10 Things plumbers wish you knew

Jun 19, 2013 at 7:00 a.m. ET

When your home's plumbing system is working properly, you don't even have to think about it. But once trouble strikes, you're often at the mercy of your local plumber and his expertise. We spoke to a plumber to get the scoop on what we should know about the plumbing in our homes.

What to know about your pipes
Woman dealing with clogged toilet

Whether it's a clogged drain or a burst pipe, no plumbing problem is easy to fix. Many times a homeowner can actually cause more problems by trying to repair a leak or unclog a clogged pipe. We spoke with Allen Crick, president of The Sunny Plumber (which services the Phoenix and Tucson areas in Arizona), to find out what plumbers really want us to know.

Allen Crick
Allen Crick

No oil and grease

"Some of the most common plumbing problems we see have to do with homeowners pouring and dumping things down their kitchen sink," shares Crick. "Cooking oil and grease should never be flushed down the drain, because they can congeal and cause clogs once they cool." A better solution is to pour used cooking oil or grease from fried foods into an empty soup can or milk carton and freeze, and then put it out with the kitchen trash on garbage day.


Just say no to food scraps

Think your garbage disposal is tough enough to take on any food scraps you throw in? Think again. "Homeowners should also avoid dumping food into the garbage disposal," says Crick. "Food such as poultry skins, celery, fruit and potato peels, for example, cannot be sufficiently broken down. If you do dump food into the disposal, make sure it is running. Don't wait until it's full to turn it on," he adds. If you have food scraps to dispose of, try to dump them into the trash can as much as possible.


Don't ignore a problem

"The biggest mistake homeowners make is ignoring their plumbing fixtures," says Crick. "A small problem such as a slow dripping faucet, when ignored, will eventually result in damage to the faucet itself, requiring a premature faucet replacement instead of a relatively inexpensive seal repair."


Water heaters need attention

Who really pays much attention to the water heater? "These appliances are typically tucked away in basements or closets so homeowners easily forget to perform much-needed regular maintenance on them," shares Crick. To keep your water heater performing right, don't forget to flush the tank once a year. "Also do not forget to check the anode once a year for rust and oxidation," adds Crick. "Water heaters cost hundreds of dollars to replace, and taking these simple steps can really help lengthen the life of your heater."


Know your limits

"Homeowners often attempt to make plumbing repairs themselves, however, many minor plumbing problems can turn into costly catastrophes if not handled properly," says Crick. Think twice before tackling a difficult plumbing fix on your own.


Chemicals aren't king

"Many homeowners mistakenly pour strong chemicals into drains, thinking of it as an easy fix. These chemicals can eat away at some types of underground drain lines, shortening their life," says Crick. Sometimes the quick solution isn't the best choice for the life of your pipes.


Know when to say no

Think you can handle plumbing repairs on your own? "Plumbing repairs attempted by unqualified persons frequently lead to the realization that most amateurs do not have the special tools and experience necessary to do the job right," says Crick. "Attempting large plumbing repairs can lead to an unsafe system that does not comply with local plumbing codes and can result in damage to the system." Anytime you are unsure about how best to handle a plumbing situation, make sure you call your plumber before making repairs on your own.


Stay up to date

Plumbing schematics

"One of the most common plumbing emergencies we see is flood damage caused by rubber washer hoses that have burst, an emergency that could have been avoided by switching to stainless anti-burst lines," shares Crick. If your home is older, consider having a licensed plumber come out to inspect your water lines to see if you might need to upgrade.


Learn it

Do you know how to shut off the water if you need to? "To avoid irreversible and expensive water damage to your home, familiarize yourself with your plumbing system," advises Crick. "Make sure all of your shut-off valves actually work, and know how to turn off the water during an emergency." This is important to know, because you never know when an emergency will strike.


When in doubt

If you have a plumbing issue that you aren't sure how to handle, the best thing to do is call a professional. While you may worry that a professional plumber will be expensive, in the long run a serious plumbing problem can cause a whole host of trouble if not treated properly.

Make sure you know enough about your home's plumbing to keep an eye on routine maintenance and handle emergencies when they arise.

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