Odds are that if you’ve lived in your home for long enough, you’ve come across one or more plumbing emergencies, such as:
- clogged toilets;
- leaky pipes;
- backed-up drains;
- discolored or odd-smelling water; and
- low water pressure.
Some of these emergency plumbing situations are easier to fix than others. Most people know how to plunge a toilet, but finding and replacing a damaged section of pipe is harder for most.
For many plumbing emergencies, time is of the essence. The longer a problem goes unaddressed, the worse the damage can get.
This is why many people hire professionals to quickly find and fix major plumbing emergencies. A professional usually has the tools and experience to quickly identify a problem and make lasting repairs.
But, you can’t always wait for a professional service. Or, you might want to try to reduce costs by fixing the problem yourself. For some less severe emergencies, DIY repairs are a perfectly valid option.
Before you embark on your mission of fixing the disposal or removing a clog, however, here are a few tips for how you can handle a plumbing emergency in your home:
Tip #1: Learn Where Your Plumbing Cutoffs Are Located
One of the most important things you can do to fix a plumbing problem is to be as familiar with your plumbing system as possible. A basic piece of information you should know before starting to fix many plumbing problems is where the cutoffs/isolation valves for your water pipes are located throughout the home.
For some plumbing repairs, you may need to access or even remove pipes, and you can’t do that safely with water running through them. Knowing where you can shut off the flow of water is important for making repairs.
Additionally, learn how to shut off the water heater, and turn it off before removing any pipes, even if you “know” you won’t be messing with the hot water line. Accidentally opening the hot water line with the heater engaged could result in severe burns.
Tip #2: Make Sure You Have a Few Plumbing Tools
Having the right tools can make a huge difference in how easy a plumbing repair task is.
Some tools every homeowner should have include (but aren’t limited to):
- A bucket. Useful for catching spilled water under a leaky pipe or pipe that you’re working on as well as a tool caddy.
- Plungers (cup and forced cup). Forced cup plungers excel at unclogging toilets, while cup plungers are handy for forcing sink blockages through the line.
- Old or specially-marked toothbrush. Toothbrushes are ideal for cleaning around the inside of a drain or pipe and removing buildup.
- Adjustable wrench. Handy for screwing/unscrewing pipes.
- Slip-joint pliers. Useful for handling smaller pipes.
- Multi-bit screwdriver or screwdriver set. Helpful for assembling disassembling certain pipe assemblies and surrounding cabinetry.
- Allen wrenches/keys. Sometimes useful for fixing faucets and garbage disposals.
- Duct/sealing tape. Duct tape can be used as a temporary fix to hold pipes together. Sealing tape is useful for going around pipe threading to form a better seal and prevent leaks in new pipe installations.
- Paper towels/rags. Used to clean up spills.
- Drain snake. Can be used to break up clogs deep in a pipe where you cannot normally reach.
- Help keep hands safe and clean when working on plumbing.
- Protective eyewear. Prevent eye infections and injuries by wearing protective goggles.
With these tools, you should be able to complete many different types of plumbing repairs around the home.
Tip #3: Assess the Nature and Severity of the Plumbing “Emergency” Before Attempting a DIY Fix
Some plumbing problems are easy to fix. Others, not so much.
A clogged toilet or drain is a common enough problem, and there are many ways to fix such a problem. Leaky pipes may require just a quick inspection & tightening, the use of sealing tape, or even a complete replacement of a section of pipe, depending on the nature of the leak.
If a problem is particularly severe and you’re not sure how to repair it, consider using a professional plumbing service right away.
Tip #4: Act Quickly to Minimize Further Damage
Once you’ve discovered a plumbing problem, it’s important to be timely in your response to the issue. Your response should be based on your assessment of the problem.
For example, if you find a slow leak in a water supply line, place a bucket under the leak site to catch any water. This can help prevent water damage to the building.
However, a larger leak might be too much to handle with a bucket. In this case, you’ll want to shut off the water supply to the leaky pipe as soon as possible. Find the isolation valve controlling water to that pipe and turn it off.
Once you’ve mitigated the immediate problem, take some time to study the issue and get specific advice.
Tip #5: Get a Set of Helping Hands
Some plumbing fixes work best when you have a second person helping you.
For example, many kitchen sinks have two drains or a drain and an overflow. These connected drains reduce the efficiency of a plunger—you plunge the drain, and the air simply comes out the other drain or overflow rather than breaking up the clog.
Having a second person to cap the other drain while you plunge the first helps keep the air trapped in the line so the pressure buildup can clear the clog.
Also, a second pair of hands and eyes can be useful for improving safety in general.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you be better prepared to handle a plumbing emergency in your home.
Remember, if a plumbing emergency is especially difficult or dangerous to fix, seek professional help. Professionals have the training and experience to handle most plumbing emergencies while minimizing risks.