Plumbing upsells: Don’t flush your money down the toilet
When plumbing problems pop up, you may be flooded with panic: What’s wrong? How much is it going to cost? And how do I know I’m not going to get hosed?
“Hiring a reputable company is key,” says Aaron Gaynor, owner of highly rated The Eco Plumbers in Columbus, Ohio. “But if someone is trying to sell you additional services or products, have them provide as much information as possible about it.”
Gaynor gives the example of a homeowner who hires a plumber to clean out the main sewer line. “If they say you need to replace the whole thing, make sure they run the camera down and offer you proof,” he says. “We try to educate people along the way.”
Our experts agree: consumers must do their research to determine exactly what plumbing services or products are truly necessary. That includes getting several estimates and checking out any dubious claims, which is especially important when trying to decipher whether a major repair is required versus the option of upgrading to a fancier faucet.
When Angie’s List member Paul Patti of Jupiter Farms, Florida, awoke to find a leaky toilet had flooded his bathroom, he knew it was time to replace the 15-year-old commode and called highly rated Admiral Plumbing Services, who talked him into buying a Toto-brand toilet for a couple hundred dollars more than a standard toilet.
“Yes, [the technician] upsold me,” Patti says. “But there was no pressure and it made a lot of sense. While he was here, I looked online at the toilets he recommended. I don’t feel like ‘upsell’ is a dirty word, nor is it just a gimmick for the contractor to make more money. I like to hear all the options and decide for myself after due diligence and consideration.”
If you find yourself in a plumbing predicament, here are some of the most common services rendered — including an average price gathered from service providers nationwide — and some unforeseen issues that might increase the overall cost:
Service: Clogged main drain
Cost: $100-$300 to clear drain
Surprise! If the pipes are misaligned, deteriorating or can’t be cleared of roots, you may need to replace them, which can cost $2,000 to $12,000. “We can unclog the drain 90 percent of the time,” says John L. Sullivan, owner of highly rated Sullivan Super Service Plumbing Heating & Cooling in Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Pro or con? Replacing your sewer pipes is a costly expense, so make sure the plumber educates you on its necessity and provides photographic (or video) proof. Even then, a second or third opinion won’t hurt, but be prepared to pay for those additional service calls.
Service: Running or leaky toilet
Cost: $150 to replace broken parts
Surprise! If you’re replacing your toilet, you’ll need to shut off the main water valve. “People don’t shut it off very often,” Gaynor says. “And we find out that it doesn’t work. The seals are so old, it just doesn’t shut off.” Homeowners must coordinate with their municipality to turn off the water, plus pay an additional $350 to $900 to fix the main valve.
Pro or con? Fixing a broken toilet typically isn’t difficult — the majority of the expense is going toward the plumber’s time. However, if your toilet is older (or you’re getting older), you may want to consider upgrading to a model that’s taller, with an elongated seat (more comfortable!) and better flushing capacity. Cause either way, you’re going to pay for the plumber’s time.
Service: Broken hot water heater
Cost: $100-$350 to replace heating element or repair flue
Surprise! If your water heater is over 10 years old, be prepared to hear a sales pitch for a new, energy-efficient model. Costs range from $1,000 for a traditional model, up to $3,600+ for a tankless version.
Pro or con? When a water heater starts to have problems, it really might be time to consider a new one. “Instead of putting a $350 Band-Aid on it to repair, you could put that money toward a new energy-efficient water heater,” Gaynor says.
Service: Low or no water pressure
Cost: $150-$250 to replace the problem pipe
Surprise! If your house was built before 1960, it might contain galvanized pipe, which reacts to the minerals in water and causes rust buildup. Average cost to replace all the pipes in the house ranges from $1,700 to $3,200.
Pro or con? True, it might only be one pipe causing the problem — but that’s for now. Make sure the plumber shows you the extent of the damage, and ask if replacing one pipe will resolve the issue or if you’ll inevitably need to replace all of your pipes.