6 Steps to Hire a PlumberPosted: Updated:
1. Compare Plumbers' Hourly Rates
The first, and often only thing, that consumers zero in on when comparing plumbers is their hourly rate. People figure that they should hire the reputable firm with the lowest rate. Sounds simple and direct, but it doesn't always work.
The first concern is with the concept of reputable. For most people, if they have heard the name many times over the years, they feel that the firm must have an established reputation. Unfortunately, this is often untrue. In the plumbing field, in particular, several of the most highly promoted companies have the worst track records. This is why it's important to get specific references from others or to go through a prescreened plumbing service.
The second problem with the hourly rate is that it is difficult to compare rates because of the many ways plumbers count the hours. Travel time is a factor that should be considered. Plumbers spend a good part of their day driving from job to job. They must be compensated for this time.
The best way to select a plumber is on his overall ability to deliver customer satisfaction consistently. Costumer satisfaction takes into account all of these issues and constitutes an accurate indication of value received.
2. Minimize Plumbing Needs
An entirely different approach to saving money on plumbing is to reduce the need to call them at all. The most common plumbing calls have to do with drains. Many homes have one or two problem drains and several that never need any attention at all.
One common drain problem is the build up of grease. You can counteract this by doing things to reduce the grease build up. Experiment with the available products and you may find you can stay one step ahead of a clogged drain indefinitely. Some people have found success with just pouring boiling sudsy water down the drain periodically.
Hair is another common factor in many plumbing problems. In most cases, hair can be trapped in some sort of screen or drain cover. Talk to your plumber next time he's there and ask about suggested ways to prevent the hair from getting in the drain. It's much easier to gather hair off the screen periodically than it is to deal with a clogged pipe.
Another costly, but preventable, problem is frozen pipes. Make sure that all your pipes are in heated spaces. If any are not, make sure they are well insulated. Each fall, when the weather turns colder, disconnect and drain your garden hoses, turn-off the indoor cut-off valve located near the faucet, and open the outdoor faucet. If there is no cut-off valve, consider installing one. Any water left in pipes exposed to below-zero temperatures will freeze.
3. Buy Your Own Plumbing Fixtures
A popular and effective way to save money on plumbing calls is to buy your own fixtures. Traditionally, plumbers sell you the toilets, sinks, and faucets that they install. Typically they'll get the items at a discount and charge you full price. In part, this is to make money and in part this is to cover the costs of dealing with purchases, returns, and storage.
In recent years, however, some of the home center stores now charge you prices that are even lower than the contractor prices that plumbers pay their suppliers. There are many instances where you will do better buying your own fixtures, providing you have the time to invest in shopping around.
While this approach can save you big bucks, there are three caveats to keep in mind. First, many fixtures that appear to be great buys are poorly made or are missing adapters, installing kits or other components that normally come with similar products. Shop carefully.
Second, if you supply the fixture and the plumber installs it and something goes wrong, there is likely to be some confusion as to whose responsibility it is. One way to get around this is to check with the plumber up front about what brands or lines he recommends and then buy those brands.
Checking with the plumber up front also gets you around the third problem. Every product or line of products has its own installation quirks. Choosing a fixture that is familiar to your plumber assures that you will get the full advantage of his expertise and experience. If instead, you choose something he's never worked with, expect that you'll be paying for some on-the-job learning mistakes.
4. Reduce the Plumber's Chargeable Time
Often the easiest way to save money and time, this is an easy step that is often overlooked. Before you call a plumber, go through your home and check every faucet and fixture. Make a list of everything that drips, runs, and is clogged. Then, when you get the plumber out, have him take care of all the problems at once. You'll avoid additional trip charges, set-up time and the hassle of scheduling multiple visits.
Anything you can do to save the plumber time will also save you money. Be organized. This means having a written list of specific items you want addressed. If you're not sure what the problem is, have a list of symptoms. Clear the work area. Handle some of the clean up yourself.
5. Install Water-Saving Plumbing Fixtures
Water and sewage treatment cost money. When you reduce water consumption, you can save on both counts. If you have an older water-guzzling toilet and it starts to need repairs, give serious thought to replacing it entirely.
Instead of spending money on what will probably be a continuous string of repairs, invest wisely and get a reliable fixture that will save you money over the long run.
This is also true for faucets and showerheads. Anytime these need attention, consider replacing them with new, water-saving units.
6. Remodel the Smart Way
If you are planning more substantial remodeling work, make sure you get three quotes. More than likely, each plumber will have different suggestions. Listen to their suggestions and reasons, and decide which ideas make the most sense to you.
Always get a fixed price for the job and make sure that model numbers are clearly indicated in the contracts you sign. If the plumber installs the wrong fixture and you can't figure out whose fault it is, you can have a real problem.
David Hollies is a remodeling industry educator and consultant. He is also the founder of Washington D.C.-based Home Connections, Inc.