I wouldn’t say homeownership has been easy. There is always something that needs to be done. Since we became homeowners, I have developed a higher sense of tolerance for stress. If I can’t convince you guys of that here then the rest of this home improvement series should demonstrate how much work owning a house can be compared to renting.
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So here comes the age-old question: should you hire a pro or DIY it yourself?
When it comes to plumbing, it’s something every single homeowner would need to deal with at one point or another. Almost all of the household in the country has indoor plumbing systems. Because of this reason, every household should have basic knowledge of fixing basic plumbing problems.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the plumbing industry is expected to grow by 24% from 2014 to 2024.
This could mean that a lot of people call for professional services even with basic problems. There are a lot of DIY fixes that can be done by people with average plumbing problems that can help save money for homeowners.
Common Bathroom Plumbing Problems
1. Slow flow of water / no water coming out
A low water flow (or no water flow at all) is one of the most common problems in the bathroom. Water trickles down from the faucet or showerhead instead of gushing out.
DIY Option: Check your Aerators
This problem is one of the most inconvenient ones in the bunch. Fortunately, you can clean your aerators by removing it with pliers and remove the sediments. If the sediments deposits are tough, use vinegar to dissolve the material overnight (or as needed). Assemble the aerator and run the water for leaks.
2. Dripping faucets
A dripping faucet happens when the water continuously drips out of the faucet. This results in a higher water bill and an annoying “dripping” sound.
DIY Option: Disassembling faucet to find the problem
The first step is to shut off the water (if you take the faucet apart without doing this, you’ll flood the bathroom and you’ll regret it). If there are corroded parts, you can use a lubricant to loosen those. Inspect each part of the faucet, especially the packing nut and the stem for signs of build up or corrosion. Clean the valves, drench it in white vinegar for sediment build up. Put the faucet together and do a water test. If the problem persists or if there’s just a lot of corrosion, a replacement must be needed.
3. Leaks in pipes
Leaks in pipes are characterized by flooding in areas where an exposed pipe is located. Leaking pipes can lead to a higher water bill and damage to other properties.
DIY Option #1: Epoxy Putty
For a temporary fix, you can use epoxy putty to patch the hole. Always turn off the water supply when fixing plumbing problems. Put latex gloves for safety and mix the epoxy putty by hand. Dry the pipe before applying the putty in the leaky area. Wait for 5-10 minutes before turning the water supply back.
DIY Option #2: Fixing it yourself by replacing the pipe
Buy a slip coupling that has the same diameter and the same material as your pipe. Make sure that the slip is long enough to cover the hole. Mark the length of the coupling through the hole in the pipe, cut the leaky area using a pipe cutter, and slide your coupling through the gap.
4. Clogged Drains
Water will not go through the drain or will go through slowly. A plunger can do the job, but if it doesn’t, try these DIY options.
For slow drainage, check the trap to make sure there wasn’t anything obstructing it. The next suspects were either that the line was obstructed, or the plumbing vent had become obstructed.
DIY #1: Drain Pop Up Lever
The most common reason for clogged drains are hairs that are caught on the drain pop-up lever. The first thing to do is to unscrew the p-trap (the curvy pipe) by hand. The next step is to unscrew the nut to the pivot rod (the long metal above the p-trap) and unstrap it. The pivot rod is usually where the hair is getting clogged. Remove the hair, clean the pivot rod and the p-trap, and put the parts back together.
DIY #2: Drain Auger
Go to the hardware store and get a drain auger – also known as a drain snake. Remove the trap below the sink to directly access the pipe in the wall and tried using a couple of times, but it didn’t restore normal draining speed. It occurs to me now that an auger is more for dislodging something that’s completely obstructing the pipe, rather than for a slow drain.
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Common Kitchen Plumbing Problems
1. Clogged kitchen sink
A clogged kitchen sink has the same problem as a clogged bathroom sink. The difference is that, instead of hair, scraps of food and other kitchen materials are the ones getting stuck.
DIY Option #1: Boiling water technique
Make sure that there is no water flooded in the sink before you try this. Pour a kettle of boiling water to the sink and see if this eases the flow. If not, go to the next step.
DIY Option #2: Vinegar and baking soda
Remove any water from the sink and pour a cup of baking soda to the drain. After that, pour an equal amount of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar). After the solution bubbles up and subsided, put the stopper and test by pouring boiling water.
DIY Option #3: Enzymatic cleaner
Make a trip to the hardware store and looking for an enzymatic drain cleaner. An enzymatic cleaner is best for this. Use it for the next few nights and it will likely work like a charm – no more slow drain! Everyone overthinks clogged sinks – but this is such a cheap solution for a simple problem like clogged sinks.
2. Dripping faucet
A dripping faucet can also appear on kitchen faucets. However, instead of the aerator, the problem can be because of the damaged o-ring seal. Water will be around the spout if the O-ring seal is broken.
DIY Option: Replace the O-ring
The purpose of the O-ring is to prevent water from flowing out the spout. Remove both the coupling nut and the spout to access the rings. Replace any defective rings with a new one. Clean the parts and reassemble the faucet.
3. Leaks from the dishwasher
Because it has a lot of parts, a dishwasher leak can have a lot of possible causes. To fix the leak, replacing the defective part with a new one might be the answer.
DIY Option: Troubleshoot and replace
Leaks from dishwashers can be because of a faulty part that needs replacement. Common problems include the pump, the water inlet valve, sump, or the door gasket. Check these parts individually. Usually, these parts cannot be repaired and need a replacement instead.
4. Clogged Drain
When your kitchen sink is flooding, and you’re sure that the problem is not in the sink, its time to check for the drain lines. Clogging of drain lines are usually more prone when the drain is connected to garbage disposal.
DIY option # 1: Plunger
This is for people who don’t want to use chemical drain cleaners. Plunging can push whatever is blocking your water flow, and fortunately, it would work. Chemical drain cleaners are more effective, but it can be more dangerous if the user is inexperienced.
DIY option # 2: Garbage Disposal
There are times when the clogging of the drain is from the clogging of the Garbage Disposal. To fix this, turn off the garbage disposal circuit breaker and make sure that no current is running. Look for the center shaft and use an Allen wrench to the hex-shaped hole back-and-forth. Find the red reset button, push it, open the breaker, and test the disposal.
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Common Plumbing Problems In Old Homes
Clogging is a pretty common problem in old houses. The older the house gets, the harder it is to maintain and clogs will surely appear in time.
DIY Option #1: Plunger
If you’re lucky, the trustworthy plunger will once again do its job. Pouring boiling water can help in making the plunging easier.
DIY Option# 2: Enzymes and Boiling Water
If the plunger doesn’t work, using an enzyme and boiling water might do the job. First, warm the drain by pouring boiling water. Warming the enzyme is important because it will work better in warm environments. Pour the enzyme next and let it sit overnight. Enzymes are great for unclogging because it eats soap, scum, and gunk buildups.
2. Faulty repairs
In an old home, chances are you are not the only owner that got repair services. You are suffering from a problem that stems from prior poor or faulty repairs.
DIY Option # 1: Temporary fix
Whole repairs, which is usually done by professional plumbers, are usually recommended in old houses you really need working plumbing ASAP. There are amateur fix kits, but they are only to be used as temporary.
3. Polybutylene Pipe
Polybutylene pipes are once a good idea for plumbing. However, because it will in constant exposure to water, polybutylene pipes are not used anymore.
DIY Option: Replacing the pipe
The hardest part of replacing the pipe is locating it and pulling it out. First, locate the pipe and use a drywall saw to expose it. Make sure that the water is turned off before cutting out the polybutylene pipes with a plastic pipe cutter. Install a new pipe of your choice. A CPCV water pipe can be glued with CPVC primer and cement easily.
4. Galvanized Steel
Galvanized steel was a very popular choice back then as a water supply pipe. However, because it corrodes inside, the corrosion blocks the water flow.
DIY Option: Removing the galvanized steel
Because the galvanized steel corrodes and develops rust, it would be hard to remove without heat or a lubricant to loosen up the fittings. Turn off the water supply, use one pipe wrench to lock the pipe in place, and use the other to turn the retaining nut. After removing the pipe, use the same technique to remove the fitting. If lubricant is not enough, use a torch and heat up the fitting. Remember to use protective glass and gloves for this step. After the fitting was removed, you can replace it with whatever kind of pipe that you want.
5. Incorrectly Installed Plumbing
When we purchased our investment property, there was some water damage on the cabinet under the kitchen sink. The home inspector had noted this and said the leak didn’t seem to be current.
“Okay,” I thought, “so there had been a problem and they fixed it, good! Now it’s just cosmetic damage.”
After we bought the place, I discovered that the leak was still active. Not only that, but the more detailed look I took at it and the more I learned about plumbing, the more wrong the whole installation seemed.
For one thing, it did not have any sort of trap installed. It occurred to me after learning about traps that this must be why the house had a faint smell of sewage the day after our inspection. To make matters even worse, the sewage outlet was so low down that the high cabinet base didn’t leave room to install a standard P-trap.
Secondly, the pipes weren’t aligned. I initially tried stop the leak by adjusting the slip joints, but I couldn’t get it right. The first thing I noticed was that pipes weren’t long enough to make a proper connection in the slip joint, so it was just barely connected (about 1mm overlap), which is why it was leaking. The second thing I noticed was that the vertical connection between two joints was going at an angle because they weren’t lined up with each other. It would have been impossible to simply replace that piece with a longer one since the connection had to be installed at an improper angle to connect at all!
This problem seemed completely out of my league, so I gave up and called in the professionals.
DIY or professional?
We got someone to come out a week later to take a look. The guy took a look and confirmed it was not correctly set up. He then had to spend twenty minutes on the phone with his boss brainstorming ways to fix it without having to tear out our expensive custom cabinets. Thankfully, they thought of something, and he was able to fix it in half an hour. It saved us thousands of dollars.
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Common Apartment Plumbing Problems
1. Clogged toilets and drains
This is the same with other house types. Plunging the clog would be the first option, but if it doesn’t work, a baking soda solution, boiling water, or enzyme should help in loosen up the clog.
2. Frozen pipes during winter
Frozen pipes are one of the most common plumbing problems in urban places, especially in apartments. Factors such as poor insulation or low thermostat settings could affect the freezing and make the pipe expand and burst.
DIY Option # 1: Prevention
Preventing a frozen pipe could save more money than fixing it. First, make sure to drain water from the sprinkler supply in the fall. Insulate your pipes in unheated areas by wrapping insulated strips. And last but not least, keep the thermostat temperature steady during the winter.
DIY Option # 2: If the pipe is frozen, but still intact
Turn off the water supply before thawing a frozen pipe. Thawing can be done with a space heater, heat lamp, or even a handy hairdryer. The real problem lies in the frozen water accumulated in the pipes, so get a bucket or towels to soak it. Don’t ever use a propane torch to thaw pipes because you can accidentally burn your house.
DIY Option # 3: If the pipe bursts
If there is already flooding because of a frozen pipe that bursts, minimize the flooding by turning off the water supply. There is nothing you can do but to minimize mold and moisture-related problems and soak water as much as you can. You can use use the help of your landlord so he or she can call a landlord.
3. Leaks from faucets and pipes, clogs in the sink
Leaks from faucets, pipes, and sink are usually fixed just like the dripping faucet, leaking pipe, and clogged sink. Calling the landlord for help if you don’t have the time is best because fixing these can take a lot of time and resources which you might not have in the apartment. Your landlord will most likely ask you to live somewhere else in the meantime to fix the problem, and that cost is not shouldered by the landlord.
4. Dirty water
Dirty water can be caused by corrosion in galvanized pipes (if the rental property in old) or sediments, minerals, and rust in the water main. Either way, pipes are mostly the cause of dirty water.
DIY Option # 1: Running cold water continuously
One of the doable ways to fix dirty water is by running in nonstop for more than 20 minutes. This is done so the water can carry the sediments, crusts, and other elements that can make the water dirty outside.
DIY Option # 2: Ask your neighbor
If the water is still dirty after almost half-hour of continuous running water, ask your neighbor if he or she has the same problem. If there are more than two occurrences, it is likely that your water system is faulty and that calling your landlord for help is the best idea.
DIY Option # 3: Ask the city about any dirty water problems
If the water problem is happening to your neighbor but the plumbing service cannot fix it, then it might have something to do with the city’s water and their connection in your line. You can ask them to fix your line or you can ask the landlord to do it for you.
5. Weak Water Pressure
Weak water pressure happens when there are a lot of people who use water from the same source at the same time. This is a problem common to apartments and can also be caused by other things.
DIY Option # 1: Check your line
Check if your line is turned on. There are times when the landlord might slow the flow to accommodate the water supply. The valve for you can also be accidentally turned by someone which causes your water pressure to go weak.
DIY Option # 2: Check separate faucets
Check both of your bathroom and kitchen faucets. If both of them has weak water pressure, then there’s something wrong with your line. If only one has weak water pressure, then the problem might be in that particular faucet.
DIY Option # 3: Check for water leaks
Water leaks can decrease the pressure in the pipe, making the flow weaker and slower. In addition, it causes more water bills because of the leaks. You can fix the leak via epoxy putty or via slip coupling. One important note is to not try something untested or seems like it will not work (e.g. duct tapes) because this can damage your plumbing system.
Plumbing Problems In A Mobile Home
1. Thumping noises
Thumping noises can be scary, especially when you’re in a mobile home. A lot of mobile house owners doesn’t realize that it is not a horror story and that the thumping comes just after they use their faucet.
DIY Option # 1: Thumping while water is draining
This scenario is called the water hammer and happens when the water valve is suddenly stopped and the water crashes to the valve. If the water hammer is strong enough, it can cause the joints of the pipes to loosen up, which can cause leaks. Installing water arrestor is the guaranteed fix. First, you have to turn off the water supply, clean the piping and measure the fitting for the arrestor. Cut the pipe and slip the fitting. After that, solder the fitting using a torch. Apply Teflon tape to the arrestor and install it to the fitting.
DIY Option # 2: Thumping while water is running
The cause of this scenario is usually when the water runs too fast through a pipe, resulting in the pipe shaking and bumping against the walls. To test if the pressure is too high, use a water pressure test gauge. Usually, only 50PSI is needed in most of the households If the pressure is higher than 80 PSI, adjust the water pressure reducing valve via loosening the lock nut with an Allen wrench.
2. Backflow of water in the toilet
When the toilet is flushed, it will backflow into the bathtub, which is something that you don’t want to happen. When this happens, the cause is usually a clog in the drain line.
DIY Option: Using a toilet auger
A toilet auger is used to drill the clog in the drainage. To use it, just push the rod into the toilet and drill until the drainage clog is all drilled up. This backflow usually happens because the tub is the lowest point of a water system in a mobile house. The flush from the toilet goes there first.
3. Frozen pipes
The same solution from the above can be applied in mobile houses. However, heat tapes are usually more popular when fixing mobile house frozen pipes. Heat tapes are used instead of heat cables because tapes can conform to tight contours and odd shapes while a cable is only spiraled in pipes.
When Should You Hire a Plumbing Professional?
Generally speaking, you have to look at the situation, your personal skill set and assess the possible cost of each outcome. Doing a risk vs cost assessment is a good way to determine if you should call a professional or DIY.
Common and basic plumbing problems are usually harmless and can be done by any homeowner or home occupier with basic plumbing knowledge and skills. However, there are four cases when you should call for a professional plumber because these cases are very dangerous.
If your gas line is in need of repair, there is no need for any what if’s or any question to be asked. You should not attempt to repair a gas leak. In fact, if you think there is a gas leak in your home, you should leave immediately. Gas leaks are dangerous, even for plumbers. Go into a safer place before calling as electronic devices can ignite a blast.
You should also not attempt a sewer repair, as it needs digging. Heavy plumbing equipment suited for the job is a requirement, and if you don’t have one, you might have a hard time or be in danger. A permit is also needed to do the digging because you can damage gas lines, electricity or sewage lines. This one is just too risky, it is overall better to call for a professional and spend money for a plumbing service.