This maintenance man, Chris Haney, works fast.
He changes out a hot water heater — flips breakers, bleeds the lines, threads fittings and disposes of the old water heater — in 8.1 seconds.
Need the control valve on your kitchen faucet installed? Haney can do that in 11 seconds, plus install a towel rack with the other hand.
He can change out a flapper and the fill-valve in a commode before a red light turns green, and install an ice maker quicker than Usain Bolt can run 100 meters.
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The convention and exposition brings property executives, management companies and landlords together to learn about sales, tech solutions, fair housing laws and market share. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will be the keynote speaker at the Atlanta convention.
Each year, the convention winds up with a contest pitting the fastest fix-it artists against one another.
These Herculean handymen (and handywomen) race against the clock and each other to complete seven tasks, each requiring the kind of supervisor’s skills that get tested on the regular at every apartment complex in existence.
Haney, 32, who has competed in the national finals twice before, lives near Douglasville, but will move into a Buckhead apartment complex in July.
As a maintenance supervisor, he rotates through the on-call shift at least once a month, which means that when a tenant calls at 2 a.m. and water is pouring through the ceiling, Haney has to fix it.
Keeping your cool in a moment like that is a valuable strength. The Maintenance Mania competitions are a good lesson in remaining calm when the heat is on, he said.
“You learn how to handle pressure,” Haney said. “When one thing goes wrong, things start to snowball. You learn to not let it affect you. Fix it, and go on.”
These competitors are good, but they’re not superhuman. The tasks are performed on simulated fixtures, displayed on rows of 8-foot tables at the convention center.
They’re not tossing around actual hot water heaters, but miniature, shelf-sized units. In the ceiling fan contest, they’re just installing the blades, and they’re using clips, not screws. The “toilet” is a clear plastic box, and the repairman uses a hand-screw to secure the new fill-valve.
The skills they must practice are related to real-world skills, but are refined to a few simple moves, which they practice endlessly, just like cup-stacking experts. “More than anything, it’s about preparation and mindset,” Haney said.
He prepares with zeal. Haney built his own practice facility, and invites his teammates to train with him. When the time for nationals draws near, those practice sessions are often two hours a day, five hours a day on weekends.
About 6,000 maintenance professionals compete in the regional tournaments, and 20 advance to the finals each year. Friday’s competition will be played out in front of conference attendees.
In last year’s national competition, Haney had a solid lead until he came to the ceiling fan event, and he missed one clip. “It cost me first place,” he said. Haney scored a fourth-place finish.
This year, he’s out to close that gap. His competition will come not only from other maintenance professionals, but from his adoptive brothers, Anthony Howell and Kenneth Stephens, who are also in the sport.
Stephens, 27, has finished well in regionals, and Howell, 20, hasn’t competed yet, but during training has posted faster times than Haney.
A graduate of Lithia Springs High School, Haney played sports in high school. He likens the Maintenance Mania workout to a series of wind sprints. Last year’s competition was the equivalent of sprinting 12 miles over three days.
It’s a bad idea for audience members to step onto the contest floor. In San Francisco’s contest, one observer unwittingly stepped into the middle of the action and got hip-checked back into the seats. “He went about three rows deep into the stands,” Haney said.