I’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 consider a professional plumber to reroute and install new plumbing hardware during our kitchen remodel.
Of course, we needed estimates. After making several calls to local plumbers, the Honeybee presented me with three options:
- Plumber 1: $450
- Plumber 2: $485
- Plumber 3: $1085 (after applying a 10% discount)
Obviously, despite that 10% discount, the last plumber’s estimate was absolutely absurd. Not only was it the highest figure of the three, unlike the other two estimates, it didn’t even include the new shut-off valves and miscellaneous piping required to finish the job! That was extra.
When challenged on the high price, the third plumber swore that his quote was “the going rate.” Then, to prove his point, he went out to his fancy truck and retrieved “the official price book.”
We ended up going with the first plumber; he did a great job too.
Frankly, I found the large estimate disparity to be odd, so I asked the plumber we hired if he would share 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 official price book!
Don’t be fooled. A plumbers price book only tells you what his company charges; every book is different. Frankly, sometimes the rates in those books are so expensive, it’s easy to see why people might consider using a title loan to help cover the costs!
Commission-based sales aren’t the only reason corporate plumbers are more expensive. They also have overhead issues that smaller family-run businesses don’t, like truck fleet maintenance and workers’ comp insurance.
The next time you need a plumber for a fair price, follow these important tips:
- 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.
- Get 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.
- Avoid plumbers who advertise on radio and television. Those ads cost big money. That means higher prices for you. Speaking of ads:
- 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.
- Focus on family-owned 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.
- Ensure your plumber has a 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.
- Get an itemized parts estimate. Plumbers usually get their parts from wholesale outlets not open to the general public. The prices plumbers turn around and charge you are usually competitive — but not always.
- Don’t count on coupons. 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.
- 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
Jake Stichler says
#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 😀
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.
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?
David @ VapeHabitat says
Recommendations rule! Or me, I can do some things with my hands lol
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.
If that’s true, still dishonest, I wouldn’t hire them.
Everyday Tips says
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!
Thanks for this! I always shudder every time I have to call the plumber.
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.
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
Arlene Krieger says
I need a plumber to snake my double sink. simple job
Yvette Swinton says
You would think snaking a double sink wouldn’t cost $350-$400. SMH
Little House says
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!
Arlene Krieger says
I need one here in Reston VA. I had a good one last year but lost his card. My bad.
Car Negotiation Coach says
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).
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.
Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle says
I always let the banks now my the rates I am being quoted from other banks when I am shopping for financial products but I never thought to tell this to tradesmen. I have to buy a window soon and I will try this.
Money Obedience says
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.
Len Penzo says
@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.
Len Penzo says
That sounds almost too good to be true, Jen! I know you live in another state, but will they make house calls in California? 😉
Jennifer Barry says
I’m pretty sure they’re too busy here in Texas to go anywhere else! Maybe if you made them an offer they couldn’t refuse?
First Gen American says
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.
Len Penzo says
@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? 🙂
Jennifer Barry says
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).
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says
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). 😉
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.
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.
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 mysanantonioplumber.com will help.
Len, I hate to tell you this, but that’s about the going rate in the NY tri-state area. We’ve hired many plumbers to do small and large jobs, and they all charge like that. Even at those prices, inferior work is common, and call-backs due to poor work are common and grudgingly done. Plumber 11598 doesn’t surprise me.
Case in point: we supplied a new showerhead and vanity faucet to be installed, and there was another faucet needing a small repair. The plumber, from a small family firm that came well-recommended, was in our house for just under one hour. The charge was (labor only and a faucet washer) $450, and he had to come back because there was water leaking from under the sink into the vanity cabinet where he installed the faucet.
Another plumber (from a very long-established large family firm) did a fairly large job installing new pipes. The job was done in one day, the charge was $4,000+, and there have been two call backs so far. Now he is blaming the parts manufacturer for the problems with the job, and refusing to honor his own warranty. He is fully licensed in our locale.
We have had numerous instances where we paid premium prices for substandard workmanship, and some instances where we paid premium prices for ordinary workmanship. I know great plumbers are out there, but I haven’t found one since the one we used to use died.
honest plumber says
we are a good workmanship small licensed plumbing company, and we can’t make it, so we do plumbing on the side, and have a main job that pays our bills and retirement. we don’t like shoddy work, and do everything quality, and charge only the hours we spent, and come back for free ASAP if our work failed. still, this makes people – even friends of friends – abuse us and get upset that’s the work isn’t close to free, count our time by the minute, argue, lie, etc.
women are often able to get a better price by being clever with words, facts, and psychology. men can do the same of course, but in general it happens to be the wife that makes the plumber go out of business..
How many years of college do you need to be a plumber? You ever think about people like me who on a small social security check. I lived in different countries and never saw so much greed in my life and you seem to be proud of it too.
From the internet: “Plumbers do not require college to enter their professions. In fact, most go through an apprenticeship that lasts from four to five years and can be sponsored by unions or trade associations. Each year requires at least 246 hours of technical instruction and from 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid training on the job.”
However, many do go to vocational or technical school.
I have a relative who is a plumber. Good ones are worth it. You charge enough to make a living and what the market will bear.
The plumber up above has nothing to worry about if he’s constantly busy. And: he also should not be threatened by people who do a good job for half as much.
I think a lot of people, when they see these large per hour charges, forget that many contractors aren’t busy all day long. $275/ hour seems like a lot, but how many hours a week are actually billable?
honest plumber says
you will be suing the plumber for everything including his house because he touched a part of your crumbling plumbing system, and you want the part he did not touch to be his responsibility, rather than yours – the home owner. you can always bend the truth and say: “my whole plumbing system stopped working because the plumber I called broke it!” when in fact, he started the job during which you refused payment, turned around and left. or your old shut off valves got stuck because of age after he turned them into the off position and now it is his fault. if you want charity work, you have to ask for charity work per se. people like to make their problems your own. I doubt you spent your life doing charity home improvement for retirees.
honest plumber says
I’m working for $50 an hour as a licensed plumber for myself, and I cannot make ends meet. People simply don’t shop on QUALITY when they need plumbing. They try to talk to down the price, even if it is lower than average. They shop for the lowest quote, thinking all workmanship is the same. It is not. 80% of plumbing/HVAC work is shoddy by poorly trained individuals form my observation. Contractors like shoddy plumbing work – quick and cheaper. Home owners too. There is simply no money in being an honest, good workmanship plumber/hvac/or mechanic – customer will take your superior quality for granted and still talk down the price or go to the free estimate plumber. or you get quality companies with sky rocket quotes. the behavior of clients is not logical – it’s driven by greed, emotion, etc. NOT logic.
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.
Raleigh Plumbing says
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.
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.
That’s if he does the work himself.
The Master Plumber often doesn’t do the actual plumbing work. He runs the business, goes out for estimates on larger jobs, sends out workers to actually do the job (some of whom are more capable than others) under his license, and if it’s a big job he may come supervise the start-up and come back and check on it while in progress. If it’s an ordinary job like a leak or a repair, you’ll only see his workers.
Those practices make a Master Plumber’s license a very valuable thing to have indeed.
Tom Psillas says
You hit the nail on the head. I always use the smaller plumbers. In fact, Weezoo.com 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. Weezoo.com 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.
I’ll ck that out for sure. Thanks
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.
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.
I’ve used large companies, and I’ve used small companies, and they all charge that same hourly rate. The most recent one was $145 per half-hour. No fakes, all licensed (I always check), but that per-hour price is the rule around here.
In self defense, i keep a sharp eye on their arrival and departure times. If they fudge the time by fifteen minutes (and they sometimes do) , that’s $72.50 over-charged.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says
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.
Financial Black Sheep says
Great article. I would agree with checking prices and calling around. Not all plumbers are same and whether going with a smaller plumber or a larger company. In my case the smaller plumber charged me $200 to clean out my pipe for a couple of days. I eventually had to call a larger company and they were free. Gave me advice and how to deal with a problem that wasn’t mine at all. My case isn’t typical, but in my area, the larger company was more satisfactory, on time, explained everything, and had a camera and other equipment the smaller one did not.
Our plumbing developed a serious leak inside a wall over the 4th of July Weekend. We called someone from a large national chain who came out, charged us $50 for an after hours service call, and told us our plumbing was obsolete and he couldn’t help us. After enduring with no hot water for 2 days on Monday we called the local guy who is literally 3 blocks away. He looked at it and said “this is going to be Spendy” something you really never want to hear from a plumber! However he was able to clamp the pipe with minimal damage to the plaster under the sink and I gladly wrote him a check for $300.
If I didn’t have a local guy I would use Angies List. I have had good luck finding other contractors that way.
Doable Finance says
Lately Angie’s list has been advertising on TV. You might be able to do comparison shopping for plumbers and other traits as well. I have not used it. I do small works myself.
Interesting divergence in prices. Generally people go for the middle estimate though! That’s what marketing people say. We have our own builder/plumber/electrician so it isn’t an issue for us – we just call Danny and he fixes stuff.
Thanks Len that was informative and it reinforces my own rule to price shop with at least three contractors before hiring one (unless I have experience with someone and like them). I know of one time you’ll never find a cheap plumber, after hours if you have a plumbing emergency!
Karyn S says
This is good to know. Aren’t there sites that give you like a list of local recommended plumbers to talk to?
Even worse than plumbers sometimes is the HVAC industry. A few months back I had a limit switch trip and was told if tripped again it would be over $430 to replace. I paid the $79 diagnostic fee and told the technician if it recurred I would let them know. I know a local HVAC parts supply house that will sell to the public and I bought the switch for less than $25 and it took me 10 minutes to install. A couple of months later the new switch tripped so rather than put more money into my 20 year old HVAC system I decided to replace it. I wanted to install a 95% efficient gas furnace and 13 SEER A/C system – Since it wasn’t due to not having heat I had time and got 3 estimates – Company A – local but with many techs came in and quoted me $7200. company B – a national company gave me a quote of $8700. Company 3 – a local 2 person company – owner is a Master Electrician and HVAC certified came out and quoted $4250. Guess who I used?
Thank you for this article. We must keep in mind though that “cheap” doesn’t always mean “quality”. The best thing to do is to get several different quotes, like you did, so that if price A is incredibly more expensive than price B you know there’s something going on. I also agree that plumbing jobs should not be attempted by individuals who were not trained to do them. A job carried out without the necessary expertise can cost you lots of money in fixes.
L S says
Len, to expand on your plumber article… I try to avoid what I call “Big Conglomerates” (ie national companies)when I need services. I use mom-and-pop operations where I get to know the workers. Their prices are almost always better and they know their stuff; after all, they’ve done it for a gazillion years. Rug cleaner guy has been around forever; I love his son who is doing great in the business. The yard man lives across the street. Great guy. The moving company owned by two sisters has been around for 125 years. We all know horrible stories about the driveway sealer; my guy has lived here forever. I know him well; he’s unlikely to skip and run. “The heater guy” is a husband and wife operation. Many of these folks operate on trust: they send the bill out when they feel like it; they expect me not to hurry (I tend to be prompt). So, it’s more about developing relationships based on trust than money – “getting what you pay for.”
Duane Chistensen says
A plumber just left my home after installing a new toilet. Nothing alarming, it was all routine. I thought the bill seemed high…but I thought I had a pretty good relationship with the company, so I didn’t question it. After the plumber left, I looked at the detailed copy of the bill. The labor portion said “2 hours”. But from the moment the van arrived to the moment the van left my driveway was only 1 hour and 17 minutes. Do all plumbing companies round up like this? What’s the norm? And why not charge for quarter hours after the first hour? Curious if I got ripped off a bit…
Did you provide the toilet or did the mechanic pick up a new toilet and haul away the old one? The reason I ask is because this seems to be a question for everyone. Why do you charge me for driving around to pick up and dispose of a toilet or water heater? Should I arrive in the neighbors driveway with an old tiolet in my van? Or should I dispose of it first? Perhaps you would rather put it in your car and haul it? Waste Management charges double for a commercial vehicle. If driving was free then it would not be an issue. However it takes time and fuel. Perhaps the flat rate quote was in order here to include most charges including travel and disposal.
Ken Sims says
I have 30+ years in the plumbing trade. And yes there are rip off companies out there, Just like there are bad insurance companies, Doctors, Banks, etc. You done the best and shopped around. But I will advise don’t always fall victim to the cheapest Plumber either Some where in the middle is your best bet.
Len Penzo says
Good advice, Ken. When I get estimates, I usually pick someone who falls in the middle of the price range.
Neil Corrigan says
Really great tips here for finding the right plumber. It can be difficult at times when the plumber we choose either overcharges us or gives a poorly-done work. I agree that there are unlicensed plumbers who usually charge less. But hiring them means taking a big risk.
How are these great tips? Every premise in the article relies on interested parties to give advice (of course your cheap plumber will “tell you how the industry works”!), recommends second hand advice without understanding (“always get 3 quotes”. If three is better than one, then why not 10?), and ultimately leaves the reader with the same old emotions-based choice. The title of this article should be “how to have your cake, and eat it too”.
I have been a plumber for over 12 years, for small family owned companies and large “corporate” companies. An excellent plumber with good self esteem will find a way to be well paid for what they do. Simple as that. This article advocates not paying enough, and the results should be predictable enough. I think it is ironic that despite the plumber bashing that is contained within these comments, Len, the truth is that ripping off a plumber that doesn’t know any better is just as bad as a plumber ripping off a homeowner that doesn’t know any better. The best advice for someone that doesn’t know any better: pick a plumber that is clean, has a clean and well stocked truck, has at least 10 years of experience, projects confidence, and seems intelligent. Every other “tip” is really just a gamble.
Len Penzo says
“If three is better than one, then why not 10?”
Really? You’ve got to be kidding.
“This article advocates not paying enough”
No, this article advocates not being ripped off. It sounds like my points have hit close to home with you.
“Ripping off a plumber that doesn’t know any better.”
“The best advice: pick a plumber that is clean, has a clean and well stocked truck …”
Sorry; that’s not always true. There is a corporate plumbing outfit where I live that advertises heavily on radio about their clean plumbers and well-stocked trucks. Here’s the catch: If you go to Yelp and look at the company’s reviews, you’ll see that it has a seemingly endless number of very-low rated (one-star) reviews with the vast majority of customers complaining abut being up-sold services they didn’t ask for (e.g., they called to have a drain unclogged and the plumbers kept insisting they needed a complete pipe replacement) and other issues. Curiously, I believe the company is owned by a guy who’s first name is similar to yours. That wouldn’t be you, would it?
Rob Smithers says
Competition is good and so is making sure you get bids from a few different plumbers like this article explains. There are so many things to consider but it always seems to come down to price. Fact is plumbers aren’t cheap no matter how you look at it, but depending on where you live you will find some plumbers that may be accustomed to charging a higher price from doing business in more affluent areas. It doesn’t mean they are bad people or they are trying to rip you off, it just means they are used to working where the market bares a higher price.
It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button. You’ve got a great blog here, Len. Thanks for the great resource!
I have been told a few plumbing myths and I almost had a plumber come to the house to take a look at our plumbing because of it. I really think it would be smart to know what is real and what isn’t so you aren’t wasting the plumber’s time and your money.
My 2 cents would be ask a handyman or contractor that you know PERSONALLY. I did that and found the BEST plumber on earth. A small one man operation. He knows what he is doing and rushes around as if his life depends on it since he charges by the hour. One time he made me help him with something and told me afterwards it would have taken him 45 minutes to do himself. If he does not work fast, he is milking you for every penny he can get, even if he is a recommendation. I dont mean unreasonably fast, I mean within reason. If he is walking around the house like you are, you’re getting ripped off.
We’re going to need a professional to help us because we’re remodeling our bathroom soon. I’ll be sure to start asking for recommendations, because I agree that those are the best. I don’t dare mess with the plumbing myself, so thanks for the tips.
I’m glad to hear that there are certain state-mandated procedures put into place for plumbers to ensure that customers are protected from shoddy workmanship or health issues. My brother has had a leak coming from his shower for the last week and it has caused water to pool in his basement.
I totally agree that nothing beats a word-of-mouth reference as these people have previous experience with their service. I rely on word of mouth heavily when it comes to finding the right plumber or electrician.
Awesome post. Good share.
Really it is more helpful for me to get best ideas for my kitchen renovation work.
There really is a big difference between a family-owned plumbing company and a corporate plumbing company.
Eli Richardson says
Just a reminder … you can learn about plumber qualifications by checking their website or talking to local professionals.
I love the tip that you gave to get recommendations for who you should hire as your plumber. My bathroom sink is not draining anymore and I am hoping to find a plumber to help us fix that.
Many small family owned companies are paid commission. Many corporate companies often pay more per hour. With over 30 years as a plumber, I’ve worked for both. While being a self employed plumber for almost 20 years remains financially great, I haven’t needed to work since 2009, and I’ve been lucky enough to offer great service at a reasonable price, I don’t advertise and I don’t take credit cards because if you can’t pay for it with money you have you’re broke. I’ve been known to need time off. I don’t do 24/7 because it’s just me and sometimes money isn’t worth risking safety or injury. Furthermore, I don’t do holidays, because my family comes before any customer. So, sometimes my customers have to call someone else. I am often asked about working holidays and my response is $1000/hour minimum 4 hours, or I can see you during business hours. Hopefully, people will see economics plays a huge roll in plumbing pricing. There’s a shortage of tradesmen. I want to retire soon, but I feel I’m letting my customers down, so I increased my rate to $275/hour. All over the country there are companies paying$5000-$20000 signing bonuses just to have the proper staffing to meet customer needs. So, yes you can google and have multiple estimates, but until your insurance covers plumbing repairs and your practicing doctors make house calls with the correct diagnosis, prepare to pay more.
Yes! Focus on small family-owned plumbing businesses. Good read. Cheers!
Simon Emery says
Interesting reading. I’m a self employed plumber and gas engineer in Derby, UK. Most of my work comes from recommendations and repeat customers. Unfortunately, it seems that licences and qualifications seem to be quite a low priority over here in the UK when it comes to choosing a plumber. In the UK, to work on gas you need to be registered, but anyone can set up as a plumber. In my home city new so called plumbing businesses are appearing all the time (most do poor quality work and only last a short time in the trade). They gain work by undercutting prices, and sadly, it seems there are always customers that go for the cheapest option. Fortunately for me I gain extra work through sorting out the their ‘cock ups’.
Len Penzo says
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience on the other side of the pond, Simon!
In order to find the best, reliable and affordable water leak repair professional near your house, you could visit online directories like Yelp, Angies List and BBB, these sites have a large database of plumbing contractors along with their ratings and specializations.
I have a few clogged drains in my home that I need to get fixed as soon as possible, and it will be important for me to stick to my budget. Asking around for cost estimates is by far the best way to do that.
I would recommend to visit online directories like BBB or Angel’s List in order to find the most reliable and affordable plumbers near your home.
Big Daddy says
Im not a plumber, but l have one HUGE pipe! My lovely wife and her sister will attest to that.
Len Penzo says
Well, readers … it took 83 comments, but somebody finally took the bait.
Great article. I learned a lot from this!
These are really good tips! Like someone else had mentioned its a great idea to have a working relationship with a plumber you can trust and use in the future. Ask for recommendations from friends and family. Some under price and some will over price, but it’s typically a good idea to pick somewhere in the middle — remember in a lot of situations you get what you pay for!
Enjoyed the read, thank you!
It is really hard to find a professional service today that is honest from start to finish. You really need to ask around in your local area to find out who others have had success working with in the past. Good write up!
Really great tips, Len!
The best information I have ever read.