The Green Plumber
February 4, 2013
The chickens were out of their pen, wandering around within easy pecking and scratching distance of a few rows of vegetables. That's not the best situation, particularly since some of the veggies looked suspiciously like peas.
"What are those chickens doing out of their pen?" Tim Collier asked a couple of guys working nearby on one of the city of Long Beach's many free mulch piles. They were mulch guys-they didn't know about the chickens on the miniature farm and didn't look to anxious to round them back up.
Collier is the owner of The Green Plumber, a two-man green plumbing operation in neighboring Signal Hill, Calif. As part of his green initiative, the self-described "crunchy granola kind of guy" has become involved in the community with local organic food crops and food production. Signal Hill, for those not in the know, is a small city surrounded on all sides by the City of Long Beach, Calif. It's one of many such communities that make up the Greater Long Beach Area.
"I've dialed in with a number of urban organizations to do installations for local organic gardens and small farms [on some of the city's vacant lots]," he said. "I donate the labor and materials to do those installations."
He added the city's sustainability department has even taken some vacant lots and made them places where they dump city tree trimmings as mulch. People from the community are welcome to take what they need for their gardens. This is instead of the city having to transport all the wood chips into the San Fernando Valley to dispose of them.
Collier is a legacy plumber-the third generation of his family to pick up a wrench. He started helping out his dad in Northern California when he was six. He's now 51. Even though he was to the manor born, so to speak, he said he had looked into other avenues of employment, "but I was always doing plumbing and making pretty good money doing it."
He came to Southern California in 1994 and opened his own business, "At Your Service Plumbing." He said a birth in the family made him take a look at what plumbers can do to further conservational goals. He became "The Green Plumber" in 2010.
"My son is nine years old and when we were expecting him I had some time to think about how I could assist him in his life," he said. "I decided the plumbing business was a good platform for me to assist with water conservation and do some other things with solar hot or solar water heating to assist him a little more. I'm very small-It's only me and one other technician."
However, the business is set to expand by one third as he said he has an interview scheduled with another technician shortly. "Just today I've had to turn down jobs because I don't have the manpower to do them."
The Green Plumber's coverage area is basically the entire 562 Area Code-Long Beach, Lakewood, Los Alamitos, plus down into Seal Beach and Huntington Beach in Orange County. That's a lot of ground for two technicians to cover. How does he do it?
"I can pick and choose my calls," he said. "If the call is for an estimate for a sink stoppage I'm probably too busy to do it."
The competition in Long Beach and Signal Hill isn't really anything to write home about. But it's not because of a lack of qualified plumbers, it is consumer malaise brought about by cheap natural gas prices. As long as those prices stay low, pressure to upgrade to solar thermal isn't bothering consumers much.
"We're at licensed with GreenPlumber's USA-we're the first in Los Angeles County to sign on with them. There are quite a few plumbers and other plumbing companies who are certified, he said. "Solar water heating is slow mostly because of the cheap price of gas so there hasn't been that much demand for it. We've installed a few passive, less expensive systems. It's very slow right now. The companies that supply the things are kind of standing on the sidelines a bit."
Collier said it's something of a Catch-22: Little demand from consumers who want to save cash now means companies can be slow to develop the systems because there isn't demand from consumers. Both manufacturer's and consumer's points of view are completely understandable, he said.
"We also do gray water systems," he said. "I've worked with the city of Long Beach last year with the sustainability department. I had contacted them before and told them if they ever wanted to do something with gray water to give me a ring because water conservation is sort of my thing. They had us assist with 35 gray water installations last year for lucky 'Laundry to Landscape' lottery drawing winners."
He said Long Beach is on the verge of taking a city-wide rainwater catchment program, all designed to put water back into the ground.
"Three years ago the city did an information-only program about a rain barrel project where they gave some away," he said. "That's the next thing the city of Long Beach is going to be delving into is maybe installing swales for rainwater catchment."
A swale is a fancy word for a depression in the ground which, in theory, could hold some rainwater and allow it to leech back into the water table at its own speed.
"The city of Long Beach, I believe this month is going to be starting a program that will make people whose remodel project reduces the amount of permeable ground around their properties to take some sort of prescriptive measure to put the water back into the ground or soil instead of letting it run off into storm drains," he said. "Rain barrels or catchment systems or sway on property are among those prescriptive measures."
Obviously "Green" isn't a business decision for Collier-it's what he is. What advice does he have for plumbers making a decision to go "Green"?
"Getting certified is really the best start because GreenPlumbers has so much information available to assist you with a broad overview of what's available," he said. "That will open up everything."