From the posts about plumbers charging $1500 for small jobs. I am NOT saying that the plumber doesn’t have the right to ask for that price. It’s his business, after all. It’s just that all businesses are in competition. Plumber A is in competition with Plumber B, etc. The other half of that is that all businesses that offer some sort of labor are in competition with people who would do it themselves. Restaurants, plumbers, even gunsmiths. There is a limit to what you can charge for services before people say that it isn’t worth paying someone to do it. The customer then either does without, or they do it themselves.

For me, it’s math. I look at what it would cost me to do the job, then how long it will cost. Then I compare what the service business is asking for the job. Take lawn maintenance. I could mow my own lawn, but here in Florida that means about three hours per week to mow, edge, weed eat, and blow down the sidewalks in the summer, plus another three hours a month in winter. Then there is the cost of supplies, maintenance and fuel. So call it an average of two hours per week plus about $15 a month in supplies. My lawn guy charges me $85 a month. That means the guy is doing 8 hours of work for $60, so it costs me $7.50 an hour to get my lawn mowed. I don’t mow my lawn, even though I could.

I look at it as a pure financial transaction. Let’s say (to make the math easy) that you make $50 an hour at your job. It actually would be more beneficial to pay someone to do a job than it would to do it yourself, if the job was costing you less money than you would make in the time it took to do it yourself.

Now suppose that he increased his rate to $200 a month. I might start mowing my own lawn at that point. The plumbing job is the same. The plumber was charging me $1500 parts and labor to do a job that I could do myself for a total cost of $300 in parts and tools and four hours of my time. After materials and tools, I could do it myself and save $300 an hour. That’s far more than I make, so if it’s within my capabilities, it’s worth it to simply do it myself.

There is some risk that I will not do as good a job as the pro, but at what point does the juice become not worth the squeeze? We all need to develop these skills. When TSHTF, they will be worthwhile skills to have, and now is a good time to learn.

Categories: Uncategorized

18 Comments

Boneman · January 27, 2024 at 7:25 am

Well stated. One caveat though. There comes a time where the failings of the framework come in to play. Last floor I installed I did a fantastic job. It pretty much ended my hands though. Installed a nice tile floor, gapped with grouting, etc. Well between my arthritic hands, knees, etc. I am no longer ABLE, or let’s just say I am NOT going to put myself through THAT much PAIN again.

Though as this sort of thing oft does, it birthed an idea: GROUT SPONGE WRINGER. That would have saved me a LOT of pain for sure.

It sucks because aside from the pain, etc. the work and results was quite satisfying. Also, it’s a grim reminder… The body is _failing_ dammit.

As to all your points, I totally agree. It is a matter of is it worth it. The problem is, finding someone that will A: Actually SHOW UP (I am in FL as well and THAT is a challenge) and B: Truly IS competent.

Herself wants new floors in the new homestead. I KNOW she has it in the back of her mind to ask… Heck some of the tile areas need be re-grouted and I have already ADAMANTLY stated that I simply will NOT be doing anything of the sort and will broach no argument.

Yet I see the gears turning…. She’s probably going to get some insanely high estimate knowing my frugal nature.

I’ll have the “MATH” ready. Yeah, OK and if I do it, we’ll save THIS much. But will it be enough to cover the SURGERY after???? And will Morgan and Morgan have a plan to comensate ME for my PAIN and SUFFERING? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thatguy · January 27, 2024 at 8:50 am

If your yard guy is making 7.50 an hour he’s a freaking moron. It’s 50 bucks a man hour per man where we are. Minimum fee to mow is 50 bucks period and it goes up from there. Shovel or heavy equipment work is 75 per man per hour. Guessing that you have an illegal you support. Not very cool but not surprising.

birdog357 · January 27, 2024 at 9:19 am

That plumber likely has all the work he wants or needs. I’ll give you an example using lawn mowing since that’s my industry. You get it for $85 a month. Those guys are in a race to the bottom because they haven’t learned that busy=/=productive. We don’t even show up for less than $50 a cut…. And something that takes 3 man hours to do(with our equipment mind you) would be $180-200 per cut.

    Big Ruckus D · January 27, 2024 at 6:25 pm

    I’ll concur with that. I have more work than I can really reasonably handle, and have been cherry picking the work I accept. Still work 60+ hour weeks routinely, even at that. A guy who does good work, even if he is charging $150/hr here (for a skilled trade) is cleaning up, and can blow off the bullshit jobs (like customers who have established a reputation for nickel and diming you – as a contractor – to death, general bitching, or having filthy, hoarder houses) with no concern for being at a lack of regular work, and overtime if desired. Now, the economy may come to where that kind of blithe selectivity in (not) accepting certain work is no longer as easy to do if things slow down. And if that happens, we adjust accordingly.

    I also think DM’s lawn guy is screwing himself. How the hell can he make any money at the hourly rate of $7.50? Guy presumably has a truck, maybe towing a trailer for his equipment, too. Gas for the vehicle and equipment alone will end up breaking him at what he’s charging. Maintaining (tires, brakes, etc.) and repairing the truck and lawn equipment (most of which is garbage now and needs constant attention) can’t even be factored in at that price. Insurance? Fat chance. If his lawnmower slings a rock and blows out the glass in your front picture window, think he’ll be insured to cover it, much less pay for it out of pocket? Doubtful. He may be a nice guy who does decent work, but he has essentially made himself a slave for chump change.

    There’s no getting ahead (for him) with the way he has priced his service, and really, that is why we have so many people using lawn services now. When I was a kid I didn’t know anyone in our neighborhood who didn’t cut their own grass (or at least had their older kids do it). I cut a lot of grass when I was a teenager both at home and for some elderly neighbors who paid me what was basically lunch or gas money. Now, people find a guy so cheap that they can justify paying him to do something they don’t want to do themselves even though it isn’t that tough a job. Cutting grass, aside from the heat, humidity and dust, is easy, very little skill involved. But everyone figures “hey, Jose here will handle that shit for half of minimum wage. My time is worth way more than that, so I’ll pay him to do it.” Ok, fine. But Jose has just buggered himself, unless he is secretly wealthy and just wants to cut lawns for the fun of it. Eventually he gets smart and increases his rate, or he realizes he isn’t making jack, and quits to go do something else.

    We see this in plumbing some as well. Knew of a guy (itinerant handyman sort) who would do a cast iron stack replacement for $50 and a case of beer. $50 didn’t cover the material (unless he was stealing it). Hell, it barely covered the pack of sawzall blades and cut off wheels needed to do the job. So what was the point? Dude lost his ass on that project, save for having enough cheap beer to get drunk on.

Miguel GFZ · January 27, 2024 at 9:25 am

I suck at plumbing. I can install anything plumbing and will start leaking before I open the main valve. That means spending money on a professional plumber is an unfortunate necessity. I am blessed that my BiL and his kids are plumbers, so they give us a great break on the costs.
But when it comes to electrical stuff, shott of dealing with high tension stuff, I can hold my own and I have not used an electrician ever.
You do what you can and deal with what you can’t.

SiG · January 27, 2024 at 9:30 am

I’ve basically approached this problem as you have – as a simple math problem. It’s elementary school arithmetic after all. My complication is that I’m still paying the guy to mow my lawn even though I’m retired and my time is generally thought to be free. I mean, if my time is worthless, it doesn’t matter how many hours it takes to mow the lawn, since free is the cheapest labor there is.

My lawn guy charges $80/month, comes out weekly for the peak of summer months and now comes out once a month. His incentive is to buy powerful equipment so that he can get more lawns done in a day, but I don’t care about efficiency. Well, I do, but that’s subordinate discussion about cost/benefit breakdown. At $80/month, it would take maybe two years to just buy a lawnmower and all the rest of what he’s using, but not as powerful, so it still would take me, say, the three hours/week in summer you mention. If I wanted to have his level of tools, it might take five years.

If my time is free, what’s cost/benefit ratio to doing that? On a different level, there’s only so many hours in a day and time spent mowing takes away from time spent doing something I enjoy more (which is anything).

Which turns it from elementary school math to a value judgement.

Jonesy · January 27, 2024 at 10:26 am

Pricing should be market driven….if you think the price for whatever service or product is unfair….get multiple quotes. That will tell you the cost of what you’re looking for. Market to market that might also vary.

I know an electrician who has so much work he and his small crew could work 16 hrs a day 7 days a week and still turn work away. He’s had some customers really bug him about some jobs…so he tried giving them a fuck off quote, and they still said yes. So in that scenario you have people willing to pay above market cost if they want something bad enough.

    Divemedic · January 27, 2024 at 10:59 am

    There are times that I will do so. If the rest of the market says that cost is X, but it is still a better deal for me to pay you to do it because my time is worth more than what you are trying to charge me, I may still pay you to do it.

    Henry · January 27, 2024 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve also known contractors who had all the work they could possibly handle (especially good masons) and when requests for new work came in they quoted outrageously high prices. Rather than turn down the work they simply put a steep price tag on the quote and if the homeowner was desperate enough to pay it, they’d rearrange their project schedule to accommodate the guy willing to pay for the privilege. There were enough wealthy homeowners in the area that the extra cost was basically insignificant compared to their desire to have things done right away.

AZFloyd · January 27, 2024 at 10:48 am

You don’t have to apologize. Fuck that dude for calling you out. I would not say your time is free. You sound like a very knowledgeable man who has a broad set of skills. So the concept of opportunity costs comes into play. I smelled a whiff of entitlement from the dude that called you out. Like you were obligated to support him….just a whiff. Why do I think that. Because instead of “good for you” he had to fucking whine about it

EdC · January 27, 2024 at 2:42 pm

Agree completely with what you said with one small caveat. Wait times; how long from when you ask someone out to give a quote plus when they actually show up to do the work. Using plumbing as an example I had a leak at a valve in the crawl space under my house, called three plumbers to come out and look. One guy showed up 4 days later and gave me a quote with the promise that he could get out here (I do live about 20 miles from town) in about three weeks. I didn’t want that big of a puddle under my house so ended up doing it myself. Would have much preferred to have paid someone else to do the job but it wasn’t complicated.

Max Wiley · January 27, 2024 at 3:14 pm

“When TSHTF, they will be worthwhile skills to have, and now is a good time to learn.”
I absolutely 100% agree. If you have the skills, doing tradesman work on your own property is almost always worth your time. If you don’t have the skills, you should develop them. This was just what men did when I was brought up.
I can’t speak directly to the plumbing quote you received but I want to point out a few things. First, I think the sink quote was done incorrectly. You said he was checking boxes on a tablet for pricing, and plumbers hardly ever install standalone “mop sinks” in a residential setting, it is usually a countertop sink and that’s a different animal. Second, did you include your time going to the supply store and picking up the materials in your time estimates? This probably took at least an additional hour that is often overlooked for comparison purposes. “But their van already has all of that stuff on it” is true, but that van doesn’t appear at the shop every morning fully and correctly stocked by itself.
Let me toss a common job that I do all the time in for an example. Many older houses have overhead electrical services sized for a bygone era with obsolete panels to match. At some point, most of these have to be upgraded to current standards and equipment. It causes a fair bit of sticker shock. Let me explain.
The easiest way to do this for most houses is to install a new exterior breaker box and turn the old breaker panel into a junction box. Again, this is a very typical job that I probably quote and perform on a weekly basis. I know how to do it with the least materials and labor expended.
It is a 10 hour day for a journeyman and apprentice since they will need around 8 hours on site. I have dissected the real hourly costs of labor to the contractor elsewhere. Suffice it to say the contractor is NOT paying the JM $35/hr and the AP $22/hr, charging $150/hr and pocketing the difference. The reality is that if I don’t charge $1500 for the crew (JM + AP + truck + insurance, with 2 hours each of overtime) for this 10 hour day, I probably lose money on labor.
Another reality for this job is that materials are going to be $1500, at least. That’s not me marking it up, that’s my actual cost and I’m buying it wholesale. That’s also not counting if the local inspector insists doing this work means I have to bring the whole house up to current code. The sky is the limit if that’s the case (I have seen it require a complete rewire of the house at a cost of $20k) but at a minimum it will add $800 worth of arc fault breakers to the material. So $1500 is pretty much the bare minimum for a 200A service upgrade and main panel upgrade.
So that’s my costs, $3000 for the day and if I don’t add 10% to that the chances are very high I again, don’t make money or even lose money. So I’m going to add at least 10% because I’m not in business to lose money and my time investment has value. I am skilled compared to the JM doing the work as the JM is skilled compared to the average DIY homeowner. I could easily make six figures as a JM working 50 hours a week, weekends off, 7-5:30 every day with no additional responsibilities. If I can’t make more as a contractor then I am being very stupid.
So when I hand people a $3300 estimate for this work they often respond exactly the way you did to your plumbing estimate. It seems completely outrageous on the face of it when you can go price a new 200A panel and some breakers for probably $350 at the home improvement store but I’m here to tell you, it’s not as simple as that comparison makes it seem. There are loads of costs that aren’t being considered, not the least of which is the actual costs of getting skilled tradesmen on site with the correct tools and materials to do the job, and doing the work to current code and professional standard. It’s also leaving out $100 for the stick of 2″ rigid pipe required for the mast, $250 worth of wire, $100 surge arrester required by current code… I could go on but you get the picture.
If you are doing it yourself, chances are very high that shortcuts are going to be taken. Not always and not necessarily with simple jobs like drains and water supply but that’s the reality. Skilled tradesman are skilled because they are taught how to do the work to current code and professional standard, and in most states the contractor AND the JM can be held liable in both civil and criminal court for deviations from the current building code that cause property damage and/or loss of life. Some of the building code requirements are BS but most are not. A lot of it is “one size fits all” approach that may not fit your particular application but again, most of those rules are there for a very good reason. Unfortunately most people can’t consider problems they DON’T have as a benefit.
A non trivial amount of the savings that DIYers see on their personal projects is the difference between doing the work to your standard and the actual professional standard. You may think this is not the case, and your DIY work may absolutely be “good enough” but I can assure you this is true more often than not. Dunning-Kruger absolutely applies: you don’t know what you don’t know.
I’m not downing doing DIY work, I already told you I heartily agree with the DIY attitude and I am an inveterate DIY guy myself. What I take issue with is the automatic assumption that tradesmen contractors are ripping people off when you make a simplistic comparison that leaves out a lot of factors like professional standards, costs of tools and equipment, and actual time spent including looking up online tutorials and chasing parts. It’s not a ripoff in most cases. That’s how much you save by not having to hire a professional that is trained, equipped, and insured. Where the ripoff usually happens is paying the correct price for trained, equipped, and insured work and not getting it, and elimination of that risk is also one of the great benefits of DIY.

SmileyFtW · January 27, 2024 at 5:13 pm

One of the upsides is that after you complete the task you will have some additional tools and experience that will serve you well in the future.

Dan D. · January 27, 2024 at 9:54 pm

That you have to keep explaining your point just encourages the Midwits. And is exactly why I donโ€™t have comments enabled myself. (Unless you enjoy arguing with the Smart Boys of course!)

Yankee Bruce · January 28, 2024 at 12:10 am

There is also the case where the plumber is so busy he doesn’t need the work, but rather than tell you that he will ask an exorbitant rate. You will probably go elsewhere, but if you will pay the rate, he will find a way to get it done.

Tsgt Joe · January 28, 2024 at 8:16 am

When you are on a fixed income, retired or salaried that formula doesnt necessarily hold true. When I worked an hourly job with the chance of overtime, then I weighed my time vs. cost. As a 75 year old retiree its more of a do I have the skills, energy and patience to do a job.

oldvet50 · January 28, 2024 at 10:25 am

I was lucky enough to be small and poor in sports as a youngster. As a result, I realized that being a brute that could throw a ball did not make you more of a man. What did determine your ‘level of manhood’ was how much you depended on another man to get you through life. It was then that I began learning trades like carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. My creed is that there are only three things I cannot fix: a broken heart, the crack of dawn, and an automatic transmission.

Ozborn · January 28, 2024 at 3:59 pm

“When TSHTF, they will be worthwhile skills to have, and now is a good time to learn.”

This is 50% of the reason I do my own X (whatever it is). The other is that I’m cheap – and while my working hours are worth a certain amount, I don’t really have the option of overtime, etc., so I might as well develop handyman skills in my ‘free’ time. What else am I gonna do – play video games? Read more articles online that irritate me to no point? Might as well tear down the chainsaw and clean out the carburetor and replace the fuel line.

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