Plumbing 101, what every homeowner should know but doesn’t.
Plumbing problems NEVER happen at a convenient time. Who doesn’t know someone with a plumbing horror story? During my discussions with customers I am often asked, “Could this plumbing emergency have been prevented?” The answer almost every time is YES, if you know what to look for!
1) Average life for a water heater is 10 years. If your water heater is over 10 years old it would be a good idea to put a little money aside for the inevitable. Depending on water quality most manufactures recommend a yearly flush to remove scale and sediment buildup within the tank. I recommend connecting a hose to the drain and filling up a white 5 gallon bucket. If the water is a dark muddy color with an orange tint that looks like rust its time to replace the water heater, a light brown color or milky white water is OK. Let the water run for a few minutes into the yard opening and closing the valve a few times to make sure the debris clears the valve. (Make sure you have a hose cap just in case the drain does not close afterwards). For the more adventurous souls it is highly recommended to replace the anode rod if the tank is over 4-5 years old.
2) We see the handles fall off of the shut off valves for toilets and under sinks causing water damage to the cabinets, drywall and flooring. Average reliable life is 10-15 years. A simple inspection of the handle stem near the body of the valve for damage can prevent a huge inconvenience. At least 1 time a year these valves should be closed and reopened. If the valve is stuck it may take some force but remember that most of them are plastic or brittle metal, be patient and work the valve open and closed a little at a time until it begins to move freely. Do not overtighten closed as this can tear the rubber gaskets inside the valve. In rare occasions the mineral buildup dislodged from the valve can plug faucet aerators. If this happens take a plastic bag with vinegar and tape it up around the faucet spout for an hour or so. In most cases the faucet will spray normal if not removal of the aerator may be necessary.
3) Once a year make sure the main water shutoff valve works for the house. Typically the valve is located by the front hosebibb with either a lever or round handle that is on the biggest pipe rising up from the ground which enters into the wall of the home. The lever should lift and make a letter T shutting off the water. Open the hosebibb to ensure the water stops, two story houses my have some residual pressure that drains down from upstairs. Homes that have a round handle (gate valve) in most cases can expect to replace the valve in 10-15 years, levers (ball valve) 15-20+. If you have one of these gate style of valve, test with caution, do not force or the valve could break in the nearly closed or closed position. (They do not always turn the water all the way off and if this happens to you during an emergency leave the hosebibb open to release the water to the outside and shut the water off at the meter by the street with a wrench).
4) Shower valves and faucets drip, freeze up, leak, and sometimes fall apart completely. Average life of a professional plumbing faucet is 10-20 years depending on water quality. Pressure balancing tub and shower valves have a tendency to stick if not used regularly, don’t forget those lonely guest bathrooms, and soaking tubs in the master bath. Rinse them out at least once a month. Hard water is very corrosive, if leaks are left unrepaired the water will cause additional damage to the valve and finish of the faucet.
5) Hosebibbs spray water from the handles. Most hosebibbs are serviceable. To fix a hosebibb that leaks from the handle take a wrench and tighten the nut just below the handle at the base of the stem where the water sprays from. Snug it up just enough that the water stops spraying but the handle is not too tight to turn. Make sure to hold the hosebibb with your hand if necessary to support the piping. It has become very popular lately to install the little 1/4 turn hosebibbs. I do not recommend them. They can be difficult to adjust the flow of water and do not last long with our Arizona water. (They are not built the same as a full size ball valve)
6) AVB’s (big brass things with black or brass covers on them for the sprinkler system or pool). Average life varies, most important to remember is in the winter when the weatherman says cover your plants, put a towel or some sort of insulation over this valve to keep the internal parts from freezing. Usually I see the pipes insulated and nothing over this valve, and the valve will always freeze first. These are repairable in almost all cases. Febco, Wilkins, Apollo it doesn’t matter. I have seen a number of them completely replaced which is much more labor intensive and costly. The only time we need to replace the entire valve is if the service valves have failed or if the valve body itself has failed.
7) Toilet Fill valves and flappers leak and waste water. Average life tends to be 5-10 years. Lift the lid off the tank and look inside. If the water is running over the top of the white or black tube then its time to replace the fill valve. Drop some food coloring into the tank and wait for about 15 minutes. Return to the toilet and look inside the bowl, if the color has transferred to the bowl, most cases its time for a new flapper. I recommend chlorine resistant if they are available. Using the correct parts and adjusting them properly are crucial to having a reliable, good flushing toilet.
8) White vinegar in a sandwich bag placed over a shower head and taped around the pipe to hold it in place for about 30 min works great for making the shower spray like new. If the build up is substantial you might have to do multiple treatments or use an old toothbrush to clean the holes.
9) Water pressure should be below 80 PSI, especially if you have a water softener, reverse osmosis system, or icemaker line. Recommended water pressure is 65-70PSI
Lastly, if you are interested in scheduling an appointment and live in the Phoenix or surrounding area, we would be happy to do these things for you for a small financial reimbursement. 🙂
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Have a great day and I look forward to seeing you around the neighborhood.