Practice of plumbing can vary in price, diagnosis

Local 6 undercover investigation finds plumber solutions not always right

ORLANDO, Fla. - The drain is backed up and the plunger just doesn't do it; time to call a plumber?

During a week long hidden camera investigation, Local 6 called area companies to see if they could fix a plugged  drain.

With the help of Emerald Plumbing of Orlando, Local 6 stuffed a residential drain with chunks of concrete, wads of paper and wax. The plugged line runs from the main bathroom toilet to the septic tank of a single family home.

Local 6 called Central Florida plumbers listed on the Internet: Shamrock, Renaldi, Tropical and Brownie's. Each was able to send a crew over within 24 hours of the producer's call and each company offered a price up front.

Each plumber started with a toilet auger, a sort of super plunger, in an effort to free the plug.

In many cases the auger will do the trick to handle what plumbers call a "soft plug." Local 6 found this how-to site to be very helpful.

A toilet auger can be purchased at Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot. The prices range from $5.89 to $20.

But for the plug that is more complicated, a plumber will use a snake to send it down the line and free up the plug.

Renaldi wanted $257, Tropical $150, Brownie's $140 and Shamrock $135.  Local 6's producer told Renaldi's plumber she wanted to shop around. He was very friendly said, "no problem" and left.

Local 6 found each company was honest and used a series of tests to diagnose the problem. Shamrock's man, Wayne, used an auger on the toilet and that seemed to do the trick. After he left, the bowl started backing up again.

Local 6 called him back. This time, Wayne tried to snake the line but concluded the septic tank was full.

Both crews from Tropical and Brownie's wanted to cut a section of the exterior pipe after hearing the sound of concrete against the "head" of the snake line. Tropical quoted us a price of "around" $250 to do the work. Brownie's price about $300.

In each case, Local 6 stopped them and said we had a crew that would take care of it. All three companies were unanimous in suggesting that a camera could be used to determine how extensive the plug was. The prices for the camera probe were all a little more than $400.

Emerald plumbing ran that camera investigation for Local 6 prior to plugging the line, which showed the line was clean and the septic tank was not full. Emerald was planning to use a water pump to "jet" the clog clear. They were able to use a snake system to clear the line.

Two other companies, Frank Gay Plumbing and Reliance Plumbing were also very good but the plugged line wasn't as complex and was easily taken care of with a toilet auger.

Local 6's conclusion: Always try get a second opinion. Also, try to unplug the toilet yourself before calling in the pros.

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