Glenn the Plumber – Interview
An interview with Glenn form Upkeep Plumbing. How he works, how he talks and the day to day life of a plumber in general. Ed helps Upkeep run their website.
Edwin: And here he is. Hey Glenn, how are you doing? It’s Edwin.
Glenn: Sorry I couldn’t answer. I was just finishing my last job, writing the invoice up.
Edwin: Have you had a busy week?
Glenn: I’ve had a steady week, yeah. It hasn’t been too bad, mate.
Edwin: I’ve been looking around other plumber’s sites and I have some general questions for you.
Stolen Hot Water Systems
Why some hot water systems live in cages
Edwin: With hot water systems you’ve wrote a blog post saying that a lot of them get stolen. Is that still happening?
Glenn: When I first started I was called out. I don’t know if it was just that sort of time of the year or whatever, but I got called out in one week to replace two. I put two new ones back in because people had stolen them.
Edwin: Is that people breaking into the back yard and literally unbolting it from the side of the house?
Glenn: Yeah, yeah. It depends. Sometimes new estates go up and they put the hot water units on the side of the wall. If they’re in people’s view then, yeah, they can come back next day and they’re gone.
Edwin: Have you had to put screens up to sort of hide on new estates with things getting stolen like that?
Glenn: I’ve never put cages around them. But I’ve been and had to service a lot of them that have had cages put around them for that reason.
Edwin: Does anything else get stolen? Toilets?
Glenn: No, no, no. It’s only hot water units. I don’t know it must be people just can’t afford them, and they think, well, yeah, we need a unit let’s just take it.
Edwin: On a day to day basis, I sit at a computer maintaining websites all the time. It’s not very physical. On a day to day basis how do you work? What are your most common calls?
All plumbing jobs are quite different
Glenn: I also do maintenance, which is … it could be any sort of issues from kitchen sink mixer taps that are leaking or breaking. I go repair and replace those. Toilet systems not flushing correctly or buttons on them broken. From toilets leaking to blocked drains. I do a variety of various parts, broken parts, and repair them. Gas lines. The gas company will come and shut the gas off because there’s a leak in the gas lines, so I replace those. Or burst hot water units, burst pipes.
There’s a variety of things, you know? Today I’ve done – what have I done – a hot water unit, a broken tap – what else? A broken toilet system. I do a variety of things in one day.
Edwin: Do you find that people will call you out if they’ve got a broken faucet even? Do you get a lot of those sort of calls? Simple jobs.
Glenn: Yeah for sure. A lot of times people have tried to fix things themselves. They’ve tried to fix them and stuffed them up even more.
Edwin: Threaded the screw or something?
Glenn: That or they’ve done it up too tight and bent it.
Edwin: Is every single job you do completely different?
Glenn: It can be. Yeah. Day to day. Sometimes I might not do a blocked drain for two weeks and then all of a sudden I get two on one day. And another one at the end of the week.
Old School Melbourne Plumber
If he needs a specialist plumbing technology, Glen calls in the experts
Edwin: I was looking around other plumber’s blogs and there’s a lot who are heavy into the technology. Do you use any kind of specific technology with your plumbing or are you old school?
Glenn: I’m pretty much old school. I’m not real good at technology. When you say plumbing technology what do you mean?
Edwin: For example – finding leaks with sonar equipment?
Glenn: If there’s an issue like that I always get a leak detector in. There’s a lot of things in plumbing that have become specialised. Different people and trades.
Like roof plumbing. I don’t do roof plumbing if I can avoid it because I only do my own maintenance stuff. Occupational Health and Safety is a big issue so I don’t bother with major roofing jobs.
Edwin: For Upkeep Plumbing it’s everything from the ground down, or from the sink down.
Glenn: Pretty much. I do replace guttering, or maintain existing gutters and down pipes. I also get on roofs to check leaks, but if someone were to ask, “Would you replace my roof on the house?” I’d have to say no.
Edwin: Different person, different job. What’s your favourite job? What do you like doing?
Glenn: Oh, I don’t mind. I enjoy … Putting up wall units is pretty good. I enjoy doing all the various plumbing jobs.
I just do – whatever. A lot of people ring up and say, “I’ve got small job, I don’t know if you’re interested?” Upkeep Plumbing can do them all. I do maintenance jobs. Often you can get other work from doing a small job.
Edwin: I know what you mean. You want your magnet on the fridge, don’t you really?
Glenn: Correct. Whenever I do any job I always give them a fridge magnet… Repeat business is what keeps you going.
Edwin: With your business, are you a one man show or do you work with other people like me? You were saying that sometimes you need to bring a specialist in.
Glenn: I mostly work alone. If there’s a major issue, then I’ve got other guys who can help. Sometimes I refer jobs on if I don’t have the resources, equipment or specialist know-how.
Edwin: Are you planning to expand your business? If so, what area do you want to go into? Or are you happy as it is?
Glenn: At the moment, I’m pretty happy with what we’re doing.
Edwin: As a freelancer you can work your own hours.
Glenn: Exactly. I mean, there’s days (e.g. school holidays) where I’ve got to look after the kids. People ring while I’m looking after my kids. I just book them in the next day.
Edwin: I have some questions here that I gleaned from a lot of other plumbing websites. “Questions should you ask your plumber.” That sort of thing. Some of these might be hairy questions, but I’m going to ask as if someone is hunting for a plumber to do regular maintenance work. Are you ready?
Upkeep has all the relevant clearances and plumbing qualifications
Edwin: Are you licensed and what does that mean?
Glenn: I am licensed. It means that you’ve passed the various courses in plumbing basically. You passed all your theory and everything that goes with plumbing to get your licence. You’ve got sit tests and pass them.
Edwin: Do you ever do specialist courses to expand your plumbing repertoire?
Glenn: No – because then that goes into air conditioning, and other areas …
Glenn: … I have done my gas plumbing and related courses.
Edwin: You’re a traditional sink down man.
Glenn: I suppose with gas plumbing that’s sort of true. Some Melbourne-based plumbers won’t do gas fitting. I do gas fitting.
Edwin: A lot of the questions are about the cost of plumbing and plumber hourly rates. And payment terms.
A Plumber’s Free Quotes
Glen does free quotes. This is how it works . . .
Edwin: Are your estimates free? When would a plumber’s estimate not be not free?
Glenn: If people ring up and say, “Does Upkeep do free quotes? (and we do) I go out there and do them. Some people want quotes over the phone. I can’t do those over the phone. I need to see the issue. What someone tells you over the phone can turn out to be a totally different issue when you get there. We do free quotes. I suppose, it’s not a free quote when you start doing actual plumbing work there and then.
Edwin: Do you ever find (as I often do with websites) there’s a lot of scope creep that you have to deal with? There’s a thing called scope creep in my industry. That’s when a project is quoted at a certain price. Then when you start doing the job, people start asking questions about it and you realise they want something else. Is there a lot of that goes on in your industry as well?
Glenn: Yes and no. For example, what they say on the phone might be quite different to what’s required when you assess the job and what’s required.
You then need to explain. “To this, I’m going to need this part and this part, and it’s going to be additional labour … So yeah,
I suppose it is.
Edwin: Some curly questions for you. Again to do with cost. Are you on an hourly rate, or do you quote for each job?
Glenn: It depends. When I go to an actual job, I see what needs to be done, and in me head I sort of know roughly what parts are going to cost, ’cause I do it all the time. I know roughly how long it will take, too. So I might say to them, “Look, I can do this, with $X for parts, and labour for 350 bucks. By the time we work out a price. Usually I quote like that.
Edwin: On the day you can see what it is that you’ve got to do.
Glenn: Correct. Sometimes they say, “Right, we need to renew the water line,” for instance. That means you have to crawl under the house. And that can be an all day job.
Glenn: You know you’re going to be all day, plus parts etc. Because I’ve done so many similar jobs and the size of the house, you know what it’s worth. I might say, “Look, it’s going to cost you two and a half grand for parts, fittings and labour. That will get it all done and dusted.” If they say, “Yep, no worries.” Off you go.
But we do hourly rate. If I have to go change, I don’t know, a tap or something – we’d work on hourly rates then.
Edwin: What about after the job. The cleanup and mess is all part of the job, isn’t it?
Glenn: Oh yeah, if I make a mess in there, I’ll clean up. I’ve got my own little dustbin. Again, it depends on what job it is again. If it’s changing a tap, I might ask to borrow a bucket or atowel, ’cause it will drip when you disconnect things. I do clean up. That’s part of a plumber’s day.
Edwin: Do things often break? When you’re fixing one thing, does another thing break? That can happen with me.
Glenn: That’s what I always explain to the customer before I start. I say look, this has been here since day one. It could be 40 years since the house has been built.
Glenn: There’s a possibility that if I undo this, because it’s a part of this old rusted pipe, it might just snap off. That means we’re gonna have to replace the rusted pipe or whatever.
Bathroom & Kitchen Upgrades
A Plumber’s perspective . . .
Edwin: I noticed on your site, that you do bathroom and kitchen upgrades. Obviously I’m assuming you do that with other people? Tilers etc.
Glenn: That’s right. I do the plumbing part of it. That usually means moving water pipes, waste water pipes etc. Then connecting up all the kitchen sinks and laundry sinks and dishwashers and gas cook tops and stuff like that. Basically I manage all the plumbing aspects of a renovation.
People do ring up asking for a quote to do a kitchen or bathroom reno. I get there and they ask what do you do and I just go from there. I I work with a guy that can do tiling, fitting and painting etc. We work around each other and work it out together.
Edwin: Do you think that most of the plumbing that’s done after a bathroom’s been designed can create problems?
Glenn: Yes. You need to know what vanity you need and where the shower’s gonna go, toilet etc. You need to know where the waste is going. Basically you need to know where the waste and water is coming from and going to. If the house is on a slab, you’re in all sorts of trouble.
Edwin: You’re stuck.
Glenn: All sorts of trouble because obviously when you buy the house it’s already designed and you have waste coming up through the slab. If you want to move it, you have to jackhammer it … I’ve been to a few houses where the house in on a slab and they go, “We want to redo the bathroom. We want the shower to move from there to there,” and then I have to explain. I say, “You know your house is on a slab. That means we have to jackhammer through the concrete to move pipes,” etc. All that sort of jazz.
It gets a bit costly and expensive, they think, “oh.”
Edwin: If they are on a slab, it’s probably better to design around pipe entrances and exits?
Glenn: Definitely. They can do a good upgrade with modern fixtures, for sure.
Edwin: Good one Glenn. Thank you. We’ll speak again soon.
Glenn: Alright mate.
Edwin: You’ve been most informative.
That was Glenn from Upkeep Plumbing South East Melbourne. We both hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as we liked making it. All the best and see you all again next time.