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There are few things as exciting as purchasing your first home. The sense of independence is powerful – but so are feelings of anxiety and worry. Becoming a homeowner can be something of an emotional roller coaster, but an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. While you might be initially focused on decorating your new space or planning the ultimate housewarming party, it’s important to spend a little time educating yourself on home maintenance, too. Though you may never have given a passing thought to plumbing before, there’s never a better time to learn about the health and maintenance of your plumbing system than when you purchase your first home!
young couple moving into a house
A fully functioning, efficient plumbing system allows you to have clean water, efficient drainage, and keep your new place safe, functional, and fresh. When operating smoothly, your system can even increase water efficiency and save you cash when it comes time to pay for utilities. If you’re unsure how best to maintain the plumbing at your new place, try these tips on for size:
Have a Plunger on Hand
You won’t need a lot of specialized equipment to care for your plumbing system. If there’s one tool to have on hand, though, it’s a plunger. In fact, you’ll really need two. One for your toilet and another for sinks. When it comes to toilet plungers, choose one with a deep, extended black rubber cup that will sit inside the bottom of the bowl. To use it most effectively, place the plunger in the toilet bowl so that the cup is fully covered by water. If the water level in the toilet is low, flush the toilet to allow enough water into the bowl to cover the cup of the plunger completely. Tilt it to get the air out of the cup. Next, pump the plunger several times to force water down the pipe and against the clog. Do this several times until the clog moves and the toilet is no longer clogged.
Sink plungers usually have a shallow red cup and a shorter handle, but you’ll plunge a sink the same way you plunge a toilet. However, when plunging a bathroom sink, be sure to cover the overflow hole with an old rag, a piece of duct tape, or your finger, so that the plunging is more effective. If plunging a double kitchen sink, you’ll need to cover the drain in the adjacent sink or your plunging will be completely ineffective.
While you can certainly wait to purchase plungers until the need for one arises, it’s best to grab them in advance. You never know when a situation might call for a plunger. Being caught without one in the middle of the night could be a real headache.
Prevent Clogs in the Kitchen
Home chefs put their kitchen sinks through a lot. Whether you’re straining noodles, rinsing rice, or scrubbing pots and pans, debris is bound to end up washing down the drain sooner or later. Eventually, kitchen sinks can clog when waste or debris is forced down the drain. To prevent garbage disposal clogs, avoid pouring oils and grease down the drain. That includes ingredients like butter, cooking oils, and fats. All of these can congeal as they cool and solidify inside your pipes to block water flow.
While you’re in the kitchen, it’s also a good idea to avoid putting fibrous or stringy foods down the disposal. Potato peels, banana peels, and celery can be surprisingly harsh on your drain. When you’re using the garbage disposal, make sure to run cold water for at least 15 seconds afterward. This helps ensure all food waste is fully flushed from your drain pipes.
Watch Out for Warning Signs
A little vigilance can make caring for your plumbing system easy. Be on the watch for red flags to fix issues before they balloon into catastrophes. Checking for leaks is an easy way to start. Look for signs of moisture around your sinks and toilets. Musty smells, watermarks, and puddles are all indications that you’ve got plumbing issues.
While you’re on the lookout for potential problems, it’s worth testing your sink and shower drains, too. Fast and efficient drainage should be your primary goal. Healthy drains should have a full swirl while the water goes down. It’s common to have hair clogs in shower drains, so if your shower drain is running slow, hair is most likely the cause. Bend a small hook on the end of a coat hanger then force the hook down the shower drain until you hit bottom. Twist it around several times then pull it back. This is an effective way to remove hair clogs.
You can learn a lot about the health of your system by simply turning faucets on and off. If water comes out of the handles or valves, you know it’s time to call a plumber. Small leaks may not seem like a big deal, but they waste up to one trillion gallons a year nationwide. Thankfully, leak detection isn’t hard for novices to attempt. Keep an eye on your pipe valves, faucets, toilet flappers, showerheads, and pipe fittings.
Take Precautions in Winter
Frozen pipes can be incredibly destructive. When the water inside your pipes freezes, it expands, causing pipes to burst under pressure. Preventing frozen pipes should always be a priority in the winter months. Homeowners should insulate warm and cold water pipes located in drafty basements and crawl spaces, or beneath pier and beam homes. Homeowners can help eliminate drafts by checking areas near the kitchen and bathrooms. Allowing pipes water to run at a trickle from each faucet at regular intervals can keep water moving inside pipes so it won’t freeze. Be sure to disconnect garden hoses and cover outdoor hose bibs with styrofoam insulation kits. They’re inexpensive and can prevent them from freezing.
If you know your indoor pipes are especially prone to freezing or you’re expecting especially frigid weather, you may want to take additional precautions. Heat your entire home and allow air to circulate thoroughly. This will warm your pipes and prevent them from freezing. You can also leave cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathrooms ajar to allow warm air to circulate more freely. When expecting extremely cold temperatures, allow the water from each faucet to trickle. The forced movement will also help prevent pipes from freezing.
Know Where the Shutoff is Located
Nearly every plumbing fixture in your space will have a shutoff valve located close by. It may be a handle on the wall near the floor or in an access panel nearby. Some shutoff valves may be located beneath the fixture itself in the basement or crawl space. Locate these shutoff valves and learn how to use them. In an emergency, you won’t want to be scrambling to locate them for the first time.
Treat Your Plumbing with Respect
To avoid costly problems down the road, it is important to treat your home’s plumbing system with care. Simple actions like using a filter over drains, avoiding flushing wet wipes or pouring cooking oils down sink drains, and leaving the water on to trickle during cold weather can all preserve the integrity of your plumbing.
About the Author
Tim Crockett is a Master Plumber with Roto-Rooter San Antonio . In his years as a plumbing professional, he’s seen his fair share of clogged drains, frozen pipes, and leaky sinks. You can schedule an appointment with Brett and his team by calling 210-810-3111.