Plumbers Educational Content
SIMPLE PLUMBING CHECKS
Pipes. Check exposed pipes for leaks or corrosion. This usually shows up as rust or green or white discoloration around metal fittings. Corrosion can cause unseated pipe connections, which can lead to leaks.
Water pressure and drainage. Low water pressure signals a problem in the water line or a buildup of sediment. Test the water pressure at the faucets. Remove aerators to look for sediment. You should see a full swirl of water as a basin drains. If you see bubbles, the pipe may be blocked.
Leaks and tile damage. Check tiles and caulking to see if they’re cracked, loose, or hollow. Push gently on the toilet to see if it moves or rocks. Any of these issues can be a sign of leaks (and damage) beneath the tiles.
COMMON PLUMBING PROBLEMS
Toilet problems. There are two very common toilet problems. One is that the toilet will run continuously after flushing. The other is that the toilet will not flush at all. Both of these problems should be fixed as soon as possible. A toilet that runs wastes a lot of water, which gets expensive. This problem is typically 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, which allows 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 keeps cycling through the tank. Jiggling the handle of the toilet sometimes resets the flapper. If the problem persists, the toilet’s internal mechanisms probably need to be replaced.
If the toilet will not flush at all and the toilet tank is full, check the chain linking the handle to the flapper. It might be 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, check the water supply valve, which is located near the floor at the back of most toilets. It may have been turned off accidentally. However, it is also possible that water from the supply line is blocked. If that’s the case, the pros will need to fix the problem. Check the supply valve and water pressure at other fixtures so you know the extent of the problem before calling a plumber.
Toilet clogs. Toilet clogs can often be cleared with a toilet plunger. If a plunger can’t fix the problem, call a plumber. Plumbers have special tools called augers, or snakes, to remove stubborn clogs. Snakes are long, flexible tools that can reach far into a drain. The plumber then manually rotates the tool to break up the clog.
Dripping faucets. Worn parts of a faucet are the most common cause of faucet drip. There are a few components that can cause a faucet to drip. In many cases, the cause is a worn rubber washer, or O-ring, or a worn valve seat. A steady faucet drip wastes a lot of water. Have dripping faucets fixed as promptly as possible.
Drain clogs. Depending on the cause and location of a clog, drain cleaning may or may not be effective. Clogs in multiple places can also contribute to what seems like a single issue. As a result, clearing one clogged spot might not solve the entire problem. It can be tempting to reach for a chemical drain cleaner to get rid of a clog, but try to resist. Using chemical drain cleaners too often can cause serious damage to your 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 give consumers information about energy-efficient products. The EPA created a set of guidelines to assess a product’s energy efficiency. Based on those criteria, it selects products to carry the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR products are more energy efficient than their competitors. Products that earn the label must have the standard features and performance of similar, non-ENERGY STAR products.
Water-conserving fixtures. Low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets have improved in both quality and affordability. Modern designs conserve water without sacrificing water pressure.
Tankless water heaters. Instead of heating and storing water in a large tank, tankless water heaters heat water as its needed. The water is heated as it passes through a series of gas burners or electric coils. Since the water is only warmed as it’s used, a tankless unit can help reduce both energy use and costs.
Solar energy. Some plumbing contractors specialize in converting households to solar power for certain appliances. For example, a plumber can replace a conventional water heater with a solar-powered one. A solar water heater uses free energy from the sun to heat water for your household appliances. While doing this can save you money long term, the upfront cost is significant. An expert in residential solar power systems can tell you about options that will best fit your needs and budget.
SHUTTING OFF THE WATER
Everyone in the house needs to know where the main water shutoff valve is located and how to use it. This valve should be clearly marked to avoid confusion. In an emergency, shutting off the water supply to the entire house can help prevent serious water damage. In most homes, the valve is next to the water meter. Most fixtures also have shutoff valves in their supply lines. Check these valves periodically to make sure they work properly.
Frost-proof outside spigots or hydrants. Frost-proof spigots prevent many repairs each year. The valve part of the spigot is installed deep in the wall, which keeps the water in the pipe from freezing. When the spigot is turned off, there isn’t any water 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. If this happens, you’ll likely have to deal with costly water damage. Wrapping pipes with foam insulation can help prevent them from freezing. If your area gets tough winters, ask your plumber about wrapping pipes with thermostatically-controlled heat tape. To thaw frozen pipes, slowly work a hair dryer or heat lamp from an open faucet toward the frozen area. Do this until water flows freely out of the faucet.