Residential construction is increasing in the Denver metro area as homebuilders develop large tracts of land for homes. Englewood, Colo.-based C&T Plumbing’s focus on new residential construction enables its 47 field plumbers to work at a steady pace.

Finding success in residential new construction

Nov. 9, 2017
This Denver-area plumbing contractor installs high-quality plumbing and water-heating products in every home it works on.

Colorado is booming, and more specifically, Denver is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation. So says the Denver Post, which notes that the Centennial State’s population is expanding at a rate of 1.59 percent per year, double that of the national average. 

Residential new construction is climbing in Denver’s suburbs, keeping pace with the influx of people who’ve recently decided to call Colorado home. Mid- to high-end tract home builders are providing beautiful, modern, energy-efficient living spaces at a staggering pace. The subcontractors who’ve proven their worth and have the manpower to handle the tempo aren’t in need of work.

“We're crazy busy from about mid-August until the end of the year because of the year-end fiscal closing of the homebuilders we work with,” says Todd “Woody” Woodford of C&T Plumbing, Englewood, Colo.

A family-owned plumbing and hydronic business with 49 employees (47 in the field), C&T Plumbing began in 1999 — named for Woodford and his sister, Cheryl Day — with a focus on residential new construction. Their father, Craig Woodford, owned Beautyware Plumbing Supply, so the siblings were brought up in the plumbing industry. “We've been in plumbing since we were little kids, running around my dad's warehouse, pulling fittings, pulling water heaters,” he recalls.

Woody Woodford had assumed he would work with his father once he graduated from college. However, Craig Woodford sold his business to Westburne Plumbing Supply in 1995. Eventually, Beautyware Plumbing Supply became a subsidiary of Ferguson.

With the sale of Beautyware, where his father continued to work for a while, and the prohibition of family members working together, Woodford decided to become a plumber. After five years of training, he received his Master’s Plumbing license. At that time, Craig Woodford offered to give the siblings money to start their own business.

Eighteen years later, the business is booming, except for a brief period in 2008 and 2009 when the market tumbled and the company picked up some commercial and service work to remain busy. C&T Plumbing services the systems it installs but only for two years. Aside from a few large custom homes each year, the bulk of the company’s work comes from a number of major tract-builders in the area: Brookfield Residential, Cal Atlantic, Shea and Wonderland Homes.

Day handles the financial and customer service end of the business, as well as keeping in contact with area homebuilders, while Woodford controls all the field work, as well as materials orders and bid preparation. “We've got it divided up perfectly and fairly and it's worked for a long time,” Woodford says. “It's good working with my sister.”

C&T Plumbing keeps its employee number at 49 because of tax considerations regarding the Affordable Care Act, but Woodford says he has the work to hire more people. “We're big, but we're small,” he notes. “Our guys out in the field have told us we could easily have 70, 75 employees. Many do after-hours piece work because the work is there.”

About 35 to 40 employees have been with C&T for 10 to 15 years, Woodford says. “We have really good superintendents and manpower out in the field, and try not to have much turnover. In the seven lead guys I do have, we haven't had any turnover in 10 years,” he adds.

Going tankless

While C&T Plumbing focuses on residential plumbing, the company does install radiant floor heating and snow-melt systems for large custom homes up in the mountains. For those projects, Craig Woodford does the design and installation. “He does a lot of radiant boiler work for us,” Woody Woodford explains. “He loves messing around with boilers and other hydronic equipment.”

Like the general contractors who’re able to move rapidly from structure to structure courtesy of standardized floor plans, maintaining the highest quality while plumbing a home quickly is made easier through consistent use of the same products. Wonderland Homes uses all Kohler faucets and Kohler china (the fixtures, toilets, sinks and shower bases) in all its homes. Other builders prefer Moen or Delta. C&T Plumbing installs all these brands and uses Uponor Wirsbo PEX tubing for all the water piping.

When it comes to tankless water heaters, C&T Plumbing had little experience until two of the construction companies it works with, Wonderland Homes and Brookfield Residential, had standardized on a domestic hot water system that worked as intended only some of the time. 

“Americans like their water pressure; they love having that shower head just beat you with water,” Woodford notes. “They don't like turning the shower on and seeing just a small trickle of water coming out. Our constant feedback from customers would be ‘Turn up our pressure, turn up our pressure, I don't have enough pressure coming out of my shower head.’ And every single one of these new homes has a huge soaking tub in the master bathroom.  Despite the capacity of the water heater, it simply couldn’t fill the tub quickly enough. The water seemed to cool almost as quickly as the tub filled.”

At that point, Wonderland specified the Navien NPE-240A tankless water heater for an entire new development. The houses started in the high $400,000 range.  All had large floorplans, luxurious bathtubs, four or more restrooms, and dual showerheads were an option in the master bath. 

The high-efficiency, 199,900 Btu/hr. water heaters feature a dual stainless-steel heat exchanger and a 10-to-1 turndown ratio. After the first few units were installed, the C&T technicians provided feedback. The unit was easy to install with intuitive controls, and the Navien tech support was good. 

A few dozen of the units were installed before the first home in the neighborhood was occupied. As houses began filling up with owners and the C&T phone never rang with callbacks, Woodford started to believe they had found the solution to their hot water challenge.  Brookfield Residential followed suit quickly, in a development with homes at roughly the same price point. 

C&T has installed 600 Navien NPE-240A tankless water heaters over the last three years, and the phone still isn’t ringing with complaints. 

“With all those units in the field, we have received one callback,” Woodford recalls. “A homeowner had stacked lawn furniture around the outside vent.  After a big winter storm, the snow accumulated on the furniture enough to entirely cover the vent and shut the water heater off. It was a quick service call.”

Woodford admits he’s not an eco-conscious guy. But when it makes sense for the wallet, it makes sense to do the research.

“Everybody's trying to figure out how to save money,” he says. “A 50-gallon tank water heater sitting in a house probably fires up and heats water four or times when no one is at home. Why are we using that gas and electricity when we don’t need to? When people can see the difference in their utility bill, they’ll understand why they should install a tankless water heater. When it calls for water, that's when it heats. When it's not calling for water, it doesn't heat.”

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