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Ramona's Plumber | Greg Chick

Currently a trainer for Green Plumbers USA and a plumbing instructor at ABC Training Academy (4 year Apprenticeship Journeyman Program), Greg Chick has done all phases of solar thermal plumbing service repair for both new construction and remodels.

Comments

tv crew

Home Improvement on Television

I will start out saying, I have no TV, nor have seen current shows. I did see some shows 10 yrs. ago and the same probably exists. Entertainment is the product with an educational twist. This is better than TV w/o educational benefits. Having said that, the shows I have seen are honest, realistic and ethical. Too often better than "Reality" in contracting, as consumers often learn. Sad but true, so my words of caution are TV first ! Having produced over 40 Plumbing videos, I will say that a video is far different than the real thing, but I am not willing to offer an opinion on which one is better. The learning how, is most different than a slick video, so I suggest a multitude of different viewings on any one trade before suggesting you have anything more than a glimpse. The 30 min. shows are the work of a couple hundred man hours of effort. The "wow, I could do that" is the real message too often. "Plug n play" can be a dangerous concept, The shows are sponsored by interests looking to sell product, so keep that in mind. Having said that, I say enjoy, and build using sustainable design. Greg Chick LEED AP.
caution

Red Flags for Professionals

Having been a Licensed Contractor about 40 yrs. I have not only been in partnerships, but had to deal with other tradspersons. No one thing should be over weighted in evaluation of anything, but some issues are screaming indicators. One area of indication is, the organization of the work vehicles. The tool boxes, the tools themselves. I will not work with a tradesperson who has a pickup truck piled up in back. Another big issue I know to be of value, is if the person has continued education. Plumbing is chock full of emerging technologies that require skills beyond just learning on the customers nickel. The certifications are normally from trade associations or mfgrs. Such participation is signature of excellence, and or proof of skills. I am not referring to marketing programs, not to knock them, but I am about trade skills, not sales. If a quality skill exist, the sales will follow, quality is rare. The minimum is what code requires, the optimum is my school of training.... I try not to focus on things to be scared of, but instead what to look for, having said that, checking legal issues and crime history is becoming a pre requisite. So, it's a given. I think the sales person is one thing and the person who comes to do the work is another. This point is attached to the entire staff. I as well do not feel it rude to ask to interview the workers first before contracting to have a project done! Meeting the team at the shop and seeing a mornings launching of crew is valuable in a real understanding of who they are. Does the company require drug testing of all personel ? Legal residence required? The standard brand name of plumbing fixtures is no guarantee of anything, nor is a "Lifetime warranty", I offer a warranty that if ever it is clear that installation was not "best", I warranty it. I as well include labor warranty to match all mfgr. time durations as well. If it was done correctly, time need not be a loop hole to liability. These are points that are more real than claims of name recognition. Most product failure that I see is either wrong application of the product, or poor installation. Back to continued education! Good communication is paramount, happy customers are a must. Is there a statement of promise to the customer ?
resources1

Best Resources for Home Improvement Professionals

There is no one source, there is a long list of speciality products only found at specialty suppliers. Local sources are best for china and large items. Pipe and tanks and large items are sometimes available, sometimes not. Here is a good example. I get a Rainwater catchment system project, they need 5, 1,000 gal tanks, one at each corner of house. The gutters are "farmed out" the tanks come from regional supplier. The UV light water treatment unit could be shipped for free with the tanks if the vendor also sells them. Regional tree chipping mulch is a no brainer. This might be a semi load of 20 cubic yards. My pumps might come from a regional distributer. I have been known to buy plumbing faucets/fixtures from auctions across the country. Online is a good source, but keeping local is "Green" or smart to reduce environmental impact. The USGBC LEED rating system has points just for that very thing. Buying products made in China are contrary to this point. Domestic is my #1 choice for origin of mfgr. I risk sounding like an "agent" of any company so I will refrain, but some mfgrs. sell direct to contractors and I use that when I can. I buy products where I have a relationship with the factory rep. or such and can get direct and fast results on any product issue the customer or I have. I am on first name basis with all my providers. As a 35 + yr. veteran in the trades I have an "extended family". This is how I can promise excellence and deliver it. Products that I can install and not look back, that is what my costumers get, and I get less troubles. Price? yes that is on my agenda, but price is not my driving force. Opening a shipment and finding everything in place, as ordered is priceless. As for payment, I always use a debit card, I get points and never forget a debit or have late fees. Most vendors will give a 2% discount for cash. My vendors have an accounts payable dept. and I store my card # on file there and am on first name basis with the person there in that dept. Where I do not shop, is where I can not have a direct relationship with a real person. or discount places selling all import and inferior products.
within the law

Working Within the Law

Can I plead the 5th. amendment? As a Plumber many things require a permit to be replaced. Technically all plumbing fixtures such as a water heater, toilet, sewage ejector, shower valve, and so on. If every water heater getting installed as replacement to a leaky one actually got a permit, the county/city would need to build a new building and hire a large enough staff to issue, and inspect the water heaters. hundreds a day in San Diego area. Homeowners alone cause enough replacement to overload the existing staff. Wall heaters are replaced and sold in home centers to homeowners. This opens up code and safety and permit issues. Home centers are not always the best thing for safety or the consumer. Should even more un enforced laws be made? This is a hind sight question in cases where loss has occurred, either life and or property. So let me ask, what safety issues do you work around? or how big of government do you want? or should the insurance industry just cover the losses? Or, should anyone ever ignore any technical Code or law? I think we have a (to quote Martha here), a quagmire... I install everything I do not to code, but to code and better. The code is a minimum requirement, it says "the minimum shall be", I instead say, "the optimum shall be", (code compliance is a given). But I do claim the 5th.
dangerous

Dangerous Jobs

Ask any Fireman, Water Heaters are fire hazards, electric ones, as well as gas. Problems are not always obvious at installation time, loose wire nuts on electric water heaters and gas water heaters, either LPG or Natural gas. The two gases are so different that the wrong one installed can blow up an entire building along with any one in it. This is a silent killer and too often that the media does not say "Shocking news" or "Jen has twins" there is nothing media worthy of a house fire, and as a result media education is missing. Sometimes I suspect Home Centers ask news not to "front page" when DIY install kills someone , or local hardware store sells someone the wrong type water heater for a homeowner to install. This might not be good for the hardware stores advertising interests. Last year an attorney asked me some questions on gas water heaters and installation standards because a whole house blew up from a natural gas unit that was installed on LPG. The employee of a plumbing contractor asked over the phone if the unit needed was gas or electric, the customer said gas and the employee was used to natural gas and the rest was felt blocks away when it blew up the same day of install. No story in the paper nor any media coverage. Plumbing is expected to be safe and not glorious, neither when safe, nor when it is deadly, there isn't media interest. People just do not understand the deadly odorless gasses in a sewer pipe either. In mexico years ago whole streets along with buildings , people and cars blew up from a sewer gas build up below the street in the sewer pipe and a backfire of an old car set the explosion off and blocks of streets blew up in the city. Same with CO2 from incomplete combustion, last year a local tree trimmer and his friends died while sleeping. Death was caused from not understanding combustion air needs and heating a cold small room. People remodel houses and block off combustion air for gas appliances or allow negative air pressure from a central heater return grill to pull CO2 back into the home, being odorless, no one knows till someone is dead. Hospitals usually do not report such as a crime, no media, no education.
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Aging in Place for Homeowners

Well, yea I get it but as a person that is blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, and 57 yrs. old and with RA, I suggest we make sure we build these homes to look young!. Denial is a popular thing and as a curve ball I am going to suggest form issues too! Form issues suggest current style and not looking like a rest home. Integrate the ADA into design having form and the most overlooked issue is acoustics. Echo comes from surfaces and hearing issues are understanding what one hears, not the sound being loud enough. Carpet is good but actually an acoustic engineer is even better. Room intercoms work when just yelling from one room to another wont work. Another issue is low angle sunlight in winter has been popular for solar gain, but glare is bad in many rooms so white tile floors can be blinding... Issues are not just "ADA" rules being followed, but experience applied. Talk to residential care nurses for input, they deal with this for a living. A roll in shower is needed, but so is a deep tub with a door, and a floor drain in bathroom. Motion sensor lights and motion sensor circulation pumps on the hot water that work w/o timer because the occupancy schedule might be all day not just early am and night. Plumbing the hot water circ loop at 48" above floor instead of in attic or floor is a way of making the supply to the fixture from the loop only a 1/4 cup of water or one second! The distance is the issue, not if you have a pump or not. Each fixture can have its own temp limit if a mixing valve is used at the fixture, look at ASSE 1016 approved listed fixtures. Tall grandiose ceilings are not the best functionally speaking. Greywater and or rainwater use will be very well accepted so design in theses options. If code issues seem laking look to the IAPMO Green Plumbing Mechanical Code Supplement that has all you need in it to for clearing up some grey areas... pun intended, in waste water code issues. Rain water is fantastic on plants and hobby gardening is growing... pun again. Relax and let it rain. Life is a system not an isolated compliance with the lowest bidder or shopping consumer. Greg Chick, LEED GA, ARSCA AP, Green Code Expert.
phone calls

Common Customer Calls

Absolutely, I get a whole category list of calls I do not directly make money on or refer out or are just "consumerism ", First group; To "clear a main drain" or similar. Reason it is a "false" request call is because that is not what they need. some areas in my town are low in elevation of a valley and when rains are long and heavy, the ground saturates and floods the septic tanks and the occupant thinks the drain is blocked. I can tell when this happens because all of a during a long rain and most are coming from a couple of streets out by the airport. Nothing anyone can do...details exist, but I will spare the comment here. Second group; "I am calling for a free estimate", or calling several plumbers.... This is not the best for anyone, because it lowers the bar on profit and rendered service. For example, only removes chief complaint for short time, fixes nothing. Example shaving your face is short lived glamor, it grows back, as do roots in broken mainline or line having grease separating causing blockages or many other possible issues that are ignored by the cheapest bidder on phone. All that is done is the grease ball is removed or the latest ball of roots are cut out but nothing fixed. Many "plumbers say this is constant promised income and good for business, I think not. The third group of this weeks poll; What do I wish they would call requesting? " We have a repeating plumbing problem and we would like to know why, and actually fix the problem because we are tired of this cycle of fix & fail. This is costing too much, we want real results." Or, "What is the optimum thing we can do with this plumbing issue?" As opposed to "We are selling and want to just make it work for now" Or, "let the next guy deal with it, I am on a budget", "We plan to sell in a yr. or two, so we do not want to pay for all that, just minimum." And even worse, "We just bought this place and are broke and shopping lowest price" My point is, if done right, plumbing is not problematic and in the long run, people spend more and get less when using inferior products and services. Too many customers are in a hurry and do not want to understand the problem, and think the symptom is the problem. Often they cannot pronounce the problem or symptom and do not understand anything about it, but know exactly how much is a "fair price". I think consumers are lost and need to hire a professional but not by, and fix problems, not symptoms. This is done by calling and asking for just that, not what most calls ask for.
upcycling

Upcycling, Recycling and Removing Old Junk

I recycle hundreds of pounds of brass every year, this is in the form of faucets I remove and replace. Not smart, not green, why? If quality faucets were installed to begin with, the life cycle would/could be ten fold. As it is, the money spent on this short sighted trendy purchase goes to China. As does most of the recycle! China has very polluting manufacturing methods, "not green" this is my point. Buying local is, buying long life cycle products is also. Shipping products across the Pacific Ocean to and from is a form of externalized costs to the product, thus the planet. Why? because slave labor makes a product so cheap the "ROI" on an ethical purchase seem foolish, too costly, so we in our short sighted trendy budgets, we pollute China them recycle to be "green" I had better get off my soap box, this computer is made in China. As a note, I wear US made shoes, pants, shirts, socks and yes, underwear. I pay extra sometimes, sometimes not and my US made products last longer and are a free choice I make.
diy

DIY: the Dos and Donts

Having a DIY advice.com site with 2 million views and thousands of questions & comments on "what do I do now" , I think I am qualified to say most people know less than they should when they start. The DIY stores "sell" the "no tools required" type thing and people think that since the stores sell the parts, that they should be able to install them correctly. This is not true. The home centers should NOT be selling water heaters and wall heaters. Many things the stores sell have no place in retail sales. Proof is the questions and statements made on my site. Plumbing is complicated, so why then do I have this site? to promote the home centers sales? NO! I get calls weekly from people in the middle of a mess. Unknowing diy'ers cause themselves great expense. I as well have proof, even novice, single moms can save the expense of a Plumber by doing DIY. Many do it right & and thank me profusely and even tip me in my Pay Pal tip jar. The complexity of the task is the issue, the hind sight is the reality. My advice, know what possibilities exist before getting too deep. My site is free, I sell nothing there. I just want to save people from getting over their heads and/ or save them money. The examples are endless, the need to DIY is as well. What to do? I am a professional contractor and have been over 35 yrs. The homeowner should do some things, and not other things. Yes, draw the line on gas appliances. Why? If something explodes, the insurance Co. can refuse to cover losses because the homeowner had no place doing the job. Read the fine print in your insurance policy. Get qualified installers, licensed professionals, permits required etc. This is the answer to the question, what happens if?
plumbing 02

What everyday appliances get taken for granted?

Water is the most taken for granted by a long shot. Not only is it taken for granted, but it is demanded. As a repair plumber, when I tell a customer I need to turn off the water for an hour or so, they exclaim "for how long?" I reply, I said just for an hour or so. In a panic they say, " Yea, but when is it going to be turned back on?" A half hour later they ask "how much longer?", almost as if it were air and they were choking. Apartment buildings are the worst, I spend more time explaining how much longer to each tenant than I do plumbing. It has gotten to where I won't even do shut downs anymore for large projects. And this is after a 72 hour advance notice was posted all over the complex! Water is also not respected because it is so cheap, I do not mean the bill for the water is cheap, I mean the water it's self. The reason the bill is too high is some homes use 400 to 800 gallons a day! At .007 cents a gallon, (that is cheaper than dirt, by weight delivered) it is "over priced" or so they cry. They pay a buck for a 16 oz. bottle of water at the store, and .007 cents for an equivalent of 8 times that and complain. This is taking water for granted, people can not be convinced that water is not endless and will always flow wastefully down the drain and misting away into the air from lawn sprinklers. When told that is a waste they say "I need my lawn" not realizing they waste thousands of gallons monthly. Most people have no clue how much water they use, because they take it for granted.
new homeowners

What essential skills should every new homeowner have?

Take a look at this video. It goes through '10 Essential Things to Know About Your Plumbing': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i6AO02RC9w&list=UUj1n7zqgMbkl8R7MaV538tQ&index=3&feature=plcp
houses

Manufactured Homes, Do or Don’t?

Modular Homes offer a lot, but the location needs to be a good choice for you. Your own lot is a good option. As for storms, building codes require tie wires that are quite good, if done correctly by a licensed and quality contractor who specializes in doing them. I have owned one and I have repaired hundreds. What can be a loss and very problematic is the quality of plumbing fixtures themselves. The industry is famous for unrepairable fixtures, or ones that have no repair parts available when needed. Another grief is back to back showers that have no access. Fittings and installation is where I have seen most of the trouble. Issues include tension on tubing, tubing fittings cheap plastic or brass that breaks, or crimp rings that are not crimped straight. Tubing should be separate and not touch other temperature tubing. Another real issue is the water heater and AC unit closets. They are often too small and piping is cramped, making replacement of anything very difficult. As for solutions, put the house on a block foundation. I would have 36" high crawl space if I did one. Put pea gravel on the ground below or even better, a slab. Rodents can be very costly as can larger animals, more effort is needed for an absolutely clean & sealed crawl space. What I see as trouble is often caused by the installer of the modular home. Why are problems so prevalent with modulars? The FHA is the authority with jurisdiction, not the plumbing or building code. Some areas have trained inspectors for these units and some do not. Odd appliances and parts are a problem. I would require that only universal appliances and tubs and showers be used. Steel studs would be my choice and I would be in regular communication with the manufacturer on every detail. If a park having many units from same manufacture was an option, that might offer group support in the event of issues.
building codes

What Homeowners Need to Know About Building Codes

Let me preface this with, I sit on several Plumbing Code committees. I am acutely aware of how many hours go into each word, in every code written, Plumbing codes anyway. The CPC, UPC, I.A.P.M.O. the Green Plumbing Mechanical Code Supplement and experts from all fields are directly writing these codes all year long. I will suggest that codes are needed to help prevent loss and injury and I so also recognize most water heaters get replaced without a permit. I also know some inspectors can seem to be a pain. My best advice is to pull a permit on much larger projects than just to replace a fixture. Codes change, products change, when selling a house buyers inspections are made, creating a "balloon payment" for you to pay up to comply with code before closing escrow! Knowing the code, and using the code is the best advice because if loss occurs and the Insurance adjuster finds cause to be your under permitted and not to code installation, you are in jeopardy of claim denial! Make sure to call your agent and ask! Contractors can, and often do, say on contract "Permit to be pulled by Homeowner" this saves paying a contractor to stand in line for hours. This is fine, and some permit you can get online and for cheap without too much hassle. Pre-approval from an Inspector is also a good approach on some installs because understanding codes is a life long study, not for everyone on just any project. Some projects are easy, plain simple and no issues, but it pays to know. A neighbors job is not the model to use as a template, time and inspectors change. After being a licensed Contractor over 35 yrs, as well as assisting code writing and also helping edit the State Exam, I still look in code books for 1/2 the questions people ask me on "what is the Code"... Codes are a moving target, you can buy any code book online. If you want a professional discount on Plumbing Code books ask me I will connect you. PS, the Code that applies to your project is the one enforce when permit is issued. Also keep in mind, thousands of codes change every year.
home improvement

Choosing Home Improvement Products

I can assure you that most tankless water heaters bought at home centers and installed by homeowners for energy/cost savings have actually cost the homeowner more than they have saved. The cost of the correct installation is high in a retrofit situation. If endless water was the goal, it's now being delivered and that costs more. The savings on the tankless units are rooted in zero standby heat loss, but the unit stills heats up with a 200,000 BTU burner instead of a 36,000 BTU burner. Because most homeowners do not have training, I consider most DIY installs unsafe as well. If your motive is to get endless hot water, your average shower length will increase, meaning more water and more gas energy to heat it. Not to mention, hot water sandwiching (the extra 10-15 seconds it takes tankless heaters to deliver hot water). All these factors add up to water wasted and higher energy costs.
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How do you avoid scam repairs after a storm?

I'd wait for a neighbor to get a repair with a contractor I'm considering. Tell the contractor that if all is well with your neighbor's job, that you'll hire them. Your neighbor gets the benefit of being the first to be served and you are spared being the guinea pig. If the contractor has extra guys that work somewhere else, you can inspect that job too. Another good idea is to know where the materials are coming from, if the contractor is on a cash basis, how long they have had a relationship with the workers compensation board, and what their license number is. Most often, license numbers are issued starting low and ascending. In other words, lower numbers mean more experience. You can also ask how long the employees have worked for the contractor and heck the address on the invoice to see if it's truly a local company.
green certification

Evaluating Green Home Certifications

How about a look at the last year in utility bills? This is as "ROI" as it gets. What about looking to see reports from a "real" home inspector with a thermal imaging machine to see in the walls? Tankless water heaters can be more consuming than the normal tank type. Quality toilets that actually work are listed as water savers as are the ones that are marginal at best. The rating is weak if the install is by unskilled installer. I am a certified trainer for Green Plumbers and I will tell you that products themselves are lost on ignorant installers. Even my training is at the mercy of reality. A home is a system, one must understand more than many raters understand. I am not finding fault with rating systems per se, I am suggesting reality is what it is and a previous year of utility bills is as good as many ratings and better than some. I do suggest many "green" things, but am also tired of the word. Greg Chick, Certified Gr### Plumber Trainer
toilet

Toilet Buying Guide from the Experts

Buying a Toilet needs to be based on most everything except name. Before buying a toilet, ask yourself several questions: 1. Is this Toilet going under a “Banjo Top” (counter top that extends as a shelf over the tank). 2. ADA Comfort height or not?. 3. Door swing clearance for elongated bowl? 4. Is the pressure low enough to require a pressure assist tank or not? (I chose min. 50psi for pressure tanks). 5. Dual flush is a behavior issue, are users going to maximize? 6. If side view of bowl is showing, do you want to use a skirted bowl? 7. Are designer (expensive colors) used? 8. Is water extremely hard? If so Toto Sana Gloss is an option. 9. Is a standard 12″ rough-in needed or is an option needed for 10″? 10. Is the footprint of the existing toilet into a carpet or tile where a scar will show? 11. Do you want a good waste removal? If so the MAP testing ratings are online to read to get specs. 250 gr. waste removal is minimum allowed, but 600 gr. removal is my min. standard. Ratings go up to 1000 gr. Water sense by EPA has a fair line-up of toilets having a min. of 350 gr. waste removal, on up. Define what features are available that matter to you, then chose one that has it all! You can pay anywhere from $100 to $1000.
acting green

Acting Green vs. Buying Green

By including education in behavior, behavior is more important because products listed as "green" installed at less than correct, are often more wasteful than standard products. Public opinion will take a step backwards if "green" products fail as did the ULFT's did in early 90's causing a black eye in water saving toilets. All products need educated installation and maintenance. "Thankless Water Heaters" are un-maintained ones that cause expensive repairs. Also, if endless hot water is available, showers tend to get longer. I could go on and on with examples. Responsibility is a state of mind, not a product, just as a ray of sunshine is wasted unless captured. If I am too abstract, that is because of culture / behavior issues. My point: if we behaved as we could, we would have all the "green" power in the world we needed. It is behavior that is in the way, not products. Green is as Green does.
managing projects

What’s the best way to choose a home improvement team?

Back in the 80's in Sedona, AZ, there was a group of professionals building close to net zero and Passive Solar Homes. ADT was a team player, an Architectural firm and we had a team of experts. Plumbers (My group) and all the rest. This was totally smart, we all knew the rules, who needed what, who didn't like what, everyone knew that Randy needed a perfect frame within 1/16 of an inch for entire building. We all were in competition to be better than the other we had to look at each other as if there was a big mirror on every inch of the project. One job was so clean we wore socks inside for setting trim. (no shoes) Not a single bent nail, no spills, at anytime everything was as it needed to de. Total respect was the required behavior or you were off the job. Pride and profits all Sustainability and Green stuff before the word green. The world is a better place in these buildings and lessons were learned, but excellence was a given. I whole heartedly think that a team effort is best and if you cant find one, build one based on this premiss, Perfection is needed, excellence will be tolerated. This will be a team project. Peer pressure works well and a General who is actually on the job most every day and most of the day. This means being 30 min. late to a task is out of the question and if working in the night is needed it is done with out issues from anyone. For God's sake stand up straight and have some pride.
Construction

Building on Sustainability

Products are "Green", Oil is "Brown", install it wrong, and I will frown. Products do not save resources, correct installation of a system that lasts and works as designed do. Oil is brown any way you look at it. Just say no to low bid labor, instead go for unique well made timeless designs that are not prone to Perceived obsolescence. When the trendy part of this current "Green" movement is over we still need to sustain, so go timeless! in your design. That is sustainable and timely.
Construction

How are you using sustainable materials?

Before I was a Plumber I was a Landscaper, I am designing and installing an 8 acre Day use Park on a hillside having 200ft. elevation change and Extremely large boulders. I will use no imported plants, no Municipal or deep well water (Only storm runoff) and no store bought fertilizers. All brush cleared is becoming mulch to retain water and hillsides. I have almost eliminated all need for power tools and chemicals. I am not Amish, just see the efficacy of manual labor and the detail achieved by hand crafting the hillsides. Oak Trees and other such Native plants are being planted from seeds gathered nearby. This project has Solar Power and has bioswales and will be a pleasant place for rock climbing and family day use featuring classes in Permaculture. My intent is to show how much better a natural park is over the excessively watered and mowed chemically treated commercial city park. Naturally grown food and Teas, flowers will be grown and consumed there . More good energy will leave this place than was consumed in making it.
Social media

How is social media affecting your business?

Linked in has brought me many contacts that have turned into great relationships in my emerging direction of speaking and teaching my trade. I find the other social networks annoying. Linked in has threads that can rally up things that would otherwise be impossible. If I don't see a thread of my desires, I can start one and wa-la if an issue or opportunity actually exists it is there. Great feedback from peers that could save you wasted efforts. It is free consultation and taken correctly a good pulse for reality. Regional issues are clear to see and universal issues are therefore identified. This new world of networking is only as good as ones ability to use it and understand what is collected from it. I have made money from the networking and look forward to using the net as the major forum for my future growth.
home show

How can homeowners make the most out of home shows?

First one needs to ask what are you after? If you are wanting information on the products, or design ideas, or best prices, or you are searching for Home Improvements that will give you a return on investment. Is your interest a "Green/Sustainable" one or one of practical use, or simply charm and beauty. I assure you, if all you want just a lot of visits from sales people you can get that with out reading this advice. Your search needs to be prepared and focused otherwise. You need to be able to answer questions like is your house a slab on grade, or what type of roof, or avg. electric bill, or Gas bill water bill. Is your house facing south? Sq. footage, width of widest door for access, do you have Code restrictions and covenants?, Do you have extra space in your electric service panel for more?, What is your R-Value on insulation?, What ever could affect the choices and limiting factors. "I dunno, is not what a smart buyer says. Read your Water Bill, Power bills understand your need, goal and relevant issues. Shopping with just a willingness to be sold on something believable is not good. Claims are made by people who are honestly just doing their job and actually believe the claims they make. Often they are trained by the Manufacturer and are quite convincing. I could tell you of some myths in the Home Improvement industry but better keep that for another story. Most Contractors Licenses are issued starting with low numbers and going up from there, the lower the number the older the License. Get familiar with where numbers are now and verify a claim of 30 yrs. experience. Every Biz Card will have this # on it, this is an indication of experience. The License Boards often have a Website where one can search things that matter. Might I rephrase the question? "How might Home owners get the Best out of a Home Show" Greg Chick, Ramona's Plumber
project pride

What projects are you most proud of?

Laund-Yer-Mutt, Main St., Ramona CA. This is a dog grooming store that is do-it-yourself. Special tubs are there, blow dryers, soaps, towels and hot/mixed water in each tub. The lady called me for a quote on installing gas piping from a yet to be bought Propane Cylinder. Installing a Gas Water heater in the mall building and venting thru the roof for the Exhaust. Installing a Clothes Dryer (Propane) and venting that out as well. Providing and installing a Dehumidifier for the moisture from the wet dogs and blow dryers. I told her that a Propane Gas line and venting would be thousands of dollars. Instead sold her a Heat Pump Water Heater on her existing electric line and eliminated the Gas Pipe, Concrete Cutting, Piping both inside and out as well as a trench and don't forget the Propane! Which is twice as much as Natural Gas. The venting was done as well. I also said the De Humidifier was not needed nor the power to run it. Installation was money I was foregoing. The Dryer vent was not needed if we did it right with an electric Dryer and caught the lint in a lint trap. The Gas Water heater was not needed as well. She said how the heck can you do that? I replied Heat pump to absorb the Blow Dryer Heat and Clothes Dryer Heat and act as a De Humidifier at same time as using this heat into the Water of the Heat Pump Tank. I used one single device to achieve all needs and this device has a certified efficiency rating(2.35), more than double of any tank or tankless water heater and is eligible for a rebate. I installed this system a couple years ago and it has never used electricity to heat the water! I programed it to only use heat pump and NO back up. She has never run out of hot water and never paid for heating it. The place is NOT humid, she does NOT use the Air Conditioner. I installed this system for Less than a third of what the quote request was for, Not had one complaint or repair or service. Savings on this system are in the thousands already. I am very proud, she's very happy, and the future savings will only get better. Return on investment was from day one, with a couple thousand to spare, That is emerging Technology ! Smart Energy, done by a Licensed Green Plumber. Pictures if you want!
home improvement technology

What emerging technologies are making your jobs easier?

I am sorry to say it is none other than my iPhone. I use the phone to answer the call or E mail, then the Calendar to mark it , alarm to remind me, the note on event to remind me the details I need to be prepared, the GPS to find it, the recorder to take notes at first meeting, the camera to document, e mail to send myself the files, internet to search products to show customer, and file it all away in a sync-able package. For Solar orientation the compass app is great!. I have not even gotten into third party apps yet! I am not even a Geek.
home estimates

How should homeowners interpret estimates?

Estimates are free, I give them over the phone. Any price after I arrive at the job is a contract price. People don't want estimates, they want you to come for free and give them ideas and free advice. If what a customer wants is something for free, they should expect very little. If I sound gruff, sorry, this is honest and what you get from me. Honestly free, I can do an Audit, and I will give you an exact price for that on the phone. I can do a design, and I can charge you a base price and an hourly rate for changes that you make. Ask yourself what do you want to spend? I do not posture, or sell, or bait n switch. I am a Professional, I offer references, one can see my past work, my lack of ever being sued or Bankruptcy in 35 plus yrs. Personally, I think "Estimates" are trouble. Estimates are "Guesses" that are made by people who do not know enough about what they are looking at. Might I offer a sure way to be happy, give a maximum price for a job and a minimum price for the job. The break down of what is unknown, and the price increments for each pound, or foot, or item as such it be. Estimates are for trouble.
historic home

What should homebuyers know about older homes?

Most of the "Remodels" done in last boom were done in haste, and I am being called on to remove that haste. Tile on drywall, poor Granite joints at Sink & Window, Faux stuff that is warping, peeling, rotting from poor install and poor design. " Trendy" Shower Valves set behind walls that can not be repaired and need it or will soon enough need it. Permitted or not, these "Remodels" are in my experience a nightmare. I would get a house as old as possible and never Remodeled. A Craftsman Home with a Crawl Space or Basement is a Dream! not a Nightmare. Any Re Surfaced Tubs are trouble as well as Re Surfaced Tile Enclosures. Tank-Less Water Heaters have been known to be "Thankless" do to poor design or Installation. Real "deals" exist on houses that have had the Copper ripped out of the walls and the Bank just wants out. This way you get Credit" for a repipe including Drywall etc. allowing you to really do a job your way and if you choose, to do it right. I recommend hiring a Commissioner for such projects. Greg Chick, Plumbing Trainer.
2012 trends

What are the home improvement trends for 2012?

As usual, I am about function not form, I will assure you that getting quick hot Water at the Tap when you want it is a function that will please even the fluffiest. Ways to do this are not all the same, some waste Power, to save Water! others cost too much to install. So what to do? All the details are too much for this short note, but in a Readers Digest Version. No third "Re-Circ" pipe is needed a couple Pump Manufactures have packages with all details Grundfous has one, D'MAND has another, Laing has one, Metlund is another. I do not sell or represent these products I just teach systems design. "On Demand" is what the Green Code Book says is best, that is a design type. Timers alone are not effective, Pumps alone are not effective either. As the maximum allowable flow of a faucet gets lower, the time it takes to get Hot Water gets longer, unless a good system is installed. Free designs are out there, don't Remodel with out one.
make space

What can you do to make the most out of your living space?

I will take a cheap shot at this by saying installing a Tankless Water Heater on an exterior wall and use the Tank spot for space smart Shelving. However it may not be a cheap shot, so if you have a large gas line and the water Pipes are inside the Building and only need to to poke them out to other side of wall, you are in. No expensive vent needed. Exterior models come with frost protection and all of it is designed to be done that way. Another, if your house has more than one tub, then you could reduce it to a shower and you would have room on either side of that area (Bathroom or other room side) to do shelving etc. Another option is a stackable washer dryer combo that are HET (high Efficiency) and laundry room shelving is there, and you end up using less water, get a rebate and better washed clothes! How about this one, they do make Toilets that are shaped to go into a corner and sometimes they are easy to swing over the pipe and wa-la!. Do you have an unused Bar sink? Rip it out put in a shelving system or an entertainment nook! Sorry, all my ideas are not original, I stole them from my customers over last 35 yrs!
toolbox

What is the best tool in your toolbox?

Hello Dolly, my best tool is my experience/skill/knowledge of past mistakes and future goals of excellence. The best measurement with the best install and even a happy customer is still some times ordinary success. The difference between ordinary and EXTRA ordinary is that little EXTRA. Experience and knowledge is superior to even the best precision job even if it is installed on time! Don't get me wrong, I make mistakes, but that just proves my point, the mind is the best tool. Without a real brilliant system or design the job is - at best- quaint even when delivered as promised. I often go at a job so different than others that even if I don't get the job, the suggestions I made are used. Imitation is the best form of flattery .
confessions of professional

What do homeowners not know about your industry?

Ok, I will really tell you what really matters, I am not grinding a money axe so put down your "Consumer defenses". First off, Brand names don't matter, except that some don't make anything worth installing in a professional job. Other brands do make models well worth installing, but everything they make might not be worth the price. Most importantly, plumbing systems are successful if they are installed correctly, and a Contractors license alone is only assurance that a certain percent will be poor to criminally bad. Emerging Technologies are not learned by all plumbers and the employees are not all trained or even plumbers that have any schooling. I teach these folks in classrooms and can assure you of what I say. Ideally things would be installed by someone who has been fixing errors of other plumbers for a few decades and know more than the code minimum. If any plumber bid a job in which they used the best methods and parts their price would double and in turn they would be considered a rip off. Not that doing it right always cost more, sometimes it costs less! Typically, when all of the job costs get added together - if done right - is often double. When I say right, I mean trouble free for decades! Designer Magazines often show Grohe LadyLux Kitchen faucets, consumers most often buy the brand name spin off m,- which is made in China - for a fraction the price. Pipe layouts and other function design almost always take a back seat to Look design, and looks design is what buyers know, not function design. I have been fixing looks and cheapest bidder work for 35 years and have stopped installing plumbing to teach a better way. Master Plumbers, Journeyman Plumbers & Apprentice are a standard in many parts of US, card carrying Trained Accredited Plumbers are who you want to install your work. Where this standard is not used, you should get Accredited Green Plumbers or do your homework! I would interview the entire staff and or visit the shop before choosing a plumber. These plumbers should also be drug free proven and know the home residence of the contractor. I know that if all the unhappy customers I have helped in past from other Contractors had followed my recommendation, they would have avoided the misery. Greg Chick DBA Ramona's Plumber Certified Trainer, Licensed Green Plumber, still getting continued education weekly.
home improvement technology

How is technology affecting the way we live at home?

Computer chips have evolved Domestic Hot Water Heat Pumps to double the energy Factor that they were. 2.35 rating is now possible! and the whole unit is only $1,700.00 and it looks good to! real easy to install and all that smart/green stuff. Motion sensors are the way to go for hot water circulation to get "instant" hot water. Saving the water loss. I would think lights could be the same, I am not sure, I am a Plumber.
renters

How will our homes change in the next 5-10 years?

I have been working with Emerging Code Development. In that arena we are preparing for Gray Water Reuse, Rain Water Collection, use and Storage, Geothermal and Solar as well as, Waste Heat Recovery on Laundry and shower Drains. This could put some Shower or Laundry up stairs or main floor over a Basement. Current Waste Heat Recovery needs vertical elevation. Downstairs utility Room might emerge. Building layout could change to allow for Water Heating to be close to hot Water Points of Use. (or put Water Heater(s) downstairs in Utility Room) If I were to make use of Emerging Technologies I would have a Utility Room! also Roll in Showers will be popular or those Deep Tubs that have a door to get in & out. both for the ADA issues less the "Stigma". High Speed internet next to the Toilets will allow for Urine analysis when Toilet is used and Data logging for Health reasons. These Toilets exist now! At min. hot Water to Toilets for Bidet. Coffee Makers in Master Bath using quality water treatment at point of use.
diy do and dont

When should a homeowner hire a home professional?

When it comes to color, I am OK, when it comes to Plumbing Fixtures, I am certain I am the Expert, not the consumer. I am not referring to the finish of a faucet or fixture either. Plumbing fixtures are required to do more than fit a motif, most fixtures have rough in issues, trim fitting issues, supply and waste issues and safety issues that far exceed the consumers willingness to understand. For example does that fixture use a code required ASSE 1016 or an ASSE 1017 compliant Thermostatic Mixing Valve. Does that wall need to be a 2X6 wall or will a 2X4 wall suffice. Is a floor drain better there, or a channel drain? Is a separate Water Heater going to pay for it's self in 2 yrs.? or is a Tank less Water Heater really going to be worth it? Is a trench to the Building Drain thru the Concrete floor better or is an Ejector a better option, if so how loud is an Ejector, Oops, we didn't get a quiet one and it is all built in now....What about this Brand Name Recognition... "Oh it is a %^&*, so it must be good", Name Brands only offer a fuzzy buyer comfort, not a home run on a good choice. "We got a Designer Package" at the Fixture House, she said this was all "top o Line stuff" I have been paid thousands of dollars fixing such claims. Hire a Pro, Plumbing is too expensive to do twice. In addition to hiring a Pro., as I said in last Blog, communicate well and watch his employees. Remember the Contractor himself is required to be on the job personally part of the time job is in progress.
working with professional

How can homeowners make a professional’s job easier?

I am now having most customers E mail me, even when they are just wanting a service call to replace a faucet. One reason is they see what an extensive site I have and my qualifications, but I get the address right and everything in print. I use the e mail to respond with and make/confirm appt. My Quotes are usually on the e mail. I most often Quote w/o seeing job. Confirm when I arrive. Yes I take pix. this helps for Insurance reasons.
working with professional

How can homeowners make a professional’s job easier?

Customers need to realize that if they want to be treated like a good customer, they need to treat the "Vendor" as a Professional. Statements like "I could do it myself", suggest the Vendor or Professional is only a laborer. This suggests that less is involved than really is, so they are not expecting to pay much money for the service. Assuming the Professional is a Salesperson and making a killing on mark up instead of skill or assuming a full warranty is going to be present, w/o paying for it is not realistic. Customers need to ask themselves: 'do I trust this Professional?', if so, then let them do the job they were hired to do. Giving the Designer (I am referring to function here) what is desired in the end is what is needed. Insisting on justification of things that when explained are over the customer's head anyway is a waste of valuable effort. If a consumer is hell bent on taking the guarded consumer position, then isn't the consumer asking for a similar response from the professional? Professional courtesy is a two way street. The better the customer knows what he/she wants, the better the Professional can deliver, so communication is needed and confirmation is paramount to clarity and success. -Greg Chick
house facelift

What preventive maintenance tasks are essential?

Most all emergency plumbing problems are avoidable. #1Too high pressure, Get a pressure Regulator that is installed correctly. A Pressure Thermal Expansion Tank for hot water system if you need a Regulator, you need an Expansion Tank. 2. Fill up sink basins weekly and let them drain to quickly self clean out the muck that settles out in a slow moving drain pipe Drains were designed to be self cleaning, but with low flow the self cleaning action cant take place. #3. 8.5 yrs. is avg. life here in Ca. for a Water Heater so change it out on your own time not as an emergency. 4. No body needs a plunger next to a Toilet. If the toilet is problematic, change it out with a good one, plenty exist. #5 " The drain has been slow for weeks now, but all of a sudden it wont drain" I am sorry this is a behavior issue. #6 Have all angle stops working tested and really working. If a faucet becomes a "runaway faucet" then you just shut the stops off. (no emergency). #7 Tampons are not flush able, is a sign needed?.
Remodels

Renovations and their resale value

Homeowners should beware of remodel themes that are "so right now trendy" it may feel exciting to see now, but 5 yrs. later someone might look at to buy, and say "Well I will have to get rid of all this "so ten minutes ago stuff" . I know lots of people just want to put their mark on things to make it theirs, and that will be considered in what the buyer will be willing to pay to do so. Timeless themes like Grohe Lady Lux faucet are forever. Instead of wanting to replace them, people say wow, I finally get "real" faucets. Most all of the cheaper "Designer" faucets are not going to hold water at the end of 5 yrs. Vessel Lavs are an area of caution in my opinion. To many energy/water consumers are not going to be desired. What People will be looking for is how low the utility bills are, including water. Water re-use systems don't have a visual designer theme, but need to be designed into the whole package and will have resale value. Waste Heat Recovery systems are passive, simple and not expensive. Some of what I speak of needs training to implement, but that is what separates the visual designers from Plumbing Designers. Greg Chick

Awards

Home Expert Awards: Professional Red Flags

Having been a Licensed Contractor about 40 yrs. I have not only been in partnerships, but had to deal with other tradspersons. No one thing should be over weighted in evaluation of anything, but some issues are screaming indicators. One area of indication is, the organization of the work vehicles. The tool boxes, the tools themselves

Home Expert Awards: Home Improvement on Television

I will start out saying, I have no TV, nor have seen current shows. I did see some shows 10 yrs. ago and the same probably exists. Entertainment is the product with an educational twist. This is better than TV w/o educational benefits