At the time of our last full, published article, 27 of the 139 plumbing
outfits evaluated on our Ratings Tables were rated superior overall
by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. But for other companies,
too many customer comments include words like overcharged, unprofessional,
incompetent, rude, messy, no-show, and dishonest. Some companies
were rated superior by fewer than half of their surveyed customers.
The companies vary not only in quality of service, but also in price. When
we shopped for exactly the same routine jobs, some companies charged more
than twice as much as others. For example, to supply and install an InsinkErator
Premier Badger 5 garbage disposer, prices quoted by area companies to our
mystery shoppers ranged from $200 to $600. And to install a Bradford White
model M4 5036 hot water heater, prices ranged from $1,000 to $2,600.
Fortunately, you can hire a lower priced plumber who provides top-quality
servicethere is no relationship between price and quality. The ratings
of plumbing outfits on our Ratings Tables will steer you to plumbers
who do fantastic work but wont drain your wallet.
If you need repairs, explain over the phone exactly whats wrong and ask
the company how it computes its charges. If possible, obtain a price quote
over the phone. Confirm this information with the plumber upon arrival.
For installation and remodeling jobs, be sure to get multiple bids. On
jobs where your first quote is $5,000, you are likely to save at least
$500and possibly $1,000 or moreby getting a few more quotes. Get a fixed-price
contract that specifies
Exactly what will be done
Makes and model numbers of all fixtures and appliances the plumber supplies
Type of pipe to be used
Location of fixtures and where pipes will run
Whos responsible for breaking up the floor, cutting holes in walls, patching
floor and walls, hanging sinks, performing carpentry, and hauling away
What permits the company will secure
When work is to begin and approximately how long it will take
Portion of contract price you can withhold until job is completed
Plumbing is seldom exciting. It works fine for years, faithfully filling,
flowing, and flushing. But when a pipe leaks water through your kitchen
ceiling, the excitement may become more than you can stand.
Fortunately, weve found dozens of excellent plumbing outfits in the area
that can helpand many of the companies that rate best for the quality
of their work also are among the lowest in price. But, as youd expect,
not all plumbers are up to the task: Some charge very high prices or supplementrather
than solvetheir customers plumbing woes.
Our Ratings Tables report our evaluation of Bay Area plumbing outfits.
Heres a rundown of the information we provide.
Our Ratings Tables report ratings from area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK
and Consumer Reports subscribers) for plumbing companies that received
10 or more ratings on our surveys. The table shows the percentage of each
companys surveyed customers who rated it superior (as opposed to adequate
or inferior) on several questions: overall performance quality, doing
work properly, starting and completing work promptly, and letting you
know cost early. Our Ratings Tables also report the percent of surveyed
customers who rated each company adequate or superior (as opposed to
inferior) for overall performance. (Click here for further description of our customer survey and other research
Many of the companies received a high percentage of favorable ratings.
For example, at the time of our last full, published article, 27 were rated
superior overall by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. But
other companies were rated superior by fewer than half of their surveyed
customers. For these companies, customer reviews frequently include words
like overcharged, unprofessional, incompetent, rude, messy, no-show,
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from local
Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a recent three-year period and complaint
rates relative to the volume of work companies do. For more information
on reported complaint counts and rates, click here.
After you have identified high-quality, reliable companies, you need to
consider price. To compare companies prices, our mystery shoppers called
the companies that were evaluated in our last full, published article,
and requested price quotes for eight plumbing jobs; the ranges of prices
quoted are shown on Table 1. We used those prices to calculate a price
comparison score for each company, shown on our Ratings Tables. The
scores, which are adjusted so that the average for all companies equals
$100, indicate how each companys quotes compare to the average price for
all companies quoting on the same jobs. Thus, a score of $110 means a companys
quotes average 10 percent above the all-company average; a score of $90
means 10 percent below average.
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Plumbers for Illustrative
|Supply and install an InsinkErator Premier Badger 5 garbage disposer
|Supply and install a Toto Drake II toilet (model #CST454CEFG)
|Supply and install a Kohler Forte kitchen faucet (model #10433CP)
|Supply and install a Bradford White hot water heater (model M4 5036)
|1 Some prices were rounded to the nearest whole dollar. For each job, companies were given additional, detailed specifications.
As you can see from Table 1, prices varied dramatically for the same work.
Prices to supply and install an InsinkErator Premier Badger 5 garbage disposer
ranged from $200 to $600a difference of 300 percent. To install a Bradford
White model M4 5036 hot water heater, prices ranged from $1,000 to $2,600a
difference of more than 250 percent.
These large price differences are reflected in the price comparison scores,
which range from $59 to $170.
For medium-size or large jobs, dont rely exclusively on our price comparison
scores. Taking the time to get several bids is likely to produce substantial
savings. We estimate that getting three bids instead of one for typical
installation jobs saves, on average, about 15 percent. Saving $750 to $1,000
on a job is well worth arranging a few extra appointments to get estimates.
For large remodeling jobsa new kitchen or bathroom, for instancegetting
several bids is especially critical. Not only is a large amount of money
at stake, but the percentage variation in prices on such major jobs is
larger than the variation on smaller installation jobs. For the plumbing
work involved in a modest bathroom remodeling project, for example, you
might get bids ranging from less than $7,500 to more than $15,000. Even
a fraction of that difference is well worth spending a few hours to get
multiple bids. (Remember that saving $1,000 is better than earning $1,000
because you dont pay taxes on what you save.)
If a job is large (and especially if you are unsure about whether you need
it or how it should be done), let the bidders serve as your consultants.
When comparing prices, make sure companies supply quotes on exactly the
same job, using the same fixture models. If you need to consult several
companies before you can determine exactly what you want done, give each
company a chance to bid on your final job specifications.
Even for small jobs, it makes sense to get multiple quotesas long as you
can do so easily by phone or email.
Getting plumbers to visit your home to bid isnt easy, and companies dont
always show up when promised. We suggest that you set up more visits than
you need. Then, when you have enough quotes, cancel the remaining appointments.
Our Ratings Tables also report each companys minimum charge for a
service call, and indicates in parentheses whether the charge covers a
complete diagnosis or a specified amount of time. These charges are particularly
useful if you need to hire a company for repair work that cant be priced
until the plumber has examined your problem. Some companies dont charge
for coming to your home, diagnosing the problem, and providing an estimate;
others charge $90 or more to diagnose a repair problem and provide an estimate.
With any company you choose, dealing wisely with the plumber procures better
work and saves you money.
Whether you need a remodeling job or repairs, if at all possible get a
written price quote before work begins. Among plumbing customers we surveyed,
about half received written estimates (rather than oral estimates or no
estimate) in advance. Respondents who received written estimates were satisfied
with their companies performance much more often than customers who didnt.
Get a fixed-price contract. On small jobs, this may be difficult because
its not always easy to obtain estimates by phone, and companies may not
want to incur the cost of sending a plumber out for an estimate. But give
it a try. Even on larger jobs, companies may argue that they have to bid
high to protect themselves, and that you might get a break if you pay by
the hour and the job goes quickly. We dont buy that argument. If a company
knows youre getting several bids, it cant take the chance of bidding
high, and a fixed-price contract will spare you surprises later. With a
fixed-price contract, you dont have to monitor the companys efficiencyalthough
you do have to make sure it doesnt take inappropriate shortcuts.
Specify exactly what you want done. Your contract should contain full specifications.
If the work is to be done on a time-and-materials basis, write up what
you want, give a copy to the plumber, and keep a copy for yourself. Then
explain orally what you want as well. The specifications should include:
Makes and model numbers of all fixtures and appliances. Since nearly identical-looking
fixtures sometimes vary in price by 100 percent, unless you are specific
the company may substitute second-rate products.
Type of pipe to be used. Copper pipewhich can be used for water supply
lines, drainage lines, and vent linesis extremely long-lasting but expensive.
Cast-iron pipewhich can be used only for drain linesis also extremely
long-lasting but difficult to work with. If you want these materials, specify
that beforehand. Otherwise, your plumber might use cheaper steel or plastic
Location of fixtures and where pipes will run. Sometimes a few inches can
make a big difference in the difficulty of a plumbing job. If you have
not spelled out what you want (ideally in a sketch or plan), you may meet
a lot of resistance when you want your sink installed just a little to
the left to make room for a wastebasket.
Who breaks up the floor, cuts holes in the wall, patches floor and walls,
hangs the sink, performs the carpentry, hauls away debris. Do not assume
any of these jobs is included if theyre not specified in your agreement.
Some companies include them; others wont.
Choose fixtures with an eye to the availability of replacement parts. Fixing
your faucet in a few years will cost less than replacing it.
Shop around to see if you can save money by buying parts and fixtures on
your own. Some plumbers wont install customer-provided fixtures; others
insist that customers provide them. A company that offers you the option
of supplying parts and fixtures enables you to shop for the lowest prices.
If you have a large installation or remodeling job, ask suppliers for a
If you supply your own fixtures, make sure the plumber doesnt charge extra
for labor. But be aware that the plumber wont be responsible for the labor
cost of replacing defective fixtures that youve supplied.
Specify what permits you want the company to secure. Some homeowners do
not insist on permits for several reasons: to avoid alerting the tax assessor
to improvements; to save the cost of the permits and the plumbers time
securing them; or to use a cheaper unlicensed moonlighter, who may simply
be unable to obtain permits. But there are strong reasons for getting a
permit: It is often legally required; it buys an impartial government inspection
of the finished job; and it protects you and the next owner of your home
from the obligation to correct code deficiencies later discovered during
an inspection of other work. Weve even heard of gas explosion cases in
which insurance claims were denied because installations had not been inspected
as required by the applicable codes.
Specify when work is to begin and approximately how long it is to take.
Negotiate for the best possible warranty. On any remodeling job, obtain
a written warranty on materials and workmanship for at least one year.
(You might even be able to get one for a repair job if you explain that
other companies offer them.)
For a major remodeling job, request inclusion of an arbitration clause
in your contract. While this request might put off some companies, a company
accustomed to doing sizable jobs will see it as a possible cost-saver for
both parties, should a dispute arise.
Find out how much of the contract price you can withhold until the job
is completed. Companies that let you withhold a substantial portion of
the price of an installation job until completion indicate that they are
confident they can satisfy you. And you also get leverage to prod the company
to do the job right if you are dissatisfied. Such a payment arrangement
also cushions the blow if the company goes under before completing the
If you cant get a contract, get a detailed receipt describing the job
before you pay. If you must have work corrected later, this will eliminate
disputes as to what the company was responsible for.
If possible, pay by credit card. If you are dissatisfied with the work
or a fixture, you can dispute the charge under the Fair Credit Billing
Before summoning a plumber for a service call, provide an exact description
of your problem. This helps the plumber bring the needed tools and parts,
thus eliminating extra trips.
When you call, ask the company to explain how it computes its labor ratesminimum
charge and what it includes, time unit used to calculate charges (10 minutes?
15 minutes? 30 minutes?), cost per unit, etc.
Let the plumber know that you are aware of the rates. This may enhance
If you want to know exactly when a plumber will arrive, request the first
service call of the day.
Clear the area. You dont want to pay a plumber $125 an hour to clean out
junk from underneath your sink.
Dont let conversations with the plumber interfere with the work. While
it is important to understand what the plumber is doing, there is a reasonable
limit. Remember that the plumber is on the clock until he or she writes
up the ticket.
Make sure youre home for the appointment. A missed appointment may not
cost anything at the time, but these foul-ups increase plumbers costs
and eventually raise prices for everyone.
Following these rules will help reduce the seriousness and frequency of
Make sure that everyone living in your home knows the locations of water
shutoff valves and how to use them. If youre unsure of valve locations,
ask a plumber to give you a tour; then label each valve with a description
of its function and instructions for turning it off. Shutoff valves cut
the flow of water to a single fixture, a branch of the water supply system,
or the entire house. If a pipe bursts, quickly stopping the flow of leaking
water can prevent extensive damage. If you have a problem with a single
fixture, turning off its shutoff valve lets you continue to use fixtures
throughout the rest of your home and schedule a plumbers visit during
Once or twice a year make sure that the main water shutoff valve to your
home is working properly.
Periodically check shutoff valves, exposed pipes, faucets, and your hot
water heater for leaks. Regularly inspect ceilings and walls for signs
of water damage. If you find a leak, have it repaired as soon as possible.
If you have a septic-tank system, have it inspected regularly by a licensed
Install smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors near your water heater and
Keep all flammable and combustible materials away from your hot water heater.
To reduce the risks of fire or health hazards, have a plumber or heating
and air-conditioning service check your water heaters venting for proper
draft and to make sure the room is properly ventilated.
Dispose of grease or rendered-down fat in the trash; never pour it down
Cover bathtub and shower drains with screens to prevent hair from clogging
up their pipes.
Chemical drain cleaners are extremely dangerous productspay close attention
to package directions and warning labels. When pouring a drain cleaner
into a drain, avert your face and keep it as far away as possible from
the bottle and the drain.
If a drain is completely clogged, do not use a drain cleanerit will likely
produce a large pool of highly caustic water. Also, using a drain cleaner
on completely clogged drains may simply enlarge the blockage.
Dont flush anything down the toilet that doesnt belong there. Paper towels,
feminine products, disposable diapers, cat litter, hair, and other items
can clog up the works.
Use care when operating your garbage disposer. Make sure that its on-off
switch is not located in an area where it can be accidentally turned on.
If you have children, consider buying a batch-feed model that wont operate
without a stopper.
Heed warnings in your garbage disposers operating manual. Many models
can become clogged if you try to dispose of coffee grounds, uncooked rice,
etc. Always run a steady stream of water into your garbage disposer when
Periodically check the temperature setting of your hot water heatermost
models should be set between 120° and 140°. Running the burner at lower
temperatures saves energy costs and extends the life of the appliance.
Although most plumbing work is performed correctly, mistakes do occur.
Here are a few of the problems inspectors find most often.
Drainpipes lack sufficient grade. As a result, waste does not flow with
sufficient momentum and clogs occur.
Pipes not properly supported. This can produce hammering in water supply
pipes and clogs in drainpipes.
Water heater or furnace flue connection has not been checked for proper
draft. If a chimney is partially clogged, dangerous combustion products
may accumulate inside the house.
Insufficient ventilation in the room where the water heater or furnace
is installed. Again, this prevents a proper draft and causes dangerous
combustion products to accumulate.
Water heater flue is dangerously close to combustible materials. A fire-resistant
shield must be installed.
Gas or water shutoff valve has not been installed for a water heater, furnace,
dishwasher, or other appliance. This means the homes total gas or water
supply will have to be shut down if the appliance needs repairs.
Electrical grounding has been eliminated. Water supply pipes serve as the
ground for a homes electrical system and as a ground in case of lightning.
If plastic pipe has replaced disintegrated steel water supply pipes from
the outside meter, this ground is eliminated and a substitute grounding
system must be installed.
Fixture trap leaks were improperly tightened.
Toilet, sink, or other fixture not tightly secured.
Hole through a wall where a pipe leaves house not properly sealed against
Better Business Bureaus
Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties
1112 S. Bascom Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
All Other Bay Area Counties
1000 Broadway, #625
Oakland, CA 94607