BY ROBERT P. MADER of CONTRACTOR’s staff
BENICIA, CALIF. — Imagine being a 17-year-old girl with a life threatening condition that makes it impossible to manage simple everyday tasks such as taking a shower alone. That was the case with Jhyrve (pronounced Ger-Vay) Sears, who has a rare genetic condition called Krabbe disease.
Now, thanks to community-minded Benicia Plumbing and ABC-TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” she has a special double-compartment, wheelchair-friendly shower that she can use without assistance — allowing her the freedom and privacy every young woman needs. Built from the ground up, the entire house was completed within a four-day span in December. The show aired Jan. 23.
“It was a hectic work site,” William Cawley, CEO and founder of Benicia Plumbing, told CONTRACTOR. “About 15 of our craftsmen completed the plumbing for the entire house over that weekend. Plus, we were working alongside lots of other subcontractors. The original house had two bathrooms but the new version needed five, complete with first-class Kohler fixtures.
“Jhyrve now has a wheelchair-friendly shower with handrails, adjustable body sprays and a seat. She has complete control and can enter and use her shower with ease. Many of the faucets in the house are wheelchair accessible, too, with electronic sensors to turn them on and off.”
Benicia Plumbing helped with the plumbing and connections for the home’s lower-level, indoor therapeutic pool, which helps Jhyrve’s strength training. Equipped with a pump that creates a constant strong flow, Jhyrve now has the ability to strengthen her muscles by swimming in place against a current. The pool features the convenience of a hydro-lift, which allows her to be raised and lowered into the water.
Plenty of Hollywood moments occurred on the show, Cawley noted. For instance, on the show it looks as though the designers are coming up with ideas right before the house is either remodeled or torn down. It does not work that way in real life.
ABC-TV first nailed down Cawley’s builder, Dave Sanson of DeNova Homes. Sanson told the producers he could do the job if he got his electrical, sheet metal and plumbing subs on board. They all agreed and plans were drawn up three weeks before construction began on the Sears house. The Martinez, Calif., Building Department approved the plans then, although Cawley noted that changes were made as close as two days before construction began.
It was a tough site. The house was a complete teardown, located on a hillside at the end of a dead-end street. Because of the steep hill, the foundation was 30 ft. below the street. DeNova obtained the use of a neighbor’s backyard as a staging area.
The opening scene of the show took about three hours to shoot, Cawley said, and demolition began about 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 10. His plumbers started to rough in the slab piping at 5 p.m. as the builder poured quick-drying hot mud, and they topped out the rough-in at 2 a.m. They set and finished the fixtures the following Monday. The house was turned over Tuesday morning and the designers started putting finishing touches on the interior.
Benecia Plumbing had 15 plumbers onsite and the other subs had people bumping into one another too. Cawley noted that nobody wanted to cause a delay but there was a lot of waiting around. The Martinez Building Department had an inspector onsite around the clock; the city waived the permit fees. Sanson slept about two hours the first couple days. Normally a six-month job, the house was built in four days and nine hours.
Benicia Plumbing was not alone in its efforts. As members of the Northern California Mechanical Contractors Association, the company knew it would have plenty of industry support.
“When Benicia Plumbing was chosen for the project, we jumped at the chance to help fund their participation, along with United Association Locals 343, 342 and 159,” said Scott Strawbridge, executive vice president of NCMCA. “Close to $80,000 in time, expertise and materials went into the plumbing for that project. MCA local affiliates and union locals nationwide have a history of helping those less fortunate in their communities, and we were proud to be a part of helping the Sears family.”
Kohler donated all the plumbing fixtures, Uponor Wirsbo supplied the AquaPEX plumbing pipe and Omegaflex donated the TracPipe flexible gas piping. Cawley said that State Industries donated the water heaters. Other companies that contributed to the plumbing for the Sears home included General Plumbing Supply Co., Walnut Creek, Calif.; Slakey Bros., Fairfield, Calif.; R.V. Cloud Co., Campbell, Calif.; and Rubenstein Supply Co., Oakland, Calif.
“The key to success for this project was that the people were extremely organized and proficient, with enough manpower to pull it all together,” Sanson said. “I knew I could count on Benicia Plumbing to be an integral part of the team. I’ve worked with them exclusively for over 15 years because of the expertise of their union workforce. And, they are always willing to help the community.”
The firm has a history of helping others and, in fact, the company motto is, “People taking care of people.”
Benicia Plumbing has also worked on numerous Habitat for Humanity houses.