Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The best of times and the worst of times

Last fall, back when I was having the house tested for mold, the guy pointed out that my toilet was rocking and he detected water under the floor in that area. The toilet was rocking when I moved into the house, so Bill and I replaced the wax ring, which was such a gross project that I never wrote about it here. The toilet was still rocking after replacing the wax ring, so I shimmed it with some coins, but that didn't fix it either.

So I bit the bullet and hired a plumber for the first time. I looked on Angie's List even though I don't find it useful. Everyone gets an A+ on Angie's List, no?

"He came and completed the work he said he would. A+!"

It's not great for finding the best of the best and I've felt pressured in the past to leave them a glowing review when their work was just average.

So I picked someone from the multitudes boasting A's all across the board and settled on Nichols Plumbing. He fixed the toilet, which required replacing the lead outflow pipe with an ABS pipe, installing a new flange, and adding a flange repair kit, which drove screws down into our tile.

Have you ever noticed that when someone is charging you by the half-hour they talk a LOT?

Anyway, our toilet no longer rocks. Then, as he stood in my kitchen with hands black from toilet gunk, he placed both hands on my white walls and leaned. So I get to bleach and touch up the paint there. Why do repair people do this?

Because he had forgotten to put me on his calendar he was two hours late to arrive, which meant he couldn't do the second part of the job, installing a line for our ice maker. Four years ago I paid the extra $100 to get a fridge with an ice maker, even though there wasn't a line installed to supply the water. I was so poor at the time that making that decision felt like Sophie's Choice. I could've run the line myself but it would probably take me all weekend. As long as I was hiring a plumber to come out, I thought it made sense to have him do it.

So the guy had to come back out two days later. He initially wanted to just punch a hole through my kitchen floor and run the line that way. I told him I wanted a wall recessed unit with a shut off valve. Buddy, I can inelegantly punch a hole in my own damn floor. I'm hiring a professional because I want this to look good.

Then he suggested installing the unit here, to the left of the fridge. So when you entered through our kitchen door (as most people do) it would be staring you in the face.

So I was like, "How about we install it BEHIND the refrigerator?" You know, where people can't see it?

Then I micromanaged him about how he was going to create the hole in my wall, since we have lathe and plaster. I encouraged him to use a Fein tool like Chris did when he made this perfect hole.

He got out two different stud sensors, made a bunch of pen marks on my wall, then told me he couldn't find my studs and it wouldn't be his fault if he had to open up the whole wall. So I pulled out my stud finder and figured out where they were. I told him, "Open the wall right here. If there's not a stud, it's my fault." And lo, there was a stud!

He did not do such a good job making a hole in my wall. In his defense, he's not a carpenter. Plumbers are notorious for doing whatever is easiest for them, even if it means driving holes through structural beams or creating safety or aesthetic issues. But I was still disappointed.

He got the line run and installed the recessed unit, then tried to hide the chunks taken out of the plaster with caulk.

I know, that's not in the skill set of a plumber but it still bothered me. As we were settling up the bill the pricing we'd agreed on two days prior changed from a flat fee to an hourly fee. He started rambling through the breakdown of the charges and I was like, "I don't care! Just tell me how much I owe you." Then he says, "So I need to know. Are you going to write me a negative review on Angie's List? Because you can see that I didn't charge you for when I had to run and buy that part."

This made me totally uncomfortable. It felt akin to your waitress dropping off your bill and asking, "So are you going to leave me a big or a small tip?" It's unprofessional.

I tried to avoid his question by asking a different question, then went back to filling out the check. He asked AGAIN, "So, are you going to write me a bad review on Angie's List?" and I said, "I don't know." I actually hate writing bad reviews. You never know if you got someone on an off day, or if you're being unreasonable with your requests. I wouldn't want to work for me--I'm super annoying. I wasn't planning on leaving a review at all until he started pressuring me.

I left a mediocre review explaining that everything works but nothing looks terribly good. I gave him a C on everything but punctuality and professionalism. I don't ever want to be the cause of someone losing their livelihood or their health insurance.

I submitted the review, started worrying that the plumber would come to my house with a gun, then discovered that our ice maker was not working, and then something went *pop* in my brain. Greg came home to take me to the airport, only to find me incredibly agitated about the whole situation. He told me he'd look at it this weekend, which was what I was hoping for.

Greg is as handy as the next guy (as long as that guy isn't Norm Abram) but he works long hours, sometimes 70 a week, which means while I play in the garden all weekend he's usually sitting in front of his computer. He doesn't enjoy home improvement or have the time for it. And yet!

He fixed it.

I got a text while at my niece's party from Greg with a picture of our ice bucket. I nearly wept. Apparently the electrical connection had come loose in the back, next to where the water line goes in.

Very long story short: plumbers stress me out, Angie's List is worthless, my boyfriend is the best, and as soon as I recover from stroking out on Friday, we're making Manhattans. Because our freezer makes ice now. I'm pretty sure this is what Obama meant by "winning the future."

Manhattan drinkers: have you tried Bulleit's rye whiskey yet? It makes a dangerously delicious Manhattan. I'm obsessed with it.


  1. This might make you feel better:

    Essentially it's a study that finds that "experts" and professionals need negative feedback to get better. They grow accustomed to positive feedback and eventually tune it out.

    I can't wait for the day that stop turning every mistake over and over again inside my head.

  2. That makes me feel better about harping on him about mucking up all my walls--thank you!

  3. Contractors are a crap shoot. The same guy can do a *wonderful* job on time, and a total fail the next. The chimney guy I worked with did great work - but then he hired some helpers who damaged the flashing to the point where the next big storm resulted in it raining in my house. Maybe Hoosiers are more honest, but I have seen bad reviews on Angie's list. Which reminds me, I need to leave a happy-with-the-result-but-not-with-the-journey kind of review.

  4. Of all the contractors it's been my lot to use, it does seem that plumbers are the biggest gamble. Something about the need for brute strength is probably a factor. If ypu ever find a plumber you like, forget Angies List - tell your friends.

  5. Man, maybe I'm getting crabbier as I get older, but screw that plumber! If you want a good review, do a good job. End of story. I have less and less patience for people who do crap work.

    This comment possibly influenced by the fact that I just fired my dentist.

  6. Great post. Screw plumbers! They're even worse than those Washington Bureaucrats that LOVE to convene a Baby Death Panel.

  7. I was always think I'm getting spammed until I see your email addy.l :)

  8. This is why I don't use Angie's List. Glad it worked out ok!

  9. We found a Portland plumber that we love. We hired his friend who was recommended by our realtor to completely redo our bathroom plumbing (because what is a bathroom remodel without moving _every_single_plumbing_fixture_) His company was light on work so he tagged along and did the bulk of the new drain work. Now, after the kids are asleep at night, my husband and I wander down to our unfinished basement to appreciate the beauty of his work. Yes we may be geeks, but his plumbing work is beautiful.

  10. Would you mind sharing the name? I'd love to have a name in hand for the next time I need plumbing help.

  11. UGH...well, at least now it's done and you have ice (very fancy)! It reminds me of when we had someone over to move our kitchen sink plumbing a few feet on a wall. I left the room for a few minutes, and when I got back, he had the ENTIRE wall open, from floor to ceiling...and yes, it was lathe and plaster, so the edges of the ceiling where it met the wall was starting to come off too. I stood there for a second...then ran outside and called Norm at work in a total panic. Ahhh...good times.

  12. I only know one person who has used Angies List and he was quoted $900 for a heating repair. That turned out not to fix the problem which he himsef did after some research and buying a $10 part. Nope, no refund on the $900.

    We have a neighborhood email list and have found a great roofer that way.

    Ice makes me very happy. So does the Bulleits!

  13. Oh, that's terrible! No amount of whiskey would wash away the anger of being hosed for that much money.

  14. Oh god, that's my worst nightmare! Fucking plumbers!

  15. Of all contractors, I find plumbers to be the biggest gamble. I suspect it's something to do with their need for brute strength to do the jobs. Forget Angie's List: When you find a good plumber, share him (or her) with your friends!

  16. Well, he does drink a lot of beer. Just realized maybe he can't afford bourbon.

    My new favorite: bourbon+ fresh ginger komucha+orange bitters.

  17. The guy had to come back out two days later. He initially wanted to just punch a hole through my kitchen floor and run the line that way. I told him I wanted a wall recessed unit with plumber in reading a shut off valve. Buddy, I can inelegantly punch a hole in my own damn floor. I'm hiring a professional because I want this to look good.

  18. ok, so I know this is an old post, but I'm trying to find a similar in-wall shut off box that is designed for retro-fit application (as opposed to new-construction where it has to be mounted between studs). Any idea where he sourced that box?


  19. Hmmm, I don't. If I had to guess, it would be Ferguson or Standard in Portland. Are you local?

  20. No, not even close. I'll try a few plumbing supply shops. Thanks anyway.