Our Ratings Tables report our evaluation of area plumbing outfits. Here’s a rundown of the information we provide.

Ratings from Customers

Our Ratings Tables report how area consumers we surveyed rated the companies on several aspects of service. We primarily surveyed Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, but also other randomly selected consumers we invited to participate. Our Ratings Tables report results for companies that received 10 or more ratings on our surveys.

Our Ratings Tables report the percentage of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on several questions: “overall quality,” “doing work properly,” “promptness,” 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 quality.” Click here for further description of our customer survey and other research methods.

Many companies received a high percentage of favorable ratings. For example, dozens 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,” and “dishonest.”

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Complaint Records

Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.

How Much They Charge

To compare companies’ prices, our undercover shoppers called the businesses listed on our Ratings Tables and requested prices for five plumbing jobs; the ranges of prices quoted are shown on the table below. Prices varied dramatically for the same work. For example, to supply and install an InSinkErator Badger 5 garbage disposer, prices ranged from $250 to $695. And to supply and install a Bradford White model RG250T6N 50-gallon water heater, prices ranged from $1,169 to $2,566.

We used the info collected 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 company’s quotes compare to the average price for all companies quoting on the same jobs. Thus a score of $110 means a company’s quotes average 10 percent above the all-company average; a score of $90 means 10 percent below average. Scores range from $70 to $145.

If you have a medium or large job, don’t rely just on our price comparison scores; also collect bids from multiple companies. We find that getting three bids for a typical installation job (for example, installing a water heater) saves, on average, about $250 compared to getting just one price quote. For larger jobs, like bathroom remodels, you’ll likely save thousands of dollars by getting just a handful of prices. Although it’s a pain to meet with three or four contractors, it’s worth it to save $1,000 or more.

When comparing prices, have companies supply quotes on exactly the same job, using the same fixtures. If a job is large, or you are unsure about what you need or how it should be done, let the bidders serve as your consultants. 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 specs.

Even for small jobs, it makes sense to get multiple quotes—we find it’s fairly easy to get prices for straightforward tasks by phone or email.

On our Ratings Tables we also report each company’s hourly labor rate and its “minimum charge for a service call,” and indicate 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 can’t be priced until the plumber has examined your problem. Some companies don’t charge for coming to your home, diagnosing the problem, and providing an estimate; others charge $175 or more for this.