You rely on your plumbing for safe water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and sanitation. To maintain these functions, it’s important to know the plumbing basics. In some situations, these plumbing tips can help you avoid the cost of hiring professionals.
Plumbing Basics: Parts of a Plumbing System
Home plumbing is made of two systems: a water supply system and a drain-water vent system (DMV). Let us dive in and explore how plumbing works in each system.
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Water Supply System
The water supply system refers to the pipes that channel fresh water into the home. Water in these pipes originates from one of two sources: city water or well water.
If you live in an urban, residential area, chances are high that your system uses city water. Large pipes known as mains are buried under the streets in your neighborhood. From the main lines, individual lines branch off to supply businesses and homes in the area.
Before getting into your home’s plumbing system, the water usually flows through a water meter that measures your usage. This amount determines how much the local utility system will bill you.
Your water meter comes with a shut-off valve which you can use to stop the flow of water into your home. This valve comes in handy during emergencies like a burst pipe.
While most large metropolitan areas rely on city water, small and less-populated rural areas tend to rely on well water. A well water system is made up of several components:
- Well casing: This is the plastic or steel tube that forms the body of the well. The casing usually has a screen to filter out rocks and dirt.
- Pump: This helps draw water out of the well and channel it to your home via a pipe.
- Pressure tank: The tank pressurizes water to allow it to flow through the pipes of your property.
Your pressure tank and pump rely on electricity to operate. It would therefore be smart to have a back-up source of power like a generator in case there is a power outage.
Apart from the cold water supplied by the main or well, you’ll need hot water for showers, baths, laundry, or dishwashing. Installing a water heater will ensure you have hot water. The heater could use solar, gas, or electricity to warm water.
The temperature of the water is controlled by a thermostat built into the heater. From the heater, the water is channeled to the faucets.
Drain-Water Vent (DMV) System
Your drains help get rid of waste water from your house and send it to a septic tank or municipal wastewater system. Here are three key parts of the drain system:
- Vents: Have you ever wondered what the pipes sticking out of your roof are for? They are vents for your drains. Vent pipes supply fresh air to the plumbing fixtures in your home. This makes it easy for the system to move water through the drainage pipes every time a sink is drained or a toilet is flushed. At the same time, the vent pipes allow wastewater odor and gas to escape.
- Traps: A trap is the curved or S-shaped section of pipe found under your sink or built into your toilet’s base. The water retained in the trap prevents sewer gas from backing up into your house.
- Clean-outs: Due to their shape, clogs are common in traps. This is why traps have removable plugs (clean-outs) that make it easy to access the clog without doing a full disassembly.
Plumbing Toolkit for Homeowners
Successful plumbing DIY begins with having the right tools. Here are some of the must-have tools for every homeowner:
For a clogged sink drain, shower drain, or tub drain, you will need a plunger. This is an inexpensive tool that will get your water flowing within no time.
For a clogged toilet, you will need a toilet plunger like ToiletShroom. This dredge and clean tool will clear your blocked toilet drains. It doubles up as a squeegee which you can use to clean your toilet bowl.
An adjustable wrench comes in handy for many plumbing DIY tasks like tightening or loosening pipe connectors, securing toilet seats, adjusting fixtures, and more. Be sure to get a pipe wrench as well as a basin wrench
You will need gloves to protect your hands from exposure to chemicals, adhesives, solvents, and even standing water. Gloves will also allow you to have a good grip when handling wet surfaces like pipes or other fixtures. Finally, gloves will protect you from abrasions and cuts. Good gloves can be made from PVC, rubber, leather, or other synthetic materials.
Many kinds of pliers could come in handy for plumbing. Be sure to get a pair of needle-nose pliers for smaller fittings. Such pliers can also help you remove hair out of a tub or shower drain
If your plunger can’t dislodge a clog, you can use a hand auger or drain snake. This tool has a long wire that is inserted into drains to grab and pull out debris.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average family can waste up to 180 gallons per week from household leaks. This is the reason why every serious DIYer should have at least one roll of duct tape. You can use duct tape to seal leaks in your pipes until you find a permanent solution or the professional plumber arrives. This will keep your leaks from escalating into worse problems like flooding. For low-pressure situations, you could use plumber’s putty to seal leaks.
Caulk Gun and Caulk
Caulk helps seal plumbing fixtures like showers, baths, toilets, and sinks to the walls and floor. Don’t forget to wrap the cut tip with duct tape to keep it fresh for later use.
Plumber’s Thread Seal Tape
If you have a loose pipe, you can seal it using plumber’s thread seal tape. Also known as dope tape or PTFE tape, plumber’s thread seal tape offers the necessary lubrication and sealant for pipe threads. This will ensure that your pipes are well sealed to avoid leaks later on. Unlike duct tape, plumber’s thread seal tape is a long-term solution for dealing with leaks.
Plumbing Basics: Tips and Tricks
Now that you know the parts of a plumbing system and what tools you require, let’s explore some plumbing basics for dealing with common household plumbing problems:
Use a Drain Strainer
Clogs in your shower, tub, or sink are caused by things like hair, soap residue, dirt, or other debris. The best way to keep these objects from going down your drain is by using drain strainers.
To trap debris before it enters your shower drain, tub drain, and sink drain, you need ShowerShroom, TubShroom, and SinkShroom. These drain protectors fit inside the drain and trap hair and other objects around them.
Learn How to Prevent and Handle Clogs
Drain strainers will help you minimize the possibility of your drains blocking. However, avoid the temptation to use chemical drain cleaners. Though they may clear out the clog, they could cause damage to your PVC pipes.
To prevent toilet clogs down the road, watch what you flush. Some of the things that should never be flushed down the toilet include paper towels, cotton balls, hygiene products, medications, and cosmetics.
Keep a plunger and hand auger at home to deal with any clogs that may arise.
Know Where to Find Your Water Main
When you face a water leak, you must know where your water main is located. This way, you will be able to turn off the valve before your home suffers significant damage.
Check the Pipes
At least twice every year, hire a plumber to inspect your water pipes for signs of wear and tear. Look out for signs such as discolored water and rusting pipes. Also, check for indications of leaky pipes such as damp walls, an ever-running meter, or unusually high water bills. Inspecting pipes is a task best left to professional plumbers since they have the tools required for a thorough inspection.
Insulate Your Pipes
Once winter checks in and temperatures start dropping, your plumbing will be at risk of freezing. Insulate your outside plumbing lines to avoid potential problems.
Drain the Water Heater
Empty your water heater twice or thrice every year. Built-up sediment could reduce the efficiency of your heater and result in complications later. If the heater is showing signs of damage, call a professional plumber. Don’t ever attempt to fix the heater on your own.
Learning Plumbing Basics Is a Must
Whether you are a tenant or a homeowner, you need to learn plumbing basics. First, understand how water supply systems and drain-water vent systems work. Next, put together a plumbing kit consisting of things like rubber gloves, a plunger, a drain snake, pliers, wrenches, duct tape, and thread seal tape. Finally, get familiar with plumbing basics like inspecting pipes, dealing with clogged drains, insulating pipes, and using drain strainers.
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Looking for more help? Check out this great video for a great overview on plumbing basics!