Category Archives: Plumbing

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Plumbing as a career

Category:Plumbing,Plumbing as a career

Becoming a licensed plumber is a step by step process.
Not necessary, but suggested is a “Pre-Apprenticeship” program which can be found at community colleges and trade schools.
Find a plumbing company willing to take you on as an apprentice. (many companies look for completion of the pre-apprenticeship program).
Have your new employer register all the proper apprenticeship paperwork ( you will receive a copy).
If you change employers during your apprenticeship, make sure your indentureship is also changed to reflect your new situation.
Your employer will keep track of your hours worked, and at certain milestones (normally 1 year each), you will be sent to school for a period ranging from 4 – 6 weeks per year.
Upon completing a school session ( and assuming you have received a passing grade!) you will be considered a 2nd, 3rd or 4th year apprentice (dependent upon your status entering).
Upon completing your 4th year of trade school, you will write a final exam, which if passed, allows you to call yourself and be recognized as a “Journeyman”.
During your apprenticeship, you will be earning an above average salary, which will increase every year until you reach journeyman status, at which point you may expect to be earning anywhere between 18 and 35 dollars per hour. There is normally a increase for project management duties on larger jobs (foreman) and this can be significant. Starting wage for a first year apprentice is usually set as a percentage of the current journeyman rate. It seems to be quite common in practice for employers to set rates in accordance to the following scheme:
First year apprentice – 50% of journeyman rate.
Second year apprentice – 60% of journeyman rate
Third year apprentice – 70% of journeyman rate..
Fourth year apprentice – 80% of journeyman rate.
Upon completing trade school and passing of final examination – Journeyman rate.
Check out current journeyman wage rates for your area HERE
Skills that you will master during your apprenticeship will include (but not be limited to)
Reading and interpreting codes and regulation.
Planning and executing plumbing projects in concert with other trades.
Material joining skills ( soldering, brazing, mechanical joints).
Proper use and maintenance of tools and equipment.
Safety on the job.
Mathematics (minimal required).
Vocabulary required to communicate needs.
I would suggest (if possible), to work for the smallest company, and one which does not have a specific niche ( such as service work only, residential construction only), as you may end up spending much of your time in repetitive tasks and find yourself a journeyman with a narrow skill set. This can and does happen, as it is possible to complete your schooling without having the same range of experience as your classmates.
There are not many careers open that allow you to earn above average salaries while you learn, as well as allowing you to collect employment insurance while you attend schooling. Of course, much of the above information will apply to other trades as well, and if being a plumber doesn’t interest you, there are many other trades to consider, most of which will follow a similar path to completion.

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Estimating for the small Contractor


Some say that estimating is an art, and others say it is a science. There is always art in the estimating of labour, but material pricing should never be in question.

If you are able to condense your projects down to a consistent set of tasks, and you have a source of up to date pricing of materials, you will be able to quote your projects with complete confidence.

As a one man shop, I am responsible for every facet of my business. Over the years, I have done my project estimates by hand, with a custom spreadsheet I developed, and an assortment of purchased “Estimating Programs”, each of which had its own merits.

Previously I was using my own custom spreadsheet solution which is laid out to match the way I do my takeoffs, and then (with some VB coding I wrote) exported to my Quotewerks program, which has the ability to nicely format, print or email my quote to my customer.

Currently, I am using both Quotewerks and Quick Sale for my quoting, estimating and Invoicing.

I use Quickbooks for my accounting, which is of course where you keep track of payables, receivables, taxes etc.

Here is a link to a video overview about Quotewerks.

In the spreadsheet I previously created, I had separate tabs for each subtask I use.

1) Storm & Sanitary Sewers
2) Water Service
3) Water Distribution
4) Inside Drainage
5) Fixtures

Other tabs were named:

1) Customer
2) Permits and Licences
3) Summary
4) Quotation
5) Terms
6) Contract
7) Change Orders
8) Configuration
9) Pricing

I also have a Microsoft Access database (2007 version – using accdb files), in which I keep information about my customers, vendors as well as tables linked to my vendor pricing files. Having all this information in one database simplifies the connections within my spreadsheet.

General terms of how this all ties together in the spreadsheet…

A) Pricing sheet is linked to access pricing table
B) Customer sheet is linked to access customer table
C) Configuration sheet contains company name, address, tax rules etc
D) Each of my task pages contain the appropriate materials with pricing, description etc being generated (using vlookup function) from my Pricing sheet
E) Summary sheet has  one line each for each subtask (totalling takeoff in appropriate sheet)
F) Quotation sheet represents my final quotation, with pricing information taken from summary sheet.

For each task, I have a printed takeoff sheet which allows me to enter quantities and notes for each item needed. These are obtained by scrutinizing the specifications and plans for a given project. Once a complete takeoff is complete, each task sheet entry is entered into my spreadsheet, which totals, summarizes and creates the finished quotation. On many projects, an educated guess on the labour portion is possible. For example – each task on a 3 bathroom house will take an average amount of time (based on previous experience) – so adding the task times will give you a very good estimate of total labour. Some high end estimating programs will have labour factors included for every piece of equipment and parts, and will allow you to apply a discount or markup to these factors based upon your experience or local conditions.

It is really a matter of knowing what your end result should look like and figuring out how to make the job of getting there as easy as possible. This is just how I had done it 15 years ago and may not be right for you at this time

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Drainage and Venting Systems


Drainage systems are comprised of all the piping and fittings that carry the waste products of a plumbing system to a municipal drainage system. To a plumber, each piece of pipe and each fitting has a name and a purpose…for example – the pipe that continues from just outside your house to the street is called a “Building Drain”, a drain pipe that connects to another drain pipe is a “branch” and a pipe that acts as a drain for one fixture and as a vent for another – is called a “Wet Vent”. Fittings also have specific names and functions. There IS a difference between a “Tee” and a “Sanitary Tee or Tee-Wye”. Elbows can be had in long turn and short turn, each being used in a differing situations.

Piping and associated fittings are available in different materials, and may be prohibited by code for differing applications. Cast iron “No-Hub” is generally seen in commercial applications, but many homeowners decide to have their plumber install for vertical drains (stacks) to attenuate noise. Some may even have the entire house plumbed in cast iron! This can be very expensive in labour and materials, so it is a decision that will really affect the bank account. Housing today tends to be done in A.B.S. (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) mainly for cost savings, but both are very reliable materials and available at plumbing wholesalers’ and hardware stores (limited selections).

Every fixture in your home must be vented properly, to prevent the escape of harmful sewer gases into your home. A vent allows air into the system to balance pressures caused by waste flowing away. The p-traps that you find under fixtures (pre-built into water closets), create a water barrier between your house and the drainage system, and their associated vents protect them from losing their seals. It is the protection from these materials and gases that has contributed to the overall national health not seen in the not so distant past. Vents will either terminate in open air (at roof usually), or connect to a vent which does, and in colder climates are usually increased in size before passing to outdoors. The increased area of opening guards against the moist discharged gases freezing and creating a situation where air will not circulate within the plumbing system. One disadvantage to the increased termination size is the opportunity for birds to nest! There are also “Automatic air vents”, which are frowned upon by inpectors, and are usually used when it is impossible or highly expensive to extend a proper vent to outside air or branch vent. In British Columbia where I operate my plumbing business, the latest plumbing code allows the use for these type of situations, but only one is allowed, and it must conform to C.S.A. standards (as do all pipe, fittings and fixtures). Auto air vents are made of plastic, and have a rubber diaphragm and spring that allow air into the system when draining and close to not allow sewer gases to escape when nothing is draining. These fittings usually have a male thread (1-1/2″ or 2″) to allow connection to the vent pipe. Vents should grade upwards (opposite of drainage pipes), but if not, they will still function (though not as well) unless they have created a point where condensation will accumulate and block air movement.

Most drainage systems work by gravity, and must grade or slope downwards in the direction of flow by a minimum amount to be effective and trouble-free. By plumbing codes, grade is usually 1/4 inch per foot for pipe sizes 3 inch and less, and no less than 1/8 inch per foot for 4 inch and over (maximum size normally found within a residential application). If greater slopes than the minimums are used, better flow will be achieved. Caveat: Too great a slope and solids may be left behind, as the effluent flows faster – possibly causing a blockage. For the piping between a trap and its associated vent pipe, the fall (or grade) should be no more than the diameter of the pipe, and no less than 1/4 inch per foot for the reason stated in the last sentence. Drainage piping that cannot maintain these minimums must be piped to a sump system which is pumped to a drain which does flow by gravity. All of these rules are meant to keep the system operating with little to no intervention.

There are codes in every city and municipality that regulate the installation of plumbing systems, and these can vary between cities, provinces/states, so it is always wise to refer to your local regulations for actual requirements. Building and plumbing inspectors are very helpful to homeowners doing their own plumbing, as they prefer to have it done right by whomever is installing. Don’t be afraid to ask, and DO get a permit!





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