Hello and welcome to The Plumbing Info. Our overall goal is to be a place where plumbers, plumbing contractors and consumers go to read, educate and hopefully be entertained. We didn’t think the site would be complete without insight and contributions from plumbers, plumbing contractors and consumers on our favorite subject. So we reached out to plumbing contractors and construction professional around the world to hear what they say about the plumbing business. What products are popular, what are countries doing about fresh drinking water, what are the challenges businesses face in this world wide downturn? What do consumers want, what kinds of products, what do they expect from their plumbing professionals?
So it is our pleasure to introduce our first global contributor the The Plumbing Info, Mr. Scott Berkefeld owner and operator of Guardian Plumbing and Gas Services. Scott hails from Melbourne, Australia and has two decades in the plumbing field. Here is Scott’s contact information as well as a link to his website.
The Plumbing Info (TPI): What is the dynamic between plumbing contractor and general
contractor? Do some generals self perform?
A: I’m sure some general contractors have their own plumbing division or in house plumbers that do their work, but it is rare. Most contract plumbing work in Australia is subcontracted out to plumbing contractors who do it for a living.
TPI: What credentials or licenses are required for plumbers and or plumbing contractors?
A: In Australia we have Licensed plumbers and registered plumbers. A licensed plumber has to be fully insured and is able to run a plumbing company and have plumbers working for them. A registered plumber does not have to have public liability (general liability) insurance and they can only work under a licensed plumber under their license.
TPI: What sorts of codes and standards do you adhere to when constructing the plumbing systems? Is it the International Piping Code or do local codes dominate?
A: Officially were governed by the Australian and New Zealand plumbing standards. But it seems every state has its own interpretation to the code.
TPI: We have a growing raw material shortage in the US that directly affects the cost of product we buy cast iron piping, copper piping, PVC piping etc. Are you finding that to be the case in Australia as well?
A: It seems that every time you turn there is a price increase; it is hard to keep up with them. I wish I could raise my as much as the suppliers do, if I could I would be a rich man.
TPI: (Follow-Up Comment) Just to clarify the above. The plumbing professional supply houses treat their products and merchandise very much like commodities because that is how they buy. When copper or brass increases in the open market so does their pricing to the customer. Most supply houses try to smooth these increases out by buying right, by buying with knowledge of the industry and the market. However in the last decade or so market volatility has made it very difficult to predict increases and decreases. The plumbing contractor does not have the ability to increase it’s pricing to match the market because the customer will not always bare the increase. For example a project is bid in June with June pricing. The job is awarded and starts in Sept. but copper pricing goes up by 30% in August. Just pass it on right? It won’t happen; quite often owners are unwilling to pay for these increases. They find someone who won’t charge them for the increases. Contractors include scheduled material increases on jobs that span 6 months and longer but because of market conditions it is almost impossible to account for short term increases.
TPI: Where are you getting your plumbing materials from? Are there companies here in Australia that are producing PVC, copper tube and fittings, cast iron, plumbing fixtures, stainless steel etc. Do you buy cast iron from Charlotte and copper from Cerro, etc?
A: We buy all our fittings and pipe from plumbing suppliers who source the products locally or from around the world (mainly China).
TPI (Follow-Up Comment): So your supply houses are selling Chinese made products? How do you, do they control product quality? Most of the main plumbing product manufacturers have some production in China but they usually administer quality control, how does the supply house handle off line product support?
TPI: What are the materials you use in your plumbing systems? I.e. PVC for below and above ground waste, copper or PEX for water. This may sound like a strange question but we still use hub and spigot cast iron in some parts of the States.
A: Yes we do use UPVC for above and below drains and wastes. For water and gas we use copper or PEX and Polly pipe depending on the application. Not sure what you mean by Hub, we would only use cast iron for drains where there is a chance of damage to the drain.
TPI: Are there any professional plumbing associations that you ask your plumbing person to be involved with to keep up to date on emerging technologies?
A: Not really the master plumbers association tries to keep us informed or the Plumbing industries commission (our states governing body)
TPI: I realize that fresh water is a premium in Australia. How are you and other plumbing contractors addressing this issue with your customers? Are you trying to sell water saving fixtures? Solar water heaters etc.? Is it something people buy?
A: With this one, where do I start! We have being in a drought for well over ten years now where I live in Melbourne and the rest of Australia. The drought has broken in a lot of areas and it’s looking good for us. We have being on water restrictions for many years now but they have just yesterday announced that we can wash our cars again at home without going to a recycled water car wash. For years now it has being illegal to buy non water saving shower heads and tap ware, also our toilets have being half flush and full flush since the 80’s but now they come in 4.5 (1.19GPF) liter full flush and 3 liter (.79GPF)half flush. The government has being trying to encourage us to have only 4 minute showers and all these other water saving ideas. The goal is for each person is to only use 155 liters a day that for everything showers, clothes washing, gardens etc. There has being a big push for people to install rain water tanks and grey watering systems to water their garden. Rain water tanks are also used to flush toilets and wash clothes if the tank is dry due to the lack of rain the pumps have a bypass so these fixtures can still operate. The government has being offering rebates for tanks and solar systems, water saving showers and toilets etc, as a government does they keep changing things around so it is hard to follow the rebate scheme.
I could go on and on with this one.
TPI (Follow-up Comment): As you can see from the above, the US is far behind when it comes to water conservation. The dual flush toilets available in Australia are still below our new HET toilets. Please do your part in helping our earth, call your local plumbing service contractor to get some ideas on what you can do to conserve water.
TPI: With the world shortage of skilled labor how do you train your future plumbers? Is there a formal apprenticeship program? Is there union labor in Australia?
A: Yes we do have apprenticeship program with government incentives to take them on. We do have Unions in Australia but they are only relevant in the commercial side of things. However on the commercial side they carry a heavy hand.
TPI: What type of plumbing contractor are you? Are you a service plumbing contractor, commercial plumbing contractor?
A: I’m only a one man operation, I have a subcontractor who I use from time to time and my wife does my books
TPI: How does the payment application process work?
A: If I working for a private client I usually get paid on the spot, if it’s a commercial client the work is invoiced and hopefully I see money in 30 days without making 10 phone calls to get it ( the bigger they the longer it takes).
TPI (Follow-up Comment): This seems to be a problem all over the world. We think the government should pass laws with actual teeth when it comes to payouts for both small and large jobs. **HINT**Each invoice produced comes with an intent to lien the property, if the invoice isn’t paid in 30 days the lien is filed automatically.
TPI: Do your various trades do any prefabrication before sending to the job, or is everything done on the job.
A: On commercial construction it is.
TPI: Can we have a little bit of background information on you? Education, work history etc? Company history?
A: I completed and passed my year 11 studies, I worked in pubs, landscaping, and as a carpenter’s laborer before staring a plumbing apprenticeship 20 years ago and never look back. I can’t tell a lie, there have being times when I’ve though this is a hell of a job what the hell am I doing this for.
TPI (Follow-Up Comment): I’m sure there are quite a few contractors here in the states that feel the same way about the business. You really have to assess your goals, business plan etc. to make sure you’re in the right business.
TPI: Which companies dominate plumbing fixtures and brass i.e. Kohler, Moen, Grohe, etc.? you can expand upon this if you’d like. What valve company is dominant?
A: For fixtures the dominant Australian brands are Caroma and Fowler, also Kolher, Grohe and many other imports. There is also a lot of fly by nighters importing rubbish into Australia and when they need to be repaired the company has gone and you cannot get parts. RMC valves seem to have a strong hold on the domestic market.
TPI (Follow-Up Comment): The above comment should speak volumes to our readers both professional and consumer. If you’re having some plumbing done in your home please ask questions about the brands being used.
Most contractors in the states have dealt with or seen Caroma or Fowler (Caroma) at some point. However for those of you who aren’t familiar with RMC it is a division of Reliance Worldwide a company founded in 1949. They also own Cash-Acme products (Ball Valves, Shark-Bite, etc.) which is a popular brand in the US. For more information on Reliance Worldwide please click the following link www.relianceworldwide.com.au/about.html
We hope you enjoyed our first ever World Plumbing interview. As always thanks for finding us and please come back.