When hiring a plumber, a plumbing contractor, or a specialist, a homeowner should consider many things. Some you may think of, some you may not.
In our first post in the plumber/contractor series, we examined how to find quality plumbers and plumbing contractors.
Next we looked at the differences between plumbers and plumbing contractors — we address both specifically here — and the types of specialty plumbing available.
We conclude the series by examining what homeowners should consider when hiring a plumber, a plumbing contractor, a contractor/company, or specialist.
Looking at Plumbers and Contractors
Checking references is important and should not be overlooked, especially if you are new to area. You will receive information and recommendations from many diverse areas. What can you trust? What is suspect?
The best way to find out is to check at least three references. Make sure the references have done the work you need, like installing a bathtub, renovation, or fire suppression.
Checking on references can help you differentiate between candidates who most likely will say they can do the work you need for a great price.
It seems silly, but you don’t really want an unkept, disheveled, sloppy-looking plumber or contractor. When he visits your home to inspect the project or quote you a price, a neat, professional appearance defines his professionalism and approach to business.
Yes, it’s the most important measure of a plumber or plumbing contractor. But don’t think of it exclusively as years in the profession. Narrow it to your project because, as we have learned, not all plumbers are created equal.
A good plumber and plumbing contractor should be able to identify and explain the reason or reasons for the issue you are facing. He can also help you prevent the issue from happening again.
He, or the company, will also have an extensive portfolio of past jobs that are similar to your needs.
This is overlooked. How good of a communicator is the plumber or plumbing contractor you are considering? Does he listen to you? Does he talk in tech terms, plumbing mumbo jumbo, that you really don’t understand? You should have a clear understanding of the problem at hand, what caused it, what he is going to do to fix it, and what it will cost. Anything short of that, find another plumber.
It seems trite to say, but price is not always a determining factor. Important, yes. But other factors are in play. Use price as a way to compare candidates with similar skill sets and experience. If talent and experience are close, price can be differentiating.
You don’t want price quotes jotted down hastily on a scrap piece of paper or a standardized form spit out on a printer — some plumbers even have printers in their trucks for a complete mobile office.
You want a written estimate that documents the problem at hand, what is going to be done about it, how much it will cost, and what are the contingencies for unexpected findings and changes of scope.
Written documentation is great for your home files and provides a historical understanding of the work you’ve had done to your home, which comes in handy when you are considering selling.
Does the plumber or plumbing contractor offer a guarantee or warranty for his work? If he does, this is a good sign: Those willing to stand behind their work often provide quality service.
As discussed in a recent post, licensing is important in plumbing as it demonstrates that an plumber or plumbing contractor has proficiency at various junctures in the trade and has the knowledge and experience to meet your needs. Ask to see licenses. If he or she does not provide (over a reasonable amount of time) or makes excuses, find another plumber.
It’s important that a plumber, plumbing contractor, and specialist carry insurance in case there are mistakes or accidents that happen in your home during the job. Any plumber you consider should hold a current workers’ compensation policy and a minimum of $500,000 liability insurance. If he does not carry insurance and there are problems, you may have to pay for repairs. An insured service technician gives homeowners a peace of mind.
Additional Questions to Ask
Do you charge by the hour or the project?
Make sure you know what you are getting, especially when engaging plumbers more so than plumbing contractors.
How do you determine your rates?
Rates depend on a variety of factors, including the type of repair call or project, timing, and location. Emergencies — calls that occur after hours or on weekends — are always more expensive.
Do you use time and material pricing?
Under this formula, plumbers and plumbing contractors charge an hourly rate and then add in the cost of materials. This is similar to the rate structure used by many repair professionals, including mechanics.
Do you use flat rate pricing?
Instead of charging based on how long it takes to perform the job, some plumbers and plumbing contractors offer set prices for certain repairs. However, if the job takes significantly longer than expected to complete, the customer may be required to pay for unseen complications. What are the specifics?
As an example, plumbers specializing in drain-cleaning services may charge $70 per hour for drain lines and $125 per hour for sewer lines. Most problems can be fixed in an hour. Weekend or night calls are more expensive.
For basic plumbing services like repairing leaks or installing new traps, you may pay $45 to $65 per hour, in addition to parts (which the plumber will mark up from his wholesale price). Weekend and night calls may be $100 just for the call and $75 afterward.
What do remodeling plumbers charge?
Again, this varies according to location. As a ballpark figure, remodeling plumbers charge at least $50 to $65 per hour for one man, one truck, and it does not include parts.
More and more plumbers are charging “by the fixture,” and their bids are based on the rough-in for drain and supply lines ($300-$400, varying by location) and installation of the fixtures themselves like a $200 faucet set. Add up the needed fixtures (faucet, sink, toilet) and you might be spending $1,000 but at least you’ll know the turnkey price going into the job.
When do you want payment?
It depends on the repair or project. If it’s a simple repair, it’s customary to pay after the repair is completed. If it’s a project and a plumbing contractor wants 100 percent upfront, walk away. Some contractors also use a series of “milestones” or “time” payments.
How long have you been in business?
Is he or the company involved in the community? The longer in business, and with a good standing in the community, indicates better business practices and integrity.
Have you worked on this particular type of project before?
Ask for examples. Probe — nicely — for details. What was the problem? Is it similar to what you face in your home? How did he fix it? Anything unexpected pop up along the way? What did he do?
What caused your problem?
Was it the age of the home? Prior workmanship? Something you or the kids did? Is there a chance the problem can return?
What is necessary to prevent the problem for returning?
Do you clean up your mess?
You shouldn’t have to ask, but some plumbing companies don’t do a good job clearing away old parts, boxes for new materials, or sloppily put back stuff under the kitchen sink, for example. Some companies charge for cleanup, which you shouldn’t have to pay for unless it’s extreme — like renovating a master bathroom and hauling away old tile, sinks, bath tubs, or shower enclosures.