A major plumbing problem, such as a water heater tank burst or a sewer backup, is every homeowner’s nightmare—and for good reason. These major plumbing issues can cost thousands to repair and clean up after. The good news is that not all of these issues are inevitable. In fact, some of them can be avoided by being proactive with home maintenance and small changes in behavior. In this article, we’ll review three of the most common plumbing issues—water heater trouble, frozen pipes, and sewer line clogs and cracks—as well as how you can potentially avoid them in your home.
Without a working water heater, you’re in for some cold showers. In a standard water heater, water is heated and stored in the tank, which is slightly pressurized. This combination of heat, metal, water, and pressure can eventually lead to problems such as corrosion and tank failure. Nothing lasts forever, after all, and the day will eventually come when your water heater needs to be replaced. You’ll want to do so before the tank shows signs of failure or the water heater stops working altogether.
If your water heater is more than 8-10 years old, start making plans to replace it, as it could be nearing the end of its operational lifespan. If you’ve been performing regular maintenance—including an annual drain-and-flush, checking the pressure-relief valve, or replacing the anode rod—you might be able to get several more years out of the system.
Watch out for the early warning signs of tank failure. This can include visible hairline cracks in the tank shell, water pooling at the bottom of the unit, or a pressure-relief valve that is constantly opening and releasing water and air. If you’re seeing any of this, you need to call in a plumber for emergency service.
On the coldest nights of the year, frozen pipes represent a major threat to your home. If you’ve ever accidentally left a can of soda in the freezer, you’ll understand what happens: liquids physically expand as they freeze, putting pressure on their container. As the water in your home’s pipes freezes, it puts incredible stress on the pipe itself. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to the pipe bursting open—just like that can of soda in the freezer.
For your home’s pipes to freeze, several conditions are needed. First, the temperature outside needs to be below-freezing—certainly possible on some of the coldest nights of the year. Second, the heat in your home needs to be not functioning, which can happen if your furnace stops working.
While not directly related to your pipes and plumbing, make sure your furnace gets looked at before winter arrives to ensure that it’s running right. Most frozen pipe incidents occur when a home’s heating malfunctions and shuts down overnight.
For exterior pipes or pipes in exterior walls, talk to your plumber about the potential for adding pipe insulation. In the event of heat loss on the coldest nights of the year, pipe insulation can slow down the temperature exchange process, buying you and your pipes valuable hours.
Finally, on particularly cold nights, let your sink faucets drip. Moving water freezes more slowly, so this slight movement in the pipes will help stave off frozen pipe issues.
Your home’s sewer line runs under your front or side yard to the municipal sewer under the street. Sewer lines tend to encounter one of two critical issues: cracks or clogs. Cracks occur when the earth shifts around the line, the line material deteriorates, or thirsty tree roots grow around the line. Clogs can be caused by either tree roots growing into the sewer line or are the result of certain food waste or non-organic trash getting stuck in the line and eventually forming a clog inside of it.
By the way, if your home has a septic system, many of these same principles apply. Septic lines can also be at risk of fractures, tree root instruction, or clogging.
Watch what you put down the drain of your kitchen sink. Just because you have a garbage disposal doesn’t mean everything is safe to go through it. Cooking grease and oil is particularly dangerous: it can enter the drain as a liquid, cool, and then solidify inside the line. Other common food products that adhere to the inside of sewer lines include uncooked rice and pasta, flour, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Just dispose of these in the trash, and tell your family to do the same.
This same principle applies to what you put down the toilet. Never flush non-organic waste—including plastics, sanitary items, or so-called “flushable” wipes.
As a homeowner, you’re not going to be able to prevent absolutely every problem in your home. That’s just not possible. However, what you can do is take quick action when a plumbing emergency does happen. When you notice a pipe leak, a sewer line issue, or water pooled at the bottom of your water heater, immediately call in a plumber. When it comes to preventing water damage, every hour counts.
For a comprehensive overview of some of the most common plumbing problems that homeowners face, as well as what they can do to prevent them, be sure to take a look at this infographic:
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