The section below describes the top 14 basic plumbing tips for beginners to enjoy a good plumbing and water services in their home and avoid common problems before they become leaks or basement floods. These tips were collected from expert plumbers I have talked to over the years and from my own lessons learned.
1. Cleaning a shower head
Clogged shower heads reduce the shower pressure 20% or more which gives you a weak shower. Scales or lime develop over a period of time and make for a bad shower. Get your shower back with these easy steps.
A. Scrub the nozzles
You can scrub the shower head nozzle with any toothbrush and gently squeezing shower head and rubbing the lime or scale off with your fingers. This removes any built up at the nozzle.
B. Clean the shower head
Soak the shower head in vinegar by immersing it in a plastic bag containing vinegar and tying the bag to the shower head with wire or rubber band. Remove the bag with vinegar and turn on water for few minutes to clear vinegar and all the accumulated build-up that peeled off.
You can also remove the shower head from the pipe and soak in a bag of vinegar for few hours. Wash the shower head clean in a running water and fix the shower head back to the pipe where you have removed.
C. Clean the filter
Remove the shower head from the pipe and pull out the filter screen from the pivot ball using a nose pliers. Gently squeeze the filter and wash it under a running water. You can also use a brush to remove any hard deposits on the filter screen.
2. Clean a slow drain
A slow drain is due to clogging down the drain pipe. If all your drains are slow, then it could be a major blockade somewhere. When only one drain is slow, it is manageable and you can fix for yourself.
A. Salt & baking soda
Pour a half cup of table salt and then another half cup baking soda into the slow drain. Then pour half a cup of vinegar over these salts in the drain and leave it for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Then pour very hot or boiling water into this drain for 3 minutes. You will notice some of the clog getting removed. Repeat these steps for few more time till the drain is completely clean.
B. Use drain snake to remove hair and clogs
You can also use a drain snake to catch the clog and then pull it out. It will be messy but usually does the trick. This will save you from pouring chemicals down the sink. Plunge it up and down several times to remove the clog.
C. Long metal wire
When nothing works, you insert a long and heavy wire into the slow drain and wiggle it hard till all the clog in the drain moves down in the drain.
3. Check and replace the dishwash and washer hoses
You need to check the hoses of dishwasher and washing machines to ensure that they are secure and in good condition. If there are any cracks or deterioration on it, you need to replace them immediately. A weak hose can flood the floor with water any time. So if you leave for the store and your old water line breaks then you could come home to a huge mess.
A good practice is always replace them every 3- 5 years, even if appears in good condition it appears. You can also shut down water supply to these machines when not it use for prolonged period
Take a picture of the hose connection to the dishwasher or dryer. If you go to Home Depot or your local hardware store and don’t buy the exact fitting… you will have to go back to get the right part.
Research your model and purchase the part.
Turn off the dishwasher or dryer and unplug them so they won’t turn on by accident.
Use large plyers or wrench to loosen the hoses. Remove the old hoses and replace with the new ones.
4. House water shut off – know where it is and how to turn it off
When you need to completely shut down the water to your house, you need to close a shuttoff valve.
A shut off valve is the main passage of water from outside water supply to your home. You can shut down the entire water supply to your home by closing this valve. You can find this valve on the basement or ground floor. In many cases it is by your washing machine. It is the 1st valve coming in on the waterline.
It can either have a round handle or a straight handle , both of them can be rotated to open and close. The valve with round handle needs to be rotated several times to close while the straight handle valve can be closed by a one simple rotation – normally 90 degrees.
Pro tip: locate the auxiliary shut off valves to the outside valve. Make sure to close them off in the late fall and then drain the remaining water from the line. This will help to insure that your exterior valve don’t freeze causing the pipes inside your house to burst – which could lead to a huge mess inside.
This happened to a family member and flooded the finished basement and ground floor. It costs several thousands of dollars in repairs and 2 months with dealing with the insurance company to get it fixed.
5. Cleaning a garbage disposal
A garbage disposal cleans by breaking up the food and waste into fine particles and flushing them down the drain. When you find foul smell in the kitchen, it might be the garbage disposal is not clean enough.
Turn off the power or unplug the garbage disposal.
Shine a light down the disposal so you can see if any silverware fell down there.
Remove the fork/spoon. Sometime a fork or small items get stuck in the drain. Remove them for proper functioning of garbage disposal.
Turn the garbage disposal back on and it should be clear. If not, check to make sure the reset button on the bottom has not been tripped. This is often overlooked.
Pro tip: Only use a garbage disposal for what it is intended for. This sounds simple but many people but hard to grind food waste down their garbage disposal.
Avoid bones, seeds hard skin or anything else that is tough to grind up. These just clog up the disposal and make it work harder – shortening its life and will cost you money.
Also don’t put fat or oil down the garbage disposal since these will solidify with cold water and really clog your pipes.
Add a garbage disposal cleaning package. Follow the directions and rinse so the pipes get clean and the disposal smells better. Use this cleaner once a week to keep your disposal clean and clear.
6. Fix leaky fittings
Water fitting that have rotating knobs to open and close are major source of water leaks. When you close these fittings by rotating, you should not over tighten it which causes the rotating knob to move beyond its guided groves. This causes slippage and improper closing of knobs leading to water leaks.
The sink or toilet connection could also be loose. Check for leaks here as well.
7. Water heater temperature
The ideal temperature for your water heater recommended by Department of Energy is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature beyond 120 are less effective and waste of energy. Most manufacturers set the temperature at 140 degrees Fahrenheit which needs to be set at 120 at your home. You can save over $400/year in demand losses with just a turn of your screw driver. -energy.gov
8. Low flush toilets to save water
A low flush toilets use less water than a common flush to remove the solid waste. Low flush toilets use about 1.28 gallons per flush while old toilet uses 6 gallons per flush. Low flush toilets not only save you water and water bill but also costs lesser than common old toilet.
With a universal toilet repair kit you can convert your current toilet to a water saving model with this model from Amazon. It takes less than 20 minutes to do the whole conversion and will be one of the best water savings decisions you can make for your house.
You can save up to 13,000 gallons per year with a newer water saver toilet kit. This adds up to $130/year in savings. –EPA.gov
9. No plumbing work on Sunday
When you have a plumbing project, do not plan it on Sunday. You can plan it on Saturday morning as you will probably need to buy plumbing materials from local hardware store 4 times and you need plenty of time to finish the project and make sure there are no leaks Unless you are a plumber, this is harder than it sounds. You may not know which new item you need to buy when the plumbing work is in progress.
I know of several examples when plumbing was done on a Sunday…and the homeowner could not get it completely fixed. The stores close early on Sunday so you better have it done by 5pm or you will need to go back to get more parts.
Don’t push your luck. If you can….start the project on a Saturday to give you plenty of time.
10. Prevent shower drain clogs
A clogged drain causes a lot of inconvenience especially when you don’t have time to get them fixed. You can avoid the clog with simple steps so you don’t have to deal with clogging every now and them. Use a hair catcher to prevent any strands of hair to enter drain and block it. Hair strands gets accumulated and forms a stubborn clog.
Use natural solutions like baking soda , vinegar and hot water to clean the logged drain. When you use a commercial cleaner, its harmful chemicals reacts on the walls of the pipe making it weaker and easy to break.
Avoid throwing solid waste, paper products, left over paints, thick fluids with heavy particles like fine sand in a drain. These form a heavy clog and the more it gets accumulated, the more it is difficult to remove the clog.
Have a regular inspection by professionals every 2-3 years to check and recommend any repairs for trouble free, economical and safe water usage. It also helps you to have good draining free from bad smells.
11. Drain your hot water heater.
Use the drain at the bottom of the hot water heater to drain the old water and remove the residue and build-up that is costing you $$$.
Drain outside if possible .
By removing the build-up from the hot water tank the heating element doesn’t have to work as hard to heat up the hot water. By usi g this tip and by turning down the temperature you will extend the life of your hot water heater.
12. Change your faucet filter.
Your water pipes are pretty clean but there are minerals in the water that can build-up over time. Clean your facet screen filters on a yearly basis.
Most people drink from their kitchen sink or from their refrigerator water line. Install a quality water filter in both to keep the minerals to a minimum and keep your family safe.
13. An often overlooked plumbing tips for beginners is to Check your sewer access “door”
Subdivisions built after the 1980s have more access to utilities. You may have access to a sewer line.
Here are a few things you can do…
Unscrew the circle cover.
Use a video snake to scope the pipe and make sure Roots are not in the pipe. It’s a dirty job but can save you $$$.
14. Get water line and internal electrical insurance
Here is a snapshot of my policy. I am not endorsing this company or selling any insurance products. I am just sharing with you what I have after an accident our neighbor down the street had several years back – and several others have had. So rupturing your waterline is more common than you think.
True story: The waterlines in our neighborhoods were installed with plastic PEX tubing. While replacing his driveway “Mr. Johnson” hit his waterline and severed the water to his house. He couldn’t find the correct part so Mrs. Johnson and the kids had to sleep at a hotel for 2 days while Mr. Johnson fixed the mess that he made.
Lesson learned: One of the best plumbing tips for beginners here is to Calling Miss Utility before you dig. dial 811 or 800-552-7001. This is a state law in Virginia and in most states have a similar law. They come out and mark what underground utilities are in your yard.
This is separate from your regular home owners insurance. Your HO insurance WILL NOT cover this expense which can be huge.
It is usually offered from your utility provider. For $5/ month you get $10000 coverage or more. This is a no brainier.
If you accidentally cut into your waterline then you will will be covered. Or if the ground freezes and your pipe bursts you will be covered.
This happens much more frequently than you think it does. It doesn’t matter if you or a contractor or if the city did it. You have to pay to get it fixed if it breaks…unless you bought the $5 insurance.