With any company you choose, dealing wisely with the plumber nets better work and saves you money. Whether you need a remodeling job or repairs, if possible get a written price quote before work begins.

Remodeling Jobs

Get a fixed-price contract rather than an estimate based on material costs plus an hourly rate. A fixed price will protect you against a surprisingly high bill after the job is complete.

Specify exactly what you want done. The contract should include:

  • Total price for job, including a breakdown of parts and labor costs.
  • Timeline for when work is to begin and an estimated completion timeframe.
  • Makes and model numbers of all fixtures and appliances.
  • Type of pipe to be used. Copper pipe—which can be used for water supply lines, drainage lines, and vent lines—is extremely long-lasting but expensive. Cast iron pipe—which can be used only for drain lines—is 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.
  • Locations of fixtures and where pipes will run. Sometimes a few inches can make a big difference in how difficult a job is. If you have not spelled out what you want (ideally in a sketch or plan), you may meet 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, and hauls away debris. Do not assume any of these jobs are included if they’re not specified in your agreement.

Who’s buying what? Many plumbers expect customers to select, purchase, and have ready faucets and other fixtures; some even expect them to purchase and supply large items like toilets. But some other plumbers won’t install customer-provided fixtures. Discuss who’s buying what for your job. A company that offers you the option of supplying parts and fixtures enables you to shop for the lowest prices. But the plumber won’t be responsible for the labor cost of redoing installation if you’ve bought fixtures or stuff that doesn’t fit.

Permit me? If permits are required, specify that the contractor must secure them.

What’s the warranty? For remodeling work, companies should supply a written warranty for at least one year on materials and workmanship.

Payment schedule. Arrange to pay as little as possible until all work is completed to your satisfaction. A company that lets you withhold a substantial portion of the price gives you leverage to require it to redo dissatisfactory work. You’ll also be protected if the company abandons your job. If possible, make all payments by credit card. If you are dissatisfied, you can dispute the charge.

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Repair Jobs

Provide in advance an exact description of your problem. This helps the plumber bring the needed tools and parts, and eliminates extra trips.

Find out how the company computes charges for labor. Get its minimum charge and what that includes, the time unit it uses to calculate charges (10-minute increments? 15? 30?), and how much it charges per time unit.

Get an ETA. If you want to know exactly when a plumber will arrive, request the first service call of the day.

Clear the area. You don’t want to pay $150 an hour to remove junk from underneath your kitchen sink.

Stick around but stay out of the way. Remember that the plumber is on the clock until he or she writes up the ticket.

Get a firm price before giving any go-ahead. If it’s a simple fix, you likely won’t pay much more than the company’s minimum service fee. But if your repair is complex or costly, getting a price in advance eliminates the possibility of sticker shock after the work is done—and gives you a chance to collect prices from other outfits if you think you’re being overcharged.