Why should I pay for the plumber’s screw-up?

I think it’s important to have a good relationship with the plumber, and to that end I’ve tried to stick with the same company in every city where I’ve lived. Since moving into the current house in 2005, I chose Hutzel and have had them here for three orders that totaled $1,007. (Between the first call in 2007 and the most recent one, their rate has jumped from $104 to $119 per hour!) I’ve always paid promptly.

In July 2010 I called Hutzel to install three faucets I’d purchased at a retail home improvement store, one for each bathroom sink. It seemed worth the expense to have a professional do the installations. I’ve put in faucets, but it takes me a while. I also wanted a quarter-turn faucet installed at the outdoor tap. Hutzel sent a plumber named Bud, who did all three of the “lav” faucets and the outdoor faucet. The bill was $484.94, including $357 for three hours’ labor.

Sometime last fall we noticed the faucet in the downstairs half-bath, which is very seldom used, wasn’t sitting solidly; it rocked back and forth. More recently, on March 13, it was evident that the faucet was not secured at all from below. I reached underneath and found that both plastic nuts that lock down the faucet shanks had split in half.

Obviously, they had been overtightened.

I called Hutzel and spoke to Terry, who said she would “no charge” the call to take care of this. Bud soon showed up. Looking at the split nuts, he said, “They just exploded!” Of course he could venture no guess as to why. No idea whatsoever! But I should call Price Pfister and request new nuts under warranty.

I did call Price Pfister in California. When the service rep heard me describe the broken nuts, she said, “Overtightened.”

I called Hutzel back to say replacement nuts were being sent by mail, but Terry disclaimed her previous offer, saying the faucets weren’t purchased from Hutzel. Of course, when I was being charged $119 per hour for the work, it didn’t matter if the faucets had come from Victoria’s Secret. And now Terry said she shouldn’t have offered to “no charge” the order. I would have to talk to Nels, the treasurer, she said.

Nothing about starting over with Nels appealed to me, so I told Terry to talk to him on my behalf and get back to me. As if!

Yesterday’s mail brought the replacement parts. I called Hutzel this morning. Terry said she shouldn’t have offered to “no charge” anything: the work was done last July, the faucets weren’t theirs, she’s only the dispatcher, and I needed to talk to Nels—the best they could do is split the cost of the labor with me.

I’ll just do it myself. I notice the installation instructions, which I saved, say, “Hand tighten.” I can do that as well as a trained professional.

As for Hutzel, isn’t it better to admit a mistake and take care of it instead of lying and cowering? Their advertising boasts that they’ve been around since the 19th century; their attitude about sticking the customer with the cost of their screw-ups certainly reflects that era. I worried about risking my good relationship with the plumber, but the plumber never cared at all.

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