Monday, December 01, 2008

Smart People: Get On This

So the kitchen sink gets all floody and starts to flow into the dishwasher and there's water everywhere and ick.

After my own feeble "let's check the trap" plan yields nothing, we call the plumber. Because that's what you do, right? Of course it is.

So the guy shows up, says he'll fix it for x amount of money but also says we have another leaky hose that indicates a larger replacement being necessary for y amount more of money. And x+y = huge pile of money.

We do what you might do: tell the guy to do the x fix and not the y fix. It's a ton of money and also it just feels like he's piling things on (he also tried to sell us $65 worth of organic solvent stuff, no sale) the way you would expect a plumber to do.

And I'm thinking, what do honest plumbers do when a customer really needs something extra done but that customer is so conditioned to plumbers being dishonest that the customer refuses to believe it? It's not like you can say, "No really, you have to listen to me, I'm honest." We saw how well that worked when Nixon said he wasn't a crook.

Instead, customers like me with no real knowledge of plumbing are in a position to judge the veracity and merit of what a professional plumber is telling me. I still think he was piling on (there may be a wee tiny leak but not y dollars' worth) but I only think that because I'm me, with my checkbook, with my no idea about plumbing, and I'm in charge.

There must be a better way of doing business than this. A way of repairing the plumbing image, of educating homeowners, of having an independent third party who would not profit from repairs acting as arbiter in the situation. It's like car buying, it's just all broken. We can put a man on the moon. Although we haven't done so in some time and, if we are to believe terrible OJ Simpson movies from long ago, never even did that in the first place.

UPDATE: Hmm. So after agreeing to clean out the drain for x dollars, dude struggles for a while and then announces he can't do it. He thinks it's because he didn't bring the right tool. And then-- THEN-- he wants to get paid. And Jill is like, well, huh?, No! She calls the plumbing company, dude leaves, and they dispatch a new guy. New guy shows up, does the drain clearing for 60% of the first guy's price and also makes the leak go away with a little tightening here and there.

Now it gets weird. The new guy, the awesome guy, was not an employee of the original plumbing company, just another plumber they called out in a pinch. This conversation then occurred (paraphrased):

JILL: So what company do you work for?
GUY: I can't tell you that?
JILL: Wha-- why not?
GUY: I just can't.
JILL: Are you not supposed to tell me? Are you under orders from the plumbing company I called?
GUY: I ca--
JILL: How about this: can I follow you out to your truck and right down the name that it says on the side of your truck?
GUY: Well I can't stop you.

So that's our new plumber.



Christopher said...

I think the only practical solution is to go to plumbing school. Maybe you can take night courses.

I suppose you might also check with the local Home Depot/Lowe's et al, and see if they do basic plumbing workshops.

Ben A said...

You should have voted for McCain. Then Joe the Plumber would have saved us all.

Glenn Fleishman said...

First off, there's nothing in the parts of the system you describe that should cost a lot of money. There's a trap in most dishwashers, and then a hose that feeds into a disposal (in my house) or into a U trap in a sink. If you're getting stuff backed up, you clean the U trap, which is horrible and disgusting, and sometimes you can just use Drain O for that. Replacing a hose should also be cheap.

Your intuition is likely right, that you're being ripped off, except it's possible that you have some ugly/bad dishwasher installation, and it means the plumber is going to spend 3 or 4 hours on his back under the sink disassembling crud to get to the parts he needs to replace, in which case spending "large pile" ($200? $400?) is totally worth it as you would ruin your back and the plumbing and have to call a plumber anyway during which period you'd have no working kitchen sink and dishwasher.

Also, your drains might be backed up. Happened to us.

Second, use social networking for things like this. After repeated erratic experiences with tradesmen and -women, my wife and I adopted a mandatory policy of only using tradespeople referred to us by other people or, at worst, by sites like Judy's Book or Yelp; and requiring 2 to 3 references that we call and quiz.

This has worked universally well. Any tradesperson from whom we were unable to get references, we simply won't hire. In the one case where we almost hired a friend to do a project, and he turned out to be a flake, we actually should have checked his references (which would have been offensive, I'm sure, but it would have allowed us to figure out the problem before it escalated).

We have hired a good dozen contractors since establishing this policy, and we have had a good experience with each of them. We no longer feel like we're being ripped off.

This might feel like overkill for an appliance repair, but you're likely going to need various appliances repaired over the years.

Scott Chicken said...

And to pile on to Glenn, third, that was the faked MARS landing. Not the Moon. I mean, clearly we can put a man on the moon...a window cleaner and his dog can make the trip in a rocket lit by a match. Mars, on the other hand, was faked. Because we knew the natives were dangerous and unintelligible (really, what the hell does "Ack Ack Ack" mean?), and we hadn't tested out yodeling Slim Whitman as a WMD yet.

Oh, and on the plumbers, we landed on a company through trial and error in the Web 0.0 days. Now we do the Yelp / ask friends thing.

emily said...

i would be really grateful if you'd change "right" to "write" in the jill/guy dialog. it gives me a nasty case of cognitive dissonance. thanks!

bonnie said...

Only one Joe the Plumber crack?

bonnie said...

Er, I mean crack like in joke, not crack like in...


ohhhh, never mind.

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