By: Jonathan Simon on January 24th, 2023
The Housing Slowdown Creates Opportunities to Lower Costs & Improve Quality
Contractors | Compatibility | PEX | Sustainability | CPVC | Copper | residential plumbing | Plumbing Systems
In a post published in early 2021, we identified three challenges plumbing contractors and home builders faced in dealing with a booming housing market. Now, as the boom becomes a slowdown, those challenges have become opportunities.
Make no mistake, we’ll take a boom over a slowdown every time. However, booms can introduce inefficiencies into any business and many builders feel they have less control over projects when demand is high. Plus, this last boom was accompanied by supply chain issues that forced material choices in some cases to be based on availability rather than quality. But those inefficiencies and compromises are easier to live with when market growth is offsetting their impact.
Slowdowns are less forgiving but do provide the time to take a breath and assume more control over decisions that had to be delegated during the boom. For plumbing materials, this means working with plumbing contractors to evaluate material decisions and select materials that balance cost, quality and efficiency in ways that benefit the builder, plumber and homeowner. Here are some factors to consider.
Slowdowns always drive an increased focus on costs, and this will be particularly true for this slowdown as persistent labor shortages will likely keep labor costs high despite fewer homes being built.
Builders using copper plumbing systems can generate significant savings by switching to a plastic plumbing material. CPVC pipes and fittings, for example, are similar to copper in their system design but are less expensive and faster to install. They also offer something copper doesn’t: immunity to chlorinated water. Copper pipes experience corrosion in aggressive water conditions that can lead to premature failure. CPVC doesn’t suffer from degradation under these conditions so can offer improved performance at a lower cost.
Builders whose contractors are using PEX plumbing systems, which, like copper, is vulnerable to chlorine degradation that can lead to failure, can save money by switching to FlowGuard Gold CPVC. During the last slowdown, Mike Burke of Powerhouse Plumbing first switched from copper to PEX but wasn’t satisfied he had found the best plumbing system for his business. ”After doing more research on cost and efficiency I became more interested in switching to FlowGuard Gold CPVC,” Burke said. “The PEX piping was more time-consuming to install, and the fittings were more expensive.” Burke was actually able to save more on the switch from PEX to CPVC than on the move from copper to PEX.
The savings available from CPVC have been documented by a leading PEX manufacturer. This manufacturer analyzed material costs for a carefully designed project to highlight PEX cost savings compared to copper. Their analysis did that, but it also showed CPVC to be the least expensive material of the three—costing 50% less than their own PEX system. The savings come from significantly lower fittings costs and the ability to rightsize a FlowGuard Gold CPVC system where PEX has to be upsized. They are significant enough for builders and plumbers to share the benefits.
Some plumbers still believe PEX installs faster than CPVC and argue that time savings offset higher system costs, but this has been debunked by actual time studies. Home Innovation Research Labs, formerly the NAHB Research Center, conducted a study of plumbing installation speeds and found that when installed using a trunk-and-branch style configuration, FlowGuard Gold CPVC installs about 15% faster than PEX. When using other PEX system designs, the added material cost outweighed the minimal labor savings.
Plumbers who haven’t previously worked with CPVC can be quickly trained on the material using on-demand training modules available through the FlowGuard Gold CPVC web site and step-by-step installation instructions in English and Spanish. Even experienced CPVC plumbers should visit flowguardgold.com to access installation guides and other resources and familiarize themselves with new innovations, such as high-contrast solvent cement that makes it easier to ensure all pipes and fittings have been bonded.
When making material changes, be sure to investigate the warranty of the system you are adopting to ensure it provides the protection you expect. When project schedules are on the line, there is little time for due diligence on a manufacturer, but analyzing warranties as part of a more thorough and systematic material evaluation process, can reduce the risks a builder is exposed to if a failure occurs
Every PEX plumbing system manufacturer has an exclusion that voids their warranty when chlorinated water causes a failure of the pipe, and that can ultimately expose the builder to increased risk for plumbing failures that occur because of incompatibility between the plumbing material and the water flowing through the pipes. FlowGuard Gold CPVC does not have warranty exclusions related to water incompatibility
Supply chain issues complicated builders’ ability to capitalize on strong demand during the boom and, while these should be alleviated somewhat during the slowdown, not all have been fully resolved.
Some PEX manufacturers experienced material shortages during the boom and how plumbers responded to those shortages had an impact on project costs and the quality of the finished product.
Plumbers who turned to FlowGuard Gold CPVC when they couldn’t get the PEX products they wanted enjoyed the cost and performance advantages of CPVC while gaining first-hand experience with CPVC’s ease of installation. As a result, they stayed with FlowGuard Gold CPVC even when their former preferred brand of PEX became available. FlowGuard Gold CPVC is supported by a robust supply chain anchored by four manufacturing partners with overlapping territories to ensure a stable supply.
There was also a shortage of PEX expansion fittings and plumbers who simply substituted crimp fittings for expansion fittings introduced compromises into the system design. Expansion fittings have less impact on water pressure than crimp fittings, although both types of PEX fittings create higher pressure drop than occur with copper or FlowGuard Gold CPVC fittings. Switching from expansion to crimp fittings can necessitate further upsizing the pipe diameter, increasing costs, or risk installing plumbing systems that deliver lower pressure at fixtures than builders—or homeowners—are satisfied with. Conversely, switching to FlowGuard Gold CPVC can allow for significant downsizing without impacting the available water pressure.
It may not seem intuitive to focus on sustainability during a slowdown, but every competitive advantage becomes more important as competition intensifies. Consumers are exhibiting a preference for sustainability across a broad range of product categories and when it comes to plumbing materials, builders can make a more sustainable choice without sacrificing quality or cost.
FlowGuard Gold CPVC requires less energy to manufacture and produces fewer greenhouse gases over its service life than PEX and copper systems. The material’s long service life, enabled by its immunity to chlorinated water, means less material is ultimately required to support the application. Plus, CPVC is recyclable through proper centers.
FlowGuard Gold CPVC is also the only residential plumbing system certified by Home Innovation Labs National Green Building Standard (NGBS) and has a lifecycle assessment to contribute to LEED certification.
Time for a Change
We’d all rather be in a boom than a slowdown, but slowdowns create the opportunity to make more deliberate decisions about the materials you use. Switching from copper or PEX to FlowGuard Gold CPVC creates cost savings while improving quality and sustainability. That can help protect profitability during the slowdown and strengthen your ability to capitalize on the next boom. For more information on FlowGuard Gold CPVC, download our brochure.