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. Among plumbing customers we surveyed, about half received written estimates (rather than verbal estimates or no estimate) in advance. Respondents who received written estimates were satisfied with their companies’ performance much more often than customers who didn’t.

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, including:

  • 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 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.
  • Location 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, hauls away debris. Do not assume any of these jobs are included if they’re not specified in your agreement. Some companies include them; others won’t.

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 yourself. Some plumbers won’t 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. But be aware that the plumber won’t be responsible for the labor cost of replacing defective fixtures that you’ve supplied. If you have a large installation or remodeling job, ask suppliers for a volume discount.

If permits are required, specify that the company must secure them.

Specify when work is to begin and approximately how long it will take.

Negotiate for the best possible warranty. On any remodeling job, obtain a written warranty for at least one year on materials and workmanship.

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 abandons your job.

If possible, pay by credit card. If you are dissatisfied, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.

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.

When scheduling work, ask the company to explain how it 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.

Review these rates when the plumber arrives.

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 $125 an hour to remove all the junk from underneath your kitchen sink.

Don’t allow chatting with the plumber to interfere with the work. While it is important to be around and to understand the needed work, there is a reasonable limit. Remember that the plumber is on the clock until he or she writes up the ticket.

Make sure you’re home for the appointment. Missed appointments waste companies’ time and increase plumbers’ prices for everyone.