Choosing the best plumbing service

Most of us only think about calling a plumber when there's a problem like a leaky sink, a dead hot water heater, or a clogged toilet. But a plumbing service does a lot more than swoop in to save the day when something's wrong. Anything that has to do with water entering or leaving your home is within the domain of a plumbing service.

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At some point in your time as a homeowner, you're going to need to call a plumbing service. Parts wear out, pipes corrode, fixtures leak, and, if you’re even a little unsure of what you're doing, a DIY repair can wind up making the situation worse.

If you're considering an upgrade, or you're keeping a close watch on a potential problem, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research before the situation becomes dire. This article can guide you through the key elements you'll want to consider, so you can hire the best plumbing service for your needs with confidence and ease.

A plumber's work is often hidden in the walls after a job is done. A guarantee in writing is the only thing that protects you if the work isn't performed correctly and you later find your wall is moldy and the wood is rotting.

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Key considerations

Planned vs. emergency calls

All the myriad different reasons why you might need to call a plumbing service can be separated into two situations: planned and emergency.

  • Planned: If you’re considering remodeling a bathroom or upgrading the fixtures in your entire house, that is something you can complete on your schedule. You have ample time to do your research, ask questions, follow up on references, and find the perfect plumbing service for your needs.

    Alternatively, if you’re keeping an eye on a potential problem, such as a sluggish shower drain, you still have some time and control, but the problem could worsen at any moment. Unless you have more than one shower, a fully clogged drain will escalate the urgency. You can still do some legwork, but it will be limited, meaning you'll likely have to make a hasty final decision.

  • Emergency: In an emergency situation, such as a burst pipe, you’re not acting so much as reacting. There may be no time to compare prices and check references because the ceiling just collapsed beneath the tub and your dining room is inundated. In this situation, if you haven't done any prep work and have no plumbing service numbers saved in your cell phone, you’ll most likely be at the mercy of whatever plumbing ad you remember, which may not necessarily translate to quality service. That’s why it’s good to have a plan of action in place before an unfortunate situation occurs.
Did You Know?
Be sure to let your plumbing service know if you have a finished basement, an unfinished basement, or a crawl space so there are no surprises when the worker arrives.

Do the research

Whether you’d like to find a plumbing service for work you plan to do in the near future or you want to find the best so you’re prepared in the event of an emergency, you’ll want to consider a number of items. Following is a list to help you find the right plumbing service for you.

  • Certification: Some of the focus of certification is on areas such as proper terminology and math skills, but the bulk of the attention is on techniques, tools, and apprenticing. A certified plumber knows the trade inside and out.

  • Licensed, bonded, and insured: The only way you can be fully protected is if you use a plumbing service that is licensed, bonded, and insured. Be wary of a company that claims to not need to be bonded because it has insurance. Insurance doesn't cover every eventuality.

  • Experience: The best measure of a quality plumbing service is the number of years the company has been in business. Bad behavior or disreputable practices are revealed over time. If the plumbing service you’re considering has a long and healthy business life, you can hire with a bit more confidence.

  • Availability: Some plumbing services are in such demand that they’re always busy. The upside is that it’s a testament to the quality of their work and service. The downside is that you might not be able to get the work done when you need it.

  • Workers: It’s important to know who will be doing the work in your home. If you’re calling a master plumber, will that person be on site or will you get a journeyman or maybe an apprentice who is doing supervised work? If you're being charged for the best, you want to be sure it’s the best who is actually doing the work.

  • Price: The more qualified someone is, the more likely that person is to charge a higher rate. It’s possible for a less-qualified plumbing service to charge more so it appears they have more experience, so be careful. It’s also possible to get a low estimate that doesn’t represent the final price. Be sure to ask all of your pricing questions upfront because it will be too late after you sign on the dotted line.

  • Payment: It’s important to know when payment is expected. If it's a one-day job, will the money be required that day? If it's a large project, does the company offer any type of payment plan? You need to find a plumbing service that allows you to make payments in a manner that works best for you.

  • Communication: You want to work with a plumbing service that not only promptly returns your calls but also is friendly and professional. A company's phone demeanor reveals a great deal about its integrity and customer care.

  • Emergency service: If you have an emergency, does the plumbing service you’re contacting operate outside of normal business hours? Does it prioritize urgent situations? Is there an additional fee for this service?

  • Reviews and references: If there's time, ask for references, look up company reviews, and read testimonials. Search for common threads and overall customer experience. The truth usually resides in the middle, not at the peaks or in the valleys.

  • Cleanup: If you need to hire a plumbing service to do extensive work, especially if it involves underground pipes, will the company also take care of the cleanup chores? Find out in advance whose responsibility it will be to clean up the mess and if you can save money by accepting that responsibility yourself.

  • Guarantee: When the project has been completed, all the walls are sealed up, and all the pipes are buried, you won't be able to check on the quality of the work. In fact, you’ll have no idea that something wasn't completed properly until there's a new emergency. That’s why you need to get a guarantee in writing.
Did You Know?
If the job requires extensive digging done in your yard, make sure the service you’re considering has — or has access to — the needed machinery. (Call 811 before you dig.)

Common mistakes to avoid

When you need plumbing services for an emergency, such as a clogged toilet or a burst pipe, you'll be making quick decisions in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately, this could lead to a less than pleasant experience. Here are three of the most common mistakes that people make when hiring a plumbing service.

Mistake #1: Not providing the service with all the details

When you’re making that first call to a plumbing service, you hit all the bullet points of your problem but gloss over or completely omit vital details because you either don’t think they’re important or you forget about them. This can lead the service to misdiagnose the problem over the phone. When the plumber arrives, the problem could turn out to be much larger and far more costly than anyone initially thought. At this point, you may feel like the service is taking advantage of you. It's hard to establish a solid working relationship when you've lost your trust in the company. Even if it seems like it doesn't matter, let the plumbing service know everything you know so there is no confusion on either end.

Mistake #2: Selecting a service based solely on price

Each year you remain at your job, you're hoping for a raise that reflects your ever-increasing knowledge and experience. A plumbing service that has been around for a number of years and has logged more on-the-job hours is likely going to charge a little more than the company that just opened its doors. The strategy of the cheaper service is that you'll forgo hiring the more experienced plumbing service so you can save a few bucks. If this isn’t an emergency and you have time to check references and reviews, that is the all-important next step. If it’s an emergency, you're going to have to make a quick decision. If you make that decision based solely on price, you may find yourself facing another plumbing emergency just a few short days or weeks later.

Mistake #3: You don't ask (the right) questions

When you think you've found the right plumbing service for your situation, don't just give them your address and say, "Thanks! See you soon." Before hanging up, do a quick reconnaissance. Ask the important questions about cost, payment options, guarantees, years in business, and if the service is licensed, bonded, and insured. It's also a good time to ask about previous work and get a few quick references. Don't worry. We cover these questions in the next section, so you’ll know precisely what you should be asking.


Did You Know?
If the cause of your plumbing problem isn’t apparent, the service may need to do some investigative work. It’s important to let the service find the source of the problem and not rush them to simply treat the symptom or symptoms.

Questions to ask before hiring a plumbing service

When you think you've found the best plumbing service for your needs, the way to be absolutely certain is to ask a few questions. You don’t need to ask every question on this list, but the more you ask, the more confident you can be that you've found a quality plumbing service that will do the job it promises.

  • Are you certified?

  • Are you licensed, bonded, and insured?

  • How long have you been in business?

  • Can I have a written estimate with a full cost breakdown?

  • Does this estimate include everything?

  • Do you offer flat-fee or time-and-materials pricing?

  • Do you offer any discounts if I get additional work done at the same time?

  • What are my payment options?

  • When can you start?

  • How long will the job take (approximately)?

  • Who is responsible for cleanup?

  • Do you have references?

  • Do you offer a written guarantee?

A plumbing service may be the first to detect a mold problem or point out damage that has occurred due to a leak, but the service's primary purpose is to fix the leak, not do carpentry or mold removal.

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Q. What does a plumbing service do?

A. In short, a plumbing service can install, repair, or upgrade anything that has to do with the water that is coming into or exiting your home. This includes but isn’t limited to the water heater, ice maker, toilets, sinks, showers, sewer line, water softener, garbage disposal, leaky pipes, fixtures, and more. Some plumbing services work in other areas, such as installing a sprinkler system or installing residential gas piping. If you’re unsure if a plumbing service is what you need, explain your situation when you call.

Q. What does it mean when a plumbing service is bonded?

A. Insurance only covers part of what can go wrong when you hire a plumbing service. To be fully protected, you want to hire a plumbing service that’s bonded. This means the company regularly pays a premium to a surety company. When a plumbing service is bonded, it protects you in the event that any of the work isn't completed properly. This includes everything from failure to pay for permits to failure to pay individuals who worked on the project. It also protects you from damage that occurs to your property resulting from inferior work. If any of this happens, you would need to contact the surety company directly, not the plumbing service.

Q. How much does a plumbing service charge?

A. Because plumbing services handle such a wide variety of work, without knowing the specifics of a situation, it’s impossible to estimate a total price for plumbing work. Additionally, cost per hour can range from $45 to $200. This is why it’s so important to get an estimate because one service may charge $250 and another may charge $750 for the same work. You must hire within your budget, but cost shouldn't be your sole determining factor.