Statistics from the Plumbing Poverty Project reveal that almost 500,000 US households lack indoor plumbing. While purchasing a home warranty plan is the most effective way to protect yourself against significant financial loss, there are other steps you can take to improve the health of your plumbing.
Here are our top 10 tips for keeping your home’s plumbing in good working order.
1. Be Careful With What You Put Down Your Drain
When you’re flushing the toilet or washing any substances down your bathroom sink, remember that your drains can easily become blocked by objects such as hair, cotton wool, and soap. To prevent this from happening, you should dispose of these items through your household waste.
The same logic applies in the kitchen, as grease from cooking can cause a blockage if it enters your plumbing system. Although the blockage may not occur immediately, the accumulation of grease over months or years can build up into a mass known as a fatberg. Once these blockages reach a certain size, it can be impossible for other items to flow through your drains.
In extreme cases, these fatbergs can reach more than 800 feet long and weigh more than 4 humpback whales.
2. Insulate Your Pipes
One of the most effective steps you can take to protect your plumbing is to install pipe insulation. In fact, figures from the US Department of Energy reveal that insulation can keep the water in your pipes between 2-4°F warmer than it would be in uninsulated pipes, which can help prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting.
Some of the most common types of pipe insulation include polyethylene foam sleeves that wrap around your pipes and pipe wrap insulation tape, which prevents condensation from forming on your pipes’ surfaces. Both of these should be available from your local hardware store.
When you’re insulating your pipes, pay particular attention to areas that are most likely to become cold, such as attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Likewise, you should also consider insulation for any pipes that run along exterior walls.
3. Don’t Use Chemical Drain Cleaner
If you have a blocked drain, using a chemical cleaner may seem like a fast and efficient solution. These products are effective in the short term, but they can cause more serious problems down the line.
As well as attacking whatever blockage is clogging your pipes, these substances will eat away at the pipe itself, which can lead to long-term corrosion. The danger is particularly significant in your septic tank, as foreign substances can disrupt its balance, which would cause the system to fail.
Finally, remember that chemical drain cleaners pose a serious risk to your health if not stored correctly. It’s crucial that you keep such chemicals locked away securely if you have them in your home.
4. Know How to Check Your Water Pressure
The water pressure in your home is the speed with which water flows through the pipes and exits your faucets and showerheads. When the water pressure drops too low, water will leave your faucets more slowly, especially in higher floors. While the signs of high water pressure may not be as easy to detect, this can lead to problems such as leaks and blowouts.
If you’d like to test the water pressure in your home, you can buy a gauge from most hardware stores. Secure the gauge to an outside tap, turn on the water, and check the pressure on the dial. If your plumbing is functioning correctly, the gauge should read between 40 and 60 psi.
Should you find your water pressure is too high or too low, the best step is to call an expert who can help you identify the cause of the problem and suggest a solution.
5. Inspect Your Drains
Prevention is better than a cure when it comes to plumbing. For this reason, it’s essential that you conduct regular inspections of your drains. You can perform a do-it-yourself (DIY) drain inspection by filling your sinks, bathtubs, and basins and allowing the water to drain. Slow-draining or unpleasant-smelling water could indicate an issue with your plumbing.
In addition, you may want to schedule a regular inspection (perhaps on an annual basis) from a trained plumber who can put a camera inside your system to check for any blockages.
6. Keep Roots Away From Your Sewer Line
Although an old tree can add charm to your backyard, you should be aware of the effect that tree roots can have on your plumbing. If any trees or large bushes are planted near your sewer line, their roots may invade your pipe, which could cause a blockage or damage to the pipe itself.
The best strategy to prevent this is to avoid planting new trees or bushes in the vicinity of plumbing lines. However, this solution isn’t so simple if you have existing trees in your backyard.
One of the most effective and eco-friendly ways to prevent tree roots from damaging your plumbing is to install a physical barrier. Alternatively, you could try using a substance such as a foaming root killer to prevent growth in unwanted areas. Note, however, that these substances could kill the whole tree when used incorrectly.
7. Clean Your Garbage Disposal Regularly
While garbage disposals are invaluable for many households, not cleaning them regularly can wreak havoc on your plumbing. As well as enabling nasty odors to enter your home, a dirty garbage disposal could lead to a buildup of debris in your pipes.
Cleaning your garbage disposal usually involves disconnecting the power and washing the splash guard. You may also want to pour half a cup of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar into the system.
Before running your disposal, you should also check for items that could potentially block your system, including:
- Coffee grounds
- Cigarette butts
- Banana peels
8. Replace Old Pipes
Like everything else in our homes, our pipes are subject to general wear and tear and will eventually suffer from the effects of old age. Whenever we use our pipes, the flow of water causes friction and pressure to their inner walls, which may eventually result in small leaks.
Although a plumber can normally resolve minor issues, you’ll eventually reach a point at which the most cost-effective solution is to re-pipe your home. The lifespan of your pipes will vary. Copper pipes last approximately 75 years, while brass pipes can last up to a century.
Replacing older pipes is especially important if they’re made from lead, as having lead in your water supply can cause serious health problems. You can read more about the safety issues concerning lead piping on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA’s) website.
9. Have (the Right) Home Warranty
While your home insurance should cover burst pipes and damaged items on your property, having the right home warranty coverage could provide protection for your plumbing system.
Be aware, however, that the coverage amount varies greatly between home warranty companies. Although most providers cover issues such as defective toilet tanks and pipe leaks, you may need to buy additional coverage for items such as swimming pools or sump pumps.
Many home warranty providers will enable you to make a claim 24/7, either over the phone or online. Although home warranty policies typically include a waiting period before they’ll assign a tradesperson to your claim (often 2-4 working days), many will expedite your claim in an emergency.
If you’re looking to include plumbing coverage on your plan, consider Choice Home Warranty, which offers this type of coverage on all plans. Alternatively, Liberty Home Guard offers plumbing coverage on 2 of its plans and 2 months of free coverage per year.
10. Know When to Call a Plumber
Being vigilant against potential issues and performing essential maintenance will keep your plumbing in good working order for longer. But there are certain cases in which calling an expert is the cheapest and safest solution.
If, for instance, you believe you have a frozen pipe on your property, a plumber can provide you with expert guidance on how to prevent the pipe from bursting and potentially causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. It is particularly important to call a plumber if you notice a frozen pipe on an exterior wall, as resolving the problem may require drilling into your property’s wall.
Taking better care of your pipes through the steps outlined in this article should reduce your chances of developing serious problems. Furthermore, working with one of the best home warranty companies can help ensure you’re protected financially if the worst does happen.
The golden rule: if you have safety concerns about handling any chemicals or equipment related to your home’s plumbing, it’s better to call an expert rather than risk the safety of you and your family.