by Jane Noble
Jul. 16, 2018
It was a Sunday afternoon when a well-known brain surgeon discovered a huge leak in his basement pipe. Frantic, he called a plumber to deal with the emergency. The plumber arrived, took a tiny wrench from his bag, tapped the pipe lightly and instantly stopped the leak. The brain surgeon was thrilled until he was presented with a bill for $500.
“What?” screamed the surgeon. “That’s ridiculous! I’m a brain surgeon and I don’t charge $100 a minute!”
“I know,” replied the plumber. “Neither did I when I was a brain surgeon. Why do you think I switched?”
A corny joke I know, but the internet is rife with stories of homeowners complaining about being ripped off by plumbers. Plumbing somehow seems too low tech to command such high rates. But let’s face it. You are not in a strong negotiating position when there is water gushing out of a broken pipe and you just want it fixed as quickly as possible. Many plumbers are fair but without a doubt there are some unscrupulous ones who take advantage of emergency situations - and of course off hours visits are always going to cost you more.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the mean annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was $54,620 or $26.26 per hour for a typical 40 hour week. The best paid earned $88,000 and the poorest paid earned $29,470. These statistics don’t give an accurate picture however as they lump different occupations together. A plumber’s earnings also vary widely depending on the region in which he works and whether he owns his own business. Master plumbers with experience who are in demand can command a six figure salary.
The first thing to wrap our minds around is that a leak can cause thousands of dollars in water damage, to say nothing of the disruption to a household. Without running water, life is uncomfortable. Imagine toilets overflowing and sewage backing up and not knowing what to do about it. Unless you know how to fix a problem yourself, you have to rely on the expertise of a plumber. In the supply and demand equation, demand is therefore very strong.
Our blood seems to boil quickest when a plumber solves a problem very quickly and easily, but the bill doesn’t reflect that. Somehow if the job is more complicated and takes a long time, or is a remodeling project, we feel better handing over a check at the end. Everything is easy when you know how. Experienced plumbers are more efficient at diagnosis and repair.
The quality of the parts being used will affect your bill. Ask about the quality and whether they come with a warranty.
Bear in mind that in addition to expertise, labor and materials, a plumber’s quotation also covers:
Vehicle maintenance, travel time, gas
Licensing and permits where necessary
Bookkeeping and marketing
Answering service or receptionist
It may also cover trips to the chiropractor or massage therapist! Plumbing is hard physical work that involves crawling into tiny attics and folding limbs into cramped spaces like a bendy toy.
Plumbing, like surgery, needs to be done right the first time to avoid damage, and to provide peace of mind. Plumbers need to know pages of codes and how to apply them in both residential and commercial settings, and have to make sure that potable and sanitary systems have no way of cross contaminating - ever.
Not that life always works like that, but an ideal situation is to establish a relationship with a plumber before disaster strikes, so trust can be built. When you use the same plumber, the company should keep documentation of parts used and detailed records of what was found and done at your home.
Doctors rarely make house calls these days, but your plumber is often on 24 hour call. So the next time your toilet is blocked, imagine a world where the problem couldn’t be solved, and you might start valuing your plumber a little more.