Finding the Right Plumber is Based on Earned Trust
We’ve found out over the years that there seems to be an inherent mistrust of plumbing contractors nationwide so finding the right plumber can be stressful. Maybe it’s because the industry hasn’t done a good enough job explaining itself, maybe it’s the rather dramatic range of pricing across the country. Regardless of reasons, here are some tips to use when choosing the right plumber for you.
Some Questions You Should Ask About a Potential Plumbing Contractor
- Is your plumbing technician insured? Does he/she/company carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance? This is the most important advice we can give a homeowner, make sure your plumbing contractor is insured. The exposure a homeowner opens themselves to by having a non-insured contractor working in their home can be monumental. Here are a couple of examples, a homeowner decides to have a plumber remove some old leaking galvanized piping and replace it with copper pipe and fittings. During the course of removing the old piping, the reciprocating saw the plumber is using slips and he cuts his hand bad enough that he can’t work for several months. Because this plumber does not carry workers’ compensation insurance he/she sues the customer’s homeowners insurance for lost wages and will win. Another example of a disaster waiting to happen is that the same white van plumber comes to replace the 10-year-old water heater in a customer’s home. The water needs to be shut down in order for the replacement to happen, the plumber doesn’t know he doesn’t have a positive shut down and he/she begins to cut into the pipe and it begins to leak. The leak floods the finished basement; the home owner’s insurance would have to be called to see what kind of coverage it provides. The homeowner could attempt to sue the individual but when dealing with a company or person that isn’t insured how likely is it that that person has the ability to pay back any lawsuit. In short HIRE AN INSURED PLUMBING CONTRACTOR. It’s worth the extra money.
- What licenses does the plumbing tech carry? Licensing laws vary from state to state but most states or large municipalities have some form of licensing for plumbing. Most legitimate plumbing contractors take the time to get a license for their trade and care enough about their business to make sure their respective plumbing techs have them as well. We feel that plumbers protect the health of the nation so it’s important for them to be properly trained and educated.
- Look for appearance. Does the plumbing tech look professional? We’re not saying a plumber has to come to your home in suit but what is their overall appearance.
- Do some of your own research on your plumbing issue, in fact you can probably find everything you need to know about your problems right here, to ask better questions of the technician while he/she is diagnosing your issue.
- On-Line Research Pros and Cons – If your plumbing contractor doesn’t have an online presence it doesn’t make them bad but it does make it difficult for them to be seen in today’s world. I’ve done a little bit of research and I believe that 50% of all plumbing contractors across the United States still don’t have a website. That’s great for web designers but bad for you. Having social proof of work well done is great for the consumer to see. With the advent of Yelp and Angie’s List and countless other pre-vetting networks, you can usually find a competent plumbing contractor. However, there are some very web savvy people out there that know how to create a positive buzz via social media. Please beware of contractors whos only work history is shared via social media. It’s a powerful platform but you can also manipulate it in a lot of ways.
- How does the plumbing contractor bill? Do they bill using T&M pricing (Time and Material) or flat-rate pricing? Let us explain the difference and why contractors choose between them. When contractors bill on a time and material basis they are billing the customer for all the time and material they spent on the job and marking that job up by a flat mark-up. This time most often includes drive time which is the time it takes for the technician to leave his or her house to get to the job or the time it takes to leave one job and drive to the next. This is a very sore subject for consumers. He was only here for an hour and a half but you charged us for 2 hours? Most plumbing techs are paid by the hour they don’t stop getting paid because they leave one job to go to another, this cost must be passed on to the consumer it is not covered in the later mentioned mark-ups. Typically T&M mark-ups are 15% overhead and 10% profit. The average mechanical contractor has between 15 and 21% overhead so the average plumbing contractor is making between 4 and 10%. Wow, that’s really low you say. Yes, it really is and that’s where flat-rate pricing enters the picture. Flat rate pricing attempts to encompass all of the costs in one upfront price. It cost X number of dollars for advertising its 5% of our operating budget add 5% to the job. We have 5% percent of our jobs require a call back; add 5% to the job. 10% of our customers think we’re too high so we have a give back of 10% add it to the job. We have 15% overhead for office staff and utilities add it to the job. We need 5% a year to restock our tools and to buy new equipment add it to the job. O.K. after all is said and done what kind of profit do we think we should make? Well everyone else is making double-digit profits so should we let’s make it 12%. We will agree that this way of billing really takes into account all of the costs associated with running a plumbing company, it eliminates the consumer questioning pricing of material, how long it takes to do the job but guess what it’s really expensive. What if you don’t have 5% callbacks, what if 10% of the people don’t haggle with you about price, etc., etc., this becomes pure profit. Some of the finest plumbing service companies in the world are flat-rate pricing contractors, they have the best equipment, they have the most trucks, the most advanced dispatching systems, the techs are uniformed they roll a carpet out for you and their owners also have the biggest boats and the biggest houses in the area. Both have their respective pluses and minuses choose wisely.
- Does the contractor charge for estimates? We cannot for the life of us see why a contractor wouldn’t. Not every owner is also on the truck doing the work. How can you have an employee drive around all day giving free estimates? Unless the plumbing tech is commission only, the contractor would have to pay a tech to drive around all day. Simply put if you find a good plumbing contractor that gives you fair pricing and doesn’t charge for estimates hopefully they’ll be around forever providing good service but don’t be put off by a contractor charging for estimates it’s pretty common.
- Does the plumbing contractor belong to any trade associations or the Better Business Bureau? If the contractor takes the time to belong to the PHCC (Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors) or ASSE or a local association then most likely the contractor is willing to put its reputation on the line.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for references. Not all the web-based rating services are accurate. Yelp is one of the services that can be very deceiving, their practices for certifying who’s review is visible is ridiculous and then there is the issue of “certified Yelpers” There is a reason there are people who make a business out of being “professional Yelpers”
- How long has the contractor been in business? Although there are plenty of fantastic start-ups having a contractor that has been around for a while can give some degree of comfort.
- What materials or brands does the plumbing contractor use? Believe us when we say not all cast iron pipe is the same, not all PVC pipe and fittings are the same not all pumps, plumbing fixtures and faucets are the same. So ask the contractor what brand of toilet or sump pump are you are you going to be installing?
- Is the Contractor Informed About New Services and New Products? I’ve always felt like if you’ve chosen a career you should be a life long learner in your space. Be an informed consumer and ask questions about the service being provided. If you have a water leak ask about the repair. If you have copper piping and a section can be replaced in PEX why are they repairing with copper when PEX is cheaper and faster? If you’re having a water heater replaced ask about options. If they know nothing about higher efficiency heaters like a tankless or self-condensing tank-type heater that would raise a red flag for me. Either they don’t know or they don’t care and either one bothers me.
- Do they ask you questions about your needs? Does the technician ask the right questions and listen? One of the worst things a plumbing technician can do is assume what the consumer wants. Sometimes they have to pull it out of you. If you have a water leak in the basement of an old house plumbed in galvanized pipe what are the chances that you’re going to have another leak in the near future? The chances are pretty high. Why not explore the idea of replacing all the piping in the house to copper or PEX? I walked into a very modest home in Joliet Illinois over a decade ago. By the looks of the customer, I assumed this would be a simple repair for several hundred dollars. However, I did start to ask questions about the house, when it was built, how long they lived there and the functionality of the fixtures. It turns out that the water pressure was horrible, there was a vent issue with the kitchen sink, the faucet on the laundry tub had been malfunctioning for years and they really wanted to move the washer and dryer in the basement. I worked up a number just under 20K and they smiled and we did everything in the proposal. I’ve had many experiences just like that. Make sure they guide you through the process.
Reader Question: Do I Tip The Plumber?
I would never tell you not to tip a service plumber that performs great service for your home or office. However, It is not customary to tip the plumber. In most places, plumbers are pretty well compensated and in the service industry, it’s common for them to work on some kind of commission structure. So if you want to tip your plumber feel free but it isn’t frowned upon if you do not.