Do you get what you pay for?

Do you get what you pay for? That is a great question and the answer is usually yes.

Let’s now ask another question: How often do you get the best quality product, the best service and the friendliest service provider for the cheapest price? That is an easy one to answer as well…”Never!” When I started John Baethke & Son Plumbing over 20 years ago I did a lot of new construction. That is an aspect of work I enjoy very much. I’ve always loved the satisfaction of building things. We did incredible projects and to me every job we did was a work of art. Our only dilemma was that the general contractors were constantly trying to find a way to “cheapen up” the jobs. Before too long I finally had to say enough is enough. The things the contractors were asking for were having a detrimental effect on the quality of the homes being built, so I had to make a very difficult decision and we stopped working for those contractors. To this day we still do several projects each year for homeowners and contractors that are not looking to sacrifice the quality for the price.

We made the transition into service because we found so many more people that valued a quality job for a fair price. It’s funny, but over 50% of our service calls are performed on homes that are 10 years old or newer. All of those cost-cutting general contractors have actually done me a favor by cutting corners – they have given us a constant supply of plumbing problems to fix.

How do we explain or show the difference between John Baethke & Son Plumbing and the lower cost competitors? It isn’t always easy, but everyone that I work with knows the quality of our work and the integrity of our service. We have also learned to explain things about the products we install and how we install them. It is not unusual for a homeowner to ask what brand we intend to install. When asked that question we need to find out right away why they would ask that, so we know what is of value to our customers. A lot of people are brainwashed into believing that the best job is only dependent on the equipment installed. That is so far from the truth that it’s scary. Think about this: If someone was to install the highest quality fixture available but lacked the training to do a proper or safe installation, is that fixture going to perform like the best quality fixture? No, of course not. It may even fail, cause damage to the home, or even injure or make sick the residents of the home. Far more important than the materials are the installation, service and support of that installation. We explain that when you buy a new water heater, toilet, faucet, etc. from John Baethke & Son Plumbing, you are buying John Baethke & Son Plumbing. We stand behind our installations with the best, most highly trained professionals in the Chicagoland area. We also support that incredible team with a warehouse support staff and a full office staff. One example of our service is the “Can’t Write a Check Warranty” that we offer. This warranty means you can’t spend a dime on labor or material on that installation service for the life of the warranty. Most other companies may honor the manufacturers’ parts warranty, but then charge you their labor to install the parts. We make sure that our installations are done so well that we have no problem honoring both labor and material.

The above is just a glimpse of the world class service that John Baethke & Son provides. The proof of our service is the fact that over 80% of our business is repeat business. Sure we advertise, but the majority of our work is helping people we have helped in the past. That says a lot when the average in our industry is less than 50% repeat business.

Remember: You nearly always pay for what you get.

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Lead in Our Drinking Water

CBS 2 Chicago: 2 Investigators: New Study Casts Doubt on Lead Testing in Tap Water

Watch CBS 2 Chicago’s Video Report – click here.

As you can see by the headlines, lead in our drinking water is a major concern. What are acceptable levels? The EPA sets the limit at 15PPB (parts per billion), however most health professionals agree that no lead in our water is best. So what can YOU do? The first thing you can do is read your municipality water report. If you are in an older city, like us in Chicago, you are more than likely at risk for having lead in your water. Most of our older homes have lead supply pipes bringing water into our homes. Lead water pipes were used as recently as the 1960’s. So, are you safe if your home was built after 1960? Not necessarily. It was not until 1986 when President Reagan passed a law outlawing lead in plumbing solder and flux. There are hundreds of thousands of homes in the Chicagoland area that have lead services or lead solder in their pipes.

What can you do? If you do not want to filter the water you drink, one thing you can do to minimize lead exposure is to run your water for several minutes prior to drinking it. It is proven that the longer the water sets in lead contaminated pipes the more lead that will leach into it, so running the water will drain out all of the water that was sitting in the pipes absorbing the lead. Also, never use the water off the hot water tap for drinking or cooking. It is also proven that heated water accelerates the lead leaching into our water.

You are probably wondering what else you can do. There are water filters available that remove the lead from your water.  Unfortunately, because of their design, whole house versions are not yet available. Two methods of removing lead from your drinking water are both point of use. The first is reverse osmosis. It is effective but it unfortunately wastes a great deal of water in the process of filtering. It also makes the water very acidic so you cannot have any copper piping on the outgoing side of the filter or it will rapidly corrode the piping. The other method of filtration that is very effective is block carbon filtration. The only drawback is that you cannot put the filter on an existing faucet. It needs to be installed on its own faucet that will allow for less restriction in flow. This is needed because the block carbon slows down the water flow in its filtering process. Another great benefit to the carbon filter is that it removes chlorine and Chloramines and the bad taste and odor associated with them.

Every home is different. If you are concerned about YOUR water quality, call the professional water quality experts at John Baethke & Son Plumbing. We will customize a solution that best address’ your health and safety concerns.

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Side Jobber Nearly Kills Skokie Family

The Risks of Hiring a Side Jobber

As a professionally run business, I naturally don’t think much of employees doing side jobs. The first concern for me as the business owner is that the side jobber is taking away work from my company and our employees. The other concern is that because he does not have the costs that I have, he is out there setting an unrealistic expectation of cost for the consumer. That’s all fine and good but those are my selfish reasons. The biggest concern is that if you hire a tradesman on the side you are not getting everything that you think you are. This side jobber does not have a formal business so he is not insured for your protection. If a side jobber were to get hurt in your home he has every legal right to sue you. When he sues you it is not just for his hospital bills either. When he sues you he is going to get money for any time he has to be off work and even for long term issues that may result from the injury. Claims like this can easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you hire a legitimate contractor he is required to have an insurance called “Workers Compensation Insurance”, which  protects the customer from any liability.

The next customer concern is if the side jobber damages your property. The side jobber does not have General Liability Insurance, so if he starts even a small fire or has a small leak you can decide not to pay him but that is likely to be only a fraction of the cost of the damage he will have done. As a contractor we have General Liability Insurance to protect your investment and to make sure that, in the unlikely event there is an accident, you will not have to incur any cost.

The last and largest concern is safety. I think even side jobbers have your best interest at hand but they will be thinking of themselves first. They don’t have a company reputation to worry about. They can shut off their cell phone if you try to get them to come back and fix a problem. Worst of all, they may be over-worked and the mistake they make might hurt you.

Earlier this winter an apartment building owner in Skokie hired a side jobber to look at a furnace in one of their units. That same evening 6 people got very sick, 3 people ended up in the hospital and a 2 year old baby almost died from a carbon monoxide leak. It was only luck that saved the family and certainly prevented several fatalities. One of the family members just happened to be awake much later than he normally would be and heard his wife pass out and fall to the floor so he called 911.

I am very happy that no one died, but this story is not even close to over for this apartment building owner. What is she going to do now? Do you think this family might sue her? Can she blame the side jobber? She can blame the side jobber but he has no insurance so she is in a pickle. There is a good chance that even her insurance company will not cover a lawsuit because she failed to hire a legitimate business. The insurance company will not hesitate to point that out and decline coverage. I hope this goes well but in reality this apartment building owner may very well lose her building in this lawsuit. Was it worth it? Innocent people almost died. She is surely to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the aftermath. She probably only saved a couple hundred dollars by hiring a side jobber rather than a licensed and insured contractor. The penny you save today might cost you a dollar tomorrow and your not even getting the best job done.

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How to prevent your pipes from freezing

This is a HOT topic right now, “how to prevent your pipes from freezing”.  The first thing to remember is that your home should be plumbed in a way that prevents your pipes from freezing in the first place, so ultimately the best solution is always to re-pipe or relocate your pipes to prevent them from freezing. Of course that is usually also the most expensive option, so let’s go over some things that you can do that won’t be so damaging to your pocketbook.

There are many different situations that will expose your pipes to the possibility of freezing. The most common situation is when your water pipes are located along an exterior wall. If this is the case, and you have the option to keep your cabinet doors open, I suggest opening the doors to allow the heat from the room to assist in keeping the pipes warm. If that solution isn’t enough to warm your pipes sufficiently, then I suggest putting a small space heater in that area as well to direct more heat toward the pipes. Please remember, though, to never leave a space heater unattended – safety is our first concern.

If your pipes are in a crawl space or a basement that is not heated, then installing a heat tape on the pipes can help keep them warm in days that are as cold as we are currently seeing. There are many types of heat tape and most are very simple and  plug into a normal outlet. The most basic tapes heat once they are plugged in, so I would recommend upgrading to a heat tape that is a little more automatic and controllable. There are heat tapes on the market that will only turn on when the temperature drops below a certain level. The benefit of this type of heat tape is that you are not wasting as much energy and they are fairly dummy-proof because they turn themselves on and off.

The toughest problem is when you have pipes that are not even on an outside wall or in an unheated area but rather they are just in a spot in the house that is allowing a draft into a joist space. We have seen this many times and it is usually the result of a poor insulation job at an outside wall when the home was built. In this situation, the only and best solution is to expose that area of draft and insulate it as soon as possible.

If you have any of the above situations you can also leave your water running at the area of concern. Running water can’t freeze. If your faucet is a two handle faucet make sure you have both the hot and the cold on just a trickle. If you have a single handle faucet then make sure that the handle is positioned so that both the hot and cold side are running and, again, just a trickle. The downsides to leaving your water running are obvious. You are wasting water, and if you have a slow drain you are also taking a chance of the drain overflowing. Both are not desirable.

Lastly, remember that frozen pipes do not leak. They are frozen, so the plug of ice may have split the pipe but as long as it remains frozen you wont even know it. That being said, when you have a line that you know is frozen. First make sure you know where to shut off the water for the house before you attempt to thaw it. That way, in the event it starts to leak, you can limit the damage. Our phones here at John Baethke and Son Plumbing don’t ring so much when the temperature drops to below zero as much as they do when the temperature rises and those frozen and split pipes start to leak.

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Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Did you hear about the carbon monoxide poisoning in Skokie, Illinois that left 12 people hospitalized? Here is WGN’s coverage:

I’ve written in the past about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide. This week a friend of mine almost lost his sister, niece and four other members of his family to Carbon Monoxide. They were at home and unaware there was an issue with their furnace. Luckily my friend’s brother-in-law was awake watching television when he heard his wife fall to the floor, overcome by the odorless gas. He immediately called 911 and although all were hospitalized, all of them thankfully survived. The situation could have easily ended with 6 fatalities. Only luck saved them that night. They had NO Carbon Monoxide detectors in their apartment.

To significantly reduce the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, you must install a CO detector in your home.

You can’t have false security from having you furnace checked either. Their furnace was checked just 2 days before this happened. When you call a HVAC service company, make sure they are testing for Carbon Monoxide. It could save your life.

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Safe Home Renovations

In today’s economy, renovating your home can be much easier than purchasing a new home. To complete your renovation safely you should always remember that depending on when your home was built there may be a lot of unsafe building materials in your home. Some examples are asbestos floor tiles (typically 9″ tiles), asbestos pipe insulation, asbestos siding and lead paint. If you are doing the renovation yourself you should do a little homework online to help identify these dangers. If you are hiring a contractor you should make sure that they follow safe work practices. An example of safe work practices are those required by the EPA for all renovation contractors:

Another useful resource is the following blog post by the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign:

The bottom line is to create the beautiful home you want and deserve and at the same time to keep you and your family happy and healthy.

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Should Bottled Water Be Illegal?


Should bottled water be illegal? I think so. As a plumber, a father, and what I consider to be a responsible human being, I think purchasing water in a plastic bottle is completely ridiculous, and irresponsible. I have written on this topic in the past but I will just restate my reasoning. Most people live in an area that provides them with good quality clean water. As a matter of fact, almost half of all bottled water companies use the same water that we do right out of our tap. Yet, we pay as much as 10,000 times the price for the convenience of these companies putting the water into a portable bottle for us.

About 2 years ago I was fortunate enough to watch a movie called “Tapped” ( that took my already strong interest in water to a new level. Go online and Google “plastic water bottles” and read about the incredible number of bottles going not only into our landfill but also floating around our lakes, rivers and oceans. You will be both amazed and horrified. One example of a way to break the plastic water bottle habit is to buy a stainless steel water bottle and use it when you go to the gym or any other time you need portable water. I work out about 5 days every week. If you figure it out, over the last 2 years that would be about 500 bottles I didn’t use just for working out!

I have purchased stainless bottles for my wife and 3 children to use for our water.  Here in the United States we already have good filtered water.  But, if you feel the need you can filter the water even further with pitcher filters or home-installed filters, but that’s just fine-tuning. Start by skipping the plastic.

Here is an interesting article of a town that actually did make bottled water illegal: A Massachusetts Town Has Made Bottled Water Illegal. Good luck and happy trails!

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