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Plumbing Company Builds On Tradition

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By John Reosti
Times Staff Writer

William J. Baumbach II gets wistful
when he talks about plumbing.
“Plumbing used to be an art,” said
Baumbach, president of Baumbach Plumbing
of Fairfax Station. “They don’t do it like
they used to.”
Baumbach points to piping as a sign
of decay. Complaints about lead in water
forced the introduction of plastic pipes, an
innovation he disdains.
“It used to be galvanized black steel.
It was like cast iron,” Baumbach said.
Though he is only in his 30’s,
Baumbach can be excused if his plumbing
talk sounds old fashioned. He owns one of
the oldest and best-known names in
Northern Virginia plumbing.
Baumbach’s father, 89-year-old
William J. Baumbach, Sr., was a pioneer in
the plumbing industry. A self-made business
success who left school after the fourth
grade, the elder Baumbach invented several
ground-breaking innovations.
In the mid 1930’s, Baumbach, who
founded Baumbach Plumbing in 1928, made
plumbing history when he installed the
plumbing for an apartment complex in
Arlington’s Buckingham subdivision before
construction started on the building.
In the 1960’s, Baumbach invented a
diaphragm for drains that reduced backflow
and flooding. Patented in the United States
and Canada, Baumbach’s “Suds and Floods
Backflow Preventer” is still widely used

Baumbach’s introduction to plumbing came
by accident. After the death of his father,
Baumbach’s mother took in boarders to help
make ends meet for the family.
One of the boarders was priming for
his plumbing certification and enlisted the
teen-aged Baumbach’s help. After reading
the plumbing code to the boarder, Baumbach
decided to take the certification exam himself
and passed.
An outgoing, gregarious man,
Baumbach was a dominant force among area
plumbers until his retirement in the 1970’s.
Baumbach taught veterans returning from
World War II plumbing at Washington-Lee
high School.
“At one time, 95 percent of the
plumbers in the Washington area had worked
for Mr. Baumbach,” said his wife, Beryl,
who still helps out in the family’s business.
In the uncertain business climate
since the elder Baumbach’s retirement,
Baumbach Plumbing has struggled at times.
Shortly before he retired, Baumbach
moved the business from Arlington, its
location for 50 years, to Fairfax Station,
where he had bought 14.4 acres 20 years
William Baumbach III and his
brother, Andrew, who inherited the
company, were left with the task of retaining
the company’s Arlington customer base
while expanding westward into Fairfax
County and Manassas.
According to Beryl Baumbach, most
of the company’s business still comes from
the Arlington area.

“Things out here are still new compared to
Arlington and don’t need (the things) that
Arlington needs,” she said.
The Baumbachs’ also attempted, with
limited success, to expand into small home
repair and remodeling jobs.
“We do repair, replacement, furnish
and install . . . it would be a remodeling of a
bathroom or a kitchen, not someone putting
a wing on their house,” said Beryl
Baumbach was also hurt by an influx
of small contractors during the recession.
According to Beryl, many skilled workers
laid off from the construction industry went
to work for themselves.
She said small operators by-pass
county permits and use low quality materials
to undercut the prices of more established
“They don’t get permits; they don’t
get inspections when required and we do,”
she said.
“If someone is putting in a gas hot
water heater you’re supposed to get a permit
which means you have to charge the
customer a little more,” she added.
Throughout their business ups and
downs, Beryl said her family’s company
always maintained the standards set by
William J. Baumbach, Sr.
“There’s more of a personal feeling
involved when it’s family owned and
operated because (we) are interested in
obtaining a good relationship,” she said.

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