Contact 6 puts five plumbing companies to the test

MILWAUKEE -- You flip on the faucet and there's no hot water! Who do you call? Better yet, how much will they charge? FOX6's Contact 6 put five plumbers to the test for you, and got some surprising results!

Eight cameras, five plumbing companies, one job, and a lot of different answers! Quotes to fix a broken water heater included: $51.74, $125 an hour, $462, $825, and $1,100. The water heater was broken on purpose - by master plumber Dan Callies from Oak Creek Plumbing.

The water heater was still under warranty, so Callies simply disconnected a basic part, called the "thermal coupler" which helps give gas to the pilot light. Without a pilot light, there was no hot water! "If the pilot light is not able to be lit or stay lit, then the next thing is they'd have to pull this whole burner assembly out and replace that thermal coupler," Callies said.

Callies was chosen to help with this Contact 6 test by NARI - the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Then, two FOX6 employees called local plumbing companies to see if they could find and fix the problem, and for how much.

Callies said to fix the problem should cost around $150.

The first company called in by Contact 6 was Flat Rate Plumbing. In previous stories, Contact 6 found its prices to be higher. This time, workers made a fast diagnosis - servicing the thermal coupler for $125. Later, they even offered a lower price since the fix wouldn't take that long. When Contact 6 said they were just looking for an estimate, they waived the $59 trip charge.

Next up - a company called Plumbing Service and Sales. When the plumber couldn't start the pilot light, he made his diagnosis - a new thermal coupler since the pilot light wouldn't stay lit. His charge was $200, or $825 for an entirely new water heater. Contact 6 declined, and the plumber waived the trip charge.

The third company was Bohmann Plumbing. It took less than one minute for the worker to determine the gas valve needed to be replaced. However, it was the thermal coupler, not the gas valve that was broken. This plumber's price was $462, and he also offered a new water heater for about $1,100. This plumber charged Contact 6 $51 for the trip.

Next up - a worker from Holliman and Laster, who spent nine minutes trying really hard to light the pilot light, but couldn't. Then, he said the problem was probably a mechanism, saying a part was missing. However, nothing was missing - just disconnected. Then the worker said to call a different company to fix the problem! Even though Contact 6 was promised a free estimate, he asked for $20 for the trip.

Last up - appliance giant Sears. The worker spent about 15 minutes taking out screws and pulling out parts, but couldn't figure out what the problem was. FOX6's producer, Kelly, waited while the worker struggled for another 20 minutes looking for answers on the computer before giving up. One hour after he arrived, he left, charging nothing.

Contact 6 called all the companies put to the test to follow up - some to say "nice job," and others to ask what happened.

Sears said its guy had logged the hour visit as a canceled call.

Brian Bohmann sent a letter saying they weren't looking for sabotage. He said "our best recommendation, to replace the entire water heater (for around $1,100) was and still is the best customer service." He asked how old the water heater was. The answer - five years, and one year left on the warranty.

To find the best plumber for the job, Contact 6 offers these tips:

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