Have your water pipes burst? Is there no hot water? God forbid – is the toilet refusing to flush? It could be time to call in a plumber!
Plumbers install, repair and service almost anything relating to plumbing equipment: that means water and gas pipes, fixtures, central-heating system, drinking-water systems, and waste-disposal systems (or toilets, as you might know them better).
There is, however, a real shortage of plumbers, which means that the good ones are always busy and that prices can often be higher than you would like.
Contained in this guide is information on when you might need a plumber, where to find one, approximate costs, and some essential advice when dealing with plumbers.
When might I need one?
There are two types of occasions when you may need a plumber: for general maintenance and in case of an emergency.
As you might expect, plumbers’ rates are a lot higher under ‘emergency’ circumstances, but more on that later.
Common services that a plumber might offer include:
- Fixing replacing, or servicing water or gas pipes;
- Fixing, replacing, or servicing a central heating system (boilers, radiators);
- Fixing, replacing or installing bathroom fittings (shower, sink);
- Fixing, replacing or installing kitchen fittings (dishwasher).
In addition to these common jobs, some plumbers will also offer assistance with other types of work such as kitchen tiling.
What are the benefits of using a licensed plumber over a D.I.Y. job?
Performing an extremely basic task, such as changing a tap washer or reading a meter is something that most people will be happy to do themselves. However, more complex tasks are normally way beyond most homeowners’ level of expertise.
Unless you are confident, and have some prior plumbing experience, it is probably best to leave anything important or complex to the professionals: not only can you cause serious and potentially very costly damage to your house’s plumbing system, but – if your work is not up to scratch – you might actually be breaking the law!
Anyone who modifies a plumbing system, connected to the water supply, is subject to the same regulations and standards as a professional plumber. If you fail to comply, and are caught, you could face prosecution and monetary fines.
Besides this, a plumber will have years of expertise and know-how, and will often be able to fix the problem far quicker than you will, in addition to giving you peace of mind. Also, bear in mind that a job may require specialist tools or knowledge that you do not have access to.
One last, and fairly major, advantage of using a plumber as opposed to doing a D.I.Y. job is this: you will have someone to go back to if something should go wrong. When you consider the cost of replacing an entire central heating system, for example, this becomes a major advantage.
Where can I find one?
As mentioned earlier, plumbers are in short supply and it can be difficult to find a good one.
Of course, plumbers advertise in the Yellow Pages but the problem with this is you will have no idea of how reliable, professional, and expensive the company is before you deal with them.
The best thing to do is to ask people you trust, who live in the same area as you, who they use. Neighbours are always a good source of information!
If you can find someone this way, it is ideal; if not, you can resort to the Yellow Pages, being sure to check that the plumber has the relevant qualifications.
You can also search for a plumber on the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering’s website
What qualifications/accreditations should you look for?
It's important to use a properly qualified plumber to ensure that their techniques and knowledge are top-notch.
Recently qualified plumbers will have a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). It is widely recommended that they have a Level 2 NVQ as a minimum, with a Level 3 being an advantage.
Plumbers who qualified a little less recently are likely to have City & Guilds qualifications in plumbing at the Advanced Craft level. In fact, experienced older plumbers may well have started off as an apprentice and progressed in this manner. If this is the case, they may not hold any qualification whatsoever, but will have lots of experience and should be very competent.
The easiest way to ensure that your plumber is sufficiently qualified and up-to-date with relevant advances is to use a plumber who is a member of the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering. All members of the IPHE are vetted to ensure that their qualifications and work experience are adequate.
In addition to this, if you hire a plumber to undertake any work with gas, they must be a member of the Council of Registered Gas Installers; this is a legal requirement. You can search for a CORGI-registered plumber on CORGI’s website
Unfortunately, there is no standard hourly or job-specific rate when dealing with plumbers. The cost will often be split into three components: call-out fee; hourly rate thereafter; cost of replacement parts. Some plumbers will charge a job fee, which might be better value – with an hourly rate, there is no incentive for them to finish the job quickly.
Prices will vary massively depending on where you are in the country, the plumber’s own overheads (such as hiring tools or ordering parts), and the urgency of the job. A typical hourly rate is £40 for the first hour and £30 for subsequent hours, though this will vary massively.
London and the South East are the most expensive areas in the country with the North and the Midlands representing far better value.
If your problem is not urgent, and you are prepared to wait a while for a plumber to come to perform a job for you, the cost will be a lot cheaper than using a 24-hour emergency plumbing firm, whose hourly rate and call out charges will be far higher.
Guide prices for plumbing jobs can be found on the Whatprice website
It is very important to get multiple quotes as prices can vary wildly. It is recommended that you obtain at least 3 estimates.
As well as this, you should always get a written estimate with a breakdown of where the costs are before hiring a plumber for a big job. The final price should not deviate greatly from this guide price (provided no unforeseen problems surface).
What happens next?
Once you have decided which firm to use, you must book a time for a plumber to come and see you. Plumbers are some of the busiest tradesman and may not be able to visit you right away, but you should not have to wait longer than a week. Make sure that you are aware of all costs before the plumber comes out – there may well be a hidden call-out charge.
At this point, you should tell the plumber what the problem is and provide any information that they might ask for – for example, the brand and model of your dishwasher – so that they can prepare for their visit and bring the correct parts.
Before any work is carried out, be sure to arrange the price. Plumbers will either ask to be paid for the completion of the job or per hour. Be sure to obtain multiple quotes and ask for a written estimate, which breaks down all the costs.
In any case, never pay the full amount up front because you will not have any bargaining power if you are unhappy with the finished job – in the worst case, the firm may delay doing your work for a long time or not turn up at all!
Once you have decided on a plumber and are happy with the estimate, you must book an appointment for plumber to come and have a look at the problem. If they don’t need to order in any parts, they will complete the job then and there.
If the problem is more complex and a part is needed, which the plumber doesn’t have, they will give you a price estimate and guide as to how long it will take to get the part in stock and the problem fixed. Here you can clearly choose to go ahead with the repair, or, as is sometimes easier, replace the entire machine.
After the work has been completed, be sure to get a written invoice so that – if anything should go wrong – you can go back to the plumber and complain.
Questions to ask your plumber?
- How long have you been practising?
- Does that price include everything (call-out charge, first-hour rate)?
- How long will the job take to complete?
- Can you please give me a written quote with a full cost breakdown?
- Are you CORGI-registered?