Overwhelmed by the thought of finding a plumber—a good one who will do the work correctly and charge you fairly? Here’s how to make sure you don’t get taken…

When do you need a plumber? If you’re handy, you can probably fix a leaky faucet or replace a sink or a toilet by yourself. But you shouldn’t tackle anything related to the home’s main plumbing system. If the work requires you to turn off a single cut-off valve (below a sink, behind a toilet), DIY is fine…but if you need to cut all the water to the house, call in a pro.

Finding and vetting plumbers. Online reviews can help, or ask friends or family members if they’ve dealt with one recently and would recommend him/her. Or: Visit your local plumbing-­supply store, and ask for recommendations.

Planning the job. If a pipe has burst and your house is flooded, there’s no time for planning. But in non-emergencies, first contact your city’s or county’s plumbing inspector—the person who ensures that local plumbing jobs are done correctly and up to code. Tell the inspector what you’re planning to have done, and ask what permits are needed. Local codes vary—an insignificant job that requires no permit in one area could require one in another. The inspector will be your ally throughout the job, so pick that person’s brain about what the work should entail so that when you talk to plumbers, you know the scope of the job and can push back if they suggest something excessive.

Bidding and estimates. If you’ve already decided which plumber to hire, ask for an estimate. Most bill on a flat-fee basis rather than hourly.

If you haven’t decided on a plumber, ask for bids. Caution: Don’t just go with the lowest bidder—learn the reasons behind exceptionally high or low bids. Two honest plumbers could disagree about what the job calls for, and hearing about diverse perspectives could be helpful.

Vetting plumbers. Don’t be shy about asking to see a plumber’s license and insurance certificate. Plumbers work hard for such credentials and should be proud to share them. A refusal to produce the documents is a red flag.

During the job. Build rapport with your plumber by making him/her feel welcome—not like you want him out of your home as quickly and cheaply as possible. Most plumbers won’t mind if you watch them work and ask questions. Remember: Plumbers work in uncomfortable conditions. Offering a cold drink on a hot day, a coffee in the morning or hot tea on a winter night means a lot.

After the job. If an inspector is involved, he/she will check periodically to make sure the work is being done correctly and will give a final sign-off. If the job was too small to require an inspector, ask the plumber to walk you through what was done and show you that everything is working. If anything goes wrong after the plumber has left, contact him immediately. Letting a problem go could make matters worse.

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