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Homeowner's Guide To Plumbing

One of the major problems that arise when you own a home is the fact that you have to deal with unforeseen circumstances in plumbing. The plumbing of a house is a pretty important detail. It makes up the basis of the availability of running water for you and your family. As a homeowner, it is of the utmost importance that you keep the water running if you can. To do so, you're going to have to be aware of some of the major problems that may arise when it comes to your plumbing. Plumbing problems can be limited by following proper maintenance. Taking into account the age of your pipes and the wear and tear that they go through is important in dealing with how much and how often maintenance should be done. Doing maintenance yourself saves you the cost of hiring someone else to do it, and can also benefit you by allowing for savings from plumbing disasters that would have occurred without maintenance. However, no matter how good your maintenance program is or how well you keep your pipes in tip-top shape, emergencies will always happen and repairs will have to be done. Keeping yourself abreast of the best do-it-yourself plumbing solutions can only benefit you in the long run. Here's a look at some of the things that you as a homeowner should be aware of regarding your plumbing.

Plumbing Maintenance

Maintenance ensures that you don't have to deal with a lot of repairs throughout the lifetime of your house, and in so doing saves you money. There are a lot of affordable ways that you can extend the life of your plumbing by doing preventative maintenance. Here are a few really good ideas:

Clogged Drains

Clogged drains can be a nuisance. You don't know what's going on in the vast repository of pipes down there so you don't know what you should or shouldn't do. In order to prevent your drains from clogging a good idea would be to deal with the clogs before they happen. Keeping an eye on what you put down your drains is important in figuring out what caused the drain clogs in the first place. Bathroom drains are usually clogged by hair deposits, so keeping hair out of your bathroom drain pipes is a step in the right direction. Kitchen pipes are usually clogged by food deposits, so getting rid of food scraps before doing the dishes is important to keeping your kitchen sink unclogged. Installing drain screens over draining outlets is a good way to deal with clogging from particulate matter. Drain screens are easy to obtain (most hardware shops have them at a minimal cost, usually below $2.00, but expensive ones can set you back up to $45.00) and are similarly easy to install. Another thing that usually clogs kitchen sinks is grease. It's a liquid when hot, but when it gets cool it congeals. When that happens it can form an impassable blockage in your pipes. Try to avoid disposing of grease in your kitchen sink.

Drop the Pressure a Notch

It's always nice to have a high-pressure water supply in your home. The problem with having a high pressure water supply is the stress and strain that it puts on your pipes. Water pipes are rated to take a certain amount of pressure. Over time being exposed to pressure at their maximum rating degrades the fidelity of the pipes, making them weaker. When this happens, it's only a matter of time before one or more of them ruptures. In order to deal with this, the best idea would be to reduce the pressure of the incoming water. A hose-bib gauge, available at any hardware store, can help you to keep an eye on the pressure of the water being pumped into your home. The average pressure should be between 45 and 80 pounds per square inch. If it exceeds this value, you'd be well advised to install a pressure reducer (total cost of installation should be less than $175). This will both save the pipes as well as conserve water all around. In addition to this, since there is a lower pressure of water running through the pipes there is also a lower volume of water that needs to be heated (in homes with water-heating systems). This is a benefit to your energy bill at the end of the year. Overall, the inclusion of a pressure reducer is a good way to deal with savings both from an energy perspective as well as a water perspective.

Water Softening

In areas where the water has a high mineral content (dissolved Calcium or Magnesium ions) the water is said to be hard. Hard water is good for a lot of household tasks, because it deals very well with certain parts of domestic cleaning and maintenance. However, from a plumber's perspective, water that is excessively hard can lead to shortening of your pipe's life span. When you have hard water in an area, the ions that are dissolved in the water eventually accumulate in the pipes and can lead to restriction of flow and in some cases complete blockage. This in turn leads to pipes being ruptured from backed up water. In addition to their pipe blocking tendencies, hard water also weakens joints, leading to a higher risk of them splitting and causing a mini plumbing disaster. A tell-tale sign of hard water being present in a system is the buildup of a white substance on shower heads. To deal with hard water, a water softener should be installed. This softens the water by introducing sodium ions into it to counteract the hard water ions, making the water less likely to burst your plumbing. These water softeners usually are placed before the water enters your house ensuring that only one is needed to deal with the entire house. The softener may cost a bit (ranging from $600 to $1,100 for non-electronic models and under $200 for electronic ones) but the investment is well worth the money.

Plumbing Repairs

Even though you might have your maintenance up to par, there are a couple situations that arise that need small fixes. It's here that the homeowner can save money by applying minor fixes to situations instead of calling in a plumber for the job. Here's a look at some of the more common do-it-yourself fixes that a homeowner can take care of.

Minor Leaks

Sometimes, a leak suddenly appears at a valve where previously there was none. This is a relatively simple fix that homeowner can do himself or herself. To begin with, turning off the water to the valve is essential, unless you want to flood your living space. After turning the valve off, take a look at the valve itself to see if there are any point of corrosion around the vale or if the pipe there seems to be rusted or damaged in some way. If you do discover a fault in either of the pipes that connect to the valve, then you need to replace those pipes and you should call a plumber. If there isn't any serious corrosion on the valve itself, then it may simply be a case of the base fitting needing tightening which can be done by hand with a wrench. If you turn the water on and the leak persists, then it is likely a problem with the seal itself. What is needed is a tightening of the seals, usually with the inclusion of thread sealant (a sub $3.00 purchase at a hardware store). This more often than not fixes the problem. When you turn the water back on, if the leak persists, then it is advised that you seek a plumber's opinion, since this goes beyond the coverage of a simple valve leak.

Toilet Repairs

Toilets are finicky modern inventions: all it takes is a minor problem for them to start causing problems. With these modern conveniences, a running toilet is usually the easiest of fixes. What usually leads to a toilet running is either the flow shut-off valve malfunctions (usually a problem with the flapper) or the water tank level is too high. Repairing the water tank level involves:

  • Removing the lid from the tank of the toilet.
  • Lower the float in the tank by either turning the adjustment screw or sliding the float along the lever.
  • Flush, to allow the tank to refill.
  • Check the level of water in the tank to ensure it's below the overflow tube.
  • Keep adjusting the float until you get the desired level.

Flapper repairs can be done as follows:

  • Turn off the shut-off valve before removing the lid.
  • Flush the toilet to allow you access the lower portion of the tank without getting your hands wet.
  • Remove the flapper at the bottom of the tank.
  • Remove the flapper chain attached to the tank-handle rod.
  • Wipe off the drain rim at the bottom of the tank.
  • Install a new flapper reattach the chain of the flapper.
  • Turn the water back on and ensure that no more running occurs.
  • Adjust flapper chain for easy flushing.

Dripping Faucets

Ah, dripping faucets, the bane of modern existence. Nothing is quite as annoying as having a leaky faucet with no way to fix it aside from calling a plumber. There are actually a few very intuitive ways to deal with this annoying problem in your home. Leaky faucets are usually due to a problem in the seal of the faucet and the sink assembly. Here's a very efficient way of dealing with it:

  • Turn off the faucet's water supply at the shut-off valve. Alternatively you can use the house shut-off valve.
  • Remove and put aside the decorative faucet cap cover.
  • Remove the screw that is located below the faucet cap.
  • Pull up the faucet handle and expose the valve underneath.
  • Using a deep-socket wrench, remove the valve.
  • Undo the screw that holds the washer to the end of the valve.
  • Replace the washer with a new one of the same size.
  • Screw the valve back into the faucet, taking care not to over tighten it.
  • Replace the handle and decorative cover before turning back on the water supply to the faucet.

If the leak persists then a plumber should be contacted, although replacing the washer usually solves the problem a majority of the time.

Plumbing Emergencies

No matter how well you maintain your pipes and repair small leaks, there will always be plumbing emergencies. There are a few things that a homeowner can do to be prepared for emergencies such as this when they arise. The main thing is to always be vigilant. The reason why most emergencies take people by surprise is because they don't see the obvious signs. In case of an emergency, here's a number of tips that will have you prepared for if the situation arises.

Get a Plumbing Tool Kit

Having a tool kit handy is of the utmost importance when it comes to emergency situations. Having tools at the ready is very important to getting a job done. Since you don't know what time an emergency will occur, it's best to have access to your tools at all times. This is just in case a plumbing accident happens at some ridiculous hour where plumbing supply stores are closed. A homeowner should always be prepared to act on a situation in order to save his or her home. Having a tool kit is one of the most basic parts of getting mobilized. It is an essential to any homeowner. A good quality tool kit can cost as much as $400, but it would be worth the investment to have tools that you can count on. You don't need a complete plumber's tool kit, however. The bare necessities of a pipe snake, plumber's wrench, putty, washers and fittings won't cost you more than $50.

Know Where the House Supply Valve Is Located

It is an important thing to note where the house supply valve is located in the case of an emergency. Being aware of the location makes it quick and easy to shut off the valve before the water gets too overwhelming to deal with and starts damaging fittings and furniture. These things are not cheap to replace, so saving them water damage may hinge on how fast and efficiently you can turn off your house water supply.

Be Aware of What You Can Do

Many plumbers don't like being called after the client has tried to repair something themselves and failed dismally at it. As a homeowner, you should be aware of the things you cannot fix and leave those to the professional plumbing companies. More often than not, when a homeowner tries to repair something themselves that they have no clue about fixing, they cause more damage. This usually leads to the plumber having a harder time and could end up costing you more in the long run. Only attempt to fix things you have a working knowledge about. Serious emergencies should be left to the professionals.

Make Sure Your Appliances Are Turned Off

Plumbing usually requires dealing with appliances that are linked to the electrical system of the house. Before tinkering with these appliances, you need to ensure that the appliances are off and that all connections to the mains are dead. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, electricity and water do not go well together and can lead to a risk of electrocution if the appliance is improperly connected. Secondly, if the appliance contains moving parts, you do not want it turning on automatically while your hand or other extremity is involved in repairing it.

Plumbing is a serious business, and as a homeowner repairing what you can will save you money in the long run. However, you need to be aware of your limitations. If something is too complicated for you to fix, you should call a professional to take a look. It might cost you far more if you try to fix it yourself and have to end up calling a plumber anyway. Do-it-yourself repairs are great if you can do it yourself. Otherwise, the safer and more efficient method would be to call a plumber.