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Question from a reporter. Thoughts?

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DanHolohan
DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,568
"Why is it so hard to hire a plumber, or HVAC pro?"

I'm being interviewed by The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Care to share your thoughts? Thanks.
Retired and loving it.
Erin Holohan HaskellMad Dog_2
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Comments

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,959
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    Jack Welch.

    The race to the bottom where price is the only concern.

    People who want to work 24/7 and think everyone else does so they model their pricing and cost structure of their business on that so everyone thinks that is what it should cost and thinks they're getting ripped off by someone that sets their pricing to run their business to attract people who would be good at it but don't want it to be their whole life.
    GGrossPC7060Sal Santamaura
  • GGross
    GGross Member Posts: 1,105
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    It's not, it's hard to hire the RIGHT plumber or HVAC pro.
    CLambMad Dog_2hot_rod
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,568
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    @GGross, could you expand on that?
    Retired and loving it.
  • CLamb
    CLamb Member Posts: 299
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    @DanHolohan I'll be happy to expand on that. It's been discussed on The Wall before. A consumer doesn't know how good the pro is because the consumer isn't knowledgeable enough. References from other consumers don't help because they don't know either.
    GGrossScottSecorMad Dog_2exqheatgflash
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,919
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    When I tried hiring one it seemed impossible to tell who was good and who wasn't.

    I went with the more expensive guy meanwhile the much cheaper guy (used by the people who sold me the house) was actually better.

    I still don't understand how someone that doesn't know anything about plumbing or HVAC is supposed to know if someone they are hiring is competent. Word of mouth only works if the people telling you know what they're talking about.

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    Mad Dog_2mattmia2CLamb
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,568
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    Thanks, guys. I suspect she's going to be asking me about contractors who don't return calls to potential customers, making it hard to hire one. Or contractors who talk to them once and then never again, or say they'll get back with a price and don't. Thoughts on that?
    Retired and loving it.
    GGross
  • GGross
    GGross Member Posts: 1,105
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    Thanks, guys. I suspect she's going to be asking me about contractors who don't return calls to potential customers, making it hard to hire one. Or contractors who talk to them once and then never again, or say they'll get back with a price and don't. Thoughts on that?

    I'm not sure there is a singular reason for this one. One of my better customers, before he started his plumbing company, heard from people around town that they just wish a plumber would answer the phone! He and his wife opened up shop with the promise that they would ALWAYS pick up the phone, it was an instant success, so much so that he quickly got overwhelmed with work, within 2 years he was not answering phone calls from new customers because he didn't even have enough time to tell them he didn't have enough time to quote their project.


    realliveplumbermattmia2Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,961
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    Mike Rowe has answered those questions!
    kcopp
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,245
    edited June 2023
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    There are a multitude of reasons for this:
    1) Most people's primary goal is getting "the best deal."  Sure, they all want a "good job, " (no leaks, adequate heat & AC) but they focus too much on low prices, and their eyes will glaze over when you  try  to educate them a bit.... They will politely listen and circle back...to price. This is where Sales 101 taught to me by industry Giants like Al Levi, Frank Blau and Herr Holohan come in: YOUR SELLING COMFORT, YOUR SELLING COST SAVINGS..people need to know WHATS IN IT FOR ME? In one or two words...(How to sell to selfish People).
    2) These same folks think there is very little difference with whom they hire. They assume they will get about the same job and service from anyone who looks halfway decent and is "in business."  I'm not even going to address Unlicensed & uninsured moonlighters who have ZERO overhead or expenses and can do a job for 75% less.  
    4) On the other end, most tradesfolk are terrible about returning calls, marginally  professional, and aren't great about standing by their work or returning calls AFTER THE check clears. Some really excellent contractors may return a call out of politeness, and then just never follow up with a quote because they're really not interested, but don't want to look impolite to the client and the person that may have recommended them..
    5) The really good tradesman and contractors are very busy, stay on top of industry trends and practices, and command top dollar 💵.  They return calls quickly and keep their word for the most part. I find texting & email an excellent way to maintain contact with clients.  They get an answer within a few minutes and you let them know that'll they are on your radar and resolution is coming soon  They don't need to run around giving the "Free Estimates" that many home & building owners feel entitled to.  The public needs to learn this and respect it...they usually only do after they  get taken.  
    6) Unfortunately, the non-trades general public, often don't value what we do and have trouble seeing the difference in value..even when its explained to them. My best clients are those who do extensive research or have had bad experiences with their hires on every level. Then, they see.  

    There still are some excellent tradesfolk & contractors, but not alot. I find that many times, it takes 3 or 4 Qualifying heats until they hire someone.  "I got your number from the Supply house, my neighbor used you last year, the hardware store recommended you AND I loved your website and testimonials!" This is good.  They are doing their due diligence & homework!  They are much less likely to take a bath. 

    Along the way, the best tradesfolk will find eachother running in the same circles.  We then recommend eachother.  Word of mouth is still priceless, but not perfect. I get calls all week long on recommendations from Plumbers in their area, to landscapers, Doctors, Dentists, on and on.  For example,  Without knowing it, I found these unbelievable Tile contractors, father & Son while doing a luxury bathroom in one of these Long Island Gold Coast Mansions we hear about..  The Client was very wealthy,  with Emmy awards (on the mantle).  She wanted the highest quality work and paid, handsomely. She did extensive research and found us, The plumbing & Heating contractors. She found them through a large high end Tile Distributor and heard about them..in her elite circles.  The electrican was also first rate.  These magnificently meticulous tile guys (best I'd ever seen) turned out to be Dan's Brother in Law & Nephew...CRAZY....Case in point: The best in their fields  WILL find eachother!   When you click with a client and they see you are the real deal, the trust is Golden and this will benefit both parties...Mad Dog 🐕 

    reggiPC7060MikeL_2exqheat
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,959
    edited June 2023
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    GGross said:

    Thanks, guys. I suspect she's going to be asking me about contractors who don't return calls to potential customers, making it hard to hire one. Or contractors who talk to them once and then never again, or say they'll get back with a price and don't. Thoughts on that?

    I'm not sure there is a singular reason for this one. One of my better customers, before he started his plumbing company, heard from people around town that they just wish a plumber would answer the phone! He and his wife opened up shop with the promise that they would ALWAYS pick up the phone, it was an instant success, so much so that he quickly got overwhelmed with work, within 2 years he was not answering phone calls from new customers because he didn't even have enough time to tell them he didn't have enough time to quote their project.


    I think to some extent the answer to that is to tell them you know that is what is going on and are willing to work with them. Not only are they overwhelmed but it is something they may not be good at in the first place. You have to figure out if it is because they are busy or if they aren't good at it. Being willing to pay the time they really put in to it is a big part too.

    About 20 years ago I was repairing electronics part time along with a full time job and eventually it got to the point where I wasn't making enough with the electronics repair for it to be worth it to me. i would spend a lot of time on things I couldn't figure out because I wanted to figure it out and I would spend a lot of time on things that were working but the user wasn't using them correctly so I would have these jobs that would hang around forever. I would feel embarrassed about not getting back to them and that would make it even harder for me to get back to them.

    I guess the upshot is you need to figure out who knows how to do it then you need to dig deep in to the psychology of what is going on with them. Knowing what jobs you need the master for and what jobs you can hire someone less skilled for is a good strategy too.

    @JohnNY said what I was thinking about all the skills of running a business and having little to do with being good at the job you need done a lot better than I could have.
    GGross
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 522
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    IMHO MadDog hit the nail on the head...Trust.. especially a woman..
    People don't want people moving about throughout their "safe-space" unless they are comfortable with them.. It's very difficult to walk into someones house cold unless they NEED SOMETHING right then and there that you can provide...elsewise it's just a estimate, feeling each other out, back and forth with blah blah blah... Close the deal or move on... you be the one to sell yourself and create urgency on their end... give them the number and give them a start time/date and shut up... 😶.   
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
    Mad Dog_2
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,476
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    GGross said:

    Thanks, guys. I suspect she's going to be asking me about contractors who don't return calls to potential customers, making it hard to hire one. Or contractors who talk to them once and then never again, or say they'll get back with a price and don't. Thoughts on that?

    I'm not sure there is a singular reason for this one. One of my better customers, before he started his plumbing company, heard from people around town that they just wish a plumber would answer the phone! He and his wife opened up shop with the promise that they would ALWAYS pick up the phone, it was an instant success, so much so that he quickly got overwhelmed with work, within 2 years he was not answering phone calls from new customers because he didn't even have enough time to tell them he didn't have enough time to quote their project.


    I think the franchise groups are better with their call centers, and answering returning and politely. But of course it cost to have a well trained CSR, soooo
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    GGross
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,245
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    I edited my post above  to add how great text and email are. You can keep everyone in the loop and let them know they are on your "radar."  It buys a busy plumber some time, but keeps the client engaged. Dan, this is an excellent topic that has plagued the industry for way too long..  Mad Dog 🐕 
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,568
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    Thanks for all this great input, guys. The writing is following this thread. You will be heard widely. 
    Retired and loving it.
    Mad Dog_2Larry WeingartenPC7060exqheat
  • tim smith
    tim smith Member Posts: 2,774
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    My take on the customer experience,
    To qualify this I am speaking with regards to our area of the country. The Northwest
    I feel that customers are inundated with online reviews, comments, etc. This in itself makes it very hard for them to decipher on who is the right choice. I don't feel as far as we are concerned that they are only looking for the cheapest. They just want a quality job and treated fairly.
    Today I find that there are so many sales techs (not service techs) that customers find all they are being offered is to be sold something new and not really just what they need. I hear this day in and day out. The industry has changed so much over the last 42 yrs of my work experience in this trade. We are considered one of the most reputable heating companies in our area. We are not cheap but by far not the most expensive. We take what we need, not what we can. This is not the model of most in this day and age. I try not to knock what other people do but I can't swallow it.
    We have found it very hard to find good qualified workers to a point that we are probably closing our doors this year. It seems no one wants to do this trade or for that matter not many trades. The well trained qualified workforce is dwindling with customers going to bear the brunt of this.
    One of my favorite review sites is Consumer Checkbook, Non profit. They take no advertising from companies, they do undercover surveys of companies charges. The homeowner members who have used specific companies fill out survey sheets of jobs performed for them. There reports are done in a quarterly magazine that has basically a spread sheet for items like quality, price, keeping client informed, work done on time, and several others. They usually cover hvac or plumbing every 1-2yrs, as they cover many other services like family Drs, Window companies, car mechanics etc. You can always go back and look at the last magazine when they covered trade you are looking for. I pay a private membership just so I can support them and follow it. They cover about 10 cities across country. Ps, I have know affiliation with them.
    Lastly, word of mouth from neighbors is probably the best bet for customers to get a referral. I give referrals to our clients for all the trades. People I have worked with for decades and totally trust. They can't always help but it sure has been an appreciated service to my clients over the last 40+ years.
    May be somewhat rambling but just wanted to express my opinion.
    Tim

    Mad Dog_2bburd
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 522
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    40 years ago everyone had their own Plumber/Auto Mechanic/Garage/Car salesman/handyman and so on...or had relatives or very good friends that did...
    Now with a more mobile population and a lot of the small guys gone people are lost.. They read and research and I guarantee you they'll find Something the more they look they don't like about a person or company...real or not...(Social media revenge posts ) 
    It becomes paralyzes by analysis...No one to trust.. and they get angry and resentful...
    They want what they had 40 years ago... 🤝
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
    Mad Dog_2gflash
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,600
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    Thanks, guys. I suspect she's going to be asking me about contractors who don't return calls to potential customers, making it hard to hire one. Or contractors who talk to them once and then never again, or say they'll get back with a price and don't. Thoughts on that?

    As a homeowner looking for help, I find it frustrating. My guess is that contractors are in high demand and their help is in short supply so they spend more time on the jobs with higher margins. It is near impossible to get three estimates anymore.

    If I were a business man, I would do the same thing. Take on five little jobs in a week? Or, one big job that takes five days?
    Mad Dog_2
  • Dave Carpentier
    Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 604
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    I find it odd that there are trade jobs willing to pay actual decent money , and young workers out there with mechanical aptitude (I like to call "diy people"), and yet we cant seem to make those two segments meet ?

    What Ive heard though, is many/most employers want a turn-key employee. They dont want to invest the time/money on a kid who might turn out to be a dud or perhaps takes off for another employer etc.
    But the thing is.. that's always happened. It's never been the majority-of , just a small slice. It's gotta be the cost of business somehow.
    I did a career in an outdoor trade, decent money and good benefits/pension. The number of left-early's is likely less than 2%.
    Why not train people with proper apprenticeships anymore. Is it really just the money ?
    30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
    Currently in building maintenance.
    CLamb
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,839
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    Depends on what the job is. Most tradesmen will focus on new construction (which is often times less profitable), unless it's a high-end house.

    Most don't want what they consider "nuisance calls." Fixing a leaking sink or a running toilet etc. The focus is on selling equipment and most don't want to do repair work.

    I have a good friend of mine an excellent plumber who works too cheap. You can't get a hold of him he never answers the phone, never advertises and always has too much work.
    Mad Dog_2
  • hothothot
    hothothot Member Posts: 6
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    It is especially difficult in my town on the hydronic side. There appear to be lots of techs who will help get a furnace fixed. But the standard line in boiler service here is "we won't fix or service if we haven't put the boiler in ourselves". So very important to get the right tech /installer to start with! It's hard to change horses. And if they do a service call to give you estimate on a new system, they want 150/250/350 for the call! I guess they would back it out if you hire them to do a new system, but no way to gauge them first. In my case, I have been told the equipment has to be ripped out and sold on craigslist and the job has to be done over with a new boiler. It would be nice to know that it isn't a foregone conclusion. It's really a problem picking a tech
    Mad Dog_2gflash
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,245
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    Thats ridiculous..geez!  That reminds of when my parents were NOT happy with "Vinny" and  wanted to switch landscapers in Howard Beach ⛱  (Queens NYC) early 1970s...:" You no get ridda me!!!  You see!!"
    Sure enough,  they contacted 3 other landscapers to take over. They all politely declined.  "Nah...I cant do...".  My parents bought a Toro lawn mower at Montgomery Wards (Upstate Sears competitor) and my father did our lawn and grandma and grandpa's big corner property adjoining us.
    Mad Dog 🐕 🤣 
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,919
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    Mad Dog_2 said:

    Thats ridiculous..geez!  That reminds of when my parents were NOT happy with "Vinny" and  wanted to switch landscapers in Howard Beach ⛱  (Queens NYC) early 1970s...:" You no get ridda me!!!  You see!!"
    Sure enough,  they contacted 3 other landscapers to take over. They all politely declined.  "Nah...I cant do...".  My parents bought a Toro lawn mower at Montgomery Wards (Upstate Sears competitor) and my father did our lawn and grandma and grandpa's big corner property adjoining us.
    Mad Dog 🐕 🤣 


    So, you're saying absolutely nothing has changed.

    ;)
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • dross
    dross Member Posts: 1
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    its hard to keep up with all the work that gets piled on. Not seeing any slow down here in Maine. There are times where it really is the squeakiest wheel..
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 506
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         I tell my family & friends who are looking for a tradesmen to call their local building department and ask for a list of companies that apply for permits frequently; then cross reference with a local supply house. 
         Plumbing & hvac suppliers know who's out there doing good work. They pay their bills on time & often buy higher end products.
          Trade associations can also be a source of experienced, competent contractors. Many ( not all ) members operate top notch businesses.
    Larry WeingartenCLamb
  • Tim_D
    Tim_D Member Posts: 129
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    My take is that there are relatively few true Pro's. Having a van with your name on it and collecting money for your services does not make you a professional. Being licensed doesn't seem to mean much either, at least in my area. My focus has been on hydronic heating and cooling for the last three decades or so and I feel that we are sorely lacking in training and education or maybe requirements for training and education. From my experience, the vast majority of the people that are out there working on hydronic systems do not understand the core relationships of flow to load, differential to transfer, pipe size to flow and load, circulator sizing, friction loss, etc. I was on a job yesterday where over the last six years, numerous contractors had looked at a six ton heat pump that constantly under performs. It is piped off of the 3" mains in 1", fifty feet each way plus fittings The control valve has a Cv of 7.4 and the unit has a pressure drop of 6.8 feet. When all eleven heat pumps in the building are calling the system pumps produce 81 gpm at 24 ft/hd. The six ton unit needs 18gpm at nearly 40 ft. Two options, reduce the pressure drop or buy bigger pumps. The estate manager didn't believe me so I broke out my trusty System Syzer and gave him a quick lesson in hydronics. We will be repiping the unit in October.
    Mad Dog_2Larry Weingarten
  • hothothot
    hothothot Member Posts: 6
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    @hotrod-----easy to buy a lawnmower but try buying a boiler without a license!


  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,476
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    hothothot said:
    @hotrod-----easy to buy a lawnmower but try buying a boiler without a license!
    Name a boiler brand that isn’t available online these days?  Not many.

    I love all lawn mower brands, by the way
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,959
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    You have to find the supply houses that will sell to you. Frequently that has more to do with if that have a tax license or not more than anything else.
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,600
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    hot_rod said:


    hothothot said:

    @hotrod-----easy to buy a lawnmower but try buying a boiler without a license!



    Name a boiler brand that isn’t available online these days?  Not many.

    I love all lawn mower brands, by the way


    That is how I got my boiler. I Couldn't find a residential boiler installer down here in the south. I had central hvac installed (professionally and permitted) instead and could have had the steam system removed but kept it until I felt I could replace the boiler myself and tthat is what I did.

    A lot of people can get hurt doing this. Licensing and permitting was created to minimize death and injury but if contractors don't call back, what do you do? You search youtube, google, go to home depot, and do your best.

    Heck, there is a homeowner down here who paid $700,000 to build a house three years ago and it is sinking! The foundation was insufficient, the framing was inadequate. The builder said inspectors passed everything. The inspections dept. pointed out that they are not liable and the homeowner's engineers are telling him to tear down. So, that kinda makes a joke of licensing and permitting.

    It still boils down to high demand, low supply of contractors.
    CLamb
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,959
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    There's an architect or engineer's license you could probably get suspended if you really wanted to pursue it.
  • hothothot
    hothothot Member Posts: 6
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    yes you can buy a boiler on craigslist but no guarantee. The wholesalers here won'tt even sell you an air filtrer much less a boiler unless you have a "supporter" and then without any trade discount. Besides this stuff is dangerous, you can die from the venting, you can blow up the house from the gas connections, you can destroy your house if the piping freezes when the low water cutoff fails improperly etc.. The manual is incredibly comprehensive. How can anyone know all this stuff. but the problem still reains that it is difficult to pick a tech and no way to check anyone out.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,919
    edited June 2023
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    hothothot said:

    yes you can buy a boiler on craigslist but no guarantee. The wholesalers here won'tt even sell you an air filtrer much less a boiler unless you have a "supporter" and then without any trade discount. Besides this stuff is dangerous, you can die from the venting, you can blow up the house from the gas connections, you can destroy your house if the piping freezes when the low water cutoff fails improperly etc.. The manual is incredibly comprehensive. How can anyone know all this stuff. but the problem still reains that it is difficult to pick a tech and no way to check anyone out.



    @hot_rod is correct, you can buy practically every boiler online and not used or from Craigslist.
    I bought Weil-Mclain locally.

    And you're 100% correct, it is very difficult finding a pro and this stuff can be very dangerous.
    Not a good combination.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    WMno57
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,476
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    Even hiring a high dollar licensed installer doesn’t guarantee the boiler gets piped or commissioned properly.

    not many homeowners know how to ask the questions to assure they are getting a proper installation, how would they

    combined with the fact it is a trade that is slowly disappearing

    kind of leads to a perfect storm of a botched project

    Sad
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    mattmia2CLambMad Dog_2
  • realliveplumber
    realliveplumber Member Posts: 354
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    .I was talking to a friend of mine who knows another plumbing and heating contractor. The company has been in business 100 years. The owner was saying he needs help and was interviewing people.

    He interviewed and then offered an experienced guy a job, $30.00 an hour. The guy asked for $40.00 an hour. The contractor declined.

    He told my friend that he could never afford to pay $40.00 an hour.

    He probably could have, if he knew his costs and charged accordingly, and the guy earned the company a profit.

    Thats my competition. No wonder I lose 9 out of 10 jobs I bid.
    Mad Dog_2
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,600
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    You know what's worse than no call back?

    An excessively high quote hoping customer doesnt bite but if they do, nice profit. I have rejected a few of those.
    CLamb