Greg Whitney, Roto-Rooter plumber: Five Questions

Q: With the winter we’ve had so far, what free advice can you give to folks about how to prevent their pipes from freezing or bursting?

A: Be sure to disconnect all garden hoses, even if you have frost-proof hose bibs. Inspect areas near pipes and around basement windows and sill plates for open drafts and seal up drafts wherever possible with good insulation.

Greg Whitney

Q: Can you describe a time when you were faced with a situation that tested your skills?

A: Every day can be a challenge. The toughest test is when you encounter a customer’s plumbing issue which is actually caused by multiple problems. For example, the customer had a drain backed up in her bathtub and a leak coming through the ceiling downstairs. The solution was to clear the tub drain with a Roto- Rooter machine (drain-cleaning machine). The tub drain finally opened up and the water flowed down the drain but the leak still came through the ceiling in the room beneath the tub. It turned out that the hot water supply line to the tub had just begun to drip because it had been rubbing against a nail since the house was built 20 years before. The two problems occurred at the same time and in the same area but were completely unrelated.

Q: Many plumbers are on call nights and weekends. What do you do to balance work and personal life?

A: You learn to separate work from personal life. If it requires taking a phone call on your off-time, you learn to switch gears from being the dad to being the professional. It requires a little practice to maintain that balance at times, but you understand that being on-call is a shared responsibility among fellow workers and we have a duty to take care of our customers who ultimately pay the bills. Plumbing problems don’t just occur between 9 and 5, and that’s why Roto-Rooter is a 24-hour plumbing company. We often have to work nights, weekends and holidays.

Q: How have changes in technology affected your job?

A: The mobile phone and the electronic communications have been very helpful. Sending real time photos, videos and information is a real breakthrough. And of course getting turn by turn GPS directions is fantastic for traveling from to job to job. Also, the sewer inspection camera snakes have taken the guesswork out of a lot of jobs. We can see the problem on a video screen so that lets us diagnose problems more effectively.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about your profession?

A: Without indoor plumbing and working sewers we would quickly turn into a third-world country. People take for granted that clean water will always come out of their faucets and flush their toilets but when those fixtures stop working, that’s when we really get an appreciation for our infrastructure.

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