Water leaks and other plumbing issues are things that every household goes through from time to time. In most such situations, hiring a professional plumber is a good idea and one that may save you additional thousands of dollars in water damages. There are, however, many things that regular homeowners can do to fix minor plumbing issues and to prevent major ones.
Make Sure You Know Where the Shut-Off Valves Are
This is arguably the number one rule of DIY plumbing, for obvious reasons. Plumbing emergencies, such as cracked pipes or faulty gaskets, can cause water leakage that will severely damage your entire home in a matter of minutes. Also, if you live in a multi-story building and have neighbors living below your apartment, the water will quickly reach them and damage their property as well. Being able to immediately shut off the valves in case of an emergency can make the difference between a small puddle and a flooded home.
The shut-off valves are also the first place to go before any other home plumbing job, as any repair or maintenance work needs to be done with no running water in the pipes. Their location depends on where you live. Most houses have them in the basement or in a utility closet, while apartment shut-off valves are usually covered by an access panel underneath the kitchen sink or near the bathroom toilet.
Don't Ignore Minor Leaks
It's not uncommon for kitchen or bathroom faucets to start leaking after a few years. It usually starts with a drop every few seconds and gradually gets worse over time. While it may not seem like a major problem, leaky faucets will seriously affect your water bill over the long run, not to mention wasting huge quantities of clean water. There's also the possibility of a minor leak turning into a major one at a very bad time — when no one is home, for instance.
The good news is that most of these leaks can be easily fixed without the help of a professional. In many situations, simply tightening the fixtures will make the leak stop, but if you can't quickly find an easy solution, it's best that you call a professional, as you may end up doing more damage and increasing your plumbing bill.
Be Careful Not To Puncture Pipes
Many home improvement activities that are not related to plumbing, like drilling holes or putting screws and nails into walls, can cause a water pipe to burst and do considerable damage. This is why, before puncturing any wall, ceiling, or floor in your home, you need to be absolutely sure there is no pipe hidden underneath the surface.
If you don't have detailed floor plans, you may be able to find pipes in walls by using a stud finder, which is a magnetic device that's typically used to find metal frames behind walling surfaces. Also, if you're building or renovating a house, it is a good idea to take a photo of all the electrical and plumbing lines that are hidden in walls, floors, and ceilings before covering them. This way, you'll know how to avoid them in the future and avoid the risk of accidentally bursting a pipe or hitting a wire.
Do Minor Maintenance and Repair Operations by Yourself
Image via Flickr by Joe Shlabotnik
Changing pipes and faucets located underneath your bathtub or sink can be complicated, take a long time, and lead to bad outcomes if not done right. However, there are plenty of small repair jobs that you can quickly and easily do by yourself, without the risk of spending half a day underneath the sink or filling up your home with water.
One of the most common DIY plumbing jobs is replacing the toilet flapper. The flapper is a piece of rubber that covers the flush valve, keeping the water in the tank. When you flush, the toilet handle or chain will lift it off the valve, allowing the water to go through and reach the toilet bowl. Over time, flappers tend to wear out, causing water to constantly leak into the bowl. Typically, changing it doesn't require any tools and is simply a matter of buying a new flapper and replacing the old one.
Another common home plumbing operation is replacing a faulty faucet. The first thing you need to know is the type of faucet you have, so that, depending on your sink, you can buy one that fits. Most sinks have one to three holes for the faucet, but if you're still not sure, you can always take the old faucet with you to the store. After turning off your water supply, disconnect the faucet's water lines located underneath the sink. Then, use a wrench to remove the nuts holding the faucet into place, remove it, and install the new one. After securing it in place, connect the water supply lines and turn the water back on.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools
Although some home plumbing tips, such as changing the toilet flapper, don't require any tools, most of them do. The first thing you need is an adjustable wrench, as you can use it for various screws and small pipes. Special pipe wrenches and water pump pliers are available at local hardware stores, but in most cases, a regular adjustable wrench will do.
Another essential tool is the so-called drain snake. Once in a while, the drain line in your kitchen sink or bathtub will get clogged with various pieces of debris. While minor clogs can be handled with a plunger or by pouring chemical drain cleaners, the serious ones can only be fixed by physically removing the blockage. The snake consists of a flexible steel cable that can be pushed into the drain, breaking up the material that's clogging the pipes.
The prospect of DIY plumbing can be discouraging for most homeowners. However, some repair, maintenance, and prevention operations only require a few minutes of your time and may end up saving you lots of money. So, the next time you hear water dripping from your kitchen faucet, simply turn off the water supply valve and get to work.