Good plumbing is an art, as it is a science. And, even good plumbing can go wrong.
Sometimes you need a plumber. Other times, there might be a trick or two that will get the job done, and save you a nice chunk of change (and time).
In this article, you’ll find every bit of advice a plumber might give you to help manage and maintain your plumbing system along with some general information that may be useful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Understanding Your Plumbing System
If you’re not counting gas lines, the term plumbing system is an umbrella term usually covering two systems:
Water Supply System
The water supply system is the system that provides water to your home. Most of us use a public water supply system, however, many homeowners in rural areas use their own wells instead.
The water supply can be controlled in the home via supply valves. The main water shut-off is usually near the foundation wall where the water supply enters the home. However, it might be located outside of the home. If you don’t know where the main water valve is located, you should find it before you need it!
You should also find stop valves near any fixtures that use water. You can often find these valves under sinks, beside toilets, behind showers, or in basements. If you notice that your fixtures are missing supply shut-off valves, consider installing water supply valves as they’re useful and can greatly help you during a plumbing emergency or fixture replacements.
Hot water requires one additional step: your water heater. Cold water enters your home through the main water supply and makes its way to the water heater where it is heated before it’s used. There are several types of water heaters, which differ in energy source and storage. Most of us have hot water tanks which heat and store hot water so it’s available as we need it, although tankless water heaters are growing in popularity as a greener and more efficient alternative.
Water supply lines installed throughout your home are often made of copper or PEX, although there are many others.
The drainage system is a series of drainpipe installations throughout your home, connecting all of the drains to your local sewer system. Public sewer systems then carry waste from your home to treatment facilities, while rural areas often use septic tanks instead.
When in use, your drainage system uses gravity to move wastewater through your drain pipes. The wastewater is carried through the slopes in your plumbing system and out of your home. Although fairly simple in concept, your plumbing system uses an ingenious system of slopes, vents, traps, and more, to make everything function properly.
To protect you and your home from sewer gas rising through your drains, P-traps are installed underneath drains, or a similar trap is built directly into toilets. If your plumbing system is used regularly and functioning properly, water should always remain in the trap. This water forms a barricade that blocks the sewer gases and dangerous pathogens from entering your home.
As water flows out of your drain pipes, properly placed vents allow air to enter the pipe which replaces the water as it flows out. Without proper venting, a vacuum would develop in your plumbing system which would disrupt water flow, cause clogs, and draw the water from P-Traps out.
When installing your drainage system, plumbers must abide by strict plumbing codes that take proper slopes and venting into consideration.
Locate Your Water Supply Valves
It’s very important to know the location of your water supply valves, especially your main water supply valve.
During a plumbing emergency, the first step is often to shut the water off.
Individual plumbing fixtures should have independent supply valves (or water stops), but not always. These independent valves are nice because if you’re experiencing a plumbing emergency with one fixture, you can disable the water to the single fixture. Otherwise, you need to locate the main water shutoff and cut water to your entire home.
Look In The Basement
You will usually find the main water shutoff in the basement of your home, near the foundation where the water supply first enters the home. Follow this pipe to a nearby valve, and you’ve found your main water shutoff. If you don’t have a basement, you can often find the main water shutoff in the crawl space underneath your house.
Check Outside Your Home
If you still can’t find the main water shutoff, you can sometimes find a shutoff outside in the meter box. Somewhere near the perimeter of your property, you should find a cover. Once you open the cover, you’ll see the meter and shut-off. It’s important to keep access to this box available in case you need it.
Like most problems, prevention is the best cure. The same is true when it comes to a clogged drain.
Although fairly simple in concept, your plumbing system is intelligently designed and reliable. A good plumbing system that is treated right should give you very few problems.
That being said, most of us will deal with a slow drain, drain clog, or blockage at some point in our lives.
The good news is that you can avoid most clogs by following these tips:
Watch What You Put in Your Drains
Your drain system is designed for wastewater and human waste. Even toilet paper can give you trouble sometimes, and it disintegrates fairly easily. If you avoid putting some things in your drain, you might avoid calling a plumber. Some of these might sound painfully obvious, but some might surprise you.
Grease, Oil and Fat
Garbage and Trash
Feminine Hygiene Products
Dirt and Swept-Up Debris
Food Particles and Matter
Flushable Wipes and Diaper Wipes
Q-Tips and Cotton Balls
Objects That Unintentionally Fall into The Toilet
Excessive Toilet Paper
Drain Cleaning Maintenance
Over time, it’s very common that soap scum and grease will build up in the drains, even if you’re doing your best to avoid it.
Routinely cleaning your drains with simple DIY solutions can help prevent slow drains and drain blockages.
A common trick is to pour ½ cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by ½ cup of white vinegar. Let it sizzle for about half an hour, before flushing it down with hot water. I’d recommend nearly boiling a kettle of water and dumping it all at once, followed by hot water from the tap.
If you have some grease building in the drains, it can be very difficult to get rid of. Plumbers often offer a Hydrojet Service, where they basically pressure-wash the inside of your drains. This does a great job and blasts buildups away.
Due to the high pressure and velocity of the water stream, Hydro Jetting tends to offer a superior cleaning compared to other methods. Some other methods poke holes in blockages and clogs. Hydro Jetting blasts blockages and clogs to pieces, annihilating them and preventing their recovery.
Our plumbers are local drain cleaning experts. Time and time again, our valued customers praise us and give us kudos for successfully completing a job where our competitors failed.
Home Drain Cleaning and Drain Clog Hacks
If your sink is draining slowly or isn’t draining at all, you might not need a plumber just yet.
Try some of these do-it-yourself drain cleaning hacks before booking a plumber appointment.
Tricks to Unblock a Clogged Toilet
If you experience a toilet clog, there are many at-home solutions you can try before calling a plunger. We advise that you prepare beforehand, by laying newspaper or towels on the floor, in case of an emergency.
Before calling a plumber, try one or some of these techniques to unclog your drain:
Wait, Then Flush Again
Dish Soap and Hot Water
Wet / Dry Vacuum
Insert the plunger into the toilet at an angle, to allow water to enter the inside of the plunger. Place the flange into the drain so that the lip fills the inside of the drain, and begin plunging. The pressure from pushing combined with the suction from pulling will dislodge most clogs. It can take many plunges before clearing the drain. But remember: don’t go nuts. If the clog isn’t budging and you’re hulk-smashing the plunger, you can break the wax seal or even cause a leak in the pipes.
Some people have found luck using a water bottle was a makeshift plunger. Put the mouth of the bottle into the drain, and push down on the bottle, crushing it and forcing water into the drain. Personally, I’ve never tried this trick.
Also, never use a plunger if you’ve put chemicals into the toilet bowl.
Pro Tip: Wear safety glasses and a face mask. Splashback happens.
Enzyme Toilet Cleaner
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Dumping a Bucket of Water
If none of these techniques do the trick, you should call a plumber. The toilet blockage might require additional equipment and more work.
Dish Soap and Hot Water
Clean The P-Trap
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Fish it out with a Wire Hanger
Store-Bought Drain Cleaners
Why are Fruit Flies Coming Out of my Drain?
They’re probably not fruit flies, they’re likely drain flies.
Drain flies are drawn to food particles and other organic material that is stuck in the drain. If you notice fruit flies, you likely need to clean your drains.
Drain fly eggs can be especially difficult to kill, so it may take some effort to get rid of all of them.
Backflow Prevention – Do I need it?
A backflow preventer is a one-way valve that prevents sewage and wastewater from coming back through the drains. They protect your home from sewer overflows during heavy rains and spring thaws, as well as other sewer issues.
Considering the amount of damage that a sewer flood can cause, they’re an extremely valuable protective plumbing device.
Toilet Repairs and Hacks
Arguably one of the most useful inventions in history, the toilet has become an important part of our homes and our lives. Whether you’re using it as a seat while you catch up on YouTube videos or you hug it after a rough night of drinking, it’s hard to imagine how different our lives would be without them.
When your toilet gives you grief, there are a few tricks you can try to give your throne a little TLC.
Running Toilets – If your toilet is running, you better go catch it!
Why is the water so low in the toilet bowl?
Why do I need to hold the handle down to flush?
How do I fix a loose toilet seat?
How to stop an overflowing toilet?
Fix a Weak Flush
How to Keep a Toilet Clean
DIY Faucet Repairs
Dealing with a Leaky Sink Faucet
A drip here and a drip there adds up. A leaking faucet should be addressed sooner than later!
You will need to buy new faucet cartridges or a faucet repair kit. Purchase the kit or stem that corresponds with the faucet or faucet brand.
If you’re not sure what cartridge or stem to buy, follow the steps below to remove the cartridge and bring it to the hardware store.
How to Clean a Shower Head with Vinegar
Cleaning the Aerator
How to Fix a Pop-Up Sink Stopper in a Bathroom
A stuck sink stopper is pretty irritating. Unfortunately, the stopper is probably broken. But the good news is it’s not too difficult to replace!
The way the stopper is meant to work is there is a rod behind the faucet that pulls up and pushes down. This rod is connected under the sink to a lever that connects into the drain.
If everything appears to be connected properly and it’s still not working, you probably need to replace the stopper in the drain. You should be able to find a replacement in your local hardware store.
Attach one side of the clip to the lift arm before connecting the arm to the rod.
The rod under the sink that connects to the faucet rod has several holes in it. Based on whether the rod is pulled out behind the faucet and the position of the stopper in the drain (closed, I assume), you will find a hole in the rod that fits the best. Insert the lift arm into the appropriate hole, and attach the other side of the clip to the lift arm behind the rod.
After everything appeared to be fixed and connected properly, go ahead and test the stopper by pulling the rod behind the faucet and pushing it back.
Adjust it so the stopper blocks the drain, and pour some water in the sink. If the drain holds water and the drain is sealed, you’ve nailed it!
Water Heater Tips and Maintenance
Water heaters are a necessity, and they’re not cheap. But a couple of adjustments here and a bit of maintenance there can save you money on utility bills and save you from a water heater repair or replacement for a while longer.
How to Flush a Water Heater
Test the Water Heater Pressure Release Valve
A hot water tank is a big container that fills with water and heats it. As matter heats, it expands. To prevent any incidents relating to a container filled with hot pressurized water, every hot water tank should have a functioning Pressure Relief Valve.
One of the more common issues with hot water tanks is the pressure relief valve is no good. If it doesn’t work, the tank can’t regulate the pressure inside. This can be dangerous.
It’s wise to test the pressure relief valve every 6 months or so.
Insulate the Hot Water Tank
Home Appliance Care
Washing Machine Plumbing Care
Like any water-using appliance, washing machines pose certain risks to your home when things go wrong. In fact, water damage from a leaking water machine is a common insurance claim.
To avoid this, check the hose once a year. If the washing machine hose looks weathered and worn or if it has any blockages. If it’s clogged, clean it, and if it doesn’t look too good remember that it’s far cheaper to replace a hose than to deal with a leak.
Changing your Refrigerator Water Filter
Unblocking a Garbage Disposal
Sump Pump Maintenance
Outdoor Faucet Winter Preparation
When winter is around the corner, do yourself a favor and protect your outdoor faucet (and you from frozen pipes!).
The first step is to remove the garden hose.
The second step is to shut off the water supply to the outdoor faucet. This valve should be in your basement.
The third step is to open the outdoor faucet when the water supply is off to drain the line.
Leak Detection and Repair
Signs of a Hidden Water Leak
While most leaks have obvious signs such as a puddle or damaged drywall or ceilings, some leaks are a little more subtle.
While some leaks are sneaky, pay attention for these signs:
Remember that water moves around. The signs of a leak, such as puddles or wet drywall, aren’t always directly under a leak. Water can travel along the lines and structure of your home to mysteriously move into weird places.
How to Confirm an Invisible Water Leak Using your Water Meter
Common Causes of Water Leaks
Using Food Colouring to Find Which Drain is Responsible
How to Stop a Leaking Pipe
A pipe with a major leak often requires repair or replacement.
However, sometimes you can get away with a quick fix.
If you experience a leak, these solutions may help you in the moment – but they’re not a permanent fix.
You should still consider having a plumber address this problem.
Don’t Hang Things From Your Pipes
What Plumbing Issues to Inspect for When Purchasing a Home?
Before purchasing a home, we recommend hiring a professional plumber to do a thorough inspection on the home when possible.
A plumber can test the fixtures, inspect the pipes, check the appliances, and do a camera inspection to ensure that the unseen pipes won’t require any immediate and costly repairs.
That being said, if you don’t want to hire a professional, you can do a quick inspection yourself.
IN THE KITCHEN:
IN THE BASEMENT:
Throughout the inspection, listen carefully and smell for any signs of issues. Strange sounds when using fixtures may indicate issues, and your nose may identify underlying issues that have been covered up.