5 Plumbing Tips You Should Know

5 Plumbing Tips You Should Know

When faced with a plumbing issue, there are many DIY plumbing fixes a homeowner can try before calling in a professional. Check out these plumbing “myths” for the best ways to deal with a clogged sink, flushable wipes and more.

  1. “Use hot water to flush down grease.”

This is a common misconception. Grease sticks to pipes, drains and hot water. Even boiling water doesn’t remove grease or help it ‘flush’ down your drain. When hot water cools over the grease, the grease hardens and it actually creates a thick coating inside of your pipes. This can cause long-term issues, including backed-up or even burst pipes. Instead, wipe the grease out of pans or pour it into a disposable jar and place in the garbage.

  1. “Clogged sink? I’ll just use the plunger.”

Not so fast. DIY blockage-unclogging is not as straightforward as you may first think. It may also prove to be hazardous. After a few unsuccessful tries with the plunger, you may think that pouring a household chemical cleaner or drain cleaner into the sink is the logical next step. After waiting and seeing that nothing has happened, you may then reach for your plunger again. Here’s where you really need to be careful! Splash-back from plunging can cause irreversible skin damage, and if contact is made with the eyes, it can cause blindness. NEVER use a plunger after using a chemical to clear a blockage. Always use a plunger in a safe way — without any chemical agent.

Consider making your own natural drain cleaner using a half cup of baking soda and vinegar, which is much less harsh than chemical cleaners.

Something to be aware of: even if you are using a plunger safely, but you have a double sink, once the blockage is dislodged, the pressure from plunging can actually cause the blockage to come up the other drain. To prevent this, be certain you’ve covered the second drain opening completely with duct tape. Unblocking one drain to simply block another will give you more than you bargained for.

  1. “It’s okay to flush if it fits down the pipe.”

Wrong. Just because the object might seem to fit down the pipe, it does not mean it’s OK to flush. Take articles, such as scraps of food or female sanitary products, for example. These objects could fit down a sink or toilet from the entry point, but in reality, most pipes are no more than 4” wide. So, flushing even small bits of food down the sink can result in a buildup of debris and risks a clog in the piping.

In a similar way, female sanitary products may disappear down the pipe but then quickly absorb water and expand. This may cause blockages, which can lead to bigger drainage problems for the whole plumbing system. It’s always best to remember that unless it’s a liquid (not grease or oil), then it’s always best to use your trash can to dispose of such items.

  1. “Flushable wipes are flushable.”

Not as obvious as it sounds. Most wipes, including ones advertised as flushable, really cannot be eliminated by the sewer or septic system. The fact is, they just do not break down fast enough to truly be flushable. Consumer Reports’ own study agrees. Mixed with other debris, they can snag on pipes and block the system, causing serious damage. Toilets are designed to remove human waste. Use your trash can for everything else.

  1. “Pipes can handle all my weekend guests.”

Think again. You might be able to handle an overflow of house guests and in-laws, but your sewer or septic line might not be. This line conducts all waste water from your home, including the kitchen, showers, AND toilets.

So, if you have extra guests staying over for an extended period of time, ensure that everyone staggers shower and bathroom time to make certain that the lines have enough time to clear (this is especially important if you have slow drains.) By asking your guests to be mindful with their water usage during their stay, you can help you save yourself a stinky, soppy backyard, or a flooded basement.

Knowledge is power. Now that you are aware of these common plumbing myths, you have the knowledge to keep your plumbing, water line and sewer/septic lines flowing as they should, and hopefully protect your home against unpleasant and costly issues.

To find out how to help protect yourself in the event of an in-home plumbing emergency, visit www.slwofa.com.

6 Ways to Protect Your Home from Water Damage

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Did you know, water damage is more likely to occur in your home than fire damage? We protect our homes from catastrophes, but water damage could be just as dangerous.

Plumbing leaks are common anywhere there is running water, such as:

  • Toilets
  • Faucets/Sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Ice makers
  • Water heaters
  • Tubs/showers
  • Washing machines
  • Internal pipes and hoses

Water damage isn’t only a problem financially; it can lead to serious health risks from chemicals, toxins and mold, such as rashes, asthma or other chronic health conditions. Additionally, recent studies have shown that children with prolonged exposure to water- damaged rooms in their home are at a higher risk of developing eczema.

Whether from a slow leak or flooded basement, there are things that a homeowner can do to mitigate or minimize the extent of water damage.

  • Check for leaks or cracks in hoses that run to the washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator at least once a year and replace these hoses every five to seven years.
  • Be sure the caulking around tubs and showers is free of cracks.
  • Know where your water main is located and how to shut it off.
  • Install floor pans under appliances to prevent damage from slow, undetected leaks.
  • Use water leak alarms, which will alert you to a leak in basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and sump pumps.
  • Buy a water flow monitoring system, which attaches to your water main and, if flow that exceeds normal use is detected, will automatically shut off the flow of water into your home.

When the problem is from your water service line, that’s when repairs can really get costly. Service Line Warranties of America offers affordable warranties to help cover those repairs. Enter your zip code to learn more.

Why am I asked to boil water?

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Water emergencies happen every day, complete with boil water advisories – but why? Residents are asked to boil water for many reasons during an emergency, such as:

  • Harmful microorganisms found to be present in the water
  • Pressure drops due to equipment failure or power outages
  • Water main breaks or repairs
  • Flooded water sources

When these events happen, there’s no guarantee the water is safe to drink, but a quick boil will provide peace of mind because it will kill any microorganisms and bacteria, making it safe.

To properly boil water, heat a pot of water on the stove until it’s at a rolling boil with full bubbles. Let it continue to boil for at least one minute and then allow to cool before using. You can also boil water in the microwave in a microwave-safe container.

What kind of water should you boil?

Any water used for ice and beverages, cooking, pet water, making baby formula, washing vegetables, and brushing teeth should be boiled.

What about washing dishes?

For washing dishes, you can boil enough water to fill both sides of the sink and use one for washing and one for rinsing. If you have an electric dishwasher, be sure to use it with the heating elements turned on. You can then rinse dishes in boiled water as an extra precaution.

What about washing hands and showering?

If you can, wait for the boil water advisory to be lifted before washing or showering; however, if you must wash or shower, take care to use hot water. Also avoid getting water in your mouth or open wounds.

But I have a filter!

Filters are great for removing lead, carbon and other chemicals from the water, but it will not kill microorganisms.

When will it be safe to drink tap water again?

You may be asked to run water to flush the pipes in your home before using the water again, or follow special instructions from your water provider. Until notified, continue to boil all tap water for at least one minute before using, or use bottled water.

Our power is out and I can’t boil water.

A good practice is to always have at least a few gallons of water on hand prepared in case of emergency. Bottled water or jugs of water are useful in the event that the power is out and you cannot boil water.

For more information on what to do when you have a boil water advisory, visit CDC’s information on drinking water.

Why are water costs rising?

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Recently, USA Today conducted a study of residential water rates over the past 12 years and found crumbling infrastructure is forcing repairs nationwide, with costs more than doubling in one out of every four localities of the 100 municipalities polled.

As water rates continue to rise, protecting private infrastructure becomes more important each day. Repairing a break or leak may seem simple, but if left unattended it could cost you thousands of dollars in not only repair costs, but also lost water. According to the USA Today study, a typical residential consumption level is approximately 1,000 cubic feet of water, which costs residents in Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego more than $50 per month. With any kind of water leak, your money is just dripping away and contributing to the rise in overall rates.

Water rates are driven by a variety of factors such as:

  • Upgrades to aging water systems to ensure you are receiving safe drinking water
  • Increased operation costs, including staff, electric, chemical treatment, infrastructure upgrades and fuel
  • Federal government rules and regulations, including water protection systems implemented after 9/11
  • Unique geographic conditions and circumstances that could limit availability, such as drought, areas prone to natural disasters, etc.

With many areas experiencing record-breaking drought conditions, water conservation has become extremely important, dictating extensive infrastructure improvements to fix failing pipelines to protect this precious resource.

Ultimately, when repairs need to be made to infrastructure, the cost is passed down to the consumer by raising rates in an effort to ensure adequate infrastructure repairs and upgrades are not left undone, costing consumers more in the long run.

As far as protection from the high cost of rising water bills, homeowners who conserve water can decrease their water bill. (Check out our previous blog articles about water conservation in the home and yard.) However, water conservation provides only some protection. While consumption may drop, increases in the cost of production, supply and operations may still result in an increased cost for the consumer. Additionally, some water companies in drought-stricken areas have imposed additional fees on customers who use more than an identified amount of water per month. In California, fines have even been imposed on those wasting water.

As a homeowner, your infrastructure is subject to the same failure potential as that of municipal infrastructure. When private water and sewer lines fail, the repair cost could be thousands of dollars, depending on the length of the line, the location of the line and the problem – costs the homeowner would be responsible for. For many homeowners, it’s not “if these private lines fail” – it’s “when these private lines fail, how will I handle the repair?” Homeowners who want to be prepared have options. They can add funds for service line repairs to their rainy day fund, or they can choose to enroll in warranty programs such as those offered by Service Line Warranties of America. For more information about Service Line Warranties of America, visit www.slwofa.com.

Can I trust a warranty company?

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When you receive a warranty protection offer, you might wonder if it’s right for you. Can you trust a warranty company since many have a bad reputation for high denials and limited coverage options?

The answer lies in research – with a little bit of know-how, you can evaluate any program offer and determine if it’s the right fit for you.

Review the company

  • How long has the company been in business and have they had multiple changes to their brand name?
  • Are they partnered with any notable companies or industry organizations?
  • Read customer reviews.
  • Review their Better Business Bureau profile for accreditation and complaints.
  • Have complaints been resolved in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction?
  • Have they been recognized by the BBB or industry associations for their customer service or contributions to the industry?

Review the Terms and Conditions for each offer and note the following:

  • What are the warranty coverage inclusions and exclusions?
  • Are there hidden service fees or deductibles?
  • Are there coverage caps on the amount paid per repair or per year?
  • Are there coverage restrictions?

What are people saying online?
Google the company name with the word “Complaints” and see what appears. Also note the kind and number of complaints a company has had with the Better Business Bureau or the State Attorney General.

Contact Customer Service
Call the company’s customer service number with questions. Were your questions answered to your satisfaction? Did you have a long wait time before you spoke with a representative? Does their company website have a “frequently asked questions” section that addressed some of your questions? How well the customer service team responded to your questions is usually indicative as to the level of service provided to customers.

Are they accredited with the Better Business Bureau?
All companies are rated with the Better Business Bureau, but some companies choose to be accredited, meaning they abide by a code of ethics set forth by the Better Business Bureau and communicate with the organization regularly by responding to all inquiries and complaints in a timely fashion.

Once you’ve completed an evaluation of the company, only you as a homeowner can determine which warranty is most beneficial for you.

Do I need a water or sewer line warranty?

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It’s not uncommon to have homeowners tell us they don’t need a water or sewer line warranty because their lines haven’t broken and will never break. While we’ve uncovered this is far from the truth – many homeowners are unsure if they need a water or sewer line warranty. When evaluating whether or not to purchase a water or sewer line warranty, homeowners must first understand the coverage details. Warranties are not the same as insurance. While insurance typically covers damage to personal property as a result of service line failures, disasters and extreme circumstances (such as fire, flood, etc.), warranties focus on normal wear and tear – such as aging, ground shifting and tree root intrusion. Problems due to normal wear and tear with the sewer and water lines located outside the home are usually not covered under traditional homeowner’s insurance policies and could be very costly to replace or repair.

When considering whether or not to invest in a water or sewer line warranty, consider the following:

Age of the home
It’s common knowledge as products age, the failure rate increases. While newer homes with PVC pipes may be at lower risk than a 50-year-old home with clay pipes, the age of your home can help determine your need. As homes age, so does the infrastructure supplying water to and removing waste from them.

Types of pipes and length of lines
Do you know of what materials the water and sewer lines inside and outside of your home are made? Some materials are more prone to problems and have shorter life expectancies than others. Knowing what the lines are made of can help determine the level of risk. In addition, the longer the line, the greater the risk of failure and the higher the cost to replace them.

Weather
Weather conditions can affect a pipe’s life expectancy and conditions as they swell with changes in temperature and ground shifting. If the area in which you live is prone to heavy rainfall, droughts or extreme temperature changes – your infrastructure could be at risk.

Plants
The closer your water and sewer lines are to the ground’s surface and  plants and trees, the greater the chance of roots permeating the pipes. It only takes a small pinhole for a root to begin to infiltrate the line, which may result in a leak, clog or break.

 Cost
What is the cost-benefit ratio? Should you pay a small monthly fee for the warranty or do you have enough in your emergency fund to pay for a repair that could cost from $1,300 to $3,500 or more?

Fine Print
Check out the Terms and Conditions of the warranty. Do they adequately cover your particular situation?

Company
Before buying any product, do your homework; research financial stability, outstanding consumer complaints, etc.

Time
One of the many benefits of participating in a maintenance or warranty program is the ability to make one call to solve the problem. If your service line breaks, consider the time invested in locating a qualified, local plumber and scheduling the visit, which may require taking time off from work and is disruptive to your daily routine.

Don’t contaminate your drinking water when it rains

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Many cities use treated water from lakes and streams to provide fresh drinking water to their communities. However, many communities could be unintentionally contaminating their drinking water each time it rains.

Stormwater drains (not sewer systems) help return rainwater to nearby lakes, streams and treatment systems; however, there is risk of pollutants, trash and sediment being carried underground. While these drains keep the public safe from rainwater flooding and potential hydroplaning, keep in mind that stormwater runs into other bodies of water.

Storm drains are for rain – not dumping household products that you wouldn’t otherwise pour down a drain in your home. As a homeowner, you can help prevent dangerous pollutants from entering storm drains.

  • Clean up pet waste. Pet waste left on the ground could wash into the storm drains.
  • Never apply pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides to foliage and plants before it rains. Rain doesn’t help soil absorb chemicals; it washes them away. Also, consider using non-toxic or organic alternatives.
  • If possible, drain pools (even kiddy pools) into the sanitary sewer system where the water can be treated.
  • Dispose of chemicals properly instead of dumping them on the ground or in a storm drain.
  • Chemical spill? Don’t rinse it with the hose. Use absorbent materials like kitty litter, which can be swept and disposed of properly.
  • Take your car to the car wash so soap doesn’t leak into the storm drains. Many car washes recycle their water, so you’ll be conserving water, too. If you must wash your car at home, consider using biodegradable soap.

For more information about storm water pollution, visit the EPA website.