Most profitable plumbing jobs?
December 26, 2008 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What particular types of calls do plumbers earn the most profit on?

I'm not a plumber... just trying to figure out what niches are the most profitable for them, i.e. Replacing water heaters? Remodeling kitchens? Restaurant maintenance?

It's for marketing research and I don't have ready access to a plumber.
posted by BirdD0g to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not a professionally licensed plumber, but I have in the past worked with a friend who was a master plumber and owned his own plumbing company. We did mostly new construction, because at the time there was plenty of it and it's clean, quick work that's easy to lay out and budget. In terms of dollars vs time, installing hot water heaters was extremely profitable. We subbed for Lowe's and did their installs. With the right equipment and a little trip planning, we could do five or six installs in a day, depending on driving distance. We were only limited by the number of units we could pack in the truck. That was probably the easiest money we made.

Home maintenance makes decent money, but it's a double-edged sword: you might have a call that requires you to replace a single leaky faucet and takes ten minutes, or you might run into a nightmare of busted pipes and brown water that takes a week of ugly, smelly, dirty work.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:48 PM on December 26, 2008

The plumber that I knew earned the most profit on midnight emergency calls, as he used a higher labor rate after normal business hours. His particular everyday niche was new restaurant build outs and construction.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:27 PM on December 26, 2008

I don't know if this is the case where you are, but in the UK there are various required qualifications for plumbers and heating engineers. Plumbing a toilet and fitting a boiler are very different and require you to be certified at different levels. A central heating engineer therefore tends to charge more than a taps-and-toilets plumber.

Remodelling a kitchen is not something most plumbers do; the plumber, unless he or she is also a carpenter/tiler/painter/electrician, usually just puts in the pipes and connects the gas.

The less scrupulous types may increase profits in other ways. I had one quote from a heating engineer where the cost of the boiler was quoted at three times what it should have been (I checked boiler prices before getting the quote). Many homeowners have little idea what a boiler costs because it's not something you see every day at the store.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:38 PM on December 26, 2008

quick and easy emergency calls. most service people have an emergency call deal of "minimum X hours billing" where X is usually 1 or 2. so if you've got something that's a quick easy half hour fix and you get to bill 2 hours of off-hours emergency work for it? easy. profitable. and probably annoying since it was off hours and you were using those hours for somethign else.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:53 PM on December 26, 2008

Best answer: I work for a plumbing contractor. We generally do new and remodel commercial construction, but wind up doing most repairs and residential remodels for the actual owners of general contracting companies. *Any* emergency, and we're not making much money.

I also have a friend who does cash-and carry work - emergency and remodel. The best money is replacing the cast-iron stack in a gut-remodel house with plastic. For a single stack, with kitchen on one side and restroom on the other, from the basement up through the roof, a common charge for a licensed plumber is 1800 dollars. It takes, from putting your vehicle in park to putting it in drive, four hours for two men. You do the math - the material is about 350.
posted by notsnot at 5:52 PM on December 26, 2008

Plumber we had over a while back said that he really loved jewelry-down-sink calls. They typically get billed as emergencies, often involve nothing more than finding and opening the nearest trap, and people don't bicker too much when you've just saved the day.

Of course, when he came to our place all he did was blame the problem on the furnace guy, so I hope "somebody else's problem" calls for which he still gets to charge an hour's time are a close second.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:16 AM on December 27, 2008

I would think it's any time a plumber has a minimum billing rate and can get that job done inside that time. Or if he's working on some kind of a cost-plus basis- customer pays for travel time, part-run time, etc.

I know people in the construction industry, and just generally, the most profitable jobs were the 200 houses in a former corn field sorts of jobs. Or at least had the most potential for profit. The reason was that unlike most other jobs, you aren't solving new problems. The job estimator knows that it takes x hours to do the job and correctly bids based on that. In a one-off scenario, its a gamble. But doing the same job over and over, the workers will find ways to become more and more efficient. Depending on the skill of the foreman, this can save hundreds of hours over the course of the job and that's pure profit.

Similarly, specialization. Only do repairs on existing construction, or only do HVAC, etc. There's plenty of work, and you'll have a leg up on the competition.

Cynically, I'd say that the most profitable work is where a plumber has a customer who takes them at their expert word, does what he says he is going to do, but doesn't give any bigger picture solutions.


Customer: My water heater is leaking!
Plumber: Actually, it's just this pipe leaking, you don't need to buy a whole new water heater. I can replace the pipe for $200, or just use one of these stop leak fixer things for $50. I've never had one start leaking again, but if it does, we will have to replace the whole pipe.
Customer: Great, wow, you are so honest, I was worried that I'd have to replace my water heater. I'll take the $50 gamble.

And it all works out. What the plumber didn't tell the customer was that the water heater is old and its anode is gone, and that's why the pipe started leaking. That same pipe is going to keep developing leaks, and eventually the water heater is going to fail. And the customer trusts him, so the plumber is going to generate 3 or 4 separate service calls by failing to mention (or investigate) that root problem. Nothing unethical in that, but building a practice like that will be far more profitable than having to go out and find new customers.
posted by gjc at 12:41 PM on December 27, 2008

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