Welcome to Season Two of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical.
This season will be a little bit different than Season One. In Season Two, each episode will feature three short sections with three different guests. Our first section will be policy and things that are impacting jurisdictions. Our second segment will be news and information and the latest trends of what's going on in the plumbing industry. And finally our third section will cover the good work that the plumbing industry is doing. We hope this will give our listeners a big-picture view of what's going on in our sector and keep you all in the know.
On this episode, we'll be speaking with Dain Hansen, executive vice president of Government Relations for The IAPMO Group in our policy segment. In our news segment, we'll be speaking with Darion Ziegler, architect at NELSON Worldwide. In our third section, we'll be talking with Michael Lavoie, president of The Drain Whisperer and a registered plumber in the state of California.
Welcome to The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. When talking about the built environment, we would do well to remember: we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Therefore, on each episode, we'll discuss the latest trends from IAPMO in plumbing and mechanical safety, sustainability and resiliency.
Join me, your host, Christoph Lohr. And together, we'll explore the ways we can make our buildings shape us for the better.
Welcome to Season Two of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. This season will be a little bit different than Season One. In Season Two, each episode will feature three short sections with three different guests. Our first section will be policy and things that are impacting jurisdictions.
Our second segment will be news and information and the latest trends of what's going on in the plumbing industry. And finally our third section will cover the good work that the plumbing industry is doing. We hope this will give our listeners a big-picture view of what's going on in our sector and keep you all in the know. And now for a message from this episode's sponsor.
In manufacturing, creating sustainable products requires more than just words. Uponor, a pioneer in water and energy efficiency, believes the creation of innovative products begins with embracing the ideas that however much a company takes, it must give back more. Uponor strives to manage scarce resources and manufacture responsibly, from conserving water, reducing waste, improving energy efficiencies, and empowering its people. Learn how Uponor is moving sustainability forward. For more, visit uponor.com.
On this episode, we'll be speaking with Dain Hansen, executive vice president of Government Relations for The IAPMO Group in our policy segment. In our news segment, we'll be speaking with Darion Ziegler, architect at NELSON Worldwide. In our third section, we'll be talking with Michael Lavoie, president of Drain Whisperer and a registered plumber in the state of California.
So let's get at it. Here's my policy conversation with Dain Hansen.
Dain, tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
My background has largely been in association management and engagement from the policy perspective over the years. So I have been with IAPMO for quite some time, just pushing 10 years, and essentially overseeing our policy efforts, our global policy efforts.
Our engagement with the USAIDs of the world, the international ministries and local ministries that we work with, where we have local presence, an office, and an interest, but also, the very real and applicable areas of federal, state and local engagement related to IAPMO's interests, products and services.
So that's the role I serve now, but my background has always kind of been in the policy realm. Before this I worked at another trade association, did their lobbying. And before that I worked on Capitol Hill and did congressional campaigns. So working on Capitol Hill I'm really focused on energy and water issues. That was where my policy expertise was, working from the appropriations angle, advising members of Congress on federal funding levels for major water projects, water funding. So it's been a really good continuation of my expertise on the federal policy, all the way into what we're doing now.
Excellent. You mentioned federal policy and your involvement and your history and your contacts there. We have a lot going on right now in the world of plumbing it seems like from an infrastructure standpoint. The big one right now is the infrastructure package at the time of this recording. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit, a sort of a general overview of what's going on in that realm?
Yeah, so this is a major, major package. This is a major victory for the administration and actually not just the administration, but the entire country. You're talking about a $944 billion bill. This includes 550 billion new dollars in spending. This is a major issue with significant amounts of funds designated and earmarked for water projects And representing the water-built environment-plumbing industry, this is, really the time is now; there are issues that we're seeing across our country with water infrastructure, with failing infrastructure, lead service line with contamination in schools, all the way down to the efficiency and conservation within buildings. In this package, it authorizes and gives over $200 million just for lead service line replacement and lead addressing in school systems, but also nearly $12 billion in basically replacing lead service lines. But also what is interesting, my big push and interest of IAPMO has also been water reuse, and there's over $1 billion in funding for water recycling programs. That's a big deal. Water reuse is kind of becoming the new big thing, and everyone's starting to focus on that.
You see some really progressive cities focusing on this and for the federal government to drop significant money in there is really, really neat. There's money in there for PFAS; there's money in there for low-income and disadvantaged communities. There's a lot of great issues in there. So there's going to be a lot more coming; the president, by the time this podcast airs, hopefully he has signed it into law.
The goal is later this week and it's a great initiative, great programs that are going to, I think, the states and people who are most severely impacted are really going to feel the benefit from.
And speaking of benefits, I think, one of the things that has been more and more on the forefront of my mind, is especially the benefits to those most in need.
And obviously we've seen things over the last several years with the Flint water crisis and areas of the Southern U.S. where populations don't even have access to water and sanitation. That's just in the U.S.; I mean, it's around the world, too. What impact will this bill have for those folks? Are there opportunities for charity and philanthropies to get involved?
There is. This is going to create kind of an over abundance of blessings, if you will. I think it's going to be so much money coming down the pipeline — no pun intended — it's going to be a challenge to try to leverage all this money to the most effective nature. And what I mean by that is simply, workforce.
There's billions and billions of dollars that are going to be needed to be designated to address these projects and these issues. Is there enough out there? Is there enough people in the workforce to be able to make those changes, to be able to make those efforts? But to your question, there is a significant amount of money in there for low-income and marginalized communities.
You nailed it on the head exactly right. There's a recent study that came out that says there's over 500,000 people, a half a million people, and that's a conservative estimate, that have no indoor plumbing in the United States. We know that there's over 2 million people in the United States, again, conservative, it could be closer to 3 million, who have no access to safe drinking water or sanitation.
And that number is growing. The scary thing is that number is growing. It's not declining. We've seen, if you look at the data over the years, the numbers are increasing. The marginalized people who don't have access to water are increasing. And if you step back and look, 500,000 people in the United States don't have access to plumbing.
They don't have indoor plumbing in their home. They're still relying on bottles of water or a pit latrine or walking out to an outhouse. So that's the reality of people in here. So in this project, in this specific bill, there's $550 million in there just for water filters for disadvantaged communities, because people who may not have access to a new well were contaminated.
Well, this gives specific money just for disadvantaged community water filters. There's an entire project here that creates a whole new grant program for decentralized systems just for low-income households. And then also this is the first time ever that the Indian Health Services' facility construction program will be fully funded at $3.5 billion.
So you're talking about Native American populations, indigenous populations, are a large part of those who are facing the dire consequences of no water access and sanitation access. And this sets it aside. There's a significant amount of money that has been set aside here for these populations, and that's the beauty that we work within those populations on a daily basis, not just from a public policy perspective, but also from the philanthropic perspective. Our entire charity, IWSH, is focused on providing those resources and helping people get access to those. Not only directing them how to get guidance to those funds, whether it be through SRF funding, through their state, or even other block grant programs that they may have access to, but also going in and helping them develop these projects to be able to put in a septic system for people, put in water filtration systems for folks, put in water systems so they have drinking water in their home or a shower in your home, and just the dignity that people deserve. And that's the beauty that IWSH has been able to work within and our projects throughout the country. Navajo Nation, Texas, looking at Alabama, there's other places that we're already engaging on a regular basis, even up in New York, where there's significant numbers of people that do not have access to this basic, basic right that we all take for granted. And it's just these communities that have essentially been swept under the carpet. And when you tell people the numbers and just the sheer numbers of how many people are living without in the wealthiest country in the world, it is mind blowing for people, but that's why we're going to make the change.
We're not going to be a part of the problem, and we know the problem's there, we're part of the solution. We're not here to just highlight the problem — "Oh, look how bad it is." But we're actually putting our money where our mouth is. We're devoting resources to changing those lives and also changing the policies in some of these areas to be able to help make them a reality, to be able to say, "You know what, what are some of the reasons why they're in this situation in the first place? How can we help change public policy so that doesn't happen in the future?"
Amazing, amazing. It's really inspiring, although one of the things you mentioned about a minute ago is there's a huge opportunity, but also a pretty big need.
Are you thinking that from what you've heard, is there going to be some kind of issue in actually getting all the work done?
Well, I think that's kind of the backroom chatter right now among industry right now, not just our industry, but this is not just water. This infrastructure package does bridges, roads, streams.
It does buildings. It does a lot of stuff. And I think the backroom thought right now is, this bill extends money out for five years. So it's essentially a five-year spend that's broken out by year. Are we going to have enough people? Not just people, but also supplies. We already know that there's a deficit in supply chains.
We know that there's that backlog of container ships coming to the coast and even getting stuff built and manufactured. We know manufacturers, not just in our industry, but all industries right now in manufacturing, are facing a shortage and the demand still rises. The demand is still there, and this is going to create an even bigger demand.
These monies have to be spent within the time allocated. And so is there going to be the manpower? And I think that's a big question right now. Talking to some folks within the industry and some of our labor and non-labor contractors who we work closely with is, they're busy; they have so much work right now, and that's before this infrastructure package has passed.
So now they're going to even have these other major projects under a very tight timeframe. So I think a big discussion needs to be had on workforce development and training, because the money is going to be there, but are we going to have the people in the positions to be able to do the work? And I think our industry is very resilient and they'll come together and do all they can to help. But I think at the end of the day, there needs to be a serious discussion on on-the-job training, vocational school support. What does that ultimately mean at the end of the day when we need people and doing these projects? I think it's, like I said at the beginning, it's an overabundance of blessings, but it also has problems coming aside with it because logistically how do you implement such a big project? But I think that's the beauty of IAPMO. That's the beauty of our industry. That's the beauty of IWSH. We're coming together, bringing the best and brightest. We're bringing manufacturers from all over the world, policymakers together, to really address these problems. And so it's neat to see this finally come together, this infrastructure package come, especially at the time it is in our nation's history. This is a big boost for us. And I think, but to answer your question, I think that's the underlying tenet right now is what will ultimately come in a few years and are they going to have to pass legislation to extend out the life of this so people have more time to spend the money rather than within the five years and things like that.
It's so interesting, because I sit there and I think about education and what IAPMO does and it does play a huge part in it. And I think Nick Saban had the famous line, it's about getting the right seats at the right people on the bus.
And I think training and education and having the right credentials and the right experience and the right understanding to be able to implement things is so key. All right, lastly on this infrastructure bill, I think a lot of people think infrastructure they think outside the building, they think utility mains service lines, especially on the water side.
But there's a lot of piping inside the building. I think some people even argue there's more piping by lineal feet inside buildings than it is out on the utility mains. How will this infrastructure package impact water inside the building or plumbing systems inside the building? I think that's a lot of our listeners probably, I would imagine that a lot of infrastructure goes outside the building. Obviously, even though we've talked about some of the filters and stuff for disadvantaged communities. But is there opportunities for piping systems inside the building to, what part do they have to play in improving infrastructure in the U.S., or potential opportunity maybe even?
Yeah. Well, I think there's a, there's quite a few out there. In the specific infrastructure package, just based upon the negotiation and the way D.C. is, is they really did have to negotiate this to true infrastructure issues. And so to your point, largely it is outside the building; that's where the whole lead in copper rule from EPA comes into play, which is kind of in limbo right now, but hopefully it'll get across the finish line. And also the Build Back Better Act, the other major legislation that the administration is looking at right now, which will include other fundings for specific demand-side water, inside-the-building type of systems.
Because both of those are really the crux of where the water hits the people essentially. A lot of these things are before the meter, before it gets to the people, but there are parts within this bill that do affect demand-side water or are inside the building. But I think the bigger angle will be ultimately with EPA because as you know, with the lead in copper rule and the way it's leaning and the way their early drafts have come out, is that they want anyone who has lead in copper or other contaminants within their water systems, it's a requirement that there's some abatement program created. So does that mean it comes through lead service line replacement or within the building, is it going to be point of use or point of entry? In many cases, and especially in some of these marginalized communities, that may be a point of entry, a major point-of-entry filtration system to be able to get the water safely there.
But I think that we can't overlook the importance of products like the Water Demand Calculator as well. We know that there's a lot of support out there and a lot of funding flowing out there from the government and block grant levels. But when it comes to the water we do use and the water we do have, ultimately we have to be as smart as we can with it.
And that's why the Water Demand Calculator and even the recent Water Demand Calculator Summit, which you held last week, talks really intricately about the science behind this. The science behind the water demands of our buildings in the United States really hasn't been updated since the '40s, with researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
That hasn't happened until IAPMO comes along with this really innovative program, which does save not only water; it saves water, it saves water, the demands that, and it also saves money at the end of the day. It saves the homeowner money, it saves the builders money in material costs because they don't have to overbuild for something if they know exactly what kind of water is being expected. So ultimately, that's again, going back to the full suite of services of IAPMO that we bring, is not just the policy, not just getting the policy to where it's most critical for our industry and also society as a whole, but our philanthropic outreach.
How do we really engage with these people and give that woman on the Navajo Nation who's 90 years old, who's never had access to water, getting her access to water for the first time in her life, all the way down to just your average homeowner trying to save on material, on costs at the end of the day, when everyone's trying to look at costs and savings right now. Those are the beauty, and that's another example of some of the services we offer.
What a great way to wrap up that talk, Dain, and I appreciate you giving the nod to the Water Demand Calculator Summit as well. It was a really successful event and I think you're totally right. I think the work that we're doing at IAPMO, it aligns so well and supplements so well all these other things that are occurring right now in the industry. To wrap up your talk, I might ask a little bit of a different question here, because I think you're going to come on to the show a few times over the next, let's say at least the next year, the next couple of years. The next time that you're on, obviously there's going to be a lot that will have happened.
What do you think we'll be talking about the next time that you're on the podcast with us? I know it's maybe a little bit of an off-the-all question, but I figured I'd end our session here with asking you maybe to predict the future a little bit. And then I guess we can see how accurate you were.
I think the big thing will be implementation. Honestly, if I could put that into one phrase it would be, how is this ultimately gonna start getting implemented? What sort of hiccups are we going to see along the road? Anytime you have a major multibillion, close to trillion-dollar package process, it's unduly burdensome. Absolutely. So I think ultimately implementation because we can't let the bureaucracy and lack of implementation affect those who really need it. The mom who has three kids at home who can't drink their water and has to use an outhouse, it's unacceptable that they have to wait because of the bureaucracy or inability to be able to make the changes where it's needed.
So ultimately, I think it's going to come back to getting this implemented, getting it down quickly as we can to where it's needed most. Those communities in society that really have the worst systems or worst infrastructure our country has. How do we get it to them quickest?
Awesome. Awesome. Well, you are on social media, and you have email and you're somebody that's networks quite a bit. If people are interested in learning more or connecting with you on social media, what's the best way for them to do that?
So we have our Twitter account, which is @IAPMOGR; Dane Hansen, D-a-i-n H-a-n-s-e-n. I'm on LinkedIn and pretty engaged there. We also have IAPMO's website, iapmo.org/gr, where we really outline a lot of our policy priorities and really engage from the public policy perspective. So if you need to get ahold of me, I'm always available and love to chat with folks on some of the issues they're seeing and how we can really help benefit and provide further services to the industry.
Dain, just want to say thank you so much for being on the show. Great perspectives, valuable insights, really appreciate your expertise and your experience and sharing that with our listeners today.
Thank you again for having me; I look forward to being back.
As plumbers or plumbing engineers. It's easy to get stuck in our normal routine and lose sight of the big picture and projects as a whole. In our next segment, I talk with Darion Ziegler, architect at NELSON Worldwide, and discuss how plumbers and plumbing issues can better work with architects.
Welcome to the show, Darion.
Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
It's great to have you here. We met a few weeks ago, actually, back in September at the ASPE Technical Symposium in San Diego, had a really engaging conversation and it was fun talking to you about some of the differences in approaches in terms of architecture and engineers, when it comes to the built environment. Before we dive into that, though, would you mind giving some of our guests a little bit of background about yourself?
Yeah. So my name is Darion Ziegler and I'm an architect at NELSON Worldwide in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm also involved with Black Spectacles, which is an architectural registration exam test prep company. I host bi-weekly workshops for them based around how to pass the project management exam. I've also been involved with their ARE Live podcast, which is the podcast based around helping architects pass their registration exams to get their licensure. I also was able to infiltrate the ASPE Convention and had a great time talking to all of the engineers that were there and getting to hear their perspectives on some architectural and building industry topics.
I love your word there, infiltrate. Definitely was welcome to have an architect there. And I think we need more of that silo breaking down between the disciplines to get better solutions. And it was during our conversations, actually, there was a lot that I kind of picked up on and I thought, you know what? We need to have podcast about this.
And you had said you had a podcast. You want to tell us a little bit about the podcast that you're involved with?
Yeah, so Black Spectacles produces their Are Live podcast every couple weeks. They have a new episode where they touch on topics that pertain to helping candidates pass their Architectural Registration Exams.
The podcast I was involved in in particular for them was a sort of workshop preview of the group exercises that Black Spectacles hosts. We talked about some of the questions that you might see on the project management exam when you're taking your Architectural Registration Exams and how you can approach those sort of standardized test questions to be successful.
And it was great to be able to record with them and to get that out there. Always a huge fan of getting as much information as possible, and podcasts are really great ways to do that. So also super excited to talk to you today, Christoph.
Awesome. Well, I was going to say, I'm glad we were able to get some time scheduled and I think your point about podcasts being this great medium for getting information out there is spot on.
We're living in the golden age of information, I think. There's so much learning and teaching opportunities available out there. So I'm glad that we were able to get this scheduled. So the first thing I think that I wanted to touch on, and this was from our conversation, I imagine a lot of our listeners have worked with architects — some of them may even be architects — but a lot of our listeners are going to also be from the plumbing industry, whether they're engineers, designers, contractors, installers, or inspectors or manufacturers. And so their interactions with architects are going to be very different than maybe what architects have with plumbers or the plumbing industry.
So from an architect's view, how does architecture impact plumbing and vice versa? What are the sort of the trends that you see in that regard?
Yeah. So a lot of times when architects are working with their plumbing engineers, for better or for worse, they're kind of looking at the plumbing that needs to be included in this building as maybe more of a minimum compliance; they are looking to really create these spaces and they might not be having that view of how the plumbing engineering can maybe advance and improve their own design.
Instead, they're really focusing on those spatial relationships. What they say in architecture school is you always need to create a narrative for the space, a story of what happens when you walk into it. And I think maybe one of the blind spots architects can have is how the plumbing engineering can impact that.
A lot of times the program type, what the building is being used for, is really going to affect the plumbing systems that need to be included in it and what's required. So for instance, is the building a high-rise? What kind of booster pumps are they going to need to have because of that? Is it a large square footage?
Is it a really wide building? The impact of plumbing is clearly seen, I think, in something like a hotel design. For instance, in hotels, when you have these guest rooms, they're usually stacked. If you've ever been at a Holiday Inn or a Marriott, you know that one floor is mostly like the other, and part of the big reason for that stacking of the rooms is that you want the plumbing chases to be ran straight up. In something like a hotel that's going to be super important, is that efficiency.
And so I think that's one way that you can actually see how plumbing design impacts architecture, and one of the omissions that sometimes architects can make in their early designs is accounting for drainage. One of the impacts you're going to see is not having these magic floating roofs that are 6 inches thick.
If you're an engineer who has worked with architects, you've probably seen architects do this. Maybe they have this beautiful canopy that has this great, smooth white surface, and they send you a rendering of it and it's 2 inches thick and there's no slope on it; it's completely flat. And that does not work no matter how much as architects, we would love for that magic floating horizontal plane.
We rely on our plumbing engineers to remind us gently that the water does need to drain off of those and it cannot just sit there.
I think that's a great summary in many respects of the early part of my career and learning how to have those conversations. One of the things you mentioned was this narrative for the building.
I think that's the part on the engineering and maybe on the plumbing industry side, a lot of times we forget, is the narrative of the building. And my sense is I just want to hone in on that before we move on to our next question. When you talked about narrative, my sense is that a lot of what architects' value is to the built environment is in making buildings that people want to be in.
I think sometimes that, obviously with engineers and with a lot of contractors and with inspectors, it's function over form. But form does matter, I think, in the realm of people feeling like they want to be in a building. And I imagine that's where a lot of the effort on the architecture side is spent, is trying to identify what that form is that's going to invite people in.
Oh, absolutely. And that's something that we actually talk about in architectural school is this notion of form versus function. And really the goal you're always trying to get at is a function that informs your form of function that maybe helps you give shape to the form and the design, but isn't totally divorced from it.
You want them to talk to each other and be related; you're not trying to put a square peg in a cylinder hole, so that's something that's super important to us, is making sure there is that play of form and function.
That makes sense. Well, with that play, and as you mentioned with some of the gentle nudges that are perhaps needed from the plumbing industry during the course of construction, I imagine you also get those nudges from contractors and installers at some points too. When it comes to architecture's awareness of plumbing systems, where do you think the biggest opportunity is for better understanding?
I think the biggest opportunity is always just early and effective communication. That might be kind of a cliche answer. I think that's an answer to a lot of things, but don't be afraid to call us and tell us, please also put it in an email maybe though, too. Architects tend to forget things sometimes. I don't know many architects you've talked to, but occasionally we have a lot going on and and we gloss over some details.
I think sometimes we get so wrapped up, both architects and engineers, in our own busy schedules and in our own little projects, I know especially you guys tend to balance so many at once that this one particular issue might not always be at the forefront. So really setting intentional touch points with your engineer or with your architect, and making sure that each party is aware of the challenges and the goals that each has, is going to make your project go a lot smoother. Never be afraid to just give us a call. We'll always try to get back to you.
That makes a lot of sense. Let me ask this question then, because we kind of touched on it a little bit as we've been going through here.
It does seem like there's some potential friction points between architecture and plumbing. That is in terms of goals of architecture and the goal of plumbing. Where do you think the potential conflict is most common?
I think the biggest conflict we run into is always how much of the architect's precious space is that plumbing equipment trying to eat up and going back to the communication aspect.
If you need a 15-by-10 room for a booster pump, that's not a big deal early in the design. But if we decide that we need to upsize this mechanical room by the time we're in CDs, at that point, it's probably going to be a very, very big problem. It's always that strife of, we want as much space as possible to add to our experiential design. And sometimes we might have to give up space for other things, and we really don't like to. The earlier in the project it is, the easier it is for us to incorporate that. And I know even going back to my example of hotel design, a lot of times the space issue also has this interplay with code.
Usually we're trying to fit as many floors as possible without maybe breaking the zoning code. Maybe zoning says our building can only be 50 feet tall, and we want to have at least four stories and we want the lobby to be 15 feet tall, something silly like that. At that point, we're really, really hurting for space and we just need to communicate with each other to figure out what's the minimum that's needed for that drainage or for those mechanical systems? And how can we make that work with the constraints that we are dealing with that maybe not everyone is aware of. Like, I don't know how often you look at the height restrictions for zoning requirements.
So we need to make sure we're telling you guys that so you can tell us how we can achieve it.
Yeah. And you bring up the codes and that makes me think too, from the public health and safety standpoint, especially in the realm of plumbing right now, there's so many standards and guidance documents that are being created and so much effort being put around water safety and water age. My sense is that the amount of communication that you keep hitting on is going to need to increase because there's a lot of movement that's happening, and potentially trying to find ways to bring bathrooms closer together, to minimize water age, that's been a suggestion that's been thrown out there, may need some debate and you may need to look at it. And sometimes the building, to make that forum work, maybe it's not always as ideal of a situation. We don't want all these monolithic buildings, with no windows and whatnot. So I think there's a lot of growth there, but I think you hit on a few really good points and I think your point about communication and having more conversation is so vital. If you were going to wrap up our conversation here, what would you say the one word is for all the stuff that you've shared with me here this morning?
Ooh. OK. If I had one word, and I think that you're going to be able to guess what I'm going to say because we did talk about it a lot, it would be communication. If I had a few words, I would say, call your architect.
I like that. And I think that's good lesson because I think ultimately, these kinds of podcasts where we get people from different backgrounds, from the different parts that touch the elephant that is the built environment, I think the big thing that we're all realizing, and I think that conversation has happened quite a bit on the plumbing side over the last several years, is that communication is vital. So I think that's a great one-word answer and I love the three-word expanded subtitle to that one-word answer.
With that, Darion, thank you so much for joining me. Really appreciate your time and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
Well, thanks so much for having me.
And one last question: if our listeners want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that?
If listeners want to get in touch with me, I guess probably LinkedIn. You can look me up on LinkedIn; I think my name will probably be in the description somewhere, and you can find me there.
In our last segment, I speak with Michael Lavoie, president of The Drain Whisperer and a master plumber in the state of California, who was certainly putting out some good vibes in our talk. Listen to us discuss how he got involved with IWSH and how it changed his life.
Michael, welcome to the show.
Hey, Christoph. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. Good morning, and I'm pretty excited about this, so thank you for the opportunity.
I'm really excited to have you on here. Before we jump into the meat of what we wanted to talk about, can you tell our audience just a little bit about yourself?
Yeah. I am a Los Angeles-born native. Born and raised in the plumbing trade, third generation. My grandparents opened up the L.A.-based business in '68, and two additional generations later it's me and my brothers and cousins; we're all plumbers. It's what we were raised in and a couple of us have branched off to do our own thing.
And I ended up getting licensed with the state of California and getting more into the plumbing aspect with design of pipes and new construction. And lucky enough, I've had some opportunities to do some commercial stuff and also stumbled upon the depths of IAPMO and other things that they're interested in.
So here I am today with you and I could never have guessed this a couple of years ago. So again, I'm pretty excited to be here.
Well, we're really excited to have you on here and especially because my family, in some respects, my grandfather was a mechanical engineer. My uncle was a mechanical engineer. On the automotive side; I switched over to construction.
So your story about having a family of plumbers and people that installed systems that's so cool. And it's funny sometimes how these things kind of work out. But you mentioned you got involved with IAPMO. So how did you get involved with IAPMO then? What was the catalyst that got you involved in that regard?
My initial experience with IAPMO, of course, was studying the UPC book. I got really involved with the proper materials, proper ways to do things. Keep in mind, old school of thought is, you do what works and as the years progressed, we start getting more codes and more laws and more restrictions.
Also with local authority having jurisdiction, so as soon as I ran into Los Angeles having their own codes, I wanted to see the broader aspect of codes and how they were developed and that's how I was introduced to IAPMO because I started to be really a UPC book thumper. And that's how I was introduced to IAPMO, and then that tumbled into me researching IAPMO and who these people were and what else do they do other than the code book? And then it tumbled into something really positive and really life-changing for me from that point.
That's amazing. By the way you're talking about it I know it's not necessarily the main subject, what we want to touch on today, but it sounds like you're a fan of the Uniform Plumbing Code.
I am. I really love the slogan "live by the code." I just turned into a book thumper, just how I go when I'm passionate about something. I'm lucky enough that being raised in the trade, it turned into me being passionate about it at the same time. Without those two things paralleling each other, I wouldn't be as energetic or involved or interested in all aspects and layers of the actual trade. Preaching to the choir here, but the many layers and sectors of plumbing, it's just not pipes and water. There are so many things that go into it with regulations and products.
So with that involvement, I start going down the rabbit hole and it took off from there. So needless to say, it turned into a really deep passion of mine. And I love being able to teach others the right way of doing things and just the proper step process to things and dealing with that. So for me, my personality mixed with my passion in learning what IAPMO is and who's involved in other segments of IAPMO, that's where it was a perfect combination for things.
Well, your passion comes through. Your energy on it is frankly, a lot of people laugh at me about how energetic I am about plumbing engineering. You are, it seems like, just as energetic about it from the install side. And I think that's the beauty of plumbing, the industry as a whole needs passionate people. And really the world needs good plumbing systems, and I think ultimately when we met and talked about you coming on the show, that was what for me really shone through, your passion and your desire to do good in the world. Do you want to talk a little bit about, and tell the audience a little bit of some of the stuff that you've been doing and I think IWSH is something that you got involved with. You want to tell folks how you got involved in that and just your experience with that?
Absolutely. As I was saying, as I further researched IAPMO and what they were all about, who was involved, I was lucky enough to sign up for a meeting I went to and I got a couple of contacts, and I just started to email guys and just started to communicate and show up a little bit. And of course I was probably one of the only few private guys there because I know it's heavily involved with the union, but I was there and I was there for the meeting and I got some contacts and I just reached out and started talking. And then again, I did further research and I found IWSH, and I saw what it was and who was involved.
What is it? For our audience, in case they don't know.
In general, it's a nonprofit organization of men and women who basically go out to rural areas and get potable water, accessible potable water, and access to sanitary sewage systems for people who don't have any of that. And just scratching the surface on that initially, I thought, "Oh man, this is far out; they go to different countries and they're doing big work here. This is huge. Let me look into this." And then I realized something that really hit home, Christoph. It hit home really hard and really deep. And when I saw that this program and what these guys and women do here was right here in my backyard, I dropped everything immediately and I said, "Are you kidding me?"
I had no clue that right here in my backyard, I could drive there. People were sitting with no water and no sanitary sewers, no access to that, and that's what got me; that hooked me. So I started to look into it a little further, ask more questions. I saw the CPC, Community Plumbing Challenge, because I get the IAPMO magazine, right? So I started to look into that, that educated me, just the simple awareness of what was going on so close to home, had me dive directly into it. And that's when I reached out and said, "Hey, I need to get involved. I don't care what I need to do, where I need to go, what I need to bring. Please just keep me in the loop, guys," and you know what? They did; they responded immediately.
I was lucky enough to meet Grant and Seán and Jed; just all the guys involved, they were so responsive and they involved me and they kept me in the loop. And I was so fortunate to jump on that CPC, which I'm sure we'll talk about it in a little bit, but that's how I stumbled upon IWSH, through just learning about IAPMO and who was involved and what they did. And when I saw that the segments reached out to touch the world in different ways, man, that's all I needed to hear.
That's awesome. I think we had IWSH and DigDeep on for the Navajo Nation in Season One. And again, for our listeners, IWSH stands for the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation.
But I think the way you described it, Michael is so key. It's bringing potable water and sanitation, sanitary sewer systems to people. And when you sit there and think about the impact that water and sanitary systems have had in terms of public health and safety and giving us a civilization.
I think it was the British Medical Journal in 2006, I think it was, that voted that sanitary sewer systems were the biggest medical advancement since 1840 in terms of promoting public health and safety. It beat out vaccines, beat out anesthesia, that was the big one. I think you hit on a key point and there's parts of the world that still don't have those systems, and there's open defecation in the streets and it definitely causes a lot of issues for those countries.
You mentioned you were involved in several things. Do you want to just real quickly, maybe in 30 seconds, talk about what were the projects that you've been involved with or the ones that you've seen that you think are pretty awesome?
Oh yeah. It was a project I learned in the IAPMO Official magazine.
It was the CPC in Indonesia and I missed the opportunity to be a part of that, but I got to read about it. And when I saw the hand-wash stations and the water closets going in the toilets, for, I believe it was a school or an orphanage in Indonesia, that, I started a daydream about being part of that.
And my passion for plumbing and being an installer and a service provider, it seems simple to say, "Hey, I want to be involved in things like that." But for me, since this is a lifelong endeavor, it really showed me that there's a bigger purpose to why I'm a plumber and what I can do with that.
And if I can just fly somewhere and help out, allow access for just these simple ideas, right? We say, "Oh, this is so simple; water and why don't people have that?" Well, it allows me to see the broad aspect of what I can do with my skilled trade. I can't donate $2 million to have it done and I can't do other things, but one thing I can do is I could show up and volunteer my skill and my time to try to get even just one person access to wash their hands or have access to sanitary sewers.
When I saw that project, that's when I jumped on and I actually was involved in the CPC for Navajo Nation, and Page, Arizona, is where we were staged. And we were there for a week, or I was there for a week. And just to see what has to go on to set everything up, like you said, DigDeep was involved, I was able to meet Emma Robbins and a couple of key staff members who really, behind-the-scenes stuff you don't really get to see. But when I caught wind of that and saw everything come together and the engagement and all the follow-up and the prep of what goes into it. And we were there for a week and focused on just three homes.
And I realized, out of so many homes there that don't have it, IWSH and DigDeep are just chipping away, one home at a time. And I really liked that idea that, hey, we might not be tackling 50 homes or two cities in a week, but you know what? Little by little, we're going to get it done. And just for me to be a part of that, when we have guys installing cisterns and septic tanks, and I'm over here putting in the venting for the tankless water heater and the utility sink, and you've got the little kids running around, I started to feel and realize that there's a much larger purpose for me in just being a plumber in Los Angeles. And that community engagement, the level of awareness that IWSH puts out there for people who don't have a clue what's going on. The things like this, like myself, when I initially stumbled upon it, it's such a bigger purpose and a bigger picture of what's going on.
It's really marvelous. And I can't say enough about the people involved. It's just a really wonderful, jaw-dropping thing to be a part of.
That's awesome. Well, you've been involved with a lot and you've seen a lot. For our audience, if you were going to real quick, say like the top three things of IWSH, like three sentences, what were the top three things about IWSH that they should know?
Top three things. I can go on and on. Obviously the basic human right for potable water and sanitary sewers being accessible to people around the world that don't have it. That's at the top, obviously for the main goal of what we're trying to achieve here. But inside of the process, it's, I would say, the community involvement and the community engagement that's involved rather than just the mechanical side of installing what we install.
It's such a process. Emma Robbins is like a mastermind at that. And I got to sit back and see that because I studied community engagement a little bit in college and I understand that side of it. And I got to see the things that they put on at the meeting hall and at the chapter houses and the kids.
And I even tried to do my own little engagement with the kids and families that were there and talk to them. And instead of just be this like plumber that comes in and just put stuff in and then leaves, and at the same time it was received and it was given. They made bread for us and we broke bread together and I was talking to the kids, and quick little story, I was putting putty on the basket strainer. And I was doing the install inside one of the homes and little Christian, a little kid and his two sisters, they were sitting next to me while I was putting the plumber's putty underneath the basket strainer. And they were looking at what I was playing with like it was Play-Doh or like it was a toy. And they didn't need to say anything to me. They spoke with their eyes and they were smiling. So I grabbed three clumps of it and I rolled it in balls. I handed a ball of plumber's putty to each of them, right? And the age group was Christian was like 2, and his sisters were like, I want to say 5 and 7.
OK, so that's the age group I'm dealing with here, watching me with the sink upside down, putting plumber's putty on the basket strainer. I hand them each a ball of plumber's putty, right, and their faces light up and they grab it and they kind of like huddle together and whisper together and they're whispering something, and they disappear.
And I was like, "Oh." I was like, "That's odd. Did I do something wrong? Thirty seconds later they came back. They dyed the plumber's putty ball with some powder colored dye they had, and immediately made like an art project out of it.
Ah, that's cool.
So when they came back with that and they were just so jazzed about the plumber's putty, I realized that in little ways, it's the community engagement and the community involvement that really matters with getting into these civilizations and dealing with people in their homes and their intimate space that we're in and doing this. For IWSH to have this setup and the prep and the people involved for the community engagement really wraps a nice bow on the entire thing for a person like me.
I like to see the well-rounded, cover-all-corners, cover-all-bases type of process with this. So the top three benefits, that'd be the second one. And then the third one, obviously, which hit me and grabbed me, hooked me in, was just the simple but really powerful awareness. Without the awareness, we don't have the help we need.
How are we going to have the help we need if people don't know what's going on? If we can't break into that and show people, hey, this is not only happening in Indonesia. This is not only happening in El Salvador and countries that you would guess that it's happening in. It's happening right here in New Mexico and Arizona.
Our brothers and sisters right here in this country it's happening to. So I think that that awareness that IWSH brings is a real key component along with everything else that they do physically and mechanically and civilly. I can't say enough about it. I get goosebumps. I kind of tear up when I think about the elders I met and the gifts they gave us and how grateful they were. It was just, it changed my life because it changed the value of things in my life and for a plumber myself, my whole life plumbing since I was a little kid, I see that there's a bigger purpose and a bigger reason. And that alone will have me sign up for any type of project anywhere, volunteer, I don't care, if it comes my way.
I love it. I love it. Well, then let's wrap it up. What do you see, kind of talking about the future here? In five years' time, to you personally, and your involvement in IWSH, what does success look like? Just to you.
Ah, success to me. Usually if you ask somebody, "Where do you want to be in a couple of years?" in terms of what kind of men they hope to be, then you usually answer it in money terms. And like I said, this is an eye-opening experience for me so I'd like to answer it and say what type of person I would like to be and what type of people IWSH and the involvement of everybody that comes together in it. There are already people that are changing the world. And for me, I would keep it simple and say, I just want to be a part of more of these projects.
I would like to be a part of it in the future. I would like to be a part of IAPMO and IWSH where I see these mentors like you and Grant and Seán; eventually that would be a great position to be in because I would do something like that for free for the rest of my life. And if I could make that a goal and land in a position like that, then I'd feel that I've made it for who I want to be and where I want to be in the future as a long-term goal.
I hope that answers it. I can't really describe the full effect and everything that this has done for me really, because you would sit here for a couple of hours discussing it and I just wanted to be of service like my grandparents were and keeping it old school and keeping it simple and honest, and for this to snowball into something so vast for me, I just have to say that I'm extremely grateful to IAPMO and IWSH because I see the bigger purpose for me in my life, and I hope I'm headed there.
That is an amazingly ambitious and also inspirational way to wrap that up. Michael, thank you so much for joining us on the call. Before we log off, if our audience members want to get in touch with you, social media or email or anything, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?
Well, I have all social media. First of all, the website is thedrainwhisperer.com. My Instagram page is at thedrainwhisperer. And my email is Michael@thedrainwhisperer.com or email@example.com. And my telephone number, (818) 795-6919. That's a direct line. Any time message, call, however anybody wants to contact me.
I'm glad to answer questions or back and forth with some plumbing stuff. We're always learning; I'm learning every day I'm learning. I'm a book thumper and I'm learning every day, so I love learning and I love teaching and it's part of my life. Yeah.
That would describe me to a T too. Well, from one book thumper to another, I just want to say thanks so much for being on the podcast today. Best of luck, and thanks for the extra motivation here this morning as we record.
Absolutely, Christoph. Thank you for the opportunity.
Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. "Love" this episode of the podcast. Head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Please follow us on Twitter @AuthorityPM; on Instagram at theauthoritypodcast; or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us next time for another episode of The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. In the meantime, let's work together to make our buildings more resilient and shape us for the better.