Emergency plumber: what to do & who to call

Need an emergency plumber? Whichever corner of the country you’re in – London, Manchester, Cornwall or Edinburgh – this handy guide will tell you how to find a 24/7 plumber, who to contact, and how to quickly stop a leak or a burst pipe before they arrive to fix it.

Contents – Emergency plumber

How to quickly stop a burst pipe or a leak

An emergency plumber can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours to attend your property. If you’ve got a leak or a burst pipe spraying water everywhere in the house, you can still stop the problem from getting worse. The first thing to do is find your stopcock or stop tap. This is a valve which controls the supply of water to every outlet in your home. It’s usually made out of brass and looks a bit like a tap, except with a pipe at each end. You’ll normally find it under the kitchen sink. It can also be found on the mains pipe which rises all the way up into the loft. This pipe is known as the rising main, and supplies the cold water storage cistern.

Can’t find the stopcock near the kitchen sink? It may be in another cupboard, a pantry, or in a different room altogether. It may be under the floorboards in some older properties. In some cases, it may have been boarded over by a lazy kitchen fitter when installing a new kitchen. In communal accommodation such as flats, it may be in a cupboard in a shared hallway. Such a cupboard may also contain the stopcocks for other flats or apartments in the building.

To turn off the water, turn the handle of the stopcock clockwise until it stops. This will prevent the leak from continuing indefinitely.

If the water won’t stop

Shutting off the stopcock won’t stop the leak immediately. At the very least, there will still be residual water in the pipes. You can limit the amount of water that drains out through the leak by opening the kitchen cold tap.

Leaking radiator or leaking radiator pipe

If you’ve turned off the stopcock and the leak doesn’t subside at all, it’s because it isn’t directly on the mains pipework. If you have a combi boiler and a burst radiator or burst radiator pipe, the leak will continue until the radiator and any adjacent pipework are empty. Potentially, the entire contents of the central heating circuit may leak out – i.e, the water in every radiator.

If you don’t have a combi boiler, then the water in your radiators is probably supplied by a feed and expansion cistern. This is a small cistern in the loft which supplies the radiators with water. Turning off the mains will stop the cistern from filling, and the flow of water from the leak should eventually stop. However, once again, potentially the contents of all the radiators may leak out until it does.

Cold water pipe leaking

If you’ve turned off the mains but the leak is from a cold pipe and it won’t stop, this may be because of the cold water storage cistern in the loft. Even with the mains off, this cistern may still contain up to 50 gallons of water. You can stop this water from exiting via the leak by turning off the gate valve on the cold outlet pipe. This is usually situated close to the cistern in the loft. If you can’t access the loft, opening all the hot taps will empty the cold water cistern. Opening the cold taps in the bathroom will help drain it faster, unless they are fed by the mains.

Hot water pipe leaking

If you’ve turned off the mains but the leak is from a hot water pipe which isn’t part of your central heating – and isn’t slowing down, then this is once again due to the water remaining in the cold water storage cistern. Hot water leaves your hot water cylinder courtesy of gravity acting on the water in the cold storage cistern.

You can immediately stop a hot water pipe leak from getting worse by closing the gate valve on the cold supply pipe to the hot water cylinder. This is easily identifiable by a red wheel-shaped handle in your airing cupboard, on a pipe which is usually the lowest one connecting to the cylinder.

If this doesn’t work, then opening all the hot taps is guaranteed to empty the cistern. Opening the cold taps in the bathroom will help empty the cistern faster, unless once again, they are fed by the mains.

Before calling an emergency plumber – do you actually need one?

This is probably the most important question – is an emergency plumber actually necessary? Take for example, an overflowing toilet cistern. The toilet at this author’s home was once overflowing. Water was pouring out of the overflow pipe at the side of the house. A quick check in the cistern showed that the float had merely unscrewed itself from the arm of the ball valve. Simply screwing the ball valve back on the float arm solved the problem in a matter of seconds.

Of course, more complex and more serious problems may require an expert. Even if you have stopped the problem from getting worse, you may not have the time or the tools to fix it. And even if you can fix it yourself, it may be much more straightforward to get a professional to do it. Also, fixing it yourself may not necessarily save you money. For example, you may find yourself having to take unpaid time off work to deal with it.

At any rate, if you feel that your skills aren’t up to scratch or that you can’t diagnose the problem yourself, you are much better off calling an emergency plumber. And remember, there are some things which should only be done by qualified professionals, such as removing asbestos or working on gas appliances.

Work out who you’re going to call

Finding an emergency plumber can be very tricky. If you have time, ask family and friends for recommendations. Thanks to word of mouth advertising, a reliable plumber will never be short of work.

Emergency plumbers online

If this route doesn’t come up with any names, the next step is to search online. The Association of Plumbers and Heating Contractors (APHC) and CIPHE, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, are trade bodies for the UK plumbing and heating industry, and they maintain a list of registered plumbers. You can check if there’s anyone local to you by entering your postcode.

An obvious port of call is the Yellow Pages, which you can find online as Yell.com. However, while the site encourages customer reviews, it is simply a business directory, and doesn’t do much by itself to vouch for a tradesman’s credentials.

Verification sites

The independent UK consumer magazine Which? has a “Trusted Trader” scheme which scrutinises tradesmen and endorses them with its logo if they pass their assessment. Another good place to turn is Checkatrade.com, which is an index of tradesmen vetted and monitored by the site. It also encourages consumers to leave a review of the contractor they have hired. It goes without saying that for an emergency boiler work, you need someone who is on the Gas Safe Register. You should keep an eye out for credentials provided by boiler makers themselves. That’s because some of them operate their own accreditation scheme.

Once you’ve got some possible names to call, do a bit of extra research, if your circumstances allow. Do they have a website or a Facebook page? While not every good plumber has the time to maintain a presence on social media (or the need, due to work via word of mouth), a plumber who takes pride in his work may share some photos of his recent projects, accompanied by positive reviews. You should also keep a close eye out for the reviews which the plumber would prefer that you didn’t read.

Write down the task

Before calling an emergency plumber, it’s a good idea to write down as much as you can about the problem. This will prevent you from forgetting anything on the phone. It will also help the plumber to prepare for the task effectively. Don’t forget to mention how long the problem has gone on for, as well as anything you have attempted in order to fix it.

Research

If possible, it’s definitely worthwhile doing a bit of research before hiring an emergency plumber to tackle the issue. For example, if your old gravity-fed shower has stopped working, there are several modern replacement solutions available. While a good plumber will talk you through the different options and explain what is and isn’t possible based on your individual system, it is a good idea to enter this conversation with an idea of what you are looking for. The clearer your end goal is, the better the plumber will know how to meet your expectations.

Make the call

Once you’ve done these things, it’s time to start calling. Explain the issue and how you would like it to be resolved. While an emergency plumber may be able to give you a rough idea as to how much it will cost, he probably won’t be able to give you an exact price until he has seen for himself what is required. However, he will be able give you his hourly rate and initial call-out charge, and also an estimate as to the cost of parts and equipment. Plumbers also sometimes have set prices for certain tasks.

You should find out if the plumber has insurance, and if that insurance covers adjacent properties, such as your neighbours. You should also find out if the plumber guarantees their work, and if their guarantee is backed up with insurance. An insurance-backed guarantee means that their work is still covered, even if they go bust. Also, don’t forget to ask if they are a member of the aforementioned trade bodies.

Calling emergency plumbers

You should contact and compare at least three or four different plumbers. Ideally, you want them to come round and give you an exact quote. Of course, in an emergency, this probably isn’t possible. However, it’s important to do as much as you can to obtain a competitive price. That’s because there is no standard industry rate for plumbers. Also, try not to rush into anything. A good emergency plumber will understand that you may need a bit of time to think things through. You may also need to discuss things with other members of the household.

Getting the work done

Once you know which plumber to hire, you should make an agreement in writing as to what you are expecting. This agreement should ideally be in the form of a written contract. It should contain a clear description of the project, the agreed price (most likely the initial quote) and the rate. (For longer projects, this should also contain the start and finish dates.)

You should also agree on the payment method beforehand. You do not want to try to pay for the work on a credit or debit card only to find out that the plumber only accepts payment by bank transfer. Once the work has been completed, this could put both parties in an awkward situation, depending on your finances.

When the work has been completed, don’t forget to ask for a Work Completed Certificate. This may be necessary in order to demonstrate that the work complies with local building regulations. Good luck, and get ready to put the kettle on and get some biscuits out for the plumber!

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