Your plumbing system is an integral part of your home and family life. You rely on it daily for everything from having a shower to washing dishes to washing your hands. It’s easy to take for granted. However, there are a lot of little things that can go wrong; little things that can turn into big things, and big expenses. Luckily, there are many things you can do to maintain your plumbing system from DIY repairs to early detection of bigger problems on the way.
The water main or your private well is the beginning of your plumbing system. There will likely be a main shut-off valve once it enters your house for emergencies. Then water may go through things like a pressure tank, water heater and water softener before going into the walls and floors through lead, copper or PVC pipes and into your toilets, washing machines, faucets, shower heads and spigots.
With all that your home plumbing system does for you, it should come as no surprise that it accounts for approximately 15 percent of the total value of your home. Obviously, you will want to protect this value. The first and most obvious place to start is to look for water leaks in your home. According to the EPA, easily fixed water leaks are responsible for wasting almost 1 trillion gallons of water per year in U.S. households. This can also cause water damage to the rest of our home.
The average home loses almost 10,000 gallons every year to leaks. You could do 300 loads of laundry with that much water. This amount of water loss could result in 10 percent higher water bills. Furthermore, the EPA states that 10 percent of homes are wasting 90 or more gallons per day! A good example of a costly leak would be a leaky faucet. If it drips once per second, it can waste over 3,000 gallons a year. That’s more than you need to take 180 showers.
However, not all leaks can be fixed by the homeowner, especially hidden leaks. Here’s a couple of ways to determine if you have a leak problem that may need professional attention.
- Review your water bills for January or February to determine your water use in gallons or CCFs. If a family of four uses more than 12,000 gallons or 16 CCF in one of these months, they probably have a leak problem that has become serious.
- Check your water bills for spikes in water usage. This could also indicate a leak problem.
- Take a reading from your water meter at a time when you are not using any water (this is key). If, after two hours, the reading is not exactly the same, you likely have a leak. Many meters have leak detection dials which will spin if there is a leak in your plumbing system, so you won’t have to read the meter.
Finally, it’s a good idea to ensure that all members of your household know where the water shut-off valves are and how to use them in case of a burst pipe. Getting the water shut off quickly can avoid a lot of damage. And make sure you know where your main shut-off valve is.
Plumbing Maintenance Checklist
Home plumbing maintenance is something you can do daily, weekly, seasonally and annually to keep your plumbing system running smoothly. Maintenance of your plumbing system consists not only of little DIY projects, but also of being aware of all the things that can go wrong with your plumbing system, and all the things you can do to keep things from going awry. Here is a plumbing maintenance checklist to get you on your way.
Check for Leaks
Checking for leaks may be one of the most important plumbing maintenance chores you can do around your house to keep your plumbing system from running into expensive problems down the line. A little leak, left unchecked, can turn into a nightmare if walls, ceilings or flooring are damaged, not to mention the cost of the professionals who have to come out to do the repairs to the plumbing. Here’s a leak checklist for you. Some should be done more frequently than others.
Some of the most common places to find leaks in your plumbing system will be:
- Toilet flappers
- Shower heads
- Pipe fittings
These should all be inspected often. Use these tips when inspecting:
- Turn on all faucets; no water should come out of the handles or valves. Dripping faucets are the most common plumbing repair.
- Check your toilet flappers for a tight fit so water is not leaking into the bowl and causing the toilet to run more than it should.
- Turn on the showerhead and see if it drips or has stray spray that you can’t stop with tape.
- Check under your sinks for signs of leaks, such as puddles of water, water marks, musty smells, and mold. Also look at the pipes for signs of moisture at the fittings.
- Check at the base of the toilet for any moisture.
- In the kitchen, check the faucet, disposal, pipes under the sink and the sprayer.
- Check for any water pooling under dishwashers or refrigerators that have icemakers, which could mean a leak in the supply line. You should also check for water pooling under your washing machine, which could also mean a supply line leak, and under your water heater.
- In addition, according to HUD, you
should check the following for leaks annually:
- Walls, windows, doors, and ceilings for signs of water damage
- Washer hoses and connections
- Dishwasher hoses
- Dishwasher and washing machine water connections for security and leaks and corrosion
- Refrigerator drip pan-icemaker connections
- Traps and drains under sinks, tubs and showers
- Hot water heater (in the fall)
- Boiler (in the fall)
- Water main/meter or well pump for leaks or sweating (in the fall)
Also, annually check:
- The caulking around the tub, shower and sinks in the bathroom. Water can get in your walls or under your floors if there are cracks. Repair as needed. Periodically remove and replace all caulking. Do this in the kitchen too.
- Your garden hoses in spring for damage as they can become cracked or can dry rot during the winter. A single leaking hose roughly the diameter of a dime can waste more than 6,000 gallons of water in just one month. Also check for leaks at the spigot itself.
Clogs in the drains are one of the most common plumbing problems. Preventing a clog now can save you having to deal with a bigger clog or complete blockage later. Also, clogs put pressure on your pipes, which can reduce their useful lifespan. Here is a home plumbing maintenance checklist for preventing clogs to help you out:
- Take apart your tub, shower and sink drain traps periodically to remove hair and debris and snake the branch drains to remove any clogs that may exist there.
- Use screens or drain baskets in the tub and shower designed to catch hair so it won’t go down the drain.
- Cut down on your use of bath oils.
- Clean out the P-traps under your sinks.
- Never put grease, oil, or fats (including butter) down the drain. They can solidify in your drains, causing blockages.
- Use your garbage disposal properly. Leave the water running for about 15 seconds after you turn the disposal off to clear the drain. Don’t put fibrous foods like celery, banana peels or meats down the disposal. Use common sense.
- Don’t flush things down the toilet that it wasn’t designed for, like feminine products, disposable diapers, paper towels, cat litter, hair, etc. If you do get clogged toilets often, it could be a warning that there is an issue in the main sewer line.
A slow drain is an obvious sign that you are getting a clog. You can deal with some blockages yourself by cleaning out the P-traps and branch drains or by pouring a solution of baking soda, vinegar and boiling water down the drain. If the drain is totally clogged, don’t use a drain cleaner. You will probably just get a big pool of very caustic water and may even make the clog enlarge.
Other Preventative Measures
There are many things you can do around your home to prevent problems further on. Here is a list of preventative plumbing maintenance ideas to get you going:
- For each of your fixtures, test your water supply shut-off valves to ensure they are working properly.
- Using the baking soda and vinegar solution on your drains regularly will help keep water moving by breaking up normal buildup.
- If your dishwasher fills slowly or retains water, check the water discharge hose for any clogs or pinches.
- Check washing machine hoses for cracks, brittleness or bulges. Any with these should be replaced. Check the water intake pipe for rust inside and replace the fittings and pipes if necessary.
- Flush your water heater annually to remove the buildup of sediment which can cause leaks.
- Keep your water heater’s temperature set at 120° F. This is the temperature at which the appliance works best and has the longest lifespan.
- In the fall, turn off the water supply to your outdoor spigots and remove any hoses. Turn the spigot on and drain any water left in the line. This will prevent freezing of your pipes.
- Check your home’s water pressure with a pressure gauge to make sure it is not too high and putting stress on your plumbing system. Regulators can help keep the water pressure at a proper level.
- Check the water supply hose in your refrigerator if it has a water dispenser and icemaker. Replace the hose if it is worn.
- In the winter, especially in colder climates, insulate pipes in areas that are not heated, like crawl spaces, garages and basements. In some instances you may want to use heat tape to protect them.
- Look at all of your visible pipes. Discoloration is a sign of corrosion and you should have these pipes replaced.
- Make sure you keep your main water valve easy to turn by using some silicone-based lubricant on the valve stem and spreading it by opening and closing the valve a couple of times.
- If you have a septic tank, have it inspected regularly, and have it pumped every two years or as recommended per the inspection.
- If you have a problem with tree roots, have your sewer line snaked every year.
Is your toilet running continuously? Does your shower head spray off in all directions due to mineral buildup? Does your garbage disposal smell bad or not run as it should? Here are a few easy fixes to some common home plumbing maintenance issues for you to try out.
- A continuously running toilet can be caused by several things. A worn flapper, or a chain that is too short or too long and gets hung up are probably the most common and easiest to deal with. The flapper and chain can be replaced inexpensively and simply. And if it’s a too-long chain that’s hanging up, you can just shorten it.
- A shower head that has mineral build up can be cleaned by submerging it in vinegar overnight, then giving it a quick scrub. This works on faucet aerators too.
- A smelly or grimy garbage disposal can be cleaned by using ice cubes made of white vinegar and running them through the garbage disposal.
- If your toilet rocks a bit when you move on it, the mounting bolts may simply need to be tightened or replaced if rusted. Unfortunately, if the bolts are fine, it may be the flange, the piece that connects the toilet to the floor and to the sewer line. While this is not a quick fix, you can still accomplish it yourself. It may also be the wax ring that sits between the toilet’s base and the flange.
- Some drippy faucets can be remedied just by replacing a bad washer or cartridge (a valve in two handle faucets). Others can be fixed simply by tightening the aerator.
- Some shower head leaks can be fixed by ensuring a tight connection with the pipe stem and by securing with pipe tape, also called Teflon tape. While you’re at it, see if you need to replace the washer as well.
- If your garden hose leaks at the spigot, you can replace the washer, and use a wrench and some pipe tape to make sure you have a tight connection.
- Check faucets that don’t get much use and if they are stiff, dismantle and apply a silicone-based lubricant to ease their movement.
- Inspect the points where the dishwasher discharge connects with the garbage disposal and where the disposal discharge goes to the sink drain and replace the gaskets if you find any sign of leaks.
Maintenance of your plumbing system is something you should be thinking about on a regular basis. Not only will plumbing maintenance help keep things running smoothly in your home, it will also help to protect you from big and costly problems in the future. This plumbing maintenance checklist will get you well on your way to a healthier plumbing system for you and your family.