What about science and engineering?

April 3, 2012
We’re selling real products that solve real problems, products that save energy, water and money.

The Plumbing Council of Chicagoland promoted itself for years by running a television commercial showing a classroom full of plumbers learning calculus. It reinforced the message that what we do is science and engineering. Sure there are plenty of guys who guess, the type who walk across the street from the customer’s house and see how many fingers it takes to cover it. Three fingers is a three section boiler or three tons of air conditioning. The smart people used the System Syzer created by Bell & Gossett’s Gil Carlson or use ACCA’s Manual J.

I think about all the numbers that Dave Yates runs, both on the design side and the financial end of things, when he’s putting together a proposal for a customer. I think about the engineering work done by Bill Gauley and John Koeller when they MaP test toilets for flushing efficiency. I think about how the Mechanical Contractors Association of America partners with engineering schools such as the University of Nebraska at Lincoln or the four finalists in this year’s Student Chapter Competition — California State University at Sacramento; Illinois State University; Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Southern Polytechnic State University. I think about the plumbing manufacturer’s lab that I toured filled with PhD engineers.

It’s all numbers. We’re not winging it here. We’re not making this up. On an annual basis between 2000 and 2010, the cost of fuel oil has increased by 11% per year, propane by 9.4% a year, natural gas by 3.7% and electricity by 3.5%.

One of my favorite authors, Jerry Yudelson, points out in his book, “Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis,” only 3% of the water on earth is fresh water and two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. In the past few years several areas of the country have suffered crippling droughts. In Texas the drought has been so severe that one town had to have water trucked in.

This industry can address those problems; we have all sorts of ways to save energy, save water, and save money.

I recently got a book in the mail from the conservative Heartland Institute entitled “Roosters of the Apocalypse.” In addition to being one of the funnier book titles I’ve seen lately, the point of the book is that we’ve been wasting our time. The blurb on the back cover of the book begins by stating, “Environmentalism is one of the biggest and most successful social movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.”

That’s right, it says “social movement,” like fair trade or the Tea Party or animal rights. Any societal effort has to have a social movement as part of it because people, acting collectively, drive anything forward, whether it is veganism or green mechanical contracting. What struck me was the implication that what we do is divorced from science and engineering.

So all of you people who spend 13-hour days in hotel ballrooms debating the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code are wasting your time. Men and women who participate in the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials’ Green Technical Committee? Go home. Grundfos Pumps, that link you Tweeted about “Selling Geothermal as a Hedge Against Rising Energy Prices”? That was a waste of 140 characters. All you kids from the University of Maryland or Purdue who competed in the Solar Decathlon? That was two years of your lives that you’ll never get back. That Wisconsin company that donated plumbing fixtures and fittings to Solar Decathlon houses for Purdue, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio State, University of Illinois, and others? Kohler, what were you thinking? Our Contractor of the Year, John Smith, the Arizona Green Plumber? He’s spinning his wheels. Smith and my guy, Matt Erickson from C.J. Erickson Plumbing? Forget about all those Caroma HETs that you’re selling.

The issue has become so politicized that a guy I met who builds Net Zero houses in western Virginia who can’t use the word “green.” He talks about energy savings.

We are not, however, being social here, gathering over cookies and coffee to talk about our hopes and dreams. We’re selling real products that solve real problems, products that save energy, water and money.

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