Educational Consumer Tips

Choosing a Plumbing Contractor

Author: Better Business Bureau

The following is BBB general information and is not intended as a report on any specific company.

Plumbing emergencies may cause damage to your home, and certain kinds, such as gas leaks or sewage back-flow, may be dangerous. To minimize the problem, it's important to have a plumber who will intervene quickly to prevent hazards. 

When searching for a plumber, the Better Business Bureau suggests the following: 

*Ask for recommendations from friends that have had similar work done. You can also ask hardware or plumbing supply clerks for suggestions.

*Look through the Yellow Pages under "Plumbing Contractors" or "Plumbing, Drain & Sewer Cleaning" for licensed plumbing contractors. 

*Ask specific questions about the plumber's business, fees, and licensing if applicable. 

*Ask for names of satisfied customers you may call for references. 

*Check for membership in trade organizations, such as the local chapter of The National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors ( Companies who participate in these organizations are more likely to keep up-to-date on new regulations and codes. 

*Confirm insurance credentials. Ask to see proof that the contractor has both liability and workmen's compensation insurance. If the contractor does not, you could be liable for any accidents on your property, including injury to the technician. 

*Contact your Better Business Bureau for a list of member plumbing contractors. 


Most localities require a building permit for large home improvement projects. Contact your local licensing or permit department to see if you need one for your project. Make this call before the work begins. Many municipalities and towns require that plumbing contractors be licensed to ensure that all health, safety, and building codes are followed. If that's the case where you live, ask the contractor for his or her license number, or call the Building Inspection and Licensing Department at City or Town Hall. Your home's plumbing system is important to your family's health, safety, and comfort. 

Remember, your plumber should always: 

*Diagnose the problem and explain what needs to be done in terms you understand. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand something. 

*Use drop sheets or service mats to protect the floor in the area which he/she is working as a courtesy. 

*Try to comply with manufacturers' specifications so warranties remain valid. However, in an emergency a plumber may have to do something that may void your warranty in order to stop the problem quickly. 

*Show you the work he/she has done, explain it in detail, and ask if you have any questions. 

*Explain his/her written guarantee, as well as any limitations within the guarantee. 

*Re-check his/her work if you voice a concern. 


Plumbing companies' billing systems vary. While some may charge a "flat rate", others may charge according to "time and material". When you get an estimate, be sure to ask what will be provided for the price quoted. Service call rates also tend to vary consid erably by region. Remember, a service call rate may not always include the price of the repair. 

The following rates are guidelines of what to expect in metro areas. Keep in mind rates in suburban areas may vary from these general guidelines. Buffalo, NY area: $45 - $65 Rochester, NY area: $55 - $65 Syracuse, NY area: $60 - $70 Albany, NY area: $55 - $65 

*In flat rate pricing, the plumber will come to your home and provide a quote for the entire job, including the service call estimate, based on a number of factors such as, labor rates, material costs, overhead, and so forth. Even if the job takes longer than expected, the price stays the same. 

*For a single repair, flat rate pricing often works better for both you and the plumber; you know the exact cost up front and the plumber knows how much he or she will make. It's typical for a plumbing contractor to charge slightly more in a flat rate price to protect against the unexpected.

*In a plumbing emergency, you may have to resort to cold-calling plumbers listed in the Yellow Pages. To make sure that you get a fair offer, ask for a flat rate price for the repair so you may shop around quickly by phone and set the job's cost before the plumber arrives. If the plumber won't give you a flat rate price, ask for other options and continue to seek other estimates. 


Many contractors also offer service agreements that provide periodic check-ups of your plumbing system. The cost of such a contract is usually worthwhile since these inspections can often prevent major emergencies. 

For more information, contact

Better Business Bureau Serving Upstate NY
(800) 828-5000 

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 
(877) 382-4357 

New York State Attorney General 

Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association 
(800) 533-7694 
Fax (703) 237-7442 

For consumers in the WNY area: The Home Improvement Council of WNY 
1560 Harlem Road Cheektowaga, NY 14206 
Phone (716) 896-3000 
Fax (716) 896-3003 

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.