While most plumbing jobs require a licensed professional, there are ways savvy homeowners can save time and money by safeguarding, upgrading or repairing their own systems.
“There’s quite a bit homeowners can do themselves, especially when it comes to maintenance,” says Gale Bellows, a journeyman plumber and service manager with South West Plumbing. If you have basic tools and some inexpensive supplies, here are six things you can do to prevent costly plumbing disasters and increase the life of your existing pipes, valves and appliances.
Try this at home
Protect your exterior faucets from freezing and breakage. Install inexpensive padded or foam faucet covers (about $10 each). Properly sealed, these will prevent or delay pipe freezing. While you’re at it, drain the garden hoses you’ve disconnected to protect them as well.
Remove and clean (or replace) sink faucet aerators to improve water flow. The tips of most faucets can easily be unscrewed and the mesh aerator screens rinsed to remove grit. If a screen looks torn or damaged, take the aerator to the hardware store to buy a matching replacement.
Replace a worn toilet seat. This is a cosmetic repair, but many homeowners want to upgrade seats to more attractive or durable models. “Soft close” seats, which close slowly rather than dropping down with a crash, are popular, Bellows says.
Remove and clean the P trap under your sink. P traps (which are actually U-shaped) are critical parts of your plumbing system. Water is supposed to stay in them, forming an important barrier that prevents gas from your sewer from coming up into your house. Problems occur when a P trap gets clogged with hair or soap and the sink starts to drain slowly. Rather than using harsh chemicals, you can remove and clean the trap in a few minutes. Put a bucket under the sink to catch water and gunk while you work. Then twist off the slip nuts that hold the P trap in place. Once you’ve cleaned the trap, reattach it and twist the slip nuts. No need to use plumber’s tape or worry that it will leak, according to Bellows. “When you tighten the nut, it seals automatically,” he says.
Check your water pressure. While many of us complain about low water pressure, the real enemy, Bellows says, is pressure higher than 80 psi (pound-force per square inch). Excessive water pressure can damage valves on water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances. You risk flooding your house if a stressed hose or valve ruptures. Fortunately checking water pressure is cheap and easy with a psi gauge ($5 to $10 at the hardware store). Attach it to an outside faucet, turn the faucet on all the way, to measure system pressure. (Bellows suggests measuring psi at night, when few people are taking a shower or running washers.) If water pressure exceeds 80 psi, it’s important to call in a professional plumber address the issue.
Know the location of all the water shut-off valves in your house. That way, if a leak occurs, you can quickly turn off the flow to the sink, toilet, water heater or washer. If you are uncertain about where a leak is coming from, use the main water shut off to control damage.
When simple repairs get complex
Do-it-yourself repairs can be quick and inexpensive, but Bellows cautions against tackling more complex plumbing repairs or installations on your own. One problem, he says, is that the system you are repairing, or adding to, may not have been built correctly in the first place. Often, especially in older houses, the plumbing is out of code or lacking in required safety features. A professional plumber can spot these existing problems and avoid adding to them.
When to call in the pros? If you notice dampness on ceilings, walls or floors near pipes, bring in a plumber to analyze the situation. The leak may be minor, but ignoring it can allow mold to grow in walls and flooring, creating a larger problem.
Remodeling a kitchen, laundry, or bath? You’ll want to get a plumber involved to make sure your system can support the new fixtures — it may need updates. Bellows advises scheduling plumbing work early in your project, right after rough carpentry and before any electrical, flooring or tilework gets underway.
There are certain plumbing problems that require immediate attention from the pros. These include a malfunctioning water heater or the smell of sewer gas in your home. “You don’t want to risk a flood or an explosion,” Bellows says.
South West Plumbing has been serving King, Pierce and Snohomish counties for more than 35 years. All South West Plumbing plumbers are highly trained and arrive prepared with fully stocked trucks. We work evenings and weekends at no extra charge.