Dealing with Common Plumbing Problems
Don't get me wrong. A good professional plumber is worth his/her weight in gold when you have a serious problem with your plumbing system. Over the years I've had to make that call and I've been more than satisfied with the quick response and competent work that has been done. The only thing that hurt a bit was the bottom line when I wrote out the check.
It's interesting that topics such as this are not a part of the typical high school curriculum. As a former educator, I've always believed that the education of our young people should include a number of levels of learning including how to get along in the real world of home owning, etc. Granted, many secondary schools offer a fine curriculum in areas such as auto mechanics, woodworking, etc. but they really fall short in teaching about the everyday problems people come face to face with as adults.
Enough of the plimbing soapbox lecture.
The purpose of this brief article is to cover some of the basics involved in taking care of routine household plumbing problems that eventually all of us will have to face. Of all the systems in the home, I hate dealing with plumbing the most! Many repairs need to be completed before your dry run (excuse the pun) can be run to see if the problem is fixed. If it's not, you usually have to start all over again, which is frustrating to say the least.
One of the most common household plumbing problems is the stopped-up toilet. We recently moved to a new home and were having a lot of problems with toilet stoppage. We hadn't changed our diet so we ruled that out as the cause and tried figuring out what the real problem was. Well, with a little help from the builder we found out that this newer toilet required you to hold the handle down a little longer to get a complete flush. You would think that there would be some kind of warning label or something that would clue you into this, but no. The problem went away after we followed his advise. Easy fix.
Traditional plungers have been upgraded to configurations that will get the plumbing job done quicker and easier. There is a plunger called "power plunger". Ask for it by name at your local hardware store or home center. Chances are that it may be marketed under a different name. Make sure that the salesperson knows that the item is, in fact, what is typically called a "power plunger". This plunger is effective in clearing clogs from toilets, sinks and bathtubs. If your kitchen sink is clogged and is connected to a dishwasher, be sure to clamp-off the dishwasher hose so that the plunger will work completely on the drainpipe rather than having some of its pressure diverted (uselessly) to the dishwasher. When the clog is cleared don't forget to remove the clamp from the dishwasher hose or you will have some unpleasant consequences when you do wash the next load of dishes.
I'm not a big fan of liquid drain cleaners used for plumbing problems. I've found that they usually don't get the job done (although some people will beg to differ). If you elect to use a chemical drain opener, be sure that it doesn't have chemicals that may damage your piping (read the label on the box or bottle). Also, most of these chemical cleaners will wreak havoc if they touch exposed skin so, if you choose to try them, be sure to wear protective gloves and a long sleeved shirt and wash your hands thoroughly when your finished. If you don't use the entire bottle, make sure it's stored in a safe place where children can't get to it. Most of the cleaners include chemicals that are so toxic that death may result if they're ingested. There are some liquid drain cleaners that are "earth friendly" and are less hazardous to use. I'm not sure that they "pack the punch" that more tradition liquid drain cleaners do but I'm not an expert by any means in this area.
OK, you've tried a "power plunger" and even some liquid drain openers but the plumbing system remains clogged. What's next? Your best bet is to buy a small hand auger. Using the auger is simple. Push it into the drain until you reach resistance and then close the thumbscrew auger lock with about a foot of the auger extending from the drain opening. Turn the auger handle clockwise and you will hopefully move it past the bend in the pipe (where the clog may be). If the drain is still clogged, loosen the lock and repeat the process. Eventually, the clog should be forced down the drainpipe and the problem will be solved. If you suspect that there is an object that is clogging the drain, turn the auger counterclockwise to remove it.
If all else fails and you have access to the plumbing beneath the clogged unit, you can try to remove the trap, etc. to see if this helps locate the clog. Be sure to use a cloth to protect the metal before you try to loosen the joint to avoid damage.
No joy? Call a plumber.
The longer you live in your abode, the greater the chances that the seals under the pop up stoppers in the sink and bathtub may begin to leak so that the water drains before you're ready for it to drain. A replacement stopper is your best bet for the bathtub. The fresh seal should take care of the plumbing problem. The sink, on the other hand can be easily fixed in just a few minutes. Inside the cabinet there's a rod that protrudes from the drainpipe. This is called a lift rod. This rod passes through a horizontal piece of metal called the clevis strap and is fixed in place with a spring clip. Sometimes the clip has become loose and the lift rod is no longer running through the hole in the clevis strap. Make sure to force the clamp downward to increase its holding power then run the lift rod back through the clevis strap and slide the clip back on. If this solves the problem, you're finished. Sometimes the seal in the stopper has become worn and needs a little more downward pressure to make a watertight seal. Look at the top of the clevis strap for a thumbscrew and after loosing it, move it upwards a bit (usually a half inch will suffice). Tighten the screw and your problems should be over.
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"I found all of the problems mentioned in your article very helpful and informative. One more problem that is occurring now is flushing the toilet in the rear of my ranch house causes rattling of the pipes to the front bathroom and occasionally to the kitchen refrigerator that is connected to the water line . Will this damage the refrigerator or any of the other lines? This may be another plumbing problem you can add. Thank you."
"Good comments---I have a question--is damage done to household water lines if the main shut-off valve is turned off when the homeowner is gone for several weeks? I was told that repressurizing the line upon return may cause damage. I don't believe it)"