Plumbing

Memphis Pluming TN, Barley Services, Kevan Barley offers competitive pricing for plumbing services. Drain cleaning, unclog toilets, water heaters, and remodeling. Serving the Greater Memphis area, in the North Eastern section. Over twelve years of experience in the plumbing business.

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Freeze & Burst: the Short Tutorial

The arctic temperatures continue marauding through Memphis and people’s pipes continue to freeze and burst.  And I continue to hear about it.

Some things cannot be helped.  If  a meteorite comes through your roof and smashes your toilet — well, we all have days like that.

On the other hand, there are things you can do to protect your pipes from freezing and bursting.

First: insulate them.  I got to one home and found the copper icemaker supply line running across the attic with no insulation until it descended into the ceiling over the refrigerator.  After I repaired it, I took a roll of insulation which obviously had lain up there for decades and I spread it over the length of copper tube from beginning to end.  Anybody could have done that before the freeze.  It would have saved thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Second: block the air vents, by which I mean the little windows around the foundation (if the house is on a crawl space) and the gable louvers.  Often I will see all of the pipes under a house doing just fine except for the ones near an open vent.  The ground has heat in it and it radiates under the house.  If the vents are closed up, it helps to keep that heat in.  Also, the moving air has greater ability to freeze a pipe.

Third: keep things warm when a pipe is near an outside wall.  I saw a home where the heating system was poor, so they closed off a bathroom, trying to heat the rest of the house.  Without the indoor heat to help, the pipes in the bathroom wall froze & burst.  This is a common problem in a laundry room because they’re often located in an out-of-the-way spot that, for the same reasons, isn’t heated.

Fourth: add some heat.  You have to be  careful with this step lest you burn something, but adding heat is the only way that some situations will stay thawed.  A halogen work light puts out a lot of heat.  In a somewhat closed-off space, a 60 watt light bulb can make all the difference in the world.  (Think of the space behind a washing machine with, perhaps, some cardboard lying atop it.)  If the attic vents are closed off completely, opening the door to the attic will allow heat in from the house.

Fifth: leave each faucet (except for the outside hose bibbs) running.  Everybody knows this trick; by continually replacing the cooling water with warmer water from underground, the pipe doesn’t freeze.  (If you read some expert talking about a “piston effect,” ignore him.)  A stream as big as a matchstick will do the trick.  For the outside faucets, just insulate them well.  Those styrofoam covers work well, but you can also wrap the faucet with heavy terrycloth or even newspaper, which is a great insulator, albeit short-lived.

Last of all, everybody needs to know how he will shut off his water if something goes wrong one day.  There are a lot of clueless people wandering through life, but you don’t have to be one of them.   Does your house have a shutoff in it?  They’re usually about a foot off the floor in a cabinet or closet.  Is yours in the basement?  The older homes in Memphis (pre-1980 or so) must be shut off at the meter by the street.  Such folks are doomed without a meter key.

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When a self-governing people confer upon their government the power to take from some and give to others, the process will not stop until the last bone of the last taxpayer is picked bare.

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The Market for Plumbers

The state of “the trades” in this generation, and probably the previous one as well, is abysmal. There’s still room for more decline, to be sure, but that’s a small consolation. Little education (albeit much indoctrination) takes place in grades K-12, so we’ve developed this idea that everybody should go to college. That system of mass re-education and its resultant lifetime of student loan debt scoops up most of the young people and convinces them that they should be able to sit at a computer and make $50k. Who fixes the plumbing?

Generally, the leftovers.

It is not my intention to denigrate any capable individual; I am one and I’ve met others. But bright and capable students these days seldom dream of leaving high school and working with their hands, learning a trade, and building a business from it. One of my bosses, who had been hiring plumbers for years, told me quite sincerely (with acknowledged hyperbole) “all plumbers are either drunks, dopeheads, or lazy.” Students who are otherwise will ordinarily avoid the trades.

Over time, this sorting process has produced a plumbing industry where plumbers mistreat customers (to put it mildly). Small wonder, then, if plumbing companies mistreat plumbers.

Every so often I look around and see what the plumbing companies are up to so that I can warn my customers. I got to looking at ads on Craigslist. Many companies are seeking plumbers to hire. Like lonesome singles in the “Personals” ads, they really try to sound adorable:

See what can be yours:
Top Pay & Bonus Plans
Paid Vacations
Flexible Schedules
Drug free work environment
Steady work throughout the year
Paid training on-site and off site
Best equipped/designed trucks in the country
Full Benefits: Medical, Dental, Vision, Prescription, & life insurance

I began comparing this luscious beauty with what I already have at home (being a sole proprietor) and I saw that all I lack is “paid training.” (When I read the manufacturer’s websites on new products, I have to do it on my own time.) I also happen to know that this company charges $1,500 for a job that I charge $700 for.

This one made me smile:

[XYZ Company] has grown to the point where we are adding 2 premier service plumbers! And we offer premier benefits like health insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, holiday pay, retirement plan and year round work! [XYZ Company] also offers GUARANTEED weekends off! Now who does that?

They’ve “grown to the point” that they’re hiring? Suuure they have. One of their former employees told me a few weeks ago “Nobody can work for that guy.” GUARANTEED weekends off? My friend told me, “Yeah, once a month!

I can’t fix these companies. Like cockroaches, no matter how many you kill, there’ll be more. All I can do is say “Go toward the light.” As a sole proprietor I have decentralized plumbing service with the use of computers and a mobile phone. Memphis could use a hundred more: individual guys building and living off their own reputations, teaming up with friends when a job requires it, providing personalized service to grateful and loyal customers. Maybe the idea will catch on some day.