Modern plumbing systems are usually trouble-free. But when a plumbing problem does occur, many plumbing repairs can be made quick & easy by the homeowner using a few common tools.
What to do during a plumbing emergency?
1. Locate the main shutoff valve
Most plumbing systems provide several shutoff valves within the home. Become familiar with the valve locations to be prepared in case of an emergency. Sinks and lavatories have individual shutoffs for both hot and cold water. Toilets will have just one shutoff usually found under the toilet tank. Hot water supply lines can be shut off at the water heater. Most houses will have a main water shutoff at the street, or close to the water meter. This may require a special wrench for this main valve. These wrenches are available at most home centers and hardware stores.
2. Dealing with pipe leaks
Pipe joints that show signs of corrosion and pipes that have frozen or burst will leak. Sometimes a tightening a threaded joint or soldering a soldered joint may fix the problem. Using an inline repair coupling or a clamped-on patch can frequently repair burst pipes. An emergency pipe patch can be assembled from several hose clamps and a small section of garden hose or a scrap of rubber. This temporary fix will get you through an emergency, but the pipe it still needs to be replaced. Galvanized or brass pipes can usually be unscrewed and replaced. Copper pipes will require soldering. If you are uncomfortable with soldering, call a local plumber.
3. Overflowing toilet tank
A toilet tank overflowing into the toilet bowl will continue running long after flushing. The telltale sign is a continuous noise of water filling and refilling the tank. Remove the tank lid and inspect the toilet tank valve and flapper. Sometimes the float simply needs adjusting, other times the valve or rubber flapper or toilet tank ball will need to be replaced. Check the rubber flapper and the tank valve seat on the bottom of the tank for signs of wear or corrosion on the seat.
To repair close the water supply shutoff valve by turning the handle clockwise. Most toilets valves and flappers can be replaced with simple tools such as a crescent wrench, screwdriver, and a pair of pliers. Note the manufacturer of the toilet tank and its age. The underside of the tank lid will have the casting date, which is the age of the toilet. Next choose the correct repair parts for your toilet. Read the directions carefully when installing the new parts. Most replacement parts are now plastic and only require a finger-tight fit plus a quarter turn with a wrench. Applying too much torque will mean another trip to the hardware store for additional replacement parts.
4. Plugged sink drain
Use a rubber plunger to clear the stoppage. If this fails, apply a chemical drain-opener. If that is also unsuccessful, it’s time to remove the trap or gooseneck fitting under the sink. Some models will have a drain plug. If it does, place a pail under the trap to catch the water and then remove the plug. Use a bent coat hanger wire to remove any debris, which is usually includes hair or grease. If it is necessary to remove the entire trap use a crescent wrench or pipe wrench, remove the nut at the top of the trap nearest the sink drain, then unscrew the trap from the pipe extending from wall. Remove the trap and clean as needed. Reassemble the plug and trap. Then, run very hot water down the drain for at least five minutes to thoroughly clean the drain.
5. How to unclog a main drainpipe
Sometimes drain lines back up due to a blockage in one of the main drainpipes instead of the sink drain.
Locate the nearest Drain/Waste/Vent clean-out plug. These are usually on the outside wall close to the drain line. Remove the plug and drain all the water from the blocked line. With the clean-out plug removed, insert a garden hose and attempt to clear the drain line. If this doesn’t clear the line, insert a plumber’s auger, which looks like a wire spring with a handle at the end, and rotate to clear the blockage. If the blockage persists, the next step is a plumber’s snake. These are available in both hand operated and motorized versions in lengths, up to 100 feet. Hardware stores will have the hand-operated version; rental yards will have the motorized version. Or, call the local plumber.
6. Dripping faucets
There are two reasons for most faucet leaks: the washer is damaged, or the packing washer around the handle is worn–or both. Modern faucets use a rubber O-ring instead of a traditional washer. It is a good idea to keep a supply of these O-rings and washers in your repair kit.
Start by removing the faucet’s handles by unscrewing or unsnapping the top cap. Then, unscrew the knob or handle from the stem. Turn off the water shutoff valves by turning the valve handles clockwise. Remove the packing nut, unscrew the stem and check the packing washer, seat washer and valve seat for wear. The seat washer can be removed with a flat screwdriver. If the valve seat is worn, it can be resurfaced with a valve seat-grinding tool. These are inexpensive and available anywhere plumbing parts are sold. Some modern faucets have removable seats, which unscrew with a large flat screwdriver or a square valve seat wrench. It’s a good idea to replace all washers at this time. Reassemble the faucet, turn on the water supply and check for leaks.
Common tools needed for most simple plumbing repairs
Screwdrivers; flat and Phillips
Crescent wrenches, large and small
Valve seat grinder
Valve seat wrench
Washers: both packing and valve seat types
Auger or snake