I've read through other posts on basement bathroom rough-ins, but haven't found anything.

Yesterday, a reputable plumber used a jack hammer to break up concrete in a basement bathroom being added to the unfinished portion of the basement. I expected dust in the laundry room, and made sure the HVAC was turned off. I left the plumbers to do their work as I'm sure they've done several times for years.

When I checked the work last night, there was a healthy coating of dust in the finished portion, and no signs that plastic was put up. I asked this morning and was told that the contractor (who did the frame-up) was responsible for hanging plastic and that people did not prefer to pay $150 hr. for the plumber to do it. Since it's a bid job, at a premium price I might add, I hoped to get a second opinion.

I am afraid the couch, other furniture, and TV may be difficult to clean. Is it common practice for a plumber to put up a couple sheets of plastic or am I overly concerned here?

I appreciate the information. The other posts have already given me ideas for some other basement bathroom issues.

Thanks in advance.

  • 8
    If nothing else, it's extremely poor form. Even if they charged you $150 an hour for 10 minutes to put up some plastic, that comes out to $25. I'd tell the plumber that it's worth a hell of a lot more than $25 to not blast concrete dust all over furnature and electronics. If you have a general contractor, I'd raise the issue with them.
    – Comintern
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:29
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    Your approved set of drawings should have outlined each and all of the tradesmen's responsibilities. If you have no such paperwork, ojait has it right, "communication is the key factor" and I'd guess you're the 'GC'. If so, that's all on you (unless you can produce a contract that says otherwise). That being said, I "expect" those who are the better workers, will arbitrarily put up some plastic, if only so that it doesn't have any chance of coming back on them.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 2:02
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    Never assume, always trust but verify. Job outline of responsibility must happen before the work is undertaken. No good contractor will object, checking that the subcontractor got the messge before starting work is important.. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 2:21
  • Was the finished area closed off from the unfinished area by walls and doors? Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 3:35
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    What I would "expect" is a plumber to do the quickest, dirtiest thing he could think of. Once I had a plumber who dumped his scraps and cutoffs into a drainage tank. Having a plumber do any kind of construction work is a huge mistake. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


I will tackle this from three ways.

  1. I work as a general contractor when doing flips. I would hope to remember to put up plastic or block off areas. First because I do not want things in other areas to get damaged and secondly because I can allocate someone I am paying $15 an hour to do this.

  2. If I didn't think ahead... I don't have 1 plumber out of the 5-6 I use that would ever let this happen. First they would get fired on the spot. Second they are just good guys that care about their job. They would give me a call and say "Hey you don't have this area ready, you want me to wrap it for you?" And often they are chuckling because they know their time is 5-6 times what I would pay someone else. I might tell them $40 for a wrap - but guess what they would do it anyway.

  3. In my area if there was work done to part of your house that caused damage to another part then the person doing the work would be held liable. I have seen your EXACT case happen and it ruined not only electronics but also expensive clothing. This plumber could be sued. Unless he stated in his contract that his job could expand into other areas and things could get damaged unless XYZ happens - he is liable. That is why he is bonded.

My last point. Why the hell would a plumber be doing the jackhammer rough-in by himself? I always hire a laborer to help plumber with this and sometimes two guys. It is not rocket science to bust up concrete and it certainly isn't plumbing. These laborers would have covered things. I know if I am in someone else's home doing work that keeping their house clean is #1. You should be really pissed and this is 50% on the plumber and 50% on the GC. If the GC is paying the plumber he is liable to fix your damages. Depending on your relationship with him I might just bring up the issue and then try to resolve it after the job is over - and hopefully before your last check to him.

Note: And this is me ranting because of the lack of accountability that the other answers seem to have for the trades... It is NOT the homeowners responsibility to have expertise in how you will do things or how "things work". If a plumbing rough-in needs to be done the owner has to completely understand the method of excavating? Also give me 2 20-year-old guys and a few sledgehammers and we can rough-in a basement bathroom 40 feet away from stack in 4 hours with minimal dust. How the hell is a homeowner supposed to know what might happen when an expert is doing their job. If they understood everything they wouldn't need the expert!

  • It doesn't sounds like there's a GC on this job. So you're saying what everybody else is, the homeowner is 50% responsible. You're coming from the perspective of what the crews you work with would do, which is slightly skewed since you only work with good crews.
    – Tester101
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 10:56
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    @Tester101 - To the contrary. The plumber is 100% responsible and actually liable for all damages (midwest US). I see this 10-15 times a year - usually it is just plumber/drywall guys have to provide cleaning of some sort. If the homeownder hired the guy that is why you hire someone who is bonded. This plumber needs to make ammends with the damage. Homeowner has no idea jackhammer causes concrete powder to go everywhere. The plumber would have to prove he warned homeowner and homeowner was liable for covering things. If that is met then homeowner is at fault.
    – DMoore
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 17:00
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    It drives me nuts when I see "experts" get angry when an owner is micromanaging them or watching them. THIS is why homeowners do it! It's because they have no idea if you can be trusted. Obviously many people can't be and the expert should not be taking it personally. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 4:11
  • @JoePhilllips - Very true. This is more common IMO with a GC. With a GC they are more than likely to hire the cheapest trades they can find within reason to maximize their profit. This isn't true with all GCs but more than half. So the GC hires cheap trades and the trades are often at the house unsupervised. This sums up the reason why I quit hiring GC for my houses and just do that myself. The GCs on this site are also not the "norm". Most GCs don't have the knowledge of the guys on this site so... you get what you get.
    – DMoore
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 5:41

I've learned over the years that when starting any job communication is the key factor. If I sense the home owner is not asking pertinent question I will briefly lay out the work for the day. Regarding the plumbers stating it wasn't their responsibility to set-up dust containment, well don't feel every plumber is this indifferent. Either way they should have notified you that the work will produce dust. If what they claimed is true; that the contractor was responsible than the onus is on him. If push comes to shove and the plastic isn't getting installed, hang it yourself and bill the contractor what the plumbers were going to bill you.


Would I expect a plumber to do it? No. Would some plumbers do it? Probably.

If there's a general contractor, I'd have expected them to delegate the task. You should definitely discuss this with them, and try to work out a solution.

If there's not a general contractor, site preparation would be your responsibility. If this is the case, I might have expected the plumber to let you know that you should hang some plastic. But I wouldn't expect them to do it, unless you agreed upon that specifically. Though some plumbers might have done it as a courtesy.

  • Ok. So the answer that it falls on me makes sense. I've tried communicating several aspects, but should have been more specific when it came to plastic. They made a statement that they would take care of it when I mentioned keeping the hvac off. Oh well- what type of service might I contact regarding safe cleanup of cement dust?
    – RobertB
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:58
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    I totally disagree with this. Tester you don't know how many trade guys I know who have gotten sued or threatened due to them damaging other areas of the house. Unless the couch and whatever is sitting right next to the jackhammered area the plumber has no chance. I am not sure what laws you abide by but this is a really big deal in my area. Probably the most common thing is the drywall guys damaging TVs/electronics. I have drywall guys that won't sand with anything like this on the same floor unless the room is bulletproof wrapped.
    – DMoore
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 5:27
  • @DMoore That doesn't change the fact that lots of plumbers aren't going to hang plastic. Drywall installers are far more conscience of dust, and take appropriate steps to reduce its spread. But we're talking about plumbers here, not all trades people.
    – Tester101
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 10:47
  • @RobertB At this point you have a few options. 1.) Talk to the plumber (you should definitely do this), and try to come to an agreement on how to handle the situation. 2.) Contact a lawyer (should only be done after first talking to the plumber), to find out what legal options you have. 3.) Do none of those, and clean the mess yourself. I'd start with number 1, and fall back to number 2 if number 1 doesn't go well.
    – Tester101
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 11:02
  • @Tester101 - I would have agreed 10-15 years ago. All plumbers I know carry plastic and will wrap. Why not get paid $100 an hour to tape up plastic? I have a plumber who is 70 something - no kidding - and the first thing he asks is do I need to prep and clean up. There aren't different laws for different trades. Robert seems to come across a really lazy or really bad plumber. This is something that I would expect from some guy claiming to be a plumber that I got off craigslist for $25 an hour - I have hired those guys too.
    – DMoore
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 18:14

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