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For more than a century, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 562 has served the plumbing and mechanical industry in eastern Missouri by offering a hands-on training program for upcoming trades professionals. Their mission — to provide a superior education program that integrates technical, on-the-job and academic training to meet the needs of contractors and the surrounding community — lives on with the addition of their Earth City, Missouri campus.
The new $18 million training facility offers a “wet lab” set-up that allows students to install, repair and take apart different plumbing fixtures. The facility contains a state-of-the-art, three-story spec house where students can apply their plumbing, pipefitting and HVAC knowledge by installing fixtures within mock-up bathrooms and kitchens. Additionally, there is a special instruction room equipped with showers, sinks and toilets attached to framed walls so students can learn pipe installation and repair methods. A sand pit is also available for students to gain experience with sewer lines.
Finding the right fit
The Earth City campus was in need of some supplies commonly seen in the market to give upcoming plumbers an education that mirrors real-world scenarios. The training center prioritizes using the most up-to-date technology and techniques available in the plumbing and mechanical industry, so they stocked up on RAUPEX crosslinked polyethylene (PEXa) pipe and fittings from REHAU.
Paul Gallagher, a full-time instructor who has been with Local 562 for nearly 22 years, spoke with plumbing expert Jeff Strothmann and heating expert Bill Fey from REHAU manufacturers’ representative Specified Systems about the facility’s need for PEX fittings. Jeff has worked alongside Local 562 for a number of years, offering training and trusted insight related to PEX products. After Strothmann completed a demonstration with the REHAU EVERLOC+ compression-sleeve fitting system, Gallagher was eager to the get the fittings into his students’ hands.
“Paul started out specifically interested in F1960, but when cold conditions came into play, he liked how the EVERLOC+ system wasn’t susceptible to delays,” Fey explained. “Once the connection was made, the system could immediately be pressurized. He wasn’t aware of that type of fitting connection before.”
Local 562 trains a number of service plumbers who encounter a range of repairs. EVERLOC+ is particularly helpful for service plumbers with design features that help them get it right the first time. A textured compression sleeve and multiple sealing edges ensure a secure connection, so service plumbers are less likely to be called back to a jobsite for repairs. EVERLOC+ further offers 360 degree connection control and an easy visual verification that allows plumbers to move onto their next job with confidence.
Another appealing aspect of EVERLOC+ for service plumbers is how the product eliminates wait time for pressure testing, even in cold conditions. “Service plumbers don’t have the time, especially when it’s cold, to wait for the pipe to shrink back down when using F1960,” Strothmann said. “EVERLOC+ has quick sealing and takes quick pressure on it so plumbers can keep moving.”
After the demonstration, Strothmann and Fey collaborated with REHAU to organize a donation of EVERLOC+ compression-sleeve fittings and F1960 cold expansion fittings. “When we were contacted about the donations, we told those guys ‘of course,’” said REHAU’s Midwest sales manager Jeff Halter. “REHAU is happy to provide students the fitting systems for PEX piping seen in the market. Whether it’s our high-performance EVERLOC+ or the industry-standard F1960, we want to give people in the field an understanding of how to work with each system.”
Work smarter with PEXa
Knowledge relating to PEXa plumbing products has become increasingly important for upcoming plumbers and pipefitters. While CPVC and copper remain in training center teachings, PEXa is increasingly installed in new plumbing systems. “Especially in the St. Louis residential market, we are seeing more PEXa. That goes for the commercial market too,” explained Gallagher.
The steady growth of PEXa in contemporary plumbing systems can be attributed to many factors, but cost is a major consideration. “Copper is getting more expensive,” Strothmann said. “This is one of the reasons why people are becoming more receptive to PEXa and why we’re seeing more and more people making the switch.”
PEXa pipe boasts several benefits that surpass the properties of rigid pipe. For example, REHAU RAUPEX pipe resists common plumbing system challenges that reduce flow over time in metal piping alternatives, such as corrosion, pitting and scale buildup. The flexibility of PEXa piping such as RAUPEX also reduces installation time and costs, as the pipe can easily bend around obstacles without the need for additional fittings to make directional changes.
While some plumbers have recently discovered the benefits of PEXa, the pipe material demonstrates a proven track record of longevity and reliability as REHAU PEXa-based plumbing systems have been installed throughout the United States and Canada for 25 years. “Rigid pipe has been the industry standard for years, but we want to show upcoming tradespeople that there are alternatives that are actually better,” explained Fey. “You can use PEXa and provide the customer with a longer-lasting, more efficient and cost-effective system.”
As PEXa-based plumbing systems continue to grow in popularity among tradespeople, Local 562 ensures their plumbers are prepared for changes taking place in the field. “I want to make sure the journeymen here see all aspects of what’s going on in the plumbing industry and that includes newer technologies like expandable PEXa,” Gallagher said. “We have apprentices seeing REHAU and PEXa and realizing this is something that’s not going away. It’ll be around forever. We’re teaching them the right way of doing it, so they’ll be ready to work with any contractor.”
Ready for the field
The Earth City Local 562 location opened its doors in June 2020. Since classes began in August 2020, the facility has welcomed nearly 800 upcoming plumbers and pipefitters. Apprentices will use REHAU’s pipe and fittings throughout their five years of education at Local 562, whether they are learning the basics about pipe-to-fitting connections or installing plumbing system fixtures in the spec house. For journeymen continuing their education, they will also use EVERLOC+ and F1960 in evening seminars. “I couldn’t be happier with how Specified Systems came in and brought REHAU to Local,” Gallagher said. Strothmann and Fey will continue to work alongside Gallagher to personally deliver a fitting training to students sometime in 2022.
The next generation of Local 562 apprentices will gain skills that reflect plumbing and mechanical industry best practices as they use PEXa pipe and fittings, positioning students as valuable and adaptable plumbers and pipefitters. Gallagher concluded, “I hope the biggest takeaway students have when leaving the center is that they learned to be the best plumber they can be.”
To learn more about REHAU plumbing systems, visit https://www.rehau.com/us-en/plumbing.