Caring For Your Plumbing
You probably don’t think much about the network of water and sewer
pipes inside your walls that deliver your hot and cold water—and
eliminate your waste—on demand. But giving your plumbing a little
regular attention can prolong its life, prevent leaks, and avoid
costly repairs. Here’s how to care for the pipes in your house.
Avoid chemical drain-clearing products
Clogged drains are the most common home plumbing problem, and you
can buy chemicals to clear them. But these products sometimes do
more harm than good. They can actually erode cast-iron drainpipes.
And because they typically don’t remove the entire clog, the problem
is likely to recur, causing you to use the chemicals repeatedly.
“Each time, they’ll eat away at the pipes a little more. Soon,
you’re going to get leaks.
Better to hire a plumber to snake the drain and completely remove
the chunk of hair or grease that’s plugging the line. Or you can
pick up a snake of your own and try clearing the drain yourself.
Prevent future clogging
Clogs aren’t just nuisances. Backed-up water puts added pressure on
your wastepipes, stressing them and shortening their lifespan.
So avoid plug-ups by watching what goes down your drains. That means
keeping food scraps out of kitchen drains, hair out of bathroom
drains, and anything but sewage and toilet paper out of toilets.
Install screens over drains in showers and tubs, and pull out what
hair you can every few weeks to prevent buildups. Scrape food into
the trash before doing dishes—even if you have a disposal—and never
put liquid grease down the drain; pour it into a sealable container
to put in the garbage after it cools.
“Grease is only liquid when it’s hot,” Gove says. “When you pour it
down the drain, it cools and becomes solid. Do that enough, and just
like a clogged artery, your drains won’t work anymore.”
Reduce the pressure
As nice as high water pressure can be when you’re taking a shower or
filling a stockpot, it stresses your pipes, increasing the
likelihood of a leak. That drastically reduces the life of your
plumbing, It makes your pipe joints, faucets, and appliance valves
You can measure your water pressure with a hose bib gauge. Attach it
to an outside spigot and open the line. Normal pressure will
register between 40 and 85 psi. If it’s above that range, consider
hiring a plumber to install a pressure reducer.
By the way, adding a low-flow
affect pressure in the pipes. It only affects the amount of water
coming out of the showerhead itself.
Soften the water
If your water has a high mineral content—known as hard water—it can
shorten your plumbing’s lifespan. Those naturally occurring
minerals, usually magnesium or calcium, build up inside your pipes
and restrict flow, increasing the pressure. Plus, they can corrode
joints and fittings. Although hard water can occur anywhere, it’s
most common in the Southwest and parts of the Northeast.
A white buildup on showerheads and faucets is a telltale sign of
hard water. Or, if your house receives municipal water service, you
can easily find out how hard it is. By law, every municipality must
file an annual water quality report with the Environmental
If you have a well, check your most recent water test report for
The only way to effectively deal with hard water is by installing a
water softener. Most use sodium to counteract the minerals in your
water, but new electronic softeners use electromagnetic pulses to
dissolve minerals, and have the advantage of not adding sodium to
You’ll need a plumber to install a traditional, sodium-based
softener. Electronic unit pipes don’t have to be opened up, you can
install one yourself. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need an
outlet nearby to power the unit.
If you opt for a sodium-based softener, consider installing a
whole-house pre-filter at the same time. Since the plumber will
already be cutting into your pipes to install the softener. And not
only will it give you cleaner drinking water by removing
particulates and chlorine, you’ll reduce stress on your pipes that
can occur when those particles clog faucet filters.
Keep your sewer lines or septic tank clear
If you have municipal sewers, hire a plumber to snake your main
sewage cleanout every few years. This will remove tree roots that
inevitably work their way into these pipes—leading to messy sewage
backups. If you have a septic system, get the tank
every three to five years.
Other ways to avoid trouble
Learn where your home’s main water shut off valve is—so if there’s
ever a leak, you can go straight there and quickly turn off the
water to the entire house.
Remove hoses from outdoor spigots in winter to prevent frozen water
from cracking the pipes and causing a flood.
Add pipe insulation to the plumbing in cold parts of your house—such
as garages, basements, and crawl spaces—to avoid frozen pipes (and
to shorten the wait for hot water).
Never use an exposed pipe as a hanger rod for laundry. Doing so can
loosen joints and fasteners.
Fix problems quickly. Even small leaks can make pipes corrode more
quickly, and cause significant water damage or mold.