By Stephen J. Kotz
Late March snowstorms notwithstanding, it’s getting to be that time of year when people open up summer homes that have sat vacant for several months or nervously check their outdoor showers or hose bibs.
Because of that annual reality — and yet another building boom that seems to have engulfed the entire East End, the staff of North Sea Plumbing and Heating in Southampton are on their toes.
“We had a mild winter, so there weren’t as many service calls, but spring is always crazy,” said Brian D’Italia, one of four family members who run the business started by his grandfather, Tony D’Italia, in 1961, and which today has about 50 employees.
While Brian D’Italia heads up the service, irrigation and well-drilling side of the business, his brother, Tony D’Italia III, runs the new construction side of things, and a third brother, Peter D’Italia, oversees inventory and the firm’s back shop. Their father, Tony D’Italia Jr., still runs the office, overseeing bids, and things like insurance and other financial concerns.
It’s a far cry from 1961 when Mr. D’Italia’s grandfather, a steamfitter in New York, who had a summer house in the Bayview Oaks neighborhood of North Sea, decided to move east and try his luck by opening his own business and working with one helper, Willard Williams of Sag Harbor.
“He did a little bit of everything,” from new construction and service calls to hand-driving shallow wells, said Mr. D’Italia of his grandfather. When he became ill in the late 1960s, his son, Tony D’Italia Jr., who was serving in the Army in West Germany, came home and took over the business.
The biggest change in the 55 years the company has been in business? In new construction, “it’s big numbers,” he said. “It’s not that uncommon to see a house with eight or 10 bathrooms. Sometimes you can be on a job for more than a year.”
In addition, “the whole design and thought process has gotten much more sophisticated,” he added. Another development is the widespread use of irrigation systems for home lawns. “Everyone wants their lawn nice and green from fence to fence,” he said.
Not only is it good-bye to the three or four-bedroom with house with two bathrooms and American Standard fixtures, but technology has found its way into the plumbing business, with leak detecting systems that alert the homeowner to a drip in the basement that could cause problems if left untended and heating systems that are much more energy efficient than they were a generation ago.
“Obviously, we still have the average home out here,” he said, “but you are seeing a lot more electronic controls; everything is more technical, even the toilets.” (In case you are wondering about that, today you can get a toilet that will open its lid when you enter the bathroom, warm the seat and even emit warm air around your feet.)
“Almost everything is high end,” he said, citing as an example a $5,000 computer-controlled shower head, the firm recently installed in a new house.
“You’ve got guys who have been doing this for 30 years and now they need computer skills,” Mr. D’Italia said. But that longevity among its employees is one of the things that Mr. D’Italia sets his family business apart.
“We have a lot of staff who have been here over 20 years,” he said, adding that North Sea Plumbing and Heating has also been the training ground for a number of other local plumbers who went out on their own.
Mr. D’Italia has a simple piece of advice for homeowners who might be tempted to try to install their own toilet or new faucet as well as troubleshoot problems in their own plumbing systems.
“Call a plumber,” he said.
For more information about North Sea Plumbing & Heating, visit northseaplumbing.com.