How do you know when to call a plumber? Sometimes, it’s smart to do it yourself. But here are some costly considerations. Issues with your plumbing are almost impossible to prevent: A drain clogs up, your faucet starts to leak, or a toilet won’t flush. With a basic understanding of how the systems work and the correct steps to follow, beginner-level repairs are fairly easy to do. You can save a lot of money if you tackle them yourself.
But how do you know when you should call a plumber or take it on yourself? Trying to handle a repair that requires professional knowledge or tools could end up making the problem worse. Before you pick up the phone to call a plumber at the first sign of a leak, let’s take a second look at how to troubleshoot minor plumbing problems. Here are some tips for plumbing repair projects that you can handle on your own—and when to call a plumber to take over the job.
Know What You Can Handle
Plumbing can be pretty tricky. If you’re ever unsure about what you can take on, don’t risk going in unprepared. Without the right tools or know-how, you could end up doing more damage to your plumbing system. And the last thing you want is to make an already complex problem worse—it’ll only raise the cost of hiring a professional later. Do your research to assess what your plumbing setup looks like. Resources online can give you a good sense of your ability to fix it yourself–and some of the steps you’d need to get there. You can also stop by a hardware store to ask questions. Come equipped with the brand and model of the parts or tools that you need. If you ever feel overwhelmed or out of your depth, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes plumbing projects are too complex to handle alone—a plumber can make your job a lot easier. Feeling overwhelmed and looking for the best plumbing company to handle your next project? Take a look at these services for personalized plumbing assistance.
Understand the Next Steps
Whether you want to hire a pro or do the job yourself, you’ll need to have a good understanding of how plumbing systems work—and what to do next. Your home’s plumbing involves a complex interconnection of various systems. Water is delivered to your home through the water supply system. Steel or copper pipes use pressure to carry water to faucets, fixtures, hoses, sprinklers, and more. Drain and waste plumbing doesn’t use pressure. Instead, this system relies on gravity to move water and waste to the sewer or septic system. Along with the drain and waste pipes, vent piping exhausts the sewer gas and equalizes the pressure to help the drains function. Gas piping is separate from the water system, but the pipes will look similar. These pipes deliver natural gas from your utility to gas-fired appliances, like your stove. Each home’s plumbing system is different, but they should follow this basic structure. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the plumbing setup in your home before you begin.
Shut Off the Water
Before you even think about starting your plumbing project, you need to shut off the water. Find the gate valves or compression valves for the water flow and turn them clock-wise all the way to shut off the water. For sinks, these valves are usually underneath the sink—with two valves for hot and cold. On kitchen sinks, you might also see valves for appliances like a dishwasher or ice maker. For toilets, the vales are usually on the wall or on the pipe behind the toilet. If you can’t access or find a shut-off valve, you’ll need to turn off your main power supply. This might be the case with showers systems, as the plumbing is often behind the wall. Once you’ve turned off all valves, turn on the water at the fixture just to make sure that you’ve turned off everything you need to.
Get the Right Tools
Getting the right tools might be the difference between a simple plumbing project and a complete disaster. For simple plumbing projects, you won’t need too many tools—and most of them are fairly inexpensive.
You can find every tool on this list for under $100 at a hardware store or online. These tools include:
- Pipe wrench. You might be able to get away with a regular wrench, but try to get a plumber’s or pipe’s wrench—these tools open wider and have a stronger grip
- Basin wrench. If you’re replacing a sink or small faucet, you might run into some tight spots. A basin wrench has an adjustable head design that lets you maneuver around corners
- Drain snake. A professional plumber will use a large, gas-powered snake to clear clogs in your drains. But if the clog isn’t very deep, you can use a simple, shorter version with a hand-powered crank
- Plumber’s putty. This putty air dries and won’t stick to your fingers—and it can give you an airtight seal for any joints or leaks
- Teflon tape. This tape wraps the threads at the end of pipe fittings to protect you against any leakage
Common Plumbing Problems You Can Fix From Home
Even the most thorough plumbing maintenance inspection won’t be able to prevent the occasional clog or leak. Especially if you have an older home, you’re bound to run into some issues sooner or later. But what if the problem is something you can fix from home? If you run into these simple plumbing mistakes, don’t call a plumber just yet. Here are some ways you can fix common plumbing problems from home—and how to know when you need help.
If you’ve ever tried to sleep with a sink dripping in the next room, you know how irritating a leaking faucet can be. But it’s not just frustrating to listen to—it can drive your water bill through the roof. With only a few drops at a time, you could be losing hundreds of gallons of water per year. When you turn off the tap, rubber washers provide a water-tight seal that keeps water from leaking out of the pipes. But through time and constant wear, washers can become stiff or torn. This allows a small trickle of water through, which leads to the frustrating drip. If you have a leaky faucet, first make sure that you’ve turned the valve all the way off. If the drip persists, you’ll have to replace the washers yourself. This is easily done as long as you have the right equipment—and a replacement seal that fits the size, brand, and model of your sink. If the leak is coming from a pipe instead of the faucet, you can use Teflon tape and putty to seal the leak.
Low Water Pressure
If you turn on your tap and only get a trickle, you might have low water pressure. In most cases, the culprit is a build-up of deposits or sediments in your faucet aerators. When water passes through your pipes, it carries dissolved minerals that can cling to metal surfaces. These deposits can clog up your filters, slowing down the flow. Remove any aerators from your sinks, shower heads, and other faucets. Soak them overnight in a vinegar solution to break up the calcium deposits. If your faucet head isn’t removable, you can tie a plastic bag filled with vinegar overnight to clean it. If you still notice low water pressure after cleaning your filters, you might have a bigger problem on your hands. This could be a serious breach of the pipes leading into your home—which could damage the foundation. It could also be an issue with the municipal water supply. If low water pressure persists, call a licensed plumber to help you diagnose and fix the issue.
If you find yourself constantly jiggling the toilet handle to get it to work, it might be time to take a look at what’s going on inside. When a toilet runs for too long, it’s usually when the flapper valve that lets water pass from the tank to the boil comes loose. You can use a simple toilet repair kit to fix this issue. These work for most models and take little effort to install. But if you’ve replaced the flapper with no results—and if you’re experiencing higher water bills—you might have a silent leak. In this case, you should speak with a professional about what to do next.
A clog in your toilet or sink is something that a plunger won’t be able to fix. You can use a commercial drain cleaner or clog remover, which allows you to pour a liquid down the pipes to dislodge the clog. However, if used too many times, the corrosive material could damage your pipes. If you don’t have a drain cleaner, you can also reach for a drain snake to physically dislodge whatever is clogging the pipe. Clogged drains are usually pretty simple to fix, but if you find yourself with an impossible clog, it’s best to call a professional drain cleaner.
Knowing When to Call a Plumber
When it comes to these simple plumbing issues, a little preparation and the right tools will take you a long way. But some issues are too dangerous or complicated to take on alone.