Continuing contractor education

Aug. 1, 2013
Contractors have so many options these days when wanting to learn about a new, cutting-edge product or add a new skill to their repertoire of offerings. From manufacturer training courses to association seminars, there are many resources contractors can tap into to further their industry knowledge and add to their skill sets.
There is always a hands-on training component with each training program Viega offers.

Contractors have so many options these days when wanting to learn about a new, cutting-edge product or add a new skill to their repertoire of offerings. From manufacturer training courses to association seminars, there are many resources contractors can tap into to further their industry knowledge and add to their skill sets.

For starters there are a variety of courses offered by industry manufacturers and associations, such as plumbing, piping, radiant, hydronic,solar photovoltaic, sustainable plumbing, etc. If there is a niche in the mechanical industry a contractor wants to learn about, chances are there is a manufacturer or association that offers a course on it.   

Plumbing, radiant, hydronic courses

Uponor Academy, the factory training center located within the Uponor North America corporate headquarters, Apple Valley, Minn., is an 11,000-sq.ft. teaching and learning hub dedicated to educating professionals in the radiant, plumbing and fire sprinkler industries. Besides housing classrooms, the training center features audio/visual technology and a hands-on applications lab for radiant heating and cooling, fire safety, Ecoflex pre-insulated pipe, and a newly expanded area dedicated to commercial PEX-a plumbing systems.

Customer trainer Steve Swanson demonstrating a sample of Ecoflex® pre-insulated pipe.

This year, Uponor also added a new course on commercial plumbing applications. The course focuses on codes and standards, pipe sizing, unit piping, riser piping, distribution piping, public and service piping, and design and installation practices.

“We are continuing our momentum in the commercial plumbing sector by offering several options for professionals to learn more about Uponor PEX-a piping systems,” says Wes Sisco, training manager at Uponor. “This includes webinars, field training and now factory training with our newly constructed Commercial Plumbing Applications Lab.”

The new Commercial Plumbing Applications Lab features all of Uponor’s products and systems for suspended piping, risers, in-suite and out-of-the-wall plumbing systems to showcase the benefits of the flexible, durable pipe in real-world applications.

“With the housing market downturn, we looked to commercial for ways to supplement our business, and we found there was great opportunity for the solutions our PEX pipe and expansion fittings provided in the commercial arena,” says Sisco. “Plumbing with PEX is still a relatively new application for the commercial arena, so it makes sense for us to add a training course to teach industry professionals about the unique properties and requirements that come along with a PEX plumbing system.”

Training manager Wes Sisco explaining the operation of a radiant heating and cooling manifold inside Uponor's applications lab.

“Our purpose is training; we are here to help the contractors and to introduce them to innovations, which empowers them to be competitive and become more efficient at what they do,” says Steve Swanson, customer trainer at Uponor. “And to reduce the dreaded call back. Education is much cheaper than call backs. Education will build you more customers. Call backs cost you customers. Chances are you will lose the customer when you are called back.”

Besides training contractors, reps and wholesalers, Uponor is also involved with vocational schools and universities. “We do a tremendous amount of work with vocational schools,” says Swanson. “This gives students entry levels into markets they wouldn’t have, giving them an extra leg up when out of school. We also do work with universities and engineering schools too. We go into a school and teach a segment on something specific. For example, when a course is on plumbing we go in and do a part on PEX plumbing or commercial plumbing.” 

“We have always been a strong supporter of the trades industry, and training is at the core of ensuring the trades continue to succeed,” says Sisco.

Another industry manufacturer that believes in educating the contractor is Taco. Taco’s FloPro University (FloPro U) offers contractors in-the-field and factory classes. This year, Taco added the course Residential Hydronics: Advanced Soup to Variable Speed Nuts. The next factory class is October 24-25, Cranston, R.I. And just last year, Taco’s Innovation and Development Center, opened up, in Cranston, R.I., and consists of a two-story 24,037-sq.ft. addition to Taco’s existing offices and factory building. The facility is part of Taco’s 20-year commitment to training, and was conceived around all the different types of training that Taco offers for both residential and commercial trade professionals. 

Taco’s Residential Training/Trade Program Manager John Barba teaches a residential hydronics course.

According to Taco’s Residential Training/Trade Program Manager John Barba, besides the residential hydronics course being offered in Cranston, there are also multiple field training dates scheduled for Fort Collins, Colo.; Denver; Pueblo, Colo.; Fargo N.D.; Northern California, Duluth, Minn.; Chicago and Salt Lake City, among many other locations. In this course, Barba guides contractors through every vital step of designing and installing an efficient, modern residential hydronic system. Like all FloPro Factory Training courses, Residential Hydronics focuses on real-world solution to the problems you encounter daily in the field and offers ample opportunities for hands-on learning, plus plenty of interaction with the instructor and classmates.

At Viega, training contractors is paramount. “Education is key to the success of not only Viega and our business partners, but also to the industry as a whole,” says Jason McKinnon, manager training and technical support. “The evolution of the industry into new technologies and practices for plumbing, heating and piping systems requires that each and every person from installer to designer to salesperson be brought up to speed on the ever-changing products and philosophies within the industry.” 

There is always a hands-on training component with each training program Viega offers. “The course dictates the amount and practice, hands-on for Piping & Controls may include the installation and wiring of components in a live system, whereas Software & Design would have the hands-on experience in our computer lab using the actual software program for creating a design of a system,” explains McKinnon.

Viega’s training facility, located in Nashua, N.H., has permanent hands-on capabilities, yet, Viega trainers do travel to off-site locations. “We prefer to host them in one of our own locations as this is where we are best equipped to ensure the attendees get the most possible out of the course,” says McKinnon. “In our own facility we have permanent hands-on capabilities that far exceed that which can be achieved in a hotel or most other off-site locations.” 

Viega offers a variety of courses on topics for industry newcomers to advanced courses aimed at seasoned veterans of the industry. According to McKinnon, he is seeing a high turnout for courses focusing on the design and installation of radiant heating systems.

Aquatherm also offers an Installer Training Program. Designed for contractors, the program helps installers become proficient in heat fusion techniques. The course offers classroom training along with hands-on experience.

The Aquatherm Training Program offers classroom training along with hands-on experience.

Just recently, a handful of contractors took the Aquatherm Training Program.

Bill Bond, owner of Frontline Plumbing & Design, Aurora, Colo., had taken Aquatherm training previously through his local distributor, Ferguson Enterprises. “The Aquatherm training was awesome, at Ferguson,” says Bond. “We were able to see exactly how it was done and did hands-on, so when we took all the knowledge from that right into the field it was smooth. I would definitely recommend it to anybody that’s even thinking about going into this type of pipe or this type of system.”

Tony Anderson, project coordinator at Frontline Plumbing & Design says, “We came to learn some of the new products, the geothermal side of it and we like to learn all of the new products so we can set ourselves aside from the other contractors, we like to install the new, innovative products and be able to use those in the field.”

Brandon Phelps, project manager at J&S Mechanical Contractors, Draper, Utah, also took the training.

“I wanted to get out of it an idea of what application we could use this product in, because it does seem like it’s coming pretty strong into the industry for a new system,” says Phelps. “Like I said, J&S is an innovative company, we want to be on the front end of things, the front end of good things.”

Water heater manufacturer, Grand Hall USA, offers a two-day installation and service course on Eternal hybrid water heaters. The training facility in Texas opened in October 2012 and provides a hands-on learning experience. Courses at the training facility are offered twice a month. Regional managers for Eternal also travel to wholesalers to teach classes.

Contractors at Grand Hall USA's installation and service course.

"The courses at the training facility offer a comparison of different products and there are dummy units available for contractors to build and reassemble the products in different scenarios," explains Chris Bernier, national field manager, Grand Hall USA. "The facility is constantly changing; we already have plans to upgrade it. Our thought process on training is take the sales pitch out of it and make the training completely knowledge based."

Solar training

Contractors interested in learning about solar heating systems, should consider courses by SolarLogic, a privately-held, solar hydronic technology company headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“The majority of people that come to our full-day trainings are heating contractors that specialize in hydronics and plumbing contractors,” says Fred Milder, CEO of SolarLogic. “Architects, builders and the occasional homeowner also come to our trainings. The basic training, which is an all-day classroom course covering system design and control, is focused on our approach and our products, and is for everybody, no matter the level of experience.”

Contractors taking SolarLogic’s two-hour introductory course.

Milder continues, “Our one to two hour introductory classes, which we often do at conferences, use case studies and real-time, on-line logging in to systems in the field.  When we do trainings at conferences, we adapt the training curricula to the conference, so all of our trainings and presentations are individualized and based on the interests of our audience. We run an introduction webinar about once every six weeks and this month we are trying out our advanced course in an on-line format.”

“We travel to many conferences and symposiums to present papers and discuss solar thermal heating design and control,” says Claudia Pavel, director of sales and marketing, “so people don’t have to travel far to take a training or attend a presentation.” Bristol Stickney, Chief Technical Officer, Milder and Pavel all have extensive experience in the classroom comprising teaching of professional courses, continuing education and college.

Associations, organizations  

Besides manufacturers, contractors can also go to associations and organizations for education. For starters there is the Solar Energy International (SEI). SEI has been dedicated to hands-on labs, online solar photovoltaic training, and renewable energy education. SEI is one of the oldest and largest in the country, having more than 21,000 professionals enroll in its programs since its inception. The Solar Professionals Certificate Program, launched by SEI, is an expansion of a previously successful Colorado-based grant program to fully serve a national and international audience of solar professionals.

According to SEI’s Interim Executive Director Kathryn Swartz, the intent of the SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program is to take participants to a higher level of education in the solar industry. This program offers a variety of different specialties to pick from, including residential and commercial photovoltaic systems, battery-based photovoltaic systems, solar business and technical sales, international and developing world applications, renewable energy applications, and solar professional’s trainer of trainers. For more information on SEI, including training offerings, go to

Another resource for contractors wanting to gain more knowledge about water conservation is Green Plumbers USA, a training and accreditation program for plumbers, inspectors, architects, and other building officials wanting to learn about the environment and public health.

The program focuses on changing consumer and plumbing behavior through the use of energy efficient and water‐saving technologies. In 2011, the rights to training was licensed to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.  

Green Plumbers training consists of five courses in environmental and technical issues, including Climate Care, Caring For Our Water, Solar Hot Water, Water Efficient Technology, and an Inspection Report Service. For more information Green Plumbers USA, go to

Other associations offering contractors training include, but are not limited to, the American Fire Sprinkler Association; Midwest Renewable Energy Association; Air Conditioning Contractors of America; Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute; Hydronics Institute; American Society of Plumbing Engineers; Heating Air-Conditioning, Refrigeration Distributors Intl.; HVAC Excellence; International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials; International Code Council; Mechanical Contractors Association of America; Midwest Renewable Energy Association; National Association of Oil and Energy Service Professionals; North American Technician Excellence (NATE); National Comfort Institute Inc.; PHCC Educational Foundation; Plumbing Manufacturers International; and Radiant Professionals Alliance.

In upcoming issues, CONTRACTOR and Green Mechanical Contractor will continue to cover contractor training. If you are a manufacturer, association or organization that would like to be included in upcoming articles, please e-mail Candace Roulo, senior editor, at [email protected].

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