Guidelines on How To Look For Your Star Plumbers to Work With Your Plumbing Needs
When it’s time to choose a plumber for your plumbing needs, it can be difficult to find one that does not cost an arm and a leg yet who does work that you can trust. Plumbing projects can range from a clogged drain to a complete bathroom remodeling job. Finding good plumbers services in VA can be time-consuming and challenging. However, this article from Star Plumbers will help you by breaking each step down and providing helpful tips along the way.
The Plumber Classification System
Did you know that there are four different types of plumbers for hire? Each one has specific levels of experience and will charge their rates accordingly.
An apprentice plumber is working with either a union or a nonunion contractor organization. Training for an apprentice will include classwork and paid hands-on training under the supervision of either a journeyman or a master plumber. In order for an apprentice plumber to land a job with a more experienced one, he will need to be good at math and logical thinking, have the ability to move around on the ground quickly and easily, able to solve problems and be mechanically savvy.
An apprentice plumber will also need to be able to relate to others as the plumbing trade requires interaction with clients, salespersons, other tradesmen, and suppliers. Most apprenticeships take between four and five years to complete and require a certain level of maturity and dedication.
Those who are interested in becoming apprentices should focus on math and science in middle school and high school. A future plumber does not need to be a genius at math, but he does need to at least have a solid foundation of numbers and how they work.
Courses to consider strongly include algebra 1 and 2, geometry and physics. The apprentice should also consider courses in drafting and computer science. A high school diploma is a requirement fo obtaining an apprenticeship. If you did not graduate, the next option would be to take and pass a General Education Development test (GED).
A trade school or vocational college is a great option for improving the odds of getting an apprenticeship with a more experienced plumber. Such coursework is not necessary, but it can give the prospective candidate a leg up over the other applicants. All apprenticeships require a certain amount of coursework, so having a background going into the field will give the applicant a head start.
Upon completion of the apprenticeship, many schools and colleges will help you get into a plumbing company, labor union or with a master plumber. The school should be accredited and offer courses in drafting, math, accounting, computer software, plumbing codes, domestic piping, commercial piping, cost estimating and construction materials. Upon completion of the course, the apprentice will receive a certificate or a degree.
After completing the coursework, the prospective plumber will need to prepare for the aptitude test. Not all plumbing apprentice programs require this test, but those who do are often more selective in who they choose as a candidate for their programs. A practice test or a study guide is strongly required before actually taking the test itself.
Application for a plumber’s union apprenticeship is generally the easiest way to land a job. A union will provide all the necessary coursework for their applicants and will help them get paired up with a licensed journeyman or a master plumber to launch their career. This will save the apprentice the step of having to locate a licensed tradesman on his own. Additionally, unions offer benefits to their members such as sick leave, medical insurance, and disability insurance.
If the apprentice-hopeful doesn’t want to be part of a union, he can locate a private plumbing company willing to hire an apprentice. This option will require sending applications to many small companies before finding a match. Going directly to a private plumbing company immediately after leaving trade school does not allow the freedom to learn as much as would be possible with the union route. In addition, the apprenticeships found in the private sector tend to be less structured, feature low pay and are not as adept in teaching or training new plumbers.
A journeyman has completed the four- to five-year coursework required to be able to work alone. Journeymen are also known as journey workers and journeyman plumbers. The journeyman is able to work with water and drainage systems in residential and commercial applications alike. Jobs can include installation of new plumbing fixtures, unclogging drains, maintaining sewage and gas lines and troubleshooting.
While a degree is not required to become a journeyman, it is necessary to obtain postsecondary training through either an apprenticeship or a trade school. Apprenticeships are the best way to go, as they offer on-the-job training in real-world situations. In most cases, the journeyman plumber designation is reserved for individuals to have successfully completed an apprenticeship program.
The journeyman will also have demonstrated experience and expertise with plumbing equipment, stamina and physical strength, an understanding of accounting and an ability to work with CAD software and word processors. The United Association of Journeymen presents a five-year apprenticeship program for persons interested in becoming journeymen plumbers. The program includes a minimum of 246 hours in the classroom and between 1700 and 2000 paid training hours on the job.
Upon completion of general classwork including welding and pipefitting, the apprentice can choose a specific plumbing career path. At this point, the apprentice will be able to take the journeyman licensing test and will be able to work independently. Requirements to become licensed will vary from state to state. In general, a journeyman must have two to five years of experience in plumbing and be able to pass a test evaluating their knowledge of plumbing.
In order to maintain a valid license, journeymen must complete continuing education on a regular basis. In some states, the renewal of a journeyman license is required every 12 months. Others only require renewal after three years. The required number of hours and courses needed to obtain a renewal also vary by state. In the state of Virginia, a journeyman license will require the following standards be met:
- Two years of hands-on plumbing experience and a degree or certification showing the completion of a two-year trade school, technical school or community college program OR
- Four years of hands-on plumbing experience and 240 hours of formal vocational training OR
- Five years of hands-on plumbing experience and 160 hours of formal vocational training OR
- Six years of hands-on plumbing experience and 80 hours of formal vocational training OR
- A bachelor’s degree in an engineering curriculum related to plumbing and one year of hands-on plumbing experience OR
- 10 years of hands-on plumbing experience that is verifiable by an affidavit who observed the applicant’s work over the course of this period of time.
The Master Plumber
The final step in the career of a plumber is to earn the master plumber certification. This will allow the journeyman to take on more advanced roles such as supervisor of other plumbers/apprentices and planning, design and execution of both residential and commercial plumbing systems.
The master plumber will have a greater level of experience with both the hands-on and business sides of their profession. This will include the skills and knowledge needed to maintain both indoor and outdoor plumbing configurations and extensive knowledge of plumbing codes and regulations at both the state and federal levels. A master plumber is more likely to be specialized in a specific area of his plumbing career path. These can include pipefitter, steamfitter, pipelayer, gas service, project manager and business owner.
In general, the master plumber designation requires two years of experience as a journeyman plumber and successfully passing specific examinations. These tests will evaluate the candidate’s knowledge of specific topics including building code, plumbing techniques, and business management. Other questions can include topics such as business law, contract composition and execution and how to work with clients. These questions ensure that only the appropriate persons receive the master plumber designation.
After passing the exam, the master plumber will be issued a license number. In order to maintain his license, he will need to complete the required level of continuing education. In the state of Virginia, the requirement is a three-hour course every two years. Some contractors choose to join an organization to keep up with the newest developments in the plumbing industry. As a homeowner, you have the right to request information about the plumber’s license number, his level of experience and the amount of training he has.
Tips on How to Land a Good Plumber for Your Home or Business
Ask Around: Working Your Network
Anyone in the world can say that they do a good job for their customers, but unless you have a way to view their track record, there is no way to really know. Try to work with friends and family members in getting the service that you need, as a friend/family member will be much more likely to give you an honest review. They will also give you tips on who they did not like and why they recommend the plumber they do.
Another source for recommendations is remodeling contractors and real estate agents. Because a home with plumbing problems is bound to have difficulty selling, realtor often has a list of reliable plumbers that they will call in the event of a plumbing problem.
You can also ask the plumber himself for references of people who are satisfied with his work. Be aware, however, that this process might take some time. The plumber will need to ensure that his former clients are okay with him sharing their contact information with a stranger.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read Online: How to Find Real Reviews
Obviously, if you are having a crisis, you might not have the time to do a thorough amount of research for the best plumber. In times like this, you might just have to take your chances and hire the one who can be there the fastest. At other times, however, you would benefit from taking the time to locate a plumber who has proven himself over time. Online directories are great places to locate pre-screened contractors you can work with. Look for reviews that are not paid or sponsored. The Better Business Bureau is a reliable source of real data. You can verify any reviews you find by using “fake review detector” websites such as Fakespot and ReviewMeta.
Finding Quality Contractors: Online Referral Services
In recent years, online referral services have really taken off. Places such as Home Advisor, Angie’s List, Networx, Yelp, Houzz and Handy are all great places to start where real customers post their experiences working with a particular contractor or private plumber. Using either crowd-sourced reviews or in-house vetting, these referral services are easy to use.
Print Ads: The Paper is Not Necessarily Proof
Printed ads found in the yellow pages or in your newspaper are not necessarily a guarantee of a good plumber. Companies who have a lot of money invested in their advertising campaigns will often have higher bid prices than those who done. Also, the best tradesmen will not need to advertise. Word-of-mouth will be sufficient to keep them in business. This is the best way to find a plumber and should be used at every opportunity.
Licenses, Insurance and Warranties: Why They Matter
Plumbers, electricians, locksmiths and HVAC technicians are all required to have licensing to work in their respective states. You as the client have the right to request proof of licensure before allowing a plumbing contractor to work on your home or business. The license should be up-to-date. You can further verify a plumber’s credentials by looking at the license up at the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.
Although you might have homeowner’s insurance, the plumber you select should have workman’s compensation along with at least $500,000 of liability insurance to cover any injuries that might occur during the course of the project. This coverage will also extend to any additional personnel that is working with the plumbing contractor. The best plumbers will guarantee parts and labor for at least one year after the service. Any plumber who does not offer a warranty with the job should be questioned at the least.
Are You Bonded? (This Has Nothing to Do with Jail)
Bonding is perhaps one of the least understood aspects of contract work. When a company or individual is bonded, you as the consumer are protected in the event that the contractor fails to meet any financial obligations such as paying for supplies or completing a job. A bonded contractor will pay a premium to a surety company in the event that something goes awry with the job. To ensure that the plumber you are working with is bonded, you can ask for a bond number and certification.
Bonded employees, on the other hand, have had a background check and is done when the employee will be responsible for handling highly valuable materials. In the event that the employee breaks trust, the bonding company will compensate for your loss.
Independent Plumbers vs. Large Companies
Large plumbing companies will have a pool of workers that they will pull from to send to your home. In most cases, you will receive the plumber who is available at the time of the call. In cases such as these, you might do well to work with a company that provides background checks on all their employees. Because the plumber you speak with might not be the one sent out to your home, ask about experience and credentials before setting up an appointment.
Private contractors hold the certification for their jobs and are more likely to have the experience and quality of work you want. Private contractors are often in high demand and may be hard to book if you need a job done immediately.
Professional Appearance: How They Look, Dress and Behave
When the plumber comes to give you an estimate for the job, observe how he dresses and carries himself. A quality plumber will wear a uniform if he is associated with a large company. If he is a one-man shop, he may or may not wear logoed clothing. However, he should still be dressed appropriately and be well-groomed.
The “vibes” you get from the plumber should also play a part in making your selection. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, do not hire him to work on your home. Basic politeness is critical as are solid social skills and interpersonal abilities.
General Plumbers vs. Remodeling Plumbers
The general plumber is the one you call when your toilet is stopped up, when a pipe breaks or when your bathtub faucet won’t stop leaking. In order to establish a good relationship with your plumber, have him come out to fix non-urgent problems like that leaky faucet or that smelly drain. It is easier to get emergency help from a plumber if you establish a working relationship with him first.
The general plumber will also be your emergency contact when Murphy’s Law kicks in. In an emergency, expect to pay high costs. The plumber will be charging you for his time driving there, any parts needed and for the duration of the job itself.
Drain cleaning services are especially costly. You can expect to pay around $70 an hour for drain lines and nearly twice that much for sewer lines. Weekend and night calls will cost even more. Basic plumbing jobs like replacing drain traps or repairing a minor leak will range anywhere from $45 to $65 an hour in addition to parts. If you make a call on a weekend or at night, you can pay as much as $100 just for him to come out to your house and $75 an hour after that.
Remodeling plumbers specialize in remodeling and remedial labor. The remodeling plumber will be especially careful with working with finished environments and will take care to protect carpeting and floors while working. In a case like this, you will want to work with a plumber who is vetted by a general contractor. A simple error such as failure to properly solder a joint can result in a multi-thousand-dollar repair. Because so much depends on how well the plumber does his job, the contractor is only going to hire those he can trust.
A remodeling plumber will typically charge between $45 to $65 an hour, including parts. However, more and more plumbers are charging “per fixture” rates based on drain locations, fixtures like toilets and bathtubs and supply lines.
In-person Quotes and Fixed/Hourly Rates: The Importance of the Distinction
If the plumber offers you a quote over the phone, think twice about hiring him. A good plumber will want to see the project himself before giving you a price to avoid quoting you too much or too little. A good plumber will also include the price of any estimated parts needed to complete the repair in the quote.
You can ensure that the plumber has done so by asking him if the estimate includes parts and labor. Most companies will offer you a free estimate to help secure your business. Ask for a breakdown of all costs in writing when receiving the final estimate.
Some people look for the cheapest prices when choosing a plumber to service their homes. While this might be necessary for extreme circumstances, you should not make a habit of this practice. Plumbers who underbid on projects are likely to cut corners in ways that you might not even be aware of until a problem crops up later on. A plumber who charges more is not necessarily trying to scam you. Compare estimates to see if the quote you were given is reasonable. A minimum of three different quotes is a good way to gauge the ballpark figure for a repair.
Pinching Pennies: Saving Money on Plumbing Jobs
You are paying for each minute of time the plumber spends at your home. Wasted time equals higher costs. To help make the job go faster, you can prepare in advance.
- If you can, have the plumber complete all the needed repairs in a single stop. This will save money on additional trip charges and the difficulty of scheduling multiple visits.
- Before the plumber arrives, have a list ready of all the areas you’d like him to check. If you don’t know what the problem is, be prepared to describe the situation.
- Have the work area cleaned and free of clutter.
- Try to schedule your day so that you are not in his way while he is working.
- Take care of clean-up yourself. Obviously, if hazardous materials are involved, let the professionals do the job. However, easy and safe messes like dirt or debris can be handled on your own.
- Some minor jobs you can repair on your own if you are savvy with tools. Practicing simple maintenance techniques and maintaining your plumbing can help avoid costly or emergency repairs down the road.
- Install water-saving plumbing fixtures: The amount that you pay for water and sewage treatment is partly dependent on your usage. Reducing your water consumption can help you save big dollars. Don’t skimp when it comes to making plumbing repairs. If you have an older toilet that drinks water like a humpback whale, invest in a new one. Rather than spend your money on a stream of repairs, consider making any replacements with quality parts over cheap or inexpensive ones.
- Buy your own parts and plumbing fixtures: If you want to save money on plumbing fixtures, consider buying your own. In most cases, plumbers buy the parts themselves at a discount and then charge you full prices to cover operating costs. In recent years, plumbing fixture costs at home improvement centers have dropped and are at times lower than the prices that contractors pay their suppliers. If you have the time, you might be able to save by buying your own. This YouTube video by a master plumber will give you some suggestions on how to locate quality plumbing fixtures.
Keep in mind that, if you buy the parts yourself, there can be conflict about whose responsibility it is if something goes wrong during the installation process. To mitigate this eventuality, you can ask the plumber which brands he uses. Be sure that the parts you buy have a warranty on them so that you are covered in the event something breaks or malfunctions.
When choosing someone to do a plumbing job in VA, it’s important to do your homework and ensure that the plumbers’ services you select will get the job done and do it well. Consider using the above tips on how to select a good plumber when evaluating your next tradesman. Star Plumbers looks forward to working with you!