The Three Cs of How to Choose a Plumber
As you consider how to choose a plumber remember that when to choose is just as important (now, before you have a plumbing emergency).
Use the Three Cs – Competence, Convenience and Confidence – of how to choose a quality plumber so you will know who to summon for project work, routine maintenance and emergencies. We’ll break down each of these topics into its components to offer a proven, common sense approach.
LICENSED – Is the plumber licensed? All states require plumbers to be licensed or registered. In some states licensing is done at the local level, but in most cases states issue plumbing licenses, as illustrated in this overview of plumbing license types in Texas.
To obtain a license, plumbers must train under the supervision of a licensed master plumber and complete thousands of hours of supervised plumbing work. This is your assurance your plumbing job will be done correctly and in compliance with building codes.
Despite licensing requirements, there always will be unlicensed “plumbers” who disregard the law and offer cut-rate service. Some companies, usually smaller ones, hire plumbers with suspended licenses. They work for less because no reputable firm will hire them.
Licensed plumbers are required to have their licenses with them when working, so ask to see the license when a plumber comes to your home. If the plumber can’t produce it, get a different plumber. Reasons licenses may be suspended include criminal activity and incompetence.
Too often, working with an unlicensed plumber turns out to be the most expensive choice. After the unlicensed guy has bungled things you need to call a licensed plumber to do the job right. In some cases, non-code plumbing involves dangerous shortcuts that can put the comfort and safety of your family at risk. You get what you pay for. Don’t become a victim of false economy.
INSURED – Does the plumbing company have general liability insurance? Plumbers are human; they make mistakes sometimes. When they do you may suffer personal injury or property damage and rightly expect to be compensated by the plumber.
If your plumber is not insured, it may be difficult or impossible to reach a fair settlement. You may have to sue the plumber and go through the expense of a legal battle that will leave you unhappy and holding a lighter wallet. Ask to see proof and amount of coverage. If the plumber cannot produce it, steer clear.
24 HOUR SERVICE – Does the plumber offer emergency 24-hour service? This is very important; plumbing emergencies often develop fast and without warning. You need a plumber who can respond, regardless of the time and day of the week. Some plumbers charge a higher rate for emergency service, others do not. It is always a good idea to ask about rates.
SCHEDULING EASE – How easy is it to schedule service? Scheduling is nearly always done by phone, although online scheduling is gaining popularity because it’s faster. Many plumbers still book appointments in four-hour “windows” in which they expect to arrive, such as 8 a.m. – noon or 1p.m. – 5 p.m.
Some plumbers now offer a two-hour window, which makes it easier for you to plan your time. On average, American consumers waste 4.5 hours per year waiting for service appointments.
The ultimate solution to dramatically reducing this wasted time is one that lets you schedule your own plumbing appointment on the day and at the hour most convenient to you, using a mobile app.
PRICING TRANSPARENCY – Is pricing transparent and discussed in advance? Some plumbers charge by the hour, so the price you pay depends on the time required to complete the repair. If you know the plumber is skilled and honest, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The trend in recent years has been to flat-rate or book-rate pricing. Each job is priced at a set rate, regardless of the time it takes the plumber to complete it, the way automobile service has been priced for years. Always ask if pricing is hourly or flat rate. Keep in mind there are costs of doing business that also factor into fees, such as office/warehouse and vehicle expense, insurance, uniforms, salaries and benefits.
Also enquire about any other charges, such as dispatch fees and estimate fees, either of which may be as high as $100. Most plumbing companies include one or both. Some charge neither. Check to see that the quote includes materials and labor. Get your quote in writing.
NOTE: Be especially cautious if the plumber offers a quote over the phone without seeing the situation in person. Good plumbers never do this, for your protection and their own.
ACCURATE ESTIMATES – Are the plumber’s price estimates accurate? There are only three ways to know the answer to this: your prior experience with the plumber, a friend’s prior experience, or lacking those, the bill you receive when the job is done.
With flat-rate pricing this seldom is a problem, but if the plumber charges hourly, the difference can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Research online reviews and ask friends about pricing when they recommend a plumber.
ON-TIME SERVICE – Your time is at least as valuable as the plumber’s, so find a plumber who understands that. This begins with how long it takes to explain the problem and receive an appointment time when scheduling service. Scheduling shouldn’t require more than a few minutes.
The real on-time test is when the plumber arrives on the job. No one wants to sit around the house and wait for a plumber – and you don’t have to. Find a plumbing company that offers convenient scheduling and then shows up on time. The good ones do.
EXPERIENCE – How long has the plumber been in business? This question relates more to the business entity than to an individual plumber. People who operate plumbing businesses must be licensed master plumbers. This assures you that the company has knowledgeable leadership.
New plumbing companies are formed all the time, often by experienced plumbers who have decided to go into business for themselves. If a company is new, ask questions about the owners’ experience as well as the plumber doing the work.
There are shady operators who keep changing the names of their businesses because of customer complaints or legal problems. If something doesn’t feel right, investigate online and by contacting business organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau.
PROFESSIONALISM – Appearance counts, beginning with how the company’s website looks and including the condition of their vehicles and how the plumbers dress. Companies that project a professional image usually are more professional.
Does the website provide tips and DIY information? Does it help you learn more about the company? Are the trucks clean? Are the plumbers well-groomed and dressed neatly? Does the plumber respect your home and leave it clean and neat? Does the plumbing company guarantee or warrant its work? If not, keep looking.
EMPLOYMENT STATUS – Is the plumber an owner or employee of the plumbing company, or a third-party contractor? Plumbing companies that send their own employees usually set higher standards of performance and customer service.
For your own security, look for companies that run background checks for criminal records and test employees for drug use. The plumber doesn’t have to be your new best friend forever but should be friendly, respectful and provide good answers to your questions.
REFERENCES and REVIEWS – Do your homework in advance. Check online reviews and ask friends for any information they may have. Consider that online reviews may be distorted by fans or trolls. Even the best companies get some negative reviews, but always look for companies that receive mostly positive ones.
Ask the plumber for references you can contact. Check their Better Business Bureau standing and look for participation in the plumber’s local community, including support for charitable organizations and good standing with local business organizations, such as chambers of commerce.
Choosing which plumber or plumbing company to invite into your home takes a little time, but worth the effort. Remember to use the Three Cs of How to Choose a Plumber:
- Competence (licensed, insured, 24-hour service),
- Convenience (scheduling ease, pricing transparency, accurate estimates and on-time service), and
- Confidence (experience, professionalism, employee or contractor, references and reviews).
Use these to inform your decision and you will be on your way to making a wise choice.
How NOT to Choose a Plumber
There are some wrong ways to choose a plumber, too. Be sure to see our advice on how NOT to choose a plumber. You may save a lot of money and aggravation.