see another side of plumbing I hadn’t seen, which I am not too fond of. But I did meet my best friend Omar Harris there, and met some great plumbers like Hiram Martinez and Joey Neal. These are great guys with vast knowledge of the trade.”

After leaving that company, Conrad joined the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division, where he has been for the past three years. “I couldn’t have made a better choice for me and my family.”

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaning

Looking back to when he started, Conrad says he didn’t know what he was doing but always enjoyed learning. And, as he was putting systems together and turning on/off the water, gas, or testing a drainage system, there was a sense of accomplishment. “We all have that story where we figured out a leak when five other plumbing companies could not. Where we worked all night, were dead tired, and when they asked, you said ‘you had to be there.’ The journey is different but the end result is the same,” says Ensenat. “The customer is coming to you with a problem and needs you to solve it. Putting that trust in you is a great feeling and honor; they could’ve picked anyone but they picked you.”

Learning from the Past

Conrad owes a lot of what he knows in the trades to William Gonzalez. “That man taught me a lot and would become my future father-in-law. He was an old-school plumber since the ’70s and he did not take it easy on me—probably because I was dating his daughter, lol. But he showed the business side of plumbing. He pushed me in new directions and always challenged me, whether it was reading plans delegating or a simple stoppage. His passion became my passion and my drive to learn all new methods of plumbing. I will be forever grateful to him, leaving me with the knowledge to make it in this trade; he may be gone, but never forgotten.”

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaning

 

Conrad’s brother-in-law, Guillermo Gonzalez, also taught him a lot about gas, and working with tankless water heaters. “Like his dad, he is a great person, and I was very lucky to be welcomed into the family—not only have they shown me love but they showed me a trade and a skill that will never be taken away. I have taken what they taught me and I have taught others as well,” says Ensenat.

Social Media All-In

According to Conrad, social media has been a great tool from talking to people all over the world to seeing the different methods of plumbing that are used—from the equipment to the way others approach the work. “We are a community here to help each other answer questions: we are at a time with social media where you can ask a question to a professional and get a real answer from the people that do it and live the trade,” says Ensenat.

Speaking of helping others, Conrad and his best friend Omar Harris (@omartheplumber) are in the initial stages of their PipeTalk “Instacasts”on Instagram. “We want a show where we can talk about anything in the trade, not a show about showcasing tools or doing giveaways. Real talk about experiences in the trade. How we can truly help apprentices understand what they are getting into,” says Ensenat.

 

@conradtheplumber, Conrad the Plumber, Conrado Ensenat Jr., plumbing, RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners, Broward County, Miami, HVAC, drain cleaningIn the end, for Conrad, it’s important to show new apprentices that the plumbing trade is not just about labor-intensive work; there is a future beyond just being a plumber. For instance, you can become lead plumber or foreman, says Conrad, or you can get your license and become an inspector or a plans processor. “There are so many great paying jobs with opportunities revolving around plumbing than just installing pipe, tubs and toilets all day. And this goes for any man or woman and every color and race—you have the opportunity to go far as you want.”

And with that hard work comes a little down time. Before the pandemic, Conrad would take multiple vacations a year to spend time with his family. “When I’m off work, I’m off. The two days a week I’m off, it’s all about either what I’m doing or spending time with the kids or the wife,” says Ensenat.

During football season, it’s all about the Miami Dolphins—Conrad would enjoy tailgating and going to games, including road games. Oh, and the last time Conrad said today is a great day? “I opened a cleanout at the front of a house holding water. Stuck the cable in 3 feet and it cleared without turning the machine on. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.”

Hoffmann Brothers Heating, Air Conditioning, Plumbing, Electrical & Appliance Repair in St. Louis, MO, has added RIDGID® K9-306 FlexShaft™ Drain Cleaning Machines to every new plumbing service truck they outfit after experiencing the tool’s versatility and time saving benefit. “It’s definitely a time saver, simply just loading and unloading it, going from heavier machines to Read more

Hoffmann Brothers Heating, Air Conditioning, Plumbing, Electrical & Appliance Repair in St. Louis, MO, has added RIDGID® K9-306 FlexShaft™ Drain Cleaning Machines to every new plumbing service truck they outfit after experiencing the tool’s versatility and time saving benefit.

“It’s definitely a time saver, simply just loading and unloading it, going from heavier machines to lighter,  more compact machines, saving time right there, then add speed and cleanliness on to that,” said Christian Telford, Master Plumber/Drainlayer and Field Operation Manager at Hoffmann Brothers.

“You also just can’t get the thorough cleaning with standard equipment like you can with FlexShaft,” he said. “The ability of the expanding chains to maximize the pipe size allows for a full pipe cleaning, coupled with how clean the machine itself stays, you just provide the client with an overall better experience.”

Christian notes that the FlexShaft is 10 to 25 percent faster at cleaning drains and for a flat-rate fee company that means saved labor costs and the opportunity to complete more jobs in a day.

In business for over 40 years, the team at Hoffmann Brothers prides themselves on the quality and integrity they bring to every job. That means not only providing the best customer service to clients, but also staying on top of the latest technology and equipment to be at the top of their industry.

A couple of years ago they purchased a heavier and more expensive high-speed descaling machine that’s used solely for drain lining work. The cost kept it from being added to other service trucks. After learning about the K9-306 at WWETT and its enclosed cable drum for enhanced cleanliness they started using it regularly and quickly found out what a versatile tool it is.

One of the impressive uses the Hoffmann Brothers team has found for FlexShaft is root clearing.

“We were very pleased at how well it actually did with roots without binding up too much,” Christian said. “We’ve had heavy balls of roots that our sectional and drum machines usually have to make several passes. With FlexShaft you may have to make one additional pass to make a final polishing while running water, which by this time you have again saved time and given the client a thorough cleaning which is a huge win for both parties.”

They are also using FlexShaft on descaling job sites.

“Lining has become a very valuable part of our business, however one key part of this is being able to get the original host pipe as clean as possible. This means sometimes taking a 100-plus year cast iron pipe and descaling it, a very delicate and painstaking task,” Christian said.

Hoffmann Brothers decided to run the K9-306 through the course to see if it could meet up to their lining work quality standards and allow them to utilize it for their pre-qualification process.

“Not only did it meet our expectations, but we decided to also take it a step further and try to use it with reinstatements which puts some heavy pressure on the equipment, and it also met the challenge,” he said.

Christian said this was a great testament to the K9-306 as this was not why they originally purchased the FlexShaft. However, it opened the door for their specialized technicians who do the lining process to be able to not only perform their daily jobs with clients, but also perform pre-qualifications on perhaps the same visits. A great gain for the company and the client.

Hoffmann Brothers is now utilizing the FlexShaft for residential, light commercial, descaling, milling and reinstatement jobs.