It happened again… On February 19 a five-alarm fire at an apartment complex in Hempstead, N.Y., leaving nearly 450 people without a roof over their heads. This is a direct quote from the news report:
“Nassau County Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael Uttaro says firefighters found plumbers tools in the building in a vacant apartment where the fire is believed to have started on the second floor. He said the fire may have been started by plumbers using torches.”
Wow, torches are expensive!
These type of headlines have been popping up for decades, but I just can’t for the life of me understand why we are still reading them today. Why are plumbers and pipefitters still using open flames in old buildings and putting lives and livelihoods at risk?
Here is another headline from just a few weeks ago: Fire in three-story Plainfield home caused by plumber sweating pipes, officials say.
Again, I can’t help but think that torches are expensive. Especially when you start comparing them to a $1,000-$2,000 press tool and all the headlines they have caused in the last 15 years since we first started using them.
So obviously I am a fan of copper press systems, and I have written about it on my website and on social media. I have owned a couple tools for a few years now and having been self-employed with and without the press system I can honestly say there are many reasons why everyone should be a fan of the technology.
Let it be known that I am not making light of the fact that people have lost their homes or may have been hurt in fires caused by an accidental fire. I’m just pointing out that, in those situations, and if soldering were not the only method/option to complete the job, that pressing likely would not have burned down those properties.
Having shared this opinion to the masses, I have no doubt had the opportunity to talk with and hear from those with the opposite opinion when it comes to pressing piping systems. The majority of those in opposition share their feelings of how it “takes no skill to pull a trigger” and “soldering is a skill and without it all craftsmanship is lost on the job.” Really?! No skill is needed and all craftsmanship is lost if I don’t use my torch and subject an 80-year-old house to an untimely demise?
I’ve tried taking many different approaches in response to skilled tradespersons telling me I “must have no pride in my work” for choosing to forgo the flame and instead pull a trigger. I’ve tried explaining how the higher cost copper press fittings are practically a non-factor when comparing the time saved and higher profits in my pocket.
I’ve explained how, after 10 years of teaching apprenticeship classes that, I still teach new apprentices how to properly assemble and solder copper tubing and fittings because we will always have the need for the skill. None of this seems to make my side of the argument any stronger, considering every time I put the discussion out there again there seems to be plenty of opposition coming at me with the same flat arguments about skill and expense.
So, having explained why I chose to be more profitable and the safety factor of press systems over flame, I guess I’d like to touch on the skill and craftsmanship topic once more.
To those contractors, journeyman, apprentices, onlookers and armchair quarterbacks who insist the downfall and final nail in the coffin of true skilled pipe trades workers will be the press fitting system I have a few questions for you:
Do you think it takes a skill no mere-mortal can obtain to solder a copper joint properly?
The importance you place on this exact act of everyday job performance is so high that I began to think I might possess some sort of super human strength and power. I guess anyone could watch a 3.5 minute YouTube video on the techniques and steps of proper joint assembly, but would anyone be able to pull it off on the job? Not according to those who think pressing be damned.
Staying one step ahead and increasing efficiency because of modern technology says more to one's character in today's business world than holding onto to the myth that knowing how to solder or, even knowing how to solder well is a skill only beholden by the greatest craftsman and women ever to set foot on the jobsite.
Finally, the argument for the lack of craftsmanship on all jobs that have not been soldered on. On my website mechanical-hub.com, and on the pages of this very magazine, we share photos and articles of jobsites built by world-class craftsmen and women. These jobs almost always contain piping systems employing the most modern of materials and joining techniques. The days of welding carbon steel pipe for commercial distribution headers are all but entirely eliminated and have been replaced with PP-R heat fusion and copper/steel press systems.
Does anyone arguing the lack of craftsmanship think for a second that investors and owners would throw millions of dollars of capital investments into a building contain the least amount of skill level and pride needed to open the doors and commence business? No, they wouldn’t even consider that. Instead they are demanding the best of the best in materials and installation. Even they know that old technology like soldering and threading and welding just won’t hold a candle to the industry's modern materials replacements.
I just cannot agree with the opposition on this subject. Not when my competition is ready to push me out of the way at their earliest convenience if I were to take longer on my jobs. The market tends to weed out those who are not willing to change; those persons not willing to accept the advancement of plumbing and heating systems. I think it’s time to put this argument to rest. I’ve said my piece, you’ve said yours. The industry has moved in the direction of change, so it’s either time to get on board or get out of the way.
Eric Aune started Aune Plumbing LLC in 2004 and specializes in residential and small commercial hydronic heating systems and service. He is a graduate of Dunwoody College of Technology and Plumbers Local 15, Minneapolis Apprenticeship Training Program, and is currently a United Association Instructor and teaches for the Plumbers Local 15 JATC. Aune is also founding partner and vice president of mechanical-hub.com. Contact him at: [email protected].