When selecting plumber to install a new hot water heater in your home, there are a two basic qualifications you should look for before you even ask for an estimate:

#1 Make sure they are insured. If something goes wrong during the installation, you don’t want to be the one left without hot water in your home while things get worked out with the lawyers.

#2 Make sure they have the right licenses to operate in your state. If your existing hot water system uses gas, even if you are switching to electric, your plumber must have both a master plumber’s and a master gasfitter’s license. The master gasfitter license is required for all gas plumbing repairs or fixture installations. They will also need a state contractor’s license. It can be a class A, B or C. In Virginia, you can visit the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) website and look up individual contractor’s licensures to make sure they are current and do not have any claims pending against them.

You’ll want to identify at least three or four plumbing companies that meet these two basic qualifications. Whenever you undertake a major project in your home, plumbing or anything else, make sure you get at least two to three bids. It may seem like a hassle, and you may be tempted to go with whoever can get there first, but the extra time you spend on choosing the right contractor will save you both time and money in the end. Replacing your water heater falls under the classification of a “major project” and is no exception to this rule, no matter how badly you want hot water back in your home.

Things you should know if you’re thinking about going to one of the “big box stores,” for your installation. All of these stores sub-contract every one of their installations to licensed and insured local contractors. The problem is, the contractors will sometimes turn around and send unlicensed plumbers to your home under their master license. This practice is illegal in the State of Virginia, and several others. Check with your local licensing authority about the laws in your state.

The other thing to know is the big-box stores often sell you a “basic installation” while you’re in the store. This doesn’t include any of the modifications that may be needed to install your new water heater. When the plumber gets to your house, and the new water heater doesn’t work in the space, they will do a change order, which will add the modifications to the contractor’s cost along with a 30% to 40% mark up for the store. In the end, you can end up paying hundreds more than if you’d gone with a qualified local plumber for your install.