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How to Fix the Most Common Plumbing Problems

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Plumbing problems are just about inevitable. Often, the issues are minor, like a dripping sink or a slow drain. Sometimes, the problems can be much more troublesome, like a burst pipe or broken water heater. In many cases, you can fix these problems yourself. If you can’t, you can try one of our TrustDALE certified plumbers to get the job done right.

How to Fix the Most Common Plumbing Problems [infographic]

Leaky Faucets

Leaky faucets are definitely the most common plumbing issue. Everyone has had a leaky faucet at some time. Usually, a leaky faucet is caused by a washer that is failing. Over time, washers can become dry and brittle, and may even crack. They can also come loose or even get dislodged.

To fix a leaky faucet, you will have to take apart the sink and replace the faulty washer. Depending on your level of DIY skill, this could be an easy at-home job. You will need a few tools like a wrench, a Phillips head screwdriver, and sometimes a needle nose plier or some other special tools.

Types of Faucets

Precisely what tools you need and how to fix the leak will depend on the kind of sink you have. There are three common types of faucets. The oldest type of faucet is a compression faucet. These faucets have two handles, one for hot and one for cold. You turn each handle like turning a screw to let out more or less water. This is a very basic type of faucet and is found mostly in older homes. If you have a newer home, you still may find this type of faucet in a utility sink or outside by your garden hose. To fix this faucet you have to remove the handle (sometimes there is a cap covering the crew that holds the handle on) and take it apart. Look for any damaged pieces or broken washers and replace them as needed.

Another common faucet is the cartridge faucet. This is a more typical two-handle faucet. Instead of turning the handle round and round to open a screw, you just turn the faucet a short way—typically about half a rotation—to turn the water on or off. This is the most common two-handle faucet in today’s homes. To fix it, you will have to remove the handle, take apart the cartridge system, and replace any damaged pieces.

The third type of sink is common in kitchen sinks. The ball faucet has a single handle above the spout that controls the water pressure and temperature by moving the handle up or down and right or left. This type of sink has no washer, but lots of parts. If it leaks, the easiest thing to do is to purchase a new handle kit and follow the instructions that come with it.

Clogged or Slow Drains

This is right up there with leaky faucets as one of the most common plumbing issues in a home. Almost every house has had a drain that didn’t seem to drain as quickly as it should. In a kitchen sink, the clog can be caused by a buildup of grease, sope, and bits of food. In a bathtub or shower sink, the issue is usually hair combined with soap and other toiletries that form clumps and clog the drain. There are a few ways to address the problem, depending on the severity and frequency of the clogs.

If a drain in slow, one of the easiest solutions is to use a little drain-clearing chemical. You can find drain-clearing chemicals at most supermarkets or big box stores, as well as any hardware or home improvement store. Use gloves and goggles when pouring the chemicals down the sink, as they can be dangerous if they got on your hands or in your eyes. Make sure to follow all the directions on the packaging. Sometimes, one application is all it takes to clear a drain. However, the same solution that is tough on clogs can also be tough on your pipes, so don’t try this on a regular basis.

If chemical solutions aren’t working, or if you’ve used it recently and don’t want to risk damage to your pipes, you can try manually removing a clog. The best way is to use a drain snake. That’s a long, bendable metal tool that can be inserted into the drain. When you pull it out, it can often take the clog out with it. Some plastic single-use tools are also available that work in the same way. They are a great alternative if you don’t own a snake and don’t want to invest in one.

Running Toilet

The typical toilet is actually very simple mechanical contraption. Pressing down on the flusher lits a flap at the base of the toilet tank that covers a drain. When the flap is raised, water in the tank rushes out through the drain, powered by nothing more than gravity, and the toilet flushes. If your toilet is running, the problem is almost always with the flap. For one reason or another, the flap is not making a tight seal over the drain.

To solve this problem, you’ll have to remove the lid from the top of the toilet tank to access the mechanical pieces inside. Don’t worry, the water in the tank comes from the tap, not the toilet bowl, and it is completely clean. Check the lever attached to the flusher as well as the chain that connects the lever to the flap. If the chain is too short, the flap won’t go all the down to form a tight seal over the drain. Often the problem is just a tangled or snagged chain. Untangle the chain, and the flap will go back to its normal position.

If a toilet isn’t flushing properly, the problem is often also with the flap. The flap needs to lift completely to flush properly. If you press down the flush handle and it feels loose, the chain between the handle and the flap may be too long. You can usually just unhook the lever from the chain and rehook it lower down on the chain to solve the problem.

If the toilet continues to run or won’t flush even after adjusting the chain, you may have an issue with the seal around the drain or the flapper may be damaged. You can fix it yourself if you’re handy, or just call a plumber.

Clogged or Frozen Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals can be complicated to fix if they are really broken. But before you go calling a plumber, there are a couple of tricks you can try. Often, fixing a frozen or clogged garbage disposal is just a matter of knowing these neat solutions and requires minimal intervention.

The first place to look when your garbage disposal isn’t working is the reset button. You’ll have to stick your head into the cabinet beneath the sink and may need a flashlight to locate the button. Try pushing the button and see if that solves the problem. It’s surprising how often that’s all it takes.

Sometimes, the motor on the disposal has gotten stuck and may need some manual help to get loose. Before you try anything more than hitting the reset button, make sure you cut power to the disposal. Often, there is a simple plug you can pull out. Otherwise, just flip the breaker for that part of the kitchen to make sure the power is off. For this trick, you will need a 1/4" Allen wrench. On the underside of the disposal, there should be a spot that fits your wrench. Insert the wrench, turn it around a few times, then turn the power back on and try the disposal again. You would be amazed how often that’s all it takes.

If the disposal still doesn't work, it may need to be disassembled. Cut the power again before attempting to work on the disposal. At this point, you will either need some intermediate DIY skills, or you’ll have to call a plumber.

Calling a Plumber

The plumbing in your home is not something to take lightly. If the plumbing fails, you could end up flooding your home with water or even sewage. So if you think you’re in over your head, don’t hesitate to call a plumber. A skilled plumber can usually solve most common problems easily. And if the job requires more extensive repairs, they will know how to do them safely and correctly. Follow this link to find a TrusdtDALE certified plumber in your area.