Plumbing is the one system in your home that can malfunction at any time, in any number of places, for any number of reasons.
For comparison, your air conditioner cycles on and off a several times a day. Your only real interaction with the AC is setting the thermostat and remembering to change the air filter, unless it’s time for seasonable maintenance and service. As long as homeowners use a professional contractor for checkups once or twice a year, the AC should hum along nicely.
But that’s not the case with residential plumbing. There are so many "touch points" for plumbing in your home that any problem can arise at any time. A running toilet. Leaky faucets. A pipe that bursts.
Most of the time residents are unaware that their behavior and activity may be causing plumbing problems, which remain unseen until something happens that warrants a call to an area plumber or plumbing contractor for emergency repair.
In this post we’ve culled comments from plumbers locally and nationally to understand these plumbing "touch points." In no particular order of importance:
Hoses: A split washing machine hose is a top homeowner insurance claim. Replace flimsy rubber hoses with stainless steel. They are an inexpensive upgrade and may save future headaches.
Drain Cleaners: While they are convenient, liquid drain cleaners eat away at pipes, especially if misused or overused. Start with a plunger first, then buy a 30-buck auger. Use liquid drain cleaners sparingly and not over a prolonged period of time.
Maintaining Sewer Lines: Use a live enzyme plumbing product (such as Bio-Clean, available at many area home improvement centers) to maintain sewer lines and keep them from clogging from grease or other byproducts. The product may seem expensive but it will save you tons of money and hassle in the future.
Emergencies: Know where the water main shutoff is and how to use it. Frantic homeowners often call plumbers screaming that their home is flooding and they don’t know how to turn off the water. Learn.
(On a side note, the city may require a special tool to shut off the water "at the street." If so, inquire at the water department if you can purchase one to have on hand in case of an emergency. Take a look at what is required. A channel lock pliers may be all you need. Leave a cheap one at the source or with other tools in the house for easy, quick access if needed.)
In a Condo: If you live in a condo, find out if individual units will shut off or if the whole building has to be turned off.
Hair: If your home’s occupants shed a lot of hair, buy a drain strainer or a "hair snare" to keep the hair — and soap scum — out of the pipes. An inexpensive purchase at a Columbus, GA area home improvement center or hardware store.
Beware Baby Wipes: Manufacturers say their baby wipes are "flushable," but they are a main culprit for clogging pipes, especially if you are flushing frequently. They don’t break down the way toilet paper does.
Beware Coffee Grounds: Don’t put large quantities of coffee grounds or any starch product (rice, potatoes, bread) down your garbage disposal. Starch can turn into a paste and clog the drain. Coffee grounds tend to attract grease and build-up. Small amounts are fine but if you peel a dozen potatoes into the sink and then try to stuff everything down the drain there could be problems.
Beware Small Drips: Small drips can waste more than eight gallons of water a day. A continuously running toilet can waste more than 150 gallons of water daily. Ignore them and you’ll pay for it when the water bill arrives.
Stop Jiggling: Always jiggling the toilet handle? You may need to replace the flap valve, a $4 part at area home improvement centers and hardware stores and an easy fix. Plumbers charge $100 to walk in the door.
Garbage Disposal Tip: An Allen wrench usually comes with a garbage disposal to help with jams. Keep it under the sink with the disposal. Maybe even duct tape it to the side of the appliance for quick (and visual) access. If one didn’t come with the house when you bought it, or you don’t remember where you put it, Allen sets are fairly cheap at Columbus, GA area home improvement centers. Buy one, find the one that fits, leave it with the disposal, add the rest of the Allens to your toolbox. If you ever need the missing one, you know where it is.
Beware Cheap Fixtures: Cheap fixtures (no matter how stylish they appear) are just that — cheap. They will break. Plumbing products and plumbers are expensive.
Be Aware of Pipes: Over time, galvanized water lines can corrode or rust shut. Copper lines are great. The new PEX or plastic pipes – although far less expensive than copper – are not as durable and don’t perform nearly as well.
Remember the Outside Faucets: Another way to avoid service calls is to make sure the outside faucets are turned off in the winter and the hoses are disconnected. Plumbers make a lot of service calls in the spring mostly because people leave their outside hoses connected and they freeze up. The repair could cost $100-200 or more.
Experience Counts: Don’t get too wrapped up in how much a plumber is charging you for materials, as long as it’s not exorbitant. It’s not the copper you are paying for it’s the plumber’s experience. At the end of the day, materials cost between 25 to 30 percent of the total job cost.
Up-front Costs: A plumbing company with a good reputation and many years in business may charge a little more up-front, but you’ll save in the long run by avoiding call-backs and extra charges. Look for companies that warranty their services for up to a year for major installations or repairs.
Licenses Matter: Don’t assume every plumber advertising his service locally or on craigslist is licensed. There is no national standard for issuing licenses. Some are licensed by the state, others by the counties they work in. Check with local city hall, water department, even chamber of commerce, who can direct you to a reliable source for local licensed plumbers.
Beware Advertising: In today’s Google world, don’t just go to the Yellow Pages to find a plumber. Anybody can make an appealing ad, but that doesn’t mean they are legitimate. In this industry it’s easy for a plumber who develops a poor reputation to advertise under a different name.
Plumber Due Diligence: Look for a plumber who is well established in the community. Check the Better Business Bureau, read customer reviews at sites such as ServiceMagic.com, AngiesList.com, or Citysearch.com. Local general contractors, plumbing fixture stores, and some of the larger home improvement centers can refer you to a quality plumber. Most of these will not associate themselves with bad plumbers. Ask a neighbor, too, as a trusted plumber that consistently delivers quality repair service does not remain a secret for long.
Beware of Too-Good-To-Be-True Price Quotes: Beware of price quotes that are significantly lower or higher than competitors. Get a minimum of three bids. Estimates for an average-sized job should be within a few hundred dollars. Be suspicious of anything that is substantially lower or double the price of the other quotes. Watch out for hidden fees, too, like charges for travel expenses. A good plumber will not nickel and dime you
New Home Buyers Be Aware: When buying a new home, make sure the sewer lines are checked for any root or settling problem