The leak from a pipe fitting that costs less than a dollar can easily cause thousands of dollars in water damage, disrupt your household for weeks, and throw your remodel way off schedule. So hiring a licensed, insured and bonded plumber (or a well-trained apprentice working under his license) is a no-brainer. But not all plumbers handle all types of work. Their duties break out into two categories: Plumbers who handle basic repairs (often in emergency situations), and plumbers who specialize in remodeling projects and additions.
The Family Plumber
For everyday drips and clogs, you have to know when to call in a pro. Code requirements are just a small part; you also need parts knowledge and experience with the materials. For instance, knowing how hard you can crank on PVC before it cracks takes time to master. Not having a feel for this can turn a $10 repair into a flood of problems.
Be prepared for a more urgent situation by establishing a relationship with a plumber before you actually need him. If possible, hire him to do non-emergency repairs or fixture installations during normal hours. It's easier to get a plumber's attention if you're a regular customer and not a panicked stranger calling at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night asking him to fix a gushing waste pipe in your basement.
When making a selection, ask for proof of a license. Most states require plumbers to be licensed, and they typically provide a number you can call to verify that the license is current and that there are no active complaints against it. Any plumber you consider should also hold a current workers' compensation policy and a minimum of $1,000,000 liability insurance.
The best way to find a good plumber is to ask friends and neighbors, remodeling contractors, and real estate agents. Nothing holds up a home sale faster than plumbing problems, so realtors often have a list of reliable, fast-response plumbers. Once you find a plumber you're satisfied with, keep his numbers (office, home, and cell phones) handy for emergencies.
What You'll Pay
The bill for emergency plumbing is almost always a shock. Are plumbers just taking advantage? The short duration of the work contributes to the high rates. Though the plumber might spend only an hour at your home, you pay for his time (driving to and from the job, picking up parts) and more.
The Remodeling Plumber
For nonemergency projects—a remodel or remedial work on your plumbing—you need a pro who understands residential-system design and knows the code in your area. He also has to be able to work in a finished environment. That means putting down a piece of scrap carpeting to protect floors and cutting precise, easy-to-repair holes in walls, and, then, only when necessary.
The best source for this type of plumber is a general contractor. The contractor sees the plumber's work before it's covered up; you don't get that opportunity. In addition, your contractor knows the telltale signs of quality work that you might miss, like clean solder joints, crisp 90-degree angles at joints and clean, properly sized holes in joists, studs, and floors. Finally, a quality contractor will not risk working with a shoddy plumber. A simple error — a joint left unsoldered or a leaky PVC line—can easily devastate $10,000 worth of walls or hardwood floors and complicate the job with insurance claims, lost time, and lawsuits. With so much riding on the plumber, contractors tend to stick with only the best.
As with hiring a plumber for simple repairs, you or your contractor should ask for proof of a license and license number. Also verify that workers' compensation and liability insurance policies are active.