By Jill Nagy
“The trade I learned is no longer around,” said
Chris Cocozzo, co-owner of Boyce and Drake
Plumbing in Saratoga Springs. Plastic pipe has
replaced lead, brass and copper and everything
seems to have a computer imbedded in it.
Roy Lance of Lance Plumbing, also in
Saratoga Springs, agreed. He also pointed to
the demand for tankless water heaters as a
major recent change in his business. These
devices heat water only when someone turns
on a hot water faucet, rather than storing hot
water in a tank, thereby saving both water and
the energy used to heat it. He estimates the
savings in gas at 50 percent.
The plastic piping, referred to as PEX water
lines, is light, durable and easy to work with.
It doesn’t corrode and has enough “give” in it
to expand without breaking if the water inside
freezes. Most significantly, it avoids the danger
of lead getting into drinking water.
the piping is color-coded, red for hot water and
blue, for cold. it has become fairly standard,
according to both plumbers.
Cocozzo noted that all plumbing is required
to be lead-free within six months. People are
converting to brass, copper and, increasingly,
plastic. Both material and labor costs are lower
with plastic, he pointed out, estimating that
it takes about four hours to install 100 feet of
copper pipe but only one hour to install 100
feet of plastic.
The PEX installation tool resemble a cordless
drill with a device at the end to crimp
the pipe. Gone are the days of soldering irons,
welding torches, and heavy pipe wrenches.
“It has taken some of the craftsmanship
out of the plumbing industry,” Cocozzo said,
and reduced the time needed to learn the
techniques of plumbing. “Once you have the
required tools and learn to use them, anyone
who can drill a hole can run a pipe. if you can
do the old-fashioned style of plumbing, you can
learn the new systems pretty quickly.”
Despite the relative ease with which someone
can learn to use the new material and tools,
Cocozzo cautioned, there is more than that to
becoming a successful plumber. When his company
hires a new plumbing technician–they
now have one apprentice–he looks for someone
“well-versed in multiple trades” and places
tremendous emphasis on “customer service.” He
insists that his employees be able to “carry on a
good professional conversation” with customers,
a skill tan apprentice develops by accompanying
a well-spoken journeyman plumber on jobs.
At the same time, devices like water heaters,
boilers and furnaces are becoming more
efficient. The heat exchangers have been redesigned
and “everything has become electronic”
with embedded computers. The new “NEST”
thermostats that “learn” and adapt to a homeowner’s
habits are increasingly popular, he
said. He noted that one customer has remote
access to his NEST system and can monitor the
temperatures in his Saratoga home from his
winter residence in Florida–and alert Cocozzo
when he detects a problem.
“We are always learning and training as
systems change,” said Cocozzo. computer programming
has become a new plumbers’ skill.
Everything that consumes energy will have
upgraded smart boards for greater efficiency.
“For a lot of us, the learning curve is huge.”
Boyce and Drake have nine technicians on
staff, including his partner and co-owner, Jay
Kelsey. Someone is on call at all times because
“nothing breaks between 8 o’clock and 4:30.”