A plumbing emergency requires immediate attention, but hiring an unqualified or unlicensed plumber can lead to costly mistakes down the road. The best defense is to have a plumber on hand before disaster strikes. Ask the following questions before making a hiring decision.
Do you have a license and insurance?
The first thing to ask a potential plumber is if he or she has a license. Licensed plumbers must pass a test showing they have the experience and knowledge to fix a problem. Licensed plumbers also know current building codes and are up to date on building code changes.
Failure to hire a licensed plumber may mean the job will not be up to local, state or national codes. Since unlicensed plumbers are not able to pull required permits, the job may be illegal, which means you may pay additional fines.
After you find out if the plumber is licensed, ask about insurance. Insurance protects both of you against accidents and mistakes. Although mistakes are rare with a licensed plumber, they do happen, and they can be costly. Without insurance, the homeowner is responsible for replacing or repairing anything that is damaged during repair.
Do you charge for estimates?
Some plumbers charge a service call fee to look at the problem and give an estimate. Often, this fee is non-negotiable, so ask what the charge is before the plumber comes to your home.
Many professionals charge travel time to get to your home or business, especially if they are traveling a long distance. Hire a local plumber to avoid a costly travel expense. Local plumbers are also more familiar with local codes and inspectors.
What is your response time?
Unfortunately, plumbing emergencies rarely happen during normal business hours. Ask the plumber if he or she takes emergency calls and during what hours.
Response time is crucial in an emergency. Leaks can cause thousands of dollars of destruction as the minutes pass, so look for an emergency plumber with a quick response time. While the service call may be more for an emergency plumber, it can mean thousands less in total repair costs in structural damage.
Do you have any specialties?
Many plumbers specialize in one area of plumbing, so ask if they have a specialty. Not only will they be better suited to fix your problem, but it should decrease costs and speed up the repair.
What do you ask a plumber before hiring? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Aug. 16, 2012.