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Allegheny County database catalogs plumbers

| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

Inside a Bloomfield bathroom, orange water poured out of the bathtub spout.

The homeowner, concerned that something was wrong with plumbing installed during a recent remodeling, called the plumbing division of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“We get these calls all the time,” said Mike Como, the county's chief plumbing inspector who this week opened an investigation into that botched plumbing job and found a rusted steel pipe installed by an unlicensed plumber. “Some people, they just don't know the code.”

Across Allegheny County, unlicensed and poorly trained plumbers perform hatchet jobs on pipes and drains, Como said. The shoddy work frustrates homeowners and raises health concerns.

Allegheny County residents can now verify whether a plumber is properly licensed. A searchable database posted this month on the Health Department's website allows people to search for plumbers by name, ZIP code and license number.

The database cost $3,300 to build and will require $90 in monthly maintenance, said David Zazac, a Health Department spokesman.

The Health Department issues plumbing permits, inspects work and investigates claims of unlicensed plumbers, Como said. Plumbing without a license can result in fines from $30 to $300.

Each year, the department takes about 12 complaints to court. Sometimes, disputes are settled when the unlicensed plumber pays a licensed plumber to fix his or her mistake, Como said.

Tom Bigley, director of plumbing services for the United Association of Plumbing and Pipefitters and a former union head in Allegheny County, likes the idea of a searchable database. He once told county Executive Rich Fitzgerald that the best way to protect the health of the county would be to give residents access to verified, licensed plumbers.

“In the old days, a lot of people died because they didn't have proper plumbing,” Bigley said. “There's a lot of education that goes behind these guys that know the code and protect the health of the nation.”

Plumbing licenses and inspections are controlled by counties or municipalities. Plumbers and lawmakers have called for a statewide licensing system. Bills to do that are in the House Labor and Industry Committee.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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