How to Charge the Right Fee for Emergencies

There’s more than one pricing strategy for after-hours service calls.

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When there is a plumbing emergency at night or on the weekend and fixing it can’t wait, the property owners pick up the phone, knowing they will likely pay more for any work that needs to be done.

Plumbers want to make sure their costs are covered — think overtime pay for the employee (which includes transportation time) and transportation costs.

Overtime rates

“Most plumbing companies in this area just charge an overtime rate, which is just time and a half for the time worked with an added one hour travel time,” says Kevin Walker, drains division manager with O’Connor Plumbing & Heating in Germantown, Maryland. Equipment and parts costs are also often added to the final bill.

Walker, however, took a different route. He set his rates after looking at what three competitors charged.

“I used that as a base rate, then added what I thought was a fair number on to it,” he says, adding his final fee is about $35 more per hour than his competitors.

He went with the higher price — even though O’Connor Plumbing was just starting its drains division — since Walker felt the company’s plumbing reputation warranted it. “People don’t mind paying that more expensive rate since they know our service is better,” he says.

Flat rate

Jeff Berndt, owner of Best Plumbing/Best Bath in Marion, Iowa, decided to charge a flat rate for after-hours calls. For example, he charges $40.95 during the day when a technician comes out to a residence and then provides an estimate on the service cost. That fee increases to $110 on nights and weekends.

“We are trying to be fair. People really don’t want to call at night or on the weekends,” Berndt says. “Our technician will come out and do an estimate and share that with the customer before doing any work.”

That means the cost to replace a water heater on a Sunday is the same, except for the difference between the service calls. “It’s only $60 more. We used to do time and a half on the weekends, but it can be challenging since you’re trying to price a job over the phone,” Berndt says. “You don’t really know what you are walking into, and then if the final price is higher than the estimate, customers get mad.”

Berndt rotates the on-call duties among five plumbers, with each one taking a week. “We probably only average one after-hour call a month,” he says. “They are not too common.”

No extra charge

While most plumbing contractors charge extra for providing off-hour service, others opt to charge the same rate whenever the work needs to be done. For example, bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, which is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, but has several franchises across the country, uses one fee scale, no matter when the call comes in.

“We know how overwhelming and stressful it can be to have a plumbing problem occur, especially when it is unexpected and during inconvenient circumstances,” and the company does not want to add to that by charging extra fees, says Jeff Moody, president and chief operating officer for bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.

Each of the contractors knows there isn’t one right or wrong way to determine emergency fees, but all say other contractors need to do their research to see which way fits their business the best.


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