A recent study found that plumbing was the most-admired property-related skill around. Women and over 55s were extremely likely to rate the ability to fix a leak as ‘highly impressive’, even when done by an enthusiastic amateur. And while it’s great to be able to take care of minor plumbing issues around the house, we don’t recommend taking on any major pipework or plumbing projects by yourself. These are best left to professionals. So here’s our guide to picking the best one for you.
The first thing you should after speaking to friends and family about their recommended contractors is to head online and check out the reviews. Before you do that, here’s some expectation management. Even the best plumbers around will have a few bad reviews. A previous customer may be harboring a grudge because they didn’t take off their shoes or because they left a coffee cup out. So, take these with a grain of salt and look out for meaningful and important feedback. For example, is there a pattern of customers complaining about work quality? Is this plumber being regularly criticized for underpricing their work or taking too long to get it finished?
Similarly, are they being praised in a particular way? For example, do their previous clients like the neatness of the pipework? Did they get the job done quickly? The odd negative review shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, especially when you factor in the fakes (often left by competitors), but they can be used for peace of mind when you have an idea of who you want to hire.
One immediate red flag when hiring a plumbing contractor is vague pricing. Once they’ve been to survey your property, there’s no reason they can’t give you a qualified estimate, including costs for materials and labor. If they’re evasive on price and want you to commit to hiring them for an unspecified fee, think twice. This is a common trick used by some of the less scrupulous contractors. Always get an hourly estimate at the very least.
A good tip for ensuring you pay a fair price is to keep what you know to yourself. If you have a suspicion about what the problem might be, and you’re wrong, your plumber may still end up agreeing with you if the job you think you need is actually more expensive than the one you actually need. Let them diagnose the problem.
Experience and specialism
Skill and experience are not the same things. Your plumber may have skillfully installed a thousand bathtubs in their career, but if they haven’t worked on a storage heater this decade, the chances are they aren’t going to be the best at that particular job. Plumbing is a diverse trade and covers a lot of bases, so different contractors will have different areas of specialism. Always be sceptical of a plumber who claims to be a jack-of-all-trades (and a master of none). These guys and girls are often just starting out and looking to take any gig they can get. That’s fine if the job is relatively unchallenging, but far from ideal if you need an experienced expert.
Your instinct, or your gut, is a very reliable predictor. You may not be able to put your finger on why, but if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, you should listen. Our gut feel is really just the accumulation of life experiences our brains have held onto for future reference. You may have picked up over time the subtle signs that people give when they’re nervous, unsure of themselves or when they’re being dishonest.
We’re not suggesting you rule out working with a particular contractor because you don’t like how they shook your hand or how they hold a pen, but if a lot of things just aren’t ‘adding up’, it could be a sign that something isn’t quite right, even if you don’t know what.
Accreditations and memberships
We’re not saying that every plumber who has a professional membership or accreditation is excellent, but any plumber who is a member of one of these bodies, such as The American Society for Plumbing Engineers, will at the very least have a reputation they want to protect. And this gives you leverage if things go wrong.
Membership and accreditation bodies can be really useful when disputes arise because they can often help customers and contractors find a resolution without the need for legal action. Plumbers that are totally independent of any memberships or accreditations only answer to themselves and their customers, but bodies like The American Society for Plumbing Engineers can give you a little extra clout. Aside from anything else, they don’t want their members getting in disputes as it looks bad on them.