Master These Basics to Avoid Plumbing Nightmares

Imagine waking up tomorrow to a lake where your basement used to be. Boxes of old family photos and high school yearbooks are completely destroyed. You pinch yourself and realize that this isn’t a nightmare. It’s real life, and your water heater sprung a leak overnight.

It might seem like a dramatic scenario, but plumbing disasters happen every day. Within your home is a complex network of pipes, drains, and appliances that all work together to make your life easier.

We tend to forget about things we don’t see, and plumbing systems mostly operate away from the naked eye. But just like everything else, your plumbing is subject to wear and tear. And the best way to avoid a disaster is with a good knowledge of basic plumbing problems and solutions.

Here are our 12 essential plumbing tips that you should master as a homeowner.

#1. Get to know your water main

Your water main is the first access point for water going into your home. It’s typically located in the basement near the water heater. On the water main you’ll see a shutoff valve (either a lever or wheel). This valve will completely stop the flow of water into your home when you close it.

If you ever have to do a major plumbing project, or if you have a situation like a leak or burst pipe, shutting off the water main is going to be the first step you take.

#2. Learn how to deal with clogged drains

At some point, you’re going to have a clogged drain. When we take showers, our hair falls out and it builds up over time. Your first instinct, when confronted with a clog, might be to use one of those liquid drain cleaners. Big mistake.

That’s right, avoid liquid drain cleaners like the plague. We know, it seems like an easy fix to an annoying problem. But the chemicals in Liquid Plumber and other similar products can harm your plumbing infrastructure. If your sink or tub keeps backing up, get a snake or similar tool that can pull out any debris blocking your pipes.

#3. Keep tabs on water pressure

It’s such an important part of a healthy plumbing system. Just like we get our blood pressure taken every time we visit the doctor, you should be monitoring your home’s water pressure as often as you can. You can pick up a simple pressure gauge pretty cheaply at any hardware or home improvement store.

If you want a more accurate, modern solution, install a smart home water monitoring system like the Flo by Moen. That way you can stay on top of your water pressure in real-time, detect leaks, and track water usage.

#4. Have a working pressure reducing valve

If you do have high water pressure in your home, you’re going to want to get it down to a safe level. You can do this by installing (or replacing) your pressure-reducing valve, or PRV. PRV’s are a must-have in most homes that depend on a municipal water supply. That’s because municipal water companies have to pump water at high pressures to serve fire hydrants, high-elevation homes, and high-rise buildings. They often deliver water at over 100 psi, while your home (and all your plumbing fixtures) are designed for pressure in the 50-60 psi range.

#5. Take care of your toilet

You can start by making sure you only flush toilet paper and your own waste down the toilet. Cotton swabs, baby wipes, paper towels, and other things can all get caught in your pipes and lead to clogs. If you don’t own a plunger, pick one up the next time you’re out (we all get a clog eventually).

You also want to make sure your toilet is working properly. A running toilet is a telltale sign that one or more components in the toilet tank need replacing. But sometimes toilet leaks can be so tiny they don’t make any noise. You can check for these invisible leaks by putting food coloring in the toilet tank. After half an hour, check the water in the toilet bowl. If you see any color, you’ve got a leak.

#6. Respect your garbage disposal

Garbage disposals are amazing tools to have in your home but they definitely can’t handle everything. Be especially wary of pouring any fats, oils, or grease down the drain. These will solidify when they cool down and can cause buildup in your pipes.

Before running your garbage disposal, let some cold water run into the drain for five or ten seconds first, and continue to run cold water for a few seconds after you stop. Put some ice cubes in the garbage disposal periodically to keep the blades sharp.

#7. Clean out your gutters as often as you need to

While gutters aren’t technically part of your plumbing system, they’re important for keeping water out of your home. Clogged gutters cause water to pool on your roof, compromising the structure and eventually letting that water in. As a homeowner, water damage is something you want to avoid at all costs. You should at least have them cleaned out in early spring and late summer. If you have a lot of pine trees (which shed like crazy) on your property, plan on having them cleaned more frequently.

#8. Protect your pipes from the cold

Water damage from frozen pipe bursts can easily lead to a five-figure repair bill. If you live anywhere that gets cold in the winter, you’re going to want to get your pipes winterized. Make sure your home is properly insulated and any exterior pipes and fixtures have some cold weather protection.

Pipe bursts frequently happen when people are away from their homes for extended periods of time and the thermostats are set too low. So while it might be tempting to try to save a few bucks on your heating bills, keep your home at around 60 degrees if you’re taking a winter vacation.

#9. Know when to replace your water heater

Water heaters have a lifespan. If yours is getting into the double-digits, it’s probably time for a replacement. This is an area where you don’t want to procrastinate. That water heater tank is holding 50 gallons or more. That’s more than enough water to do some serious damage if that tank springs a leak. If you end up replacing your water heater, you should go ahead and replace your sump pump too.

#10. Look for signs of water leaks

Water leaks can happen all over your home. Sometimes they’re out in plain sight, but you’d be surprised often small water leaks fly under the radar. Look for spots of discoloration on walls and ceilings.

A musty, mildew smell in basements, attics or crawl spaces is a common sign of mold buildup, which is often the result of water leaks. Make it a habit to periodically check around water fixtures and appliances for leaks.

#11. Fix dripping faucets

Dripping faucets are annoying. They also waste a ton of water. Even a drop or two every minute adds up to thousands of gallons in a year (and extra dollars on your water bill). Dripping faucets are usually caused by two things: high water pressure, or a faulty component in the fixture. If you have a working PRV, chances are it’s the latter.

Most faucet repair jobs can be done yourself. What you’ll need to do is determine the type of fixture you have. Ball faucets are the kinds you usually find on your kitchen sink. Cartridge faucets and disc faucets are more common in bathrooms. You’ll find DIY repair videos for all three online that will guide you through the repair process.

#12. Find a local plumber and get an inspection

Unless you’re a professional plumber yourself, it’ll pay off big time to add a local plumber to your Rolodex. Not every plumbing problem has a simple DIY fix. And having someone on speed-dial that you’re on a first-name basis with will make life easier if you end up with a plumbing disaster some time down the road.

Shop around. Ask friends, neighbors, or co-workers for recommendations. Find a plumber with a good reputation and give them a call.

The best way to kick off a new relationship with a plumber is to have them do a home inspection. A professional plumber can give you a report on the state of your entire plumbing system, recommend repairs and help you come up with a preventative maintenance plan.

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