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Avoiding Cowboy Plumbers

The last thing you want when you have a plumbing job that needs doing is to hire the services of cowboy plumbers. These dishonest tradespeople regularly pass themselves off as reputable plumbers but then go on to provide sub-standard work for the price you pay. So how do you tell who is honest and who is the cowboy? The following 10 point guide will hopefully help you to decide:

  1. Reputable plumbers will be able to provide credentials and certificates if you ask for them. They may also show that they are members of the trade association ‘Institute of Plumbers’. There is no law to say that plumbers have to be members of the association, however, those that take pride in their work as honest plumbers will almost certainly have membership.
  2. When you ask for a written quotation, honest plumbers won’t have a problem providing one but cowboy plumbers may only offer a verbal quote or a scribbled note with some figures written on it and in these cases you should avoid using their services.
  3. You should also ask to see their Certificate of Public Liability Insurance. Any plumber without this type of insurance is sure to be a cowboy plumber.
  4. Most reputable plumbers will also be able to supply the names, addresses and phone numbers of past customers that are willing to vouch for the quality of their work. Cowboy plumbers on the other hand will probably make excuses why they can’t provide suitable references.
  5. Most tradespeople today, and this includes plumbers, offer a standard contract that guarantees the work they do in return for the agreed payment. Cowboy plumbers almost certainly won’t offer this extra service which means their work will in no way be guaranteed should something go wrong with it later on.
  6. Along with the standard contract, honest plumbers will also offer some form of insurance-backed warranty on the work that they do.
  7. Quality plumbers are normally booked up for weeks or even months in advance. This means that if a plumber says he can start tomorrow then he probably isn’t the kind of plumber that people recommend or return to for a second time.
  8. Good plumbers are often recommended by customers to their friends and family whereas cowboy plumbers aren’t. If someone you know recommends a plumber by name then he is probably worth taking a look at.
  9. When having plumbing work done, you shouldn’t be asked to pay anything in advance. If you are asked for payment up front then the plumber is probably a cowboy. The same goes if they ask for payment in cash and don’t offer a receipt for the money.
  10. Legitimate plumbers will be able to provide you with a business or home address and a land line phone number as well as their mobile number. If they can’t provide this information then you should look elsewhere.


With a bit of common sense and forethought it is quite easy to spot cowboy plumbers. Saying this, thousands of people fall prey to them every year and so it is advisable to use a recommended plumber before you go searching through the local phone book for one.

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding Cowboy Plumbers

  1. Although most of your comments are reasonable, some are based on the size of organisation, not on the competency of the plumber concerned. To provide a printed quotation, for example is indicative of a certain level of office infrastructure; an experienced plumber should be able to give a reasonably accurate price by looking at the work needed, if necessary scribbling some calculations on the proverbial back of an envelope.

    Small businesses will often need to ask for a deposit, especially if there is a significant amount of hardware to be bought. Some larger businesses will ask for a deposit for larger jobs too.

    Some of your suggestions are very “institutional”, relying on certification by trade associations and such.

    I would say that the most important comments are 10 and 8.

  2. I totally agree with Most of what you have said here. I am a Master plumber in the DFW, Texas area, trying to start my own business after putting in 23 years of working for” someone else”. I have every intention of providing an honest and forthright service to all of my customers at a reasonable rate, my morals will not allow me to do otherwise. There are always going to be people out there cutting corners and providing a sub-par product, like you said ,I recommend plumbers, or anyone else for that matter, referred to you by word of mouth, that is THE best ad anyone can place.
    But, please remember that we, as business men/women, are like everyone else and also have to protect ourselves from customers that can’t or won’t be satisfied as well. Basically all THESE people want is something done for free.
    Also, a deposit asked for “upfront” is not intended to rip people off, it is to protect the business from non payment for services rendered, that way you know if they can’t pay THAT part of the bill, most likely they can’t pay the rest either. As there is no way to repo work already done ( illegal in my state) this is really the only protection we have , liens on property are worthless and expensive to file and maintain.
    If aman isn’t willing to stand behind his work, then you are correct, he isn’t worth hiring.

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