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Plumbing: A Fulfilling Career for Lifelong Learners

Interested in history, chemistry, biology and having a positive impact on society? Plumbing may be the career for you.

Even though I’m already in the industry working for a company supplying a material used by plumbers for piping, I became a believer all over again thanks to a recent conversation with Christoph Lohr, P.E., Plumbing Technical Lead at Henderson Engineers (Phoenix, Arizona). I met Lohr through ASPE, an organization Lubrizol Advanced Materials actively supports, and where he also is a highly active member.

Last year I saw him speak at NSF International’s conference on managing Legionella and other pathogens in building water systems, specifically on the structural risk factors plumbing system design can overlook. Legionella is a subject on which he has developed significant expertise; in fact, he self-identifies on his Twitter profile as a “Legionella mitigator.” I wanted to get to know this young man better. After I had a chance to interview him, there were so many interesting insights, he gave Lubrizol permission to share some of them.

Lohr graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 2008 with a mechanical engineering degree. Starting out as a designer for HVAC and plumbing, his career path found its trajectory when a piping engineer position opened up at Henderson Engineers, a company he eventually hoped to join. In the subsequent years, he been relentless in his efforts to mentor others and raise awareness of the industry’s current and future talent needs in providing safe and sustainable plumbing systems.  

Talking with Lohr, you realize quickly that he regards the plumbing profession as one where, if you belong to it, you are in a position to make a difference in both micro and macro ways. The industry is constantly changing and smart people who can connect disparate dots are needed to become leaders and push it forward, he says, whether by influencing decision making at the building level or in larger-scale advances in industry thinking.

Right away, he’ll tell you that protecting the health and safety of the public is part of the identity of most plumbing professionals. He mentions a British Medical Journal (BMJ) poll of readers who voted for the introduction of clean water and sewage disposal —“the sanitary revolution,” it was called — as the most important medical milestone since 1840, when the BMJ was first published.

Using the Legionella issue as an example, he found out early on that a complicated and persistent issue like this requires a broad spectrum of ever-growing knowledge and tools in plumbing system design, and that “waiting until the next Legionella outbreak” isn’t a sustainable strategy for improvement. “We’re at a critical juncture,” he says. “Tried and true methods aren’t guaranteeing health and safety, and we must start taking calculated risks to build better systems.”

Are you predisposed to be a lifelong learner? Lohr believes the field offers abundant opportunity here:

  • Respecting our roots – The best kind of professional development usually involves having older mentors, and when you do, you can carry on their legacy, applying what you learn from the experience of veterans into formulating robust future solutions.
  • Discovering new materials – Especially in a marketplace relying so heavily on engineered materials not well covered in college curricula, that knowledge generally comes from doing one’s own research into performance properties and product testing, and reaching out to manufacturers’ specialists to further unlock those insights.
  • Bringing science into real world applications – While Lohr wishes he’d taken more biology and chemistry in college, he’s had a lot of on-the-job training in these topics, because he works in a world where these bodies of knowledge are critical to understanding the chemical compatibility of disinfection agents with piping materials and the behavior of microbial agents in water, to name a few. 
  • Learning your own value – Lohr shared the personal satisfaction that comes from being part of a building team with many disciplines working together on a project. He remembers the time the architects for a small outpatient nursing facility told him he was the best plumbing engineer they’d ever worked with.

Coming from Lubrizol Advanced Materials, which was built on a culture of innovation and a commitment to not only help protect people and property, but also to deliver to the industry the most advanced and reliable material solutions for critical applications, I can say that talking with a young professional so passionate about his work was a true inspiration. I could not agree more that this field is one that will expand your thinking and skillsets in ways you would not have anticipated.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of PMEngineer.