The most common plumbing problems are clogged toilets, sinks, and drains. These usually happen at the worst possible time: in the evenings or over the weekend.

But the biggest of all common plumbing problems may be finding a plumber in the area to do the work, especially when you're under the gun in an emergency situation. Plumbers, especially if they are any good, are booked solid and in demand. Will they be available when you need them? If not, what do you do next?

In this post we look at finding a good, responsive plumber or plumbing contractor — there is a difference between the two — in our area and provide a few basic questions to ask.

In the next post we'll examine the types of plumbers, and the differences between plumbers and plumbing contractors, available to meet your specific needs. Not all plumbers are created equal.

How to Find a Plumber

  • Existing plumber. If you have used a plumber or plumbing contractor in the past in the area and like the service/repair received, great. If not, most homeowners search . . .
  • The Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages used to be the first stop for homeowners needing to find businesses in any area. But "letting your fingers do the walking" is so 1980s. Most people today . . .
  • Search the Internet. The Internet has replaced the Yellow Pages as the go-to information destination with search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! But there is so much information and many companies look the same and claim they can do it all, whatever you need! What's a homeowner to do?
  • Call, Email, Text, Neighbors. This is a great way to weed through the noise on the Internet and the Yellow Pages. Ask your neighbors and friends. Many neighborhoods have formal or loosely-knit homeowner's associations, which can provide phone or email lists to members. The same for church and civic organizations.
  • Visit a Home Improvement Center or Plumbing Fixtures Store in the area. This is another good way to weed through the noise and too many confusing choices. Home improvement centers often employ customer service reps who have worked in a particular industry, including heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, and construction, and he or she may have recommendations or practical advice. It never hurts to ask — and learn.

Taking a Closer Look

Scam artists have been around since the beginning of time. With the advent of the digital age, it's even easier for companies to influence and dupe homeowners.

The Yellow Pages

Many plumbers recommend not using the Yellow Pages.

Consider: Just because a company buys a large ad, it doesn't mean the company is any better than one who purchased a smaller ad. As one plumber says, "It's like guessing lottery numbers. Anyone can make an appealing ad, but that doesn't mean they are legitimate."

Use the Yellow Pages as a reference, a place to gather names and contact information quickly, then follow-up with other resources.

Web Searches

Today's main source of information is the Internet. Check out the company's website. Read or at least pay attention to the entire site but keep in mind many small businesses don't have fancy websites (they're plumbers, not web designers). Even so, does the company present itself in a friendly, forthright manner? Does it provide answers to basic questions and provide intelligent information, not just marketing fluff?

Again, websites are places to start and can provide you a sense of the company, the services/repair it offers, its people, and the work it has completed.

Review Sites and Noise

Once you have company names, a deeper dive may be necessary using other internet resources like customer review sites (,, Yellow Pages for the Web, or even Yelp or Craigslist, narrowing your search to the Huntsville area. There are also sites that aggregate (collect) local business info, "subject matter" blogs and other Web resources, social media, social networks like Facebook, plumbing professional associations, government sites, and better business bureaus. Some examples: CAPHCC, PHCC, PHCC-national, ASPE, networx.

Again, use these sites for reference. For every positive review on the Web there is a negative one. Sift through the comments, get a sense of how reviewers feel about a company, and take it from there. It's not much different than looking at reviewer comments on Amazon.

Neighbors and Word of Mouth

One way to deal with noise and the quagmire of online recommendations, reviews, comments, complaints, and conflicting ratings is to ask trusted neighbors in area. This doesn't always work, but you'd be surprised — it never hurts to ask around. Who knows the locals better: a neighbor or Google?

Due Diligence

In the end, finding a plumber or plumbing contractor in the area comes down to the individual homeowner and how he or she checks up on any information received, whether the insight comes from an existing company, a display ad in the Yellow Pages, a Web search, an online recommendation, or word of mouth.

Always check references.

A trusted plumber that consistently delivers what it promises and provides quality service and repair does not remain a secret for long.

Common Questions

Here are a few basic questions to ask when searching for a plumber or plumbing contractor.

Is the company or individual licensed?

Any worthwhile plumber will not only be licensed but also fully insured. He should freely present his credentials, insurance and licensing when asked (most plumbers carry a portfolio in their vehicles these days — turning the cabs of their trucks into mobile offices); these credentials should be prominently on display if a customer visits the company's actual office.

How long has the company been in business?

Is it family-owned? A well-respected franchise?

Generational, family owned businesses — large or small — and well-respected franchises with adequate resources are considered the best in most professional circles. These tell customers that the company owner is as invested in the business as his father and/or grandfather was before him or that the company meets the stringent requirements of being a part of a well-known franchise.

The longer the company has been in business, providing sales, installation, service, and repair, the better its portfolio will be and chances are it has the experience to meet your specific needs — from unclogging drains to a complete bathroom renovation.

How much do you cost?

It's always advisable to get quotes from more than one or two plumbers in the area. Cheaper isn't necessarily better. If a plumber seems expensive, it's perfectly OK to ask him why. Are you paying a premium for his years of experience or the resources of a larger franchise?

As always, avoid the plumber who gives over-the-phone quotes. Most professionals want to see the situation firsthand before giving a price.

Is the work guaranteed?

If a plumber believes he is the best for the job, he will not hesitate to guarantee his work. Is it a limited guarantee? Can you get your money back? And so on.

Next Up

Plumbers vs. plumbing contractors: What's the difference? What services do each provide?