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When premium wholesale plumbing supplier, Winston Water Cooler, decided to build a large training and distribution center in Phoenix, not only did they choose to stock Viega products, but they chose to show them off in their own plumbing and piping as well. The 35,000-square-foot building was recently completed for use with customer training. “The Read more

When premium wholesale plumbing supplier, Winston Water Cooler, decided to build a large training and distribution center in Phoenix, not only did they choose to stock Viega products, but they chose to show them off in their own plumbing and piping as well.

The 35,000-square-foot building was recently completed for use with customer training. “The Workbench” gives tradespeople the opportunity to do hands-on product demos and learn about the situations they might find on the job, as well as learn about products they can use.

“This is all live fire,” explained Phillip Clark, Partner of Winston Water Cooler in Phoenix. “There is water pumping through the heaters, gas running to the heaters, that sort of thing. We can simulate certain problems by putting different parts in and having people troubleshoot to find the issues. It’s all hands-on, which makes it valuable in our industry for these guys. We want them to be comfortable with the products, and it gives them a comfort level so they can come up here and screw up something instead of potentially screwing up their customer’s stuff!”

Viega ProPress, Viega MegaPressG, Viega, pressing technology, press tools, plumbing, HVAC, heating, hydronics

Clark said the training center includes products seen in multifamily buildings, plus parts of a mechanical room setup, including boilers, booster pumps and mixing valves. The building contains equipment supplied by a variety of manufacturers. Originally a data center, Winston remodeled the space into a training center.

All the water in the building is piped with ProPress, and gas lines are run with MegaPressG. About 200 feet of 2½” and 3” copper lines connect to storage tanks, where water can be circulated through heating and pressure-boosting segments. The gas lines have 1½” MegaPressG fittings.

“We wanted to become a stocking distributor for Viega for years, and in 2019 we jumped at the opportunity when it came,” Clark said. “We phased out Apollo as we brought in Viega. We realize the value in the product and know it’s good – and that a lot of customers only trust Viega.

“The product line with Viega is more diverse with the larger-diameter fittings, and Viega has some fittings in configurations and tighter tolerances. It’s just a good market presence that speaks for itself. We’ve had issues with other [brands], where we’re responsible for going back and taking care of the customer after hours. But Viega’s track record for quality and consistency is far superior to the competitors’ and it makes our customers happy.”

Clark said it’s a great advantage to hold training classes and show products at work that they also have in stock on their shelves. Attendees can see how Viega fittings work and that they’re a clean installation. All the piping in the facility is exposed on the walls and anchored so it can be used for show-and-tell.

BY JOHN O’REILLY 35-year industry veteran discusses why his employer, CPI Plumbing & Heating, has chosen to invest heavily in developing the tech skills of local high school grads, working with various vendors and suppliers to create a 2,500-sq.-ft. learning facility from scratch.  The headlines tell the story with increasing urgency: The shortage of skilled Read more

BY JOHN O’REILLY

35-year industry veteran discusses why his employer, CPI Plumbing & Heating, has chosen to invest heavily in developing the tech skills of local high school grads, working with various vendors and suppliers to create a 2,500-sq.-ft. learning facility from scratch. 

CPI Plumbing & Heating, COVID-19, Wirsbo hePEX, CPI Career Center, plumbing, heating, HVAC, UponorThe headlines tell the story with increasing urgency: The shortage of skilled workers in the trades hampers our economy. Work takes longer to complete and costs more because of inevitable delays and fierce competition. This list of reasons why this shortage has reached critical mass is as long as your arm. What isn’t as clear is what to do to correct it.

That is, unless you’re Steve Murray, a 35-year veteran of the PHCP industry and currently HVAC Division Manager at CPI Plumbing & Heating, a full-service contractor based in Mt. Vernon, Washington, a 60-mile drive north of Seattle on Interstate 5. For Murray and CPI owners Brad Tully and Michael (Oly) Olsen, developing a team of properly trained plumbing and HVAC service technicians is a task just as important as—if not prerequisite to—successfully managing the day-to-day operations of this fast-growing company.

The key to the company’s training effort lies in its recently completed “Training Lab” where young apprentices get to practice the skills taught in the company’s classroom. To outfit the 2,500-square-foot space with the plumbing, hydronic and forced-air HVAC systems the company installs and services, CPI went to the vendors that they rely on every day.

Among the most critical was Uponor North America, because its PEX-a piping and fittings offering are at the core of the company’s plumbing and heating disciplines. Uponor responded in a big way: donating nearly $5,000 of Wirsbo hePEX plus pipe for radiant and hydronic heating applications, as well as fittings, manifolds and controls. Also included was nearly 200 linear feet of Quik Trak plywood panels, used mainly for retrofitting a residential space with radiant heating.

“The CPI Training Lab has been a significant investment for us,” says Murray. “We spent $25,000 to $30,000 outfitting the space. Thanks to Uponor and our other vendor partners, we’ve been able to get much of the material donated. But it is a serious expense, for sure—yet one that we think will pay off, long term.”

In the following interview, Murray tells how CPI ensures it has access to a ready and reliably stable of service technicians, as well as how his background positioned him to lead this important initiative for CPI.

Question (Q): How did the idea for the training room develop?

Steve Murray: The closest training center to Mt. Vernon is 50 miles away, and it isn’t practical to ask guys who have already worked a full day to drive 90 minutes in rush-hour traffic to get to a training class. While there are a few local colleges with some HVAC classes, there is nothing in plumbing. Nor did the available curriculum offer any hands-on learning, which we believed essential.

CPI Plumbing & Heating, COVID-19, Wirsbo hePEX, CPI Career Center, plumbing, heating, HVAC, UponorWe started by expanding an existing classroom and outfitting it with all the newest audio/visual equipment for online learning. Next, in 2018, we began to transform a junk space every contractor’s shop has into a hands-on lab where apprentices could actually practice what was taught in the classroom. We can now accommodate up to 30 students at one time. Our top techs, Coady Pike and Jake Petterson, help with the training and the curriculum planning as well.

To create an authentic environment, we framed a floor above existing plumbing connections for waste and water connections. The renovated space now has full plumbing facilities: a working bathroom, urinal and kitchen. We also have all the mechanical systems our techs work on in a home: two combi-boilers, two furnaces and air handlers, an electric furnace and, with Uponor’s help, radiant heating on the wall. We also have all kinds of water heaters, tank and tankless.

Q: What is your background and how did you gravitate to training?

Murray: After high school, I joined the Coast Guard. The trade skill in that branch of the military is called “damage control.” On a ship, damage control involves everything from firefighting, to taking care of plumbing systems, to welding and carpentry. That’s where I learned how to maintain plumbing and hydronic systems.

After five years, I left the service and got a job working for a maintenance/property management company, maintaining large apartment buildings in the older part of Seattle. From there, I worked for various contractors, becoming a journeyman plumber and HVAC service technician. Eventually, I opened my own shop for a time.

The one constant at every company, including my own, was a need for trained personnel. Most applicants lacked the necessary skills; or, worse, they had really bad habits. So, I started devising in-house training programs.

At the same time, I taught the plumbing apprenticeship track at a local trade organization called the Construction Industry Training Council. Working two jobs and commuting two hours each way for work eventually became too much. So, in 2016, I joined CPI, which is just 10 minutes from my house.

The owners wanted to grow their HVAC business, and I took on the role of HVAC Division Manager. We’re still working to grow it, and it has been a challenge, mainly because we just don’t get a lot of already properly trained candidates. That’s really what it boils down to.

Q:  Who are the students and how do you find them?

Murray: Most are high school grads who CPI has hired. The average age of our apprentice crew is 20, although the average apprentice nationwide is 27, so we’re significantly below that.

Recruitment isn’t easy. Our marketing person participates in all the Chamber of Commerce meetings and all the local contractor trade groups. Last year, we started an outreach program to the local high schools, hosting meet-and-greets at the schools with graduating seniors, talking to them about the opportunities in the trades. We also host monthly open houses for interested kids and their parents. They tour the CPI Career Center and talk about what it’s like to work in the trades. That is really our best opportunity.

There is no perfect system to find the right people, and it is pretty easy to get disillusioned. So many high school guidance counselors still think every student needs to go to college to have a meaningful life. It makes no sense to me. Kids need to hear the message that the trades are a real career option that can provide a good living, post-apprenticeship training.

Q: How many young people are a part of the CPI apprenticeship program right now? What is the curriculum they follow?

Murray: Pre-COVID 19, our classes had 8 to 10 students, now it’s 3 to 5 students per session, so we can spread out.

We have done a couple of things to create the curriculum. We’ve pulled pieces together from Skill Mill (Interplay online for task-based learning), the National Center for Construction Education and Research, NATE [HVAC Courses], as well as content from the Illustrated Plumbing Manuals. I am in the classroom and can monitor what each student is learning online and can supplement that with real-world instruction on what we encounter in the field. Half a day is spent on online lessons; the other half, we’re going to the training lab to practice those skills, hands-on.

Right now, the curriculum is based on a three-month, eight-hours-a-day learning. We call it “boot camp.” Once a student graduates boot camp, he or she works in the field, side-by-side with a journeyman-level technician. Six months to a year down the road, we bring each apprentice back in for a refresher and a hands-on evaluation. There are performance tests each must pass before working independently with a customer.

Q: Do most students pick one track or another, plumbing or HVAC?

Murray: Some do both. From our perspective, it would be great if everyone did. But some lack the interest; others lack the proper skill set. Michael Olson and I are fully licensed journeyman plumbers and fully licensed HVAC technicians. We have the advantage of being able to model that opportunity for students who want to do both.

Q: What’s the advantage to CPI in developing its own young talent?

Murray: We have the confidence that the people we train know how to do things correctly. So much of what goes on in the trades is learning, one person to another. That system relies 100 percent on the person doing the training, teaching the right way to do the work. Without standardized curriculum, that is a crapshoot. The Training Lab allows us to make sure, before we send anyone into the field, they are trained to do work correctly — the way we want it done.

Q: Cynics say: Why spend the money on training, knowing that a trainee may leave and take the skills and all that investment to a competitor?

Murray: We hold ourselves to a very high standard. We want to be the best at turning out quality people. Better to train someone and run the risk of losing them, than not train them and run the risk that they will stay.

They say good things come to those who wait. Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others who spend their days in and out of courtrooms in San Diego waited more than a decade for a proposed new state courthouse to become reality. Most will agree the 25-story tower at the intersection of Union and C Read more

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

Photo © Bruce Damonte

They say good things come to those who wait. Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others who spend their days in and out of courtrooms in San Diego waited more than a decade for a proposed new state courthouse to become reality. Most will agree the 25-story tower at the intersection of Union and C streets, which officially opened in December 2017, was worthy of their patience.

The 370-ft.-tall structure replaces a three-block-long, seven-story county courthouse that opened in 1961. Local and state officials initially proposed the project in 2004, but plans were put on hold until 2010. The new courthouse consolidates San Diego County’s criminal trial, family and civil courts into a facility that is loaded with high-tech features, including a radiant heating and cooling system that runs throughout the public corridors on each floor and the expansive, multi-use public space on the building’s first three floors.

“The intent was to make this the most sustainable project possible,” explains Steve Sobel, FAIA, managing director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), the architectural firm that designed the courthouse. The courthouse earned a LEED® Silver certification.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

The 704,000-sq.-ft. courthouse is expected to be used by more than 1.2 million people per year (approximately 4,000 per day). Sobel says the building’s transitional spaces—its airy multipurpose spaces on the first few floors, the hallways and elevator areas—are ideal for the energy-efficient REHAU radiant heating and cooling system. The building’s courtrooms, offices and other private areas, which are more enclosed and handle widely varying occupant loads, are heated and cooled with a traditional HVAC system.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

RAUMAT w/ RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe

SOM has used radiant heating in similar public spaces in lobbies, office buildings and other large spaces. The San Diego courthouse is one of the largest SOM projects in which radiant has been used. Approximately 112,000 ft (34,138 m) of 5/8-inch RAUPEX pipe runs through the courthouse carrying temperature-controlled fluid. For the floors that have an identical footprint, the pipe was preassembled on customized RAUMAT that was delivered in rolls, providing significant time and cost savings. Building chilled and hot water are mixed to appropriate temperature, depending on the operation (cooling or heating) of the radiant floors and zones.

“We looked at traditional HVAC systems for these spaces, chilled ceiling elements and chilled beams. In the end, [radiant] was the right system to use in these high-traffic areas,” Sobel says. The radiant system reduced the amount of duct space needed in the public areas (air ventilation is still preserved) and minimized concerns about coordinating between ducts with electrical and other infrastructure.

San Diego Central Courthouse Radiant Heating and Cooling, REHAU RAUMAT, RAUPEX O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE manifolds

“We’ve done a lot of buildings with radiant floors. In these types of climates, they are really great systems,” says Ben Weerts, the lead mechanical engineer for the courthouse project. “Radiant makes the space really comfortable, especially when you’re dealing with large volumes of space. You don’t have to heat and cool the whole volume. You can just heat and cool the bottom strata where occupants are and it creates a comfortable environment,” he explains.

Project: San Diego Central Courthouse
Type of project: Municipal building, opened 2017
Scope of project: 112,000 ft (34,138 m) of RAUPEX pipe
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)
Mechanical Engineer: WSP
Mechanical Contractor: University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors
REHAU Systems Used: Radiant heating and cooling (RAUMATTM, RAUPEX® O2 barrier pipe, compression-sleeve fittings, PRO-BALANCE® manifolds)

Quarryville, PA, is home to a true hydronic savant. Tom Soukup, owner of Patriot Water Heater, Co., used to do general plumbing and a variety of HVAC work. However, over the past few years, he has transitioned to a sole focus on hydronic work. “Hydronic heating—and cooling for that matter—is a truly universal form of Read more

Quarryville, PA, is home to a true hydronic savant. Tom Soukup, owner of Patriot Water Heater, Co., used to do general plumbing and a variety of HVAC work. However, over the past few years, he has transitioned to a sole focus on hydronic work.

“Hydronic heating—and cooling for that matter—is a truly universal form of space conditioning,” exclaimed Soukup. “What other medium has as much ability, and flexibility? I can heat your building, your spa, your DHW, melt snow, create process water, and just about anything else.  And I can do it with nearly any fuel source you can think of.”

Soukup has done hydronic work since he got his start in the trades 25 years ago.  Still, his recent move to all hydronic has been so deliberate that he even created a new brand, EcoDronics.

U.S. Boiler Company, heating, HVAC, Hydronics,  K2 boiler, Sage Zone Controls, Alliance sidearm tank, boilers

Tom Soukup, president of Patriot Water Heater, arrives to a jobsite.

“EcoDronics is our ‘unconventional’ hydronic brand,” he explained. “Think greenhouses, swimming pools, and snowmelt. It’s different than general home comfort, so the new brand reflects that.”

The move into unique water-based heating applications doesn’t mean that the company turns down typical boiler projects. Last month, a nearby homeowner asked Soukup to give a second opinion on a dying mechanical system.

Patriot Water Heater’s answer was the same as the first company that visited the home:  a complete system replacement of the LP-fired boiler system was needed. The difference is how Soukup came to the conclusion, and the results he could deliver throughout the home, not just the boiler room.

“I make a point to spend a good deal of time asking what the customer wants in regard to the system as whole,” he said. “Noise, comfort, control… and whether or not there areas of the house that go unused?  I need to know what the homeowner really wants so my team can deliver it.”

Murphy’s Law

This customer’s system was 25 years old, and it’s a wonder it lasted that long. Anything that could have been installed wrong, had been.

“There was no primary/secondary piping, no air elimination, no feed valve and the pump was on the return side of the boiler,” said Soukup. “The water returning to the cast iron boiler was too cool and the heat exchanger was condensing. The combustion chamber had collapsed, sections were leaking, the flue pipe was rotten, oil use cost over $3,000 per year, and the home was horribly uncomfortable. Long piping runs and high head pressures created by strange piping were causing both condensation and comfort issues.”

U.S. Boiler Company, heating, HVAC, Hydronics,  K2 boiler, Sage Zone Controls, Alliance sidearm tank, boilers

Soukup appreciates that U.S. Boiler Company provides a full hydronic solution: K2 boiler, Sage Zone Controls and the Alliance sidearm tank. A boiler with a 10-1 turndown ratio is complemented nicely by variable-speed pumps, making the system very responsive to the needs of the home.

The house was zoned horizontally, right down the center, instead of being zoned upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs was sweltering hot while downstairs occupants froze. The parents ran an electric space heater in their downstairs bedroom so that the kids, upstairs, wouldn’t sweat all night.

When the first contractor visited the home, they condemned the boiler but had no interest in addressing the comfort issues, or how the fin-tube radiation had been piped.

“My apprentice and I spent 16 hours analyzing and diagnosing issues before we gave a bid,” said Soukup. “First we performed a Manual J and an EDR. It became apparent that scrapping the boiler and rebuilding the mechanical room was the easy part. Rezoning the house was another story.”

Rubber meets road

Over the course of four days, Patriot Water Heater completely revolutionized the heating system. Aside from the baseboard and some copper pipe, everything was replaced.

“As is usually the case when you think things through before grabbing a pipe cutter, the install was relatively straightforward,” said Soukup

He and his apprentice, Ben Dyson, installed a K2 condensing boiler made by U.S. Boiler Company. The unit features a 10-1 turndown and provides 95% AFUE.  They also used two U.S. Boiler Sage Zone Controls, which are expandable to 16 zones.

U.S. Boiler Company, heating, HVAC, Hydronics,  K2 boiler, Sage Zone Controls, Alliance sidearm tank, boilers

Patriot sets the big items first: K2 boiler and Alliance SL indirect tank.

“U.S. Boiler hit a home run with the K2 boiler,” said Soukup. “It’s a ton of functionality in a small box, and the controls are lightyears ahead of the competition. For example, the Sage Zone Control communicates directly with the boiler. I think being able to provide an integrated solution is important.”

Soukup and Dyson, who is a Marine reservist, broke the existing supply and return piping into six zones. A seventh was added for domestic hot water. A 35-gallon U.S. Boiler Alliance SL tank was used for nearly limitless hot water, long service, and the fact that the tank features top connections. The existing electric water heater was removed.

Fine-tuned success

“I visited the home on the morning after I fired the boiler, and the customer mentioned how nice it was to have even heat throughout the house,” said Soukup.  “At the time, the outdoor temperature was 31°F and the boiler was running at 20% input. Nonetheless, there was still a little room for improvement.”

Through the K2 boiler’s touchscreen display, Soukup accessed the zone-by-zone runtime data and noticed that the living room was calling for heat too often. So, he lowered the anticipated BTUs slightly on the Sage Zone Control, and set the programmable thermostat’s temperature differential from one to two degrees. That solved the issue, and comfort levels haven’t changed.

“That’s what I love about the Sage Controls,” said Soukup. “Once I program the control, I can get really granular by looking at individual parts of the system. It allows me to fine-tune the system. Plus, if you’re going to install a modulating boiler, isn’t that the ultimate goal?”

On commercial projects specifically, Soukup has begun installing a meter on the gas valves of the systems we will be retrofitting, sometimes a year in advance.  It’s a fantastic way to compare the energy use before and after a retrofit, and he can use those concrete numbers to sell the next project.

“For residential jobs like this—which don’t typically provide us with enough data collection time on the front end—we use the owner’s records,” explained Soukup.

On this job, the owners knew they’d used 2,200 gallons of fuel oil (308,000 MBH) the previous year. The year following the retrofit required 800 gallons of LP gas (73,600 MBH). Those number don’t include DHW production, either, as DHW had previously been supplied by electric, and are now provided by the boiler via the sidearm tank.  And an electric space heater is no longer used in the master bedroom.

That’s a staggering improvement, but at the end of a cold winter day, it is pretty hard to quantify comfort.

When you take an old space and make it new, there are inherent challenges to it. And that’s exactly what happened with a restoration project in downtown Buda, Texas. Tight spaces to work in meant Viega products were a perfect partner. In the downtown space, old and unused factories have slowly been getting facelifts. Developers Read more

When you take an old space and make it new, there are inherent challenges to it. And that’s exactly what happened with a restoration project in downtown Buda, Texas. Tight spaces to work in meant Viega products were a perfect partner.

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings, PureFlow PEX

In the downtown space, old and unused factories have slowly been getting facelifts. Developers are turning them into retail and restaurant spaces. It’s what Hill Country Plumbing was brought in to do with the old Buda Mill and Grain Company, changing it into Los Olivos Market, a wine shop and bistro.

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings“The big challenge was that there was another restaurant backing up to it, a common space with a delineating wall,” explained Colie Curry, owner of Hill Country Plumbing. “And there were two different architecture firms that got their measurements inconsistent, so we had to sacrifice space. The roof space we had for grease vents and mechanicals was very tight.”

“In about four and a half hours we did what we would have probably taken two days — it was a ton of labor savings.” 
Colie Curry, owner, Hill Country Plumbing

 

Existing utilities had been run through the ceilings and were undersized for the new needs, so everything had to be retrofit. The 2½” gas line ended up going up the exterior of the building, down a soffit and then jumping up onto a flat roof to bypass a walkway access—in other words, it would have been nearly impossible to thread pipe together where it needed to be hung.

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings

“I’ve been a fan of Viega for years and we use PureFlow on a daily basis—plus I’ve used smaller MegaPressG fittings,” Curry said. “I heard that the larger diameter was coming out in January, and we did this project in March, so the timing was perfect!”

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings

With the help of Viega reps, Curry acquired a MegaPress PressBooster and rings so he could get the project done on time. There were about 20 fittings in the 2½” size, and then the pipe necked down to 2” for the equipment manifold and again to ¾”.

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings

“We could have tried to thread, but hanging a 50-foot-long piece of threaded pipe that is 2½” and weighs 300 pounds would have taken six guys – that’s not good. Plus, we would have had to work our way from it after hanging it,” Curry said. “With Viega, we were able to work in multiple directions. We did a lot of the interior piping before the roof penetration, and we could cut in wherever we needed.

Viega MegaPressG fittings, Viega ProPress, Viega, PVF, fittings, Hill Country Plumbing, Viega MegaPress PressBooster and rings“In about four and a half hours we did what would have probably taken two days—it was a ton of labor savings! And if there had been a leak we would have had to start over after cutting that part out. Using the Viega fittings worked out really, really well.”

Curry and his crew also used PureFlow PEX, in sizes 1¼” and smaller, for waterlines to the bathrooms and commercial kitchen.