Now that you are familiar with common household plumbing issues and know how to avoid making common plumbing mistakes, it’s time to tackle the basics and repair drains, sinks, and toilets.
No Hot Water
No hot water is one of the most common reasons people call Huntsville, AL plumbers because, really, what homeowner thinks of water heater maintenance?
If you have a gas water heater, check and make sure the pilot light is lit. Lighting a pilot light is fairly easy and can be accomplished by most homeowners; however, depending on the age of the equipment and installation it can get tricky and may require the experience of a plumber.
Low Water Pressure
The first thing to troubleshoot is the faucet aerator. Water entering pipes carries dissolved minerals in it that eventually deposit themselves on metal surfaces. If you use a filtration system, these deposits wind up in filters that get changed; without such a system, these mineral deposits collect on inner surfaces of aerators and shower heads, clogging screens and slowing flow.
Most kitchen and bathroom faucets have aerators that can be removed by unscrewing them with your fingers. If that does not work, use a channel lock pliers a rag to prevent scratching. Do not squeeze the pliers too tight as the metal is soft and may bend, making removal more difficult. If that does not work, spray WD-40 as close to the threads as possible and let it sit for a while to penetrate.
Once the aerator is off, soak it overnight in a vinegar solution to dissolve the calcium deposits. Shower heads may not be as easy to remove but you can affix a plastic bag with vinegar to the shower head and let it soak overnight.
If the aerator needs replacement, take it with you to the home improvement center or hardware store so it can be properly matched for size and finish.
If the water pressure is still low after cleaning aerators or shower heads of mineral deposits, a more complex issue may be at hand. In the bathroom or sink, carefully adjust the water supply valve to see if water flow increases. If the valve is “stuck” or “frozen” don’t force it — something else may be the problem. Call a Huntsville, AL plumber for an assessment.
If jiggling the handle doesn’t work, take time to assess the flushing apparatus in the toilet tank. There are many things that can malfunction and cause the toilet to run because it’s not sealing properly.
Check the overflow tube. If you see water going into the overflow when the tank is full, the fill valve is not shutting off all the way and needs to be replaced.
If the overflow is not the problem, check the flapper chain. If the chain is too long or too short it could be the source of the problem. If it’s too short, the flapper won’t go down completely to seal the tank opening. If it’s too long it could get tangled and hold the flapper open, preventing a good seal. Use the needle-nose pliers to adjust the chain.
A third possibility is the flapper itself, which may have a plastic or metal arm attached to the flotation ball. As the flapper gets old it can get hard or warp, preventing a good seal. Even a slight imperfection could be causing the toilet to run.
Depending on the type of apparatus inside the tank, there could be a gasket that seals the tank shut. It might have slipped out of place or aged, allowing water to seep into the bowl. Reseat the gasket. If it stays in place, great. If not, replace.
(A handy hint: When the tank lid if off, snap a picture of the device inside so you can refer to it when you’re at a Huntsville-area home improvement center, hardware store, or plumbing supply house so you can match replacement parts. It beats buying the wrong part and having to return it.)
To detect a “silent” leak in your toilet, add a few drops of food coloring to the upper tank. Wait 15 to 20 minutes. If you see tinted water, the flapper valve isn’t working as it should and should be replaced.
Clogged or Slow Drains
Clogged or plugged drains is the second most common reason homeowners call Huntsville, AL plumbers. These happen in two areas: the bathroom and kitchen.
If a pop-up stopper is involved in a sink or tub, gently pull it out of the drain. Chances are it’s “locked” into place with a set screw. But before you get a screwdriver and pliers to remove the set screw, try using the super handy Zip-it, an inexpensive plastic tool you can purchase at home improvement centers and hardware stores throughout Huntsville, AL.
Carefully fish the Zip-it into the drain. Its jagged edges catch hair and gunk that builds up over time to cause clogs and slow draining. Pull out the Zip—it tool slowly, setting aside the debris. Repeat on the other side of the drain or at the top and bottom. Turn on the water slowly to see if the drain is now functioning properly.
You may also use a flashlight to look into the drain opening and see if there are any noticeable obstructions. If so, use a needle-nose pliers to pull the debris free.
If the drain clogs again a short while later, there may be a deeper clog or obstruction that will require a specialty tool like plumber’s snake, which you can buy at any home improvement center or hardware store, or if you don’t want to mess with it call a Huntsville, AL plumber.
A plumber’s snake can also be used to unclog a toilet, but first try the traditional plunger. Plungers use air pressure to dislodge small clogs but may not remove larger obstructions completely. If you deal with toilet clogs on a regular basis, call a Huntsville, AL plumber.
The Zip-it took, plunger, and plumber’s snake can also be used to free clogs in kitchen sinks. However, an ounce of prevention goes a long way in the kitchen. Don’t pour grease down the drain. Keep a coffee can or jar in a cabinet near the stove or sink to collect grease. Throw it away in the trash when the can or jar is full. Dispose of coffee grounds in the trash, not the drain.
There are also different remedies to maintain kitchen drains. Pour a half-cup of salt, a half-cup of baking soda, and a half-cup of vinegar down the drain, followed by two quarts of boiling water. This helps keep the drain pipe scum free.
Garbage Disposal Issues
If the garbage disposal jams or “freezes up,” a common plumbing problem, use the “key” that comes with the garbage disposal to help unjam it. However, most homeowners don’t know where the key is located, but don’t panic. Use a 1/4-inch Allen wrench, plug it into the opening on the bottom of the garbage disposal, and turn left and right to free the motor. You can always duct tape the key to the side or underside of the disposal for use later.
A leaky pipe is much more serious than a leaky faucet and requires immediate attention from you and, possibly, a plumber in Huntsville, AL.
Leaks usually happen at joints, which is why commercial joint fillers and fitting compounds are plentiful at the local home improvement center and hardware store. These are a temporary fix, though; a permanent plumbing repair may mean replacing a length of pipe or its fittings.
Replacing a leaky U-joint under a sink isn’t a complex repair but it is messy. When twisting off the slip joint nuts, make sure you have a small bucket or bowl underneath to catch water. You may need to replace the washers inside the slip joint nuts, the nuts themselves, or the U-joint.
When re-attaching, make sure the washer and threads are aligned properly from the slip joint nut to the U-joint. Even the slightest variance can cause a slow leak or drip. Do not over tighten. After installation turn on the water and watch for drips to make sure the seal is properly tightened.
Leaky Water Heaters
If the hot water supply is adequate but there are puddles underneath the hot water heater, it’s a sign that something is wrong. The best way to deal with a leaky water heater is to replace it. Leaks usually indicate rusting through the bottom of the water storage tank and there is no repair for such a problem.
A leak at the base of the toilet may be due to a deteriorated gasket — that sticky, waxy, pliable seal between the base of the toilet and the waste disposal hole in the floor.
Like with leaky pipes, you’ll want to investigate immediately. Other than the gasket, the leak could be from a loose water supply line, a kinked or damaged line (especially old copper tubing). If the toilet is on a second floor, you’ll want to fix to make sure the leak doesn’t cause problems with the ceiling below.