Same work, one quote is double the other

melle_sactoFebruary 12, 2014

Hi -- Is there a tactful way to ask a plumber why his price is double that of another plumber? At first I thought they were close in estimate, with one being maybe $200 - 300 higher. But when I compared them both, one estimate was $1400 and the other $2800. This is for demo of steel bathtub/surround, put in new valve, and raise the shower head. Both have a good rep and good reviews. I have spent more time talking to the $2800 guy, but he has also been kind of pushy about the product he thinks I should use (Moen) but I've decided to go with Delta.

Thanks for any thoughts :-)

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Most tactful way is to come right out and say, "Can you explain for me why your estimate is double that of another I got?"

Also ask the $1400 guy who his is half the estimate you got from another plumber.

See what each says, what rings true, and what rings like sugar coated nonsense to get you to buy into paying a much higher price. For instance, if the expensive guy says, I use only copper piping, and the cheaper guy says, I use pvc piping, then you can do research on which material you'd prefer, knowing that copper is in fact more expensive but perhaps a smarter choice. That sort of thing.

Your question is very reasonable. You shouldn't hesitate one bit to ask. there is also nothing wrong with asking each to write out their estimates, i.e.: what they'll do, the materials needed, the time needed, and then you can set them both down side by side and compare them. IF there isn't any measurable difference, go with the less expensive guy.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 12:42PM
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Also find out if there will be one or two people on the job, things like that.

My electrician is probably close to twice what some would charge but they never work solo. My plumber is toward the higher end of the price range and also rarely works solo.

But I have designed bathrooms for other people and have also done some of my own and I can say that very similar bathrooms have been $7000, $15,000 and almost $25,000 depending mostly on the differences in contractor pricing and not so much on materials. There were incremental differences in quality between all bathrooms, but I am not sure the $25K bathroom was 3.5x the quality of the $7K bathroom.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 3:06PM
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Go right ahead and ask them both to explain. And don't let a plumber make choices for you if you have a clear preference. Sure, professional recommendations mean a lot but it's your place, your bathroom and you will have to live with it.

Some pros price based on your zip code, as well. If you live in a town or neighborhood known for high income households you might be charged more. I have had contractors ask me where I live and tell me "I get $$$ in that town". To be fair, not all are like that. Best plumber I ever worked with was 23, lived in our town, was kind of expensive by the hour but was done in a flash and did a fantastic job.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 6:44PM
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I'd just ask very nicely to help you understand what is in the quote that makes it twice as much. Just try to make it sound sincere, not like you expect him to lower the quote. Maybe he saw a problem the other guy didn't and that would be an unexpected addition to the low guy. Or maybe he's good at estimates and the low guy isn't, or just wants the contract then suddenly the costs creep up. I'd be just as concerned that one guy is half the other as one guy being double!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:25PM
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I had the opposite, 3 bids for a large master bath gut with intricate tile work and they all came in within a few hundred dollars of each other ... it made me think that they meet at Starbucks once a week and agree on what the prices should be!!!!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 1:16AM
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I had a chance to chat w/the expensive (LOL) plumber tonight. I misunderstood, his estimate included demoing the drywall behind the surround and installing new cement board as well. But he still didn't really break it down. We're going to talk again Friday.

I think part of the problem is that my DH may or may not do some of the work, and his decision to do that work is based on what it would cost to have it done. Hopefully I will get a better breakdown Friday.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 1:31AM
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I think it's a good idea to have a detailed list of what the estimate includes, as well as a timeline. Perhaps one guy is so busy it will be weeks/months before he could start your job. If hubby is thinking of doing some of the work himself, make sure each of these guys is OK with that. Not everyone is, and it may not be an option.

Having said that, I had some excavating work done this summer. I phoned 11 guys/companies. Over half didn't even return my call. I ended up hiring the fellow who was less than half the cost of the only other serious quote I got. There seemed to be no reason for the price difference. He was available when I needed him, did an excellent job and really went above and beyond what we expected. (I had a gravel paving strip out front that my DH had been meaning to top up for years, and this guy did it for me as a surprise!)

So good luck, and no need to immediately be suspicious of the lower quote! :>)

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 2:56AM
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Thank you! In dealing w/both, the plumber with the lower quote has been very straightforward. He said demo/installation of new tub = $x, new valve/moving shower head/other plumbing = $x, I'm available to start by x date. At the time, I was SURE I wanted to install Swanstone surround, and he told me he had never done that, he does the pre-formed surrounds, but would look at the specs. I decided that I needed someone who was familiar w/that product. He said he didn't do any drywall/framing work but gave me the number of someone he knew who could do it.

The pricier plumber doesn't install Swanstone either, but he's the one who suggested I look at Cultured Marble and directed me to a local business. He also wanted to know specifically what valve I wanted installed, what trim/shower head etc, he told me the bathtub that he liked (which I like, it's fine, not picky I just want cast iron that will fit in the space and be durable), wanted to know what toilet, wanted to know how far we planned to extend the surround past the tub shower. He wanted to know lots of details about the work. He has also been very good about following-up, returning calls etc. He is totally fine with doing part of the work, then letting my DH do part of the work, and then coming back to finish.

The other plumber was also fine w/that, though, as he needed someone else to do the drywall etc before he could install surround.

In the end, I decided NOT to use Swanstone OR CM, and go for the larger tiles. We have tiles in the master bath, and even though the maintenance is higher, they DO look nicer IMHO. My boys are old enough I can teach them how to clean the grout in "their" bathroom, and I think tile will look nicer plus be less expensive for us b/c we will do the tiling. Since I gave up on the Swanstone, I realized I could hire either plumber at this point.

I will definitely get a specific itemized list from the $ plumber. I also will call the drywaller to get an estimate from him about the cement board. Last night I realized that the plumber's hourly rate is probably higher overall, so to have him do non-plumbing work is probably going to be way more expensive than someone else who is not a plumber (but who could also do that work).

He also told me that he goes above and beyond when he does bathtub installation. I'm not sure I completely understood him, but I think he was explaining that he attaches metal sheeting plus a waterproof sealer all around the studs/wall at and below the tub to protect from water intrusion. He said that is not something most plumbers do. I guess I'll see what was done when our tub comes out! Also I think he said he uses a metal barrier around all the wall joints. When I mentioned this to my DH, he just looked baffled, like it was weird. So I'm not sure if this is really a "pro" to hiring the pricier guy, but he seemed to think it was :-)

Thank you everyone for advising me here, my DH really wants to be excluded from my "agonizing" decisions over who to hire, product to use, etc. :-) He just wants a new tub and the leak to stop.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 9:32AM
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You should not need any metal flashing behind the cement board. The technology today is to apply the moisture barrier on TOP of the cement board. The shower water will permeate through the tile grout and STOP at the moisture barrier and never even reach the cement board.

You can paint on a liquid moisture barrier yourself on TOP of the cement board. The brands are Laticrete Hydroban (cheaper to order on line), Redguard (Home Depot), Mapei Aqua Defense (Lowes).

Folks also like to use Kerdifix (online) between the tub tile flange and the bottom of the cbu. Tile the wall down over the edge of the cbu at the flange and then fill the gap between the tile and the tub with silicon caulk. There are several youtube videos for applying these topical membranes. Plan your tile layout to where you get good coverage on the edges down the alcove sides of the tub because this is a water damage area. Design your niches too. Go to and peruse the bathroom photos for endless design inspirations.

Below is Mongoct's Shower instructions. He has some detailed pictures of the tile flange area. Instead of Kerdi, substitute Redguard or Hydroban, etc.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mongoct's Shower thread

This post was edited by Anna_in_TX on Thu, Feb 13, 14 at 11:52

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 11:15AM
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Another thread containing Mongoct's expert advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mongoct's shower thread 2

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 11:28AM
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I've never heard of a metal barrier, and metal isn't waterproof anyways. If it rusts, could lead to all kinds of other problems! Have you done tiling before? You mention that your Master BR is tiled. Did you guys do it? I'm asking cuz after just finishing (and having to redo a small portion cuz the shower base wasn't perfectly level), we now realize how important having walls perfectly straight, ie NO bows where screwed to 2 X 4's, having ALL 2 X4's perfectly in line and level with each other BEFORE screwing on cement board is. We had read that, and my DH felt his walls were 'close enough'. We put up 12 X 24 tiles, and let me tell you, there is NO forgiveness in tiles that big, whoever you do hire to put up the cement board MUST be a perfectionist. If 2X4's are off, you need to shim so that cement board remains nice and straight. I am talking within 1/16" nice and straight!

We used Mapei AquaDefense on our cement board, Easy to apply with a brush. The HPG version is much thicker (We used that for the small portion we redid just cuz our tile supplier had an open pail of that he sold to us for $25 instead of having to pay $150 for a brand new pail).

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 12:23PM
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I was kind of thinking the same thing...metal could rust...!

Anna_in_TX -- thank you for those links, I'll read them closely.

Raehelen -- we did tile the shower ourselves, but my DH had help from his buddy who has done that kind of remodeling before. Also we used small 4x4 tiles. We installed a Swanstone base. It's almost 2 years old and we haven't noticed any issues, so fingers crossed I guess :-)

My DH is NOT a perfectionist though, so it would probably be a good idea to not have him put up the cement board (his buddy won't be involved this time). Last night he was telling me that it's hard to cut the cement board, but that if there are gaps between the boards he would just fill them w/sealant. His heart is in the right place, but maybe the cement board is best left to a professional.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 1:14PM
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Oh, and as far as the metal goes...what I thought was happening is the cement board ended at the tub edge. He was saying that behind the tub, below where the cement board ends, he installs the metal barrier.

Edit -- > my terminology might be wrong. By "tub edge" I'm referring to the top part of the bathtub, where it connects to the wall.

I think I'm going to see if there are YouTube videos that show a tub being installed, then maybe I'll have a better idea of what exactly goes on.

This post was edited by melle_sacto on Thu, Feb 13, 14 at 13:23

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 1:19PM
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You are referring to the tile flange on a bathtub. Read Mongoct's threads and look at the diagrams that he drew that zooms in on the tile flange/cbu/tile joint. There is no metal flashing involved. The Kohler Village cast iron alcove bathtub has a tile flange on three sides to collect the water that drains down the surrounding walls - just like a shower pan.

You can also read the installation instructions for your tub. If you go to Terry Love plumbing forum, the bathtub shower section, there is a good thread on getting the Kohler Village cast iron tub in place.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 6:40PM
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It's OK if the cement boards don't perfectly butt up together. We filled the gap with thinset and used alkali resistant fibreglass tape (same idea as drywall tape, but specifically designed to be used with cement board, of course, more expensive). You smooth it out with a float just like you do drywall. Then, the waterproofing membrane/liquid is applied on top of that.

The reason it's really important that everything be flat and smooth with large tiles, is that if they are off a wee bit, you will get lippage, ie an edge sticking out over the other. We did end up with that in a couple of spots, not a huge huge deal, but we wouldn't have been happy if every tile was like that. With 4 X 4 tile you can accommodate slight variations by applying more or less thin set and keep checking with a board or level that everything is nice and smooth and flat.

We have a very healthy respect now for good tilers. Of course we made it more difficult for ourselves by choosing to tile with 12 X 24 tiles, and by putting in a shower niche. We also have a 3-4" jut out of one wall which required mitre cuts for two lengths of 8 ft walls. AND DH decided to mitre all the cuts for the niche, which also had a second glass shelf in there. All in all, lots and lots of intricate, difficult cuts. We made some mistakes in grouting too, ie not all grout joints are exactly the same depth. There is a lot to do to do a good tiling job. Yes, it is less expensive than cultured marble walls when you do it yourself (but with the added cost of all the equipment we needed to buy to do a good job not really sure, LOL), but it definitely was much easier and faster paying them to install the CM walls in our previous BR.

I spent a lot of time on this forum, the John Bridge forum, and watching lots of Youtube videos. Ironically, it was my DH doing the tiling, not me, so my advice was not always followed to the letter and we had a few 'disagreements', let's say. I hope one day this frikken BR reno will be finally finished, and I will be able to enjoy using this shower...

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 7:09PM
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Was the plumber talking about adding a tile flange to a drop in tub - a tub that does not have one? Maybe that is where you got confused. But if I remember from your cm thread, you are going with the Kohler Villager which has an integral tile flange. The integral tile flange is superior.

So if you have the drywall guy install the cbu and you paint on the moisture barrier, the plumber just needs to install the tub, connect the drain, plumb the new shower/tub rough in, toilet, etc. You should be able to install the trim after you tile.

Or hire out the tile work.

Just train your kids to shake out the shower curtain, squeegee the tile walls and wipe the silicon grout line where the tile meets the tub, wipe the silicon grout line in the corners, quick wipe the fixtures. Have a hand towel just for wiping down the shower. Even with a cm surround, you still need to squeegee and wipe the silicone grout or it will mildew, and wipe down the fixtures. Squeegeeing and wiping the caulk lines will prevent a lot of deep cleaning later on. Another good idea is to get them to help with the tile work so they can gain some respect/ownership for their bathroom. And add cleaning their bath to their chore list. Excuse me, I use to teach 6th grade. And I grew up in a house where all of us kids took turns mowing, cooking, cleaning, painting, etc. To this day, both of my brothers are better cooks than their wives.

This post was edited by Anna_in_TX on Thu, Feb 13, 14 at 21:15

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 8:40PM
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I am in agreement with Anna about training the kids. When they grow up they will hopefully apply those skills to caretaking their own home. I live in a tract home neighborhood where most the houses all have pretty much the same tile in the bathrooms. My neighbor's tenant just moved out and he let me see the house - the upkeep was appalling and the bathroom just showed a total lack of respect for one's environment / home (even if you don't own it, you should clean it!). I hope he kept his security deposit.

Re: your quotes, do take into consideration how much the drywall/cement board installation may cost you and add that to the less pricey quote.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 12:56PM
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I'm getting a quote on Monday for the backerboard. So happy I was able to come here for advice! :-)

I do think my boys can learn to take care of the grout in their shower. I never learned how until I was an adult, we didn't have any tiles. But I remember going to my cousins, who did have a tile shower, and they would tell us to wipe things down with a towel. Their shower looked great -- 1950s yello/black tile with WHITE grout. Even now, when I think about it, that was such a lovely bathroom!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 12:10PM
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