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How to Hire a Plumber: Questions & Things You Should Know

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When you notice you have water leaking and you need help solving the problem, do you know how to hire a plumber? Hiring contractors can be a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be. If you know the questions to ask and the answers to look for, you can hire a plumber with confidence.

When water is involved, if a repair job isn't done right, a minor leak can become a major, expensive problem in a hurry. Finding a plumber that you can trust and one who is competent, can help you now and in the future. If you spend the time up front to get the right person for the job, when you need additional work done, he'll be just a phone call away. 

9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Plumber

It's important to take the time to set the tone for your plumbing job. Doing so will help keep both you and your plumber happy as the job progresses. These questions will help you set the expectations, as well as open a conversation so you can be well informed before you sign the contract.  

Are You a Licensed Contractor?

Most states have a licensing process for plumbers, but each has different requirements. Many state's offer a place on their website where you can search the license number and verify the contractor's license.

This is probably the most critical question to ask and a plumber with the proper credentials will gladly provide you with the information you need. Never hire a plumber who is not licensed! We have provided a table at the end of this article where you can find links to state websites.

Are You Bonded and Insured?

Reputable plumbers should be bonded and insured. If an accident or other unexpected event occurs, you want to make sure the plumber you hire has the appropriate insurance to cover the damages.

What Can I Expect The Total Cost To Be?

Before hiring a plumber, talk with at least 3 and have them provide you with written estimates. In many cases, plumbers will be able to provide you with an onsite estimate after they have a chance to assess the job.

Some tasks are pretty straight forward, such as installing a water heater, but you should still have it in writing.  A good plumber will take the time to make sure there isn't any miscommunication. They understand documentation is in both party's best interest.

Discuss the estimate with the plumber and ask if all the costs are included. All of the parts and labor should be part of the estimate. Ask about any potential  problems that may occur and what each scenario would cost to resolve.

Do You Quote Using a Flat Rate?

Many standard plumbing jobs are quoted as a flat rate. Installing a water heater would be an example of a flat rate quote. The job is straight forward. The plumber knows what to expect and the quoted price won't change if more or less labor is needed.

Some plumbing contracts have a clause stating that the homeowner will cover any reasonable costs that occur while finishing the job. In these situations you'll be paying an hourly rate on top of the cost of parts. The price of labor increases if the job runs longer than anticipated. 

Will You Clean-up When Finished?

The majority of plumbers haul away old parts and clean-up after themselves, but some don't. If you receive an estimate that seems significantly lower than the rest, the clean-up may not be included.

Clean-up can be a big mess and an often unexpected added expense. You may be left with discarded parts, empty boxes, a wet floor and even your old water heater!

Occasionally clean-up will be an add-on fee that is above the cost of performing the initial work. In this situation you can choose to save some money and do the clean-up yourself, pay the plumber the add-on fee, or hire a clean-up service.

How Do I Pay?

Depending on the size of the job you are having done, this may not be a big deal. If you are hiring a plumber for a simple job, you won't likely need to set up a payment schedule. However, a project such as a remodel will cost significantly more. You should know the payment expectations upfront so you can plan and budget accordingly. 

A common payment configuration is 10 to 15% of the total estimate upfront before the job starts. Then 50% of the payment when the job begins. Be sure to have these conversations before you sign the contract. 

If you don't set up a payment plan, you should still know how the plumber expects to be paid. Some may leave you a bill allowing you to mail in a payment, others may expect you to pay on the spot. You should also ask if they accept a personal check or a credit card? 

Who Will Be Working on My Job?

If you hire a small plumbing company it's likely that the plumber who prepares your estimate will also be doing the work. However, if you work with a larger company, that may not be the case.

Many larger companies have one plumber prepare the estimate and another do the work. Although this isn't necessarily a big deal, you should be aware of this upfront. If this is the case, ask about the details of the plumber who will be doing the work. Specifically, what type of training and experience does he have. Reputable company's will understand your concern and gladly provide the details. 

Do You Guarantee Your Work?

Before signing a contract find out the specifics of the guarantee your plumber offers on their work. Guarantees vary between plumbers.

Whatever you verbally discuss make sure that it is in writing. Keep all of your paperwork on the project filed in a safe place just in case you need any follow-up work performed. 

Can You Provide References?

Many homeowners feel uncomfortable asking for references. But a reputable plumber will be happy to provide you with names of satisfied customers in your area.

You may want to do a little leg work on your own. You can do a Google search on your plumber, check with the Better Business Bureau, or other online sources such as Angie's List.

Keep in mind that online reviews are not always entirely accurate, so it's important to look at the big picture. However, remember your goal is to make a well-informed decision, and the more information you have the better decision you can make.

What Do the Training Levels Mean?

Unfortunately, there's not a national standardized training requirement for plumbers to meet. Instead, individual states define the requirements for licensing. However, all states require training in the areas of mechanics, mathematics, and problem solving. 

Keep in mind that not every plumber has the same amount of training. The plumbing profession uses different levels of certification to define the competence of the plumber.

Levels of Certification:

Apprentice Plumber

This is the "entry level" for a plumber. He's learning his trade thru classroom and on-the-job training. Typically an apprentice plumber will enter the program thru a local union, although there are also opportunities to apprentice with licensed plumbers.

The apprentice plumber has the opportunity to learn best practices and have hands-on experience with a variety of different plumbing jobs.

Journeyman Plumber

After 4 to 5 years as an apprentice, a plumber is ready to advance to the journeyman level. Each state varies in their requirements, but the majority of states require passing an exam in addition to ongoing education in order to keep their license up-to-date.

Master Plumber

The master plumber has achieved the highest level available. The number of years needed to move from journeyman to master plumber varies from state-to-state.

Once a plumber reaches this level, they are eligible to apply with their respective state's Contractor Board. Generally, the application process involves a written and practical knowledge exam.


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What Type of Work Do Plumbers Do?

As a general rule, plumbers are on call 24 hours a day. They also arrive at your home with a truck filled with the supplies and tools necessary to handle nearly every job on-the-spot. 

The majority of plumbers have a wide range of training and skills to handle many different tasks. However, as mentioned above, it's important to keep in mind that the skill level will vary between each plumber.

Some tasks that you can expect a plumber to be trained to do:

  • Replace or repair faucets and toilets.
  • Replace and repair pumps and valves.
  • Repair and replace tank-style and tankless water heaters. 
  • Repair or replace inside and outside water lines.
  • Repair or install gas lines.

When you hire a plumber you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions. A good plumber will be happy to share helpful tips regarding maintenance and the tell-tale signs of future trouble.

You are paying for their expertise, both to do the job and to explain why you had the issue to begin with. It's a reasonable expectation to walk away from the situation with an increased level of knowledge. This not only solves today's problem, but can also help prevent tomorrow's.

Are Plumbers Regulated?

Each state takes the licensing of their plumbers very seriously. They are concerned that the plumbers receive proper training and knowledge necessary before receiving the necessary credentials to perform their job. Although you will need to check your state government's website to learn the guidelines required for your individual state as the regulations vary from one state to another. 

Plumbers play a critical role in protecting the public's water supply. Unclean water can be the cause of many serious and occasionally life-threatening diseases, and a  plumber plays an important role in preventing serious health issues which is why regulations are a critical safeguard.

Non-Licensed vs Licensed Plumbers

When a plumber is licensed he is able to prove to the state that he has the necessary amount of training and education required. Frequently, he will also need to pass a written exam, as well as demonstrate his competence. Once he passes the necessary requirements the state gives him legal permission to work as a plumber. Although, not all states require their contractors to be licensed.

Each state's regulatory board determines the rules and regulations that must be met to attain a license as well as to keep it active. Generally, after a license has been issued there is continuing education required to stay in good standing.

If a licensed plumber violates the state regulatory board's rules and regulations, he will be held liable. He risks the possibly of being fined and having his license suspended - possibly even revoked!

Many times unlicensed plumbers are less expensive. But as a homeowner, you are taking a risk. The work may not be performed correctly, and there could be serious consequences such as leaking or even a fire.

The state may fine you as the homeowner, and may even demand that work be removed and redone properly. The risks extend to the unlicensed contractor as well, as he runs the risk of being sent to jail!

With many larger plumbing jobs, a permit may need to be obtained. Some states refuse to issue permits to unlicensed plumbers. At the time it may seem like a headache, but actually the state is protecting homeowners by requiring that the plumber has the training and skills needed for the job, as well as the necessary insurance.

Registered Plumbers

Unfortunately, not all states require contractors to be licensed. These states often require a plumber to register and inform the state that he will be working as a plumber. 

A registered plumber did not pass an exam or demonstrate his knowledge or competency. If you live in a state that does not require licensing, it's critical that you spend the time and energy to properly screen the plumbers you're considering to hire. 

Bonded vs Insured Plumbers

You should only hire a plumbing contractor who is both bonded and insured and don't be afraid to ask for proof. A quality plumbing contractor will be able to provide you with the necessary information showing that they are adequately covered. Being bonded and carrying insurance is in your plumbers best interest since it will not only protect his business, but also his clients. 

  • Commercial Liability Insurance: If your contractor is at fault, the commercial liability insurance is designed to cover the claims that are related to property damage or bodily injury.
  • Surety Bond: Covers things that the insurance doesn't. Such as covering the costs of repairing poor workmanship, theft by the plumber, or damages due to illegal practices.

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