How to Find A Low-Priced Plumber Who Won’t Rip You Off

plumbingI’m not a plumber. In fact, I’m not very handy around the house at all.

If I can’t fix something with a hammer or screwdriver I prefer to pay somebody else to do the work. That’s why I decided to get a professional to reroute and install new plumbing hardware during our kitchen remodel.

Of course, we needed estimates. After making a few calls to local plumbers, the Honeybee presented me with three estimates:

  • Plumber 1: $450
  • Plumber 2: $485
  • Plumber 3: $1,085 (after an applied ten percent discount!)

The first question that crossed my mind was how on earth could the third plumber could be so much more expensive.

In fact, upon closer inspection, the third plumber’s estimate was even worse than I thought: The first two plumbers’ prices included new shut-off valves and some miscellaneous PVC piping required to finish the job — but his estimate didn’t!

The Honeybee asked why his prices were so high, but he swore his quoted prices were “the going rate.” And then, to drive home the point, he went out to his truck and retrieved the “official” price book to prove that his estimate was legitimate.

Legitimate or not, we ended up going with the first plumber.

Frankly, I found the wide price disparity to be rather odd, so I asked the plumber we hired if he would tell me how the plumbing industry works and — more importantly — how to avoid getting ripped off. Here’s what he told me:

Not All Plumbers Are Created Equally

There are basically two types of plumbing companies: small-scale family-owned operations, and larger-scale corporations.

As luck would have it, we got plumbing estimates from both. The two cheapest came from small-scale family-owned businesses that were sole-proprietorships; the most expensive came from a large corporation.

Corporate plumbing companies tend to be more expensive because their plumbers work on commission — and that encourages them to oversell you on goods and services. In essence, many corporate plumbers are salesmen whose first priority isn’t fixing your clogged drain for the lowest price possible — it’s improving their employer’s bottom line.

But, Len, you said the corporate plumber showed the price book!

Don’t be fooled. A plumber’s price book only tells you what his company charges; every company’s book is different.

Commission-based sales aren’t the only reason larger corporate plumbers are more expensive. They also have to deal with overhead issues that smaller family-run businesses don’t, like maintaining large truck fleets and paying for worker’s comp insurance.

The next time you’re looking to find the right plumber at the right price, be sure to follow these tips:

  1. When possible, get references. Nothing beats a word-of-mouth recommendation. Before getting any contractor estimates, make sure to ask your friends and neighbors if they have a preferred plumber.
  2. Get a minimum of three estimates. Knowledge is power, so always get at least three estimates before agreeing to have any work done. Otherwise, you may end up paying a lot more than you need to.
  3. Avoid plumbers who advertise on radio and television. Those ads cost big money. That means higher prices for you. Speaking of ads:
  4. Beware of misleading ads. Larger plumbing corporations often use website and phone book ads featuring a random family photo to give the impression that their company is a small family-owned business.
  5. Focus on small family-owned plumbing businesses. Smaller family-owned businesses have lower overhead, and they usually pass the savings on to their customers. They also don’t work on commission — so you’re less likely to be oversold on services you don’t need. Typically smaller advertising budgets also make self-employed plumbers more dependent on repeat business and word-of-mouth, so customer satisfaction is paramount.
  6. Ensure your plumber has a contractor’s license. Licensed contractors are required to complete work in compliance with state mandated procedures that are designed to protect us from shoddy workmanship and potential serious health issues resulting from improper plumbing practices. Check out your state contractor’s web site to verify the status of any licensed plumbing company, including any registered complaints and ownership details.
  7. Get an itemized parts estimate and then comparison shop. Plumbers usually get their parts from wholesale outlets not open to the general public. The parts are usually comparable in price — but sometimes they’re not.
  8. Coupons and discounts don’t guarantee competitive prices. Plumbers will often try to lure you in with coupons or the promise of a price discount. In our case, the corporate plumber was still more than twice as expensive as the others even after the discount.
  9. Schedule work on weekdays. Plumbers charge a premium for working weekends, holidays, and after hours, so avoid those times if you can. Just remember, no matter when you schedule your plumber, tell him to keep his price book in the truck.

Photo Credit: MoToMo


  1. 1


    #7: With regards to comparison shopping on parts, I can tell you this: I work for a plumbing supply distributor, and we are in fact open to the public (but maybe that’s just because we’re awesome). We’ve now got 24 or so (it’s hard to keep count) branches across the state, and they all resemble the little hardware store that Tim the Tool Man Taylor went to in Home Improvement. Open to the public, but not much in the way of packaging for regular Joes to know much about the products. However, and this is a big however… your plumber will get a better price from us than you will. There are no price tags, because everybody’s price is different. Since even the family-owned small plumbing shop across town does a heck of a lot more business with us in a month than you will ever do in your lifetime, they get not the best (the big corporate shops get those), but much better prices than you, a simple homeowner. Also, don’t go in on a Saturday. Prices go up on Saturdays ๐Ÿ˜€

    If anything, if you’ve got a large, expensive project to tackle (such as a water heater), see if any of your friends or extended family members happens to work for a plumbing supply house. Fat chance, but doesn’t hurt to ask. They may be able to get you either a nice discount, or possibly even employee pricing, by buying it for you. I could’ve saved you another $75 or so on top of the $400 you already saved by doing it yourself.

    End ramble.

    • 2

      curious says

      Insurance? Permits? No problem. I will save you a few bucks by selling over the counter to a friend and not being licensed or insured. My insurance agent will also discount the repair check in the event of a failure due to improper installation. But I am a handy man who is not insured and saved you money, and in the event of a failure of the product the Homeowner saves $100 and loses coverage. I have the ability to wire my home, however I hire my electrician to make repairs and improvements. Why? because my local building department will not issue me a permit to install electrical components as I am handy but not an electrician. So now I save my money by hiring a surgeon who is not a doctor THAT WAY I DO NOT GET RIPPED OFF BECAUSE HE HAS THE BEST PRICE. Makes sense right?

  2. 3

    mdb says

    A couple of things to keep in mind, you received a very biased explanation and most of the large corporations offer guarantees (date/time of arrival, etc.) and warranties while most of the family businesses do not. While I haven’t used a plumber, I have noticed the price dichotomy in other home repairs as well (though nothing like your discrepancy). We saw it with both the roof and flooring, but I have to wonder if he adjusted his price because it was your wife he was talking to.

  3. 5


    This is a great post. We would never attempt any plumbing project because my husband knows nothing about it and flood damage can kill your house. My dad was a great handyman and that was the one home project he would not tackle either.

    I hate to say it, but I wonder what the corporate price would have been if he was talking to you vs. your wife. If he was opportunistic, he may have under-estimated your wife!

    • 7

      Kate says

      As a plumber’s wife, I will say that your concerns about price are legitimate. My husband worked for a family-owned business which was also a union shop. However, please remember that plumbing has enormous overhead costs. Let’s say your pipes freeze (God forbid). The pipe-thawing machine the plumber brings in cost him several hundred dollars. In addition, a good plumber will guarantee his work and the parts for one year. Plus, at least here in Massachusetts, plumbers are licensed and strictly regulated. If your plumbing job requires a lot of re-piping, opening walls, etc., the job will have to be inspected. Again, this all goes into the price. Finally, a good plumber will be taking continuing education classes; will drive a reasonably clean truck; show up on time; and treat you as he or she would like to be treated. Remember, even though a plumber is usually pretty handy, there are times when we have to call in the pros too! Sorry this post is so long. Yes, a $600 variance among 3 shops is ridiculous.

      • 8

        Joshua Mitchell says

        Hey where are you located me & my family are in need of a plumber the facute in our kitchen started leaking really bad so we had to turn of the hot water .& also valves to turn of the water to the sink wont close all the way & our dishwasher went out we got a new one but have no idea how to hook it up right. So if your husband is in the Round Rock tx area pls can you have him e-mail me. My name is Joshua Mitchell. thnx

  4. 9


    In the past, I’ve hired sole-proprietor plumbers through word of mouth. Though, your tips on getting a few quotes and making sure they’re licensed are great (I’ve never thought to do this!) However, this post is making me thankful I’m moving back into an apartment unit next week – ie. I don’t have to hire any repairmen for a while!

  5. 10


    Len, Great write-up. I’m actually in the middle of a series on negotiating various things (one of which is contractors like plumbers). Don’t know if i’ll do it justice after reading your great post…I shouldda had you guest post! (of course you are still welcome to anytime).

  6. 11


    Let the plumbers know you are comparison shopping, when you have documentation that Plumber ABC charges an amount that Plumber XYZ charged less you can usually negotiate a little bit.

  7. 13


    10. Develop a relationship with a good plumber. – I have had the same plumber for years now. I think he is fair even though I no longer compare prices for various work he has done at my house. He is the same guy who walked with me through the house that I ended up buying so that he could tell me how the plumbing looked. He has also been at my house for emergencies in the middle of the night, most of the times free of charge. I am willing to pay extra so that I can enjoy his impeccable service if I even pay extra.

  8. 14


    @Jake: Ramble much appreciated, sir! Thanks for the great information. I just wish I knew about this before I got my water heater replaced last year. Oh well.
    @mdb: Granted, the summary was biased, but our experience backs up his point of view. That’s not to say some larger corporate plumbers may not be as competitive – but I’ll bet that is the exception rather than the rule. As for the corporate guy adjusting his price because he was talking to the lady of the house, that may be true – but the other plumbers also dealt with her too and they didn’t jack their prices up.
    @Everyday: Thanks, Kris! As I mentioned to mdb, all three plumbers talked to my wife. If he inflated his estimate to try and take advantage of her, he was the only one to do so.
    @Jenny: No need to shudder. I think there are many many reputable plumbers out there willing to give great service at a fair price. The best way to protect yourself is to get multiple estimates – the more the better. :-)
    @LittleHouse: Good luck in your new apartment, Jen! :-)
    @Coach: Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say. :-)
    @Jenna: Great advice.
    @MoneyO: More great advice. I feel the same way about car mechanics.

  9. 15


    Great tips, Len. I rent now but when I owned a house, I went with a small family company of contractors. They could do everything from repair a leak in the slab to replacing the wood trim. Their references sounded like they wanted to marry them. All this and for such a low price I almost gave them extra money (but I didn’t).

  10. 18


    Also, get the quotes in writing.

    I had a plumber who quoted us one price and then when we got the bill it was 50% over his estimate. He clearly low balled us to get the business and then tried to stiff us on the back end. What a loser. We refused to pay the bill and gave him 10% more than his estimate and told him to sue us if he wanted the rest.

  11. 19


    I saw a magnetic plumbing sign on a guy’s truck in my neighborhood and have been using him, lol. He charges about the same as we have been charged in the past, but I like the fact that I know where he lives (so far, it’s moot since his work is awesome, but still). ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. 20


    @FirstGen: Now that takes some chutzpah on your plumber’s part! I think you handled the situation perfectly. Well done.
    @BIFS: Knowing where the guy lives is terrific leverage, to be sure, Mrs. BIFS! LOL If you’re happy with the service he provides and the prices he charges, then what more can you ask for? :-)

  13. 21

    Plumber 11598 says

    This article is just stupid. The first 2 estimates were much lower because those two plumbers have no idea what their expenses are to be running a business and they lose money on every job – or maybe they like earning $50 a hour. I am a licensed professional plumber in New York and I charge $275 per hour. I have been in business for over 15 years and my rates go up every year. My customers love me, love my business and appreciate the peace of mind knowing they can call 2pm or 2am.

    And yes, I use a flat rate price book and I am not a huge corporation.
    Len, your an idiot for writing such a biased article. Seems like a “huge company” ripped you a new one and your panties are in a bunch.

    • 22

      Len Penzo says

      You seem to make a lot of wild assumptions about the other plumbers. All three of the plumbers I selected were licensed. They also have been in business for years. They also are available 24 hours.

      Call me an idiot if you must, but it seems to me that you feel a bit threatened by the fact that there are plenty of plumbers out there who are making a comfortable living charging much less than $275 per hour — and giving their customers quality service to boot.

      • 23


        275 dollars an hour for a New York plumber is probably a good deal. Plumbers have to go through an extensive 8 years 8000 hours to get our journeyman’s license and then another two years under a master plumber to get a Master Plumbers license. 3 Bids are great. Plumbing is expensive so to find a good plumber that you can trust and you’re comfortable with could be a lifelong relationship. If you know somebody in San Antonio that needs a plumber will help.

  14. 24


    Thanks for the article. I’m always weary of being ripped off by services such as plumbing. I ended up getting about 8 quotes over the phone. I noticed that the big companies refused to give any quotes over the phone, but said they would rather have someone come out for a free estimate. Sounded like a cop out to me seeing how most everybody else could tell me how much a typical drain cost to unclog.


  15. 25


    As a plumber myself, I appreciate the plumbers who charge ridiculous prices, it gives me more business! The great thing about offering lower prices is that generally people will want to stay with a smaller family owned plumbing company who gives them decent rates.

  16. 26

    Bill Cohen says

    As to the NYC plumber charging $275 per hour. If he works only a 30 hour week (allowing for travel and cancellations) his gross revenue is over $400,000 a year. After allowance insurance, vehicle costs, shop costs, office help, marketing and accounting he must clear at at least a quarter-million dollars annually. Makes you wonder.

  17. 27


    You hit the nail on the head. I always use the smaller plumbers. In fact, offers leads and appointment scheduling to small plumbers for as low as $50 per month. Weezoo checks out their references and licenses, plus allows customers to rate them. does all the advertising for them and delivers customers, based on their availability. They get the benefit that the big guys enjoy for a lot less money. Those savings are passed on the us.

  18. 29

    Jim says

    Hi, I work for a small plumbing company that charges a little more than others and in all honesty (especially with the one I work for) you get what you pay for. In our company we charge more because we have guys that train and learn non-stop, are drug tested and are in my opinion the best techs I have ever met. People you can trust. The guys charging the low prices are ill trained and in alot of cases (this is from experience people)the bottom of the barrel of society. It is not ripping the customer off when you provide constant training, hire decent trustworthy people and will stand by your work no matter what. It just costs alot more to do so.
    Another thing you have the pricing structure you mention backwards in most cases. Large corps. charge lower prices in most markets because they buy things like water heaters in bulk (the Walmart effect) and hire techs that don’t know a water heater from a kitchen faucet. That get venting on this like gas water heaters wrong and set up things like carbon monoxide horror stories you see on the news.

    I know we all need to save a buck here and there but skimping on the professional that installs the gas water heater in our homes or installs anything that could potentially damage the property we work so hard to maintain kind of seems a little assinine. I really understand where the writer of this piece is coming from and the prices he posed are probably an extreme case but I’d sleep better knowing that the alcoholic using cousin Earl’s license (they can legally do this people !!) isn’t working in my home.

    • 30

      Len Penzo says

      Thanks for your comments, Jim. But, “The bottom of the barrel of society”? Maybe that’s true with fly-by-night unlicensed charlatans posing as plumbers, but with all due respect, it comes off as extremely disingenuous and misleading if you are suggesting that also applies to legitimate, licensed, sole-proprietorship small plumbing companies.

      As for the pricing structure being backwards: How can that be? My experience is certainly not extreme by any measure. Large companies have much higher overhead costs and, most importantly, lots of employees to pay — and as we both know, labor costs are the most expensive part of running any business. Basic business economics strongly suggests to me that a larger company’s ability to buy water heaters as you mention in bulk at a discount will not begin to make up their price disadvantage they suffer due to their higher labor and overhead expenses.

      This isn’t the first time I’ve gone with a licensed, local mom-and-pop plumbing business. I’ve never experienced any of the issues you’ve mentioned — and if I did, I’d still have some measure of recourse because they’re licensed.

  19. 31

    Rick says

    I own a small company that provides services like Plumbing, and Handyman Services. I try to keep my prices in line with other companies and give all my customers 100%. One thing that I think some customers over look is that when we have to go and get the parts and materials for your job, that it takes time.
    We have to shop for parts drive around to get the materials. Also some jobs can be estimated over the phone but some can not. Over the phone estimates can become a problem for the customer and or the company you run into unknowable things all the time. And if you give a price over the phone and then you get there and it is different than you expect then the customer can get mad because the price will have to be changed. Don’t get me wrong I like keeping my company small and personable. I like having a good relationship with my customers, However I try to make it clear to all of them that since I can’t carry everything in my van that sometimes i have to go and pick up parts and, like I said it takes time and gas to do so. If I did not take that into account when pricing a job I would lose money. I also agree that you get what you pay for. And you get more than just some person to change a water heater. You get someone with the knowledge to change the water heater. It is not free for us to learn the trade. most of us pay more for a TV or Computer to get warranties I Think the company making the TV should back up the product, But to do that they would still have to charge more for that TV to not lose money. And as far as over charging for holidays, and weekends we sometimes have to jump up from dinner with our families leave on Christmas day or get all call in the middle of the night. I think that if someone who thinks it is unfair to pay more for emergencies Have a friend call you at 2am and get up drive to his house and work for a hr. or 2 and see if you think it is still unfair. I know times are hard for people but it is just as hard for the small company owner. I think it is wrong to rip off a customer but some of us need to make sure we know the meaning of getting ripped off vs paying more for getting more Thanks for listening

    • 32

      Arielle says

      Hi, I am a rare female plumber. I actually work for a family owned plumbing company and I know exactly what you are talking about when it comes to price vs work quality . In my experience on the job we’ve actually had calls in which we could tell that the previous plumber cheaped out on materials. For example instead of using brass connnections they used plastic. plastic is about $1.50 a connection and brass is about $20.00 a connection. Sure the price is lower but the plastic can easily fail causing a more expensive repair (or God forbid water/flood damage) in the future. Whereas the brass will last a very very long time (assuming it was installed correctly).

      I think my company is relatively fair in its prices which is a an hourly labor price plus materials used. We always use the quality materials and don’t even have the option for cheaper materials. I think thats why my company has lasted 20+ years.

      Though there is one thing about having a set labor price for each county we work in, no matter how big or small the job we charge the same hourly rate. So even if the job takes 5 minutes to repair we still have to charge a minimum of an hour because of travel time and overhead costs. My advice would be to only call a plumber for major installs, clogs, or repairs. For small things I suggest calling in a cheaper alternative like a handy man

      Otherwise, I feel bad when giving a customer a bill of over $100.00 for tightening a nut to fix an under the sink drain leak. I always ask whether there is something else I can do for them so I can at least be worth that hour of work charged.

  20. 33

    John says

    As someone in the plumbing industry I have to disagree that large companies have much higher overhead costs than small companies. Small companies might spend a bit less than advertising and may save a bit driving older vehicles. But they still have to have the same amount of office staff relative to the amount of work they are doing (or more), they still have to drive vehicles, have cell phones, (usually) wear uniforms, (hopefully) pay their fees, etc. The big company can also save in many ways through economies of scale (office tasks done in bulk, buying parts for less, etc.).

    In my market, the reason the big guys charge more is simple: they are making money and the small guys are struggling. The big guys plumbers are usually making $60k per year, and the owners making 10-15% profit margins. The plumbers for the small guy are making $30,000 (sometimes less) per year and the owners often work 60+ hour weeks and struggle to break even. (I am in a big coastal city where $60,000 doesn’t seem huge and $30,000 makes you kinda poor).

  21. 34

    Verona Hartrick says

    Plumbing is not a very easy task. I tried doing some home plumbing and it resulted into quite a lot of mess.

  22. 35

    staceybeck01 says

    Thanks for the advice! I’m looking for plumbers in McDonald PA but I want to make sure I’m getting the best deal. It’s so hard for me to spend extra money on maintenance when I could be spending it on something fun.

  23. 36


    I actually phoned a plumber today to come and fix a broken pipe that is blocking rain water coming off the roof and going into the storm water.

    He said that it was going to be a flat $200 unless there were added complications. I’ll have to come back on Friday and give an update if he charges us more.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *