Smart Consumer: Want to save a fortune on the cost of plumbing? Then do it yourself!
Published 29/07/2010 | 05:00
'More often than not, people panic over the slightest problem and it ends up costing them a fortune," says Ray Farrell (name has been changed).
"If only they took the time to learn some basic plumbing skills, then there would be no need for expensive call-outs."
Ray is a fully qualified plumber, registered with the National Guild of Master Craftsmen, who has worked in the Dublin area for over 15 years.
"You wouldn't believe me if I was to tell you the amount of times I've been called out to fix a leaking tap.
"That's like wiring a plug, it's something that everybody should know how to do."
Ray has turned Whistleblower on the plumbing industry because he feels that Irish people have been "ripped off" for far too long.
"At the peak of the Celtic Tiger, the company I worked for had a €50 call-out charge on top of our €75 hourly rate.
"That's €125, plus VAT, just to fix a leaking tap. We'd get about eight of those calls a week at the height of the boom," says Ray.
To repair a leaking tap, Ray's advice is as follows:
- Turn off the water supply using the shut-off valve normally located under the sink.
- Remove the handle of the tap with a screwdriver. The screw itself may be located beneath a button on top of the tap.
- Using an adjustable wrench, remove the stem of the tap by loosening the nut at its base. At this point you should also find a screw and washer -- remove both.
- Bring the washer to your local hardware/DIY store to ensure you replace it with the correct one.
According to Ray, these simple steps could save you a great deal of money and heartache in the long term (see panel).
While Ray thinks that "cowboy" plumbers are not as big a problem since the recession, he can't help but laugh as he tells the story of a plumber who spent eight hours in the attic of a well-known celebrity's house six years ago, reading a book for most of that time.
"He fixed the problem with the water tank in about 40 minutes and then spent the next seven and a half hours reading a Stephen King book, only taking breaks to bang on some pipes with his wrench and make exaggerated sighs if he thought anyone could hear.
"The company he worked for had an hourly rate of nearly €80 so when his boss found out about it he gave him a bonus.
"As far as I know the celebrity never knew a thing about it," says Ray with a shake of his head.
Other common problems that plumbers routinely take advantage of -- but can be easily fixed -- include overflowing toilets and clogged drains.
'To get rid of a blocked drain, you should first try using a plunger, if that doesn't work, then you should buy yourself a 'plumber's snake' or 'toilet jack'.
"This will either pull the blockage out like a wine cork, or break it up enough to free the drain. You can pick them up in builder's supply and DIY stores.
"I'd only use drain cleaner as a last resort as they contain really strong chemicals and, while they may get rid of the blockage, they could do a lot more damage in the long term."
An overflowing toilet is even easier to fix, says Ray.
"Most of the time, this is caused by the float in the cistern rising too high.
"All you have to do to fix this is lift the lid off the cistern -- assuming you can access it -- and bend the rod that's attached to the float ball downwards, simple as that."
While steps such as those above are relatively simple and could save you money, Ray advises against adopting a DIY approach to plumbing when it involves electrical equipment.
"I'm a professional, I've trained for years so I know what I'm doing.
"If people have a problem with their dishwasher, shower or washing machine, they should call in a plumber -- ideally one with a National Guild of Master Craftsman or other professional accreditation -- and not attempt to repair the problem themselves."