Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mr. Rooter Makes Alaska Plumbers Seem Like A Bargain

We got into LA at midnight, got to my mom's and went to bed.  The next morning when I got up the plumber was coming in.  The caregiver had called because the shower knob wasn't working right and the kitchen faucet was leaking.  I'm thinking, I could do this myself, but, ok, let the plumber do it.

He shows me the agreement to sign.  $988! 

"What?! This is for real?" I asked.  "Even in Alaska this would be very high."  They were going to go buy the parts and come back. 

"The parts don't cost that much.  I'll go to the hardware store and get them."

"OK"  he says, "that will make it much cheaper.  I'll refigure the estimate."

He comes back after a while having recalculated the bill.  Now it's only $488. 

"It was $500 for parts?"  I asked incredulously.  "That leaves almost another $500 for labor?  Even if it takes you an hour for each faucet, that's almost $250 an hour."

He points out that since my mom is a member of Mr. Rooter, there's a discount for that, and also a 15% senior discount.  That was already taken off the bill!

"OK, I'll get the parts and call you back."

Silver faucet pops up out of pipe and leaks
I drove to B&B Hardware.  They're a crazy old time hardware store.   I ask for the someone to help with plumbing and they point me to guy who's helping another customer in Spanish.  He turns out to be from Peru. When she's done, I explain what I need.  I took pictures so I show him the kitchen sink issue first.  This part pops up when you turn the water on.

He pulls out a demo of that wall mounted fixture and shows me the part.

"Mine doesn't have this red o-ring."
"That's what keeps it from popping up."   Long story short, he finds an o-ring that sells for 40 cents.   Yes, 40 cents.  Then he gets what I need for the shower.  That's a lot more expensive - $8.95.

In the picture you can see two grooves.  The lower one has a black O-ring.  The upper one has nothing.  That's what was missing. 

I go home and get the kitchen sink fixed in eight minutes.  The shower is a little trickier because an old screw is rusted into the old fixture.  So I can't secure the new faucet handle in with a screw. But I made a few adjustments and the shower handle fits on and works.  I may do a little more work late.

But for under $10 and less than two hours, this amateur plumber, fixed what the 'professional'  plumber said would cost $988.

In my opinion, that borders on criminal.  Get little old ladies (my mom's 92) and get a cute young, sweet talking salesman to accompany the plumber, and presto, lots of bucks.  Add in guarantees - for who knows how much extra - and senior discounts, and you quickly convince these folks who really don't understand plumbing, that you are giving them a bargain when you're making huge, evil profits. 

I don't even want to think about how much my mom has paid to Mr. Rooter before.

On the up side, I saved her $990, which is more than cost of our trip down here.  And I met Fernando, who was very helpful, and he will come out to my mom's if she has any other plumbing problems.  He said he was flying several times a year to Peru when his mom was older, so he understands. 


  1. So how do you suppose that missing o-ring went missing? That seems a little strange, but what do I know?
    Obtaining a 50% discount because you able to ask a few questions means it was a good thing you were asking questions.

    Is there something rotten at Roto-Rooter? Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune Updated: February 12, 2011 - 11:01 PM The city investigates seven complaints that the plumbing giant used unfair tactics to get business in Minneapolis.

    Whistleblower: Minneapolis police investigate fraud claims at Roto-Rooter Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET and ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune Updated: October 21, 2011 - 2:33 PM The company and a subcontractor are accused of doing unnecessary repairs.

    Class action lawsuit claims Roto-Rooter bills customers for unnecessary work Consumers say plumbing company falsely assessed repairs, overcharged for services

    What do I know about these claims? I wonder if this could be verified in any way? Roto Rooter - more terrible truths behind roto rooter
    I also wanted to tell everyone that roto rooter prides themselves on having the best techs in the industry, but no one knows that alot of the techs at roto rooter had no previous experience prior to coming here.We have a roto rooter university where we take people off the streets and turn them into plumbers.

    The school is taught not by a senior tech, but our shop/parts guy. A guy with little to no experience in his 20's. 13 weeks training and they put you out on the road to work. Also under the new pay plan these rookie techs come in making the same money as senior techs.17-23% commision per job.

    This company has no loyalty to its techs and a "what have you did for me lately" type of attitude. Also speaking of little to no experience, our regonal manager in our company used to be a regional manager for toys r us! ! Talk about screwed up from the top down!

    This seems shocking.
    State cracks down on Roto-Rooter’s practices after Middleboro man’s lawsuit

    By Marc Larocque
    Posted Aug. 14, 2012 @ 12:01 am
    Updated Aug 14, 2012 at 2:03 PM


    A Middleboro man who filed a lawsuit against pipe cleaning and plumbing company Roto-Rooter feels like he’s received some vindication.

    Kristian Pedersen, 39, was one of three co-workers who originally filed a lawsuit against his former employer in 2010, claiming that Roto-Rooter was assigning unaccompanied apprentices to do work that they were not licensed to do. Now, as a result of Pedersen’s allegations, the company is on the receiving end of some disciplinary action from the state of Massachusetts.

    The state Division of Professional Licensure announced on Friday that the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters approved disciplinary action against Nurotoco of Massachusetts of Stoughton, which operates commercially as Roto-Rooter. The Division of Professional Licensure said that the board and Roto-Rooter entered into a consent agreement under which Roto-Rooter will need to obtain additional corporate licenses, institute new operating procedures and pay a $1,500 fine.

    “It was pretty cool to be vindicated like this,” Pedersen said. “Roto-Rooter operated as if these rules don’t apply to them anymore. They have been caught completely red-handed now.”

  2. Easy pickings, I guess.

    This is a problem found in every labour activity, whether materials or time. Look at the trust we placed in accountancy before the financial crime wave of the last decade. Let me remind us of brokers, bankers and other bandits of high finance. The bicycle shop that 'repairs' your bike with a used part rather than a new part. Your local attorney who charges high-profit rates for standard documents that are incredibly easy to prepare. It all helps the bottom line, doesn't it? Heck, an established artist does the same thing in producing 'signature' work.

    The explicit expectation is we agree to pay for solutions using acquired skills in direct relation to complexity of the task set before the hireling.

    In London, the expected constraints created by market competition break down readily -- there are so many tradespeople, so many that can pick up and move on, reputations mean little, skills difficult to assess. So prevalent is the abuse within this scenario, there's a name for the result -- 'cowboy builders'.

    As Eugene would say at a moment like this -- considering your mother's situation of age and independence -- 'That person wasn't raised right'. It was a favourite expression of Eugene's mother. It's so simple and so difficult for us to face up to an important truth: How we treat others is how we see the world.

    Good on you for your work, Steve. All mothers today thank you.

    [NB: typed and edited within this blog environment, mistakes and all]

  3. My mom had a leaking sewer pipe between the upstairs apartment and the basement. I got a reliable plumber I knew to give an estimate, about $300 to fix it.

    The next week I drove by the house and there was a big pile of old used pipe in the driveway. The plumbing company that I knew had been ripping her off for years was in the process of doing a complete $10,000 (!) replumbing of the entire house! Copper water pipe (less durable and far more expensive to install than PEX) and cast iron sewer pipe (less durable and more expensive than PVC).

    She had gotten a home equity loan from her bank to get the work done.

    I bought the house 2 years later, after she had died. And now, 12 years after the ripoffs overcharged here, that sewer pipe is leaking again.

    And those SOBs also sold her a new furnace like her old one, instead of something more energy efficient. They'll never set foot in this house again.

  4. That was really strange! It shouldn’t cost you that much, if the only problem you had was the shower handle and slight leak in the faucet. Anyway, that kind of repair is easy to do, so you don’t have to bother about calling a plumber. At the very least, you didn't have to worry about labor costs afterwards.

    Steve Beliveau @ First Class Inspections


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