What Could Go Wrong with My Plumbing?
You probably don't think about your household plumbing every day, but we're sure you'd miss it if you had to go a day without it. From clean drinking water and warm showers to the hygienic convenience of the modern flush toilet, indoor plumbing makes modern everyday life possible. And while you may not think about your pipes when things are going well, it's hard to think about anything else when you have a sudden plumbing breakdown.
Pipes, fixtures and other plumbing parts can degrade with age, and they can become damaged in all sorts of unexpected ways. Sometimes, all it takes is a little extra strain to cause a serious problem. Many plumbers cheekily refer to the day after Thanksgiving as "Brown Friday" in their industry, because the added burden of houseguests and excessive garbage disposal use makes it their busiest day of the year.
Plumbers often spend Brown Friday clearing sewer line backups and disposal clogs related to overuse, but some service calls can be a little more festive. Good Housekeeping quotes Marshall Adams of Adams & Sons Plumbing about a Brown Friday memory that stuck with him: "One year, we got a call from an older woman, because she had a clogged toilet. When we got out there, we saw she had somehow tried to flush an entire turkey carcass down her toilet! Why? She didn't have a garbage disposal."
While you may not find yourself facing a turkey clog anytime soon, plumbing emergencies have a nasty habit of popping up when you least expect them. Here are some of the most common plumbing problems you might experience as a homeowner, as well as a few handy tips to help prevent them:
- Dripping faucets and showerheads. This is one of the most common plumbing issues there is, but it shouldn't be taken lightly – a steadily dripping faucet can waste more water than you think. This is usually caused when a washer inside the faucet or showerhead becomes damaged or dislodged. If you have some basic tools and DIY know-how, you might want to try replacing this washer yourself – just be sure to shut off the water supply to the faucet first – but when in doubt, trust this job to a licensed plumber.
- Clogged drains. Kitchen sink drains often become clogged with congealed fat or food particles, and bathroom drains can clog up with hair and accumulated soap residue. If you experience a slow or clogged drain, your first solution should be to dislodge the clog with a plunger, plumbing snake or other manual clog removal tool. If that doesn't work, try a combination of baking soda and white vinegar. You can avoid clogs by refraining from pouring fatty liquids down kitchen sinks and using a mesh drain guard on bathroom drains to catch hair and other debris.
- Running toilets. Much like a dripping faucet, a running toilet can lead to significant water waste. This is often caused by a cracked or worn flapper, which is the rubber plug at the bottom of your toilet tank. You may also find that the chain attached to the flapper is too short and is holding the flapper slightly open. Flappers are easy to replace (you can find them at any hardware store) and the chain can be adjusted for length. If you think you have a running toilet but aren't sure, try adding a few drops of food coloring to the water in the tank. If you see the color appear in the bowl a short time later, it means your toilet is running and you're wasting water.
- Corroded and leaking water heaters. If you spot visible rust on your water heater tank or see water pooling around it, there's a good chance your water heater has rusted from the inside out. The average lifespan of a water heater is eight to 10 years, and the odds of corrosion increase with time. Unfortunately, a rusty and leaky water heater should be replaced, not repaired. To help prevent this issue, drain and flush your water heater annually to remove the sediment that can contribute to corrosion.
- Hard water. This is less a problem with your plumbing and more of an issue with your water supply. If you live in an area where certain mineral deposits exist in abundance below ground, those minerals are likely present in your water. This can give water an unusual taste, can make clothes feel stiff and scratchy after washing, and can even damage your pipes and fixtures over time. To see if you have hard water, try using hard water test strips that are sold in many plumbing supply and hardware stores. The best solution for hard water problems is installing a water softening system, which neutralizes the minerals that cause these issues.
- Jammed garbage disposal. When a garbage disposal's blades encounter resistance that strains the motor, it will usually shut down to prevent damage. All sorts of things can go into the disposal to cause this – a piece of silverware, a bone, fibrous vegetables like asparagus or even starchy foods like potatoes or pasta, which can gum up the blades. Most garbage disposals are designed to allow you to manually turn the blades from the bottom of the unit with a screwdriver or hex wrench; try turning the blades this way while running hot water to loosen the clog. Never stick your hand into the garbage disposal from above. Once the clog is cleared, you may need to press the reset button on the bottom of the unit before it will work again.
You can find more tips for taking care of your home in our Learning Center.
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