You’ve Found a Plumbing Problem: What’s Next?

Sooner or later, virtually all homeowners encounter some kind of problem that interferes with the smooth function of their household plumbing systems. Unfortunately, like many challenges in life, plumbing problems can occur at unexpected times and trigger significant disruptions in your tightly scheduled daily routine. Once your plumbing starts giving you trouble, the key question is: What you can do to minimize the disruption and return your system to good working order as soon as possible? Luckily, you can follow a few simple steps to uncover the extent of the problem and determine the most appropriate course of action.

Troubleshoot the Cause of the Problem

Most plumbing-related issues have more than one potential underlying cause. Before you decide to call a plumber or take care things yourself, consider taking a little bit of time to troubleshoot the specific source of the problem. The information you gather may provide vital clues for any professional you hire to carry out a repair. It can also form the basis for your own cost-effective, do-it-yourself repair efforts.

Troubleshooting High Water Usage

One of the most common, but overlooked, indications of plumbing problems is an unexpected increase in your household water usage, which typically translates into an unexpected increase in your monthly water bill. If you discover unexplained high water usage, start your troubleshooting efforts by listening for leaking pipes in your kitchen and bathroom(s). Since the average home is quite loud during busier parts of the day, you may need to perform this task toward bedtime or when you first wake up in order to catch the relatively subtle sounds of a slow leak. If the tank on a toilet is the source of your leak, you may have an easier time detecting the sound of constantly running water between flushes.

Troubleshooting Slow Drains

You may first notice the existence of plumbing problems when the water in a sink or bathtub starts emptying at an unusually slow rate. Naturally, you might assume that the problem is a localized clog in the connected drain line. In many cases, such an assumption would be correct. However, in other cases, the draining problems you notice in one sink or bathtub actually affect a larger portion of your plumbing system. You can distinguish localized problems from bigger issues by pouring water down multiple drains throughout your home and comparing the results.

Troubleshooting Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure is another fairly common plumbing issue. First, take the time to determine if pressure problems are affecting just one fixture or several fixtures throughout your household. Also take the time to determine if both the hot and cold water taps of each fixture have the same pressure issues.

If you have low water pressure in more than one area of your home, you may have a system-wide problem caused by things such as undetected leaks or mineral accumulations inside your plumbing lines. Other potential problems include a faulty system component called a pressure reducing valve or a faulty water meter shut-off valve. In some cases, the water pressure problems you experience may actually be caused by issues outside your home, such as leaking or broken water mains in your area.

Fix Minor Problems Yourself

In many cases, you can follow up your troubleshooting efforts with a do-it-yourself repair that helps you avoid calling for professional help. Depending on your willingness, personal experience and comfort level, common plumbing issues that may fall into the DIY category include dripping faucets, clogged drains, constantly running toilets, leaky pipes and low water pressure. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to put in the time and effort required to successfully address these issues.

Repairing Dripping Faucets

Faucet dripping is commonly caused by wear and tear in the silicone or rubber washers that normally help form a watertight seal when a tap closes. You may be able to replace a damaged washer fairly easily. However, problems that extend beyond simple washer damage may require a plumber’s expertise. You also probably need a plumber if your dripping faucet has a ceramic tap.

Fixing Running Toilets

In most cases, you can successfully repair a constantly running toilet by replacing worn-out components located in the toilet tank. Essentially all hardware stores and home improvement stores sell kits that make the replacement process quite straightforward. If component replacement doesn’t fix the issue, you may need to call a plumber.

Fixing Leaky Pipes

Sometimes, you can temporarily stop pipe joints from leaking by applying something called a fitting compound or a joint filler. However, as a rule, only replacement of the leaking section will produce a permanent solution. Unless you feel confident removing a section of pipe, schedule an appointment with a plumbing professional.

Fixing Clogged Drains

Many people attack drain clogs with a chemical-based commercial drain cleaner. While these products often get the job done, they can damage your pipes if you use them frequently to deal with recurring clogs. As an alternative, you may want to try enzymatic drain cleaners, which use a combination of naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria to bust clogs. However, repeated clogging usually indicates that it’s time to contact a plumber.

Call a Plumbing Professional

As we’ve seen, you may need to call a plumber in order to successfully address some of the more minor problems that can affect your household plumbing. There are also times when you should avoid DIY solutions altogether and make a call to a plumbing professional your number one priority. Typically, these situations arise when the issue affecting your system is too complex or too hazardous for you to deal with on your own.

One of the prime examples of a situation that immediately calls for a plumber’s expertise is a leaking or collapsed sewer line. Failure to handle this hazardous scenario correctly can lead to contamination of your drinking water supply with pesticide residue or disease-causing microbes such as Salmonella or E. coli. Other situations that require expert plumbing assistance to ensure safety and high-quality work include leaks in a septic tank, malfunctions in your household water heater, and the installation of any new plumbing lines, new bathtubs/showers, or new sinks.

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