The question of what constitutes emergency plumbing is an interesting one. It is also important for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the most broad definition, and its application.
Here in California we have a law that states that any time someone comes to your home to sell you a good or service that is valued at over $300, you have the right to cancel that transaction within 3 working days after signing the contract. That means that if someone comes to your home and you buy a vacuum cleaner from them (for more than $300), you can notify the seller in writing that you wish to cancel the sale up to 3 full working days after you bought it. The seller, by law, must accept the vacuum back and issue a full refund of the purchase price (without penalty). The same is true for a plumber that performs more than $300 in service.
Unfortunately for the plumber, if you should cancel that transaction, you cannot “return” the service. In this case the company must still provide you with a full refund. In some cases, such as water heater replacements, the company can opt to uninstall the new unit, but only if they reinstall your old unit. Most companies will not do that, so you will usually wind up with a free service, and the company eats the costs.
Since most plumbing companies do not survive by doing free work, they will ask you to sign a “Waiver of Right to Cancel”. Here is the catch: you can only waive your right to cancel the transaction if the repair is needed to remedy an emergency situation. On the cancellation waiver will be verbiage that states that you have an emergency situation that requires immediate attention. In this case, the term “emergency plumbing” takes on a very loose definition. For the sake of signing the waiver, something as simple as “need to use toilet” will suffice.
Now, some people will become wary when presented by this waiver, as they may fear that it leaves them with no recourse should they be dissatisfied with the work. Be assured that this is not the case. They are still bound by their licensing authority to provide the service that they are contracted to provide in a workmanlike and professional manor. Others may be concerned that by stating their need as an emergency, they are bound to continue to consider the problem as an emergency.
The fact is that in the case of declaring a plumbing problem an emergency for the sake of the cancellation waiver, “emergency” only means that you do not want to wait 4 days to have the problem addressed. That is all. Once that is decided, we look at the more commonly accepted definition of emergency plumbing repairs.
The reason that I want you to change gears here is because there are plumbers out there that will misuse “emergency”. Just because a company may authorize a 10% discount to get started today, does not mean that your plumbing job that is not really an emergency suddenly becomes one! When deciding whether or not a job should be considered an emergency plumbing repair, there are a few questions that need to be asked. Ask yourself these questions, and if you do not know the answer, ask the plumber:
- Is the __________ completely unusable until the repair is made?
- Can I live with the __________ in its current state until I have had time to think/save/compare/etc.?
- Does the _______ in its current state risk the health of myself or others?
- Does the current state of _________ risk damage to things that are of worth to me?
- If not addressed immediately, are the answers to #3 or #4 likely to become “yes”, and if so, how soon?
- Do the benefits of getting the work done right away, far outweigh the benefits of comparing estimates, getting a second opinion, further researching, etc.?
The answers to those questions will let you know very quickly whether or not you have a true emergency plumbing situation. The good news is that if you have followed the advice in my other articles, you will already have a plumber that you trust that will help you decide whether or not the problem you are facing is an immediate need, or something that can hold off for a bit. One thing that my customers grew accustom to hearing was, “this is not an emergency or anything, so it doesn’t need to be done today, but the next time you call me out, it will likely be to fix this. If you have the time and the budget to have me take care of it today, it will save you the service call fee for having to call me back out later to fix it.” A true professional will always be honest with you and create a win/win for both of you for every situation. That, in and of itself, will help to eliminate future plumbing emergencies.