Flushing out great plumbers in the Philly area

Plumbing has been around since ancient times, with Romans building aqueducts, marble baths, and bronze pipe systems to keep their toga-ed bodies clean and their water drinkable. Flush toilets were born in 1596, when a godson of Queen Elizabeth I invented a primitively constructed toilet that he nicknamed ‘Ajax’.

In modern times, we can enjoy hot tubs, sit in restrooms with heated seats, and cook spaghetti in pots filled with special pasta taps. Yet even our modern pipes and appliances leak through a spring, run backwards or simply stop working. That’s where a good plumber can help you out [or cold] water.

The Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook surveys of local consumers revealed excellent plumbing fixtures in the area. Some companies evaluated by Checkbook were rated overall as “superior” by at least 90% of their surveyed customers. Fortunately, many of the service providers who rate the best for the quality of their work are also among the lowest in price.

» READ MORE: A Philadelphia plumber found a bag of items stolen from a wall 20 years ago. Then he found the owner.

But, as you’d expect, Checkbook also found plenty of plumber’s outfits that will leave you drenched: More than half of their clients surveyed rated them poorly overall, with reviews often including words like “overcharged,” “unprofessional,” “incompetent.” ‘, ‘rude’, ‘sloppy’, ‘no show’ and ‘dishonest’.

Here are some tips for hiring a plumber. For detailed advice, including reviews of local plumbing fixtures for quality and price, visit Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Plumbers. Until August 5, Checkbook Inquirer is giving readers free access to the ratings of plumbers nearby.

Once you have identified high-quality, reliable companies, you need to consider the price. To rate companies on the prices they offer, our undercover clients asked for prices for five plumbing jobs. Prices varied widely for the same work.

For example, to supply and install an InSinkErator Badger 5 garbage disposer, the cost ranged from $210 to $595. And to supply and install a Bradford White model RG250T6N 50-gallon water heater, prices ranged from $995 to $ 2.318.

If you have a medium or large job, it is especially important to collect bids from multiple companies. We find that getting three bids for a typical installation job (e.g. installing a water heater) saves about $250 on average compared to getting one quote. For larger jobs, such as bathroom renovations, you’ll probably save thousands of dollars by getting just a handful of prizes. While meeting three or four contractors can be tricky, saving $1,000 or more is worth it.

While it is fairly easy to get quotes for plumbing installation or remodeling work, it is unfortunately often difficult to get an accurate price for repairs ahead of time. Your best bet is to call or email a few companies – start with companies that rank highly on Checkbook.org for quality and price. Than –

  • Provide an exact description of your problem.

  • Ask each company how it calculates its labor rates (minimum rate and what it includes, hourly price after the minimum, etc.).

  • Try to get an estimate of how long it usually takes to do your job.

  • When the plumber arrives, take a look at the labor costs you have been given. This prevents misunderstandings and can improve the accuracy of the time registration.

  • Clear the area. You don’t want to pay a plumber $150 an hour to clear clutter under your sink.

  • Don’t let conversations with the plumber disrupt work. While it is important to understand what the plumber does, there is a reasonable limit. Remember, the plumber is on the clock until he or she writes the ticket down.

For job remodeling, take out a contract that includes:

  • A fixed price for all work.

  • Exactly what you want, including brands and model numbers of all fixtures. Plus who breaks the floor, cuts holes in the wall, repairs floor and walls, hangs the sink, does the carpentry work and disposes of debris.

  • Location of fixtures and where pipes will run. Sometimes a few inches can make a big difference in the difficulty of a plumbing job. If you haven’t specified what you want (ideally in a sketch or plan), you may encounter a lot of resistance if you want to have your sink installed just slightly to the left to make way for a trash can.

  • That the contractor takes care of the necessary permits and inspections.

  • When the work should start and how long it will take.

  • Guarantee. Renovation work must be accompanied by a warranty of at least one year on materials and workmanship.

  • Arbitration clause. While this request may deter some companies, those accustomed to doing sizable jobs will see it as a potential cost savings for both parties should a dispute arise.

  • Payment schedule. Make sure to pay as little as possible until all work is completed to your satisfaction. A company that makes you withhold a significant portion of the price gives you leverage to demand that it do unsatisfactory work again. You are also protected if the company quits your job. If possible, make all payments with a credit card. If you are not satisfied, you can dispute the charge.

Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and does not charge any money from the service providers it evaluates.

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