What started as “grunt labor” for his father back in the 1980s has grown into a fulltime adventure for Jeff Longspaugh and his team at ClearWater Plumbers. It also proves that being a hard and honest worker will get you far in life.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based company is a soup to nuts plumbing services contractor serving primarily residential and commercial customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Longspaugh, a licensed master plumber, has slowly transitioned to an administrative role at the company he founded with his dad Jerry and brother Greg, but don’t take that to mean he doesn’t like getting out, and hands-on with his crews.
Longspaugh’s parents owned a construction and excavation business, and his dad — an engineer by degree — was also a master plumber. Longspaugh and his brothers worked for the family business providing manual labor as needed. While he was an honors student growing up, Longspaugh was always more about putting money in his pocket, and at one time while in college he juggled three jobs on top of his classwork. It was after one of those jobs — framing houses — that Longspaugh made the decision to become a master plumber.
“I had just framed a house for a guy and my dad suggested that I get into a trade that had licensing because in Texas we have rigorous requirements for licensing,” Longspaugh recalls. “You can be a house framer all day long without a license, so my dad’s suggestion was that if I got a job with licensing requirements it keeps the wages up. And second, plumbing and drains, it is dynamic and there is more of a repair market. So, even in a slow economy, there is always work. In terms of the pandemic, we are slammed and steady busy. I have to thank my dad for that.”
Longspaugh’s brother died in 1999 and his dad soon after — at about the time Longspaugh received his master plumber licensure. Instead of being deterred, Longspaugh persevered and served as the company’s sole master plumber doing most of the work on his own. As the company’s reputation for quality work grew, staff was added, as well as new services.
Today, the company boasts 30 employees overseen by Jeff’s wife Amy, the company’s operations manager. The company operates a fleet of 14 service vans, each outfitted with an assortment of plumbing, drain cleaning and inspection tools including the Speedrooter 92 and Mini-Rooter XPs from General Pipe Cleaners and RIDGID SeeSnake cameras.
For tougher jobs, where jetting is necessary, ClearWater Plumbers has an 18 gpm, 4,000 psi, PipeHunter jetter and a pair of 9 gpm, 4,000 psi, Brute Jetters from Jetters Northwest.
One of the Brute Jetters is on the company’s dedicated King of Cast Iron truck, which is outfitted with Picote milling units to descale and clean cast iron pipe. This work also serves as an entry to relining a customer’s plumbing system.
Yes, along the path to growth Longspaugh has added trenchless services to ClearWater’s offerings and he notes that the company is a full bore trenchless contractor offering pipe bursting and pipe slitting, pneumatic piercing tools, cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) sectional and spot repairs, polyurea and epoxy coating.
ClearWater began adding trenchless services in 2010 because Longspaugh has always prided himself on taking care of the customer. Trenchless offers the customer a better alternative to traditional open-cut replacement or installation.
“It takes a minute to get that initial investment back but knowing there is a better way and easier way, I was drawn to that like a moth to light,” Longspaugh says. “I was an early adopter on some of that stuff.”
Especially in his region, Longspaugh notes that many plumbers are still unaware that these trenchless innovations are available, and they continue to do work the old way. “There are still some people who don’t know you can line a pipe,” he says. “Part of the deal is that you need to know what is out there and be well-read and keep your eyes and ears open. I absorb a lot of information; I am an information sponge.”
It’s being that information sponge that led Longspaugh and ClearWater Plumbers down the road to the trenchless world. First with pipe bursting and then to CIPP and pipe coating. The first trenchless project was a pipe bursting job. Longspaugh had the capital to buy the pipe bursting machine, but not a fusion machine, so the first job was with restrained joint PVC.
“We pulled that pipe under a garage and it was a headache. We lucked out because we had a nice landing to pull from,” Longspaugh recalls. “But on other projects it didn’t work so well. It was a learning curve and I’ve made the [needed] capital investments since then.”
After getting into pipe bursting, Longspaugh learned of other trenchless methods adding pneumatic piercing tools to install water and gas services and in 2016 jumping into the pipe relining realm.
In terms of relining, Longspaugh uses a variety of products, but credits Pipe Lining Supply with helping him truly grow his relining offerings and expertise. ClearWater Plumbers uses the company’s Quick-Shot CIPP system and its Quick-Coat polyurea coating system.
“I was referred to Pipe Lining Supply by my friend Steve Allen [owner of Allens Plumbing] in Hawaii who is a big user of the Quick-Shot system,” Longspaugh says. “Phupei Gardner in Missouri and now Chris Gorum are quick to respond and help us out with an questions. They have been pivotal in helping us jump in on this. In our market, I would say we are innovators and leaders in this [segment], and they have helped us out with that.”
Typically, ClearWater Plumbers uses the Quick-Shot system to reline sewer laterals from homes to the street. These are mostly 4-in. lines with long inversion shots and point repair work. The polyurea coating system is used underneath homes where ClearWater will gap the line and use the coating where the gap is, saving the customer some money by being able to coat the pipe in certain applications and not have to line the entire run and make reinstatements.
This equipment is often used in tandem with the King of Cast Iron truck. This is a recently trademarked phrase that Longspaugh – ever the marketer – says is akin to Burger King being, “The home of the Whopper.” He wants to be known as the king of cast iron pipe cleaning and rehabilitation in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
“I just trademarked our King of Cast Iron line and I am pushing that market. We are a reputable company and that helps sell it, making it a good bolt on business,” Longspaugh says. “Our idea is [that we] unclog the drain, camera it and give the customer a long-term solution on the drain whether it be a point repair or a more long-term CIPP repair.”
Being on the leading edge of any technology has its challenges, and Longspaugh acknowledges there have been, and continue to be, hurdles in growing his trenchless rehab work. Despite pipe relining being around since the 1970s, many folks on the residential side are just as unaware of it as the plumbers themselves.
Challenges Longspaugh said lining and coating contractors face include taking the time to properly train employees only to have them leave and others that have “freestyled” the work leading to inconsistent results. There is also the hurdle of determining where one trenchless method will work better than another and having the technician sell the right option for the installation team to perform.
“For example, you can’t pipe burst under a slab on grade house with a concrete foundation, and we have a lot of those here in Fort Worth,” Longspaugh says. “A lot of times, you can’t shoot a liner if there are too many branches or coat a pipe that is too far gone. We need to teach our plumbers to understand what application can benefit what condition of pipe. We have many tools we can use, and we need to train them to make them aware of each method’s capabilities.”
On the client side Longspaugh and his crews need to educate the client on the various methods. While there are those who are unaware of these capabilities, often those who know of trenchless view it as “magical pixie dust” that can be sprinkled on a pipe and fix it. Before starting a trenchless repair Longspaugh will generally go out and qualify the job to ensure the customer is getting the best solution for their problem.
As a self-proclaimed sponge for information, Longspaugh knows the importance and value of educating people and that is why ClearWater Plumbers maintains a robust website clearwaterplumber.com and an active presence on YouTube and Facebook. The two social media platforms have been a boon for the company since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March.
Longspaugh made a video showing what customers can expect when ClearWater Plumbers arrive at the premises from the greeting down to the mask, gloves and shoe coverings. This works out well because it holds the plumber accountable, knowing that the customer will have seen the video before they arrive.
The same is true for the company’s trenchless work. Unlike traditional installation and repair via open cut the videos allows Longspaugh and his team to show the customer what is happening below ground.
As an example, if ClearWater Plumbers head to a cast iron pipe cleaning call, they’ll send the customer a video they made showing the descaling process, because most people won’t understand what is going on. Or if they get into a pipe relining job, there are videos on the YouTube page showing the customer what they will have – a new pipe within a pipe – when the project is complete.
“You need to be more like a media company,” Longspaugh says. “There is so much dang information out there, that you need to capture their attention.”
All of this is an attempt by Longspaugh to do what he has always done; from the early days of answering calls himself to scaling up to having a dedicated team of 30 employees. That is offering good plumbing work, which leads to good cleaning and inspection work and hopefully capped off by good trenchless work.
“A lot of our drain [cleaning and inspection] work comes from our plumbing work. People trust us for the plumbing, which leads to drain work and it has done well for our trenchless rehabilitation work,” Longspaugh says. “It’s really just about offering a good service. People know we will take care of them and be there for them.”