Simple Plumbing Checks
Pipes. Check exposed pipes for signs of leaks or corrosion, which can present as rust stains around metal fittings. Corrosion can cause pipe connections to become unseated; if left too long, it can then lead to leaks.
Water pressure and drainage. Low water pressure can indicate a possible problem in the water line or a buildup of sediment. Test sinks and tubs at the faucets and remove showerheads to look for sediment. Also check the drainage; a full swirl should be evident as the water leaves basins. If bubbles appear instead, there may be a blockage in the pipe.
Leaks and tile damage. Carefully examine tiles and caulking to see if any are cracked, loose, or hollow. Push gently on the toilet to see if it moves or rocks. Any of these anomalies can be an indication of current or past leaks that may have contributed to unseen damage beneath the tiles.
Common Plumbing Problems
Toilet problems. The two most common problems that happen with a toilet are that it will run continuously after flushing or will not flush at all. Both problems should be attended to as soon as possible. A toilet that runs wastes a great deal of water, which can translate into much higher utility costs. In general, this problem is the result of a tank valve or flapper that is improperly seated. After the toilet is flushed, the valve does not settle back into place, thus allowing the water to run out of the tank. Since the water never rises to a level that will send the filler float back into position, the water continues to cycle through the tank. Jiggling the handle of the toilet will sometimes reset the flapper, but if the problem persists, some of the internal mechanisms of the toilet will most likely need replacement.
If the toilet will not flush at all and the toilet tank is full, it is likely that the chain linking the handle to the flapper has become disconnected. Reconnecting the chain to the handle arm is an easy job, but it involves sticking your hand into the toilet tank. (Rest assured that the water in the toilet tank is clean.)
If the tank is empty, it is possible that the water supply valve, which is located near the floor at the back of most toilets, has accidentally been turned. However, it is also possible that water from the supply line is blocked, which requires immediate attention from a professional. Be sure to check the toilet valve and the water pressure at other fixtures before calling in an expert.
Toilet clogs. Toilet clogs can often be cleared with a toilet plunger. However, if a plunger cannot fix the problem, plumbers can use special tools called augers, or snakes. Snakes are long, flexible, spring-like tools that a plumber inserts into the drain of the toilet and manually rotates in order to break up the clog.
Dripping faucets. Worn parts of a faucet are the most common cause of faucet drip. Since various faucet designs shut off water flow differently, a variety of components can cause the faucet to drip. In a standard two-handle faucet, a worn rubber washer, or O-ring, or a worn valve seat usually causes the drip. Since a steady faucet drip can waste many gallons of water per day if left unchecked, a faucet drip should be repaired as soon as possible.
Drain clogs. Depending on the cause and location of a clog, drain cleaning may or may not be effective. Additionally, because clogs in multiple places can contribute to what seems like a single issue, successfully clearing one clogged spot might not solve all long-term problems. It may be tempting to reach for a chemical drain cleaner to get rid of a clog, but be aware that using the product incorrectly or too often can cause serious damage to the sink or tub and to your home’s plumbing system.
ENERGY STAR-certified products. ENERGY STAR is a joint effort of the US Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The focus of the program is to provide consumers with information regarding energy-efficient products. The EPA has created a set of guidelines to assess a product’s energy efficiency, and it selects for the ENERGY STAR label those that meet its criteria. If a product features the ENERGY STAR label, it has been deemed by the EPA to be more efficient than its competitors in terms of its energy consumption and performance. In addition, products earning the label must deliver the standard features and level of performance of similar products.
Water-conserving fixtures. Low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets have improved in both quality and affordability. Modern designs have produced fixtures that conserve water yet still provide water pressure similar to older models.
Tankless water heaters. Rather than heat and store water in a central tank, tankless water heaters heat water directly as it passes through a series of gas burners or electric coils. Since the water is only warmed as it is used, a tankless unit can help reduce both energy costs and consumption.
Solar energy. Some plumbing contractors are beginning to specialize in helping homeowners convert to solar power for household appliances. For example, a plumbing professional can replace a traditional water heater with a solar-powered one, which will harness free energy from the sun to heat water for the dishwasher, shower, and washing machine. While this move can provide significant savings over the long term, the time and money investments up front are substantial. Going solar is not for every household.
Shutting Off the Water
All household members should know where the home’s main water shutoff valve is located and how to use it. In an emergency, shutting off the water supply to the home can be crucial to preventing serious water damage from taking place. In most homes, the valve is adjacent to the water meter. Most fixtures also have individual shutoff valves located in their supply lines. All valves should be periodically checked to ensure they are working properly.
Frost-proof outside spigots or hydrants. Frost-proof spigots are common, and they prevent many repairs each year. To keep the water behind the valve from freezing, the valve portion of the spigot is located deep inside the wall. When the spigot is in the off position, no water is present near the outside of the house wall. Remember to remove the hose from the spigot and drain it before the cold season.
Frozen pipes. Winter weather can cause pipes to freeze and possibly burst, leaving you with costly water damage to your home. Wrapping pipes with foam insulation, or, in more severe climates, with thermostatically-controlled heat tape, will help prevent freezing. To thaw frozen pipes, slowly work a hair dryer or heat lamp from an open faucet toward the frozen area until water flows freely.