NoLaughingMatter.jpg David Meter
An installation as bad as this one is nothing to laugh at.

No Laughing Matter

One of my readers recently sent in a picture of a water heater so badly vented it had to be flooding the basement with carbon monoxide.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much crossover there is between the print edition of CONTRACTOR Magazine, and our online home contractormag.com. I’d like to think that everyone who reads the ink-and-paper version also visits us occasionally on their laptop or smartphone to get breaking news, online exclusives, or maybe just for updates to our Calendar of P-H-C Training and Events.

But the realist in me knows that some people like to “experience” the magazine one way, and some another. Which means some of you reading this may not be aware of our Plumbing and Heating Nightmares. They’re a gallery – actually a series of galleries – that we run online and are constantly updating.

They feature awful plumbing. Hack jobs, DIY projects gone very wrong, flat-out screw-ups. Sometimes the installer does not seem to understand that water follows the rule of gravity and flows downwards. Sometimes it’s as though people were mesmerized by the creative possibilities of PVC and solvent, or of braided steel hose. Sometimes it’s a wrench for a faucet handle, or a bottle for a showerhead or a toilet installed in such a way that the bathroom door won’t close.

And they’re always popular, I think for two reasons. First, the same impulse that makes us slow down on the freeway when we see a traffic accident. Just how bad is it? The same thing has people clicking to the next slide and the next. Just how bad, they wonder, will that next picture be?

He did not install it properly, didn’t convert it to propane, didn’t perform a combustion analysis and had his vent fail on him.

Second, incompetence is somehow funny. Especially when we’re a step or two removed from it. I mean, you don’t have to use that clean-out that’s right behind the fuse box. You won’t be getting a call back from the homeowner about that sink that’s going to be clogged and stinking all the time.

But sometimes those nightmares have very real nightmarish consequences. One of my readers recently sent in a picture of a water heater so badly vented it had to flooding the basement with carbon monoxide.

Just looking at it reminded me of a tragic situation one of my regular columnists recently told me about. A homeowner who tried to install his own mod-con boiler. He did not install it properly, didn’t convert it to propane, didn’t perform a combustion analysis and had his vent fail on him. The upshot? A home filled with CO and three people dead as a result.

No one should have to die because of, say, a bathroom remodel.

So yes, the Nightmares are fun and all, but every so often one comes along and reminds me that plumbing is serious stuff. That sanitary drains keep people healthy. That venting to code keeps people alive.

So plumbers out there with regular customers, why not offer a complementary annual safety inspection? Simple things like checking the water pressure in the system, checking the toilet tank for leaks, and making sure those water heating appliances are working correctly.

It will be a nice thing to offer your regulars, a good point of contact that could pay off in the coming years, and it will maybe – just maybe – make some people stop and appreciate their plumbing (and their plumber) every once in a while.

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