Monday, March 17, 2014

Not All Plumbers Are Created Equal

We spend countless hours in our lives planning family vacations, the birth of our children, parties, shopping lists, you name it! We usually know down to the smallest side dish what is going to be on our table for Christmas dinner.
How much time have you spent planning what you're going to do when your sewer backs up? When the water heater leaks?  When your boiler heat goes out?  

The definition of an emergency is: A serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.  By definition, it is difficult to plan for an emergency.
The first thing to cross my mind when I have an emergency repair at my home is generally: "How much is this going to cost me?"  I can't be alone here. 

I think what happens when we combine a lack of forethought with an emergency situation is that we throw out everything that is hard-wired into us as planners and we resort to the important, but often risky, response of: "I have to find the cheapest way possible to fix this right now!"

When you're dealing with a plumbing emergency, you can't afford a cheap fix.  A cheap fix today often results in an expensive repair tomorrow.  Most people can't afford to go with the cheapest plumber.  

So, if not price, what should you look for in a plumber to take care of your emergency?  Here's a few rules of thumb to help determine your best option:
  • Pay attention to who you talk with when you call to schedule a plumber to come to your home.  Are you talking with an answering machine or does the person on the other end of the line care about you and genuinely want to help fix your problem?  You can tell a lot about a company by how they answer the phone.  
  • Be wary of over-the-phone pricing.  I learned this one the hard way. The price you get over the phone is generally a base price and it can increase significantly once someone gets to your house and really sees what's giong on. Plumbing problems simply cannot be diagnosed over the phone - especially if you aren't talking with an actual plumber when you call.
  • Try to find a plumber with 24 hour emergency service.  If the problem arises again, it is good to know that you will be able to get someone out to look at it again.  No one wants to wait the weekend without hot water or heat.
  • Check online reviews.  You're probably not the first person in town to need a plumber. Rely on Angie's List and other websites that have a bank of real reviews written by people in your community. 
  • Ask if the technician coming to your home is drug-tested and background-checked.  Your home and your family are your priority. A company that invests significant dollars making sure that employees are trustworthy and safe in your home tells you that your home and family are a priority to them, too.  
I wouldn't wait until the last minute to pick a vacation destination and then say: I don't care where it is or what it looks like, as long as it is the cheapest.  I'm pretty sure I would never buy a car sight-unseen by getting a price over the phone. And no one would call the detention center to find a last-minute babysitter.  
There are honest, reputable, trained, trustworthy plumbing companies out there.  Are they the cheapest?  Probably not.  Knowing what is important to you before you invite someone into your home is essential, especially in an emergency.  If you know what you want in a plumber before you pick up the phone, you don't have to worry about being bound by the cheapest option.  
"Where quality is the thing sought after, the thing of supreme quality is cheap, whatever the price one has to pay for it." 
William James, American Philosopher (1842-1910)

Learn more about plumbing services at Pathmaker Plumbing.

Commonly Used Plumbing Products

PictureApplying thread paste (pipe dope)
There are many different products available for use in the plumbing trade.  These products can range from harmful, to questionable to necessary.  There is also a lot of confusion about which product to use, when to use it, and where to use it.

Below is a list of the most common products, with a short explanation of each one.

1. Thread paste.  Also called "pipe dope", thread paste is probably the most used product on a plumber's truck.  The main function of pipe dope is to seal threaded connections by filling in the tiny voids.  Applying the paste will also act as a lubricant and help to tighten the connection a little better.  There are many different kinds of thread paste on the market, and some contain different chemicals.  You should always be sure that the paste you are using is ok for the material you are using it on.  Some pastes should not be used on plastic threads.  There are a few other situations that plumbers like to apply the paste, such as on the mating surfaces of certain kinds of unions, inside compression fittings, inside flared connections, or on the bottom of certain types of gaskets.

2. PTFE Tape.  PTFE (polytetraflouroethylene) tape, or thread tape, is commonly (and mistakenly) called Teflon tape.  Since Teflon is a trademarked brand of the DuPont corporation, this product should not be called "Teflon tape."  On threaded connections, PTFE tape can be used in place of, or along with pipe dope.  I don't really have a preference either way.  If it is a connection that I most definitely do not want to have to fix, I will usually use both.  There are also certain devices that will call for tape specifically because it can be harmful if paste is introduced into them when the water is turned on.  It is important to not "overwrap" the threads with the tape, as this could possibly result in putting too much stress on the female fitting and crack it.

3. Plumber's putty.  This is probably the most widely misused plumbing item there is.  There are many times that I come across putty being used in place of paste or tape, and that is always a sure fire leak.  Putty should only be used on the underside of something that will be tightened or compressed down, such as the underside of sink drains, shower drains, and bathtub drains.  Some plumbers will use it underneath stainless steel sinks to seal them to the countertop as well. In the old days, it was used to seal toilets to the toilet flange at times.

4. Latex caulk and silicone caulk.  Caulks and silicones should never be used to seal any piping.  They should only be used to seal fixtures down, or seal around areas that should not allow water in.  Examples includes, caulking down sinks, tub spouts, outside penetrations, maybe even faucets.  Some plumbers like to use silicone on the underside of sink, shower and bathtub drains in lieu of plumber's putty.  I do not recommend this for two reasons: 1. It is very messy, and 2. If you ever have to remove it, good luck.

5. Plumbers grease.  Any time you take a faucet apart, grease up everything!  This includes O-rings, threads and any moving parts.

6. Flux.  Flux is what you put on copper or brass pipe to prepare it to be soldered.  It cleans the pipe and allows the solder to "flow" into the fitting.

7. Draino.  Don't use it, ever.

Learn more about plumbing services at Pathmaker Plumbing.