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What Plumbing Problems are DIY and When Do You Need a Pro

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We all like to think we’re a little handy around the house. Even something as simple as replacing a lightbulb is a great way to feel like you are accomplishing something around the house. Plus, doing some home-maintenance tasks yourself is a great way to save a few bucks. So when you have plumbing problems, you may hesitate before grabbing the phone. Plumbers can be expensive, and in many cases, the solution is simple enough to do yourself.

On the other hand, some plumbing issues are more complicated than they seem. Taking on a task that you aren’t prepared for can end up causing more problems than it solves. And in the end, you’ll still need to call—and pay for—a plumber. So here is our handy guide to which plumbing problems you can tackle yourself and which should be left to the pros. Obviously, not everyone is equally comfortable with performing repairs, so any time you feel like you aren’t qualified, remember that calling a professional is better than making the problem worse.

What Plumbing Problems are DIY and When Do You Need a Pro [infographic]

Easy Plumbing Problems You Can Repair Yourself

No need to spend the money on a professional plumber. These fixes are simple enough for most homeowners to do on their own.

Clogged Toilets

There are two main categories of toilet problems you can solve at home. The first is a toilet that won’t flush because it is clogged. That’s usually a pretty easy fix, and one you should try yourself before calling a pro. We know that a clogged toilet can be pretty gross, but if you can stomach it, you could save $100 or more.

The first thing to know about a clogged toilet is that you should not try to flush it down. After the first failed flush, leave that flusher alone. Putting more water in the toilet bowl will just make a bigger mess. And if you flush too many times, you could actually cause the toilet to overflow. A clogged toilet that overflows can be a huge, gross mess, and the cleanup is no fun at all. So before you make matters worse, stop flushing.

The next step is to pull out your handy plunger. Every home should have a good-quality plunger. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but make sure you get a plunger with a solid handle and a large, sturdy rubber part at the bottom. Small, cheap plastic plungers that come in a set with your toilet bowl scrubber may not create enough suction.

Place the plunger in the toilet bowl and make sure to cover the drain completely. Give the plunger a couple of forceful pumps. You need to get the plunger all the way down and back up without breaking the seal with the drain. Just avoid fast, jerky movements that could cause splashing.

In most cases, two or three pumps is all it takes to clear the clog. The water will rush down the drain, and your toilet will be back to normal. But if your clog won’t budge, it may be time to call a plumber. You can find a reliable TrustDALE certified plumber here.

The Toilet Flusher Doesn’t Do Anything

If you flush your toilet and nothing happens, don’t despair. The cause of this problem is usually fairly simple and easy to fix. Ever wonder about that tank that forms the seatback of your toilet? It holds water that rushes into the toilet when you press the flusher, which causes the toilet to flush. But if the tank is empty, pressing the flusher won’t do anything. You might notice that if you flush a second time immediately after you’ve flushed the toilet, not much happens. That’s because the tank was emptied by the first flush and hasn’t had time to refill.

If the flusher isn’t doing anything, take a look inside the tank. Start by carefully removing the lid of the tank. It is usually held in place by nothing more than gravity and should lift off easily. Once you are in the tank, don’t be scared of the water or any of the mechanical components. The tank is filled with clean water, the same water that comes out of your kitchen sink, and it is completely sealed off from the toilet bowl. In other words, it’s clean, so don’t worry about getting your hands dirty when you reach in.

A toilet is a very simple mechanical device. The flusher is attached to a bar, and when you press down the flusher, it lifts the bar. The bar has a chain hanging down that is attached to a plastic or rubber gasket. As the flusher raises the bar, the chain pulls up the gasket, and water in the tank rushes down into the bowl, causing it to flush. Once the tank is empty, it automatically begins to refill. The rising water lifts a small floater in the tank, and when the floater reaches a certain height, the water stops flowing, and the tank is full.

Fixing a Toilet That Won’t Flush

If the toilet isn’t flushing, it could be one of three problems:

First, the tank may be full, but the chain between the flusher and the seal may be too loose or disconnected. When that happens, the flusher will feel loose, and it won’t lift the seal to let the water flow into the toilet bowl, causing a flush. To fix this, all you have to do is tighten or reattach the chain.

Second, the floater may be stuck. If the floater is stuck at the top position, the tank won’t refill, because the floater will shut off the water as if the tank was full. Fixing it may be as simple as giving the floater a little jiggle to unstick it. If the problem persists, you may need a new floater. Toilet parts are available at any hardware or home improvement store, and they are usually pretty inexpensive.

The third possibility is that the tank isn’t filling because the gasket at the bottom isn’t sealing. In this case, the water is flowing into the tank and then right back out into the toilet bowl. When this happens, you may notice that your toilet is running, and if it isn’t fixed, you may also see a spike in your water bill. To fix it, first, make sure that the chain that lifts the gasket isn’t caught on anything that would prevent it from lowering completely. If the gasket is in place but leaking, you may need a new gasket. Gaskets are cheap to buy and simple to install. A new gasket should come with instructions for installation. The only thing you need to know is the size of the gasket. Use a tape measure to measure the size of the hole in the bottom of your toilet tank, and make sure you buy a gasket that fits that hole.

Replacing a Worn-Out Washing Machine Hose

Your washing machine has two hoses that feed it water for washing your clothes. One hose is for how water and the other is for cold water. The hoses are simple metal or plastic tubes that screw into the washer on one side and the outlets in the wall on the other side. If a washing machine hose bursts, or even springs a leak, it can let out large amounts of water, causing a huge mess. To avoid severe water damage, it pays to take a look at your hoses every now and then and check for wear of leakage. You should always replace a washing machine hose before it fails because once it does, it can gush at 500 gallons an hour. That’s more than four gallons of water flooding your laundry room every thirty seconds before you can turn off the spigot.

Replacing a washing machine hose is as simple as using the hose in your garden. First, make sure that the spigots coming from the wall are completely turned off. Turn the handle clockwise to turn the water off. Once the water is off, unscrew the hose at both ends, and screw in the new hose as both ends. Just try to avoid kinks that could restrict water flow. If you are replacing both hoses at once, remove one hose and install the new one before removing the other. That will help make sure that you attach the right hose to the right spigot. If you mix them up, you could be sending hot water to the cold-water hose of your washer. And you would be in for quite the surprise after washing your delicate items in what you thought was cold water!

Jammed Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal is a helpful tool in any sink. But what happens when you turn it on and nothing happens? Sometimes you flip the switch and hear a buzzing or growling sound, but the disposal blades aren’t moving. Luckily, there are some secret tricks that will fix most garbage disposal problems.

First, a few words of caution. If the trash disposal turns on while your hand is down there, you could suffer severe injuries. Before doing any work on your garbage disposal, make sure the power is off. First, make sure the switch is off. You may even want to tape it into the off position temporarily. Second, look under your sink to see if the trash disposal is plugged in. If it is, pull the plug to avoid accidentally turning it on while you are working. Also, never put any kind of drain cleaner into a trash disposal. Drain cleaners and other dangerous chemicals are not meant for garbage disposals. When you turn the disposal back on, it could send caustic drain cleaning fluid flying around your kitchen.

Before you call a plumber about your jammed disposal, there are a couple of secrets you may not have known about your disposal. On the bottom of your disposal are two areas that can solve the majority of garbage disposal problems. First, feel around the bottom of your disposal for a small button. That’s the reset button on your disposal. If the problem is electrical, a simple push of this button is often the solution. The second powerful secret is the hole in the center of the bottom side of your disposal. That little hole is actually shaped to hold an allen wrench. That’s the kind of tool that comes with self-assembly furniture. If you have a set of allen wrenches, try a few to determine which one fits best under your disposal. Insert the allen wrench and slowly turn it. This will manually turn the blades of the disposal and can often knock loose whatever is stuck. After turning the wrench a few times, reach into the unpowered disposal to feel around for anything that came loose. Then turn the power back on and try the disposal.

If neither of these tricks worked, it might be time to call a plumber, but you’ll be amazed at how often these tricks work.

Clearing a Clogged Drain

Bathroom drains often become clogged with hair, soap, and toiletries. Kitchen sinks are more often clogged with food and grease. In either case, before you call a plumber, there are a couple of tricks to try. While it may be tempting to reach for a powerful drain cleaner, try to avoid it as much as possible. Drain cleaner that is powerful enough to eat away the clog in your drain is also powerful enough to damage your plumbing. And if you or a plumber do end up taking apart the plumbing, any chemicals that are stuck in there can make the process more dangerous than it has to be.

To clear a bathroom or shower drain, you’ll have to remove the hair and other gunk that is clogging it. You can try using an unbent wire hanger to reach in and grab the mess. An even better solution is to use a single-use plastic drain snake. They are available at hardware and home improvement stores, as well as many supermarkets and general stores. And they usually cost less than a large container of drain cleaner. Shove the thin plastic snake into the drain as far as you can, then pull it back up. You will likely pull up gobs of old hair clumped up with toiletries, toothpaste, and other ghosts of bathtimes past. Don’t bother trying to clean the snake; just throw the whole thing out. Try out your drains, and in many cases, that’s all it takes.

A clogged kitchen sink is often the result of built-up grease, fat, and other gooey food residue. The best solution is simply very hot water mixed with a little detergent. Let the water run as hot as possible and add some dishwashing detergent. If the sink isn’t draining well—after all, that’s why you’re doing this—run a little bit of hot water, then let it drain. Keep going, a little bit at a time, all the time adding a little detergent. The hot water and detergent can often dissolve or dislodge greasy buildup. If that doesn’t work, you may have another sort of clog. It’s time to call a plumber.

When to Call a Plumber

If you try any of the above fixes and they don’t solve the problem, it’s time to call a plumber. But some plumbing issues aren’t worth trying to fix yourself. If you ever had sewage in your home, or a large amount of water, call a plumber right away. There is no point in risking disease or damage to your home just to save a few bucks.

Leaky faucets were once the definition of a DIY plumbing issue. However, many modern faucets are more complicated than faucets used to be, and even taking them apart wrong can cause damage that can’t be repaired. Unless you have a very simple faucet and know what you’re doing, don’t start to disassemble a sink. Instead, call the pros.

If there is a problem inside your walls, or that you can’t reach, that’s another reason to call the professionals. It’s never a good idea to start opening up walls or trying to access hidden pipes unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

Water heater leaks are another place to step aside and call the pros. While many kinds of leaks can be fixed by yourself, if it involves your water, you need a plumber who specializes in water heaters or a dedicated water heater technician. You should also check your home warranty if you have one, or even your homeowners insurance. Many policies cover your water heater.

When you have a problem that requires a plumber, you know who to call. Skip the phone book—or the search engines, as most folks do these days—and navigate over to TrustDALE.com. We’ve done the research for you. Find a trustworthy TrustDALE certified plumber right here.