Plumbing Contractors: What you should know before you hire one

Experts have tips to help you choose best one

(Consumer Reports)--A leaky faucet or a stopped drain is an inconvenience, but when it comes to plumbing problems, the stakes can go much higher. Just imagine the water damage that can be caused by a burst pipe or the skyrocketing water bills from an undetected leak. In addition to tackling large remodeling projects, a plumbing contractor performs preventative maintenance and can find more energy-efficient ways to run your pipes through your house. Here's what you need to know before hiring a plumbing contractor.

Don't call the guy with the most memorable late-night advertising jingle. Ask neighbors, friends, co-workers, and relatives for referrals. Talk with home construction professionals—a kitchen and bath remodeling contractor, for example, or a tile installer. Those experts rely on the work of reputable plumbing contractors. Check their names with the Better Business Bureau and on social media websites.

Do your homework. A reputable plumber will be licensed, insured, and bonded. Some highly qualified plumbers learn their trade apprenticing on the job; others may have attended a trade school. If you have a large project, hire a licensed professional. And make sure you clarify who is doing the work. All work by an apprentice should be carefully supervised, and the work should be inspected and guaranteed by the licensed plumber.

If you're planning a big project, such a bathroom addition or major remodel, ask to see before-and-after pictures of similar projects. Talk with the homeowner whenever possible. Ask whether the plumber guarantees his or her work.

Request a thorough inspection and an appraisal of your pipes. Some plumbers are quick to diagnose a problem and suggest an easy fix, just so they can move on to the next job. But if your problem proves to be persistent or requires more extensive attention and expertise, you don’t want to spend money on an inadequate solution.

Don't be reluctant to discuss money. Plumbers may charge what seems like an arm and a leg, but their actual earnings are quite modest. Find out if yours works for an hourly rate or charges a flat fee for a job. If the plumber doesn’t have the necessary parts, find out if you have to pay for his time picking up supplies. For anything more serious than a stopped drain during a holiday gathering or an emergency situation (i.e., water backing up or flooding your house), get multiple bids. Not only might the cost vary, but so might the scope of work.