"The bigger complaints we found, first of all, was just lousy work," said Kevin Brasler of checkbook.org.
Brasler and the undercover shoppers at Consumers' Checkbook, checked up on 80 local plumbers throughout the Puget Sound region. They got direct feedback from customers.
"A lot of plumbers rate quite highly actually," Brasler said. "About half rated pretty well."
Companies are rated based on promptness, accuracy in completing the work the first time, advance disclosure of costs, complaints with the attorney general's office and price. The undercover price checks produced quite a range in quotes. For example, to provide and install an new Badger 5 garbage disposer, the quotes ranged from a low of $200 to a high of $589. The average quote was $305. Keep in mind, pricing factors include overhead and other operating cost- but there was no direct relation between price and quality. In fact some companies with the highest hourly rates got some of the worst ratings across the board.
Brasler says it's important to get at least three quotes for the exact same project. And make sure the sure the quotes are complete. Some companies may offer what sounds like a great rate, but they switch the deal once they show up.
"How much are they going to charge to show up?" Brasler warns. "That minimum service charge, what does it cover? Does it cover the first hour that they're there? Does it just cover the travel time to get there? Does it cover just diagnosis and then they're going to write you up a price? And what are the hourly rates?"
Plumbers say you can avoid a holiday disposal emergency by simply keeping the culprits out of your garbage disposal. Celery, carrot and potato peels are a disposal's worst enemies. Same goes for corn husks and silks, onion skins and animal bones. Plumbers also warn against coffee grounds, egg shells, cooked pasta and rice -- which expand in the drain -- fruit pits and grease.
Again the Checkbook team rated 80 local plumbers. Some got top ratings for price. Some got top ratings for quality. But only 13 got Checkbook's top ratings for both. And based on the ratings there are some companies listed here that you might want to avoid. The key is to find a good plumber before you ever need one so you're not a sitting duck.
Checkbook.org is a non-profit, subscriber based organization that reviews businesses and services. As a special service to KOMO viewers, the link for the Local Plumbers Ratings will be available for free until Nov. 21 Just enter your email address to get access to the full report.