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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

How to Avoid the Perils of Plumbing

 By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy pxhere

Everyone thinks that electricity is the zenith of modern society.  While the electric light is one of the greatest inventions of all time, of equal or greater importance would have to have been the invention of indoor plumbing.  I mean you might not like it, but you can survive for a few days when the lights go out if you have to.  Take it from a Floridian where the occasional hurricane blacks out entire neighborhoods for days on end.  But if the water were to stop flowing, now that would be a catastrophe.   Without water to drink, bathe in or flush the commode, the lack of every other modern convenience would quickly pale by comparison.  What's almost as bad is when a pipe bursts or a sink or a toilet backs up.  That's when most of us are forced to bite the bullet to call in a plumber, and we all know how expensive that can be.  To help keep your home dry and your family happy, I thought I'd take a few minutes to show you ten things you can do to avoid having a plumbing crisis.

#1: Find those hidden leaks. - Nothing short of fire can do as much damage to a home as water.  A slow leak can percolate behind a wall for weeks, months, or years before being discovered.  That adds up to collateral damage including mold that can be more expensive to remedy than the leak itself.  The quickest way to find out if your home has a hidden leak is to turn off all the taps and check the water meter to see if water is still running.  If the meter is still ticking along, then you have a leak somewhere.

#2: How watertight is your toilet? - Of all the appliances in your home, your toilet is probably the biggest water hog.  That's because every time you flush it, a gallon or more of water goes down the drain.  However, what can cost even more is if your toilet leaks.  Some kinds of toilet leaks are minor, such as when a slow leak is caused by wear and tear on any of several key components.  If you hear the valve open to let more water into the tank when nobody has used it recently, that's a sure sign of a slow leak. It might just take the replacement of that old flapper valve to cure the problem.  However, if you hear a gurgling noise emanating from your toilet, you could have a more serious problem.  Tree roots growing near your home's main drain can compress, crack, or even cause the main drain to collapse.  If your toilet sounds like a bear with a belly ache, call a plumber right away before it takes a backhoe to fix this plumbing issue.

#3: Never use corrosive chemical drain cleaners to unclog a drain. - While saving a couple hundred dollars by avoiding a plumbing charge can sound like a bargain, if you employ corrosive chemicals to unstop a clogged drain, you could wind up paying a lot more down the road when the pipe ruptures because drain cleaner has eaten away the pipe itself.

#4: Is it better to suck or blow? - While a plunger can unstop some clogs, you don't want to use one to retrieve something dropped in the drain, such as a child's toy.  Plungers are designed primarily to blow a clog through a drain.  Better to use a wet-vac to suck any object up that has inadvertently found its way down the drain.

Image courtesy pxhere

#5: Can you clear that clog yourself? - While some stopped drains require an electric drain snake to power through the clog, many can be cleared by removing the p-trap from a sink.  The plumbing trap is the u-shaped length of pipe immediately below any sink.  Designed primarily to keep unpleasant odors from wafting back up the drain, the u-turn created in the pipe is a natural trap for grease, hair, and gunk which can slow and eventually stop the flow of water.  The easiest way to clean out the p-trap is to remove it from beneath the sink, dump the contents into a bucket, and use a flexible wire brush to clean it out.  (To avoid making a huge mess, here's a link that will take you step by step through the procedure.)

#6: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. - Ben Franklin didn't have indoor plumbing in his day, but his old adage makes a lot of sense when it comes to keeping clogs at bay.  One of the best ways to keep drains from clogging is to dose them with an enzymatic drain cleaner every month.  While enzymes aren't the best way to clear a clogged drain, they're great at keeping them from clogging in the first place.  That's because enzymes excel at breaking down food, grease, oil, and hair.

#7: Water heater maintenance. - The way most people learn that their home water heater has sprung a leak usually involves slogging around in water up to their ankles.  That's because a water heater is designed to keep the tank filled to a certain level whether it's watertight or not.  To keep your water heater from turning your garage or basement into an indoor swimming pool, there's something you can do.  You can install a water leak alarm that not only alerts you to a leaky tank, but will text your cellphone when you aren't home.  

#8: Make sure you don't tighten the fittings too much. - If you decide to try a little DIY plumbing, make sure you don't damage the fittings when you take the plumbing apart or put the pipes back together again.  This can only serve to either break a fitting off or strip the threads, either of which can cause greater damage than the problem you were trying to fix.  

Image courtesy pxhere

#9: Duct tape can't always fix that. - While duct tape can help seal minor cracks and leaks on plumbing, relying on it too much can put you in a position where there's probably going to be a flood in your future.  A better solution is to become familiar with Teflon plumber's tape, which is specifically designed to seal pipes, threads and water lines against leaks.  

#10:  Do you know where your water shutoff valves are? - If a pipe should burst in your home, you need to act fast before a lot of collateral damage is done.  The best way to accomplish this is to find and close the nearest water shutoff valve.  This will turn off all the water to a pipe or to your home depending on the valve.  All sinks, water heaters, and most appliances that use water have a shutoff valve either under or next to them. Turning the valve to the right will stop the flow of water to the attached pipe, provided it still turns.  (Some shutoff valves tend to jam up given enough time.)  The main shutoff valve is usually located near your sidewalk.  However, the box that encases it can wind up full of dirt and leaves. This can make it hard to find the valve itself.  Once you locate it, you need to use a t-shaped tool designed for the valve, or you can use a pair of vice grips in a pinch. Then you can fix the leak without it causing even more water damage.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. A leak detector makes a lot of sense, especially while you're at work or away on a trip. Nothing is worse than having water gush out the door over your shoes the minute you return home.

  2. Any plumbing problem can be costly. Nip these problems in the bud before the become seriously expensive. these tips help!


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