Our top ten DIY plumbing tips aim to help you prevent plumbing problems as well as offer advice on dealing with plumbing emergencies.
1. Get to Know Your Valves
Find out where your mains water valve or stopcock is so that it can be switched off in an emergency. It’s so much easier to do this when you’re not under pressure with a pipe leaking away. Take the time to find out what other stop valves you have in the house and label them. Valves can seize up over time if they’re not used to get into the habit of turning them off and on again a couple of times a year to keep them in working order. Another tip here is to leave them a fraction less than fully open to minimise the chance of them sticking. Fit isolation valves when installing new plumbing so that you can easily isolate that part rather than having to close everything off. It’d be a good idea to read our Draining Down the Water System article as well.
2. Deal with Drips
Don’t leave a dripping tap or ball valve. It’s far better to address the problem early rather than leave it till the problem gets worse. A perished washer on a ball valve in your water storage cistern in the attic, for example, is only going to fail eventually if you don’t replace it and you’ll end up with water pouring out of the overflow or worse. If you need to use a wrench on items like taps, cover with an old rag first to prevent scratches. See also Replacing a Ball Valve Washer and our Replacing a Tap Washer articles
3. Look After Your Boiler
Regular servicing of your boiler and heating system each year is vital. This will ensure that it’s working at its best and safety checks will be carried out to make sure there are no poisonous gases escaping. If you can see the flame in the boiler it should be a clear, strong, blue flame – a yellow flame would indicate a problem and should be checked. Only ever have work on your boiler (or any other gas appliance) carried out by a Gas Safe Engineer. If you have a pressurised system, check the pressure regularly to ensure it is within the specified range. This is usually around 1 to 1.5 bar but check the manual.
4. Guard Against Freezing
Make sure any pipework which may be exposed to freezing conditions is properly lagged. Check pipes in the attic and basement if you have one. There are other less obvious places – for example, a pipe running past an air brick or wall vent. If you have an outside tap, isolate it during the cold weather. Turn off the isolation valve on the supply then drain water from the pipe by opening the tap until water stops flowing. See also Plumbing Insulation.
5. Machine Hoses
The flexible hoses connecting appliances like washing machines should be checked annually for signs of wear. These hoses can suffer from a fair bit of pressure as the water is drawn and closed off. Check the connections at each end of the hoses as well to make sure there are no drips which could develop into a more serious problem.
6. Waste Outlets and Gullies
In order to keep waste water pipes flowing freely, they should be checked and cleaned at regular intervals. Bath and shower waste outlets are prone to clogging particularly from hair. Don’t leave it until they become blocked. Many waste outlets have a removable gauze type filter which can be removed and cleaned quite easily. If you need to clear an outlet, use a plunger rather than chemicals. Clearing a Blocked Shower Waste gives more information. On baths and basins, cover the overflow with a damp rag when using a plunger, otherwise, air and water simply get pushed out there instead. An outside gulley gets easily blocked with leaves etc. Fit a leaf guard if possible and run a hose to check flow once a year.
7. Hard Water
If you live in a hard water area, you’re likely to have limescale deposits build up around taps and showerheads. Use a suitable limescale remover regularly to prevent the problem from becoming too bad. Vinegar is a great alternative to expensive cleaners. There are plenty of other less obvious areas where limescale can build up – pipes, washing machines and dishwashers, and boilers and heating systems. Additives for heating systems can be used to protect them. If you have the budget, consider fitting a water softener.
8. Emergency Plumbing
Be prepared is an old saying but it certainly applies here. If you know how to deal with a plumbing emergency you could save a lot of stress and expense. Our repairing a leaking pipe article gives more information on dealing with a split pipe. There’s also a product called LLFA Tape that can seal a split pipe – it might be worth keeping some in your toolbox.
9. Emergency Flush
Well maybe not exactly an emergency but if your toilet cistern fails for some reason, a bucket of water poured into the pan does a reasonable job of flushing until it can be fixed.
10. Put the Plug-In
If you’re replacing tap washers there are often small components like the grub screw holding the tap head in place. They have a nasty habit of disappearing down plug holes so, put the plugin before you start work.