Two years after buying my new home, I awoke one morning and went to clean the kitty litter located in an alcove closet in the downstairs bathroom. Suddenly, I heard gurgling akin to a rapidly boiling soup pot coming from the toilet behind me. Seconds later, the lid lifted as a foul-smelling black goo spewed forth from the bowl like something out of “The Amityville Horror,” ruining rugs and towels while causing me panic.
The Great Toilet Disaster marked my first plumbing emergency as a homeowner, and it could have been averted had I paid attention to routine maintenance. As a new homeowner, learn from my mistake to minimize your own risk of plumbing woes. Preventative maintenance is key, as plumbing issues can cause some of the most pricey home repairs. Conducting regular inspections can fix little problems before they cost you thousands.
- Leaks: Leaks can cause serious water damage and provide breeding grounds for black mold. Check pipes monthly by inspecting underneath each sink. Drips or moisture indicate a possible leak. Also inspect interior walls for damp spots.
- Drainage: Poor drainage indicates a clog. Pour a gallon of water down each sink and bathtub drain. Snake any slow-moving drains.
- Faucets: Turn on all faucets and run them for a minute or two at full blast. Water should not escape from anywhere but the spigot.
- Irrigation lines: Those with irrigation systems should check them monthly for leaks and clogs. Turn on the system 20 to 30 minutes prior to visually inspecting all parts.
- Water heater: Check settings on your water heater monthly. The ideal temperature to keep your water heater at is 120 degrees, although families with young children should set it even lower to avoid potential burns.
- Turn on/off irrigation according to climate: Most states north of the Mason-Dixon line turn on irrigation systems in late May to early June and back off again in mid-September. Those in warmer climates may use some irrigation all year but should nevertheless turn the frequency of watering down in cooler weather.
- Search for any drafts: Most people winterize their homes by checking doors and windows for cracks, but outside plumbing lines may also let cold air in. Check outside water fixtures, and caulk up any cracks.
- Check the toilet bowl for leaks: A toilet that won’t stop running often indicates nothing more than the chain bob inside the tank slipping off. However, if the tank looks fine inside, your toilet may have sediment or leaves caught in the line, so call a plumber before (like me) you end up needing to buy new bathroom rugs.
- Inspect certain appliances: You should inspect your washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator and any other water-using appliances. Replace any cracked tubes or lines. Mold anywhere inside appliances indicates a leak, so if you cannot find the source on your own, call in a professional.
- Clean out gutters: Twice per year, clean all the leaves and other debris from your outdoor gutters. Additionally, inspect gutters after powerful storms, and remove any clumps of blown materials.
- Flush your hot water tank: Once per year, flush your hot water heater free of sediment. Water flowing from spigots turning cold sooner than usual indicates that sediment is eating up room for hot water.
- Check for rust: Visually inspect all visible pipes in the home. Call in a plumbing professional if you find discoloration and rust, as this issue indicates that pipes hidden in walls may also need repair or replacement.
- Check for mold: Sniff around all fixtures and under sinks. Should you see or smell mold, clean it with a water and bleach solution.
- Clean shower heads: Sediment can build up in shower heads, making skin itchy and decreasing water flow. Take apart the shower head and clean all components.
- Call in the pros: Those on sewer should schedule an annual camera inspection of their line (as I learned the hard way). Plumbers use a special camera to seek out and remove leaves, paper towels or tree roots, preventing them from creating backflow.
Managing Plumbing Emergencies
Performing routine maintenance should prevent many plumbing headaches, but emergencies still sometimes occur. Perform a plumbing check as part of your home inspection, and establish a relationship with a trustworthy local plumber so that you aren’t left scrambling to find someone should an emergency occur.
Those in cold climates should heat their entire homes instead of only certain rooms to prevent pipes from freezing. If financial factors require heating only a few areas, rotate which ones you use. Insulate pipes as much as possible before temperatures drop below zero.
Those living in condos or townhouses may share an outside sewer line with one or two neighbors. Find out who they are, and take turns paying for the annual sewer inspection.
Protecting Your Investment
For many people, their home represents their biggest investment. Protect your home and your money by keeping up with routine plumbing maintenance tasks. You’ll save sweet moolah this way and avoid big messes and huge headaches.