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Over the years I've seen thousands of new construction and retrofit water submetering projects carried out throughout the United States. While I typically discuss such things such as submetering goals, technology, accuracy and longevity, today I'd like to talk about a sometimes overlooked and undervalued component; finding the correct plumber for the job, specifically in retrofit situations. 

The importance of locating the right partner to install your water submetering system cannot be overemphasized, especially when you are cutting into existing plumbing to install water submeters. Generally speaking, the older the property, the higher risk of issues when cutting into piping. According to Travis, with Travis Plumbing, a good plumber knows how to recognize the risks before starting the project and has a risk mitigation plan in place when entering into the work.

"As a plumber or anyone who works on older systems regularly, it's not a matter of whether you will run into issues, it's more of a matter of what types of issues and how you plan on handling those." says Travis. "When you start working on older piping, things like small leaks or nonfunctional valves are to be expected, but if you have a plan in place to identify these issues and address them accordingly, the project should go smoothly."

Regardless of who you choose, the plumber performing the work should be involved early in the process of determining which system should be installed. Many times, this can be accomplished through a review of pictures and discussions with onsite staff, and in some cases an onsite survey might be required. In either case, it's important to be diligent about reviewing site details prior to purchasing equipment and agreeing on pricing to avoid any surprises down the road.

I've identified a few of the primary issues stemming from selecting the wrong plumbing partner for a submetering retrofit over the years:

1. Incorrect Product

This is common when plumbers or vendors skip the survey step and do not look into the details sufficiently to determine the best solution prior to ordering equipment. If the incorrect submetering product was selected, the project could be doomed from the beginning, and a contractor might end up trying to force a square peg into a round hole, at your expense.

2. Plumber Underbid the Project

This is very common. An inexperienced plumber who does not understand the variables can underbid a job. On the surface, one might think "hey, big deal, the contractor has to honor his/her price." While this might be true, it normally ends up bad for the property owner as well. A project being underbid can result in corners being cut which can cause headaches further down the road. Disputes over plumbing scope of work and materials once the job starts can delay or completely derail a project.

3. No Experience with Submetering

This is inherent, as many (if not most) plumbers do not normally perform water meter installation work, so it stands to reason they wouldn’t have experience with submetering. It seems simple; install the meter into the line, right? Well, not really and let me explain why. As a part of meter testing and certification, meters are tested and rated at certain orientations, pressures, temperatures and flows. Most meters, for example, cannot be installed upside down, while some cannot be installed vertically.

If the meter installed isn’t sized or installed correctly, you can end up losing revenue due to inaccuracy, and have maintenance headaches and early meter failure fin the future. If a cold-water meter is installed on a hot water line, some components will likely fail resulting in leaks or inaccuracy. The point is, each meters’ specifications need to be reviewed and taken into consideration during the installation for a project to be a success.

Establishing the correct plumber isn't quite as easy as it sounds, and can be very challenging in a tight workforce such as we have today, as very good plumbers are also very busy. Just because a plumber is available and can talk the talk doesn't mean they have the experience needed for your project. Have you ever noticed that it is impossible to determine which golfer will be better by standing on the tee box? This is because regardless of the equipment each golfer has in hand, there is a wide variance in ability to use said equipment. You can, however, get a feel for experience level after just one hole by observing behavior, etiquette and results.

My point is this; contractors can be very similar. Put the exact same equipment in two different contractors’ hands and you can get very different results. Many can talk a big game, but when it comes to execution, all are not created equally.

I've been called in to help fix a lot of botched projects over the years, which I'm more than willing to do, of course. However, I'd prefer the buyer received the right product and service in the first place from the company they contracted with, because I hate seeing people get treated poorly. Some of the most common negative impacts I've seen over the years from poor plumbing contractors are things such as:

  • Quality Issues (multiple leaks, floods)
  • Multiple entries into units (rework of access, keys, appointments, etc.)
  • Tenant/Resident Complaints
  • Complete water shut down for periods of time
  • Unexpected Expenses
  • Additional work on site staff
  • Project Delays

I've also touched on some other areas of concern regarding accuracy and revenue recovery with incorrectly installed meters in an early article titled Water Consumption Recovery Issues.

A good partner needs to be involved early and often. Once the project gets ready to kick off, here are some basic things that need to be covered in the pre-installation process:

  • Review scope of work and agree upon a successful project outcome
  • Review site requirements for escorts, keys and access to units as well as any specific resident needs
  • Review project with key onsite personnel to agree on work hours, labor force, timelines, etc.
  • Review expectations for professionalism and conduct while onsite
  • Ensure product and labor availability with backup plans for delays
  • Finalize material and tools needed for project
  • Review installation instructions and spec sheets for the meters being installed
  • Discuss emergency protocol for leaks and other issues - and locate all shut off valves on the property!
  • Review Quality Control process
  • Discuss warranty process upon completion

At the end of the day, selecting the right partner to spec and install your equipment is important. We are more than happy to help with a free consultation for your existing plumber or to help locate the right plumber for your upcoming project. Click here to send us a message and describe your situation and we'll reach out and see if we can help.

A final piece of advice; if you already have the right plumbing partner, treat them like gold because they are a valuable resource. If you aren't sure, let us know and we can help with consultation or submetering training.