How Do I Maintain My Plumbing System?
People frequently will ask “how do I maintain my plumbing?” We often don’t think about our plumbing system until something goes wrong, but like anything else, preventative maintenance is better and cheaper than waiting for a repair or replacement.
With plumbing especially, neglecting maintenance and repairs can lead to costly and devastating damage. If you don’t want burst pipes and budget-breaking bills, take some time to give your plumbing system some regular TLC. It normally takes a professional plumber to fix plumbing problems, but anyone can do preventative maintenance.
If you have any questions about your plumbing system, don’t hesitate to contact Brubaker Inc. Conveniently located in Lancaster, we’ve been providing Central Pennsylvania with trusted plumbing heating, air conditioning, and electrical service since 1945.
Plumbing Maintenance Tips From the Experts
Prevent Clogged Pipes
Clogged drains are one of the most common plumbing problems homeowners have to deal with on a regular basis. To keep your water flowing freely, follow these drain clog prevention tips.
General Maintenance Tips for Clogged Drains
- DO NOT use chemical drain cleaners. They can be toxic. They can damage your pipes and the finish around your drains. And they probably won’t work. Use natural drain cleaning methods instead. If you can’t unclog your drains yourself, contact a professional plumber. If you do use a liquid drain cleaner, warn your plumber beforehand so they don’t get injured while unclogging the drain.
- You can try using a plunger on clogged drains. Plug the overflow opening first to get a stronger suction effect. Remove the metal stopper if you have one. Place the plunger around the drain opening and cover the cap with water before plunging. Try not to break the seal while plunging so as not to splash water all over the place.
- Prevent clogged drains by following this routine once a month:
- Pour 1/2-1 cup of baking soda down the drain.
- Follow this with ½ cup of vinegar.
- Let everything sit for about 30 minutes.
- Then, pour about 2 cups of near-boiling water down the drain. Be careful not to use boiling water, especially with porcelain sinks and PVC pipes.
- Flush with hot tap water for about 15 seconds.
- Prevent clogs from happening in the first place by using strainers to catch hair and food from entering the drain. Also, run hot water down the drain after each use to keep buildup from forming.
- Periodically clean pop-up drain stoppers and strainers, as well as faucet aerators and diverters
- Never pour fat, oil, grease, paints, or chemicals down any drains. They can cause clogs and damage your pipes, septic systems, and municipal water treatment facilities.
Garbage Disposal Best Practices
- Always run cold water whenever you are using the garbage disposal. Turn the water on before you run the garbage disposal and leave the water running for around 15 seconds after your turn the disposal off. This helps flush all of the waste down the main line.
- Be careful about what you put down your garbage disposal. While you might think it can handle anything, it’s best to avoid putting these items down the disposal:
- Fat, oil, and grease (let it cool, then dispose of it in the trash)
- Cereal and bread
- Pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes
- Coffee grounds
- Any non-organic material
- Large amounts of anything
- Consider starting a compost container for all of the organic food scraps you shouldn’t put down your drain.
- Periodically grind some ice cubes and citrus wedges in your disposal to keep the blades clean and sharp, and your kitchen sink smelling fresh.
Learn more about what causes clogged kitchen drains.
Check for Signs of Water Leaks
Since most of our plumbing pipes are hidden, it’s important to pay attention to the common signs of a water leak. If you do spot any of these signs and symptoms of a water leak, contact a professional plumber right away to avoid any further damage.
Go from room to room looking for any sagging or bowing floors, walls, or ceilings. You can also use your hands to feel for problems. Sagging or softening of wall, ceiling, or floor materials can indicate a water leak behind the area in question.
Cracks in walls or ceilings
Cracks in walls, floors, or ceilings are another sign of water damage from a leaking pipe, however, poor drainage or improperly constructed foundation can also be the cause. Shifting soil underneath the house can also cause cracks, so be sure to contact a professional plumber to determine the exact cause.
Odors and mold growth
Musty, damp, stale odors should be investigated. Track the scent to its source and check for any other signs of water leaks. Look for leaking pipes in laundry rooms, bathrooms, and kitchens. Also look for visible signs of mold and mildew. If you notice dark spots on walls, ceilings, or floors, contact a professional plumber right away.
If you smell musty odors in your basement, look for moisture or staining on floors and along baseboards. In this case, you may have water coming in through the foundation slab or poor exterior drainage. Contact a professional plumber for basement waterproofing solutions.
Water stains anywhere in the home can indicate a plumbing leak. Other causes include poor caulking, especially around bathtubs and toilets, and insufficient ventilation. Poor seals around doors and windows are another possible cause. If you notice a ceiling stain below the attic, look for leaks in your attic’s plumbing.
Check for water around your indoor air handler/air conditioner. Sometimes a clogged condensate drain pan or drain line can cause water to overflow and cause water damage.
The Water Meter
Many times, you can determine if you have a plumbing leak by locating your water meter and seeing if the leak detection dial is moving. The leak detection dial is normally a small red triangle, star, or gear. The water meter can be found in your basement, utility room, or outside the house near the front curb. If your water meter is outside, look for a cement box in the ground labeled “water meter.” You may need a special water meter key to open it, however, sometimes all that’s needed is a long screwdriver.
Once you get access to your water meter, look for the leak detection dial, which will be spinning if there is a leak somewhere in the system. If you don’t have a leak detection dial, go inside your house and make sure all faucets and water-using appliances are off. Once all the water is off, go back to the water meter and write down the number on your meter. Wait for about 30 minutes, making sure you aren’t using any water during this time period, and then check the number again. If the number on your water meter has increased, even by a little bit, you probably have a leak.
Contact a professional plumber to pinpoint the leak and make any necessary repairs.
Individual Water Shut-Off Valves
In addition to the main water shut-off valve, you also have individual water shut-offs that are located along the water supply system. It’s a good idea to operate the individual water shut-off valves periodically to keep them flexible and prevent corrosion build-up. Leave your valves open one-quarter turn less than fully open to help extend their lifespan.
Make sure everyone in the household knows where the main shutoff and individual shutoffs are located in the event of an emergency. This can save you from a flooding situation. The main shutoff, which controls the water supply to the entire house, is normally located at the water meter. The individual shutoffs are located near the individual faucets and fixtures.
Water Heater Maintenance
To keep your water heater functioning properly, it’s important to drain the water heater of sediment at least once a year. Ask your plumber if this is part of their annual plumbing maintenance service. Your plumber should also check if flue gases are venting up the chimney properly.
Still, it’s a good idea to supplement this annual professional water heater draining with a little maintenance of your own. We recommend draining your water heater every 6 months. The directions for draining your water heater should be found in your owner’s manual. If not, ask your plumber.
Every 6 months, test your water heater’s temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve, which indicates excessive pressure or temperature for safe operation. Simply raise and lower the TPR valve for about five seconds. Water should drain out of the drain pipe. Wear closed-toed shoes since hot water could splash out. If water doesn’t drain out or if there is only a little trickle, contact a professional plumber right away.
Basement Floor Drains
Make sure there is nothing blocking or clogging your basement floor drains. Keep them clear of debris. If you smell sewer gases nearby, the floor drain’s trap might be dry. Pour about a quarter of water into the drain to fill the trap and create a seal against smelly sewer gases.
Drain Outside Faucets in Cold Climates
If you live in a cold climate, close the interior water shut-off valves for your outdoor faucets and irrigation system. Then, turn on the outside faucets and irrigation system to drain any excess water. Remove your garden hoses and store them indoors for the winter. If you have frost-proof valves, make sure they are completely shut off.
Sump Pump Maintenance
If you have a sump pump, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to make sure it is working and draining properly. The sump pump should not be draining near your foundation walls, which will defeat the purpose of having a sump pump in the first place. It should discharge far away from the home, usually to a nearby storm drain.
Cleaning Hard Water Stains
Hard water is just water with a high mineral content, such as calcium, silica, and lime. These minerals get left behind, often around faucets and showerheads, leaving unsightly white, brown, and green stains. Luckily, there’s a simple solution for cleaning the hard water buildup—natural, white vinegar.
You can usually remove faucet aerators by simply unscrewing them. Soak the aerator screen in vinegar to remove the mineral content. This should make your faucets flow a lot smoother.
You can also remove your showerhead and let it soak in vinegar, or you can fill a plastic bag part way with vinegar and use a rubber band to attach it to the showerhead without removing it. Let the showerhead soak for at least 30 minutes. Use an old toothbrush to scrub away any residual mineral buildup.
Hard mineral stains in your toilet can also be cleaned with vinegar. Simply pour vinegar onto the stains in your bowl and scrub away. You can also use a spray bottle filled with vinegar for more controlled application.
If you have hard water stains on faucet fixtures, soak a rag in vinegar and let the rag sit on the stains for around 15 minutes before wiping the stains clean.
Prevent hard water stains and mildew-causing moisture in your shower by using a dry towel to wipe up the area after each use.
If you are interested in getting rid of hard water stains for good, consider getting a water softener. Soft water prevents mineral stains, water spots on dishes, scratchy clothes, and dry skin and hair. It also helps create a lather in the shower, helping to save on the amount of soap and shampoo you need. Contact Brubaker Inc. to solve your hard-water issues, once and for all.
Test Your Water for Lead
Lead in paint and plumbing systems has been a hot-button issue recently and for good reason. Even a small amount of lead exposure can lead to decreased bone and muscle growth, damage to the nervous system, and in extreme cases, seizures, unconsciousness, and even death.
If your home was constructed before 1930, it’s important that you test your plumbing system for lead.
- Contact your local water utility company for a report of their water supply. They may also have other useful information, such as if any of the service lines entering your home contain lead.
- Request a lead testing kit from your local health department or buy one from a local home improvement store. After testing your drinking water, you will need to send the sample in to a certified testing laboratory (available from state or local drinking water authority).
We hope that your lead testing reveals safe lead levels in your home, but if your test comes back positive, you will also want to test the lead levels in your family’s blood.
Regardless, you may want to consider replacing all of the pipes and plumbing fixtures in your home that contain lead and install water filters on your kitchen faucets. Give Brubaker Inc. a call to discuss your options.
The Importance of Professional Plumbing Maintenance
Of course, there are many things you can do as a homeowner to maintain your plumbing system (as outlined above), but it is no substitute for professional plumbing maintenance. We highly recommend scheduling professional plumbing maintenance at least once a year.
Contact the professionals at Brubaker Inc. to check your plumbing system ever year to increase plumbing efficiency and reduce the risk of emergencies and inconveniences. Schedule your annual plumbing inspection or sign up for our Diamond Club, which includes a comprehensive plumbing inspection every year.
We will conduct a thorough inspection of your entire plumbing system, including:
- Checking water and sewer to prevent leaks before they start.
- Checking the septic system to clear out hazardous buildup.
- Checking the plumbing fixtures to make sure everything is running smoothly.
- Checking the entire system for leaks to prevent water damage and high water bills.
- Checking washing machine hoses, water heater efficiency, and water treatment system quality.
Contact Brubaker Inc. at 717.299.5641 if you have any plumbing problems in the Central Pennsylvania area. We offer comprehensive 24/7 plumbing service, from regular maintenance to pipe and fixture replacements.