Handymen and contractors — they’ll both work on your property, but which should you call, and for which jobs?
We want to be clear, we intend no disrespect to handymen when we say this, but in our opinion, all plumbing, sewer and gas lines should be handled by a professional plumber. We’ll explain why, but first, let’s be clear, when it comes to tackling many smaller projects at once, such as re-tiling a shower, or re-hanging a door, hiring a handyman to tackle a list of many projects is probably fine.
Handymen are often useful because they’re versatile and flexible. We can think of them as “generalists” in this way, especially compared to the specialized knowledge that comes with being a professional plumber.
This distinction, between having generalized knowledge, and specialized expertise, matters to the state as well, and is why states have legal requirements for plumbing, sewer and gas line work.
When the chance of a small failure could mean a substantial amount of damage, and loss in property value, or contamination of the environment, it makes sense that states would make such strict requirements surround plumbing, sewers, and gas lines.
Licenses, Warranties & Legal Requirements
One clear difference between a handyman and a plumber is that a plumber knows how to meet the local zoning and code requirements, an assurance guaranteed by the state, so much so that they can pull permits. Licenses and insurances guarantee that critical work will be done properly, or if it fails, there is a clear method for making recompense. Many plumbing products also come with warranties, warranties that are only valid if they were installed by a licensed plumbing contractor.
Licenses and bonds are essential for accountability, as they offer assurance from the state that the contractor is capable of meeting the legal requirements for the job. Plumbers must be licensed in most US states (46 out of 50; exceptions include Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming), whereas requirements for a handyman are often a lot more lax. That being said, here in California, handymen are required to obtain a contractor’s license, if they’re self-employed.
Want to know more about your area’s licensing requirements for contractors and handymen? Type the name of your state, and “plumbers license requirements,” into Google, and scan the results. Look for a web page ending in “.gov” that lists your state’s licensing board. For example, here is the licensing board information to become a C-36, licensed plumbing contractor for California:
Insurance is critical in case of emergency, or unexpected failure. If you hire a handyman to work on your plumbing, and a leak forms, who will pay for the damage? This is a question you should ask yourself before hiring a handyman to work on critical parts of your home.
Many fixtures and pieces of plumbing hardware come with warranties, as well, but those warranties are only good if the parts were installed by a licensed and certified plumbing contractor.
Specialized Knowledge & Equipment
Most handymen and licensed plumbers also have different levels of training, and education, especially in the area of plumbing. In addition to years of apprenticeship, and on the job training, many plumbers maintain expertise in their field by attending continuing professional education, as part of their career. New technologies are constantly emerging, in every industry, the plumbing industry is no different, and realistically speaking, while a handyman is useful for many projects, only a specialized contractor can keep up with the constantly shifting and changing licensing requirements in the specialized field of plumbing.
Tools of the trade matter, a great deal, as well. Consider, for example, many handyman own a common sewer auger, or “plumber’s snake,” but not all sewer augur’s are the same. Professional plumbers often use larger cabling, with more powerful motors in their augurs, for a more thorough sewer line and drain cleaning. That being said, we’re always quick to recommend hydro jetting, for the maximum cost effectiveness in drain cleaning results.
Professional plumbers also useful diagnostic tools, such as fiber optic sewer line cameras, which allow for precise inspection of the inside of sewer lines and pipes. These tools can save property owners thousands of dollars.
Handymen Save Money… Or Do They?
On paper, it may seem like hiring a handyman and not a plumber might save some money, but consider this: without specialized knowledge and experience, a handyman is going to need to spend more time on a job than a professional who knows exactly how to handle a plumbing emergency. You might even need to acquire new tools for the handyman to use, tools which will not frequently be used (wasteful).
We mentioned before, some states limit what jobs can be done by handymen -- the reason for these prohibitions is because of what’s really at stake: bad plumbing work done by someone who isn’t a professional plumber can cause disasters in your home. This could set you up for expensive damages to your property. To make matters worse, some insurances won’t cover damage to property if the cause was an unlicensed worker.
For these reasons, in the end, we always recommend working with a licensed plumbing contractor for any plumbing, sewer, or gas line related needs.
Peace of Mind
In our professional opinion, calling a plumber is ideal for all circumstances related to plumbing.
In addition to the special tools that typically only a licensed professional works with, plumbers have the training required to ensure everyone’s safety is assured. When un-licensed contractors use professional equipment, they put everyone’s safety at risk. Many home and business owners contact plumbers because they know that the job will be done in a professional manner and in accordance with all safety and plumbing codes.
So, by all means, please continue to hire your favorite handyman for things like re-tiling showers, painting and hanging doors. However, for anything involving water, sewer or gas pipes, especially behind the walls of your property, please work with a licensed and insured, professional plumber.