Plumbing Tips & Hints
Is that dripping faucet in the bathroom keeping you up all night?
Water not quite hot enough? Sometimes you can make your own plumbing repairs without calling in help. Click on the items in the list below for tips on how to keep those pipes running without leaking all over the place.
Tub FaucetsLike sink faucets, tub faucets can be compression style or washerless.
To take apart any style tub faucet, pry off the cap, unscrew the handle, and remove the escutcheon. In a compression faucet, you’ll see the stem and packing nut. You may need to use a deep-socket wrench to grip and loosen a recessed packing nut. To repair a washerless tub faucet, remove the stop tube and draw out the retainer clip to get at the cartridge.
Shower HeadsIf your shower head leaks where it meets the arm, you probably need to replace the washer.
To reach it, loosen the collar, using tape-wrapped rib-joint pliers. Unscrew the head from the adjusting ring.
Erratic or weak pressure usually indicates mineral buildup.
To restore proper flow, clean outlet holes with a pin or unscrew a perforated face plate and soak it overnight in vinegar, then scrub it clean.
If the shower head pivots stiffly, check the washer for wear and coat the swivel ball with petroleum jelly before reassembling.
Clogged DrainsBefore trying any drain-clearing methods on a plugged drain, check that the tub’s pop-up stopper is opening fully and is free of hair and debris. If the stopper isn’t the problem, then the drainpipe is probably clogged. First, try a plunger or chemical drain cleaner.
If these fail to do the job, you’ll have to clear the trap with a snake.
- Most tubs have a P trap in the drain. In some homes, the tub may have a drum trap in the floor near the tub instead (it will have a removable metal cover and a rubber gasket).
- Using a snake in a tub P trap is much like snaking out a sink trap. If you have a drum trap, first try snaking it clear through the tub overflow.
- If that doesn’t work, bailout all the standing water from the tub.
- Then, using an adjustable-end wrench, unscrew the trap cover slowly.
- Have rags ready for any water that wells up.
- Remove the cover, bail out and clean the trap.
- If, after this, water does not well up, snake toward he tub; if water does well up, snake toward he main drain.
- If you can’t reach the clog from the trap, it’s probably deeper in he main drain.
Clogged ShowersThough it may difficult to unclog a shower drain with a plunger, it’s worth a try. If that doesn’t work, maneuver a snake down the drain opening into the trap. As a last resort, you can use a garden hose.
- Attach the hose to an outdoor faucet or to an indoor faucet with a threaded adapter.
- Push the hose deep into the drain and pack rags into the opening.
- Turning the water on in short, hard bursts should open the drain.
CAUTION: Never leave a hose in any drain: a sudden drop in water pressure could siphon sewage back into the fresh water supply.
Preventing Kitchen Drain ClogsNo plumbing problem is more common or more frustrating than a clogged drain.
Kitchen sink drains clog most often because of a buildup of grease that traps food particles.
Hair and soap are often at fault in bathroom drains.
Drains can usually be cleared easily and inexpensively, but taking some simple precautions will help you avoid stop-ups.
Proper disposal of kitchen waste will keep sink drain clogs to a minimum.
- Don’t pour grease down the kitchen sink.
- Don’t wash coffee grounds down the sink. Throw them out.
- Be sparing with chemical cleaners, particularly if you have brass, steel, or cast-iron traps and drainpipes; some caustic
chemicals can corrode metal pipes.
- Hair and soap are often at fault in bathroom drains.
- If used no more than once every few months, cleaners containing sodium hydroxide or sodium nitrate can be safe and effective.
- Clean floor drain strainers. Some tubs, showers, and basement floor drains have strainers that are screwed into the drain opening. You can easily remove these strainers and reach down into the drain with a bent wire to clear out accumulated debris. And be sure to
scrub the strainer.
- Clean pop-up stoppers in the bathroom sink and the tub regularly. Lift out sink pop-ups once a week and rinse them off.
- Every few months, remove the overflow plate on a tub and pull up the pop-up assembly to reach the spring or rocker arm. Remove
accumulated hair and rinse thoroughly.
- Keep the sewer pipes from the house free of tree roots that may invade them. If roots are a particular problem in your yard, you
may need to call in professionals once a year or so to clear the pipes. They’ll use an electric auger to cut out the roots.
- Flush the drain-waste and vent systems whenever you go up onto your house roof to clean out downspouts or gutters. Run water
from a garden hose into all vents, giving them a minute or two of full flow.
A higher than normal water bill might be your first indication of a leaking pipe. Or you might hear the sound of running water even when all your fixtures are turned off. When you suspect a leak, check the fixtures first to make sure all the faucets are tightly closed. Then go to the water meter, if you have one. If the dial is moving, you’re losing water somewhere in the system.
Locating the Leak
Try these tips to locate a leak.
- The sound of running water helps. If you hear it, follow it to its source. You can buy a listening device that amplifies sounds when it’s held up to a pipe.
- If water is staining the ceiling or dripping down, the leak is probably directly above.
- Occasionally, water may travel along a joist and then stain or drip at a point some distance from the leak.
- If water stains a wall, it means there’s a leak in a section of pipe.
- Any wall stain is likely to be below the actual location of the leak and you’ll probably need to remove part of the wall to find it.
- Without the sound of running water and without drips or stains as evidence, leaks are more difficult to find. Using a flashlight, check all the pipes in the basement or in the crawl space.
Fixing the Leak
If the leak is major, turn off the water immediately, either at the fixture shutoff valve or the main shutoff valve. You’ll probably have to replace the leaky section of pipe. If your experience working with pipes is limited, you’ll probably want to call in a plumber to do the job. If the leak is small, the ultimate solution is to replace the pipe, but there are temporary solutions until you have time for the replacement job. These methods work for small leaks only.
- Clamps should stop most leaks for several months if they’re used with a solid rubber blanket. It’s a good idea to buy a sheet of rubber, as well as some clamps sized to fit your pipes at a hardware store and keep them on hand just for this purpose.
- A sleeve clamp that exactly fits the pipe diameter works best. Wrap a rubber blanket over the leak, then screw the clamp down over the blanket.
- An adjustable hose clamp used with a rubber blanket stops a pinhole leak.
- If nothing else is at hand, use a C-clamp, a small block of wood and a rubber blanket.
- In a pinch, try applying epoxy putty around a joint where a clamp won’t work. The pipe must be dry for the putty to adhere. Turn off the water supply to the leak and leave the water off until the putty hardens completely on the pipe.
- If you don’t have a clamp or putty, you can still stop a small leak temporarily by plugging it with a pencil point.
Sink Sprays and DivertersA kitchen sink spray has a spray head attached to a hose, which is connected to a diverter valve in the faucet body. When you squeeze the spray head handle, the diverter valve reroutes water from the faucet to the spray head hose.
- If the flow is sluggish, make sure the hose isn’t kinked.
- Clean the aerator in the spray nozzle.
- Continued sluggishness may indicate diverter valve problems.
- Clean the valve or replace it.
- If the spray head leaks, remove it from the hose and replace the washer.
- For a leak at the faucet end of the hose, tighten the hose coupling.
- If the hose itself leaks, it’s probably cracked. Replace it.
Garbage Disposer TipsFor the most part, garbage disposals are self-cleaning and virtually maintenance free.
However, a malfunctioning garbage disposal can mean a messy headache, but one that can be avoided. Here are some ideas to keep your unit in good working order.
Always run cold water when grinding in order to move the waste all the way through the drain lines.
Fats and grease congeal and harden in cold water which can then be flushed through the system. Don’t use hot water when grinding because it can dissolve fats and grease, which may then accumulate in the drain-line. Almost all biodegradable food waste can be fed into disposals. However, do not throw down the disposal clam or oyster shells, corn husks or other material with a high fiber content. Under no circumstances should you put glass, plastic or metal non-food materials through a disposal. This includes bottle caps, tin covers or aluminum foil–these are some of the items service technicians commonly find in clogged or broken disposals.
Maintenance is easy. Grinding small bones and egg shells actually helps clean the disposal by scraping away stubborn deposits or citric acid and pulp. Grinding a little ice is another way to clean out deposits and get rid of odors.