This modern day 'knight' of the urban realm can be hero or cowboy depending on the one you get. The secret with employing a plumber as with any other trademan, is to be clear what they are doing and what the cost is for each bit.

The consumer watchdog Which gives some useful tips on what to look out for. They warn about the practice of marking up on materials. Whilst less common than it used to be, many plumbers still add on 10-20% onto material costs they have bought at a discount from a merchant. This is fine if they can get the goods at a price less than you, particularly in the respect that it also saves you the time and effort of having to purchase the goods yourself. However, on big 'ticket' items such as boilers or shower units, you could save up to 10-20% yourself by shopping around or sourcing them from the internet. In these cases it would be worth buying separately and then paying the plumber just to fit it. However, be careful. Unless you know what you are doing it is very easy to end up with the wrong 'spec' or not all the parts that the plumber needs. In this situation they are not going to be impressed to then find they have to go round the merchant to get a few parts because of a mistake on your part or that they have an inferior and difficult bit of 'kit' to fit because of your bargain hunting! These additional charges could all find there way onto your bill, particularly if you only asked for an estimate rather than a written quote.

Watch out for the call out charge, especially if it's evening or weekend. Frequently a plumber might appear to have a reasonable hourly rate, only to reveal at the end a hefty call out charge which effectively doubles the cost for the job if it is only a small one. Some plumbers dont charge a call out rate but will charge more for the first hour which effectively acts a call out fee.

Rates that plumbers charge can vary enormously not only nationally but within the same town. Therefore trying to identify accurately a standard rate for a service is very difficult. In my home town of Nottingham I can pay £ 35 for a gas safety check on a gas hob and boiler or £ 75 for exactly the same job. The motto is shop around.

Which has highlighted a range of reasonable rates for plumbers across the country. The range is calculated by ignoring the 25% most expensive and 25% cheapest quotes.

PLUMBING Rates Typical & reasonable rates

Region First hour / Typical costs

East Anglia 35-40 / 25-50

Midlands 25-50 / 25-35

North-East & Yorkshire25-48 / 20-30

North-West 30-50 / 18-25

Scotland 28-43 / 22-35

South-East & London 35-55 / 35-50

South-West 29-45 / 20-35

Wales 30-40 / 25-35

Nationally 30-50 / 25-40

Which also asked a leading DIY expert set out the average time taken to do a standard range of plumbing tasks.
These are listed below.

INSTALLATION

Description Time

Outside tap 2 hours

Bedroom washbasin in vanity unit5-6 hours

Gas hob 2 hours

REPLACING

Dishwasher 1 hour

Two taps on pedestal washbasin 2-3 hours

A toilet 3-4 hours

A standard kitchen sink 2-3 hours

Radiator 2 hours

Thermocouple on a boiler 1 hour

As well as the very basic plumbing repairs many landlords, particularly ones that are refurbishing property require more substantial work such as carrying out a replacement to the central heating system or a new boiler. In which case, developer landlords should have a look at the latest publication from the Building Cost Information Service BCIS. This sets out a whole range of costs associated with domestic properties. The book entitled the Property Makeover Price Guide contains a whole range of prices from changing a tap to building a small extension. It is available from BCIS LINK for £ 17.99 is well worth the investment for any budding investor / developer.

An example of some of the costs contained within the book are given below:

Replace heating system (excluding pipework) – £ 3620 – £ 5720

Wall mounted boiler, single and double panel radiators, wall thermostat and programmer (clockwork programmer)

Replace heating system (including pipework) – £ 5250 – £ 8610

Wall mounted boiler, single and double panel radiators, wall thermostat and programmer (clockwork programmer)

Replace boiler, radiators & general

Replace wall mounted boiler, including draining down system & connecting flue and pipework – £ 1410

Replace single panel 600 * 1800mm radiator including reconnection & balancing – £ 295

Replace double panel 600 * 1600mm radiator including reconnection and balancing – £ 435

Replace thermostatic radiator valve – £ 100

Replace wall thermostat – £ 80

Replace programmer (clockwork) – £ 185

Clean system with powerflush – £ 355

Overhaul storage heaters, inc inspecting fusible link, replace thermostat, resetting thermal cutout and checking cable and testing – £ 125

Which has provided some top tips for finding a good plumber:

* Ask friends or family for someone they can recommend.

* Get at least 3 quotes. Ask for a quote on the whole job.

* It's best to use a member of a trade association, but don't take the plumbers word they are a member. Double check with the association.

* Get at least three quotes. Ask for a quote for the whole job as well as the hourly rate including the first hour or call-out charge.

* Ask how long the job will take. If one person tells you ten minutes while another indicates it could be hours, you'll know something is wrong.

* Check the prices include VAT.

* If a plumber wants to inspect the work before giving a price, make sure they don't charge for this.

* Before hiring a plumber, get a written quote with a fixed price.

Trade associations offer more protection
The main trade association for plumbers with 12,000 members, is the Institute of Plumbers and Heating Engineers (IPHE). Other bodies include the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) in England & Wales and the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers' Federation (SNIPEF) can give lists of members near you.

The benefits
Unlike an ombudsman scheme, these associations don't offer a fully inclusive investigation if things go wrong. But they do offer a complaints system. If you make a complaint against a IPHE member, for example, it will, if required, send an inspector round to inspect the quality of the job done.

APHC and SNIPEF both offer a warranty for work carried out. If the work isn't satisfactory the warranty means they'll cover the costs to rectify faulty work.

A final tip from the Property Hawk team, ever thought of learning Polish?

Plumbers – How Much? – UK Landlords