Ins and outs of plumbing when renovating

Plumbing in a domestic housePlumbing is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

“Can you imagine what it would be like if you flushed your toilet and it bubbled up into your shower recess?” asks Killara Plumbing’s Greg McElroy. “Going back two centuries, the streets were the sewers. Plumbers have a public health role. We make sure houses have a clean water supply and that sewage goes where it’s supposed to go.”

Yep. He’s right.

The problem with plumbing is that it seems so hideously expensive. Who wants to discover a blocked pipe buried in the backyard will cost $8000 to fix? It’s not like you can see where that $8000 went – it is simply buried again.

Master Plumbers Association general manager Paul Naylor says plumbers aren’t out to rip-off the public. The average licensed plumber charges between $75 and $150 an hour, and has served a six-year training period.

“My furniture removalist charges $120 an hour, and they didn’t have to do six years of training. Plumbing is not like Medicare. When you go to the doctor you incur huge costs but you never see the bill, so you don’t think about it. When you pay a plumber, it gets you right in the wallet,” he says.

Australia’s licensed plumbers are qualified as a water plumber, gas fitter, roofer and drainer.

Pav Plumbing’s Tony Pavlich says most customers object to paying a plumber when they see the plumber takes only fifteen minutes to fix something.

“Plenty of people don’t want to pay our $123 minimum call-out fee. It might look like it takes five minutes to fix it, but it took years to learn the skills to do it,” he says. “I’d like to think that all my plumbers offer to fix something else while they are there – leaking taps, or whatever else. People should make the most of a plumber while they have them in the house.”


New technologies are improving plumbing services. Eels – mechanical devices inserted down drains to unblock them, not live squirmy things that live in water – have been around for a long time.

Naylor says water-jetters are more effective than eels and can clear blocked lines quickly, with a burst of high-pressure water. Eels may cost between $300 and $400 and water-jetters between $700 and $800.

If plumbing equipment encounters a pipe blockage that can’t be cleared, then there are two options: send a closed-circuit TV camera to find out the cause of the block (which could cost around $300) or excavate to expose the pipe and repair it.

“Old pipes in Sydney are pretty bad. Tree roots get in, or the terracotta pipes just crumble,” Naylor says. “There are plenty of people in Sydney on regular three-monthly clearing that are trying to avoid having to replace their pipes.”

Pipe re-lining services can avoid costly excavation and pipe replacement. “There are systems now to re-line old pipes with PVC which makes the pipe a bit narrower,” Naylor says.

Streamline Drains and Pipelines’ Kevin Barry says his son invented a pipe re-lining system14 years ago, which involves inserting a malleable tube impregnated with resin into the old pipe. The resin then sets hard, re-lining the old pipe with a newer, smoother, lining.

“It’s around 70 per cent cheaper than digging up and replacing pipes and it has a 50-year life expectancy,” Barry says.

McElroy says pipe re-lining will only work in places where the pipes aren’t badly damaged – “if the pipe is sagging, then the solids will still sit in the sag and collect there” – but can be expensive at up to $1000 a lineal metre.

“It’s probably worth it for people who have extensive landscaping or have pipes that run under the house and can’t be easily dug up, but most people would be better off excavating and renewing the pipes,” he says.


  • If you have to call a plumber out, get them to check all your taps for leaks and install water hammer arresters in taps. A licensed plumber can also install water-efficient fittings on taps and toilets.
  • Learn where the tap is to turn off your water supply in case of a plumbing emergency. “You’d be surprised how many people ring me in the middle of the night telling me I have to get to their house right now because it’s flooding,” Tony Pavlich says. In houses, the water meter will be outside with a tap and in apartments, the supply can usually be turned off on a tap under the kitchen sink or laundry tub.
  • Old pipes with concrete joins aren’t as sturdy as PVC pipes and no longer meet the codes regulating Australian plumbing. Naylor says strict plumbing codes often force plumbers to replace old pipes, especially in cases of knockdown-rebuilds. “Most people don’t factor that in and replacing the line back to the sewer can cost between $3000 and $8000,” he says.
  • Pavlich suggests that all bathroom renovators do themselves a favour and refuse to allow their tilers to pour grout down the bathroom floor waste. “In 95 per cent of bathroom renovations, people have to call in a plumber to clear up the mess the tiler has tried to pour down the drain,” Pavlich says. “The best hint you can give a renovator is to watch their tiler and stop them doing it.”


Renovation & DIY