Preventing Plumbing Perils: Keep floods away and problems at bay with a little attention and know-how

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The possible perils of plumbing are many: leaks, bursting pipes, clogged drains, and trusted appliances that go on the blink. But if you pack a little know-how and a few tricks of the plumbing trade into your home care toolbox, you’ll be able to avoid the kind of surprises that can literally soak you. Old and new homes alike require year-round attention to plumbing details, so watching for the following signs of trouble is a

The possible perils of plumbing are many: leaks, bursting pipes, clogged drains, and trusted appliances that go on the blink. But if you pack a little know-how and a few tricks of the plumbing trade into your home care toolbox, you’ll be able to avoid the kind of surprises that can literally soak you. Old and new homes alike require year-round attention to plumbing details, so watching for the following signs of trouble is a must.

Leaky toilet

Toilet repairs are the most common DIY plumbing problems, and while the toilets themselves don’t wear out, the working parts inside them can. Leaks are a common result, and one leaky toilet can waste around 78,000 gallons of water a year─enough to fill a backyard swimming pool! If you suspect a leak, test out your theory by pouring a bit of food coloring into the toilet’s tank and waiting overnight. If the dye shows up in the bowl the next morning, you’ve got a leak and it’s time to replace the flush valve, an easy job that requires only a few dollars’ investment and a little of your time.

Clogging shower, tub or bathroom sink drain

Bathroom drains can quickly get clogged with hair and soap residue. Before you find yourself with a flooding backup, clear the way with a wet/dry shop vac, a handy trick of the trade that definitely beats time-consuming extraction with an auger.

Kitchen sink backup

In the hustle and bustle of family meal prep, it can be all too easy to throw everything into the kitchen sink. Don’t. Cooking oil, grease and other fats can literally gunk up the works, as can clumping, fibrous foodstuffs. Instead, be smart about waste disposal, outfit sinks with strainers to catch errant items and keep them clean, and periodically flush the drain with a few gallons of boiling water to melt away accumulated grease and soap. Applications of products such as Roto-Rooter’s Pipe Shield can also prevent kitchen clogs.

Main shutoff valve

Your home’s plumbing system can have hundreds of different valves, but knowing the location of just one can prevent thousands of dollars in damage to a home. The main water valve controls the flow of all water into your home and must work properly to prevent disaster. First, find the valve, which is usually located at the lowest level of your home near the street, then test the valve to make sure it turns off properly. Finish by hanging a large tag labeled “main valve” from the valve handle to make sure all members of your household can find it before a flood sets in. If the whole clan will be away from home for a prolonged period of time, it’s smart to shut off this valve before leaving in order to avoid a surprise when you return from the road.

Laundry connection

Another important plumbing point to know about is the set of rubber connection hoses on your washing machine, which can be a dangerously weak link in the system. These hoses can dry out, burst and allow thousands of gallons of water to rush into your home. To avoid this, check the hoses regularly for cracks and blisters, and be sure to turn off the water supply valves to the washer before leaving home for an extended period of time. Better yet, replace the hoses with steel models, and think about installing an easy-to-reach, single-lever shutoff valve just for the washer.

Outdoor faucets

Keep an eye on outdoor faucets year-round to ensure they’re not watering the property without your knowledge, and make repairs and replacements as needed. Once the freezing season looms, turn off all faucets and drain them for winter by loosening the brass cap on the side of each faucet’s valve.

Water heater

Water heaters have fairly long life expectancies (usually 15 to 20 years), but when one leaks, ruptures or otherwise breaks down, you can be in for a waterlogged disaster. Regularly check your water heater for signs of rusting or leakage at tank fittings, and if you spot potential trouble, call in a licensed plumber for a more thorough inspection to determine whether repair or replacement is in order.

Old pipe

Depending on the age of your home and the water lines running to it, pipes made from bygone materials can be major sources for clogs and leaks. Old terra cotta waste lines can become cracked and invaded by roots, and steel pipes are prone to internal rusting that can create quite a buildup, eventually bursting or reducing water pressure to unacceptable levels. Broken-down waste piping can be treated with two methods, both offered by Roto-Rooter: pipe relining, where damaged pipes are left in place but lined with a fiberglass reinforced epoxy, and pipe bursting, in which a specially designed machine pulls a replacement pipe through the old pipe, splitting the old pipe apart to make room for the new.

As for steel plumbing pipes, take every opportunity to replace them with contemporary materials. The main running from your home to the street, horizontal pipes running through the crawl space, and pipes leading to bathrooms should be at the top of your replacement list, and sectional upgrades can be done anytime you’re making a home repair that involves opening floors or walls.

Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's website.

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