For many homeowners, a plumbing problem is high on the list of “please don't let it happen to me” issues. However, at some point, everybody will experience a plumbing issue, whether it's something simple like a clog, or something more dire such as a flood. How you approach issues when they occur, and how you repair your plumbing, is crucial to minimizing these unpleasant occurrences.
Common Mistake #1 – Hurry-Up Fixes
Whether you have a house full of holiday guests or you're just in a rush, sometimes it's easy to think that rushing through a plumbing job is a good idea. The truth is that rushing during plumbing work is never smart, regardless of how pressured you may feel.
The most common mistake in this area is a very simple one...failure to turn off the water. If you know that you should turn the water off, don't chance it. In addition, when in doubt, turn it off just to be on the safe side. Turning that little knob or valve can mean the difference between a gushing water-fountain nightmare and a calm, quick, tidy job.
Common Mistake #2 – Crooked Installation
If you're skilled enough to take on a task like installing a new toilet or sink, don't forget the simplest of details...leveling. This is a surprisingly common oversight, and it's one that can negatively alter the function and appearance of your new project. Using a level takes just seconds, and it can help you avoid irritating and costly repairs down the road.
Common Mistake #3 – Leaving Your Hose Connected in Winter
When it comes to devastating indoor floods, a surprisingly large number of them are caused by frozen pipes which have burst. A vital piece of winter home maintenance is disconnecting your garden hose(s) and, if you have a separate control, turning off the water which supplies the outdoor spigots.
Frozen pipes can easily burst, since water expands when it freezes and pipes aren't designed to accommodate this swelling. A burst water pipe can completely ruin a basement, leaving you wading through ankle-deep water as you try to salvage your belongings. Floods like these cause excessive damage to floors, walls and appliances. If a pipe bursts during the night and is not discovered until the next morning, thousands of dollars in damages will already have occurred. If the leak occurs within the flooring or walls of your home, the damage can be even greater, since the leak may go unnoticed for a longer period of time.
Take a few minutes this winter to disconnect outdoor plumbing. You'll want to do this before the first hard freeze, so determine when that is likely to be in your area and mark your calendar.
Common Mistake #4 – Mismatched Pipes
In DIY plumbing, it's common to reach for the closest pipe of the right size and shape. However, it's important to pay attention to the pipe's material, as well. The most common mistakes when it comes to fitting two pipes together have to do with material and size. When fitting two pipes of different sizes together, the proper connecting piece must be used to ensure proper sealing. The pipes aren't properly fitted just because they hold together.
Another very common mistake is connecting a pipe made of galvanized metal to a pipe made of copper. These materials react to each other and the connection point will corrode very quickly, leading to leaks. A brass or other suitable fitting must be used to connect these materials.
Common Mistake #5 – Overuse of Drain Cleaner
One quick look at the warnings on a bottle of drain cleaner will tell you that it's very heavy-duty stuff. Products designed to keep drains clear and remove clogs often include extremely harsh chemicals. If used periodically, they do their job quite well and with no side effects. However, in the case of a persistent clog in the same pipe, drain cleaners can do more harm than good.
We tend to think of pipes as hard to damage, and they are. They're not invincible, though. Overuse of something as harsh as clog remover can eat away at the pipe, whether it's made of metal or PVC. If a toilet or sink drain clogs repeatedly, clog removers just aren't going to do the trick, and they can damage your pipes as they waste your money.
Persistent clogs are usually caused by something stuck in the pipe, usually way down where you can't see or even feel with traditional home-use snake tools. It could be a child's toy, a piece of jewelry, or even a tree root! For clogs that keep occurring, it's best to call in a professional plumber. They have larger and stronger snake tools, and they also have experience in the situation.
Common Mistake #6 – Ignoring Local Laws
While a plumber is likely to know the local laws regarding permits backwards and forwards, the average homeowner simply doesn't have the need to be so well-acquainted with plumbing regulations. However, if you attempt a DIY project without checking with your city building officials, you may be setting yourself up for a costly surprise.
Depending on the size of the job, many cities and counties require a permit. In some areas installing a toilet requires a permit, while others require permits for only large-scale renovations. Learn about the rules in your area before you tackle a DIY plumbing job.
You may be wondering why it matters...after all, it's unlikely that the city will stop by to check on your bathroom anytime soon, right? Wrong. While you probably won't be the focus of a random check, plumbing work done without a permit can cause trouble for you in several different ways.
Unlicensed DIY plumbing is, after all, amateur work. Reading and watching video tutorials simply can't compete with the knowledge that comes from years of experience. Smaller jobs can be handled just fine by the DIY enthusiast, but larger jobs need true expertise to ensure that each detail is handled correctly.
If a DIY job springs a leak or otherwise fails, you could be facing more trouble than simply calling a plumber. If the leak damages your home severely, which is very possible in the case of structural water damage, insurance might come into play. However, insurance will often refuse a claim if the damage resulted from work done without the proper permits.
Fines are another potentiality of working without the proper permits. Just like parking violations or using your sprinkler on an “off” day, working without a permit can leave you open to be fined. The amount varies by location.
Common Mistake #7 – Tackling Jobs Beyond Your Skill Level
Our last common mistake is also the biggest and most costly of them all. Far too often, homeowners feel that they should be able to fix anything and everything inside their home, regardless of prior experience. Other times, a home handyman feels that he has sufficient experience to take on any type of plumbing job, simply because he's fixed a few leaky faucets.
Taking on a job which you know (or even suspect) to be beyond your skill level is simply a bad idea. Worse, it's a bad idea which can cost you literally thousands of dollars in repairs. There is a wide range of difficulty when it comes to plumbing projects, and taking an honest look at where your skills lie before taking on a job is the smartest move you can make.
Relatively simple jobs such as installing a new faucet, replacing a section of pipe or even installing certain types of pre-made tub and shower surrounds can be done by most handy homeowners with a bit of self-education. However, the smart homeowner knows where to draw the line.
Any job which involves the disconnection of major pipes, working on pipes which are hidden within floors or walls, or the reconfiguration of your bathroom plumbing absolutely calls for the expertise of an experienced plumber. In most cases, these larger jobs require work permits, and part of the reason is that they are complicated, require knowledge of the industry and have a high potential for error. Play it safe and call in the professionals if you feel that you can't handle every aspect of a plumbing project. It's a much safer and smarter proposition to pay a plumber now than to call one in later for repairs after the damage has occurred.
Finding the Best Local Plumbers
Searching for a reputable, reliable plumber used to be a difficult proposition, especially if you're new to your neighborhood. The phone book offers tons of possibilities, but how can you tell which plumbers are the best?
Thankfully, home improvement websites have made this process very simple. On these sites, you can look through local plumbers, viewing qualifications like licensing, years of experience, certifications and other criteria. You can even read reviews written by consumers just like yourself. These reviews can be invaluable when making your decision, since they give you insight into how the plumber operates on the job. Are they honest? Prompt? Pleasant? Reviews can tell you all this and more.
Once you've narrowed your list, start making phone calls. Obviously, this process needs to go a bit faster if you're experiencing an emergency such as a burst pipe. However, if you're planning a plumbing job, it pays to take the time to research and select your plumber carefully.