5 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Plumbing Bill

Kerry Epes, a self-employed plumber in southeast Virginia, charges $105 an hour for his labor. Why does he charge that?

“Just about everyone else charges more than I do,” he said, “so if I’m around $100 (an hour), I get business because a lot of people don’t want to pay $125 or $150.”

Makes you wish you were a plumber, right? Either that, or it makes you wish you never needed to hire one. The fact is the vast majority of homeowners – even those with some plumbing skills – have to call a plumber at least occasionally, so here are five ways to control plumbing costs:

1. Shop around. Plumbers, like most other types of contractors, charge a wide range for their labor. In the city where Epes works, one plumber, with an excellent reputation, charges $275 an hour. If you need a leaky faucet fixed or a bathtub drain unclogged, you don’t need to hire a $275-per-hour plumber. Maybe you never need to hire a $275-per-hour plumber. For the simplest plumbing issues, consider hiring a handyman, who typically will charge half of what a licensed plumber charges. Just make sure the handyman is experienced and you’re reasonably sure he can do the work.

2. Wait until you have two or more jobs before you hire a plumber. Plumbers typically charge a minimum labor charge equal to their hourly rates. That means a plumber who charges $100 an hour will charge you $100 for labor even if it takes him only 10 minutes to fix a leaky toilet. If at all possible, don’t call a plumber until you can give him two or three jobs, which likely will take him an hour or less to complete. That way, you can get him to clear a couple of drains and fix a leaky faucet, and you’ll still pay $100.

3. Prevent clogged drains. The most common plumbing repair is a clogged drain. Some clogs are unavoidable, but many can be prevented. If you have children, make sure they know what should and shouldn’t be flushed down a toilet. Make sure everyone who cooks in your household know that they should throw away grease and not put it in the kitchen sink or garbage disposal. Place screens over all shower and tub drains to keep hair out. The more vigilant you are about doing these things, the less you’ll need to buy drain clearing products or call plumbers.

4. Buy fixtures and supplies yourself. If you know you need a faucet or a toilet or some other plumbing-related product, buy it yourself and have it waiting for the plumber to install. Many plumbers add 10 percent to 20 percent to the cost of the materials they buy, justifying the markup by pointing out that they used their time and their gas to get them. The goal is to pay the plumber for labor only.

5. Buy quality stuff. Don’t succumb to temptation and buy the least expensive things. Most of them are cheap for a reason. They are made of mostly plastic parts that don’t last as long as metal or ceramic parts. You’ll have to replace these things more often, and if you can’t do it yourself, you’ll have to pay someone to do it. If you don’t know which brands are best, ask a salesperson at your local plumbing supply store or home improvement store for recommendations.

Bonus tip: Don’t waste your money on drain clearing products, which almost never work. Instead, buy a plumbing snake, which is more likely to unclog your drains.