Tales From the Work Van

Ep 3: The Legend of Crack Nicholson

This red Rigid wrench has been with me for the past 5 years. Other tools have come and gone but this pipe wrench has hung in there and stuck with me. This wrench was a present, a parting gift bestowed upon me from the man I knew as Crack Nicholson.

In 2013 I was working on a new housing project and heard the crew and I were getting a new addition. Following behind the foreman that day was a man who bore an insane resemblance to Jack Nicholson….if Jack Nicholson suffered from severe drug addiction. We soon dubbed him Crack Nicholson. Crack was a hoot, he was probably 50, looked 70, and went a full 100% all day. He had bulging eyes and a raspy whisper voice he’d speak with while he scurried over to talk to you. He was one of those guys that had one wild story after another. You’ll have to find me around town if you want to hear some of Crack’s better tales but I will tell you about one of my favourite interactions I had with him.

I’m roughing in on the second floor of this one building while Crack’s down on the main. My phone goes off with a text from my foreman.

Foreman: “Go tell Crack Nicholson to put a shirt on and tell him this isn’t f@*$%ing B.C”

(SIDENOTE: According to my foreman, B.C. OH&S has apparently deemed shirts optional while working)

After reading that text I just thought, “Ugh! What is going on down there and why do I have to deal with it.” I make my way downstairs to find a sweaty Crack Nicholson feverishly running around missing glue joints and back grading pipes. His skin was that shade of tan you see on some guys that you just know is the colour of skin cancer. Like someone left an old baseball glove in the sun…..and the baseball glove suffered from a severe drug addiction. But nevertheless I was able to get Nicholson re-shirted.

Fast forward to Crack Nicholson’s demise. I don’t think he lasted longer than a month. Word going around was Crack was sneaking off on site to get a few drinks in. (Should we expect anything different from a Jack Nicholson look-a-like?) He was abruptly booted off site one day with little notice to get his belongings together. Luckily he was already wearing a shirt. But in his trail of angel dust he left behind this red twelve inch pipe wrench. I snagged it as a parting momento. This wrench has the magic touch, no need to tightened a second time as this wrench is getting the job done the first time out. Some say Crack’s sole is in this wrench, others say he stole it from the last crew he worked with. Either way, the day this wrench kicks the bucket will be a dark day indeed.

Hot Tips to Stay Cold This Summer

Sorry I’ve been M.I.A from the blog for a bit. Enough clients have sent me messages asking what was up that I finally gave my head a shake and jumped back into the blog machine. We skipped Spring this year and jettisoned straight into Summer. Air conditioning season is upon us and I thought I could give out two quick tips to avoiding having C Mac Regina out to your home this summer for an emergency repair…..not that we don’t want to be there.

Tip #1 Is there power? Now I don’t want anyone opening up doors and checking voltages, that’s my job. What I do want is for you to find your furnace switch. This is gonna be usually at the top or bottom of the staircase near the top of the wall. If your furnace is in it’s own room it may be near the entrance but still closer to the ceiling than a regular light switch. I can’t explain it but for some reason there’s a ghost that goes around flipping this switch on homeowners. Thats been my conclusion because anytime I ask someone if they accidentally did it themselves they vehemently deny it, so a light switch ghost is the only other reasonable answer. When flipped this switch is cutting power to your furnace stopping the blower fan from operating, forbidding any significant airflow to happen inside your home.

Tip #2 Does it look like a snowball? Mr. Air Conditioning Doctor, I’ve been running my ac all day and I still can’t get the thermostat down below 27. It doesn’t feel like cold air is coming out of the vent…..If this is you one day please follow my next instructions. SHUT IT OFF! If the air isn’t cold right away it isn’t going to magically end up that way 6 hours later. What will happen is I will show up for the repair and the entire unit is going to be one giant ball of ice and there’s not much I can do at that point besides let it thaw out and come back later. If the air leaving the heat registers is room temperature please turn it off and do me a favour and check to see if theres any ice building up at the outside unit or on the copper line set leading to your furnace.

Check to make sure the filter in your furnace is clean (can you see light through it) and replace if needed. If that doesn’t do the trick our number is at the top of the page.

This is only the tip of the air conditioning repair iceberg but it may help you save a little money this summer. C Mac Regina is experienced in any air conditioning repair you can toss at us, we work on all pieces of equipment.

The Blog I Don’t Want You to Read

Service plumbing is all about tricky situations. Fitting your body is spaces not meant for those over the age of 10. Working on equipment from 40 years ago half rotted away. These tricky situations can be a lot of fun though. They help push your skill level and creativity to find a solution. There was one call though, if clients saw they would second-guess ever even having me in their home. One call I’ve never discussed I’m so embarrassed what my peers would think of me. One call, I don’t want anybody ever finding out about. So…..

It was a day like any other. An afternoon in mid-May about 2 years ago. I was dispatched to replace a tap. Easy enough, I was thinking it would likely be a quick swap. Once I started speaking to the client I found out the call was actually to replace his roman tub faucet. Again normally this would not be a big deal but road blocks soon arose. To install the new valve you had to work from within a small crawl space below the tub with just enough room to sit upright if you could properly angle your body. Next, the access to the valve was through a small hole cut out from the floor that wasn’t big enough to fit both hands in to work AND be able to see what your doing at the same time. That was nothing though to what came next.

For any of you non-plumbers out there, roman tub faucets generally look like a letter H with an extra fork in the middle on the top side. Some come in 3 pieces, while others are simply 1. This was the latter. The client explained the spacing between his tub holes was an odd size and he could not find a valve with the proper spacing. He wanted me to cut the valve into 3 pieces and modify it so the valve would fit. That’s not normal, if something comes in 1 piece it’s usually meant to stay in 1 piece. I was instantly searching for another way.

Me: “ Well sir, I don’t think thats the best idea.”

Client: “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Me: “Are you sure you couldn’t find the proper valve? If I cut this one into pieces it’s going to void any warranty from the manufacturer. How about you give me 10 minutes to try and source the right one?”

Client: “You won’t find anything. I’ve been to every supplier in the city, and there’s nothing online.  I’m fine with losing the warranty, I need this installed.”

The convo went on for a bit but the client was dead set, so if there’s no other choice there’s no other choice. The client understood the risk he was taking and accepted what might happen. Let’s get busy. That’s when the work got interesting. I worked away cutting the valve into 3 pieces, soldering on adapters, taking measurements. My original game plan soon fell through, as I realized I wouldn’t have the space needed. The valve soon became a Frankenstein type monster. I had soldered on adapters to get me from copper to pex back to copper. I had to use some….(whispers)… shark bite adapters to fit in other spots. Difficulty grew as I talked about before – when I needed to use two hands I couldn’t look at what I was doing. But I created my monster and it looked like one too. I looked up at it and wondered what my chances were this pig was gonna hold once I turned the water back on. So I said a little prayer to the pluming gods and turned on the water. Not a drop squeaked out to my amazement. I wrapped up installing the taps and sat down with the client to go over the paperwork.

No lie, I was (and still am) proud of what I had accomplished. I was able to take a job that placed me back 100 yards from the starting line right from the beginning and made it to the end of the race jumping over every hurdle along the way. I wish I still had the photo of my beast but sadly it’s lost in the aether somewhere. Years from now whoever is the lucky guy to gets to replace that valve is gonna look up and curse and wonder what idiot would have installed this valve. Hopefully he isn’t a fan of blogs.

Tales From the Work Van

Ep. 2

“This is a giant ad for CMS”

There are some old homes in Regina, with old pluming inside of them. A couple of summers ago I was dispatched to a call for a leaking shower handle on the east end of town. The client was a super nice, super old, woman who had lived in the home since it had been built in the 1960’s. One of the bath tubs handles was leaking, easy fix I thought, just a simple cartridge replacement.

WRONG!

Time had taken it’s toll on this particular faucet and the cartridge did not want to budge. As I gave it one last torque of the wrench to try and free it I accidentally snapped it. Any plumber reading this will know my exact feelings at this moment. We’ve all had an old valve or screw or whatever break on us as we’ve been working on it. It doesn’t feel good, you have to fight the urge to just drop your tools and walk out rethinking maybe your mom was right and you should have been a school teacher. But after taking a breath you start looking for solutions.

The name escapes me now but like I said this was a pretty old faucet. I had never even heard of the brand before. I started calling suppliers looking for replacement parts. None of them had heard of the brand! It wasn’t looking good for replacement. It was starting to look like I was going to have to explain to this nice lady that her shower valve was completely FUBAR’d. I wasn’t giving up hope though too soon and explained I was stepping out to source the part. A couple more suppliers later it wasn’t looking good, nobody had anything even close I could use. Replacement of the entire setup wasn’t a better sounding outcome either. The entire shower surround was tile and the style of valve she had isn’t very common anymore. To avoid tile repair a matching valve was going to be expensive. Like get the “F” out of my house right now expensive. But thats where we were. As I started driving back to the client’s house to drop the bad news I had a brain flash, I hadn’t checked CMS!

CMS is located on Winnipeg street. The place is like a hardware liquidation store. I thought if I had any chance to find the part, that’s where it would be. I walked in and headed for the plumbing section. I found an old man employee working behind a counter.

Old man employee “Can I help you?”

Me “Yeah, I doubt your gonna have it. But I got this cartridge for this (insert brand name here) shower valve I can’t find anywhere in the city”

Old man employee squints eyes at cartridge in my hand. And walks over to bins of cartridges.

“Here you go.” Old man employee then proceeds to toss matching cartridge to me as nonchalantly as possible.

Me “Buddy, you don’t how pumped I am that you have this.”

Old man employee just walks away “Yes”

I wrapped up the call and everything couldn’t have gone better and it’s all thanks to the random stuff you can find at CMS. Thank you old man employee, wherever you are.

Renting vs. Buying Water Heaters

Water Heaters: Buying vs. Renting

Ford vs Chev, Flames vs. Oilers, renting vs purchasing. Everybody’s gotta choose a side, but how do you know which one is better? Some decisions are easy, (Oilers, obv!) While others can be a little harder. I have had a lot of conversations with friends and clients over whether it’s better to rent or outright purchase equipment. More and more, plumbing companies are now offering clients the option to rent almost anything, I’ve worked at companies that offer both purchasing and others that are big into renting and have seen the pros and cons of both. The big four are water heaters, softeners, furnaces, and air conditioners. For this post I’m mainly going to try and stick with water heaters as I find the conversation about them a little more debatable than the rest. Maybe later this year I’ll give my rundown about the other three.

I want to stop and make a quick note here that ultimately there really is no right or wrong answer. You work hard for your money and whatever is best for you is what’s important! I just want to provide the ups and downs of either choice so homeowners can make the best educated choice for themselves and their families.

Renting

Pros:

In the short run renting a water heater is going to be the cheaper option. Depending on the size and style of the tank, with install and purchase a homeowner is likely going to have to toss out around $1000 – 2000 give or take. Whereas most companies offering rentals attract customers with extremely low affordable monthly rates and little to no install fees. Nobody is ever ready for their tank to fail, and when you’re faced with the choice of paying $100 or $1000 to get hot water back, the former looks a lot better in the moment.

Renting also takes away all the physical work for the homeowner. The rental company removes the old tank, puts in the new one and handles all maintenance and repairs during the contract. Everybody’s got enough problems already right?! Why worry about the water heater if you don’t have to? No hot water? Call up the company and most can provide same day service for repairs with no charge. One. Less. Worry. If you want to see your water heater last you’re also going to have to perform the maintenance, mainly changing the anode rod. And I can tell you right now, there is a very small percentage of homeowners changing those rods, if they even know they exist! Again, this is a service most rental companies will provide for their rentals.

If there is ONE type of homeowner that renting is the better choice for it’s landlords. I’ve always recommended renting in their situations. They can leave the rental info with the tenants and if there is an issue with the tank the renter can call for service.

Cons: 

If you want to rent, you’re gonna have to sign a contract. And whether its a contract for a water heater or a gym membership, let’s be real, the contract is always in the favour of the business. Nobody ever reads the fine print but most contracts will allow for rental companies to reap as much money and avoid as much responsibility as possible. Transferring contracts if you’re moving is usually pain free, but if you want buy out of your contract and purchase the unit you better expect to pay more than you think. Ultimately renting leads to the homeowner paying more money than if they would have initially purchased. If you have the money available and are even half decently handy, buying is for you.

Another negative aspect of the rental industry is the likelihood you will be paying for either a used tank or used parts to be installed in your home. For many rental companies it’s to their benefit to keep hot water tanks running as long as possible. Even if it means Frankenstein-ing tanks well past their usual life expectancy. This leads to customers paying premium prices for used goods.

Buying

Pros: 

A flat out purchase of a water heater will be cheaper than what you will pay through the lifetime of the rental contract. There is also a lot less risk a homeowner has to take with an unfamiliar company. If the service wasn’t what you expected it’s a lot easier to cut ties. If a homeowner has a specific brand of equipment they want to use, buying will also allow them that discretion. This is a bigger issue than many think. Sure, maybe you have a dud water heater. Sure, you don’t worry about how much the repair is going to cost because it’s a rental. But think about how much time and money is lost every time you’re taking time off from work to wait for the tech to show up to fix it.

Cons:

Hot water tank maintenance, ugggghhhhhh! Like I said earlier, most homeowners have never even heard of an anode rod, let alone given two thoughts about changing one themselves. Don’t get me wrong, in terms of home maintenance, it’s not as hard as cleaning the gutters, but it’s for sure harder than sealing the driveway. And we haven’t even touched on gas valve, or ventor motor failures. These repairs are costs that are placed on the homeowners shoulders to bear.

I know I’ve probably just tossed a lot of info at you in a pretty quick burst, I hope I didn’t bore anyone too much (I know water heaters aren’t as glamorous as kitchen cabinets). If you do have any questions though you can always call or email our office. We can also be reached at our Facebook and Instagram pages, which if you’re not following already, why not?