Knowing how to hire a plumber can certainly help keep your stress level to a minimum. At some point everybody needs help with their plumbing, whether it's a leaky faucet, a broken pipe or a flood from your water heater.
If the work isn't done correctly, even small leaks can result in major issues . . . and expensive repair costs. Whether you are looking to hire a plumber to perform routine maintenance, install fixtures or appliances, or repair a leak, here's what you need to know to make an informed decision.
Plumber Training Levels
Each state has different training requirements that plumbers need to meet, but all states require math, mechanics and the ability to problem solve. Not every plumber will have the same amount of training and it's important to be familiar with the training and certification methods used for the plumbing profession. The level of competence your plumber has is often directly related to the level of training he has had on his way to becoming a master plumber.
Apprentice Plumber - This is a plumber who is learning the trade by completing on-the-job training as well as classroom training. The majority of apprentice plumbers enter the program thru a local union. Although, it is also possible to apprentice with a licensed plumber.
By working with a professional plumber the apprentice plumber will have the opportunity to learn the best practices in dealing with a wide variety of plumbing jobs.
Journeyman Plumber - This is an individual who has spent 4-to-5 years as an apprentice in order to reach a journeyman status. Requirements vary from state-to-state, but most states require the successful completion of an exam and ongoing education for license renewal.
Master Plumber - The highest level a plumber can achieve is a master plumber. Each state sets a required minimum number of years for the plumber to work as a journeyman. Once achieved, they are then eligible to apply with their states Contractors Board. The application process usually consists of a written and practical knowledge examination.
What Do Plumbers Do?
When a plumber arrives at your house he will be prepared to handle nearly any situation. The tools and supplies he has in his truck will mean, that in most cases, he'll be able to handle any job on-the-spot. In addition, most plumbers offer 24-hour service which comes in especially handy when those unplanned leaks occur that require you to totally turn off the water to your home.
Although skill sets vary from plumber-to-plumber, most have a wide range of skills and are trained to:
- Repair or replace toilets and faucets.
- Repair or replace valves and pumps.
- Repair or replace tank-style and tankless water heaters.
- Install or repair gas lines.
- Repair or replace water lines. Both inside and outside the home.
Many homeowners find hiring a plumber preferable instead of attempting to do the work themselves. When you are working with a good plumber, they will give you tips to help you prevent future issues, as well as, explain the things to look for that may be the beginning of a issue.
Don't be afraid to ask questions, you are paying them to do a job because they have the expertise, but they should be willing to explain what happened and/or what can happen. The added knowledge you walk away with will only increase the value of their visit.
How Plumbers are Regulated
There are very strict regulations surrounding the licensing of plumbers since they play a critical role in protecting the public's water supply. Many serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases can be passed thru unclean water. Properly trained and licensed plumbers are an important safeguard in preventing serious health issues.
Each state has its own guidelines for regulating plumbers and the information is frequently listed on the state's government website.
Licensed vs Non-Licensed
The majority of states require contractors to be licensed. A licensed plumber has achieved the necessary amount of education and training required by his state to perform plumbing jobs. He has also successfully passed a written exam and demonstrated that he is competent in the trade. In essence, the state has given him legal permission to work as a plumber.
Once licensed, there is generally continuing education required in order to maintain an active license. The state's regulatory board sets rules and regulations that the plumber must meet. If the board's rules and regulations are violated he will be held liable and could face fines in addition to having his license suspended or even revoked.
Hiring an unlicensed plumber could result in a major headache for the homeowner. Not only may the work not be done correctly, but there may be dangerous consequences such as fire and/or leaking. Your state may even require that the work be removed, and they may issue fines to the homeowner. An unlicensed contractor could even be sent to jail!
Many of the larger plumbing jobs may require the plumber to obtain a permit. For the homeowners protection, many states will only issue permits to licensed plumbers, this helps ensure that the plumber has the correct insurance and skills to perform the task.
A Registered Plumber
Some states require contractors to be registered rather than attaining a state license. There is a big difference between licensed and registered. A registered plumber has not demonstrated his knowledge or competency in the plumbing trade. He has simply registered with the state, informing them that he will be working as a plumber.
Bonded vs Insured
Commercial liability insurance is designed to cover claims related to property damage or bodily injury if your contractor is at fault. Where a surety bond pays for the things the liability insurance is not designed to cover.
If your plumber did poor work and he is bonded, the surety bond would kick-in to cover the costs of repairing the job. A bond will also cover any damages that may have occurred due to a contractor's illegal practices. If anything is stolen by the plumber, the bond covers these expenses as well.
When hiring a contractor you should make sure that they are both bonded and insured. A quality plumbing contractor generally carries both to protect not only himself, but also his clients. Don't be afraid to ask for proof of insurance and bonding before you make a hiring decision.
Questions to Ask BEFORE Hiring a Plumber
Whenever you hire a contractor there are a few things you should take into consideration. Having an open conversation with your potential plumber will not only set the tone for the job, but it will also help you make an informed hiring decision. Here is a list of questions and things to consider before signing the contract:
Are You Licensed?
This is probably the most important question you can ask. The majority of states require plumbers to be licensed, however, each state has different requirements so it's important that you know your individual state's licensing requirements.
Many state governments provide a contractor license search on their website. This feature will allow the homeowner to enter the contractor's license number to verify the license status. By checking the license number you'll be able to verify whether the contractor you are considering is legitimate and licensed.
See the table at the end of the article for the individual state website links. You'll be able to verify the plumber's license. NEVER hire a non-licensed plumber.
What is the Total Cost?
Don't hire the first plumber you talk with, and get at least 3 written estimates. Most plumbers will give you an onsite estimate after physically looking at the job.
Many tasks such as installing a water heater are pretty straight forward and easy to quote, but you should still have the estimate in writing. Documentation is your friend and a good plumber will be happy to provide you with written estimates.
As you review the estimate, be sure to ask if the price quoted is the total cost. All parts and labor should be included. Discuss any potential problems that may arise and what to expect from a cost standpoint if the unexpected occurs.
Will You Be Doing the Work?
Chances are if you are working with a small plumbing company the plumber who is preparing your estimate will also be completing the job. However, many larger companies employ multiple plumbers and another person may do the work. Although, this is not necessarily a problem, it is something you should be aware of upfront.
If someone other than the person preparing the estimate is doing the work, ask for details about their training and experience. A reputable plumbing company will understand your concern and be able to provide you with these details.
When is Payment Due?
If you are just doing a simple job, most likely you won't need to worry about setting up a payment schedule. But for more extensive jobs, such as remodels, you'll definitely want to know the terms up front.
Many plumbers require a payment of 10-15% of the job upfront, and 50% paid once the job is started. Be sure to know the payment expectation before you make a hiring decision.
Even if you don't need to set up a payment plan, it's a good idea to know how the plumber expects to be paid. In today's world, most will accept credit cards, but knowing this before hiring is always a good idea.
Is the Quote a Flat Rate?
For many plumbing jobs, such as installing a water heater, the job is quoted as a flat rate. A flat rate means that the quoted price won't change because of labor expenses.
Sometimes plumbers will add a clause into their contract that states that the homeowner will pay any reasonable costs that occur while finishing the job. In this case the plumber will be charging the homeowner an hourly rate in addition to the cost of parts. If the job runs longer than expected, the price of labor will increase as well.
Is Clean-up Included in the Bid?
Many plumbers clean-up after themselves and haul away any old parts, including old water heaters. But if they don't provide clean-up, the homeowner could be left with a huge mess. Empty boxes, discarded parts, and even your old water heater could all be left for you to clean.
Some plumbing services offer clean-up for an additional fee above and beyond the work they were hired to perform. If this is the case you may choose to pay the additional fee, do the clean up yourself, or hire a clean-up service such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
Is Your Work Guaranteed?
Guarantees vary between plumbers, but you should always find out the specifics before signing a contract. Make sure that whatever is verbally promised is in writing and file it away in a place where you can find it if you ever need follow-up work done.
Are You Bonded and Insured?
Make sure the plumber is bonded and has the appropriate insurance to cover any accidents that might occur. Never hire a non-licensed plumber.
Do You Have Any References?
Don't be afraid to ask for references. A reputable plumber should be able to provide you with the names of other satisfied customers who he has worked for in your area.
It is also likely that there are references available online or thru the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind, that one person's poor experience does not necessarily mean that you will have a bad experience. But the more information you have, the better informed you are to make a good decision. The time to do your research is before you hire a plumber.
How to Check if Your Plumber is Licensed
Finding a qualified licensed plumber is the most important part of your hiring decision and you should never hire anyone who doesn't have a license. All reputable contractors should be licensed within the state they work.
The easiest way to verify if your plumber is licensed is to go to your state's government website. Most states have a searchable means that allows you to enter the contractor's license number, some even allow you to search by name. Here's an example: Oregon.gov.