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Independent sales representatives often play a crucial role in on-site contractor training for new products or installation methods. They provide the manufacturer’s ground support for ensuring that a project is completed correctly and on time, so that the contractors come to trust the product. Such was the case in Texas where PEX piping was recently substituted for copper pipe in a two-building, college dormitory plumbing project.
Faced with budget constraints, general contractor Whiting-Turner approached Armstrong Mechanical to requote the project’s plumbing system. Having been involved in similar projects, Armstrong Mechanical had proven its resourcefulness, and proved it again with the use of time- and money-saving PEX piping by Uponor North America.
Chris Carpenter, President of Armstrong Mechanical, said his company has installed Uponor PEX since 1994; both in residential and commercial projects. “PEX is a huge cost savings over copper, especially in large facilities that require significant amounts of piping,” explained Carpenter.
Still, the use of PEX was not automatic. “Since copper had been the basis of design for the majority of the university’s projects, that is what we originally specified,” said Terry Parham, Project Manager for Armstrong Mechanical, who added the university had serious reservations about PEX because of its lack of experience with the product.
Ultimately, though, the rigid realities of copper made the decision obvious. “The calculated cost of installing copper piping created significant budget issues,” said Parham. At that point, Armstrong Mechanical recommended PEX to be installed within the tight construction schedule and save about $305,000 by avoiding the expense of copper pipe, all while streamlining the installation. In all, 10 miles of PEX pipe, supplied by Morrison Supply Company, was installed in the two dorms.
Once the decision to use PEX was made, Bruce Wood from Pepco Sales and Marketing, a Dallas-based rep firm, worked with Carpenter and his Armstrong team to design an efficient and time-saving plumbing installation. “Because Armstrong had installed PEX in previous jobs, we used strategies that they were familiar with, including brackets, straps and through-the-wall supports,” Wood said.
Pepco facilitated classroom and on-site training on how to install PEX for 40 new Armstrong installers in preparation for the dorm project. “Before they stepped onto the job site, I made sure that every single contractor knew how to make a proper fitting connection and perform a visual inspection,” said Wood.
Wood emphasized that his role goes beyond merely promoting product. “As a sales rep, I partner with the contractors on their side of the table and provide them with as much value as possible in the form of saved time and money. At the same time, they become familiar with the brand and help get the word out later,” explained Wood. Tom Stewart, Director of Southeast Sales for Uponor, echoed the notion. “It’s important for sales reps to grasp the linkage between them and the manufacturer in making the contractor feel appreciated and well taken care of.”
The training ended up being a great success. “The installers couldn’t believe how easy it was to visually verify that the job was done correctly,” Wood said. “They could quickly identify the tight friction fit against the ring and coupling, providing them peace of mind knowing that the job was done correctly.”
Properly trained, the installers enabled the project to reap the full benefits of PEX. “By omitting copper, we saved money, not only on the material costs, but also on labor costs because PEX installations are quicker than copper,” Carpenter said. Parham estimated that several hundred man-hours were saved by installing PEX. “We prefabricated the headers with half-inch run-outs to all of the fixtures, which saved us significant time on the jobsite,” he explained.
Another major advantage of PEX was its flexibility. “We used between 80 and 85 percent fewer pipe fittings with PEX than we would have with copper,” reported Carpenter. “The piping’s flexibility allowed us simply to put it in place and run it to different locations.”
Parham extolled the elimination of jobsite callbacks by using PEX instead of copper. “With PEX, I can walk the building site and visually see that each fitting is done correctly,” he observes. “You simply don’t have that opportunity when you install copper.”
The project was a large-scale installation, and it was imperative to stay organized in order to avoid mistakes and future headaches. “It was important for us to ensure that the installation itself looked nice, while also staying organized on site,” Parham said. “We wanted to ascertain that the PEX was protected from sharp edges and metal studs, and we checked the worksite throughout the installation.”
Pepco’s Wood was impressed to see that all the multiport tees looked great and therefore added to the professional look of the installation. “The worksite had an atmosphere of professionalism,” he observed. “I was very impressed with the entire project – the design, the training of new installers and the installation itself.”
Wood hopes that this project’s success will help make PEX more accepted in the marketplace. “Old habits are hard to break,” he said, “and the biggest obstacle I face in my day-to-day job is to gain acceptance from engineers and owners who are unfamiliar with all the benefits PEX provides.”
To this end, Wood is often seen driving the decked-out Uponor van, eager to invite contractors, engineers and owners to his mobile showroom to demonstrate how PEX jobs look professional and organized with the use of supports and straps. “The van not only fosters brand recognition, but also, with its inventory of samples, serves as a mobile education center for PEX,” explained Wood. “We are slowly changing old behavior through education, site visits to new jobs and peer facilitations.”
Wood is known to invite pros who are unfamiliar with PEX to call on their industry peers with PEX experience for feedback and information on the product. “It’s the best way to build trust with those who haven’t made the leap from copper to PEX yet,” Wood said. “They can call professionals in their own industry — there’s a level of trust there that we simply can’t provide.”
The 10 miles of PEX piping found in the university project is only the beginning of many new similar ventures in Texas, according to Wood, who is convinced that the tide is changing with each new completed project. “We are changing attitudes, one project at a time,” he concluded.
Uponor, Inc. is a leading provider of plumbing, fire safety, radiant heating and cooling, hydronic piping and pre-insulated piping systems for residential and commercial building markets. Uponor, Inc. employs 500 people at its North American headquarters in Apple Valley, Minn. For more information, visit www.uponor-usa.com or call 800-321-4739.