Image credit: Eli Duke
The difference between residential and commercial plumbing is always a hot topic for debate—after all, pipes are pipes, right? Well, not exactly.
While it's true that commercial and residential work do share certain attributes, there are key elements that set these work environments apart for plumbers.
In this post, we look at some of those elements, as well as the distinct challenges plumbers face in residential versus commercial settings. Which plumber career path are you considering?
1. System Complexity and Usage Requirements
Consider your average family home. When laying out and installing plumbing components, or conducting repairs, the plumber must only consider the needs of a handful of people.
On the other hand, with large commercial buildings (such as high-rise office buildings), demands on plumbing systems are far greater. They take more use and abuse than a single family home, require more pipes, outlets, and increased water pressure—and must be maintained for potentially hundreds of users each day.
There are also different code and permit requirements for residential and commercial structures, which plumbers must be aware of.
2. Working with Different Kinds of Plumbing Equipment
Because commercial/industrial buildings have different plumbing demands than homes, the types of machines and equipment plumbers work on varies between these two settings.
For example, plumbers in large-scale buildings or factories will likely work with large boilers, site sewer lines, lift stations and industrial grade pipes and fixtures. They may also need to install more demanding and complex appliances in commercial settings.
Conversely, when residential plumbers visit a home, they are likely called in to work on a water heater, a backed up toilet or drain, a home appliance, or other smaller scale plumbing issue.
So while the basic fundamentals of plumbing are the same in both work environments, plumbers must apply this knowledge in different ways, often using different materials, according to the size and function of the building.
3. Working Overtime & Outside of Normal Business Hours
Residential plumbers are often called in on weekends or evenings to deal with emergencies—like a burst pipe or overflowing toilet. If they work for a company, they might be "on-call" certain nights and weekends to respond to these issues (with an extra fee added for work done outside of peak hours).
Otherwise, residential plumbers keep weekday hours that more closely resemble the 9-5 norm. Commercial or industrial plumbers, on the other hand, must often complete jobs during off-hours, when employees or the public are away from the work site.
For example, in-depth plumbing work on an office space or shopping mall usually takes place at night, when the space is not in use. To minimize public impact and inconvenience, commercial plumbers must often adjust to irregular work schedules.
4. The Personal Side of the Business
Many residential plumbers highlight personal interactions with friendly homeowners as a major advantage to residential plumbing work. There's appreciation for a job well done, chats about new plumbing products, and mini-tutorials on routine maintenance.
The one-to-one exchanges during house calls add a sense of community "connection" plumbers don't usually associate with large scale, less personal, industrial and commercial projects.
What's the final word?
Ideally, experienced plumbers can handle repairs and maintenance in both residential and commercial/industrial settings. However, it is more common for professionals to choose one path or the other, and develop an expertise according to building-type, system complexity, and usage demands.
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