Plumbers do the dirtiest of work, but somehow the profession has garnered a reputation for rip-offs. But where would you be without them? Where would your bathroom be? (Shudder.)
And let's be honest. We don't schedule plumbing appointments months in advance. Plumbers are the ones we frantically call at 2 a.m., with water pooling up around our ankles and stolen hotel monogrammed towels strewed across the floor. We call plumbers midmeltdown, and somehow they have to explain the inner workings of our pumps and valves in plain English and jump to action before more damage is done.
Just because it's a dirty job doesn't mean its practitioners don't deserve our respect -- or our understanding. Here are nine things plumbers wish you, their clients, knew to clear the air -- or the drains, so to speak. It's the first of a series on what contractors wish you knew.
1. Your drains are dirty. Really dirty. But that doesn't mean you are.
"People have no concept of what they're flushing down the toilet," says Jonathan Thorne, the general manager of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Wichita, KS. You probably assumed that it's pretty gross down there, but if you've never watched someone snake your toilet or shower, it may surprise you just how gross it is.
But that's normal. The amount of muck pulled out of your drains isn't a reflection of your cleanliness -- or of your plumber's skill. The least helpful thing you can do is remark on how appalling the bathroom looks midrenovation. They know, and it will get better.
"There's nothing sexy about sewer lines," Thorne says, "but when they don't work, you sure notice it."
2. They'll clean up after themselves -- but not after you.
Even though the process might be messy, good plumbers will leave your home exactly as they found it. "We want it to look just like it did when we got there," says Chris Wallace, the owner of GFB Plumbing in Dallas. But that doesn't mean they'll clean up your messes. Both Wallace and Thorne mentioned clients who expected their plumbers to add "maid" to their duties.
"If we walk into a bathroom and there's already sewage all over the bathroom, we're going to get the clog undone," says Wallace. "But we don't carry a full line of janitorial supplies on the truck. If it's ridiculous and they ask, 'What are you going to do?,' we say, 'What are you gonna do about that?'"
"We try to go above and beyond, but sometimes you realize it's gonna take a coat of paint and new flooring," says Thorne.
3. Don't feel bad for calling late at night.
Plumbing is a 24-hour-a-day job, so no reputable plumber will be miffed by a midnight emergency. "Call -- we'll answer," Wallace says. "We don't get mad. Sometimes we get the better jobs because they couldn't get anybody else."
4. Don't overestimate your DIY abilities.
Unless you're seriously handy, leave plumbing to professionals.
"Know your limits," says Thorne. "Some guys don't need a plumber. Some get the wrong tool, taking a small problem and making it a big problem because they shouldn't have pried."
That turns what could have been a quick fix and an easy job into a strenuous ordeal that could involve pulling up floorboards or tearing into your walls.
Yes, sometimes you can save money. But wouldn't you rather spend a small amount of money now than a huge amount later? Plumbers may have to deal with waste, but that doesn't mean they like wastefulness.
"If your mechanical abilities are low, leave it alone," says Wallace.
5. Stick around or leave during the job -- it doesn't matter to us.
Don't feel bad about hanging around while your plumber is working. "Unless they're real grumpy, I don't mind them watching," Wallace says. In fact, many plumbers prefer it if you stay -- that way you can answer questions about the home in case an emergency arises.
6. Maintain your appliances.
Your home does not take care of itself, even if it's new. Most water heaters require yearly maintenance, like flushing them out and checking the anode rod for corrosion. You should regularly check your water shut-off valve for corrosion, too. Some retail stores will perform that for you, but if yours doesn't, don't ignore your duties.
"Instructions are in the owner's manual, but a lot of people don't maintain the plumbing in their home," Thorne says. "That can cut down its lifespan and cause issues down the line."
7. Don't wait for a crisis.
Hear a faucet dripping or a toilet running? Got a small leak in the basement? Call your plumber now, before it becomes a major emergency and your basement floods -- or something equally tragic happens.
"If proper maintenance had occurred or full attention had been paid, the problem wouldn't have risen to that level," Thorne says. "Be aware."
Fixing a small problem is far easier on your wallet -- and won't require a major renovation. And see No. 4 re: waste.
8. Know your home.
Quick: Where's your shut-off valve? If you don't know, go find out now -- you'll save your plumber precious time if something goes wrong (and save your house from further water damage).
"That way, if there's a leak, or you notice water spraying or not turning off, you have the ability to turn it off at the source," Thorne says.
9. Plumbing can be expensive.
But just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's a rip-off.
"People don't realize how expensive plumbing can be. It requires time, expertise, training, and materials to bring things up to code," says Thorne. While you should always get several estimates, don't dismiss one just because it's expensive. When you hire cheap plumbers, chances are good you'll get what you pay for -- and they won't provide the same guaranteed service as pricier plumbers.
Not that price alone determines quality. Check reviews on Angie's List and Yelp -- not to mention the Better Business Bureau -- to make sure the plumber you're hiring has the integrity and the ability to handle a situation if it escalates. In particular, make sure the plumber is licensed and insured. If uninsured plumbers were injured on your property, Thorne says, they may be able to sue you for damages -- and if they destroy your pipes while working on them, they could just skip town, leaving you to pay for yet another plumber to do the repairs.
But at least then you can impress the new plumber with what you've learned.