At the time of our last full, published article, 19 of the 61 plumbing
outfits evaluated on our Ratings Tables were rated superior overall
by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. But for other companies,
we hear too many customer comments that include words like overcharged,
unprofessional, incompetent, rude, messy, no-show, and dishonest.
Some companies were rated superior by fewer than 60 percent of their
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 a garbage
disposer, prices quoted by area companies ranged from $190 to $499. And
to install a customer-supplied toilet, prices ranged from $99 to $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 on the phone exactly whats wrong, and ask
the company how it figures 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
a job where the first quote you receive is $5,000, you are likely to save
at least $500and possibly several thousands of dollarsby 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
What kind of pipe will be used
Where fixtures are to be located and where pipes are to run
Who will break up the floor, cut holes in the wall, patch floor and walls,
hang the sink, perform the carpentry, and haul away the debris
What permits the company will secure
When work is to begin and approximately how long it will take
How much of the contract price you can retain until the job is completed
You crossed your fingers, closed your eyes, and made vows to the plumbing
godsto no avail. The clog-busting gunk you bought didnt do the trick.
The garbage disposer still wont run. The water stain on the ceiling below
your master bath keeps expanding. An overflowing toilet has turned your
basement into a B-movie set. And after you spent the better part of a Saturday
tinkering, the faucet still goes drip-drip-drip.
Whether its routine or an emergency, sometimes you need a good plumber.
Fortunately, as the ratings shown on our Ratings Tables reveal, weve
found many excellent plumbing outfits in the area, including many that
not only rate best for quality work, but also are among the lowest in price.
But, as youd expect, not all plumbers are created equal: Some companies
only contribute to their customers plumbing woes, rather than solve them.
Our evaluation of area plumbing outfits can help you find a plumber that
will serve you well for a reasonable price. Heres a rundown of the information
reported on our Ratings Tables.
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 what percent of each
companys surveyed customers rated it superior (as opposed to adequate
or inferior) on several questions: overall performance, 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 high percentages of favorable ratings. For
example, at the time of our last full, published article, 19 were rated
superior overall by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. But
other companies were rated superior by fewer than 60 percent of their
surveyed customers. For these companies, customer comments frequently include
words like overcharged, unprofessional, incompetent, rude, messy,
no-show, and dishonest.
In addition to ratings from plumbing customers, for firms that were evaluated
in our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show tallies
of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent
three-year period. Where we were able to, we have also reported on our
Ratings Tables complaint rates, calculated by dividing the number of
complaints by our measure of the number of full-time-equivalent plumbers
performing residential work for the companies. The complaint rates take
into account volume of work and the fact that companies that do more work
are exposed to a greater risk of incurring complaints.
You can check current BBB complaint information on any company by visiting
www.bbb.org or calling 651-699-1111. You can check current customer
survey ratings by clicking on the companys name on our Ratings Tables
and, in the details under our listing for the company, click a link to
go directly to the BBBs most up-to-date report on the company.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are
not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Also be aware
that some companies are at greater risk of incurring complaints than others
because of the specific types of work they do. And remember that the measure
of business volume we use in calculating complaint rates (the number of
full-time-equivalent plumbers performing residential work) is at best a
very rough indicator.
After you have identified high-quality, reliable companies, you need to
consider price. To compare companies prices, for firms that were evaluated
in our last full, published article, our researchers (without revealing
their affiliation with CHECKBOOK) called the companies listed on our Ratings Tables and requested price quotes for four plumbing jobs; the ranges
of prices quoted are shown on Table 1. We used those prices to calculate
a price index score for each company, shown on our Ratings Tables.
The scores, which are adjusted so that the average for all companies equals
$100, tell you 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.
As you can see from Table 1, prices varied dramatically for the same work.
Prices to supply and install a specific garbage disposer model ranged from
$190 to $499a difference of over 250 percent. To install a customer-supplied
toilet, prices ranged from $99 to $600a difference of over 600 percent.
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Plumbers for Illustrative
|Supply and install an InsinkErator Badger 5 garbage disposer||$190||$306||$499|
|Supply and install a Delta bathroom faucet, model LAHARA2538LF||$202||$308||$505|
|Install a customer-supplied American Standard Champion “Right Height” elongated toilet||$99
|Replace seal between floor and base of toilet||$94||$190||$415|
These large price differences are reflected in the price index scores,
which range from $54 to $216.
For medium-size or large jobs, dont rely exclusively on our price index
scores. Taking the time to get several bids is likely to produce substantial
savings. We estimate that getting three bids for typical installation jobs
saves, on average, about 15 percent, as compared to getting one bid. Saving
$750 to $1,000 on a remodeling job is well worth making a few extra appointments
to get estimates.
For a large remodeling joba 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 job, for example, you might
get bids ranging from less than $5,000 to more than $10,000. 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 with several
companies before you can decide 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, as you can for many jobs.
Getting plumbers to come to 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
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 more than $85 to diagnose a repair problem and provide an
Whatever company you choose, dealing wisely with the plumber can get you
better work and save 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 much
more often satisfied with their companies performance than customers who
did not get written estimates.
Get a fixed-price contract. On small jobs, this may be difficult, because
its not always easy to estimate by phone and a company 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 what you want orally 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.
What kind of pipe will 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 pipe.
Where fixtures will be located 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 them to put your sink 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, does the carpentry, hauls away debris. Do not assume any
of these jobs is included if theyre not mentioned 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 a new one.
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
for them. If you have a large installation or remodeling job, ask suppliers
for a volume discount.
If you supply your own fixtures, make sure the plumber doesnt charge more
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 get a permit. 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 a subsequent 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
at least a one-year written warranty on materials and workmanship. (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 some companies off, 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 avoid
any dispute 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, explain exactly what the
problem is. This helps the plumber bring the needed tools and parts, and
thus avoids extra trips.
When you call, ask the company to explain how it figures 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 $120 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 that 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 a screen 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 is unlikely to solve the problem, and may
simply enlarge the blockage.
To prevent water pipes from freezingand possibly burstingcover pipes
that run through an attic, crawl space, exterior walls, or unheated basement
with insulation. If a certain section of pipe is highly susceptible to
freezing, use electric heat tape to keep the pipe warm.
During winter, use shutoff valves inside your home to turn off the water
supply to outside spigots, remove hoses attached to the house, and turn
on the spigots to drain any remaining water from the pipes.
If you will be away from home during winter, do not completely shut off
your heating systeminstead, set your thermostat to 55°.
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
Before operating your dishwasher, run your garbage disposer for a few moments.
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 both the burner
and the water tank.
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 where improperly tightened.
Toilet, sink, or other fixture not tightly secured.
Hole through a wall where a pipe leaves house not properly sealed against
Some plumbing outfits make a lot of their customers unhappy. Below are
the 10 most common types of complaints we found in the reviews for plumbers
from surveyed CHECKBOOK subscribers.
- PriceCompany charged too much. Mentioned in 42 percent of complaints.
- Poor customer serviceOffice staff or workers were rude or disorganized,
or communication was poor. Mentioned in 34 percent of complaints.
- Subpar workWork was not completed correctly on the first attempt. Mentioned
in 20 percent of complaints.
- Worker incompetencePlumber did not know how to complete the work, suggested unnecessary or incorrect solutions, or did not correctly diagnose problem.Mentioned in 13 percent of complaints.
- PromptnessCompany missed appointments or took too long to complete work.Mentioned in 10 percent of complaints.
- Attempt to overchargeCompany tried to charge more than originally agreed, added previously undisclosed fees, or unreasonably charged extra labor or trip fees to acquire parts. Mentioned in nine percent of complaints.
- Workers caused damage to customers home or belongings. Mentioned in five percent of complaints.
- Unreasonable trip or estimate charges. Mentioned in six percent of complaints.
- Workers left a mess. Mentioned in four percent of complaints.
- Reliability issuesCompany did not fulfill promises, promptly address problems raised by customer, or work with customer to satisfy billing disputes.Mentioned in two percent of complaints.