Next time showcase professional plumbers

Aug. 1, 2011
So, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I cringed when Hansen ran a show to expose plumbers and pretty much painted us all with a very broad brush.

Chris Hansen has made a career out of busting Internet predators' intent on meeting underage children on his "Dateline" undercover hidden-camera shows. The predators arrive hopeful for an encounter they think they've prearranged online only to be confronted by Hansen who has "the goods" on them with hard copies of their Internet chatter. You want these predators busted, and it's more than OK for Hansen to paint them all with the same broad brush. They are, after all, guilty as the sins they had hoped to commit and there's little, if any difference from one pervert to the next. So, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I cringed when Hansen ran a show to expose plumbers and pretty much painted us all with a very broad brush. To view the episode of the show, go to: http://www.clicker.com/tv/dateline-nbc/the-hansen-files-part-4-1776333/

The set-up, in case you missed the show, was an electric water heater in an attached garage. Hansen hired a real plumber to create a leak by loosening the copper-flex tube's connection at the hot-water outlet. OK, I get the use of thin-walled copper flex-tubes to minimize install costs, but they give me the impression the original installer lacked the skills to solder and provide a professional-looking installation. But Hansen should be told we professional plumbers would never use adjustable pliers, as he did, to tighten that soft-brass fitting! Teeth marks Hansen — teeth marks — use the right tool for the job or leave it alone!

Cadres of so-called plumbers were paraded before the hidden cameras to clearly show they did not bother to investigate the source of the leak. The cameras also captured the plumbers striving to sell the homeowner a new water heater. Not just one black eye for professional plumbers, but a matched set with a few busted teeth added for good measure! Gee wiz Chris, couldn't find a few butt-crack plumbers to showcase too?

I couldn't decide who I was madder at. Hansen for somehow finding the posers who were passing themselves off as plumbers or Hansen for (deliberately?) seeking out such sterling examples of contractors intent on ripping off consumers while not showing us even one example of a professional plumber who was honest and represented those of us who, I firmly believe, are in the majority. But when you control the content, you can always get what you want.

There was a time, just a few decades ago, when you could not pass yourself off as a plumber unless you had passed muster by serving a rigorous apprenticeship and passed tests to prove you were worthy to wear the mantle of apprentice, journeyman or master plumber. Where today you cannot possibly get away with a self declaration of attorney, doctor or architect, virtually anyone can call themselves a plumber or advertise for doing plumbing work with little or no fear of being prosecuted. Call it water over the dam or under the bridge: long story short — that horse has left the barn and there's no chance of corralling the beast.

What can we professional plumbers do? Make sure the bar is raised high, much higher than those who would claim our title while striving to steal our work. We could turn in those who operate under-the-radar working without a legitimate plumbing license or sans permits, but that too often falls on deaf ears because of the associated costs to prosecute those who have no license to suspend, and local municipalities are already cash strapped. If ever there was a case — as Hansen's expose has clearly illustrated — of let-the-buyer-beware, folks posing as professional plumbers could serve as the poster children.

After my blood pressure calmed down, I got to thinking about Hansen's show and how we would have approached that call. Gravity is in play, so naturally we all would have started at the high-points — the inlet/outlet where we would have discovered Hansen's pseudo set-up.

We would have used an adjustable wrench and not pliers with teeth gouging the soft brass nut to tighten the fitting, but I digress! And here's where things would have become interesting and would have starkly revealed there is a real value in hiring a professional plumber: we would have worked our way from top to bottom inspecting each of the likely (and available for inspection) suspects where the tank is factory penetrated: anode rod plug (older models); relief valve tapping; upper/lower elements; and boiler drain port in order to rule out any other potential leak sites. And, if the insulation was soaked, we would have suggested a follow-up call to ensure we'd actually found and repaired the leak and that would rule out, or in, a pin-hole in the tank.

Hoping Hansen will showcase a pro instead of a rip-off is as likely as seeing pigs fly because they who control the camera can edit out the boring professionals, so that their audience sees only the underbelly of any given trade.

Hey Chris, next time call us anytime, seriously! We're the pros who have saved more lives in all of recorded history than doctors and the combined advances in medicine.

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