What has grown to become Australia’s largest plumbing industry association – and a trusted source of information, advice and expertise – started from humble beginnings. Kathryn Kernohan reports.
Kathryn Kernohan speaks with Tom Saxton of Off Grid Plumbing who attributes his passion for sustainability to his upbringing on a farm near the base of Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales.
“I had always grown up with a connection to and appreciation of country,” he says.
“Water was not plentiful on the farm and I used to do some irrigation and water system work with my dad. When I came into town, I would see people using hoses to wash their driveways. It made me think that they didn’t know or appreciate where water comes from, beyond turning on the tap or the shower.”
Tom jokes that later, as an apprentice plumber, he would “get into trouble with host employers for talking about sustainability too much.
“I would tell customers that, for example, there are other options than electric hot water systems. Just like we don’t ride a horse and cart into town anymore, technology has changed and there are now solutions that are more energy and cost efficient.”
About five years ago, Tom established his business Off Grid Plumbing, based in inner-city Melbourne. Off Grid Plumbing’s website describes the business as ‘not just your standard plumbing service’ - and that’s the way Tom likes it.
“We do everything from your day-to-day jobs fixing grandma’s tap washers, working on new builds and we also have a large array of body corporate work. What we do is try to put as much of a sustainability twist on our work as we can.
“When I was younger I didn’t necessarily have the foresight to move into the sustainability field, it is just a bit of knowledge I’ve picked up along the way and definitely a passion of mine.”
The business specialises in installing and replacing hot water systems, water-saving solutions such as rainwater tanks, gas servicing and renewal and roof installations to ensure they are as sustainable as possible.
“Around nine out of every 10 customers who contact us do so because they specifically want to explore their sustainability options. What we are big on is ensuring that something sustainable is able to pay for itself over time. If you spent $20k on making your home more sustainable, you need to be able to see savings along the way.
“Sustainability options need to be making a difference too. I’ve heard of some 6-star energy rated properties with rainwater tanks where the tanks aren’t even connected, so they’re not doing anything. Sustainability is not just about ticking a box, it’s about minimising your environmental impact and maximising your quality of life.”
Part of Off Grid Plumbing’s work involves partnering with builders and other plumbers on new builds and renovations, including some multi-million-dollar properties across Melbourne.
“When we do a new build there will be builders and plumbers assigned, and they essentially leave the green side of things to me. It’s great to work alongside plumbers to educate them about sustainability.”
Tom recalls a story about a homeowner who purchased a double-fronted bungalow, and obtained a building permit to increase the thickness of ceilings and floors throughout the house.
“Now, he doesn’t need air conditioning in summer and he just has a small decorative fireplace for winter, but it’s more than enough to keep the house comfortable all year around.”
Educating the broader sector and practitioners is something close to Tom’s heart.
“I don’t think there’s enough information about sustainability for the plumbing industry. Part of what I do is work with councils including Darebin and Moreland in Melbourne to educate not only plumbers but customers too.
Off Grid Plumbing’s small team comprises three plumbers including Tom, and a recently appointed personal assistant. The business will soon look to add a third- or fourth-year apprentice to the team.
“Like most plumbers, I don’t want to spend my time in the office and I still absolutely love being out there on the tools every day.”