Designing for the Future: Think Outside the Box and Inside the Wall

Add value by working closely with your contractor
By Dick Wolfe
September 20, 2011

The last column was about effective networking. Specifically, it was about creating better working relationships between designers, contractors and suppliers. In a truly top-performing network, it’s not just about friendly relationships or even referrals. To really work in tandem to the greater benefit of each party’s respective business and the customer you serve, you really need to make an effort to understand each other’s business.


To illustrate the point in a granular fashion, let’s take the perspective of a designer working with a contractor. It’s fair to say that most designers look at the contractor as the person who does all the tearing out, installing and connecting associated with bringing their design vision to life. That’s not necessarily bad or wrong.

As a designer, if you look behind the wall at the parts that are never seen but make plumbing fixtures and appliances actually work, you’re likely an exception. Most designers (and this is not a criticism) don’t do this because it has never been considered their business. However, there is a lot that can go on behind the wall that can benefit both you and your contractor/partner.


You get up in the morning and start the shower. You have to wait one minute, two minutes for the water to warm up enough to actually step in. Not only is that an inconvenience, if you have a standard 2.5-gpm showerhead, you just sent up to five gallons of water down your drain. Let’s say it’s a one minute warm-up time or 2.5 gpm. If there are four people in your home, that’s 10 gallons per day. Times 365, that’s 3,650 gallons of water wasted per year! In a Leap Year, it’s 3,660.

It doesn’t stop there. Kitchen faucets flow at about 2.2 gpm and lavatory faucets at about 1.5 gpm. When rinsing dishes or shaving, you are again sending water down the drain waiting for it to warm up. Add all those up and…well, you get the picture: a whole lot of water wasted.

As you may know, this issue is caused by the water that sits in the pipes between the hot water heater and the faucets in the home when not in use. Many pros and almost no consumers are aware that this problem can be easily fixed.


There is a product on the market that solves the cold-water-in-the-pipe problem and it has been available for a number of years. It’s called a hot water recirculation pump (HWR). Installed near the hot water heater, the HWR constantly recirculates hot water and eliminates cold water sitting in pipes. It doesn’t require much energy and it saves lots of water.

The cost of the pump and installation is not prohibitive for the end-user, especially in the context of a renovation. Depending on the price of the pump chosen, the general range is $500-$750 all in. The incremental savings on the water bill will typically cover the cost over time, especially since the useful life of a well-made HWR is 10 years or more.

Plus, think of the comfort and convenience benefits of hot water on demand. No more standing around sleepy-eyed waiting for the shower to warm up; no more waiting and waste for any task involving hot water.


Why is this important? It’s one example of a great way to add value to your client and also help your contractor partner. The client benefit is win-win-win: comfort, convenience and saving an important natural resource at little to no cost. For your contractor partner it offers an up-sell opportunity that has real value, not only for the current job, but for other projects down the road.

There are lots of other examples, such as bathroom ventilation. That’s a category with a wide variance in performance and convenience. What you or your contractor recommend to the client can make a huge difference in the quality of the bathroom experience.

Isn’t a big part of your job to make your clients’ lives better? Looking behind the wall for other ways to add value can help you do this. It’s also another differentiator against competitors. Think beyond design to lifestyle improvement. Looking at a renovation holistically, i.e. not only at the things you can see, but how all the pieces fit together, can give you a big edge in a competitive economic climate.

—Dick Wolfe is SVP of The MWW Group, an award-winning independent public relations agency that specializes in helping design effective marketing programs for well-known consumer brands and business-to-business companies. Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications advisor to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the design/build community. To contact Wolfe with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at dwolfe@mww.com.
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