We all know that contracting is such a ruthlessly cutthroat business that we literally try to save a penny or two here or a nickel or two there every chance we get. We have to save money if we're going to survive. When we were younger, most of us were trained to think like the old SeeBees (construction battalions) who used to say, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do.” That said, there is a huge difference between being thrifty and being cheap or, more importantly, between being a “saver” and a being “hoarder.”
If you have relatives who were born before 1929 and who grew up and/or lived through The Great Depression, you know what I'm talking about. They might have exhibited certain behavior throughout their lives. Such behavior might include almost perpetually cleaning and reusing aluminum foil sheets until they would wear thin or tear; keeping and adding to huge collections of things like bread ties, rubber bands and paper clips; or keeping collections of assorted broken appliances in a shed or garage for years “just in case.”
Such behavior basically is harmless and only mildly eccentric, even when extreme. Yet the mentalities of hoarding and cheapness, as opposed to saving and thriftiness, can be downright dangerous if applied to your project management principles and practices.
If you think re-using salvaged parts that haven't been properly reconditioned and were taken from condemned or abandoned systems from past jobs is going to save you money in the long run, you're wrong. For one thing, that's fraud. Secondly, if an old part has been used for years as part of a working system, then it only has a small percentage of its effectively safe lifecycle left. Of course, if you're truly cheap and don't mind taking the chance of getting caught installing old parts as new, then bully for you. Your ethics are your ethics.
If you think you're actually saving money by not furnishing your crews with the proper tools and accessories to install their systems, then not only are you cheep, but unwise as well. One of the main keys to consistent bottom-line job profitability is having the right person who is prepared to do their job in the moment. That person needs to be paid a correct salary and have the right tools, parts or components to do a proper installation in a safe way.
If you think that by not furnishing your crews with federally required safety equipment your actually saving money rather than risking skyrocketing insurance premiums once you actually do have an accident, then you're a better actuary than I am.
We all have our junk piles and backrooms full of old and obsolete parts, fixtures and equipment. We keep these for many reasons, not the least of which is to have that one unavailable part when we need it to complete a job or make a customer happy, whether it's tomorrow or 10 years from now. When I preach against hoarding, I'm not talking about that.
Hoarding involves the belief that the cost of time involved in saving every conceivable scrap of anything is worth the very real price of the labor involved in saving it. Saving, on the other hand, recognizes that the cost of the accrued time for you and your crews is worth more than the actual cost of the part that couldn't be found until hours after it was needed. Hoarding is saving nearly everything because almost everything has some monetary value. Saving means taking advantage of recycling facilities that pay you cash for such scrap. Saving involves minimizing waste wherever possible. Hoarders incorrectly think that there never is any waste, only smaller re-usables.
So, friend, think “green,” think smart, act smarter and always be professional in the way you pay attention to detail, but don't be obsessed or consumed by it.
Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating, and plumbing. You may contact him via email at [email protected].