Top 5 Plumbing Tips for Homeowners
As a homeowner, there’s a lot to learn about the home that you might not have thought about before, and plumbing is likely one of those considerations.
Underneath floors, inside crawl spaces, and behind walls, there’s a complex network of pipes that runs new water into your home from the city or well system and drains wastewater away from your home into the sewer lines.
As you get to know your plumbing system, keep in mind these five things, and you’re more likely to avoid an expensive problem down the line:
Look at other areas of home maintenance that might affect your plumbing
It might sound surprising, but how well the rest of the home is maintained can affect your plumbing system. Keeping your gutters clean, for example, is a great way to avoid flooded toilets and basements, as water is diverted away from the base of the house where many of these lines enter and exit the home. Keeping excess leaves swept away from the home’s foundation can also reduce how much standing water is near the home, preventing flooded lines.
- Dispose of waste responsibly
It’s how you treat your garbage disposal, toilet, and bathtub that matters.
Garbage disposals can remove small bits of food, but it should not be used to dispose of whole or large chunks of food, starchy food, grease, oil, or non-food items. Toilets should be well-maintained to prevent line backups, with no non-toilet paper items flushed, including “flushable” wipes. Bathtubs should have hair catchers installed or inserted into the drain to prevent future clogs.
- Keep up with plumbing maintenance and inspections
Routine professional maintenance is an important part of your plumbing system, even if you do most of the repairs yourself. Keeping the water heater in good working order and having the whole plumbing system inspected annually will help keep repairs at bay for as long as possible.
- Know the signs of plumbing problems
Low water pressure, for example, is a common symptom of a plumbing leak that puzzles many homeowners until it’s too late. (1)
Your house’s water pressure could be wreaking all kinds of havoc on your pipes and your plumbing.
Other signs, such as rust-colored water and foul smells are another common sign of plumbing problems that should be diagnosed right away.
- Don’t forget to winterize your home
Winterizing your home is an important part of home ownership, even if you only see a handful of cold days a year.
Unlike humans, pipes don’t have body heat to keep them warm, and water is an excellent conductor for temperature. What this means is, even if the temperatures outside get close to freezing, the likelihood of your pipes freezing increases.
Because water expands when it freezes, it can cause pipes to burst, leading to water damage in the home and a loss of water supply to certain parts of the home depending on where the freeze took place.
Avoid Plumbing Mistakes by Mastering These Basics
There’s a lot of basic mistakes that can be easily avoided, so long as you know a few things about your home’s plumbing system.
Knowing what you can and cannot put down drains is an important lesson to learn. This includes many boxed “clog solutions” that advertise their ability to eat away at organic items causing clogs in plumbing lines. (2) Unfortunately, especially in the case of PVC lines, these clog remedies can also eat away at the pipe itself, causing leaks over time.
The best thing you can do to avoid a plumbing emergency is to be careful of what you put down your drains. Other than that, maintenance is key.
Learning how to turn off the water supply to the house will also help you stop a leak as soon as possible, buying time for either you to make a repair, or for the plumber to arrive.
These basics will help keep your plumbing system healthy and working for years to come.
Getting to Know Your Water Main
Your water main takes the water supply from the city – or from a well on the property – and diverts it towards your home, supplying the home with water whenever necessary.
This flow of water comes from a water main that has a shut-off valve. The valve is typically nearby the foundation of the home, or near the street towards the base of the line if it is located on the outside of the home.
Some homes include the water main on the inside of the home for ease of use, especially in areas that see significant snowfall during the winter. If the valve is on the inside of the home, it is typically located in a crawl space, in the basement, or under the main kitchen sink.
Each city or municipality has a different protocol on how to set up a water main and shutoff valve in new homes, so the first step is to locate where the water main is on your property. The location of the valve is typically noted in an inspector report, so if you are unable to locate the water main, you can refer to the report for more information.
In some cases, the valve may be difficult to turn, or may not have a traditional handle. Some water mains, especially if they are located outside, will require a special tool called a key to grip the bar and twist the valve open or closed.
Individual lines inside the home may also have shutoff valves. For example, bathroom lines often feature a shut-off valve near the base to ensure that the toilet or sink can be removed easily.
For areas that don’t have this shut-off valve, however, such as working on interior wall plumbing or part of a line that cannot be shut off, the main water line will need to be shut off, cutting off water supply to the home while work is being done.
Know When to Replace Your Water Heater
The water heater is one of the most important parts of the plumbing system. When water enters the home from the main line, part of it is diverted to the water heater, which then heats the water for access to both cold and hot water throughout the home.
From there, both the cold and hot water may be supplied to the laundry hookups, kitchen and bathroom faucets, and appliances like the refrigerator and washing machine.
Over time, parts can wear out and the system may need to be replaced. Most water heaters last anywhere from 10-20 years before needing replacement with regular maintenance. Water heaters should be maintained annually to ensure that they are not wearing out prematurely, and any repairs can be made to prevent damages or breakdowns.
When it comes time to replace the water heater, it may begin to break down more frequently, and parts may become more difficult or expensive to locate. The efficiency of the water heater may also decrease as it struggles to keep up with the demands of the house. This is when it may be time to consider a replacement for the water heater if it has been repaired several times and has seen proper maintenance.
A replacement may also be necessary if more plumbing lines are supplied to the house that exceed the capabilities of the water heater. Even if it is still functioning well, a water heater that is too small for the demands of the home will begin to burn out and struggle, resulting in a lack of hot water throughout the home, or hot water that takes a long time to warm up.
Start with a Plumbing Inspection
The best thing that you can do to maintain your plumbing and make sure you understand your plumbing system’s current state and layout within the home is to get a plumbing inspection done.
By having the inspection done by a professional plumber, you can defer to their professional judgement and opinion of the system, and you will have a written record of the inspection to refer to if there are any problems that you need to keep an eye out.
For example, corroded pipes are more likely to burst, allowing you to take preliminary action before a part of your home becomes flooded, or determine the cause of the acidic water and implement a solution to prevent further corrosion.
A plumbing inspection can also help you verify that the plumbing was taken care of by the previous owner, and that everything is working correctly from the start.
Even if you are capable with plumbing and intend to do all the repairs yourself, having a professional assess the state of the plumbing system annually is important. These inspections allow you to gain better insight into the system and ensure that everything is running smoothly, and that your DIY repairs are not causing more harm than good to the overall safety and integrity of the home’s plumbing.
Useful Tools to Keep Around
Even if you plan to do few, if any, repairs around the home yourself, keeping a few essential tools on hand will help in an emergency when you need to stop a leak to buy time for the plumber to arrive and make the necessary repairs, or to resolve a clog.
You may already have the most common household basic, which is a plunger. If you don’t, be sure to purchase a mid-range plunger that is made of a resistant rubber and the head is secured tightly to the handle. The handle on these plungers is typically longer, as well, making it easier to avoid getting any dirty water on you during a toilet or sink backup.
A water main shutoff key is also a useful tool if your valve is in-ground, as these are difficult to reach, and often difficult to turn without leverage.
Every home can benefit from a pipe snake. This long, flexible tool is meant to snake through drains and remove any clogs from the line, whether its grease, hair, or built-up starch. The longer the snake, the better, as many clogs run deep into the line.
You can also never go wrong with having some pliers, wrenches, plumber’s tape, and pipe glue around. If possible, you should also keep some spare pipes around, especially if you plan to make any repairs yourself. The fewer trips you need to make to the hardware store in a hurry, the better.
Furthermore, it’s always wise to keep a few buckets and a handful of large, absorbent towels on hand that you don’t mind getting mucked up with dirt or sewage, as you will inevitably need to absorb and catch spilled water as it exits a pipe. Even if you turn off the main line first, standing water in the pipe will still need to empty from the line, and it often does so before you can finish removing the pipe’s joint.
Why Shouldn’t You Do Your Own Plumbing?
Plumbers are skilled tradespeople that must engage in several years of practical, hands-on experience. They must also pass several tests and obtain the proper licensure to work in their field.
By doing your own plumbing, you risk making the problem worse, or only fixing the symptoms, rather than the root cause of the issue.
No one likes a surprise water leak, and even fewer people like the bill that can come with these fixes; it always seems to come at the most inopportune times.
Because of this, the temptation to grab a wrench and some pipe glue may be difficult to resist. Unfortunately, in many cases, DIY fixes can end up costing much more than the efficient and quick work of a professional.
Once you find the right company for your needs, however, you can always inquire about their payment plans. Many companies are willing to work with you to provide the services you need in a way that works best for you.
Find a Local Plumber Near You
While you might be interested in plumbing tips for homeowners, it doesn’t always translate into actionable advice when it comes to working on your own plumbing system.
Every plumbing system is different and based on the structure and layout of your home, residential plumbing can rely on much more than just a wrench and a roll of plumbing tape.
Whether you are in over your head with a DIY project, or you’ve elected to call a plumber as soon as possible to minimize potential water or mold damages to the home, it’s time to find a plumber that you can rely on.
At Same Day Pros, we’re here to help you find a local plumbing service that is both experienced and ready to get your home’s plumbing back to normal.
- HuffPost, 5 Fast Ways to Prevent Plumbing Nightmares, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5-fast-ways-to-prevent-plumbing_b_5654639
- Forbes, Ask the Contractor: Things You Should Know About DIY Plumbing, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/home-improvement/ask-the-contractor-diy-plumbing/