When Australia became a nation in 1901, most homes didn’t have indoor plumbing. Having a toilet inside the home was considered unsanitary to say the least. Today, 21st Century Australia enjoys hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing and a standard of hygiene that adds considerably to our quality of life. As vital as modern plumbing is, we still seem to resent having to call the plumber and pay the fees they charge. Often $80 for a call out and the first 15 minutes is about what most are charging, on average. In upscale suburbs it can be over the $100 mark just to have him park his white van in your driveway.

Yes, we are somewhat at their mercy because we need our plumbing to work and we take it so much for granted until it stops working. The other day we discovered out hot water tank’s relief valve drain pipe was no longer dripping water as it had for, admittedly, some months. Now it was flowing out. Time to take action! The replacement part cost $189.50 including GST and delivery and it was a fit it yourself affair. Or, we could have a plumber come and replace it for $225. We rang around and got a better quote of $190, fitted. Proof again were any needed of the value of not taking the first quote offered.

We had the new relief valve fitted that afternoon, paid the $190 and noticed how right away the stream of lost heated water became no longer a problem, not even a drop every now and then! Perfect! Not quite. The pressure that had been relieved by the failing valve was now transferred to the next weakest point on our 9 year old electric system. By the following morning even more heated water was wasting itself through a corroded part of the tank where the heating element is secured. We turned off the power  and the water supply to the tank and endured a weekend in July with no hot water. We couldn’t use our dishwasher because that needed hot water to operate and of course, showers were either icy cold or not happening.

On the Monday we replaced the system with a gas unit which, with rebates and some careful negotiation with the supplier of the new relief valve, meant we only spent a little more than replacing it with another electric system. We had to find $1600 in the one go or apply for finance and pay interest for months to come. Our home and contents insurance doesn’t cover hot water systems and after a weekend taking cold showers we were ready to do what we had to get the necessary cash together.

The bright side is there were solutions readily available in the form of trained, licensed and qualified plumbers as well as the water tank to replace our broken unit. The only issue was finding the cash. Plumbing is as competitive as any trade or service and yet far more necessary than some (like home dog washing or antenna installations). To run a professional, ethical and responsible business means they need to charge a decent fee, yet of course give good service. I think overall we are fortunate in Australia that we have the tradespeople we do, especially when it comes to vital services such as plumbing.