If you're like most of us, you can put what you know about plumbing into a thimble. So, when water starts to pour out from under the sink, panic sets in. The truth is that if something like this happens, it's probably too late to go out and research which plumber is best. You're more concerned about stopping the kids floating away down the drive. So, it makes sense to find a good plumber before disaster strikes.
The first thing to do is to make sure that the plumber is licensed. Normally, they need to be licensed by the state, and to do this they will probably have to spend several years working as an apprentice for another plumber. The trouble is that if your plumber isn't licensed, it's a good bet that they'll do a lousy job or try to rip you off.
Next, check how long the plumber has been in business. Now, everyone has to start somewhere, so being a new plumber is not necessarily a bad thing, but if someone has been in business for a number of years, the chances are that they're reputable and do a good job. Otherwise, their customers wouldn't come back and the news would spread that they were someone to avoid.
Guarantees are also important. If the plumber isn't willing to stand behind their work, why should you live with the consequences? Things to check include how long the guarantee lasts for, and whether there are any limitations. If you are told that they offer a guarantee, make sure it's written onto the first quote that you get from them, otherwise you're leaving yourself open – verbal guarantees aren't worth the paper that they are written on.
There's no better way of finding out exactly how good a plumber is than seeing what other people say about them. A good way of doing this is asking friends for their recommendation, but if they can't come up with any ideas, there are sites online where customers can post their feedback. Probably the best of these is Angie's List, which lets people post reviews of local plumbers, as well as many other types of services. There are free sites that also provide this kind of information, but Angie's List makes sure the reviews are certified, so that people can't post great reviews about their own companies. It will cost you a little less than $40 to sign-up for a year, and it's worth it.
Once you have identified a few good plumbers, you'll want to get quotes from them when you need work doing. Try to get written quotes – if the plumber just wants to give you a quote over the phone, hang up. There's nothing worse than being told the job will cost so much, and then finding out later that it's twice the price because of something they didn't tell you. Make sure you get fixed price quotes, so that you know exactly how much you're going to have to pay up front. If the plumber wants to charge you by the hour, what's their incentive for getting the job done quickly?