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Plumbers and Plumbing Repairs
Often Get a Bum Rap

When I began reading an article titled "Only My Plumber Drives a Mercedes," in a magazine, I expected to read some outrageous tales about how a plumber had taken advantage of the poor writer. But the article never once mentioned a plumber or a specific plumbing complaint.

The writer beefed about his vet bills, having his video recorder fixed, his car repaired, and his condo repainted, but not one word about a plumber in the entire article. The writer apparently felt it wasn't necessary to explain, because everyone would understand the implications without having them spelled out.

In the years of teaching Plumbing Repair Clinics, I heard hundreds of complaints about plumbing in general and plumbers in particular; some of them were valid, but many were truly unfair. Certainly, it was unfair of that writer to sweep plumbers into his basket of complaints without explaining.

There are few things in the average home that give as much service and are as durable as the plumbing fixtures and the plumbing system. When the plumbing system in a house is installed and enclosed within the walls, it's meant to last for decades, and it usually does. And given reasonable care, most of the fixtures attached to the system also give years of service.

There are exceptions, but most major home appliances that cost a good bit more than a faucet or toilet have a life expectancy of less than 15 years. For some reason, many people accept the fact that their appliances and other home equipment are going to wear out and need fixing or replacing, yet they resist and resent the idea that it may be necessary or desirable to repair or replace parts of their plumbing system.

A comment made by a man in one of my Plumbing Clinics reveals how some people expect more from their plumbing fixtures than from other furnishings in their home.

Early in the clinic he said he was "always" replacing washers in his kitchen faucet, and he made it sound as if he meant every few weeks. As I demonstrated how to repair a faucet and how a damaged seat can cause a washer to wear out rapidly, I asked him to be more specific about how often he changed the washers. He said, "Every three years or so!" Imagine ... complaining because it is necessary to replace a 25-cent part every three years on a fixture that gets as much use as a kitchen faucet.

I was often asked how to fix a cracked toilet tank, toilet bowl or lavatory, and in almost every case they were very old fixtures. Why is it we will repaint, repaper, redo our kitchens and baths, but feel we should never have to replace plumbing fixtures?

Undoubtedly there are plumbers who are too quick to condemn fixtures, and I'm not trying to defend the practice of routinely replacing fixtures that really only need a few minor parts replaced. However, all plumber's don't practice their craft in this manner, and some actively try to help homeowners help themselves.

For example, one of the plumbers in my region is a master plumber, former secretary of the Washington Suburban Master Plumbers Association and president of his own plumbing company. He taught a Plumbing Repair course for homeowners through a local Community College Services program.

He told me that his company policy is to advise a customer to replace a faucet if it appears likely the faucet is going to require additional repairs within the year, or when the faucet is over 15 years old. He says, "You can have a new faucet installed that will usually last seven to 10 years without repairs for the cost of two repair calls on an old faucet."

Another example of a professional plumbing firm actively trying to help homeowners help themselves came from a former student of my plumbing clinics, who called to share with me her experience with a local plumbing company. After learning it was going to cost $150 to replace a tub and shower valve, she went to a neighborhood plumbing company where they showed her how to fix it herself, ordered special parts and loaned her the tools to fix it herself.

The opening paragraph in a report on Washington, DC area plumbing firms by The Washington Consumers' Checkbook says, " ... It's not easy to pick a plumbing firm that does bad work. Our raters found that you are much more likely to have a job done well than not."

Surf about the World Wide Web and you'll find dozens of professional plumbers who are willing to answer consumer's plumbing questions. On the Toiletology 101 "HELP" page there are quite a number of addresses for plumbing sites that offer to help solve plumbing problems.

At is a bulletin board for "Free Advice on Plumbing & Remodel" run by Terry Love. Terry is a professional plumber in Washington state. There are dozens and dozens of questions posted with answers on his board.

As in every industry, there are no doubt plumbers ready to take advantage of a homeowner. But there are far more who are respectible business people, doing their jobs in a professional way. For the writer of, "Only My Plumber Drives a Mercedes," to title his article in such a way was grossly unfair.



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