12 Things Your Plumber Wants You To Know

Updated: May 23, 2024

Reduce the chances of a plumbing emergency and keep costs under control when one occurs with these tips from our experts.

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When I put on my professional fix-it guy hat and respond to a plumbing emergency, I try my best to make the repair as quickly as possible — especially if a leak is involved. Sometimes, conditions don’t allow for a quick repair, though. What you thought was a simple job blooms into a full emergency and ends up costing more than anticipated. In many cases, these plumbing emergencies are something homeowners and tenants can do something about before they happen.

I asked three plumbing pros for their best advice for homeowners. Josh Rudin, Melanie Powers and Asif Bux suggested some helpful “dos and don’ts” to prevent plumbing emergencies. Matthew Clark, a personal injury lawyer, also had ideas about plumber safety and why he thinks homeowners should take it more seriously.

Here are some tips based on their advice and my own experiences. The goal is to help you avoid the need for a costly plumber visit and, when such a visit becomes unavoidable, help the repair proceed safely.

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Leave Complicated Jobs to the Pros

If you have basic DIY skills, you might be able to replace a faucet or even a toilet without much trouble. But it’s best to know your limits regarding complicated projects like installing a water heater.

“We’ve seen our fair share of DIY plumbing projects gone awry,” says Bux. “One homeowner attempted to install a sink on their own, only to end up with a slow leak that eventually damaged their $15,000 cabinetry.”

Besides the necessary skills, plumbers have all the tools they need for the big jobs, and they’ve done it all before. Trust their expertise, and you’ll save money in the long run.

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Hand throwing wet wipe into toilet
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Watch What You Put in Toilets and Drains

“Just because wipes say flushable does not make them flushable,” cautions Powers. “Flushable wipes actually create a lot of clogs in sewage.” They should go in the trash, and they aren’t the only thing.

Pretty much any hard or soft object that isn’t toilet paper or what’s provided by nature can cause clogs in the waste lines or in the toilet itself. When it comes to sink drains, grease is responsible for many clogs. It seems like a harmless liquid when it’s hot, but it quickly congeals and turns into a hard lump in the drain. Besides grease, refrain from putting paint, drywall joint compound or any paper items that can expand when wet in your sink drain. Paper items belong in the trash, and paint and related products belong in the hazardous waste depository at the dump.

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pouring pipe cleaner down sink drain
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Avoid Harsh Drain Cleaning Chemicals

I never tire of reminding my clients of the hazards of harsh drain-cleaning chemicals like sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. They usually work, but the heat they generate can melt plastic pipes and corrode metal ones. And when they don’t work, they stay in the pipes and can spit back into the sink unexpectedly and give someone a serious chemical burn. They can also burn the unfortunate soul who ends up having to disassemble the drain and manually clear a difficult clog.

“We’ve seen pipes and septic tanks damaged beyond repair from repeated use of harsh chemical cleaners,” warns Bux. If you like using chemicals, stick to mild enzymatic drain cleaners like Green Gobbler. They digest organic matter rather than dissolving it. That takes time, but preventing skin burns and damaged pipes is worth the wait.

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hot and cold plumbing hose, checking connecitons
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Do Regular Maintenance Checks

This piece of advice comes from Powers: “Do regular maintenance! Don’t wait for a costly issue to arise. Clean drains often and check for leaks.”

Some maintenance tasks you can do as often as you remember to do them include checking under sinks for signs of leaks and controlling clogs by periodically pouring hot water (or an enzymatic drain cleaner) down your drains. Don’t forget the supply hoses for your ice maker and washing machine. They can crack and leak, and while this doesn’t happen often, once is all it takes for a damaging flood to occur.

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Backup Sump Pump - Overhead
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Test Your Sump Pump

If you have a sump pump, it runs when there’s enough water to back up into the basement and remains idle when there isn’t. The period of inactivity could last for several months. What you don’t want is for it to develop a glitch during that period and fail to operate when it’s needed.

“Testing the sump pump every six months, or once a season, is a good way to catch it before it fails,” advises Rudin. Fill the sump pit with enough water to trigger the float switch, and make sure the pump comes on and empties the pit. That simple test could be the difference between a dry basement and one covered with several inches of water.

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Use and Maintain Water Filters

Filtering your water is good for your health, and as Bux points out, it dramatically improves the taste. “We had clients whose tap water was cloudy because of sediment in their old pipes. Once we installed the filters, the difference in taste and clarity was night and day.”

If you install a reverse osmosis (RO) filter system, Rudin recommends checking it regularly. “RO systems are one of the most common causes of loss for water damage claims that we get called out on. This is almost always because one of the RO system lines has ruptured or just fallen out of the housing that keeps it sealed. Checking on these lines regularly will help to mitigate the chances of this happening.”

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flushing a hot water heater
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Give the Water Heater Some TLC

The water heater is a lonely servant that rarely gets the attention it deserves. But Rudin points out that “water heaters can experience mineral buildup, damage to coils, damage to heating elements, and a variety of other issues.”

You can extend the life of your water heater by draining and refilling it every year. You may hear popping sounds, indicating a heavy sediment layer on the bottom. In that case, give it a complete flush. Every five years or so, you should replace the anode rod. Its job is to attract ions that would corrode the metal lining of the tank if it weren’t there, and it naturally wears out. This is a simple job you can do while flushing the tank.

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A drop of water drips from a leaky faucet
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Prevent Frozen Pipes

“If you live in a place that experiences harsh winters,” says Rudin, “then thermally insulating your exposed pipes will go a long way in preventing a rupture.” When water freezes, it expands, and when this happens inside pipes, the result can be massive amounts of water damage.”

To prevent ruptures, Rudin advises wrapping pipes with thermal insulation to keep them as warm as possible. On particularly cold nights, keep water flowing inside the pipes (and thus less likely to freeze) by leaving one or two faucets in the house open to drip. If you go on vacation, shut off the main water valve. That way, if a pipe bursts, it won’t cause a flood.

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stripe shower curtain in bright bathroom
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Use Your Shower Curtain Properly

Who would have thought proper shower curtain use is a plumbing issue? Rudin would. “While most people think that a shower curtain is easy and simple to use, it is also a chief cause of mold and water damage issues.

The shower curtain must not only be pulled completely in the direction of the faucet or shower head, but it needs to form a water-locked seal with the edge of the shower pan wall. When done correctly, the seal will lead to negative pressure inside the shower and balloon out the curtain to expand for the warm, moist air. This forces all the wet air up to the ceiling where it can be extracted by the ventilation system properly.”

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Check for Water at the Base of the Toilet
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Check for Water at the Base of the Toilet

If water is overflowing from your toilet bowl, something is clogged, but if you see water on the floor, even when things are flushing smoothly, that’s a potentially more serious problem.

Standing water can rot the floor, and once that happens, you’ve got an expensive repair ahead. The cause of pooling water is usually a failed wax ring, but it may have failed because the toilet wasn’t mounted properly. In any case, you must pull the toilet to check — do it as soon as you see the water.

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Check Your Water Bill Regularly

Rudin explains why it’s important to keep a close eye on your water bill: “When you open your mail and encounter a bill that is vastly higher than what you expected, it could be an indication that you have a leak, or an open line somewhere in the system that needs to be addressed.”

A higher bill isn’t always an indication of a plumbing problem, but unless the water-consuming population in your house has dramatically increased, there aren’t many other reasons for it. “If you don’t notice water emerging anywhere on your property, but the bill is still abnormally high, you need to either get the water company to do an audit or have a plumber inspect your system for failures,” says Rudin.

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Consider Workers’ Safety

Finally, here’s some legal advice from personal injury attorney Matthew Clark: “Slips and falls are two major occupational hazards for plumbers. They often work in wet areas and on slick surfaces that make it more likely for them to trip. They frequently use ladders too, putting them at high risk of dangerous falls from heights.”

If a plumber sustains an injury on your property that the courts consider preventable, you could be liable. Clark cites the case of a plumber who fell off a ladder and was awarded $30,000 in settlement. When you call a plumber, provide ample lighting. If the job involves a ladder, make sure it has a stable base. “You can even use a ladder stabilizer to prevent wobbling that can lead to falls.”

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About the Experts

  • Josh Rudin is a Certified Restorer and president of ASAP Restoration LLC, serving Phoenix, AZ and surrounding communities.
  • Melanie Powers is the President of Goodberlet Home Services, a female-owned plumbing, construction, electrical and HVAC repair company serving the greater Chicago area.
  • Asif Bux is the Owner and Service Manager at Comfort Union, a full-service HVAC & plumbing company in Calgary, AB
  • Matthew Clark is a personal injury attorney who works with the Clark Law Office in Lansing, MI.