Don’t Shy Away From Pointing Out Shoddy Craftsmanship

When you encounter poorly performed plumbing work on a job, use it as an opportunity to educate customers

Don’t Shy Away From Pointing Out Shoddy Craftsmanship

Anthony Pacilla

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Recently I went to a house that had a few significant issues.

A kitchen sink drain, with no trap, ran down a stairwell doubling as a hand railing and finally terminated onto the bare concrete floor near a floor drain. The first-floor bathtub was piped on the other side of the stairwell using 2-inch well piping also terminating directly onto the concrete floor.

As I walked to the far side corner, I heard a whoosh sound and bang: Raw sewage came flying out of a cut cast-iron closet elbow onto the floor. As the person upstairs ran water to wash their hands, the water from the hand-washing washed the recently flushed waste down to a 6-inch clay hub floor sink (for lack of a better term).

As you can imagine, my eyes were wide open just as yours might be right now. I was on the hunt for other goodies I could find. Well piping ran everything in giant loops, old cut-off waste stacks with a series of well piping and bullhead tees tying into them packed with a ton of oakum (only oakum). 

Worse yet there was a lone 1-inch PVC line coming down from what appeared to be the second-floor bathtub. It turned out to be connected to the upside-down and backward ABS drum trap setup that was rigged up, but I found something even more enjoyable. The tub spout was backfiring into the wall and leaking down the backside of the tub. As I ran water and watched where the water went, I heard a drip from below. As I looked down, I saw a large PVC pan like the ones HVAC guys use for attic installs. 

One tenant said, “I forgot to tell you. I had guy and his buddy come here and install those pans (there were actually two down there) because they couldn't find where the water leak was coming from. So they took the ceiling down below and installed those pans, and piped them down to the basement stairway. But I saw them put the pans in and I swear they used glue.”

As I went back downstairs, the second tenant finally woke up for work and I explained who I was. The man didn't seem to care that there was a stranger in the house. He was concerned about going to a “job” that he and the upstairs tenant were working on. He asked me if I was a real plumber. I told him that I was a licensed master plumber and he replied, “Oh great! Kevin and I — I'm not going to lie — we are both fresh off house arrest, and we have a few plumbing jobs lined up.” He pulled out a 5-foot piece of 1/2-inch PVC waterline that had one of those cheap three-part unions in the middle. He said, “We spent all day yesterday trying to get this thing off, but, hey, the owner we are working for paid us for four hours labor each since we charge a lot less than a real plumber and we were really working hard on it. What kind of pliers do you think could get this thing off?”

When I went to give the building owner the bad news, the tenant began to ask me more questions about three other jobs they got themselves into. I didn’t give him any information at all and explained that there is a wall between the information I have in my head and me telling the answer. And the key to open that gate is $100 to 200 an hour. 

It made me think, though. Is this what the plumbing repair world has come to? Dodging inspectors, not pulling permits, landlords paying to have things done 12 times in fear of the bill of a real plumber. This along with the ease of installation using PEX, push-on fittings, and plastic DWV piping makes it so that anyone with a can of glue thinks he is a plumber. People have no clue that it’s about how it gets installed — the placement, orientation, and batting order that the plumbing goes in.

There have always been these types of hacks in the plumbing world, but with big box stores popping up on every street corner and the internet, it is starting to cut into all of our profits and, more importantly, causing significant health hazards that go left unaccounted for since no permit has been pulled.

So what can we do to be more proactive? Has our badge of honor and purpose to be proactive and protect civilians from themselves come to an end? Do we become a reactionary force? I think not. Every time you see a plumbing injustice, bring the homeowner in and show them up close and personal, explaining what damage it has caused them. They may not care, but they also may think twice about getting a hack for their next project. 

About the Author

Anthony Pacilla is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has 23 years' experience in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and has a bachelor’s in business and economics from Thiel College.


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