Kate Neeley, contributing writer
Truly, some of the community’s quiet heroes are at the root of life’s most essential needs and comforts. Sure, a toilet may be the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘plumber,’ but have you ever stopped to think about the work and expertise behind the daily miracle of turning on a faucet to have clean water flow right into your hand?
Plumbers have to be extremely determined, fierce problem solvers, mechanically-minded, tech-savvy, and collaborative communicators. It requires years of experience, including 8,000 hours of apprenticeship, before they’re licensed in their craft.
Lee Draper, the master craftsman behind Lee’s Plumbing, and his wife, Amber, have dedicated years of their lives developing what has become a highly valued Cache Valley business. Lee’s Plumbing will celebrate 20 years this June, but Lee’s earliest beginnings in the trade happened in the 1980s when he spent time working for another plumber in California. With years, kids, and a couple of other jobs in Utah between his apprenticeship and subsequent business launch, a lot of hands-on learning took place for Lee and Amber. While Lee was working on his plumbing apprenticeship, Amber attended Bridgerland Technical College to learn accounting to help with their future business venture.
Early on in the business, Lee and his trusted workers installed plumbing for hundreds of new homes in the valley. Amber runs the accounting side and the office to keep the business humming like a well-oiled machine. In 2008, with the economic downturn, new construction jobs waned, and the business moved in a new direction, a move that proved to be smart. Lee’s Plumbing had established a great reputation in plumbing new construction and it took some faith to move forward into focusing solely on service calls, especially for Amber. Previous to that shift, they had been plumbing 80-100 new homes a year. The change has proven to be a good one for the business. If you’ve ever found yourself with a broken water heater, flooded basement, or water damage with an unknown source, you know these guys really are heroes in their own right.
Plumbers are also spies. In solving the mystery source of water damage, one of the devices Lee uses to track leaks is a high-tech, heat-sensitive camera. “It’s basically a camera that you’re looking at that’s detecting the temperature difference on surfaces. It is the funniest thing,” Lee said. “It’s so sensitive, if I walked across the floor, and put the camera on, you would be able to see exactly where my foot touched. The heat leaves an imprint.” This way, the temperature difference on surfaces, when they’re wet underneath, can give away the source of the water leak. “We’re kind of MacGyver down there sometimes,” Lee added with a laugh.
Calling them an emergency disaster response team isn’t always a far cry from some of the calls Lee and his guys take. One of their trucks is heavily loaded with high-tech equipment, jetters, sewer cameras, locators, and tools. “When we go out to do a main line, we come loaded for bear.”
It’s definitely not the equipment that makes Lee’s Plumbing successful, though. The guys who work with Lee have been with him for the long haul. He’s trained them all from the start, and they meet together daily and continue to share what they learn. It really is a team effort. Lee admits that no one person could ever know all there is to know, so they network with each other. It’s a continual learning process and they do it together. In relating how highly they value each one of their workers, Amber said, “We wouldn’t be Lee’s Plumbing without them.”
Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, they pulled together and Lee asked everyone what they felt would be best for the company to do during this unique time. Everyone agreed that they would just keep doing what they’re doing to help people and add in some more safety precautions. When they get sick at all, they stay home. When their expertise is needed, they show up with gloves and a mask if they are serving the elderly or the immunocompromised. It’s safe to say that Lee’s Plumbing is a business that truly shows up and makes Cache Valley better every day by the work they do.
TIPS FROM LEE: A few ideas from the master plumber himself.
WORST THINGS TO PUT DOWN THE DISPOSAL. Eggshells, tough fruit and vegetable peelings, or anything heavy and sharp when it accumulates.
FLUSHABLE WIPES ARE NOT FLUSHABLE. If they don’t dissolve in a Mason jar of water as toilet paper does, they don’t dissolve in the pipes and can lead to severe blockages. This also goes for things like dental floss and other non-dissolving materials.
HIGH-QUALITY PLUMBING SERVICE REALLY I S WORTH THE COST. If a plumbing problem really is a simple fix and you can do it yourself, Lee totally supports that, but keep in mind that the knowledge and skill of a well-trained plumber can be the difference between comfort and disaster in the long run.