13 Plumbing Basics for New Homeowners (The Essentials Guide)

“Owning a home is a keystone of wealth, both in terms of financial affluence and emotional security.” – Suze Orman

Congratulations on becoming a new homeowner! With this exciting milestone comes the responsibility of maintaining your home, and one essential aspect is understanding your home’s plumbing system.

In this guide, we will cover 13 essential plumbing basics every new homeowner should know. So, let’s dive into the world of plumbing and ensure your home remains in tip-top shape!

The 13 plumbing basics for new homeowners

1. Don’t pour grease or oil down the drain

One common mistake that homeowners make is pouring grease or oil down the kitchen sink drain.

Over time, these substances can solidify and create blockages in your pipes, leading to clogs and backups.

Instead, let the grease or oil cool and dispose of it in a sealed container in the trash. You can also consider recycling used cooking oil if it’s available in your area.

2. Use a sink strainer every time

Using a sink strainer or drain guard is a simple yet effective way to prevent larger debris and food particles from going down your drain.

These devices sit over the drain opening and catch any solids that could cause blockages.

Make it a habit to use a sink strainer every time you use the sink, and be sure to clean it regularly by emptying its contents into the trash.

3. Don’t flush just anything down the toilet

While toilets may seem like a convenient way to dispose of various items, it’s crucial to understand what can and cannot be flushed.

Flushing items like baby wipes, paper towels, cotton balls, feminine hygiene products, and even certain “flushable” wipes can lead to clogs and damage your plumbing system.

Stick to flushing only toilet paper and human waste to avoid potential issues. Educate household members and guests about proper toilet usage as well.

4. Check the bottom of your sink pipes regularly

Periodically inspecting the bottom of your sink pipes can help you identify any leaks or signs of damage.

Look for water stains, corrosion, or pooling water around the pipes. Catching these issues early can prevent further damage and the need for costly repairs.

If you notice any problems, it’s best to call a professional plumber to assess and fix the issue.

5. Check the moisture of the soil around your home (to identify broken pipes)

Monitoring the moisture levels of the soil around your home can provide valuable insights into the condition of your underground plumbing pipes.

If you notice unusually wet or soggy patches of soil, it could indicate a broken or leaking pipe underground.

Conversely, if you observe areas of extremely dry soil near water sources, it could be a sign of water escaping from a pipe. If you suspect a problem, contact a professional plumber to conduct a thorough inspection.

6. Know where your main and sprinkler shut-off valve is

It’s crucial to be familiar with the location of your main water shut-off valve as well as the shut-off valve for your sprinkler system, if applicable.

The main water shut-off valve is typically located near the water meter, while the sprinkler shut-off valve may be in a separate area, such as a utility room or near the sprinkler control panel.

Knowing the location of these valves will enable you to quickly turn off the water supply in case of emergencies, such as a burst pipe or a malfunctioning sprinkler system.

7. Schedule regular maintenance on your water heater

Your water heater plays a crucial role in providing hot water for your household’s needs.

To keep it running efficiently and extend its lifespan, schedule regular maintenance checks with a professional plumber.

They can inspect the unit, flush out sediment buildup, check for any leaks or issues with the pressure relief valve, and ensure that it’s functioning optimally.

Regular maintenance can help prevent unexpected breakdowns and ensure you have a reliable supply of hot water.

8. Don’t just put anything into the garbage disposal

While garbage disposals are convenient for disposing of food waste, it’s important to use them properly.

Avoid putting hard, fibrous, or starchy materials down the disposal, as they can damage the blades or cause clogs. Examples include bones, fruit pits, eggshells, coffee grounds, and grease.

Instead, scrape plates and dishes into the trash or compost bin before rinsing them in the sink. Use cold water while running the disposal to solidify any grease or fat, which will make it easier to flush away.

9. Protect your pipes from freezing in the winter

Freezing temperatures pose a significant risk to your plumbing system, as frozen pipes can lead to costly repairs and water damage.

To protect your pipes during the winter, it’s important to take preventive measures. Insulate exposed pipes in unheated areas with foam pipe insulation, disconnect and drain outdoor hoses, and keep cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air to circulate.

Maintaining a consistent temperature in your home, even when you’re away, can also help prevent freezing. By taking these precautions, you can safeguard your pipes from the dangers of freezing temperatures.

10. Avoid doing laundry during a freeze

During freezing temperatures, it’s advisable to avoid doing laundry, especially if your laundry room is in an unheated area or if the water supply lines are exposed.

The water in the pipes leading to your washing machine can freeze and cause blockages or burst pipes.

If you must do laundry during a freeze, run a small stream of warm water from a nearby faucet to help prevent the pipes from freezing.

11. Know the signs of a plumbing leak

Being able to identify the signs of a plumbing leak is crucial for early detection and prompt resolution.

Look out for indicators such as unexplained increases in your water bill, water stains or discoloration on walls or ceilings, musty odors, low water pressure, or the presence of mold or mildew.

Dripping sounds or visible water puddles are also signs of a potential leak.

By staying vigilant and recognizing these warning signs, you can take immediate action to prevent further damage and minimize the impact of a plumbing leak on your home.

12. Buy essential plumbing tools for DIY

Having a set of essential plumbing tools on hand can empower you to tackle minor repairs and maintenance tasks on your own.

A basic toolkit may include adjustable wrenches, a plunger, plumbing tape, a pipe cutter or hacksaw, a pipe wrench, and plumber’s putty.

These tools can help you address small plumbing issues efficiently and save you from the hassle and expense of calling a professional for every minor repair.

However, it’s important to remember that for complex or extensive plumbing problems, it’s best to seek the expertise of a licensed plumber.

13. Call a plumbing professional if you find a leak you can’t fix

While DIY efforts can be helpful for minor plumbing issues, there are situations where calling a professional plumber is necessary.

If you come across a leak that you’re unable to fix or if the problem appears to be beyond your expertise, it’s crucial to contact a licensed plumber.

They have the knowledge, experience, and specialized equipment to diagnose and repair plumbing leaks effectively and safely.

Calling a professional plumber not only ensures that the issue is resolved correctly but also helps avoid potential complications and further damage to your plumbing system.

How do I inspect my home’s plumbing system?

  1. Start with a visual inspection: Begin by visually examining the exposed pipes in your home. Look for any signs of leaks, such as water stains, discoloration, or corrosion. Check the joints and connections for signs of moisture or water droplets. Inspect around fixtures, such as sinks, toilets, and showers, for any signs of leaks, loose fittings, or water damage.
  2. Check faucets and fixtures: Turn on each faucet in your home one at a time and observe the water flow. Look for any irregularities such as low water pressure, sputtering, or unusual noises. Test the hot and cold water separately to ensure they are both functioning properly. Check for leaks around the base of faucets and handles.
  3. Flush toilets: Flush each toilet in your home and observe the flushing mechanism. Ensure that the tank fills and refills correctly without any delays or unusual sounds. Check for any leaks around the base of the toilet or from the tank.
  4. Inspect drains: Run water in sinks, showers, and tubs and observe the drainage. Ensure that the water drains smoothly without any backups or slow draining. Look for any signs of clogs or unusual odors coming from the drains.
  5. Check water heater: Inspect your water heater for any signs of leaks or corrosion. Look for water stains around the base of the unit. If your water heater is gas-powered, check for the presence of a blue flame. Any other colors, such as yellow or orange, may indicate a problem.
  6. Test shut-off valves: Locate the shut-off valves for each fixture and appliance in your home, including sinks, toilets, and washing machine. Turn the valves on and off to ensure they are functioning properly and not leaking. Also, locate and test the main water shut-off valve to ensure it is working in case of an emergency.
  7. Look for signs of water damage: Inspect your walls, ceilings, and floors for any signs of water damage, such as water stains, peeling paint, or warped surfaces. These can indicate hidden leaks or plumbing issues behind the walls.

How do I know if I have a plumbing leak?

Detecting a plumbing leak in your home is crucial to preventing further damage and water waste. Here are some signs that can help you identify if you have a plumbing leak:

  • Increased water bill: If your water bill suddenly spikes without any apparent explanation, it could be a sign of a hidden plumbing leak. Compare your current bill to previous months to see if there’s a significant and unexplained increase in water usage.
  • Water meter reading: Turn off all water sources in your home, including faucets, showers, and appliances that use water. Take note of the reading on your water meter. Wait for a couple of hours without using any water and then check the meter again. If the reading has changed, it indicates a potential leak in your plumbing system.
  • Water stains or discoloration: Look for water stains or discoloration on walls, ceilings, or floors, especially near plumbing fixtures or pipes. These stains may appear as yellowish or brownish marks and are often a sign of an ongoing leak.
  • Musty odors or mold/mildew growth: A persistent musty smell or the presence of mold and mildew in certain areas of your home, particularly where water is present, can indicate a hidden plumbing leak. Mold and mildew thrive in damp environments, so their presence suggests excess moisture from a leak.
  • Dripping sounds or running water: If you can hear dripping sounds or the sound of running water when no faucets or appliances are in use, it’s a strong indication of a plumbing leak. Investigate the source of the sound to locate the leak.
  • Low water pressure: A sudden decrease in water pressure throughout your home or in specific fixtures may signal a plumbing leak. A leak can disrupt the normal flow of water, leading to reduced pressure when you turn on the taps.
  • Wet spots or puddles: Keep an eye out for unexplained wet spots, puddles, or pooling water around your home, especially near pipes, fixtures, or appliances. These areas may indicate an active leak that requires immediate attention.
  • Unusual behavior of the water meter: If you notice the water meter spinning even when all water sources are turned off, it’s a clear indication of a leak in your plumbing system.

How can I prevent clogs in my home plumbing system?

Here are some tips to help you prevent clogs:

  • Mindful disposal: Avoid disposing of items that can cause clogs down the drain or toilet. This includes grease, oil, coffee grounds, food scraps, and personal hygiene products. Dispose of these items in the trash instead.
  • Use drain strainers: Place strainers or screens over your sink and shower drains to catch hair, food particles, and other debris. Empty the strainers regularly to prevent buildup and ensure proper water flow.
  • Flush responsibly: Only flush human waste and toilet paper down the toilet. Avoid flushing items like wipes, paper towels, cotton balls, or feminine hygiene products, as they can lead to clogs.
  • Proper kitchen practices: Scrape plates and utensils into the trash before washing dishes to minimize food debris going down the drain. Wipe greasy pans with a paper towel before rinsing to prevent grease buildup.
  • Regular cleaning: Perform routine maintenance by flushing your drains with hot water or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. This helps remove minor buildup and keeps your pipes clear.
  • Educate household members: Teach everyone in your household about proper plumbing practices. Ensure they understand what can and cannot be disposed of in sinks and toilets to prevent accidental clogs.
  • Be cautious with landscaping: Avoid planting trees or large shrubs near your underground sewer lines. Their roots can infiltrate the pipes and cause blockages. Consult a professional if you need to plant near your sewer lines.

How do I unclog a toilet?

  1. Stop flushing: If you notice that the toilet is clogged and the water level is rising, immediately stop flushing to prevent overflow. You want to avoid further complications and potential water damage.
  2. Assess the situation: Determine the severity of the clog. You can attempt to unclog it yourself if you believe that too much toilet paper or a minor obstruction is to blame. However, if the clog seems significant or if you’ve already attempted to unclog it without success, it may be best to call a professional plumber.
  3. Grab the right tools: Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands, and gather a plunger and a bucket. Make sure the plunger has a flange, which is the rubber extension that helps create a tight seal in the toilet drain.
  4. Plunge the toilet: Position the plunger over the drain in the toilet bowl, ensuring that it covers the entire opening. Press the plunger down firmly, creating a seal, and then vigorously push and pull in an up-and-down motion. Repeat this several times, using a consistent and forceful action. The suction and pressure created by plunging can help dislodge the clog and restore proper drainage.
  5. Test the drainage: Once you’ve plunged several times, carefully remove the plunger and observe the water level. If the water drains away, flush the toilet to see if it flows smoothly. If the clog persists, repeat the plunging process.
  6. Use a toilet auger: If plunging doesn’t resolve the clog, you can try using a toilet auger, also known as a plumbing snake. Insert the auger into the toilet bowl drain and crank the handle to extend the cable down the pipe. Rotate the auger while pushing it forward gently. This can help break up or remove stubborn clogs. Once you’ve finished using the auger, flush the toilet to check if the clog is cleared.
  7. Clean up and maintain: After successfully unclogging the toilet, thoroughly clean the plunger, auger, and surrounding area. Dispose of any waste materials properly. To prevent future clogs, remind household members to use the toilet responsibly and avoid flushing items that can cause blockages.

How do I know if I need to repair or replace my water heater?

Determining whether to repair or replace your water heater depends on several factors.

If your water heater is experiencing minor issues like a faulty thermostat, a leaking valve, or a worn-out heating element, it might be more cost-effective to repair it.

However, there are certain signs that indicate the need for a replacement.

These include the age of the water heater (typically over 10 years), frequent breakdowns, significant leaks, corrosion, rumbling or strange noises during operation, and a noticeable decline in hot water supply.

If your current water heater is inefficient and causing high energy bills, upgrading to a newer, more energy-efficient model might be a wise choice.

It is recommended to consult with a professional plumber who can assess the condition of your water heater and provide expert advice on whether to repair or replace it based on your specific circumstances.

What are the most common plumbing problems for homeowners?

  1. Clogged drains: Clogged drains are a frequent plumbing issue in households. They occur when debris, hair, grease, soap residue, or other substances accumulate and block the pipes. Clogged drains can lead to slow drainage, backups, unpleasant odors, and even overflowing in severe cases.
  2. Leaking pipes: Leaking pipes can cause water damage, mold growth, and structural issues in homes. Pipe leaks can occur due to corrosion, deteriorated seals, high water pressure, freezing temperatures, or physical damage. The leaks may be visible, such as dripping or pooling water, or hidden within walls, ceilings, or under floors.
  3. Running toilets: A running toilet is a common problem that can waste a significant amount of water and increase water bills. It occurs when the toilet continues to run and doesn’t shut off properly after flushing. A faulty flapper valve, a broken fill valve, or a misaligned float are frequently to blame for the problem. Running toilets should be promptly addressed to conserve water and prevent further damage to the toilet components.

What are the best tips for plumbing maintenance?

  • Inspect for leaks: Regularly check for leaks in faucets, pipes, and fixtures. Look for any signs of water stains, dripping sounds, or wet spots. Addressing leaks promptly can prevent water damage and conserve water.
  • Clear drains and prevent clogs: Use drain strainers or screens to catch debris and prevent it from entering your drains. Avoid pouring grease, oil, coffee grounds, food scraps, or other non-flushable items down drains and toilets. Regularly clean your drains using hot water or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda to minimize buildup.
  • Maintain water heaters: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance tasks such as flushing the water heater to remove sediment. Regularly check the temperature and pressure relief valve to ensure it’s working properly. Consider scheduling professional maintenance annually to optimize your water heater’s efficiency.
  • Insulate pipes: Protect your pipes from freezing in cold weather by insulating them. Insulation sleeves or wrapping can help prevent pipe bursts and costly water damage. Pay attention to vulnerable areas like exterior walls, attics, and crawl spaces.
  • Test shut-off valves: Locate and test the shut-off valves for individual fixtures, appliances, and the main water supply. Ensure they are functioning properly and can be easily turned off in case of emergencies or repairs.
  • Be mindful of water pressure: High water pressure can strain your plumbing system and lead to leaks or damage. Consider installing a pressure regulator to maintain a safe and optimal water pressure level.
  • Avoid chemical drain cleaners: Instead of relying on harsh chemical drain cleaners, opt for natural alternatives or use mechanical methods like a plunger or plumbing snake to clear clogs. Chemical drain cleaners can be harmful to your pipes and the environment.
  • Know your limits: While DIY maintenance can be helpful, be aware of your limitations. If you encounter complex plumbing issues or feel unsure about a repair, it’s best to call a licensed plumber who has the expertise to handle the job safely and effectively.

What should I do if I have a plumbing issue I can’t fix?

If you encounter a plumbing issue that you are unable to fix, it is best to seek the assistance of a professional plumber.

Plumbing problems can range from minor issues to complex challenges that require specialized knowledge and tools.

Attempting to fix a problem beyond your skill level can potentially worsen the situation and result in costly damage.

By calling a licensed plumber, you can ensure that the issue is accurately diagnosed and effectively resolved.

Professional plumbers have the expertise, experience, and proper equipment to handle a wide range of plumbing problems safely and efficiently.

They can provide appropriate solutions, offer expert advice, and help restore your plumbing system to proper working order, giving you peace of mind and avoiding further complications.

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Author: Logan

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