How to Choose a Plumber?

 

tapWhen having plumbing work done, how should you assess a plumber’s ability? Renovate Your House and Home magazine puts this question, and a few more, to the Plumbing & Heating Contractors Association in Cork.

 

Plumbing & Heating Contractors Association Cork: Q&A
Q. What is the best way to go about locating a plumber and what questions should be asked to best ascertain if your plumber is suited for a particular job?
A. The tried and tested method is to have a plumber recommended by a person you know to help judge quality of their work, and it is even more helpful if you can view previous jobs they have completed. Simply ringing the Golden Pages could result in anyone turning up to do the job with no reference to their work whatsoever.
Another way is to consult a friend who might work in construction (i.e. an engineer or architect), who could recommend someone they have worked with. Being a member of the Plumbing and Heating Association is also a good guide for quality.

Q. In what format and to what detail should a homeowner expect a plumber’s quotation for a job to be in? For example, how detailed should an estimate for a bathroom conversion be?
A. You should always meet with your plumber face to face and have them physically look at the job that is to be done prior to getting a quote. The quote should be a detailed breakdown of materials, fittings etc, not just a lump sum figure. If there are any exclusions involved in the job these should be listed with the quote; for example, if a builder is required for part of the work this should be highlighted by the plumber, so the customer knows this is not included in their price. It should also be highlighted as to whether or not the waste disposal is included in the price (it usually is not) so then you can organise a skip for the waste from the job.

Q. What tips would you give to someone preparing to start a major plumbing job (e.g. a new bathroom)? How can they plan for it?
A. Again, disposal of waste is a key part of preparation. People should also be made aware that certain facilities in their house will be unavailable for a length of time so alternative arrangements should be made. For example, there will be no toilet and shower facilities if the only bathroom in the house is being renovated.

Q. When might a plumber not be needed?
A. Leaking showers (resulting in a stain in the ceiling below) is one issue that sometimes does not require a plumber, as the problem is often caused by leaks in the tiling and not the plumbed facilities. One way to check if it is the shower tray or tiles that are leaking is to place the showerhead in the tray with the water running (low) for a number of hours, without the tiles being splashed. If no leak appears, then the leak is coming from the tiles and a plumber is not required. It should also be noted that more and more commercial properties now have meters for water use, and water is paid for. This is a situation that will more than likely come into the domestic water market in the future, so wasting water through leakage will become even more of a problem as it will be charged for. This heightens the need to use a good plumber for any jobs.

Q. While each job is different, are there any rough guidelines in relation to what a person might have to pay for a plumbing job and how to plan a budget?
A. It is not possible to give an estimate as jobs vary greatly. Costs are affected by the type of structure, existing plumbing, drainage, tiling, types of fittings etc. However, if you have a number of detailed quotes this will give you a good breakdown of what a job should cost.

Q. What renovation projects requiring plumbers are proving popular in recent times?
A. There are more and more elaborate bathroom suites being built or renovated. However, the cost of fittings has grown enormously compared to what used to be the case a few years ago.

Q. How can householders maintain their systems?
A. It is very important to have boilers (gas and oil) serviced regularly, in the region of once every 12 months. This is not just a safety issue, but also an efficiency issue. A serviced boiler will run more economically and be more cost effective in the long run. For a basic service of your boiler by a Bord Gais installer the prices start around €99. A call out charge for a boiler repair is €80 for the first 30 minutes and €25 for each subsequent 15 minutes. Always ensure that drains and plumbed facilities are kept clean and are cleared of any blockages regularly to help avoid problems building up.

 

Jargon Busting

  • Air-lock: A bubble of air that gets to the top section of  piping and cannot be pushed out by the pipe contents, reducing the flow of the contents of the pipe.
  • Back-siphon: Sometimes if a plug of water is traveling down a drain it will act as a piston and lower the pressure behind it, pulling out the water in U-bends. This is known as a back-siphon.
  • Down pipe: The soil pipe that rises vertically through a house from the drainage connecting toilets, baths and basins.
  • Header:The small open cistern, usually referred to as a tank, that feeds the radiator water in central heating.
  • Indirect tank: This is the hot water cylinder where the water for basins and baths is heated by a coil of piping inside the cylinder or tank. The coil of piping is connected to the central heating system and acts as a radiator.
  • Plumbing: Because flue gases leaving a condensing boiler are cool, they normally produce a visible mist or plume of water vapour around the flue terminal itself. This is because the gases condense on contact with the outside air. It will be more noticeable under cold conditions, when even standard efficiency boilers can plume as well. It is not a problem and, in fact, it indicates that the boiler is working efficiently. However, consideration should be given to boiler and flue location prior to installation so that the plume will not be too close to neighbouring properties or to windows, doors and paths regularly used in the winter.
  • Pressure system: A water heating system for hot water flowing to baths and basins, which is sealed. Instead of the vent found in a header tank, a pressure vessel controls pressure. The advantage is that the pressure is high, which is good for showers. Current building regulations require that if fitting this system, the details are submitted as a formal application for approval.
  • Riser: A vertical water pipe carrying the mains water supply.
  • U bend: A U-shaped pipe system, which maintains a residual amount of the waste water to prevent smells from the drains coming back into the house.

DIY Tips
Radiators: Uneven heating
If your radiator is not heating properly (for instance, if the top is cold while lower down it is heated) there may be an airlock. This is one of the most common problems with a wet heating system. The cause of this is either corrosion within the system or dissolved air in the water, which produces gas that collects in the radiators.

  • Solution 1: If the top of your radiator is not heating you “bleed” the radiators by opening the bleed valve with a bleeding key (available in your local DIY store). With your heating on, open the air-bleed valve at the top of the radiator to allow the air to escape. Air should hiss out if the heating is on, and water should rise through the radiator. Use a cloth to catch any escaping water. Close the valve as soon as hissing lessens and water starts to escape. As you do this, the system will be topped up again from the feed and expansion tank. The radiator should now heat evenly.
  • Solution 2: A cool patch in the centre of the radiator while the top and ends are warm means there are heavy deposits of corrosion at the bottom of the radiator restricting the circulation of water. For the confident DIY enthusiast, close inlet and lock shield valves, remove radiator, flush out, then refit or replace as necessary.

Taps: Dripping taps
Dripping taps are almost always due to a faulty tap washer.
Solution: You can simply fit a new tap, or replace the tap washer. Both jobs are within the remit of the competent DIY enthusiast with the right tools but there can be complications, so if in any doubt get the professionals in. If you’re buying new taps it’s important to replace like for like, to make the job as easy as possible.

Boilers: Caring for your boiler
The life of a boiler is just as long as spare parts remain available. Manufacturers are required to make parts available for ten years after a boiler has ceased production. Just how long parts remain in a working condition is, of course, indeterminate, but a boiler located in damp conditions is always likely to be prone to early component failure. Lack of regular servicing is also a factor in shortening the life of a boiler.

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