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Best ways to find a good plumber

Whether you're dealing with a plumbing emergency or an extensive planned project, the process of finding, hiring and employing a plumber can be intimidating. The following tips will help you hire a qualified plumber for whatever situation you're facing.

1. FIRST CONSIDER: CAN I DO THIS MYSELF? Certain plumbing-related tasks aren't all that hard to do, such as changing out washing machine hoses, replacing a faucet and opening a clogged drain with an inexpensive snake or drain auger you can buy at any home-improvement store.

2. KNOW WHEN TO START CALLING AROUND. If the problem is more serious, don't procrastinate. Ask family members and friends to recommend good plumbers. You also can ask hardware or plumbing supply clerks and check the Yellow Pages.

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3. PURSUE THE RIGHT KIND OF PLUMBER. As you search, you'll encounter plumbers who specialize in making repairs and plumbers who focus on new construction and remodeling. Be sure to call the right kind of specialist for your situation.

4. OPT FOR A LICENSED PLUMBER. Licensed plumbing contractors must be bonded and carry workers' compensation insurance. Most provide liability coverage and obtain all necessary permits for a job.

5. ASK KEY QUESTIONS. Find out how long the contractor has been in business, whether the removal of fixtures such as an old tub is included in the bid, and how clean - or disheveled - the work area will be at the end of the job.

6. CHECK REFERENCES. Ask for names of customers you can call, and contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) and the Better Business Bureau of West Florida at (727) 535-5522 or www.bbbwestflorida.org to find out whether complaints have been filed against the contractor.

7. UNDERSTAND PLUMBERS' PRICING SYSTEMS. A plumber can charge you $50 to $100 an hour for labor alone, not including the cost of materials. With flat-rate pricing, the contractor sets a price up front. As a rule, flat-rate pricing is more cost-effective for a single repair, and an hourly rate can be better when you need several repairs.

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8. DON'T GET GOUGED. If you're faced with a plumbing emergency and must find a plumber through the Yellow Pages, request a flat-rate price so you can get quotes from several contractors and establish the job's cost.

9. KNOW HOW TO PAY. For a small repair, pay the total amount due when the job is done. For a large job, make a small, up-front payment (normally 10 percent of the total bill), one or more mid-job payments and a final payment when the job is completed.

10. AVOID LIENS AGAINST YOUR HOME. Don't make the final payment on a major job until you receive a lien release or waiver showing that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid.Sources: eHow (www.ehow.com); Homeowner.net (www.homeownernet.com); ARA Content; "QUICK! Talk to Your Plumber" by J.P. Vellotti.

Whether you're dealing with a plumbing emergency or an extensive planned project, the process of finding, hiring and employing a plumber can be intimidating. The following tips will help you hire a qualified plumber for whatever situation you're facing.

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