Paul Cooper: From Solar Panels to Sewer Pipes
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter
BERKELEY — For Paul Cooper, a short-lived career in the solar industry led to a long-term livelihood as a plumber. “I got started in plumbing after the demise of the first wave of the solar energy industry that blossomed from the mid-70s to the early ’80s,” he recounts. “President Carter installed solar panels on the White House and the government created tax credits for homeowners who did the same to their homes. I jumped on that wave and got into the solar business around that time. A few years later, when Ronald Reagan became president, he removed those panels that President Carter had installed. This must have been symbolic because the solar industry pretty much collapsed at that point, as did my livelihood. I had several former plumbers on my staff and they were all going back into plumbing, so I kind of followed them.”
After working as a plumber for about a decade, Paul came across a unique opportunity. “In the late ’90s, homeowners insurance policies used to cover sewer line issues, which started a new focus of specialty plumbing in sewer repair and replacement,” he remembers. “Sensing this as an opportunity, I created Pipe Spy Inc. along with my partner, Heiko Dzierzon, in 1998. We were actually the first company to purchase the now-commonplace pipe bursting tool used for trenchless sewer work—the inventors were located here in the Bay Area and we bought their first prototype. That led us down the path of getting it approved in different jurisdictions because it was new technology. Today, it has become the standard for sewer replacement.”
Today, as president of Pipe Spy Inc., Paul says his job isn’t just about pipes—it’s also about people. “My favorite part of my job is the social aspects: the satisfaction of solving our customers’ problems, the challenge of organizing crews and helping everyone be the best they can be at a difficult job. Construction is inherently dangerous and physically demanding work, so I greatly appreciate the process of working together to complete the job safely.”
A resident of Berkeley (where he lives with his wife, Christine), Paul spends his time outside of work on a variety of active pastimes. “Since my day job largely consists of administrative tasks like paper processing, on weekends I like to put on my tool belt and do hands-on work,” he details. “I enjoy helping friends and neighbors do small remodeling projects. I also love being outdoors. In particular, I love to spend time in Mendocino just watching the redwood trees grow.” Additionally, Paul likes going on bicycle rides and playing his guitar.
In his life and career, Paul espouses a well-known trifecta. “For me, it’s all about peace, love and happiness,” he says. “That was a popular philosophy when I was a kid and I think it holds true today. As a business owner, I try to apply this by being even-handed and making sure both my customers and employees are taken care of. We want to provide excellent service and quality installations for our customers, protect their homes, and do the work safely. I also want my staff to focus and work together with a team spirit, and part of that is making sure they have the equipment and training they need to be successful.”
When asked what he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Paul says he’d spend more time on the pastimes he currently enjoys. “I’d still help people with remodeling projects, but I’d also spend time sitting in the sun, playing my guitar and watching the redwood trees grow.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What’s your favorite local restaurant?
A: I’m a big breakfast person, so I’d have to say Sconehenge in Berkeley.
Q: What are your favorite things to eat for breakfast?
A: Poached eggs, potatoes, sausage and coffee.
Q: What kinds of music do you like?
A: I prefer rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and jazz.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
A: Sit in a warm place and do some reading.
Q: What kinds of books do you like to read?
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A: I enjoy science fiction books.