Beneficial Bracketry

March 26, 2008

Beneficial Bracketry
By Chip O'Neil, courtesy of Reeves Journal

With the market ailing in 2008, it’s a perfect time for plumbing contractors to look internally at their normal practices in order to increase their bottom line for each project. Here are some ways that properly implementing pipe support and bracketry usage can reduce your overall installation costs and easy-to-implement strategies that will also provide a big upswing once the market turns the corner. Whether you specialize in new construction or remodel and repair, there are three areas that will dramatically help increase your bottom line.

‘Shop Standards’
It doesn’t matter whether residential or commercial work is your specialty. Creating a “shop standard” within your team will provide consistency in all installations and, ultimately, create a higher efficiency rate.

As material types change, so do the methodologies in installing the pipe support for this new material (such as PEX). A big question that continues to be asked by many plumbing contractors is “How do I support PEX?” Because of this, a lot of time is taken at the job site to create field-devised methods in supporting the tubing. These makeshift methods add to your overall installation costs. And if you specialize in remodel and repair work, the lack of scrap materials and extra wood on the job site adds to the expense.

Another benefit to creating a professional shop standard throughout the project is inspections will run a bit smoother because the inspector knows what to expect at each installation. Also, consistent use of engineered solutions for pipe support often allows for the inspector to quickly gauge the strength of the installation.

Lastly, there is something to be said about taking good-looking installations to the bank. General contractors and owners take notice of a plumbing or mechanical contractor who installs clean, engineered solutions. Whether future projects come your company’s way could be influenced by how the installations look on the current project.

Every good contractor understands the role that safety plays on a job site. This applies to not only to employee safety, but also the safety of the people within the building once the project is complete. Additionally, contractors are benefiting from certain safety-driven changes because these changes can reduce installation costs at the same time.

A growing national trend is the elimination of the soldering torch from the job site. Beyond the inherent cost savings in both material and labor, the workplace creates a potentialy hazardous situation each time a torch is lit. Contractors are looking for alternative pipe support methods such as crimp-style joinery or stub-out brackets and clamps that provide torchless installation.

A second pipe support installation that can compromise safety is your multiple overhead runs. Often times, contractors attach hangers to the concrete slab with the use of drop-in anchors or expansion bolts. But, due to extensive use of post tension cables in slabs, there are real dangers encountered when drilling. This method is also fairly slow because of the time it takes to determine the layout, drill overhead, cut all-thread, and attach a pipe hanger.

For these reasons, increasing numbers increasing numbers of contractors are seeing the benefits of cast-in-place concrete insert brackets. These brackets attach directly to the wood form deck before the concrete is poured. Once the concrete is poured and the wood form is stripped away, the insert bracket is easily positioned in place for single, double, or multiple horizontal runs.

Another safety issue involves the support of equipment mounted overhead such as fan coil units, remote chillers for water coolers and water source heat pumps. Even water heaters are occasionally mounted overhead to save valuable floor space.

Contractors often install “makeshift method” platforms built from wood, sheet metal, assembled strut or welded steel components, depending on what materials can be acquired. Because each installation is going to be different based on materials obtained, the quality control isn’t always there. Such makeshift methods haven’t been tested regarding weight load capacities and other basic engineering requirements, and this brings up major safety issues for occupants once the project is complete.

In the case of wood, the platform’s lifespan will be affected by mold, rot or bugs. Prefabricated engineered solutions installed with professional craftsmanship will help eliminate the uncertainty of suspending equipment. Make sure to use heavy galvanized steel construction, as well as reliable watertight drainage components. This will help reduce the possibility of leakage.

Time Management
Contractors often get complacent with their time management when business is slow. It’s critical your valuable time be used in the most effective manner possible. Whether you work in new construction or in remodel and repair, using outside sources and managing your time out on the job will be important.

Contractors bidding on new commercial projects need to look toward their favorite wholesaler or even certain manufacturers that are increasing their services to support contractor efforts. For example, contractors can discuss the possibility of “just-in-time” delivery for projects that don’t have on-site storage space. Also, contractors can work with certain manufacturers and obtain a “Project Consultation” that might include helpful ideas in reducing overall installation costs.

Time management is also important for contractors focusing on remodel or repair jobs, both residential and commercial. For residential contractors, look for engineered pipe support methods you can keep in your truck that are professional looking and easy to install.

Commercial tenant improvement contractors also don’t have the luxury of finding miscellaneous materials lying around a completed project. Look for pre-fabbed engineered solutions, such as a wall-hung water heater platform that allows you to reduce your overall job costs and put more money in your pocket.

The general consensus for the construction industries as a whole for 2008 is soft. New construction contractors will need to look at how they can reduce their overall installation costs for pipe and equipment supports in order to maximize their bottom line for each project. This can be done by implementing an engineered shop standard that will provide a consistent installation, a smoother inspection process and a safer work environment for your crew. If you do remodel and repair work, your outlook for 2008 is probably a bit better. But, remodel and repair plumbing contractors will need to use their valuable time effectively. There aren’t miscellaneous materials lying around the job that you can use for pipe support. Find the engineered solution that offers a quick and professional installation that allows you to move on to your next job.

Chip O’Neil is director of business development for Hubbard Enterprises/HOLDRITE, located in Vista, Calif. He can be reached at (800) 321-0316 or Hubbard Enterprises/HOLDRITE manufactures pipe support systems, seismic water heater supports, and acoustical plumbing products.

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