Friday, May 18, 2012

What is it supposed to look like?

Here is an article I wrote a while ago that ran in Phc News, a trade magazine.

What is it supposed to look like?
By Eric Aune, Plumbing & Hydronic Heating Contractor

Today I stood in the door way of a mechanical room for a rather large home somewhere in the northern reaches of a Minneapolis suburb with a look on my face that, I’m sure if the homeowner were there with me, would likely downgrade any amount of credibility I may have had while promptly returning his call for help.  After all, seeing such a menagerie of shiny copper piping assembled in such intricate patterns going in every direction you to might be a little overwhelmed.  Let’s get a little back story first…
Owning your own business has its perks, and depending how much you like to get away on the weekend, one of them being you are on call all the time.  It was Saturday afternoon and a great start to a wonderful July 4th weekend at the family cabin.  Everything was great, we had already cleaned a fresh catch of walleye from the morning bite and the weather forecast had promised to be superb.   This, of course, is about the time when the cell phone rang.  On the other end of the [dreaded now, because I definitely like spending time with the family at the cabin up north] line was a customer from a past hydronic install with a problem…No domestic hot water and an almost empty glycol static fill tank waiting to pump out the last bit of fluid that remained.  Luckily the property of subject was only a quick 4 hour drive away and the wife completely understood the situation.
Now if you’re paying attention you might have put two and two together, and this is where I own-up to the fact that the mechanical room I was standing in front of was one of mine.  The “menagerie” of piping, all put there with pride by my two hands all the while with shoulders held high and a sense of mastery rivaled by only a few.  At least that was how I felt back then.  Now? Well, the look on my face would have likely told a story all too familiar to many of you.  As I stood there, with jaw gaping and eyes peeled, I thought to myself “Why does everything look so complicated?”

Hydronic heating systems in general are intimidating to look at.  Now I’m not saying when you, the professional, enter a mechanical room that you are intimidated but, put yourself in the shoes of the end user.  The immensely intelligent  Robert Bean [], says it nicely when said like this: “One of the things people like about a forced air system is that they have a comfort level with what it looks like --- a furnace looks like a furnace, a condenser looks like a condenser...they're in an enclosure so the homeowner doesn't have to look at any of the inner working -- it looks like an appliance.”  Does your latest hydronic creation look like an appliance? The one I stood in front of today could be called an appliance, yeah if NASA had built it, and even then it would probably still have been tucked away in a remote room somewhere only to be accessed by the guy who designed it…because who else would know what the heck was going on?
Currently there are no parts of a hydronic heating system that can’t be purchased in some preassembled configuration.  Aside from the final gas, electric or venting connections you could design/build  your system right out of a box.  As recent as this spring we have witnessed the national unveiling of a complete boiler [electric] system, all piped and ready to go from a major manufacturer.  So why do we insist, as tradesman/women, that everything be assembled piece by piece? John Barba of Taco has a great explanation in a recent blog post ( ) why the math doesn’t work when you try to justify your operating costs and time available when you choose to do it yourself instead of buying it preassembled.  My argument follows the tail end of his, “Why does it have to be so customized? Why do we make everything so complicated? Shouldn’t we be moving toward uniformity?
Do you buy and install preassembled components? Why do you do it? Why not? When will we see the day when uniformity, as a system, is the norm? I know my latest service call had me wishing for it, will your next call have you thinking the same?

Eric Aune, Owner
Aune Plumbing, LLC
Zimmerman, MN  

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