Praise for the Plumber

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I braved a minus 27 wind-chill (minus 6 degrees actual temperature) to go to the post office to mail a check to the plumber this morning. I couldn’t pay his reasonable bill fast enough. At the beginning of the cold snap, my cold-water pipe froze and burst. I was home and I sprinted down the cellar stairs to shut off the water so there was no damage other than the need to repair the pipe. Jerry and Jeff arrived with a tool that made soldering in the crawl space unnecessary; I had running in water in about 45 minutes.

Each and every plumber I have worked with at home or on the job has been “my hero” at one time or another. In my career, I have seen toilets flood a basement; grit blow a fitting off a wall in a second-floor bathroom, pipes that came precariously close to bursting in a tenant’s office and more. At home, there has been less drama but a lot more ritual. During the cold snap, I have kept the doors open under the sink and shut the water off when I leave for work, because another pipe froze. It thawed without further incident, but the kitchen drain is still frozen. I use a nice little bucket to dispose of the waste water from dish-washing. No, I don’t own a dishwasher – it would just be another thing to freeze!

Given the recent cold snap in much of the United States, where plumbing fixtures and plumbers were pushed to the limit, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the value of indoor plumbing and the people who install and care for it.

Given the recent cold snap in much of the United States, where plumbing fixtures and plumbers were pushed to the limit, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the value of indoor plumbing and the people who install and care for it.

As a teenager, I remember my mom waking up to run the water in our (drafty) old house on very cold nights. She was so diligent about getting to work on time, that while making her plumbing rounds, she would start the car and let it warm up, so it would start in the morning. At that time, the family home was an example of New England connected architecture, designed to permit farmers to walk from house to barn without going outside in the snow and rain. She could walk from the kitchen through the former milk room into the shed that had become a garage to start the car. These valiant efforts were usually accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate or a nip of blackberry brandy. I repeat these rituals on cold nights, too. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” after all is said and done. Here is a tip for old-house owners: hot chocolate or blackberry brandy are wonderful treats to self-reward for virtuous behaviors on cold nights!

Friends say, “Oh, that is life in an old house.” Why does my historic home (now an 1850s Gothic revival cottage) always get the blame? The wind chill tonight is supposed to be minus 30; that is not my house’s fault! Furthermore, my house was not built with indoor plumbing. I bet the owners who added the plumbing and various updates in the 20 century were very proud of their additions to this home. Truth be told, the burst pipe was the first one in nearly 25 years. So, I have been fortunate. Nevertheless, this could have been quite an ordeal without competent #plumbers.

Such a realization brings me to a more serious issue: we really need to encourage young people who have a mechanical bent to consider careers in the trades. We need electricians, sheet metal fabricators, carpenters, and plumbers. The jobs pay well and provide the shelter that buildings afford us. So, when we have the chance, let’s support education in the building trades. I remember reading once that when news anchor Diane Sawyer was asked about her seven-figure salary, she replied that she was “not as valuable as a good plumber.” Now that was high praise, indeed.

Judy Hayward is the executive director of Historic Windsor, Inc. and the Preservation Education Institute (www.preservationworks.org) in Windsor, Vermont She is the education director for the Traditional Building Conference Series and Online Education Center (www.traditionalbuildingshow.com). She can be reached at jhayward@aimmedia.com or peihwi@gmail.com.

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