Plumbing Basics: DIY or Hire a Contractor?

Ensuring that water flows into and out of a house properly is a modern must-do. And when faced with a plumbing matter, many homeowners will be tempted to attempt the job themselves. Should they? Could they? Should and could you? We'll help you decide.

Clean flowing water was one of the earliest innovations that allowed mankind to create great civilizations, bringing nutrition to crops and clean drinking water and sanitation to city centers. Now, we’re not suggesting that you need to build a massive aqueduct like the ancient Romans, but ensuring that water flows into and out of a house properly is a modern must-do. And when faced with a plumbing matter, many homeowners will be tempted to attempt the job themselves. Should they? Could they? Should and could you? We'll help you decide. 

 Can I Perform a Plumbing Job Myself?

Some plumbing jobs are simple enough that even the most inexperienced homeowner can perform them, and they carry very little risk of injury or serious damage — the worst that can happen is an injured thumb, for instance, or a bumped head when getting out from under a kitchen sink. On the other hand, tackling a plumbing job with an inadequate level of expertise can lead to serious water damage and even flooding that, if not dealt with immediately, can cause permanent damage to the structure of your home.

That’s why, regardless of what plumbing job you’re considering undertaking, it’s essential to know the location of your home’s main water shut-off valve.

Keep in mind, too, that the first time you try to learn and perform a job, it’s likely to take double the amount of time as it would if you were experienced, and three times as long as it would if a professional were to do it. No matter how many YouTube tutorials you watch, you’re still not going to learn as quickly as when you take wrench to pipe.

And speaking of wrenches, though you may have an impressive toolkit stored away in the garage or hall closet, it’s not likely that you own all the specialized tools that a plumber uses to solve problems, or have the expertise to know which tool should be used when, and how.

Can I Hire a General Handyman Instead?

Other than minor jobs — the same sort that a homeowner could reasonably do as well — a handyman may be legally prohibited from performing some work to be done only by a licensed plumber. Different states and cities have different laws, so check with local authorities.

And then there are some jobs that require a combination of skills where a handyman can come in, well handy, but a trained plumber may need to handle certain parts of the job — a full bathroom remodeling, for instance, could require the work of separate workmen.

It’s also worth noting that licensed plumbers must pass through extensive training, usually going through education, apprenticeship and fieldwork that can last for up to a decade before an official license is granted. Licensed plumbers are well aware of the nuances of the municipal and state codes of the region in which they’re licensed. And because technology is changing so much, being licensed requires plumbers to undergo continuing professional education.

When to Hire a Professional Plumber

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to plumbing repairs, it’s not the materials that are most expensive — it’s the labor. This is because the knowledge and skill that a professional plumber brings to a job are incredibly important, and will save time and money in the long run.

A plumber can monitor and adjust the water temperature and gas pressure within a home, and can use the proper piping according to size and makeup, based on local building and water codes. And a licensed plumber’s specialized training equips them to use the special tools created for plumbing work — there’s more to the job than a “snake” for the toilet, after all. For instance, tools made especially to help regulate gas line flow can be particularly tricky and should only be used by professionals. This reduces risk of damage to property and health.

And while it may be easy for a home DIYer or handyman to diagnose a leaky faucet, it’s much trickier to know how to handle a leak within a wall. A plumber will have the knowledge to assess the issue and quickly come up with the most efficient, safest option for the homeowner. Additionally, any external plumbing issues that have to do with the home system’s connection to the municipal water source should only be handled by a licensed plumber, who will know (1) how to deal with any large issue, and (2) whom to contact at the government level if the plumbing problem at hand involves any of the municipal water or sewer lines.

Common DIY Plumbing Projects

  • Installing a new faucet
  • Replacing toilet hardware
  • Installing a washing machine hose

Better to Hire a Pro

  • Major renovations or remodeling
  • Stopping specific water flow
  • Fixing sump pumps
  • Flooding
  • Infrastructural plumbing (internal / external)
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Swimming pool pump and piping systems

Finding the Right Professional

A plumbing professional should be fully insured according to your city and state’s regulations. Insurance covers any potential injuries to the professional and anyone on the crew for personal injuries — while most plumbing work is not in and of itself dangerous, there can be with accidents, particularly when wet surfaces are involved. And if the plumber needs to deal with the gas lines to your house, that presents its own risks too. Liability coverage protects your home and possessions from damage that may happen on the job, though you should also check your homeowner’s insurance policies to see what’s covered when it comes to plumbing related problems.

Ask friends and neighbors if they’ve worked with good plumbers in the past. And of course, a high star rating and good reviews usually indicates a reliable pro.

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