In many states across the US, homeowners are being met with severe weather that is causing a multitude of plumbing issues that could have been avoided. Preventative plumbing maintenance should be part of every homeowner’s homecare plans, with proper interval checks for certain items on an annual, monthly and quarterly basis.
We interviewed several plumbing professionals from Los Angeles-based A-1 Total Service Plumbing to learn more about preventative home checks and what homeowners should be looking for with their plumbing systems to prevent major issues and appliance damage.
Table of Contents
- Proactive Plumbing Maintenance Tasks: Annual, Quarterly and Monthly
- How to Prevent Plumbing Disasters by Detecting Early Signs of Issues
- Plumbing Tasks that Should Always be Outsourced to a Professional
- How Often Should You Hydro Jet or Clean Your Sewer Lines?
- How to Prevent Plumbing Accidents Before Going on Vacation
Proactive Plumbing Maintenance Tasks: Annual, Quarterly and Monthly
A solid proactive plumbing maintenance plan relies on three distinct inspection periods to insure that issues are caught well ahead of any breakdown or catastrophic failure:
Annual inspections, such as camera-scoping of sewer and drain lines, flushing of water heaters and tankless heaters, and inspection of water pressure will prevent major issues such as flooding due to pipe corrosion and sediment buildup.
Quarterly or Monthly water pressure checks are also a good idea to make sure that your water’s pressure regulator, installed on your water lines, is performing within the recommended 40 to 70 PSI (pounds per square inch) range.
Water pressure above 80 PSI is considered too high and can cause leaks by increasing damage to pipes, joints, fixtures, seals and appliances. In many jurisdictions, water pressure above 80 PSI is considered a code violation. So get high psi issues rectified soon, especially if you plan to sell your home and a home inspector discovers problems caused by high water pressure in your plumbing system.
Proactive Plumbing Maintenance Tasks by Time Period
- Water Heater Inspection and Flushing
- Kitchen Line Inspection and Cleanout
- Sewer Line inspection and Cleanout
- Water Pressure Inspection and Adjustment if necessary
- Vigilant inspection of sinks, showers, bath tubs for leaks, signs of water damage, wet spots or mold & mildew
How to Prevent Plumbing Disasters by Detecting Early Signs of Issues
There are many inspections and fixes that homeowners can perform themselves in order to keep their plumbing in optimal shape and to detect impending loss of function or damage to other appliances.
Using your most important senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch, be vigilant to potential issues by performing monthly casual inspections to areas where water damage is most likely to occur, such as:
- Laundry Rooms
- Utility Bar Sinks
- Under Sink Cabinets
- Around Water Heaters
After a shower, bath, or shave, watch the water as it flows from the shower floor, sink basin or tub for any slowness, delay or gurgling. Similarly when flushing the toilet, take note of the “normal” time with which your bowl empties, and the seconds to fill the bowl with fresh water.
Walking away while the bowl is filling can result in a higher than average water bill, if you have any of the following issues:
- Leaking Flapper
- Faulty Valve Fill
- Cracked Overflow Tube
- Low Water Pressure
Make sure you know what the norm is for your plumbing, so that you can react swiftly when events occur that are out of the norm. Establishing a baseline for water draining and filling in your bathroom, kitchen or laundry room can be important for comparative purposes when you perform tests during and after repairs.
Shower heads should be taken off every 90 days, soaked in a little bit of CLR and put back up. That’ll keep the minerals from building up around the shower head which will keep it working properly and it would keep the buildup from getting so severe that you have to replace a shower head.
This proactive care is especially pertinent for homes with high-end fixtures in areas of hard water. Proper care will extend the lifespan of fixtures that are costly to replace.
How to Use Your Sense of Smell
Use your sense of smell to alert you to mold, mildew, stagnant water, or sewer gasses that may be emanating from a clogged plumbing vent into the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room.
If you have a sink that has smells, the problem is most likely the P-trap holding hair or something else, and it’s not draining properly. Remove the P-trap, rinse it and use a brush to clean any hair, film or any other debris or obstructions from walls of the pipe.
You can usually best detect these smells as soon as you walk into your home from the outdoors, or first thing in the morning, when you are more alert to ambient smells that are not competing with cooking and other aromas.
How to Use Your Sense of Sight & Touch
When cleaning the house, either weekly or bi-weekly, look for signs of dried leaky water or damage to walls or paint that may be caused by a slow leak from pipes within the drywall. Touch the wall to feel for dampness or softness of the paint or drywall. This is also important to observe after a rain or snowfall in case you have a damaged roof, misaligned flashing or damaged drip edges.
Check filters in hot water heaters and furnaces. Raymond Gray, owner of A-1 Total Service Plumbing, suggests:
For any type of equipment you have I always recommend that you go by the manufacturer specifications and recommendations for filter cleaning or replacement. Filters that are not cleaned or replaced in a timely manner could result in buildup around the filter and that buildup could keep you from removing the filter which would cause a failure on your system and have to replace a complete system which is more costly than the preventive maintenance you should have done in the first place.
Be especially vigilant for water that appears from nowhere outdoors close to the home, as this could indicate an overflow of your home’s sewer system leaking through a clean-out, clogged underground sewer pipe, or a broken pipe in the home that is draining to the outside.
How to Use Your Sense of Sound
Finally, listen to your home as it will tell you when things are not normal. Unusual knocking sounds when the tap is turned on could be indicative of vibrations within your plumbing caused by a surge of pressure.
This is also known as “hydraulic shock” and should be rectified immediately, as continued use in this fashion will cause wear and tear on the tap and valves within the plumbing system. Don’t wait until the hydraulic shock causes pipe rupture and subsequent flooding inside your home. This is an issue that can be easily remedied, and in most cases, your home will give you ample warning.
Bubbling or gurgling of the toilet, water coming up in the shower, bathtub or base of the toilet are all indicative of a plumbing issue.
Homeowners should pay attention to low water flow or pressure. That would make it more difficult for an anti-scald valve to work properly. Anti-scald valves are designed to have proper pressure on both sides of a valve so that you can get proper hot and cold water and not burn your children or burn yourself while you’re trying to take a shower.
Most important for any homeowner is to protect your home’s plumbing system by treating it with proper respect. Mario Chavez, Senior Field Supervisor, at A-1 Total Service Plumbing, advises:
“Do not put any solid foods down the garbage disposal. Do not put any wipes in the toilet. Use toilet paper only.”
Many people treat toilets like garbage cans by throwing paper, and any other items in them with the hope of flushing them away. Unfortunately obstructions will occur which can lead to back-ups of sewer water, stoppages, overflows and pipe rupture if you disrespect your home plumbing.
Plumbing Tasks that Should Always be Outsourced to a Professional
Although even an average DIYer can effect simple fixes such as adjusting a water regulator’s pressure, repairing a faulty flapper or ball float, or snaking a clogged drain, it’s important to know when you need to call in a professional plumber.
Snaking a kitchen or bathroom drain is a task and skill that most, if not every, homeowner should have or learn. Knowing where your water shut off valve is another important piece of information, as every homeowner should know how to shut off the water source to their home to mitigate flooding in cases of emergency.
However, there are more complex tasks that are best left to skilled, professional plumbers and knowing when to call one in, demonstrates a homeowner’s expert knowledge on not invalidating a home insurance policy by attempting a “repair”.
Thorough inspection or testing of a home’s water pressure, low flow situations, checking the drains and sewer system for the proper flow, inspecting under the sinks and inspecting the age or the condition of supply lines leading to faucets and flushing of water heaters and tankless systems and preventive maintenance should be done by a qualified professional.
If you hear crackling sounds in the water heater, call your plumber. This may be the result of a dirty furnace burner or damaged air ducts. A homeowner should never try to repair or replace their own water heater.
Never try to change the main shut off water valve to your home. Also never try to change an angle stop in your home. Older angle stops are always a common threat to your home causing leaks and damage. Any newer type of angle stops are recommended. Longevity on the angle stop depends on the amount of water pressure to your home and level of “hard water” which is water containing calcium and other minerals.
Changing an angle stop could lead to flooding out a house or potentially causing a fire when they use a torch for soldering pipe fittings, for example.
How Often Should You Hydro Jet or Clean Your Sewer Lines?
Annual hydro jetting or pipe cleaning and inspection should be performed by a professional plumber as damage can occur when this process is performed incorrectly. Gray states:
I always recommend a home that is 20 years or older be inspected once a year. A newer home could be done every three to five years depending on the age.
How to Prevent Plumbing Accidents Before Going on Vacation
It is important to perform a “vacation check” before you leave for an extended period of time, which we define as more than two days away from home. Gray further implores homeowners to be smart and follow his three plumbing preparation steps before leaving home for vacation:
With all the new types of plumbing systems available, I’ve always recommended to homeowners, that prior to going on vacation:
- Shut the water off to your home
- Crack a hose bib
- Drain down the system.
Don’t let the water stay pressurized. We’ve done more repairs on homes where the water pipe has exploded, a hose bib failed, a water heater blew out and flooded homes and caused severe issues when homeowners were out of town. The way to stop that would be to shut the water off at the front of the house.
Performing periodic inspections and knowing what to look for is the key to having peace of mind as a homeowner. Although you may have been led to believe that a home plumbing disaster is inevitable, we are here to tell you that proper and period inspection and maintenance can prevent the “disastrous” from happening.
Start a “sensory relationship” with your home so that you can recognize unusual sights, smells, sounds and touch that are not normal, to allow you plenty of time to react quickly and sensibly, saving thousands of dollars in repairs and heartache.
Additional Recommended Plumbing Reading
- Part 1: Non-Invasive Plumbing Tech for Repairing Your Home’s Sewer Line
- Part 2: Non-Invasive Plumbing Tech: Bids, Proposals & Lessons Learned
- Part 3 Non-Invasive Plumbing Tech: How We Repaired Our Home Sewer Line
- A Simple Guide to Choosing a Water Softener System
- How to Choose a Water Leak Detection System for Your Home
- Repiping Your House: Early Signs It Might Be Time To Repipe
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