Maintaining Your Home’s Plumbing Systems

Plumbing Systems

Plumbing is a relatively care-free system in your new home. As long as everything was properly installed, your maintenance will be minimal. Nonetheless, here are main areas to be aware of in case problems arise.

drain, sink, pipes, plumbing system


These are the shut-off valves which are installed on each sink or toilet in your home. There is also a main water shut-off valve near the spot where the main water line enters your home. Be knowledgeable about where the valves for each water source is located and be sure they turn easily. This will make your life easier if you do have a water emergency or if you need to turn a valve off to do a repair.


While your copper or PVC pipes themselves will probably never leak during your lifetime, joints/connections may loosen over time. If this occurs with a copper pipe, the joint will need soldering. PVC pipe usually requires a joint compound to seal the leak. Both repairs are best done by a licensed plumber.


Frozen pipes, which turn into burst pipes, can be a homeowner’s plumbing nightmare. Even if the home is vacant, during cold weather, never turn the heat below 50 degrees. If pipes run through an area which is not heated, such as a crawl space, be sure to wrap those pipes with a pipe sleeve or heat tape.

Additionally, outside faucets need a bit of TLC in freezing temperatures. If your exterior faucet is not a frost-proof sill-cock, you should turn off the water-supply valve before cold weather hits and then open the handle of the outside faucet. In this way, no water will remain in the line to freeze and cause problems. If you have a frost-proof sill-cock, all you need to do is turn off the outside handle. This shuts off the water supply inside your home, so no water is exposed to the freezing temperatures.

If your pipes freeze, you might be able to thaw them without damage if you do it slowly.  First, restore heat to the area of the house where freezing has occurred. Open any faucet which is connected to that water line. Begin thawing at the point which is closest to the faucet. Set a heat lamp a minimum of 6 inches from the frozen pipe, or direct a hair dryer parallel to the frozen pipes. As the pipes thaw, move the heat source further and further down the frozen area, until the entire area is thawed.


Over time, you may notice a faucet or shower head develop a drip. This is an easy repair. Simply unscrew the faucet/shower head and replace the washer or o-ring. In addition, mineral deposits may accumulate inside the faucet aerator. If this happens, you will see lower water pressure or uneven flow. Unscrew the aerator and clean out the calcium that has built up.


Inevitably, you will at some point get a clogged drain. Clogs may arise from accumulated hair, grease or other debris. Other than using a plunger or commercial liquid or gel drain opener, you can also take several other steps.

First, pull out the drain stopper and clean the base of it that goes into the pipe. This stopper assembly can accumulate a lot of gunk. You might also have to remove the U bend under the sink and clean it out. Be sure to put a bucket under the U bend as you remove it, as water normally stands in this pipe.

Finally, you might need to get a snake involved. Also known as a drain auger, this gadget is a long, coiled wire with a handle on one end. Put the snake into the drain and crank the handle to push the snake into the clog. Use the snake to break up the clog. If it doesn’t seem to be breaking up, pull the snake out or the drain, and the blocking debris will usually pull out attached to it. Then run water on full for several minutes to assure the pipe has been cleared.

To prevent drain blockages in the first place, run hot water into the drain for a minute, turn off the water and add 3 Tablespoons of washing soda (NOT baking soda) into the drain. Follow with hot water to direct the washing soda into the drain. Wait 15 minutes and then flush the drain with additional hot water.


Some kitchen drains have a garbage disposal installed. While you may think that just about anything that is grind-able can go down the disposal, that is not true!

First, only organic items should be put down the disposal. This does NOT include paper towels, baby wipes, coffee filters, etc.

Second, avoid stringy, greasy or very hard items. Seeds, corn silk, corn husks, nut shells, bacon fat and potato peels can all either clog or break your disposal.

Finally, you likely already know that you must always run water as you run the disposal. But you may not know that it should be ONLY cold water, and never hot. Why? Because if you put something in the disposal that has any fat content, if you use hot water, the fat will initially melt, but will re-congeal and cling to the pipe as it passes further down your sewer pipe. The fat now stuck inside your sewer pipe will attract other residue to stick to it, and then you will discover that you suddenly need a plumber to clear your clogged line to the street sewer. If, however, you use cold water, the fatty content will grind into cold little beads and will pass easily out of your pipes with no sticking.


The Toilet

While the average toilet really does not require much maintenance, from time to time, it will need some parts replaced or repaired. In addition, there are several things you should avoid in order to keep it in efficient service.

potty, toilet, loo


Be careful about what you flush! Whether you are connected to public sewer or you have a septic system, here are things to avoid. Because they do not disintegrate as toilet paper does, grease, hair, paint, paper towels and baby wipes can all contribute to a clogged toilet and sewer line. Dispose of such items in the trash can rather than in the toilet.


Commercial cleaning products are generally safe, if designated as a toilet cleanser. Never mix different cleaning products, and never use both a cleaning product and bleach simultaneously. These things could give off toxic vapors. In-the-bowl cleaners are safer than drop-in-the-tank tablets. When you put a tablet into the tank, if you do not flush your toilet daily, the tablet can damage the internal parts and cause a leak.


From time to time, you may find that you have a leak, or that the water is not shutting off properly after the tank refills. Both of these issues can be repaired by replacing or adjusting a part of the toilet. As with any repair which involves a connection to a water line, remember to first turn off the water at the intake valve before doing anything else. Next, flush the toilet to empty the tank of water. Finally, pour a bucket of water in the bowl. This will force a maximum amount of water out of the bowl so you will have less mess to clean.

The toilet itself is very durable, as it is made from a glazed china. It is, however, prone to cracking if hit or if fastened too tightly. The inner parts are the places which wear out and might need replacement. See the diagrams below to learn names of parts.

float, ball cock, float arm, overflow tube, flange, water supply, flush handle, tank bolts, water intake valve, tank wingnuts, seat bolts

Parts of a Toilet


To determine exactly what is amiss with your toilet, begin by looking under the tank lid. If flushes are incomplete, check that the water level reaches the proper level — an inch or less from the top of the overflow tube. If the toilet constantly refills, or if water trickles into the bowl, the tank water level may be too high. Excess water slowly runs over into the overflow tube and into the bowl. You can regulate the water level by adjusting the float so it shuts the water off before it pours into the overflow tube.

If the toilet is clogged, use a plunger or a plumbing snake to clear the problem.

If you have hard water, you may notice that over time, the flow of water from the tank into the bowl decreases, despite the tank’s being full. In this case, the water holes may be clogged with mineral deposits. Simply take a bent wire hanger and a mirror so you can see, and poke the hanger into the holes under the bowl rim to clear them. Take care not to scratch the porcelain as you do this.

If water seeps out the bottom of the bowl when the toilet is flushed, the wax ring needs to be replaced. If you do not feel comfortable with removing and re-sealing the toilet with a new wax seal, call a plumber for help.

Finally, over time, the seat may become loose or cracked. Simply loosen the seat bolts to remove the old one and fasten the new seat in its place. Take care not to fasten too tightly, as the porcelain could crack.


In Conclusion

Following these tips will help you troubleshoot just about any plumbing related issue you may face as you begin life in your new home. Also keep in mind that if you have an American eWarranty 10- year new home warranty, larger issues with your plumbing system may be covered* under your warranty. You may find out more about what a new home warranty covers here.

*Specific and detailed warranty coverage, terms and conditions, and exclusions are stated in the warranty booklet assigned to a specific address.

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