BU’s Lead Plumber Is Best in the Country. And Tops at HVAC, Too
Craig Childress placed first in national plumbing and HVAC competitions
For three hours during the final weekend in October, Craig Childress sweated against the country’s best in a Florida arena.
With tens of thousands of prize dollars on the line and CBS Sports Network cameras trained on him, he installed a vent and drain for a sink, added piping for an electric water heater, and rigged the whole assembly together. Then, putting together a horizontal furnace with air-conditioning system, he mounted an A-coil and plenum, laid the assembly on the ground to install a filter, and connected refrigerant lines from the unit to an outdoor condenser.
What, you thought this was the NBA?
By day, Childress helps BU students and employees plug leaky faucets, stanch ceiling drips, and upgrade aging boilers as lead worker in plumbing services at Facilities Management & Operations. Now he deserves that superlative “lead” at the national level, after taking first place in both the national plumbing and the heating/ventilation/air-conditioning championships in Tampa. Childress won $50,000, wrenching victory (sorry) from 2 other plumbing finalists—and from 14 HVAC technicians in that specialty’s semis and finals—in the annual Elite Trades Championship Series.
Talk about acing your finals: alone among the plumbers, Childress completed his sink-and-heater assembly within the allotted time. CBS Sports Network, which occasionally shows nonathletic endeavors such as poker, will air the HVAC championship December 15 and the plumbing competition December 29, both at 8 pm.
“Professionally speaking, this competition was the most rewarding and fun thing I’ve ever been part of,” Childress says. He’d flown to Tampa, grateful just to have been named a finalist. “If I go down and I do good, great. If I go down and do bad, it was still a great experience,” he remembers thinking. But returning north with a trophy in each hand was even more gratifying, as his two children, 12 and 4, stayed home for school. “So I’m thrilled for them that they will be able to see me on TV, competing.”
The competitions, held at the Tampa Convention Center, were developed by the Chicago-based marketing firm Intersport and by Ideal Industries, a global manufacturer of tools and components for the trades. This was the first year that plumbing and the second that HVAC were added to the eight-year-old series, which also sponsors competitions for electricians and automotive technicians.
Bill Walter, BU’s associate vice president for Facilities Management & Operations, says that the results affirmed what Childress’ BU colleagues already knew.
“His recent victory is a testament to his skills and expertise,” Walter says. “Craig is a tremendous asset to our team and to Boston University as a whole. He is hardworking, dedicated, organized, and detail-oriented. Not only is he excellent at his trade, but he is a leader among his peers and a mentor to our plumbing apprentices.”
Craig is a tremendous asset to our team and to Boston University as a whole.
Childress, 38, has worked at the University for six years, and in between administrative duties, he gets his nails dirty with plumbing assignments around campus. His journey to Tampa began last April, when 9,000-plus contestants nationwide completed a first-round timed written test on their phones in the HVAC competition. (A plumber by profession, Childress learned HVAC systems while working for a previous employer.) He’d heard of the competitions from a friend and former coworker who won last year’s HVAC tournament.
Most of us take our plumbing for granted, and as Childress talked to his friend, he got excited about the spotlight the competition shines on his work: “It was celebrating the trades. You don’t really ever hear about anything like that.”
The first-round HVAC test involved “technical questions about the refrigerant system, or what tool you would use in a certain situation,” he recalls, either “a troubleshooting question or maybe an install question.” He was among 38 contestants who survived to the second round, requiring him to assemble an AC refrigerant system at home—outside, as he had to solder parts. His wife filmed and timed him. Contest rules permitted no more than 20 minutes. He cinched it in 12.
“It’s a couple of fittings, it’s a couple of pieces of pipe, it’s showing the basic knowledge of being able to do this process,” Childress says. “Every air-conditioning technician should be able to do what I was able to do within that time frame, or give or take. This is kind of basic refrigeration.”
He jumped into the plumbing tournament, which drew almost 1,500 first-round contestants, after the sponsors added that specialty last summer. It involved the same one-two of written test and assembly. The former “ranged from your [household] faucet to the valves outside in the street,” he says. Then the contestants had to assemble and pressure-test several pieces of pipe on video, a round that yielded five finalists.
Once he knew he’d be going to Tampa to compete, Childress kept mum about his extracurricular activity to coworkers, except for his supervisor. Then, while lunching with his family over the Indigenous Peoples Day weekend, “I get a phone call saying that they wanted to film me” on campus for biographical matter to include in the CBS broadcasts. “That’s when I had to let the cat out of the bag.
“Every single person that I’ve talked to about this has been very, very positive about it. They’re very, very supportive. Which was an amazing surprise, ’cause [that’s] not necessarily the results I’ve gotten in the past from other companies. BU’s been awesome. They want you to learn more, they want you to succeed in something like this.”
Childress will put some of his winnings towards the new dog he’s promised his daughter. Otherwise, “We’ve thrown out a couple of ideas about upgrading the kitchen,” he says. “We’re always doing something charity-related, so I’m sure some of it will go to a few charities.”