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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Plumber

When you think of the word “plumber”, you might envision burst pipes, leaking faucets, clogged drains, and toilets that refuse to work properly. While these situations may call for a professional, plumbers are also needed for planned events, such as remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, installing a garbage disposal or water heater, or moving a bathtub. Regardless of why you need a plumber, it is wise to know a few things when searching for one.

When and How to Hire a Plumber

While there are many possible DIY plumbing fixes, some jobs require a professional. Here are a few examples:

For emergency situations, you may think that any plumber who is willing to make a house call on short notice will do the trick. However, this way of thinking can be costly if the person you choose is not a skilled professional.  No matter what the situation, there are some standard questions you should ask before hiring someone.

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10 Questions to Ask Your Plumber

  1. Are you licensed, bonded, and qualified to work in my area? To ensure that you receive quality workmanship, select another plumber if the one you talked to is not licensed and bonded in your area.
  2. Are you insured for liability, and do you carry Worker’s Comp in case any job-related injury or health risk occurs? Although you do not want to think about it, bad things can happen on a job. Someone could be injured, or property might be damaged. It is wise to have a professional whose insurance covers these unexpected complications.
  3. Do you charge an hourly rate or a flat rate for a planned job? If the answer is an hourly rate, be sure to ask for the approximate time estimated to complete the job. Total costs can escalate quickly if your plumber charges by the hour.
  4. Do you charge additional fees for emergency services? In general, plumbers charge a higher rate for emergency services to compensate for their inconvenience. Be sure to find out what the normal hours of operation are and, if possible, confine your house calls to those hours.
  5. Can you provide me with a detailed written estimate (for non-emergencies)? If so, is there a fee for the estimate or is it free? Many businesses offer free estimates. However, some charge a trip fee or service fee for providing estimates. It is always best to know the standard policy about estimates.
  6. Do you offer warranties or guarantees on your work? Reputable plumbing companies generally offer some sort of warranty or guarantee on their work. It is preferred that you have this guarantee in writing. Be certain that you understand exactly what is covered by any warranty, and for what length of time the warranty is valid.
  7. Do you clean up the work area after the job is done? While it is not strictly necessary, having a plumber who will clean up any mess generated by his or her work is a big bonus for you.
  8. When and by what method will you be expecting payment? For emergency jobs, does your plumber accept credit cards, if needed? For planned jobs, do they want a certain percentage of money upfront? Does he or she expect the full amount to be paid when the work is completed, or will you be billed incrementally?
  9. Can you provide me with references from customers you have recently worked with? Having recent references is important because it is likely that the workers who will be doing your job are the same ones who completed other recent jobs for the company.
  10. When can you be here? Can you work with my schedule? In emergency situations, you need help right away. For planned jobs, you want someone who can work within your schedule so you can avoid the hassle of taking time off work or rearranging your affairs.

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6 Common Plumbing Problems

Leaky faucets

A leaking faucet is annoying.  It can also be quite costly, over time, in terms of higher water bills. It could possibly even damage to your home.

Clogged or slow-draining sinks

If water drainage slows to a trickle or stops altogether, you probably have an obstruction in your pipes or garbage disposal. While unclogging a disposal is typically a DIY project, this problem can escalate quickly, and lead to overflow that may cause structural damage to your home.

Blocked or running toilets

Blocked toilets are much like clogged sink drains, with the added problem of raw sewage overflow—not just water. This could potentially cause structural damage. It also poses a considerable health hazard for your family. Although less harmful, running toilets, can lead to higher water bills if they are not repaired quickly.

Low water pressure

Although low water pressure can sometimes be a problem with the municipal water supply, it might also be a build-up of deposits or sediment in faucet aerators or, more seriously, a breach or leak in your pipes. If your water pressure changes suddenly, you will most likely need a plumber right away to prevent structural damage to your home.

Leaking pipes

The most likely place in your home for leaky pipes is under your kitchen sink. Leaks usually happen at joints, and your kitchen sink has a U-joint that can be a tricky spot to repair.

Faulty water heaters

Loose connections or broken parts may block the water flow from your water heater, causing you to lose hot water for your home.

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How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Plumber?

The average cost to hire a plumber is between $170 and $430. That cost varies greatly depending on the reason you need their services. For instance, repairing a leaky faucet generally costs less than repairing a burst pipe. There is also a vast difference between the costs of plumbing services for a planned remodel and the costs for an emergency repair.

You can ask family or friends how much they have paid for plumbing services for the issues they have encountered. Sometimes, word of mouth can provide a better picture of the average prices in your area. Some plumbers also advertise flat rates for certain types of repairs. Check their website for listed pricing. When talking with a potential plumber about your job, remember to ask for an estimate—and be sure to confirm that the estimate is free.

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Plumber Licensing and Certifications

In the U.S., almost every state requires a plumber to have certain certifications and a license. These requirements differ from state to state. Generally, they are expected to possess substantial field experience and pass state-approved exams to obtain certification or licensure.

How Does a Plumber Become Licensed?

Most plumbers receive their training in apprenticeship programs that last 2-5 years. Those programs include both on-the-job training and classroom instruction. The accreditation and educational standards of apprenticeship programs are maintained by industry-related unions, such as the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, and the Plumbing- Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. After completing all prerequisites, plumbers must pass an examination on skills and local codes to receive licensure.

Types of Licenses

Licensure is typically issued by the appropriate state government agency, such as the local Department of Labor and Industry. Generally, plumbing licenses must be renewed every two years. Most states have different levels of plumbing licenses that indicate the amount of experience a plumber has and the types of jobs he or she is able to do.

  • Apprentice License: Awarded to individuals that have just begun training. In many states, the only requirement for this type of license is reaching a specific age.
  • Journey License: Awarded to individuals that hold an apprentice license and have trained for a specified number of hours with a master plumber. Usually issuance of this license is also dependent upon passing a state-sanctioned test.
  • Master License: Awarded to individuals holding a journey license who have also completed a specified number of work hours. To receive a master license, one must pass a state-sanctioned test.

In addition to these typical types of licenses, some states require additional certifications for plumbers that work with natural gas pipelines. These professionals are called “gas fitters”. There are several different levels of licensure for gas fitters. Within this broad category, many states require separate licensing, depending upon whether someone works with propane or natural gas.

Why Are Licensure and Certification Important?

Plumbers perform services that maintain and protect the nation’s water supply. Because access to clean water in your home is largely dependent upon proper plumbing, it is essential that the person you hire be trained and certified to perform the plumbing tasks that are needed.

Improper plumbing can wreak havoc on your home’s water supply and subject you to hefty municipal fines and penalties. In many states, any job requiring a permit must be handled by a licensed plumber. To protect your own interests, it is always best to work with someone who is licensed, bonded, and insured. That way, you can ensure that the finished job meets industry standards for quality workmanship.

Where Do I Go to Verify or Research My Plumber’s License?

The title of the government agency you need to contact in order to confirm your plumber’s license status varies from state to state. You can start by conducting a web-search by typing in phrases, such as “State Licensing Board-Plumbing” or “Division of Consumer Affairs-Plumbing Licenses”. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau in your area.

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DIY Plumbing

Some plumbing problems can be handled without a plumber. Here are a few DYI repair suggestions for several common issues:

Repairing a Leaky Faucet

  1. Shut off the water main, then open your faucet handles to drain out the water that has accumulated in the lines.
  2. Remove the handle of the leaking faucet. Use an adjustable wrench to loosen the hold-down nut. Unscrew and remove the stem.
  3. Use an adjustable wrench to remove the nut at the bottom. If there is no nut to remove, twist the seal, and then remove it. If the seal is worn, replace it.
  4. Replace the washer. Be sure to replace the old washer with one that is the same size.
  5. Replace the O-ring, if needed. Reassemble the stem and handle. Turn on the water and test.

Unclogging a Sink Drain

  1. Remove the nut attached to the drain, right under the sink.
  2. Remove the pop-up plug from the sink basin.
  3. Remove the debris clogging the sink, re-insert the pop-up plug, and re-attach the nut.

Clearing a Blocked Toilet

The tried and true method for clearing a blocked toilet is to use a plunger. However, if that does not work, you may need a plumber’s tool, called a “snake.”

  1. Pull a section of the snake out of the drum.
  2. Tighten the retaining nut that’s located on top of the snake body.
  3. Rotate the drum of the snake so it burrows into the waste system, and then dislodge the blockage.

Fixing Weak Water Pressure in a Showerhead

  1. Remove the showerhead from the hose or pipe.
  2. Unscrew the spray plate and immerse it into descaling solution.
  3. Leave the spray plate in the solution for the length of time specified on the product’s label.
  4. Flush any remaining scale from the pipes before replacing the shower head.

Doing Your Homework

If these simple DIY solutions do not work, it may be time to find an experienced plumber. With a little research upfront, and care in your hiring process, you can be sure to find a plumber that does quality work at an affordable price.

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