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Plumber Shortage? Touchless Products And Mobile Apps May Help Fill In The Labor Gaps

The pandemic has left building owners struggling to hire the professionals needed to keep their buildings in working order, and that includes plumbers.

Sloan's AER-DEC Integrated Sink System

A shortage of plumbers has caused a ripple effect in the economy, with an August study projecting a lack of skilled plumbers will cost the U.S. $33B in 2022 and is likely to remain a serious challenge for the next several years. 

Plumbing Manufacturers International, a leading plumbing industry group, has called the shortage's impact “staggering,” adding the private and public sectors are at risk of losing billions of dollars due to this labor gap.

Sloan, a prominent manufacturer in the plumbing industry for 116 years, is finding solutions to this shortage through touchless products like its flushometers and other tech-enabled, water-efficient items that can help commercial real estate owners keep facilities running without a maintenance hassle.

Bisnow spoke with Faye Badger, Sloan’s Internet of Things product line manager, about the challenges CRE owners face and how Sloan’s IoT solutions are helping facility maintenance professionals weather the labor shortage. 

Bisnow: Tell us how the plumber shortage impacts CRE.

Badger: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that plumbers are retiring faster than new individuals are entering the field and they’re expecting a 5% growth in the plumbing industry between 2020 and 2030. 

The current lack of plumbers has resulted in building owners having to find solutions that make maintenance easier, quicker and cost-effective. At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted the need for clean and healthy buildings.

There’s also a growing need for more sustainable sanitization methods with the droughts in the West raising concerns about how to conserve water and reclaim it. These factors combine to create strong demand for innovative, hands-free plumbing solutions in CRE. 

Bisnow: How has the pandemic or concerns about climate change affected this issue? 

Badger: Prior to climate change concerns, water was viewed as abundant and inexpensive. Today, however, prolonged droughts and an increase in fires are creating a sense of urgency around water conservation. 

Monitoring water usage per room when utilizing water-efficient products can help buildings earn LEED points as well as cut down on expenses. 

There is a direct correlation between sensor-operated restroom products and the amount of water a facility is able to save. The increased focus on proper hand-washing for at least 20 seconds leads to a greater amount of running water throughout the process with manual faucets. But sensor-operated faucets only activate when hands are within range of the sensor to cut down on water consumption, all while delivering a hygiene-friendly experience.

Bisnow: How can Sloan help?

Badger: Sloan’s sensor-based technology helps people use common restroom products, such as faucets, flushometers and hand dryers, without contact. Sloan has a portfolio of smart and connected solutions to help achieve a higher level of hand hygiene for users while providing building owners with maintenance efficiency.

Technology will never replace plumbers and maintenance staff, but our smart system allows the building maintenance team to run diagnostics remotely from a tablet or a PC, so they can identify issues and even change settings without someone needing to physically go into a restroom and crawl under the sink. 

Bisnow: What is Sloan’s approach to IoT, and how do its connected products help building managers and tenants?

Badger: Sloan’s IoT platform provides facility managers with a secure wireless connection where they can program the fixture and collect information from it without ever touching the product. It can be programmed to collect data to see how many times it’s been activated, when it was last activated and its current battery strength. 

IoT delivers additional benefits, including unlocking predictive maintenance for facility managers. Instead of simply relying on the fact that you would typically change your batteries yearly, managers can now look at specific faucets to see exactly what their battery strength is before they run out. You can also start looking across the devices to determine the most frequently used fixtures. 

With IoT, it isn’t just about connecting devices, it’s about analyzing data and providing intelligence to the building managers and everyone involved. While the data is important, the key benefits stem from the analysis and intelligence that data provides. 

Bisnow: Is there a particular CRE segment that has a special need for these IoT solutions?

Badger: Stadiums have intermittent traffic, meaning they get a lot of use during sports games but also have vacant periods. Also, some stadiums may be rented out for private events or concerts between seasons. With all of that traffic, they need facilities that are reliable.

Some areas of a stadium might get very hot or cold and need a line flush during the months when the facilities are idle. Building managers want to minimize the risk of stagnant water while keeping water usage efficient. 

Empower Field at Mile High, home to the NFL’s Denver Broncos, implemented Sloan SOLIS Bluetooth Flushometers throughout the stadium to enable the facility’s maintenance staff to wirelessly monitor the health and status of flushometers and spot potential issues before they happen. Thanks to the switch to Sloan products, a Sloan water savings study with the stadium’s facility maintenance team concluded that Empower Field is estimated to save 277,000 gallons of water during each Broncos game. With 10 games per year, that amounts to a little under 3 million gallons saved per season.

Bisnow: Can you tell us a little about Sloan’s IoT offerings?

Badger: Whether it’s a small restaurant or a large commercial building, smart fixtures should be designed to make it convenient for the end user. Our portfolio includes Sloan Connect, which features a mobile app as well as SC Argus Pro, a cloud-based solution.

IoT saves time in a multitenant building because you don’t have to look at each restroom manually one by one. Having a smart system in place can detect issues automatically and alert the maintenance manager. Sloan’s IoT SC Argus Pro is a full remote monitoring and management system that collects data automatically and generates customizable reports.

With newfound data at your fingertips in one centralized location, facility managers will be immediately alerted if there’s a restroom malfunction. For example, when managing a large restroom with four high-traffic water closets, you can notice if one of them hasn’t been used in the past hour and a half during a busy stretch. That could indicate to you there’s a problem – either it needs to be cleaned or it’s not working properly. This kind of preventative maintenance can help get things done before a performance issue occurs. 

Data from the system can identify restrooms with hygiene concerns by correlating the number of flushes and length of faucet activations. The result of this analysis can help identify areas that may require more health and hygiene signage to encourage frequent hand-washing that meets CDC protocols. 

AER-DEC, SC Argus Pro and SOLIS are trademarked by Sloan.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Sloan. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to