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Common Plumbing Mistakes

Because plumbing is the most volatile system in the home . . .

Because water is distributed throughout the home in so many places and involves a number of “appliances” like toilets and faucets . . .

Something will inevitably go wrong. It always does.

Before we get to solutions for common plumbing problems encountered by Huntsville, AL homeowners, we want to pause for a brief moment to make sure you are aware of common plumbing mistakes.

Plumbing is not something to take lightly because, if something does go wrong, it usually goes wrong in a hurry, can be extremely messy, and it can lead to other problems and repairs (which means there’s usually additional expense).

Here is the first thing you should know. And we’re serious. You’d be surprised how many homeowners do not know how to . . .

Turn Off the Water

When working with any plumbing “appliance” know where the shut-off valve(s) are on the supply pipe.

  • For toilets: The shut-off valve is usually behind and to the left of the toilet bowl near the baseboard. Make sure access is not obstructed and that the valve isn’t too tight or “stuck.” (If it is, it may require further investigation.)
  • For sinks: Valves are at the base of the hoses going up to the faucets. Access under a sink is always cramped and cluttered. Cramped because it’s hard to fit even a small person in a cabinet opening under a sink. Cluttered because most homeowners store cleaning supplies and trash bags here. Know where the valves are and have a reasonable access to them.
  • For the hot water heater: There is usually a valve on the pipes leading to/from the heater. (If it’s gas-powered, remember you may need to shut off the gas as well.) Hot water heaters can be installed in a variety of areas. Sometimes they’ve in a cutout in the garage. Other times they’re in a “closet” inside the home. Some may be installed in an attic. Like with sinks, access to hot water heaters can be cramped and cluttered. Try to have reasonably quick access to your water heater if there is ever an emergency.

Additionally, know where the water main shut-off valves are located inside and outside the home. This is super important. If all else fails, race outside and shut the water off at its source.

If you do not know where the main shut-off valve is located, the next time a Huntsville, AL plumber comes to the house, ask him to show you and how to access (including what tools you might need), and how to shut each off in an emergency.

Note: Some cities require special “keys” to access the outside water main, although a large screwdriver and a pair of channel lock pliers often will do the trick. Some cities may not want you to turn off the water yourself, but when there’s a broken pipe who wants to sit and wait for a plumber or city technician?

Now, here are six plumbing mistakes, ranging from basic tasks to larger “projects.” How you approach a plumbing task/project is crucial to minimizing unpleasant occurrences.

Mistake #1: Hurry-up Fixes

Being in a rush during plumbing work is never smart. If water isn’t gushing onto the floor, take a minute to assess the situation. What’s the problem? Do you have the right tools? Do you know what you’re going? Have you read the instructions? Do you have the proper replacement parts (if applicable)? And so on.

And don’t forget to turn off the water. Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes homeowners make when starting a plumbing project is forgetting to turn off the water. When in doubt if you need to do this, turn it off anyway, in case something unexpected happens. It’s easy to turn it back on.

Mistake #2: Over-using Drain Cleaners

Whenever the sink clogs, it’s easy to reach for the Drano and use more than is recommended by the manufacturer. Drain cleaners often include extremely harsh chemicals. If used periodically, they do a good job with no side effects. In case of persistent clogs in the same pipe, drain cleaners can do more harm than good by eating away at the pipe, which may develop leaks.

Persistent clogs are usually caused by something stuck in the pipe, usually where you can’t see, feel with your finger, or even reach with a handy Zip-it tool. If this is the case, it’s best to call a plumber in the Huntsville, AL area.

Mistake #3: Tackling Jobs Beyond Your Skill Level

Aside from not turning off the water, this may be the biggest and most costliest mistake of all. Often homeowners, who have a bit of do-it-yourself or handyman savvy, feel they should be able to fix anything inside their home, regardless of prior experience.

Relatively simple jobs such as unclogging drains, installing a new faucet, or replacing a section of pipe can be done by most handy homeowners with a bit of self-education and patience (see Mistake #1).

Know where to draw the line. Any job that involves disconnecting major pipes hidden within floors or walls or the reconfiguration of bathroom plumbing calls for the experience of an experienced Huntsville, AL plumber who knows the industry, is aware of needed work permits (see Mistake #6), and is insured.

Mistake #4: Crooked Installation

So you’re handy enough to take on a new toilet or sink installation. Don’t forget the simplest of details: leveling. This is a surprising oversight and one that can negatively alter the function and appearance of your project.

Mistake #5: Mismatched Pipes

In DIY plumbing it’s common to reach for the closest pipe of the right size and shape. However, it’s important to pay attention to the pipe’s material. When fitting two pipes of different sizes together, make sure to use the proper connecting piece to ensure proper sealing.

Another common mistake is connecting a pipe made of galvanized metal to one made of copper. These materials react to each other and the connection point will corrode quickly, leading to leaks. A brass or other suitable fitting must be used.

If you are unsure of pipe materials and connections, take a picture (with the camera on your phone, if you have one) of the project area and materials you are working with, and bring with you to a Huntsville, AL home improvement center or hardware store. Pictures will help describe your project when asking for assistance.

Mistake #6: Ignoring Local Lawsh

While a Huntsville, AL plumber will know local laws regarding plumbing project permits, the average homeowner is not well-acquainted with plumbing regulations. In some areas a permit is even required for installing a toilet, although this is rare. Just beware that many cities and counties require permits even for DIY home projects. Familiarize yourself with Huntsville, AL rules before you get started. A quick search of the city’s web site (or a quick call to the city) may be all that’s needed.