It was a cold afternoon as my father and I sat in his truck. The only thing keeping me warm was the steam coming off my cup of piping hot green tea. My father and I were discussing how amazing nature was and how incredible the squirrels were, as they began to frantically run around, looking for nuts and prepping a nest right above us in a big pine tree. I was amazed how fast the little characters could move!

As I sat there mesmerized by these incredible creatures, I could sense my father wanted to discuss something. I was hesitant to ask because usually when I get these vibes from my father, it’s because I’ve done something terribly wrong.

Just as the thought crossed my mind, he spoke. “You know, Sean, I was thinking of throwing a surprise party for Mom next month.”

“Phew!” I thought to myself.

“Oh yeah, that sounds like fun," I said.

“Mom is turning the big "5-0," and I think she deserves a nice party," my father continued.

Knowing that my mom hated to be surprised, I was going to say something, but I choose not to.

“I’m going to invite…” My father began reeling off names, which accumulated quickly.

“Wow, that’s going to be a lot of people, Dad. You sure Mom is going to be OK with having such a big party?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. Mom will be fine. She'll enjoy celebrating with all of the people she loves. What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked.

I simply nodded and said, “Worst case scenario, Dad, is that she’ll slap you. But, if it’s something you want to do, let’s start planning.”

Before I knew it, we were at the restaurant, frantically setting up balloons, centerpieces and pictures in a room filled with people. Then my phone vibrated in my sweaty palm. It was the text message saying they had arrived.

“Everyone! Everyone! The eagle has landed! Please be quiet!” I shouted.

In a matter of seconds, the room fell silent, as we all stood staring at the double doors that lead into the room. All we could hear were muffled noises from the hostess as the voices drew closer and closer.

“Shhh! Here she comes." The doors opened slowly, and there she was.

A chorus of friends and relatives clapped and cheered, “Surprise! Surprise!”

Mom jumped back with her eyes wide open and her hands over her mouth. She immediately turned to my father and began to playfully slap him, as my father put up his guard. That “worst case scenario” beating was now in full effect.

I’ve always said in my articles that every day is a school day when it comes to plumbing and heating. One day, with a particular customer, I learned something valuable. The customer was having trouble with her hot water boiler, as it was leaking from the relief valve. I entered the boiler room, set up my drop light, and took a look at the problem.

“Well, it looks as if your pressure in the boiler is high," I concluded.

"The relief valve is leaking because your expansion tank is shot,” I said this with great confidence.

“I'll only need to throw a new expansion tank in here, along with a relief valve,” I said.

She nodded and agreed, “Alright, sounds good. I’ll let you do your thing.”

I replaced the expansion tank and relief valve, which helped for a few days. Then the relief valve began to leak again. Puzzled, I returned and diagnosed the problem as a faulty S-1156F, which was letting too much pressure into the boiler. So, I replaced that. But, two weeks later the boiler began to leak again. I could not believe it.

In retrospect, what I should have said was, “What’s happening here is the pressure in your boiler is high, which causes this relief valve to leak. Here is what we suggest when this happens. Replace the S-1156F, the expansion tank, the relief valve and the air cans, if need be. However, it seems that this boiler has seen better days. I can replace all of these parts for you and you should be good to go. But, since this boiler is very old, I would suggest possibly changing it.”

I was so confident in what I was doing back then, yet it came back and bit me. Explaining everything to the customer at the time would have saved us both some serious headaches. Laying out the worst case scenario gives the customer something to think about, and puts the ball in their court. Nine times out of 10, the customer’s not going to know what’s going on with the boiler, and how long it has to live. Describing the different options and costs can save you and your customer in the long run.

Taking the time and explaining the plumbing problem at hand, and giving the customer the options up front, will only save you from headaches down the road. The last thing you want is a beat-down from a customer, like the one my father got from my mom that surprise party afternoon. l


Sean McCormack is co-owner of BMC Plumbing and Heating Inc. He can be reached at or (845) 596-7770. Visit Sean’s website,

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