Plumbing is the most volatile system in the home. You use water daily to take showers and baths, to flush toilets, to wash clothes, to cook with, and to water the yard in the spring and summer.
Because water is distributed throughout the home it touches many locations and surrounding areas — bathrooms, counters, kitchens, floors, refrigerators, the laundry room, and outside. With so much daily use and many touch points, there’s greater potential for things to go wrong that at some point you’ll need to call a plumber or plumbing contractor.
Think about it:
- water in the bathrooms (showers, tubs, sinks, toilets and if something goes wrong . . . the floors, counter-tops, under the counters, and leaks on the ceilings overhead if the bathroom happens to be upstairs)
- water in the kitchen (sinks, garbage disposals, refrigerator ice maker supply lines and if something goes wrong . . . the floors, counter-tops, under the counters, in cabinets)
- water in the laundry room (hot and cold water to the washing machine and if something goes wrong . . . water all over the floor, underneath the water and dryer)
- water in several locations outside, including spigots attached to the home, for sprinkler systems (if one is installed), and for swimming pools (if you have one)
In this post we look at common plumbing problems encountered by homeowners. We’ll offer solutions that you can do yourself and know when it’s best to have a local plumber tackle repairs and upgrades.
Common Plumbing Problems
No Hot Water
No hot water is one of the most common reasons people call plumbers because, really, what homeowner thinks of the hot water heater anytime during the year? That would be no one — unless there is no hot water.
If you have a gas water heater, check and make sure the pilot light is lit. Lighting a pilot light is fairly easy and can be accomplished by most homeowners; however, depending on the age of the equipment and installation it can get tricky. You may be more comfortable having a professional light it for you, ensuring all is in working order at the same time.
If hot water flow remains an issue — like there is never enough hot water — look at the size of the water heater. Is it large enough to meet your needs? If it was just you and your wife when you bought the house (and inherited the water heater) but now you have two kids, maybe it’s time to up-size to better meet the demand for hot water.
Low Water Pressure
Low water pressure usually appears at a sink faucet, either in the kitchen or a bathroom. Check to see if both the hot and cold water have low pressure. If so, the most likely culprit is a dirty aerator, which covers the spout. Calcium deposits slowly build up in the aerator and reduce water pressure.
This, however, may not be the case every time. In some instances, water pressure is low in one faucet, fine in the other. If this is the case, and you’d prefer not to troubleshoot the cause yourself, call a plumber in the area because there may be an issue in the plumbing system itself. Looking for a plumbing needle in a haystack, so to speak, is frustrating.
Clogged or Plugged Drains
Clogged or plugged drains is the second most common reason homeowners call plumbers. The impact of a clogged or block drainpipe becomes noticeable fast as you may encounter nasty odors. If the clog is severe enough, the mucky backup will spill onto the floor, onto a counter, and from there wherever it wants to go.
Slow Draining Sink
A slow draining sink is another common problem and often spurs a call to a plumber. These usually happen in three places: the kitchen sink, a bathtub, or a bathroom vanity sink.
In the kitchen: Homeowners often throw everything down the proverbial kitchen sink.
- Don’t discard coffee grounds in the drain: They are notorious for causing clogs.
- Another culprit: cooking grease. Don’t pour hot (or even lukewarm) grease down the drain. It will harden and coat the pipes with a sticky scum that traps other particles and eventually clogs. If you do, run as hot of water as you can generate and hope it will dilute the grease and keep it from solidifying.
In the bathroom: Pop-up sink or tub stoppers collect hair and other debris like pieces of soap and bobby pins. It’s best to keep an eye out for slow draining tubs and sinks and if you notice water seems to be draining slowly, take a look. If left unattended the situation will get worse, making it more difficult to fix yourself (and increasing the gross factor).
Annoyances and Leaks
The drip, drip, drip sound of a leaky faucet is certainly annoying. And while the amount of dripping water seems little at the time, over days and weeks those drips add up to a significant amount of lost water, which you are paying for. When drips occur, look for the cause. They’re usually a quick and inexpensive fix and should not require a costly visit from a plumber.
A leaky pipe is much more serious than a leaky faucet and requires immediate attention from you and, most likely, a plumber. When water gets behind the walls or into the insulation, damage can be extensive, more complex to repair, and costly. Water problems lead to mold growth and premature deterioration of framing. Even a sporadic leak can lead to major damage.
It’s a good idea to check pipes periodically for rust or white lime deposits. These can indicate the beginning of a leak.
Leaky Water Heaters
If the hot water supply is adequate but there are puddles underneath the hot water heater, it’s a sign that something is wrong. The best way to deal with a leaky water heater is to replace it. Leaks usually indicate rusting through the bottom of the water storage tank and there is no repair for such a problem.
A “running” toilet is probably more annoying than the steady drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet. When flushed, the toilet fills up but doesn’t completely shut off and water continues into the tank and bowl. If left unattended, a “running” toilet can impact your monthly water bill noticeably and drive you nuts with the constant sound of running water.
A leak at the base of the toilet may be due to a deteriorated gasket — that sticky, waxy, pliable seal between the base of the toilet and the waste disposal hole in the floor.
Like with leaky pipes, you’ll want to investigate immediately. Other than the gasket, the leak could be from a loose water supply line, a kinked or damaged line (especially old copper tubing). If the toilet is on a second floor, you’ll want to fix to make sure the leak doesn’t cause problems with the ceiling below.
Upgrading plumbing fixtures is often seen as a simple way to redecorate. But, in some cases, the faucet is old, leaky, and seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Installing new faucets is a moderate expense and something most homeowners can do, but, depending on one’s circumstances, it’s not always pleasant and can be frustrating working in the cramped cabinet underneath a sink, warranting a call to a plumber.
Garbage Disposal Issues
Garbage disposal issues usually start with nasty odors, unpleasant backups into the sink, and grating mechanical sounds. You’ll want to investigate below the sink immediately to make sure there’s no leaking water.
Otherwise, replacing a garbage disposal is not unlike replacing a faucet: It’s certainly doable for most homeowners, but, depending on one’s circumstances it’s not always pleasant working underneath a cramped sink and can be frustrating, warranting a call to a local plumber.