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When you improve your home, you have the luxury of time to find the best contractor and set up the job. But most of us get acquainted with a licensed plumber in an emergency. It’s not easy to evaluate providers when your bathroom is flooding. Do it now.
- Google Maps shows anything you want to search for near your home — including plumbers
- Other websites provide lists and rating of plumbers who pay to be on their site
- With enough advance time, word-of-mouth is a good source (and a way to meet neighbors)
Getting to know your plumber in advance can also tell you if emergency calls are part of the deal, what they cost, and (if applicable) if their services are covered by your home warranty.
Plumbing the depths in an emergency
Even when the water’s barely over the soles of your shoes, it can feel as if you’re drowning. You know the situation’s only getting worse by the second as more and more water pours onto the floor. You’re panicking as you imagine the damage that could be occurring in your home’s structure.
Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Your first task is to cut the water supply at the mains. Go to your water meter and turn off the round-handled valve next to it.
If that’s too stiff to turn, doesn’t do the job, or doesn’t exist (homes can be idiosyncratic), there’s usually another valve — often a lever one — on the other side of the meter. Turn that to the off position. Now open all the home’s hot and cold faucets, starting in the basement and moving up, to drain down all the water in your pipes.
You can breathe again and begin mopping-up operations. But you won’t be able to flush toilets, wash your hands, make coffee, brush your teeth, run your washing machine or dishwasher, shower, bathe, re-hydrate the cat ... the list is endless. So you may have stemmed the flow but your problems are just beginning.
You still need a plumber in a hurry. And you really, really want him or her to be a licensed plumber.
Your next step
Begin by deflecting the blame. How were you to know that persistent drip would suddenly turn into a torrent? Yes, you were repeatedly asked to get in someone to fix it. But (s)he could have made the call just as easily as you.
Next, try delegating the cleanup to your spouse and beloved offspring while you find a plumber. Good luck with that.
Ideally, you’ve done the plumber search and lined someone up before the flood. But if you, like most people, have not, now is the time.
If you have a home warranty, the plumbing decision may be made for you by your insurer. They usually have preferred providers. You call your insurer and they tell you who to call for plumbing, or they might even set up your repair for you.
If you will be paying the bill, and it’s not the middle of the night, try calling a couple of neighbors. Do they know of a reputable, affordable, licensed plumber who does emergency calls? People who’ve endured plumbing disasters often love to regale friends, neighbors and complete strangers with every detail of the catastrophe.
Alternatively, there’s the Internet. An online search for “plumbers in [your zip code]" should throw up plenty of listings and individual ads. Pick ones that offer emergency services.
Bring up the Better Business Bureau website too. Type in the company name before placing each call. That could save you from having a rogue or an incompetent plumber in your home. By all means, do other online checks because not every complaint ends up on the BBB’s radar.
Don’t just start shrieking, “Help! We’ve had a flood! Come now!” and reel off your address. Instead, calmly describe the issue and ask:
- Is the person who will do the work a licensed plumber
- Is that person available for an emergency call now
- How much the hourly rate will be (in emergencies, expect to pay 1.5-times or even double the standard rate)
- What other charges might be levied, such as fees for the trip (mileage/gas) and minimum charges (some charge for two, three or four hours, even if they’re only with you for 20 minutes)
If you’re getting a bad vibe during the call, there’s no obligation to go through with the booking. Professionals aren’t vague or evasive.
When you’ve got all the time in the world
The principles for sourcing non-urgent plumbing work aren’t all that different from the above. You just have more time, less pressure, and can do a better job.
The amount of time you spend on selecting your licensed plumber will depend on the scope and costliness of your project. If it’s just to fix that persistent drip before it becomes a torrent, you can perhaps cut a few corners, though there’s value in having a plumber you absolutely trust on speed dial.
If it’s part of a major project, such as a kitchen or bathroom remodeling or an addition, you should take real care in your selection.
You’ll want a plumber who’s nearby and that generally means in the same state. However, if you live on the border of two or more states, you might want to spread your net wider. Before you do, check that your state has a reciprocity agreement with the other that covers plumbers’ licenses.
The National Center for Construction Education & Research’s website has an interactive map that could put you on the right track.
Not every state has its own licensing regime for plumbers. Some delegate the regulation down to municipal levels. USA Plumbing maintains a list of some of the states that do issue licenses, together with links to further information. Do an online search if you can’t find the information you want.
Recommendations are best
Your chances of finding a reputable, affordable, competent, professional, licensed plumber are greatly boosted if you have a friend, neighbor or co-worker who can recommend one. Ideally, you want someone who’s had similar work to your project carried out recently.
Even with such a recommendation in your pocket, you’ll still need to carry out your due diligence and ask some key questions. Read on for more details.
Due diligence — or how to avoid rogues
Nothing can guarantee that your relationship with your plumber won’t break down. But, once you’ve drawn up a short list of likely candidates (at the very least three), the following steps can cut the odds of that happening:
- Ask candidate plumbers for a look at their license and insurance documents, including workers’ compensation where appropriate — Nobody with the correct, current paperwork is going to mind showing it to you
- Run the plumbing contractors’ details through the BBB’s website, your licensing authority’s database of complaints and through Google, searching for previous customers’ good and bad experiences
- Check with your candidates that each has successfully completed similar projects to yours
- Get from each candidate customer references from recent projects that are similar to yours — and follow up on those references with calls or site visits
- Obtain firm, written estimates with detailed specifications so you can be sure exactly what you’re going to get — and that you’re comparing directly comparable quotes
- Establish when payments will fall due — run a mile if someone demands payment upfront. But on large projects, expect to release monies as pre-agreed milestones are met
You needn’t be shy about insisting on any of these things. The sorts of professionals you want to employ will be proud of their credentials and previous work. They’ll also recognize the value of reaching a common understanding of what the project involves for both parties.
How to pay
If you have a large project in mind, you may prefer to borrow to fund it. Be sure to find the loan that suits you best. That may be a mortgage refinance, a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC), a home improvement loan from a mortgage lender or even a personal loan.