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How Much Should Homeowners Know About Their Own Plumbing?

There are some definite things a DIYer could do around their house if they ‘had to’ and other projects that are a fun way to spend a weekend learning something new. Things that come to mind in these regards include painting a room, changing doors from Spring to Winter, power-washing the siding, and other tasks that don’t require calling ‘the guy’. Two areas which most DIYers opt to bring in the professionals are anything having to do with either 1) electrical work or 2) plumbing.

PlumbingA majority of time when the power goes out it doesn’t really necessitate an emergency. Granted not having a furnace power on for an extended period of time could get worrisome but usually utility crews are on the case and there’s not a lot a homeowner could do to fix the power anyway. Plumbing problems are a different animal however. A toilet not flushing or a sink not draining becomes a serious issue where a plumber needs to be called sooner rather than later. Then there’s pipes that burst which could essentially damage the entire home if not handled immediately.

This begs the question of how much a homeowner should know about their own plumbing system. Even the fastest contractors with 24/7 emergency service take a few minutes to get on-site which in the case of an overflowing toilet or a wall that is leaking could mean thousands of dollars in damage. The average homeowner isn’t expected to know how to reroute pipes throughout their home, but knowledge of these basics can only help.

Water Shut Off

Rule number one when it comes to unwanted water suddenly appearing in your home is “Stop the Flow”. Before you can even assess the situation and brainstorm repairs it’s important to minimize the damage by turning off the water valve. The easiest solution is to simply turn off the main valve that enters the home (basement, utility room, etc.) from the outside and is usually located near an exterior wall. If a fixture such as a sink knob or a toilet handle sticks then individual valves can be used so that the rest of the house maintains water access.

Location of Water Meter

One of the biggest utility drains on a house is hidden lost water usually from undetectable leaks. These not only  cost basically money for nothing, but the constant presence of moisture is eventually going to either rot the surface it is in contact with or lead to the formation of mold. Find the water meter (near a garden, footpath, on the exterior of the home or under the sink) and turn off all fixtures inside the house. Check the numbers and then recheck a while later and since the fixtures are off there should be no change. If there is, a leak is present…somewhere.

Winter Care

The cold weather is bad enough, nobody wants to deal with an indoor ice rink from broken pipes on top of that. As the temperatures start to dip make sure to disconnect all the outside hoses and put insulation on any pipes that are exposed or located in cold patches (window in a basement utility room).

Routine Maintenance and Proper Operation

If water is taking a lot longer than normal to drain it’s best to attack the blockage early instead of letting it build up into a more serious issue. Salt (or baking soda and vinegar) and boiling hot water are a great concoction for breaking up clogs as is a hardware store $15 drain snake. An even better approach is preventing the blockage in the first place by using the garbage disposal responsibly (or not at all) and installing hair stoppers on bathroom drains.

These basics should help most homeowners either avoid or know how to tackle an emergency situation promptly. For most plumbing issues it’s best to hire a contractor but these tips and a little familiarity with your home’s plumbing will limit the damage until we can get there.

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