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27 Plumbing Tips and Tricks for the Smart Homeowner

27 Plumbing Tips to Help Keep Your Plumbing Running Smoothly

Tip #1 – Unclogging a Sink

Here’s a simple solution to unclog your sinks from all that hair, contacts or whatever else makes its way down there. All you need is three things, baking soda, white vinegar and a boiling kettle of hot water.

Take one half cup of baking soda and pour it down the sink. If you have a stopper that you can remove even better, but if not it’s not a problem. Pour it down the drain as best you can and then you’re going to follow it with one half cup of white vinegar.

You will see some bubbling once the vinegar comes into contact with the baking soda. Allow it to continue to bubble until its all done. Next, take the kettle of hot boiling water and pour it down the drain as well. It will continue to fizzle and then you’ll see a little bit of debris coming up.

Yep all that yuck that you’ve thrown down there. There you have it, a quick and easy solution for unclogging your sink.

Tip #2 – Never Put These Things Down a Disposal

A slow kitchen drain is annoying and if ignored it most likely will get worse. The main reasons kitchen drains back up is all this stuff that homeowners put in their garbage disposals. You might be saying to yourself, “isn’t it the job of garbage disposals to grind up kitchen waste?”

Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean that it all will go through the pipe. Here are three common things your garbage disposal doesn’t like. First, never pour hot grease down your disposal. When grease cools it congeals and clogs your kitchen drains.

Your best approach is to allow time for you grease to cool and scrap it into your garbage can. Second, avoid putting coffee grounds and tea leaves in your garbage disposal. They will collect in the drain trap and before long the drain will get clogged.

Finally, don’t put flour, pasta, rice, potatoes or vegetable peels down your disposal.These kinds of foods bind together and clog your pipes. Here’s one more quick tip to avoid a garbage disposal backup.

Run the faucet with hot water for about 15 to 30 seconds after you turn off the disposal. This helps flush the line.

Tip #3 – Unstop Your Toilet with a Rubber Plunger

If you’ve ever had a stopped up toilet its most likely that you know what a rubber plunger is. No home should be without a heavy-duty rubber plunger. There are basically two types of plungers, the sink plunger and the toilet plunger.

The sink plunger has a flat rim and is designed to fit over a sink drain, a bathtub or similar drain openings so that it can form a seal while its plunging. To use a sink plunger the first thing you want to do is to cover the overflow hole in the sink or the bathtub with a wet cloth before plunging.

Next, seal the base of the sink plunger around the opening of the drain and apply varying amounts of pressure up and down on the handle to loosen the clog building up inside the drain pipe. Lift the plunger from the drain and allow the remaining water to flow down the drain.

Alternatively, the heavy duty toilet plunger has a flange at the bottom of it so that it can create a tight seal around the exit pipe in the bottom of the toilet bowl. To use the toilet plunger make sure that the flange on the bottom is securely sealed around the exit pipe on the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Apply various pressure types up and down on the handle of the plunger to loosen the clog built up in the toilet in the exit pipe.

Once the clog has become unstuck go ahead and flush the toilet to ensure that the exit pipe flow has not been restored successfully. If you don’t want to spend money on different types of plungers, a good way to save a little bit of money is to just buy a toilet plunger and then push the flange inside so that you have a flat rim.

This way you can use it as a sink or bathtub plunger too.With these simple plumbing tips the next time your bathtub, sink or toilet decides to get clogged up you’re be sure to have the right plunger for the right job.

Heavy duty bathroom plunger with flange

Tip #4 – Unstop a Toilet Without a Plunger

This method is not guaranteed to work every time. Every clog is different but what do you have to lose? Before you start make sure your toilet bowl is relatively empty (if you know what I mean) because you don’t want it to overflow. It will be very gross to clean up if you don’t.

First, take some ordinary dish soap (yeah the kind you wash your dishes with) and squeeze quite a bit into the toilet bowl. Make sure you get a good amount of soap in the bowl because the goal is to lubricate the inside of the bowl well so that whatever is stuck will be dislodged and slide right on out.

You’ll notice that its heavier than the water so it will sink straight to the bottom of the bowl. You’ll need to exercise a little patience for this to work. Overtime the dish soap will seep into the clog lubricating the trap way.

Next, take a bucket of hot water and pour it directly into the bowl.If this works the clog will slowly make its way through the trap way and will eventually be free. All there is left to do is for you to flush your toilet. There you go no more clog and you’ve even got a clean bowl out of it.

Tip #5 – Unclog Your Toilet with Clean Shot Drain Opener

Okay so you’ve tried to unclog your toilet with dishwashing soap and hot water, a heavy duty plunger, a snake, a toilet auger and nothing seems to work.

Now its time to bring out the chemicals.We recommend you try Clean Shot Drain Opener with sulfuric acid that you can usually find at the local Lowe’s or Home Depot in your area. Be sure to read and follow the instructions on the back but here’s essentially what you need to do. Put on a pair of heavy duty rubber latex gloves because you are dealing with pretty harmful chemicals.

Leave the water in the bowl as low as possible and put in two ounces of Clean Shot Drain Opener. This is just to preheat the water because it produces a chemical reaction when you pour it into the bowl.

Pour it directly into the water, not on the side of the toilet bowl. Wait a couple of minutes and then you will need to pour another 12 -14 ounces of the solution into the bowl.

You should definitely see the chemical reaction forming in side of the bowl. The water will begin to smoke a bit. You may need to wear a mask over your nose, open a bathroom window and turn on the exhaust fan if the chemicals are too strong. Be patient and let the chemical do its job (about 5 minutes). Now you should flush the toilet 2-3 times.

The water may rise up to the rim of the bowl on the first flush, if it does use a plunger to to get the water to make its way down the bowl. Flush again a few more times to make sure the solution makes its way through the pipes.

Now your toilet should be unclogged. There’s no muscle when you use this method and it works.

Tip #6 – Checking Your Sump Pump

Inside of your sump pump pit you will see a sump pump and a float. The float is connected to a lever which is the switch to turn the pump on and off. The float is designed to go up and down turning the sump pump on and off.

As the pump kicks on the water goes out. When the float goes down the water comes in rises up the float and the pump kicks on and pumps the water out. So basically if you look inside of your pit you can see if that float is operational by simply pulling the float up and seeing if that pump kicks on.

If it doesn’t then its time to replace the sump pump.If it kicks on, great, no problems. Most of the problems with a sump pump is that the float gets stuck and it usually gets stuck at the side of the sump pit. This happens because the pump moves around a little bit when it kicks on. So checking the float on your sump pump is an easy is an easy fix.

If it’s stuck, great, you can just pull the pump over and solve the problem.  However, if it doesn’t kick on then you need to have the pump replaced.
sump pump inspection

Tip #7 – Unclog Your Sink with Blue Dawn

Pour 1/2 cup of Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid down the drain. Simply squeeze approximately 1/2 cup of Dawn down the drain straight from the bottle and allow it sit for about 5 minutes while you boil some hot water in a pot.

Next, pour the hot water down the drain and it will foam quite a bit like soap does. After you’ve gotten all the water down the drain you should end up with a clean and working drain again.

Tip #8 – Snake Your Toilet

You will need an auger or snake which you can buy at any hardware or home center store. The whole purpose behind snaking a toilet is to get into a clog that’s just beyond the toilet which is very typical between the toilet’s siphon and the flange.

Typically, things that get stuck in the toilet are things that are not water soluble.You shouldn’t put anything down the toilet besides toilet paper. No feminine napkins, disposable towels or paper towels.

Anything that cannot readily disintegrate with water. Believe it or not toilet paper is made to disintegrate with water so it doesn’t get clogged. There are couple incidences where you don’t want to snake the toilet.

If you’ve used a chemical down your toilet you really don’t want to use a snake because it may splash back on you or it will get caustic on the snake itself and may end up making contact with your arm and do you some harm. Before you get started, make sure you protect the ground around the toilet. Make sure you have a bucket handy and some old rags.

When you have galvanized or lead pipes underneath your toilet the snake could very well go right through your piping so you really don’t want to use it.

After the protection is on the floor, insert your snake into the toilet and rotate it clockwise until the snake goes through your toilet and loosens the clog up. Typically, another mistake that homeowners make is that push what is clogged in the toilet.

What you want to do instead is remove it.I know its nasty, I know you don’t want to touch it and I completely understand that. If you force it down the line, it’s going to go further down the line and then give you an even bigger problem.

Once the end of the snake gets tangled around the debris you really do want to remove it in its entirely and that’s where the bucket really comes in handy. That’s how your remove a clog using a snake.

Tip #9 – Turn Off Your Water While Brushing Your Teeth

You waste more water than you think by allowing it to run continuously while you shave or brush your teeth. On average you waste about 2.5 gallons of water if the water continues to run while participating in one of these activities.

To put this into perspective that is more water than some people in the world have at their disposal for an entire month. Here’s a good rule of thumb, don’t let any water hit your sink untouched.

Tip #10 – Replace Your Old Shower Head

High-efficiency shower heads are a great way to save on hot water and money. How do you know if you have one already installed or not?Take a standard gallon bucket, hold it under your shower head and turn the shower on.

Hold it there for ten seconds. Next, measure how much water you have inside the bucket and multiply that number by six. This will tell you how many gallons per minute your shower head is emitting.

If your number is higher than three, you could be saving water and money with a new high-efficiency shower head. This is a simple DIY project and you could be enjoying a savings anywhere from $56 to $84 annually on your water bill.

Tip #11 – Unclog Your Aerator

If you are experiencing low water pressure from your faucet it may be time to clean the aerators. No worries here because unclogging an aerator is easy. Aerators are simple inserts that fit inside your faucet’s chrome cap.

The tiny holes in the aerators create a soft flow and help to minimize water splashing on you.Sometimes small particles in the water will block the small holes in the aerator and its screen which creates the clog. To unclog the aerator first place a towel or masking tape over the faucet cap. This keeps the fixture from being marred when you strong arm the cap off.

Next, use a wrench of pliers and turn the cap counter-clockwise until it separates from the faucet. Now take the cap off and pay attention to the way the inserts are arranged because you have to replace these parts in the same sequence in which they were removed. Now that you’ve noted that, remove the aerator and restrictor.

Clean the screens and water restrictor by flushing them with water. You may need to use a brush or push through the tiny aerator holes with a needle or pin to unclog them. Even if a couple of holes are clogged it will reduce your water flow.

Finally, reassemble the aerator in the reverse order. Now turn on the water and you should see a marked improvement in your water flow.

Tip #12 – Run Hot Water Down Your Sink

This may not be an obvious one but if you will run hot water (hotter than normal) down your sink on a weekly basis it will help maintain your drains and make them less likely to become clogged. This is especially through for kitchen sinks because they tend to accumulate light grease deposits.

Tip #13 – Maintenance for Your Sink

Another tip for keeping your drains clean in addition to the tip above is to pour a little bleach or distilled white vinegar down the drain. If possible let it sit overnight or at the very least for one hour. This helps to get rid of a smelly sink as well as keep the drain clear.

Tip #14 – Give Your Garbage Disposal a Breath Mint

Does your garbage disposal have a strange order coming from it? (i.e. bad breath) What happens is that food gets built up into the garbage disposal along with grease and soap scum.

This causes the odor to hang around.Here’s what you need to do to rid your garbage disposal of its bad breath.Get an ice cube tray and freeze some citrus peels in the ice cubes. Put the cubes down your disposal.

Not only will it freshen up its breath but it will also help sharpen the disposal. When you’re done run a little hot water with the garbage disposal turned off and you should now have a sweet smelling garbage disposal.

Tip #15 – An Ounce of Plumbing Prevention…..

is worth a pound of plumbing repair – Scheduling regular times during the year for maintenance of your plumbing systems is a lot less expensive than waiting until a problem occurs and then having it fixed.

Tip #16 – Install a Dual-Flush Toilet

A standard toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water to flush solid waste. What makes a dual-flush toilet so neat and why you should consider installing one in your home is that it gives you the option to use .8 gallons or 1.6 gallons of water to flush?

Why should you care?Because the dual-flush toilet is a water conversation tool, saving your up to 2,500 gallons of water use each year. There are a lot of times when you’re using the toilet and you don’t need the full 1.6 gallons of water to get rid of the liquid or solid waste. Your toilet will continue to operate as usual other than increased efficiency of water consumption.

Tip #17 – Don’t be Fooled by Smiling Jack-o-Lanterns

Don’t allow their smiles to become your frowns. Both pumpkin seeds and pulp can clog your drain. What happens is the orange substance will eventually harden and end up sticking to your pipes leaving you with a clogged kitchen sink. A simple solution is to just do all of your pumpkin carving on a newspaper and discard the remains in the waste basket.

Tip #18 – Repair Your Leaky Faucet

Did you know that a leaky faucet will waste up to 3 gallons of water each day? This can really add up to some unnecessarily high water bills and it may also be a sign of some plumbing problems that are lurking around the corner. Replacing plumbing fixtures is an easy fix and will save you money in the long run.

Tip #19 – Take a Peek Under Your Sink

Regularly check under your kitchen and bathroom sinks just to see if there are any drips. Many times homeowners keep these areas so stuffed with junk that they rarely think to look to see if there are any water leaks.

Tip #20 – Diagnose Your Leaky Water Heater

So you find a pool of water under your water heater, what are the steps you should take? The first think you need to consider is that it might not be a leak. Water heaters tend to produce condensation on the tank so check the tank to see if there’s any moisture.

If you find some moisture that may be the cause, if not its some to look somewhere else. You may have a leak somewhere else because water heaters are surrounded by other plumbing fixtures and pipes that may be leaking.

Check those for any possible leaks. If not then your water heater is the likely cause and most leaks from water heaters are the result of lining wearing away which causes water to drip from the base. If you suspect that the water heater is leaking the first thing you want to do is shut off the power.

If you have an electric water heater locate your circuit breaker panel and shut off the switch for the water heater. If you have a gas water heater locate the dial at the base of the heater and turn it to either pilot or off.

If you have a serious leak then the next step is going to be shut-off the cold water supply which is normally located above the water heater.

Just be careful about letting the water spew on you because it can get very hot up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. This will cause serious burns so if you can’t get to the water shut-off valve safely, locate the main shut-off valve for your house.

If the leak isn’t serious and you aren’t sure exactly where its coming from you may want to leave the water on just for now so that you can investigate a bit and try to locate the source of the leak.

The first place you want to check is the inlet and outlet pipes leading from your hot water tank. Check these connections because it may be a loose connection that you need to tighten up, not a big problem. Next, check the temperature and pressure release valve on the side of the tank.

This value is designed to let out water if there is too much pressure or the water is heated too much. So if its leaking from here its possible that you may have too much pressure in the tank which is something to be concerned about. Check around the edges of the value to make sure its water tight.

Check the value itself and follow the pipe to the floor to see if there is any water actually leaking out of the value down below. Your value might be faulty or there may be too much pressure in the tank. The next place you want to check is the drain valve which is used to drain or flush the water heater located at the base of the tank. Check around the edge and the valve itself to ensure there are no leaks.

Finally, you want to check the bottom of the water heater and as I stated earlier is where most water heater leaks occur. If you have a leak coming from the bottom of your tank is likely that you have an internal problem with your water heater.

Mostly likely you will have to replace your water heater. Once you’ve diagnosed the leak shutoff the water supply if you haven’t already and call a professional plumber.

Before you call the plumber try calling the manufacturer of your heater and give them your model number, if you’re lucky you may discover that your water heater is still under warranty. If you do end up having to change out the water heater be sure to replace the pan under it as well.

Tip #21 – Locate Your Water Shut-Off Valve

Every homeowner should know exactly where their water shut-off valve is located in case of emergency. More times than not it will normally be located in front of the house that it facing the street where the water is coming from.

You should see the shut-off valve as soon as the main enters the house.If you’re on a well system its at your pump tank located in your basement. You either have a ball valve or the old style turn shut-offs. The ball valve are just quarter turns off and on. If you have the old style then you’ll need to turn to the right to shut the water off and to the left to turn it back on.

Tip #22 – Never Flush Feminine Napkins Down Your Toilet

Unless you want to become the plumber’s best friend don’t flush cotton balls or feminine napkins down your toilet. You’ve seen the signs before “don’t flush feminine hygiene products down the drain.” 

These napkins are biodegradable but that doesn’t mean you can flush them down the toilet.They are made of cotton and cardboard. You can clog up a toilet with too much toilet paper and that’s made to go down the toilet.

These sanitary napkins are worse than a wad of toilet paper because toilet paper is designed to break down when exposed to water while the napkins and pads are not.

These don’t dissolve and will likely create a serious backup so be sure to make all houseguests aware of this fact. Placing a trash can next to the toilet is the best long-term solution.

Tip #23 – Protect Your Pipes So They Don’t Freeze

Winterizing your home is something every homeowner should do each year just as certain as a polar bear hibernates for the winter. When water freezes it expands and can actually burst a pipe. (see picture below)This is not just try for those who live in cold climates.

It also happens in the Deep South where people run their plumbing pipes on an outside wall or across an uninsulated attic. The thinking is that it never cold enough in these areas to freeze a pipe but when it does it causes a real mess.

One of the best things we’ve found to insulate pipes is form rubber that comes in various sizes especially the kind that peel and stick. Remember to also protect the elbow portion of the pipe because it is especially vulnerable to a freeze.

Tip #24 – Unfreeze Your Frozen Pipes

Just in case you’ve procrastinated and forgot to insulate your pipes. You wake up one morning and discover you have no running water what should you do?

First, leave the faucet turned on.Now you need to go to the place where you suspect the freeze has occurred and apply some temperature. You can use a space heater, blow dryer or heat gun and carefully go along the pipe that you think is frozen.

The reason you leave the faucet open because as the pipe starts to thaw you will see the results of all your hard work in the form of running water.Also, water moving pass the freeze will also help to thaw out any remaining ice.

Now all of this presumes you know where the frozen pipe is located and you can actually get to it. You might have to call a professional plumber to come out and bring his pipe thawing machine.

The electricity from this machine would melt any ice that’s located inside the pipe. This is a great way to save on having to file an insurance claim or you could do the preventative maintenance and just insulate properly.
how to protect your pipes against freeze

Tip #25 – Soften Your Water

To soften the water you must take out the hardness which is calcium, magnesium or dissolved rock. A water softener will help you to use up to 50% less soap, detergent, shampoo and cleaning chemicals.

A water softener will also cut your energy bill by 30% or more because you don’t get the hard water white buildup in your water heater and dramatically raise energy costs. A water softener will make your white clothes water and your colors more vivid.

And get this your clothes will last longer because you don’t have to use as much harsh detergent them. Your plumbing fixtures, toilets, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines and faucets will last much longer as well with a water softener.

You’ll also love the way the soft water will treat you personally. Not only will it save you money and time cleaning up hard water spots and stains. You’ll absolutely love the way it makes your hair and skin feel. The reality of the situation is that the water softener will be the only appliance in your home makes life more enjoyable and saves more money than it costs in the process.

If you’re spending the money on increased energy costs,increased plumbing and appliance repairs, elevated soap and detergent costs why not enjoy the benefits of a water softener in your home.

Tip #26 – Don’t Believe Those Phone Quotes

A reputable plumber will never be able to price a job out for you that he hasn’t seen yet. Any quote given to over the phone must be followed up by a visual inspection at your home.

Once they visit your home you also need to get the scope to be done in writing. Instead of asking for a quote for the exact price you can ask for their hourly rate or a ball park figure for you believe needs to be done.

Some plumbing jobs like installing a new toilet or replacing the shower head are fairly predictable but even these can offer unseen complications.

Tip #27 – Know When to Call a Professional Plumber

In the DIY world that we live in today is natural that many homeowner’s would want to save money and tackle their plumbing repairs on their own.

However, there are times when seeking the advice and services of a professional plumber is by far the best choice. We recommend you pick up the phone and call a plumbing contractor when you encounter the following plumbing projects.

Whenever permits are required to be pulled: Anytime you have a major project like kitchen or bathroom remodels, replacing a gas line, re-piping, replacing a water heater, replacing a drain, replacing sewer lines and whenever you plan to move rearrange the existing plumbing in your home.

Main line work: Generally speaking if you have a major backup in your home with your toilets or kitchen sinks it will somehow be connected with the main line running to your house. This undoubtedly will require special tools and equipment that the majority of homeowners will not have. Even if you decided to rent the necessary equipment needed chances are you wouldn’t know how to operate it properly and will end up doing more damage than good.

Replacing a Tub or Shower Install: The DIY videos makes these types of jobs look easy and straight forward, but its more to it than meets the eye even for the very savvy homeowner.

Replacing a Water Heater: I would never recommend that you work on your own water heater. It may still be under warranty and some manufacturers will not honor your warranty unless the unit as been serviced by a licensed technician that has be certified to specifically work on that brand. You don’t want to end up getting burned or with a worse leak than you started with.

Sometimes it may even be worthwhile to hire a plumber or handyman for the small jobs just for the peace of mind. When you factor in your time to learn how to do, the time to actually do and the money you will need to invest in the right tools are you really saving that much money?

This is something you will have to decide for yourself but if you use these 27 plumbing tips laid out for you in this article your need for a plumber will be greatly decreased.

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