Performing Plumbing Repair and Remodeling: You Can’t Always Go It Alone

luxury bathroom with glass shower and whirlpool tub

When founding a plumbing company most of us never think of having to use subcontractors to help you complete the work. You go after a project, commercial or residential, you win the bid and you put in pipe and plumbing fixtures and you’re done.

As you get more involved you start to notice common trades associated with your work. If you’re a contractor that likes new streams of revenue it’s time to start looking at those subcontractors as dollars signs. Residential contractors performing plumbing repair may want to hire new employees to expand their offerings and both commercial and residential contractors most certainly should begin to cultivate relationships with other subcontractors they trust so they can complement their own plumbing business or share customer bases.

Subcontractors, Plumbers Should Get To Know And How They Can Help

The first few I’m going to go over are the ones directly related to the plumbing trade and they are subs you may need right out of the gate to complete your contracts especially if you’re a commercial plumbing contractor.

Site Utility Contractor

plumbing repair using a site utility contractorA site utility contractor does the digging and installs plumbing outside the home or building, up to the foundation. They also perform plumbing repair on large diameter waste and water piping outside the building. There are many plumbing contractors that invest in digging equipment and tradespeople so they can do this work themselves. Not only can they monitor the progress and quality but they also earn the profits on the work. Site utility work can be the most profitable part of a plumbing project of you have a skilled machine operator and several good laborers.

Just to clear up any confusion. There are site utility contractors that handle digging and installation for all trades who need it, i.e. structural, electrical and plumbing. However, quite often a site utility contractor will specialize in a single trade. I have found that specialty site contractors are the most efficient.

Pipe Insulation

This is another trade that occasionally bleeds over on to the trade itself. For example, you are putting in 3 runs of water piping in a commercial building, hot water, cold water and a return line. All three lines need to be insulated to prevent condensation. Depending on the area in which you work, the plumber may install the piping and also install the insulation. However, the majority of complex plumbing projects need a set of skills for pipe insulation a normal tradesman just doesn’t have. Regardless, having a pipe insulation contractor on hand to perform this work is essential. Most professional insulation companies will perform insulation for plumbing piping, roof drains and associated piping, RPZ valves, HVAC water piping, duct work and any mechanical equipment that runs the risk of condensation. They may also perform fire safing or fire stopping of any cores in floors or walls.

RPZ Testing

RPZ (Reduced Pressure Zone) Valve testing is a skill that any plumbing contractor can acquire through state testing and certification but a good percentage do not. Any time you furnish and install an RPZ for domestic water or fire protection that valve needs to be tested each year to assure that it is functioning properly. RPZ valves stop backflow or cross contamination of a water line securing the safety of the domestic water.

The cool thing about being certified in RPZ/Backflow testing is that gives you the opportunity for repeat income. Every RPZ needs to be tested every year so if you put it in and test there is a good chance you’ll be asked to come back and test. After several years you’ll find yourself with a backlog of valves to test every year. Not to mention you’re back in the building with the additional opportunity to repair any plumbing issues. If you’re looking to get into a customer’s buying cycle this is a great way to insert yourself.

Hole Coring/ Sawcutting

Many times, when installing new piping or repairing in slab piping you may find yourself in need of someone to core a hole in a concrete wall or ceiling. This is something you can do yourself if it’s just a few cores or a few feet of sawcutting. But when you get into many cores or a delicate sawcutting job hiring someone that does it all the time tends to be more efficient and cost effective. Most Hole Coring/Sawcutting Contractors even have tradesmen on staff that specialize in coring for certain trades because they know the flow of their work. This is also an essential plumbing subcontractor with which to build a relationship.

Large Diameter Hydro Jetting and Sewer Rodding

A midsized or large sewer rodder is one of the first big pieces of equipment a plumbing contractor buys. It can be used in both residential and commercial applications and it pays for itself very quickly. But when you have a commercial customer with waste piping larger then 6” or a residential customer with tree root problems specialized equipment should be brought in to properly service the client. You can certainly buy your own equipment but it’s usually a rather large investment. There are companies out there that specialize in large diameter sewer cleaning. They usually have both large sewer rodding equipment as well as commercial jetting equipment and vacuum trucks when commercial grease traps need to be cleaned.

Leak Detection Services

Finding a good leak detection service is almost like finding a unicorn. When they are good they can save you and your customer quite a bit of money. Chasing down an underground water leak is tough work. If you dig where you see water coming up from the ground you run the very real risk of digging in multiple areas with no guarantee you’ll find the actual leak. A leak detection company uses ultra sound and/or infrared thermography to find and pin point your leak so you only have to dig once. I’ve used them on multiple projects and they can be a life saver.

Masonry

Most times masonry repairs fall on the general contractor doing the work on a project. On certain occasions masonry repairs fall upon the plumbing contractor especially when the construction is limited to plumbing or when the only masonry repairs on the project are caused by the plumbing work. This sub would be responsible for brick and cinder block work, glazed block, tuck pointing, granite repair and replacement, glass block, some concrete repair etc. Again, this is not super common on plumbing projects but the work we performed during our time as a plumbing contractor demanded it quite often especially on roof drain repairs, relocation, and replacement.

Carpenter

If you need to change the configuration of a bathroom or kitchen or you need to frame out a basement bath you need a carpenter.

 

Custom Cabinet Maker or Cabinet Shop

There are custom cabinets and then there are custom cabinets. In the last 15 years, home centers and cabinet shops have done a great deal with box cabinets and hardware to give you a custom look and feel without paying true custom cabinet prices. A real custom cabinet maker will build your cabinet from the ground up. The custom cabinet maker will custom cut the wood, stain or paint, glaze, add custom hardware, ad accents and lighting all to your specifications. You are getting a piece of high-endA modern, luxury kitchen. furniture that will last for 50 years. Semi-custom box cabinets have a set number of custom colors and options and are not built the same way but they look great. Having a company that does both creates value and options.

 

Drywall

As you gain more experience with residential work almost all of us look at kitchen and bath remodeling and say, “I can do that!” I never liked to give away work in a home that I thought I could manage myself. There are two reasons the 1st is because you’re giving away profit margin and the 2nd is because you’re leaving the door open for another sub to come in and offer up their favorite plumbing contractor which probably isn’t you. If you keep it in house you control the sales, work flow and the finished product. On the commercial side, it is very rare to be in a situation where you need drywall repair but again it’s always good to have one you trust in case the need arises.

Painting Contractor

Please see above. This goes hand in hand with the drywall contractor and it’s usually a residential project but the same reasons apply. I know we all think we can paint, I know I do but most can’t paint like a professional. If you’re doing a high-end remodel you’ll want a high-end finish. Find a great painter and they will make your remodels beautiful.

Tile Setter

Having a skilled tile setter on staff or a subcontractor on speed dial is also an essential part of your product offerings. Being able to do plumbing, drywall, painting and not tile setting is irresponsible. Can you imagine letting a customer know that you can do everything but laying their tile floor and backsplash? Once again you are letting another subcontractor into the customer’s home that you can’t control. You can’t control the narrative, the schedule or the finished product. Find yourself a tile setter ASAP.

I certainly hope this piece gives the plumbing contractor an idea of the subcontractors needed to complete their service offerings and also gives a home owner help in realizing the moving parts needed to complete a project in their home.

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