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Hi There Fraternity,

This rant is purely designed to get off my mind some of the day to day myths that surround the world of plumbing.

The first thing I would imagine comes to mind as you start to read this, is he qualified to expel any preconceived and accepted plumbing terms.

So here goes, I am a retired plumber of 46 years’ service, with the last 20 or so as a full-time lead lecturer at a college in Scotland, teaching Plumbing, Heating, ACS gas technology and associated electrical works to mainly Plumbing apprentices and to elements of said disciplines to degree level professionals.

Now I know that many of you guys are not from the UK so for our friends across the pond I will explain how a trades person is borne, regardless of which construction trade he or she chooses.

First step is to get a job as an apprentice. So, its shanks pony, visiting as many companies as you can to get a business to take you on. As soon as you are successful in this endeavour, the company registers you with a government affiliated association, in plumbers’ case in Scotland it is SNIPEF and its sister BPEC in England. For all other trades such as Electrical, Joiner work etc it’s the CITB.

Now to give you some understanding of the set up. All trades come under the Government banner, regardless of which part of the British Isles you live in. All apprentices receive a 4-year apprenticeship of which their first 3 years they attend a government funded college on a day release or block release rota. All wages during this time are set by the government.

As for plumbers they must pass approx. 102 individual workshop and classroom-based assessments in order to attain their registration card that designates them as a fully qualified tradesman. Their fourth year is entirely spent with their company, which at the end of their training the company can choose to employ them or let them go. Either way they will be fully qualified.

After 2 years as an approved plumber you can apply through your company to upgrade to Advanced which gives you a higher pay grade, and after 7 years you can apply for Technician Grade, which many don’t as there are not many companies willing to pay the salary a technician demands.

The system has its ups and downs, but in the UK, you cannot call yourself a plumber or any construction trade unless you have a government sponsored registration card and you cannot obtain one in any other fashion, especially the pop-up colleges that offer 6-week training and a certificate of completion.

The idea being that if a plumber turns up at your door the customer has the right to demand viewing of said card and if they can’t produce it, don’t let them past the threshold.

Now what I have just explained is a very limited outline of the procedures, believe me it’s a lot more protracted and detailed. It was written just to give you a taster.

Now as a teacher I had before me a classroom of testosterone induced 17 to 21-year olds that had nothing anything remotely associated with plumbing on their minds. Their order of importance went something like this. Friday 5pm, wages, girls, cars and weekends, and occasionally food intake. First year intake was a hard grind. Not until second year did they start to understand that no registration card would be coming their way unless they passed all college-based assessments.

I digress, what are the myths.

One of my biggest problems was interfering with the apprentice/journeyman bond. If a young impressionable 16-year-old is being taught on a one to one basis within the company structure, they generally believe everything they are told on site regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

Now as a teacher what I impart cannot be wrong as it is backed up by statute, legislation and straight from the manufacturer. So, as you can imagine this caused me many heart aches and ear aches, with regular comments such as quote. My journey man says you are doing it all wrong. Or you don’t know what you are talking about. And believe me quotes that I cannot write down for fear of being thrown out of the forum.

One example of this was an occasion I was in a classroom lecture on the physical properties of roofing lead, and happened to ask if anyone was in fact working on lead at this moment. One hand went up with the apprentice informing us he was forming a valley gutter between two intersecting roof lines. I asked him for a brief explanation of the installation process. And immediately realised the established guidelines were being ignored, in this case it would result in the leadwork lasting approx. 6 months instead of the hundred years you would expect. The reason being that they were nailing the lead valley on its entire length down the roof. Now lead has a pretty high expansion co-efficient, that is to say it expands and contracts considerably with temperature changes. As a result, when installing you must allow the sheet lead free movement, otherwise if you nail it down it has nowhere to go and instead of looking like a sheet of glass it ends up like the Himalayas. And as temperatures fluctuate so does the lead. It eventually becomes work hardened and starts to crack and split across its length. Disaster.
What should have happened was the lead should only be secured on its top one third, the rest dressed into place and held down by the weight of the tiles etc. That way the lead can expand and contract without any restriction.

I explained this to the apprentice who came back the next day with this from his journeyman, quote My journeyman says you are talking a load of crap.

All bossing, dressing and welding come from one bible, produced by the Lead Development Association, which is what we teach from. I copied the photo on valley installation from the book and asked him to show it to his trainer, and the next day the apprentice informed me, quote.

My journeyman says you are correct, but he has been installing valleys that way for 30 years and he is not changing now.

I gave up at that point.

Here is an example of some of the miss quotes:

• The water tank in the loft space. (There is not a water tank in the loft space, there is a water cistern in the loft space. Tank has a very different definition)

• The expansion comes out of the top of a hot water cylinder. (The expansion does not come out of the top of a hot water cylinder. The open vent and distribution pipe come out of the top of a cylinder. The expansion comes out of the bottom of the cylinder. It is part of the cold feed and should in fact be termed cold feed/expansion pipe. All heated expanded water travels up the cold feed to the cistern in the loft space. Nothing travels up the open vent.)

• My ballcock is leaking in the toilet cistern. (No, it’s not. Your FOV is leaking. I.e. float operated diaphragm valve. A ballcock is any valve is a spherical plug, i.e. normally associated with a valve that contains a ball internally. More commonly known as an isolator for shutting water off usually at individual appliances. The name was mistakenly used as it refers to the float that operates it known to many as a ball, which is where the name derives from)

• Plumbers are generally very intelligent, good looking, highly versatile and superior to any other trade (Yes correct)


Rant over. Just sit back and wait for the fallout.

Colin
Scotland
 

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Thanks for that, Colin; pretty much the same over here (Canada). You didn't mention Unions. Here, or at least in BC, Unions had a chokehold on the whole apprenticeship program, and following from that pretty much all commercial work. The Residential construction sector was largely non-union, based mostly on the far lower labor costs ie the sector was/is far more competitive than Commercial/Industrial construction...not to mention not as complex.

"Plumbers are generally very intelligent, good looking, highly versatile and superior to any other trade (Yes correct)..."
Over here it's the Electricians who claim that distinction.
In fact it's the Carpenters, hands down!
...OK, maybe not the 'intelligent' part. ;)
 

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Spoken like a true classroom instructor. What goes on in the real world is a bit different, as you know. But I still luv ya Colin. Anybody that cheap can't be all bad. lol
 

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And then there is the myth of, there is no such thing as a stupid question. :frown:
But I got mine in the military.

One of my young troops decided he was going down to the basement, where the paper cutter was, to help a young secretary from another office, who certainly didn't need any help with it as she had used it many times before.

Now this paper cutter was large, but utterly safe. The left hand held down the thingie (technical term) that held the paper in place, and the right hand had to grasp the end of the cutter, so there was no way in the galaxy you could hurt yourself. Well, I told him OK he could 'help' her, and to not hurt himself. He thought that was amusing.

A few minutes pass, I had my back to the door, and hear, "Sarge?". I didn't even turn around, just hung my head and asked what he had done. He had cut the end of one of his fingers off. Completely off. On a paper cutter that was impossible to hurt yourself on. When an idiot-proof machine is invented, nature invents a better idiot.

Colin, I feel your pain.
 

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In California, most day laborers get their training by going to a print shop and having cards printed. Now that the trades are enjoying full employment, it is really hard to find someone who knows what they're doing.
 

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Re 'getting the lead out'; I haven't seen lead flashing being used for at least two or three decades over here. It's either EPDM or painted Steel/Aluminum for valleys.
This reminded me of the push for Copper gutters, back in the '50s. Lasted for maybe a decade...died on the vine when it became obvious that they were corroding at a ferocious rate when exposed to the combination of acidic rain and the acid in Cedar shingles and Shakes. An epic 'Oops' moment...
 

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Disclaimer, I be a sparky. In our shop one of the plumbing myths is that the schools need a hot water heater. The plumber goes. “If the water is already heated, why would you want to heat it again? You need a water heater”. The people in charge of writing up the work orders keep calling them hot water heaters.
 

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A doctor called a plumber to clear a commode that was stopped. When the doctor saw the bill, he exclaimed, "You charge as much as a doctor!" The plumber replied, "That's what I thought when I was a doctor."
 
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