Plumbing issues are often the most stressful. We can’t just ignore them, and in many cases, we can’t just fix them quickly and easily on their own. But if you have a basic understanding of common issues (like plumbing backups, clogged sewers, a clogged drain line, or leaking pipes) then you can more effectively communicate with your plumber about the problem and have a better understanding of the kinds of repairs needed.
1. Slow-Draining Sink
This common problem strikes when we least expect it: we fill the sink, clean whatever needs cleaning, and the next thing you know, we have a sink full of filthy water that doesn’t seem to want to go anywhere.
The reason this problem is more regular than others is that we don’t really pay attention to what we put down that drain. There are a few common items that can end up in a drain, depending on the location of the fixture.
A) If it is the kitchen sink, then it could be clogged by food, grease, or other kitchen debris. This can mean that larger food items have gotten stuck in the drain itself. It can also signal a build-up of grease (if you are improperly disposing of grease). If you have a garbage disposal, then the disposal could be collecting debris without grinding it up.
B) A bathroom sink (If used properly) will typically clog due to hair in the drain or trap. Clogging can be exacerbated if things like Q-Tips, jewelry, or other items also fall in the drain and catch all that hair.
In either case, there are a few common culprits. The first is usually the trap underneath the sink. The trap looks like a sort of hook or half-circle directly underneath the drain, and it helps keep sewer gas from backing up into your house. It also serves as a logical collection point for all the stuff that falls down your drain. Traps are also easy to remove if you have a wrench or channel locks and don’t break the plastic.
For kitchen sinks, the trap and the garbage disposal both collect debris. If you suspect that your garbage disposal is backing up, try dropping ice cubes into it while it runs to see if it breaks any clogs loose.
If you don’t find a clog in the trap, or your efforts here don’t stop a clogged drain, then call your plumber. Don’t ever try to repair or remove your garbage disposal or dump drain cleaner into the drain. These can damage the pipes and leave a toxic mess when the clog doesn’t break up and someone must stick their hand in the water.
2. Clogged Toilet
Much like the clogged sink, only worse. A toilet can clog under the best of circumstances, and usually under the worst conditions. A clogged toilet is a much more difficult beast to tackle than a clogged sink because all the drainage is either in or underneath the toilet itself. These clogs are usually caused by a combination of human and paper waste (unless something has been physically dropped in there).
In-home options are limited here. Of course, you should always start with a plunger. The classic rubber plungers have been around for decades, and newer version use different designs to allow you to force more air pressure into the toilet drain. With more air pressure, you have more of a chance to break up a clog that is in the toilet itself.
Other than that, you have a few options. Hardware stores will typically sell toilet augers or snakes for home use and depending on the clog they might work. For deeper drain problems, however, you’ll once again want to call your local plumber, who will stronger tools for the job.
There is also the issue of whether the entire drain line is clogged. Clogged drain lines pop up over years of use or with improper care regarding the waste that goes in the pipe. And since the toilet is often the largest fixture entering the drain, this is usually (although not always) the trouble spot. A plumbing stoppage usually requires much more than just a snake or auger: you’re going to need professional help.
3. Running Toilet
You know that sound your toilet makes after you flush it? That’s the sound of water filling back into the tank after use. You should only hear that sound right after you flush, and only for a few seconds. If your toilet continues to fill, or fills at regular intervals, then you run the risk of a massive water bill at the end of the month.
The problem requires a little bit of know-how if you want to tackle it yourself. The most likely cause of a running toilet involves the “guts” of the tank. It could be that the rubber plunger that sits between the tank and the bowl is no longer tight, letting water slowly leak from the tank. If your toilet is always running, it could be the case that your bobber isn’t properly set, and so it never lets the rubber plunger fall into place.
In either case, there are easier and more difficult solutions. If the tank constantly runs, then it’s sometimes a simple matter of adjusting the floater chain (or plastic connection) to make sure that the tank will stop running once it hits a specific height. If there is a crack or failure in the tank guts themselves, then you might find yourself better suited by buying a new toilet kit and replacing the parts. At that point, however, you may ask yourself if the trouble is worth it and call a professional plumber.
4. Dripping or Running Faucets
When talking about dripping or running faucets, let’s break it up into different potential problems.
A) You have water running from a valve or connection underneath the faucet. This typically happens when a connection from the main water connection to the faucet has come loose or rusted through.
B) Water constantly drips from the faucet, or from a portion of the faucet housing. This typically happens when a part inside the faucet itself (a washer or gasket going old or rusting) has failed and doesn’t properly stop water from coming through.
In the first case, you have a few options. First is getting a wrench and giving a little tighten on visible nuts. We don’t necessarily recommend this for two reasons: first, if you try to tighten a nut and over-tighten it without reapplying thread sealant, you could damage the mechanism that keep water from leaking in. Second, many kitchen faucets have separate connections directly underneath the faucet.
This is typically the most difficult of problems. A leaking pipe can cause a lot of damage to the surrounding fixtures or appliances, and they are often the most difficult to repair.
If, for example, you have a leaking pipe under sink, there are a couple of places where repairs need to be done. If the pipe is leaking at one of the valves, then it might be an easy fix just requiring a tightening of a nut or replacement of the valve body. If the valve is bad, or if you have a leak from a pipe joint otherwise, then it’s probably going to call for a replacement pipe, which means draining water from the pipes, so you can do the repairs.
And that’s not even getting to the several places in your home that pipes can start leaking due to damage or age. Replacing water pipes are typically beyond the DIY plumber, especially if you want to get it right the first time.
Get Plumbing Issues Fixed Before They are Bigger Problems
Plumbing issues are not typically things you can wait on. And for every simple problem, there are also major issues (like clogged sewers or broken sewer main pipes) that will crop up when you east expert it. Water damage is a serious problem for numerous reasons, and getting your drainage and water fixed should be priority number one. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t have some basic understanding of these common problems before the plumber comes over. He or she is the professional, but that doesn’t stop you from arming yourself with some knowledge of your own. A good rule of thumb, however, is to get a professional in immediately. They’ll get the job done right the first time and reduce the amount of time and stress spent on the problem.