May 13, 2011

Change Can Be Good

On April 29th, Phil Abraham wrote an interesting blog about copper theft in Omaha. He mentioned a possible solution being the use of PEX piping but said there is resistance to it. He prefers PEX because there is no copper to be stolen and it is easy to work with. But current building code does not accept it. He also wonders if plumbers might oppose it because they see it is giving them less to do an maybe putting some of them out of work.

As I read his comments I thought about a situation that played out over 50 years ago in finishing walls and ceilings in buildings. My grandfather was a plasterer at the beginning of the 20th century. At least four of his sons also became plasterers, including my father who became a contractor with his own business. When he began his business, the lathers put up sheets of rock lath that may have been 18" x 36" (it has been so long ago I can't be sure of dimensions) and was 1/4" or 3/8" thick. Then plasterers put a heavy coat of "brown coat" on it and smoothed it out and then put a thin layer of "white coat" to finish it. In addition to the lathers and plasterers, he also employed laborers who moved the scaffolding in and out of rooms, mixed and delivered the plaster to the rooms, and cleaned up when everything was done.

My father was among the first, if not the first, to eliminate scaffolding by purchasing stilts for the plasterers. He also bought power mixers and pumps to pump the plaster onto walls rather than using a hawk and trowel. But in the late 1950s something called wallboard, or drywall, started making its appearance. Lathers did not like handling the 4' x 8' sheets and refused to work with it. It was thick enough that it did not need to be covered entirely like the small sheets in order to provide fire protection. Just the joints needed to be finished and then a spray texture over everything, so plasterers did not like it and refused to finish it. But the carpenters said they could put it on the walls. The painters said they could tape it an finish it.

By the time the 70s rolled around rock lath and plaster had become only a memory. Those who refused to change found themselves out of work. My father saw the change coming and learned the techniques of drywall finishing. He taught me the importance of accepting change.

I did some research on PEX and it will not replace copper on everything. It is degraded by light so it has to be stored carefully. But when properly handled it sounds like a worthy substitute for copper piping. So to everyone who says they do not like change I would say get over it. Change is inevitable. If you do not like the path change is taking, don't think you can stop it, but you can work to see that it it changes in a good way.

Copper was not always used in pipes. I grew up with lead pipes. Copper was better and safer, so plumbers changed what they used. They may have to change again. Plumbers concerned about their jobs cannot stop it, but they may be able to influence the changes so it works out to benefit everyone.

Change can be good. My father welcomed it and so do I. Some old ways are great and will remain. But cell phones, internet, planes and automobiles are just a few examples of change I would not want to give up. I do not know what next year holds, but bring it on.

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