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Plumbers Who Won’t Drain Your Wallet

Need a plumber you can count on? Here are 24 of the best in the Chicago area

Photograph: Erica Dufour

Try jiggling the handle! Or plunge with more gusto! Can the misuse of drain opener cause blindness? Some problems just can’t be solved without professional help, and some can cost a stiff price to fix. With luck, most homeowners don’t see a plumber often. But a good one who bails you out in a crisis won’t be forgotten.

“It sounded like a minor explosion,” remembers Joshua Kriner, a Glen Ellyn resident, after his ancient water heater—he had recently moved into an older home—blew out. Kriner called one plumber who quoted a steep $950 for a new heater plus installation. Not only was quote number two ($700) from Lombard-based D’Andrea Plumbing a better deal, but the company’s owner himself came to do the job. “I’m sure that won’t be the last plumbing work we’ll need, so it’s great to have found D’Andrea,” Kriner says.

The nonprofit magazine Chicago Consumers’ Checkbook hears plenty of happy reports on plumbers: “Very prompt and price is very reasonable”; “Follow through on everything”; “I tell everyone to use them. They are great.” But in evaluating 199 plumbers throughout the area and poring over more than 8,000 customer surveys (see the note on methodology), Checkbook all too often comes across complaints such as “dishonest,” “incompetent,” “rude,” “messy,” “no-show,” and “overpriced"—the latter, often the real stickler.

When Checkbook’s shoppers got hundreds of prices on plumbing jobs in order to compare Chicago-area plumbers, the shoppers found big price differences: To install a specific model of an A. O. Smith 50-gallon water heater, area plumbers’ prices ranged from $616 to $1,130. To install a specific model of an InSinkErator garbage disposal, prices ranged from $175 to $514.

Price differences are much larger on big remodeling jobs. For the plumbing work on a bathroom remodeling job, it is not unusual to find prices ranging from $4,000 to $7,000 for exactly the same work.

As Checkbook finds with many kinds of service, there is no relationship between price and quality. You can get top-quality work at reasonable prices. The list on page 105 includes 24 plumbers that not only rate high on quality of service but also have roughly average or below-average rates. For example, Thompson Plumbing, in Willowbrook, was rated “superior” overall by 94 percent of the 49 Checkbook magazine and Consumer Reports subscribers Checkbook surveyed and also had prices that averaged 10 percent lower than the average company’s for the jobs Checkbook’s undercover shoppers checked. The key to getting top-quality work at a reasonable price is to choose a plumber carefully. But you also need to deal carefully with whichever ones you consider. The strategies for remodeling jobs are different from those for repair jobs, so be sure to check out more tips on updating the entire bathroom versus tackling that flooding toilet.

Eight Steps to Remodeling Success

Want a smooth-sailing redo? Here’s how to get good results on big jobs.

1. Get competitive price quotes.  Even among relatively sophisticated consumers, only about half get written estimates for substantial remodeling jobs (jobs of about $2,000). But those who do are much more likely to be satisfied with their companies’ performance than those who do not. Get at least two or three quotes, and get more if you find big differences among the first ones.

2. Think of the companies as your free consultants. When getting quotes, discuss options on types of materials, makes and models of fixtures, placement of fixtures, and other matters. After talking with several businesses, you will be in a better position to decide exactly what you want and can then contact those that have bid to let them tailor their bids to your final specifications.

3. Try to get a fixed-price contract. Companies may argue that they will have to bid high to protect themselves in a fixed-price contract and that you might get a break if you pay by the hour and the job goes quickly. Don’t buy that argument. If a company knows you’ll be getting several bids, it can’t take the chance of bidding high, and the fixed-price contract will spare you possible surprises later.

4. Specify in advance exactly what you want done. Your specifications should include makes and model numbers of all fixtures and appliances; what kind of pipe will be used; where fixtures are to be put and where pipes are to run; and who is to break up the floor, cut holes in the wall, patch floor and walls, hang the sink, do the carpentry, and haul away the debris.

5. Specify what permits you want the company to secure. Some homeowners don’t insist on permits, but there are strong reasons for getting a permit: It is often legally required; it buys you an impartial government inspection of the adequacy and safety of the finished job (especially important in gas heating systems); and it protects you from having to have code deficiencies corrected if they are discovered during an inspection of other work at a later date.

6. Specify when work is to begin and approximately how long it is expected to take.

7. Negotiate for the best possible warranty. On any remodeling job, you should get at least a one-year written warranty on materials and workmanship. (Even on a repair job, you might be able to do that well if you explain you are aware that some plumbers offer such terms.)

8. Ask the company how much of the contract price it will let you hold back until the job is completed. Don’t pay a substantial amount, or anything for labor, in advance. Many plumbers will let you pay all or most of the price after the work is complete, even in the case of a several-thousand-dollar job. That gives you leverage to prod the plumber to do the job right and gives you some protection if the company happens to go under before completing the work.

Five Tips for Better Repairs

1. Before having a plumber out for a service call, explain exactly what the problem is. This will help the plubmer bring the needed tools and parts and thus avoid extra tips.

2. If you need to know exactly when a plumber will arrive, try to schedule the first service call of the day.

3. When you call, ask the company to explain how it figures its labor rates—what the minimum charge is, how much work is included in the minimum, what time intervals are used to calculate charges (10 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour), how much is charged per unit, etc.

4. Let the plumber who arrives know that you are aware of the rates. This may enhance accuracy in timekeeping.

5. Clear the area. You don’t want to pay $100 an hour for the plumber to clean out junk from underneath your sink.

24 Top-Rated Plumbers

Got a leaky faucet? Overflowing toilet? These premium plumbers won’t leave you in the lurch.

Methodology*

Name Address City Phone % of customers surveyed who rated company “superior” for overall quality Amount you might expect to pay for work for which the average Chicago plumber would charge $100
All Suburban Emergency Plumbing 322 Shadow Hill Dr. Elgin 630-620-8233
84
$87
Arrow Plumbing 547 North Ave. Libertyville 847-549-9600
90
$90
Bob Dorr Plumbing & Heating 824 W. Main St. St. Charles 630-377-0796
88
$83
Burmeister Plumbing & Heating 4220 W. Lawrence Ave. Chicago 773-545-1943
89
$99
D’Andrea Plumbing 2N630 Lloyd Ave. Lombard 630-469-4810
100
$93
Ernie Peterson Plumbing 2421 Delany Rd. Waukegan 847-244-4234
90
$74
Fettes, Love & Sieben 4325 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago 773-935-7260
84
$103
Forte Plumbing 8142 Grand Ave. River Grove 708-456-6880
96
$90
Jack Waters Plumbing 446 W. 194th St. Glenwood 708-798-9100
79
$99
James H. Beutjer Plumbing & Heating 30W270 Butterfield Rd., #117 Warrenville 630-260-1773
100
$96
Karl Meyer Expert Plumbing 333 Ridge Ave. Elmhurst 630-530-1540  
94
$80
Larsen & Sons Plumbing & Heating 4823 N. Damen Ave. Chicago 773-561-3580
100
$103
Local Plumbing 23663 S. Ashland Ave. Crete 708-748-3232
90
$73
Michels Plumbing 225 Gale St. Aurora 630-801-9700
93
$89
Midcity Plumbing 321 S. County Line Rd. Franklin Park 708-452-8680
93
$93
Ostman Plumbing 1607 Techny Rd. Northbrook 847-272-0276
95
$70
Preferred Plumbing P.O. Box 7910 Westchester 708-562-1271  
87
$94
R & S Plumbing 3850 Berdnick St. Rolling Meadows 847-358-7530  
83
$95
R. J. Kuhn Plumbing, Heating & Cooling 585 State Rte. 31 Oswego 630-554-3336  
90
$98
S & K Plumbing 28464 N. Garland Rd. Wauconda 847-821-8249  
87
$98
Santucci Plumbing 3021 Commercial Ave. Northbrook 847-272-3090  
90
$99
Simon Plumbing & Sewer Service 5200 160th St. Oak Forest 708-687-3378  
90
$74
Thompson Plumbing 625 E. 65th St. Willowbrook 630-969-0249  
94
$90
Tim’s Plumbing & Sewer P.O. Box 55 Hazel Crest 708-799-4010  
86
$81

*These 24 plumbers rated highest among the 199 companies evaluated in Chicago Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and at Checkbook.org.  In analyzing Chicago-area plumbers, Checkbook asked area consumers to rate several aspects of their service experience as “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior.” More than 8,000 surveys were compiled over a six-month period from February to July 2005. Each of the plumbers listed was rated by at least 16 customers. The percentage of customers who rated the overall performance of a company as “superior” is given on our list. Checkbook also considered complaints on file at the Better Business Bureau for a recent three-year period and with the Office of the Illinois Attorney General for a recent two-year period. Between the two offices, none of those listed here had more than one complaint on file. To compare prices, Checkbook’s shoppers, without revealing their affiliation with Checkbook, contacted plumbers and requested price quotes for specific jobs. Prices were then compared among companies. Our table shows how each plumber’s prices compared with the average, which here is scaled to $100. For example, a company with a price of $90 on the list quoted prices 10 percent lower than the average quoted price.

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