Women Working In The Plumbing Industry

Hispanic female, former makeup artist with a gag reflex issue — that’s not what comes to mind when one thinks of a plumber.

But it’s an apt description of Chicago resident Cristina Barillas, who shocked family and friends 14 years ago when she told them she was planning to work in the male-dominated trade.

“My mom said, ‘It’s a job for men. People will look at you weird. It’s not what girls do,’ ” she said.

“But … once I got my license, my family [realized] this is a career for me, something I want to be in forever,” their attitudes changed, she said, adding that now “they call me for questions and advice.”

Barillas, a journeyman plumber, is among the mere 1.1 percent of women working among the 553,000 plumbers, pipe layers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the U.S., according to the Labor Department.

Also among them is apprentice plumber Zahrah Hill, 23. Asked what she finds rewarding about the trade, she replied, “The look on peoples faces when I say I’m the plumber, and when I leave with the problem fixed and they’re like, ‘You go girl.’ ”

The field is one more women should pursue, women plumbers say. They cite pay, which for journeymen plumbers is $46.65 an hour — $72.56 an hour including benefits once one completes five-years of training. And apprentices start at $15.90 an hour in pay and $36.42 an hour with benefits, according to Plumbers Local 130 in Chicago.

Despite the compensation, the industry’s image hurts recruitment. So said Jayne Vellinga, executive director of Chicago Women in Trades, which works to attract women and help train them for high-wage, nontraditional careers.

“Think toilets; many women and people in general can’t seem to get past [that],” Vellinga said. “It’s true that there are icky moments in this trade, not just in terms of human waste, but also [the] crawling around in basements, rats, etc. But most women actually work in new construction and don’t endure conditions any more difficult than other trades.”

Sarah Stigler, 33-year-old board chairwoman of Chicago Women in Trades and a journeyman plumber, said there needs to be greater education about the diversity of the work.

Barillas notes her work history has been varied. She is based at O’Hare Airport, where she does maintenance and service work. Prior to landing at O’Hare, she did residential work, including new construction and renovations replacing water heaters and dishwashers and repiping apartment buildings. She also worked laying water and sewage lines and trimming out kitchen, sink and bathroom fixtures for individual units.

“I have not one time dug in any toilet,” said Hill, who became an apprentice in May. “Of course it’s going to come, but that represents only a small part of what plumbers do.”

Recently she has worked on jobs installing water meters for Chicago residents. She stressed that plumbers have cause to be proud of their work.

“Plumbers protect the health of the nation,” Hill said. “You can live without lights. You can live without gas. You can’t live without water. If you don’t have water, you’re up the creek, and you have to know how to get rid of your waste.”

For 30-year-old apprentice plumber Symone Holmes, the trade has led to greater financial security.

“I grew up in CHA housing,” she said. “We were on welfare. Now, I don’t have to stand in the welfare line. I can get my own apartment and afford lights, gas, rent and everything else with no headache.

Her interest in plumbing began when she was a student at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, where she decided to take a plumbing class and heard a presentation from Chicago Women in Trades, Holmes said.

But barriers continue to keep many women from pursuing the field, including gender stereotyping, lack of information and preparation and discrimination, Vellinga said. Still, progress is being made.

“For the plumbers in Chicago specifically, there has been some improvement recently as the program switched from a subjective interview to an objective experience form for new applicants,” she said. “Overall, I’d say the selection process is reasonably fair, and women do have a good shot at being accepted into the program if they can test well and are physically fit enough to pass the strength tests they require.”

But keeping women on board is a challenge.

“In terms of retention, I’d say we still have a lot of work to do with the contractors,” Vellinga said. “Women’s ability to build long-lasting careers in the industry is dependent on whether or not they are able to work steadily … and receive solid on-the-job training” — not just temporarily meet an Equal Employment Opportunity goal for someone.

“It really isn’t enough to say we’re not going to discriminate; numbers won’t improve without targeted efforts to recruit and retain women specifically,” Vellinga said.

Hill shared an incident where she got an unexpected reaction because of her gender. Shortly after she and her male partner arrived at a customer’s home to install a water meter, the customer refused to let her work.

“He said, ‘Women don’t do this kind of work,’ ” Hill said. “My partner said, ‘It’s a new day.’ But the customer [insisted], ‘She can’t do this work in my house.’ ”

Hill left and her partner joined her in what she viewed as a show of support.

“He knew I knew what I was doing,” Hill said of her partner.

Recently Hill worked on a job at an elementary school, where she had a more pleasant experience opening a little girl’s eyes to possibilities in the trade. When she and her partner walked into the school, the child stared at her partner and then turned her gaze to Hill.

“He’s this rugged guy,” she said of her partner. “Me, my hair is in braids. I still try to be feminine, with mascara or lip gloss, but I was dressed to work. She looked at me and was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Baby, I’m replacing the water fountain.’ She said, ‘You know how to do that stuff? I didn’t know girls could do that.’ I said, ‘Girls can do everything.’ I loved it. It made the day.”

Stigler says to succeed in the trade a woman needs a sense of humor, thick skin and to know when to speak up for herself.

“You have to get used to the temperature of the water and recognize this guy has my best interests in mind, even though he called me a blank. But that’s what he calls everybody,” she shared. “The trades culture is different. Understanding how to take people is a big part of it. You have to take punches like everybody, work your way up and conduct yourself in a way that people respect you and understand you. And you have to know when to advocate for yourself.”

How to Unclog A Drain With Baking Soda and Vinegar


  • Pour a pot of boiling hot water down your drain.
  • Dump in about 1/2 c. baking soda. Let that sit for a few minutes.
  • Then, pour a mixture of 1 c. vinegar and 1. c very hot water down on top of the baking soda.
  • Cover with a drain plug (to keep the reaction down below the drain surface) if you have one and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Flush one more time with a pot of boiling water.

Why this works: The baking soda and hot water treatment will loosen up any grimy sludge that’s hanging out at the bottom of your drain, and the explosive chemical reaction with the vinegar will jolt it all loose. Then one final super hot-water rinse will make all the bad stuff go bye-bye.

If this still doesn’t work feel free to call your friends at Green Apple Plumbing NJ toll free at 888-315-5564


Lead in Plumbing

Numerous elements and minerals are present in our drinking water. Some occur naturally. Others enter or leach into the water on the journey from utility to faucet. Some of these elements are linked to emotional issues; most notably, lead.

History of Lead in Plumbing

Why is lead in pipes at all? The answer goes back literally thousands of years to the first plumbing systems, which are names for the word “lead” in Latin,plumbum. Lead piping was used because of its unique ability to resist pinhole leaks, while being soft enough to form into shapes that deliver water most efficiently. Lead was used in many other common products as well until scientific advancements in the 20th century demonstrated the element’s toxicity. The plumbing industry voluntarily took significant steps to reduce lead exposure.

  • Lead is a common element found in the Earth’s crust.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that lead is the fifth most important metal in the U.S. economy in terms of consumption.
  • Approximately 85 percent of the primary lead is produced domestically.
  • Lead is mined and/or smelted in the following states: Missouri, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Montana and Texas.

Lead in Plumbing Today

Aging infrastructures, including pipe and plumbing system components, are the main contributors of trace amounts of lead in the water supply today:

  • Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes.
  • Some major U.S. cities still have 100 percent lead piping bringing water from the utilities to homes and businesses. The dissolved oxygen in the water combines with the metal at the surface (copper, zinc or lead) to form a metal oxide. This oxidation layer naturally develops through the decades to coat lead piping. When water conditions require it, water utilities also add lime or orthophosphates as a further barrier to prevent lead from getting into drinking water. When water chemistry is carefully controlled, it prevents dangerous levels of lead from entering the drinking water system from the pipes.

Clean Water and Faucets

Many faucets sold in the U.S. and around the world are made from brass, a mix of copper, zinc and a minute amount of lead. Lead seals microscopic cracks that occur between the copper and zinc crystals as they cool, and provides the malleability for brass to be forged and converted into the machined components that are vital parts of every faucet.

In 2006, the American Waterworks Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) concluded that faucet lead levels in the U.S. leach less than 2 parts per billion, far below the allowable 11 parts per billion.

Lead-Free Faucets

In recent years, a number of brass alloys have largely replaced the lead in faucets. These materials include bismuth, silicon, selenium, and phosphorous, all of which provide different material properties, depending on the amount used and method of processing.

While none yet effectively duplicates the performance of leaded brass, several types have been employed by some plumbing fitting manufacturers for certain applications.

Examples: California, Maryland and Vermont

Effective January 1, 2010, California, Maryland and Vermont’s laws require the maximum allowable lead content in pipes, pipe or plumbing fittings, fixtures, solder, or flux intended to convey or dispense water for human consumption through drinking or cooking is as follows:

  • 0.2 percent lead in solder and flux;
  • 0.25 percent lead in wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures, as determined by a weighted average.
Pertinent plumbing fixtures include kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets and drinking water fountains.

PMI member companies have invested significantly in order to develop and manufacture products in compliance with lead-in-plumbing laws, to have those products certified, and to provide consumers with products that work and meet the needs of the consumer.

Eliminating Lead in Plumbing

The EPA has issued an online guide on certification markings for lead-free products. “How to Identify Lead-Free Certification Marks for Drinking Water System & Plumbing Materials” includes a summary of the law, its implementation, and a guide for identification of products that are certified as lead-free to the NSF 372 standard and California AB 1953.

It is essential to the nation’s health that lead piping systems be upgraded, a task estimated by the EPA in 2003 to cost $276.8 billion and take more than 20 years achieve. In the meantime, the best protection for the U.S. public is the ongoing testing and monitoring of what makes up our drinking water. The amount of lead and other minerals that actually leach into the water is far more critical than how much is used to manufacture the products that come in contact with the drinking water.


The EPA allows faucets to be sold in the U.S. that do not leach more than 11 parts per billion of the lead into water during a 19-day test. That is comparable to a teaspoon of water in an Olympic-sized pool. The EPA’s criteria is in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), taking into account the extremes of potable water chemistry that interact with the pipes and faucets across the U.S. Contrary to some erroneous claims, faucets do not increase the amount of minerals that are leached over time. In fact, the amount decreases over time.

Clean Water and Imported Plumbing Products

EPA officials addressing Plumbing Manufacturers International said that the EPA has reason to believe that faucets are being imported into the U.S. that contain lead in excess of the SDWA requirements of 11 parts per billion. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to call your friends at Green Apple Plumbing NJ  toll free at 888-315-5564

6 Tips to Avoid a Winter Plumbing Leak

Common Plumbing Hazards


All industries have their health risks. The same holds true for plumbers. Every day we come in contact with chemicals and other hazards that can be a detriment to our health. Education and training is key in maintaining a safe work environment for you and your loyal staff. Let’s go over some plumbing safety risks that you or your staff may come across every day.

1)      Chemical Hazards

One of the first things you need to watch out for in plumbing safety are hazardous chemicals. Asbestos and lead are some of the most common plumbing safety risks you may come in contact with. Here’s why. Many older homes built before the 1970’s commonly have asbestos and lead in the building materials used at the time making asbestos and lead a serious plumbing safety concern. Asbestos and lead can cause serious health problems such as respiratory infections and cancer. Taking the proper precautions can alleviate some of the plumbing safety risk. Wearing proper gloves, eye goggles, and breathing masks are part of dealing with these dangerous chemical hazards. Make sure you and your team is well trained to handle these hazards.


2)      Electrical Shock

Plumbers may come in contact with areas that also have electrical connections. This poses a plumbing safety risk because water and electricity just don’t mix. The plumbing safety risk of electrical shock should be common sense but never the less requires certain precautions to be taken. Plumbers should use power tools with ground fault circuit interpreters. Always test exposed wires to see if they are live before starting work. In addition simply turning off the power in the vicinity you are working in can greatly reduce the plumbing safety risk of electrical shock. Again it boils down to proper training and safe practices.


3)      Mold

Mold grows really quickly and thrives in damp, warm areas. Leaks associated with plumbing fixtures is a common safe haven for mold; making mold a very common plumbing safety risk, not just for the plumber but the customer as well. Needless to say plumbers will probably encounter this plumbing safety risk on a daily basis. Wearing proper protective gear like gloves, long pants, long sleeves, goggles, and a respirator mask are very important. In addition make sure the area is properly ventilated if using chemicals such as bleach to aid in the cleaning process.


4)      Plumbing Physical Strains

As plumbers you spend a lot of time in cramped areas, bending over, lifting heavy materials, and working with your hands. All of these repetitive motions can create a plumbing safety concern if you are not taking care of yourself. Some main areas of concern are: back problems, knee problems, and carpel tunnel. Ensure that you and your team are lifting properly, using proper tools for comfort such as back braces and knee pads, taking breaks periodically, and stretching. These simple practices can help alleviate some of the plumbing safety risks associated with plumbing physical strains.


As a plumber you work very hard in the field every day. It is important to guard your health and the health of your team by avoiding and alleviating some to the plumbing safety risks of the industry.



As the New Year begins, New Jersey residents are no doubt thinking about resolutions for 2015. Many of us vow to work off the holiday weight gain, while others resolve to save more money. However, taking better care of your home is a resolution that can pay off in a variety of ways. Specifically, homeowners should pay closer to attention to their plumbing. The reality is that, more than any other facet of home-ownership, plumbing is susceptible to many potential problems. Don’t let these pesky issues get the best of you this year. Instead, focus on making the next 12 months problem-free with these resolutions:

Take preventative measures

Prevention is key to avoiding almost all plumbing disasters down the line. Just as going to the dentist ensures the life of your teeth, so does maintaining the health of your pipes, drains, sinks, etc. Most likely you haven’t thought about these things in a while – all the more reason to perform a status check.

It doesn’t take much to see how your fixtures and infrastructure is doing. You undoubtedly notice if your main bathroom or kitchen sink isn’t draining, but what about the guest bathroom? When’s the last time you looked in on it? Similarly, if you haven’t had your water heater flushed in over a year, it’s time to clean it out. Otherwise, debris can build up and force you to replace the appliance earlier than you’d like.

Fix all issues in a timely manner

Procrastination is a common theme in New Year’s resolutions. No matter the area of your life, vowing to be more productive and do away with procrastination is always a noble goal; the same idea can be applied to your plumbing. Usually if a sink drips or a dishwasher fails to work as efficiently as it should, we let it slide for as long as possible. However, we’re actually wasting money by doing this. That’s right, procrastination doesn’t just hurt the performance of appliances, it actually drains your bank account as well.

If your plumbing isn’t living up to its potential, don’t wait. Contact the most skilled plumbers in New Jersey. Green Apple Plumbing can tackle just about any plumbing problem, urgent or not. Our team of technicians will service your home quickly, so you can meet your anti-procrastination policy.

Use less water

Hopefully every New Jersey resident should be aiming to use less water. Despite recent bouts of rainfall, we’re still gripped by a serious drought. If you haven’t been paying close attention to your level of water consumption, this is a great time to start. (Among plumbing resolutions, it’s also one of the easiest ways to save money on your water bill). You can take simple steps such as turning off the water while you hand-wash the dishes, taking shorter showers, collecting and re-using water from the sink to hydrate your lawn, and more. So call your friends at Green Apple Plumbing NJ toll free at 888-315-5564

Don’t Let A Plumbing Emergency Ruin Your Christmas.

With family gathering to celebrate the holidays this Christmas, consumers may find their plumbing systems are not up to the task of entertaining.

In addition to clogged toilets and drains, all that rich holiday food sometimes chokes garbage disposals and causes build up in kitchen pipes. Finding a plumber willing to cut their holiday short to assist you might prove difficult, and you can expect to pay a premium for the service.

However, there may also be less than stellar businesses and scammers out there waiting to take advantage of an already stressful situation.

In 2015, Better Business Bureau received more than 4,100 complaints against plumbers. Most complaints alleged that the actual cost greatly exceeded the estimate or work was not done properly. Some consumers alleged that the plumber they hired caused additional damages while performing the work. Many said they had trouble getting someone to repair the work or refund the cost of the work.

To avoid getting cleaned out by a plumber this Christmas, BBB offers the following tips:

  • Do your research. View the company’s BBB Business Review to see its accreditation status, the length of time the plumber has been in business, its complaint resolution efforts and any past advertising concerns BBB may have found.
  • Check licensing and insurance. Ask for the Responsible Master Plumber’s name and license number. Master Plumber license numbers begin with the letter “M”. License numbers which begin with “A”, “T”, “J” or any other letter are not Master Plumber license numbers.
  • Understand the price up-front. Determine whether you will be billed hourly or a flat rate for the job, exactly what work will be performed, how the plumber will contact you if further work is needed and acceptable payment methods.


5 Home Plumbing Myths That Cost You Money

Are you a homeowner who needs to learn about maintaining your plumbing system? If so, it’s important that you learn how to do so effectively without trying practices that may damage your system or your pipes. Here are five myths about home plumbing you’ll want to avoid.

Myth 1: Lemons Clean Your Garbage Disposal

While running a lemon rind through the disposal may make your drain smell better, it won’t actually get it clean. To disinfect your garbage disposal, you will need to use a cleaning solution that includes a mild soap and warm water. Before you attempt to use it, however, make sure you disconnect the disposal from its power source. Spray the cleaning solution into the disposal, give it a few minutes to work, and then use a cleaning brush to scrub the disposal itself.

Myth 2: Running Water While Using The Garbage Disposal Helps The Waste Travel Smoothly

Many homeowners believe that they can put just about anything down their garbage disposals as long as they run water. The truth, however, is that some things do not belong in a garbage disposal no matter how much water you run. Hard or thick food items, such as banana peel and eggshells, can damage your disposal, which may require an expensive repair or drain cleaning. If you’re considering putting thick foods down your disposal, you’ll need to break them up thoroughly and mix them with water beforehand.

Myth 3: As Long As Things Keep Going Down My Drain, It Isn’t Getting Clogged

Even when your garbage disposal is operating, it may still be at risk of a serious clog. One of the early warning signs of an impending problem is a slow moving disposal, or waste fragments that remain on the discharge pipe. If you notice either of these signs when you use your disposal, it’s developing a clog, even though it may still be working. Stop using it right away until you have the clog removed.

Myth 4: You Can Clean Plumbing Fixtures With Hand Soap

Depending on the type of plumbing fixtures you have, hand soap may actually be damaging to the surface. Brass plumbing fixtures, for example, should be cleaned with gentle solutions such as cut lemons and baking soda. Toilet bowls, however, need to be cleaned with an effective disinfectant to kill germs and prevent infection.

Myth 5: Plumbing Fixtures Require Little To No Maintenance

This is one of the most dangerous home plumbing myths of all, because homeowners who believe it may run into serious problems later on. Pipes may be obstructed by clogs, wayward tree roots, or shifting home foundations. Homeowners should also inspect their sewer cleanouts for obstructions. All of these issues may lead to expensive plumbing repair, such as a sewer line replacement or a pipe replacement. The fixtures inside the home such as sinks, faucets, and tubs also need regular maintenance to avoid serious drain clogs. For any of your plumbing problems call your friends at Green Apple Plumbing NJ 888-315-5564

How To Avoid Winter Plumbing Problems

If they’re not repaired quickly, many simple plumbing problems like clogged drains and leaky pipes can cause serious damage to your  home, including structural failures and mold growth. In the winter, some problems are more common than others, and the following guide will help you to avoid winter plumbing problems:

Heat Loss From Pipes

Although it’s rare to have sub-freezing temperatures in the Los Angeles area, your home’s pipes should still be insulated to prevent heat loss, especially those connected to the water heater. Use foam insulation on any pipes that are exposed to the weather or routed through uninsulated areas. If freezing temperatures are expected, make sure pipe insulation is in good condition, disconnect outdoor hoses and drain any outdoor lines, if possible.

Clogged Drains

As the temperatures become colder at night, oils and fats that are washed down the drain may start to congeal, leading to a clog. To prevent clogs, minimize the amount of fats and oils that are allowed to go down the drain, and rinse the garbage disposal with cold water for 30 seconds before and after each use. To unclog the drain, use a plunger, a snake, a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, or open the trap, if accessible.

Clogged Gutters

Leaves and other debris that are washed into the gutter can prevent the system from draining, especially if the temperature becomes cold enough to form ice. When the gutter is clogged, the water may back up and start leaking into undesirable areas, such as behind the siding, causing water damage. Have gutters cleaned as often as necessary, and consider installing gutter guards that prevent debris from accumulating.

Travel Preparations

If you’re taking a trip during the winter, make sure all the pipes are well-insulated, leave the thermostat at a minimum of 50 degrees and have a friend or neighbor check on your home often.

For other ways to avoid winter plumbing problems, talk to our experts at Green Apple Plumbing NJ. Call toll free at 888-315-5564

Checklist To Winterize Your Plumbing

The cold winter months can wreak havoc on your home’s plumbing system if you aren’t prepared for the temperature drop. Frozen water in pipes can be inconvenient at best and destructive at worst. As a good preventive measure get ready for winter with this winterize plumbing checklist.

1.  Fix Leaks

Even the smallest water leak can turn into a big problem when temperatures drop. Take the time to check all exposed pipes indoors and out for leaks. If you wait for the water to freeze the damage to surrounding pipes is likely to be more significant. If your pipes are insulated feel for moisture that might have been soaked up by the insulation if there is a hidden leak.

2.  Insulate Pipes

A basic preventive measure you can take is to make sure that any exposed pipes are well insulated. To locate exposed pipes look in your attic, crawl space, and garage. If you can see the pipe it needs to be wrapped with insulation foam. Pipe wrap insulation is inexpensive and easy to install and it can save you on heating costs as well as keeping your pipes protected.

3.  Swamp Cooler

An evaporative cooler, also known as a swamp cooler, is another source of water that needs to be drained before winter. To winterize your swamp cooler turn off the water and power to the unit first. Drain the water out of the cooler and the water supply line to the unit as well. This is a good time to clean the interior and change the pads. Finally, cover the swamp cooler with a cover or tarp to keep it dry over the winter months.

4.  Pump House

Prevention and planning are key for a smooth winter season when your water comes from a well. Proper insulation of the pump houses can keep pipes from freezing. For added protection it is important to insulate any exposed pipes in the pump house. A heat source is also needed to keep the temperature of the pump house above freezing.

5.  Outside Hose Bibs

Protecting the hose bibs and pipes from the cold is very important. Start by removing any garden hoses that may be connected to outdoor faucets. By removing garden hoses you ensure that water doesn’t stay trapped in the hose bib where it can freeze and damage pipes. Drain any water the hoses may have in them before storing. Protect garden hoses by storing them in the garage or shed during winter.
To protect hose bibs from the cold you can drain collected water and insulate them. In places where temperatures drop significantly every winter many homes have dedicated shut off valves for outdoor hose bibs or faucets. If you happen to have a shut off valve you can turn the water to the hose bibs off. You will then need to drain any water that is already in the pipes. This can be done by opening the hose bibs and letting the water drain completely. If you don’t have a shut off valve you can protect hose bibs and outdoor faucets by insulating them with hose bib covers. Hose bib covers are inexpensive and easy to install. The insulation that these foam covers provide will keep the hose bibs from freezing.

6.  Sprinklers System

The pipes of your irrigation system are a likely place for water to collect and then freeze in cold weather. To winterize your sprinkler system turn off the water and flush out any collected water by turning on each valve.

7.  Locate Your Water Main

Lastly you should be sure to locate your water main in case of an emergency. Should you be faced with a burst pipe due to freezing you’ll want to be able to shut off the water quickly to minimize damage. You can always call your friends at Green Apple Plumbing NJ toll free at 888-315-5564