As a business owner it’s not unusual to get phone calls offering insurance, SEO services, software, and lots other things that I normally politely decline. I was surprised, however, to get a cold call the other day from Which, the would-be go-to guide for any payable products and services. They asked if I’d like to get onto their books as a “Trusted Trader.” I would be listed and rated on their website, along with other plumbers local to my Bristol postcode. On the surface this may seem like a win-win; I get more business in Bristol, and customers using the service can be guaranteed that I’m a reputable and quality tradesperson. The conversation, however, left me very dubious as to what difference signing up to this would make to me or my customers, and who would really benefit from it.
Let’s start from the fact that I was cold-called. I did not have to apply or even be recommended by someone. Not only this, but the person on the phone explained that I would probably pass their application process because only 1 out of every 4 tradespeoplefail to make the cut. A 75% success rate does not imply quality to me. “Which?” markets itself as a scrupulous consumer guide. However, I had a quick look at the “trusted plumbers” that they recommend in my post code. There are 45 of them in total. That’s a very high number for just the BS2 area of Bristol. I have personally seen the work of a few of these plumbers, and I would not consider it of the highest calibre. This is bad for customers and also for the industry. What does it say when plumbers who are promoted as being some of the best are actually just anyone in the top 75th percentile? Many people already have the perception that plumbers cut corners and overcharge, and without a more rigorous selection process, is “Which?” fueling this? Furthermore, does having 45 recommended options to choose from actually make the choice any easier for the customer?
The caller from “Which?” went on to explain that I can pay £70 to go through the selection process, and then £45 per month to be on their books. This last figure goes up depending on the number of employees I have. At this point I really felt like I was just being sold ad space. The caller even called plumbing a “broken industry,” implying we plumbers needed all the help we could get to grow our businesses. If they are charging plumbers to be on their books, it is in their interest to have as many “trusted tradesmen” as possible. Hence the high pass rate. It also implies that they want more big companies as they get a higher fee due to the company having more employees. Is there danger here of larger businesses being on the list because of financial gain rather than quality workmanship? I have seen some bigger employers paying their plumbers minimum wage and scheduling them to work incredibly long hours in bad working conditions. Is it a good idea for these types of businesses to be on the “Trusted Tradesmen” list?
Let me make it clear that I am not bitterly slating all internet recommendations. In posting this, I only intend to question the legitimacy of these “trusted” lists. Which(?) is not the only organisation to have this type of set up. There is Checkatrade, Trustatrader, the AA, RAC, and many others in various industries. I would’t mind if these websites described themselves as what they were: local advertising boards. Businesses need to advertise and when consumers understand that they are looking at a business’s advert they can make an informed decision. I feel it’s a problem, however, when consumers see an advert disguised as a trusted, expert recommendation from an unbiased guide. It seems that with their monthly fee Which? are the only real winners in this scenario. The consumer and the tradesman on the other hand seem to gain very little.
In the UK there comes a point for most people when they start thinking about buying a house. When and if it is financially advisable to get a mortgage is something best dealt with by a bank manager. I can tell you, however, that looking at the plumbing can give you some glaring clues about the quality of the house. In the houses I visit all over Bristol, my job involves a lot of looking behind bath panels and underneath boilers in darkened, dusty cupboards. It is here that I often notice water damage and resulting mould and rot. This compromises the quality of the house, but is often something that isn’t seen until the problem gets a lot bigger, and a lot more expensive to fix. If you are looking at houses to buy, in Bristol or anywhere in the UK, try to have a good look in places like this. Bring along a torch and shine it on all those darkened corners where pipes disappear beneath the floorboards. Ask if you would be able to carefully remove the bath panel, or any panels covering pipes. Of course, this may seem a bit over the top to the seller, but for the sake of a few awkward requests you could get yourself a much better deal and save a lot of hassle down the line.
Even the more visible plumbing can be a good signal as to whether or not the house has been looked after. Does the pipework look clean and straight or does it look kinked and bodged-in as an afterthought to the rest of the house? Sure, it may work fine at the moment, but bad pipework usually ends up being problematic in the long-term. How modern is the boiler? How good is the silicone around the bath, shower, and sinks? If it’s cracked or coming away, chances are it will need replacing sooner rather later. It may even mean that water has got behind the unit and there is invisible damage. Pay attention to the location of things in the kitchen and bathroom. If the toilet is in an awkward place, think about whether you’ll be able to live with it or will eventually want to spend more money rearranging your bathroom. See my Location, Location, Location post for more on this.
The plumbing is not the be-all and end-all of a house, but if you are going to take out hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt, it’s good to know exactly what you’re getting. Think of the pipes as the veins and arteries of the house. Make sure they are in good health, along with the rest of your potential new home.
These are all important plumbing decisions when designing a new bathroom, but before thinking about any of these it is important to first think about location.
Where all of the bathroom features go in the room affects how quickly and efficiently I can do my job putting in the pipework and fitting everything into the room. More importantly, it affects your experience when using the room.
For example, I’ve seen Bristol bathrooms with showerheads placed directly opposite the cubicle door. To let the water run and heat up means then soaking the floor when opening the door again to get in. The only other option is to get in before turning the shower on and then stand under cold water for the first minute or so. Perhaps a good thing for a morning wake-up call, but not ideal for a relaxing experience.
I’ve also seen sinks and toilets squeezed onto a far-too-small portion of wall. These look neat and tidy from the bathroom doorway, but sitting on the toilet with a cold, ceramic sink basin poking into your shoulder is again, a less than pleasant experience. Towel warmers placed well out of reach of the shower will provide an exceptionally frustrating experience on a cold winter morning. Even a frosted glass window will give your Bristol neighbours a glimpse of your silhouette as you get into the bath placed directly underneath it. The list goes on.
With all of this in mind, I always recommend the people of Bristol consider not only the aesthetic value of their new bathrooms, but also the day-to-day experience in these rooms. As a plumber I see my role as more than just fitting whatever does the job wherever it fits, but also helping my customers have a good experience after all the pipework is in and tiles are fitted. Advising on the best layout for a bathroom is an all-important part of the service.
So-called “flushable wet wipes” have been popping up on Bristol’s supermarket shelves in increasing numbers over the past couple of years. They are handy for makeup removal, household cleaning, and personal hygiene, and their popularity is understandable. However, despite the branding, they are in no way “flushable.”
The science is simple: the fibres in wet wipes do not break down once they are flushed. Even the wipes that are labelled as “flushable” have this problem because by definition they need to be made strong enough to stay wet for long periods of time. If they did not have this resilience to moisture they would fall apart before you even took them out of the packaging. Toilet paper, no the other hand, is thin enough to disintegrate soon after passing the U-Bend.
Some wipes claim to meet “flushability protocols,” but again do not be fooled by this. These protocols have been set by the wet wipe manufacturers, rather than plumbing or drain experts.
Flushing anything other than toilet paper, pee, or poo (commonly known as “The Three P’s”) down the loo can lead to serious blockages in your drain, or worse, those of your neighbours. Some estimates suggest that wet wipes are responsible for over 10,000 blocked drains every year. As a result, several water companies have now called for a ban on the word “flushable” on wet wipe packaging.
Wessex Water, who cover Bristol and the surrounding area, have even made the following video to inform people of the damage “flushable” wet wipes can cause:
The solution is simple; put your wet wipes in the bin. You can avoid these costly blockages for yourself, your neighbours, and your city.