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DIY Plumbing: Common Plumbing Issues People Try to Fix — and Shouldn't

Friday, June 12, 2015 - 12:03pm

There are times when it might seem logical to attempt a DIY home repair. While the problem in question might seem like an easy one to remedy, there are many cases in which it just wouldn’t be wise to take things into your own hands.

Plumbing is one such area where the work involved is beyond the bounds of the average layman, and it really is best to simply call a professional. The following article examines the common DIY plumbing projects most homeowners shouldn't try.

The Errors of DIY Plumbing Advice

There might be things that you've repaired around your home with considerable skill and ease, such as broken door knobs, out-of-track windows or unhinged cabinets. Some are actually quite easy and self-explanatory when it comes to a DIY fixing job.

However, there are other things that are generally far too difficult to fix with accuracy and precision. They require perfection, and even the slightest error could set everything off balance. Plumbing systems are one such area in which maintenance work should most times be handled by licensed professionals, no matter how easy certain fix-it tasks might appear in a DIY plumbing advice manual.

Truth be told, the last thing on earth most homeowners wish to contemplate is the state of their sewage and drainage systems. Nonetheless, it's unwise to simply brush such matters aside until big problems arise. Though such problems should not be dealt with independently, you can do your part by taking note of issues as they arise and reporting them to your local plumber. That way, you'll not only have the issue dealt with professionally, you'll also save money because the problem will be fixed before it spirals out of hand and leads to other, costlier problems.

In many cases, sewage and drainage problems are due to overgrown roots from trees and shrubs on a homeowner's property. Such overgrowth is often the result of poor planning on the part of landscapers, not to mention oversight or neglect from prior property owners. Fortunately, you can stem this problem by keeping a lookout for strange, unusual overgrowth of trees and shrubs in your yard. If you notice anything growing in the wrong direction or in a strange location altogether, remove it before it spawns an invasive root system. If you're worried about the possibility of roots encroaching on your pipes, have professionals come to your property to do a video inspection of the areas in question.

Of course, there are some minor plumbing-related jobs that can be handled by the average homeowner, such as hooking up a washing machine, screwing on a faucet filter or changing a showerhead. When it comes to anything that directly impacts a plumbing system, however, the average homeowner is simply out of his or her element attempting to handle things independently.

Examples of plumbing problems that should never be tackled by inexperienced, untrained hands include clogged drains, broken toilets, water heater malfunctions, frozen pipes or anything else that's concealed underground or within wall cavities, basements or ceilings.

If you try to handle such things yourself, numerous troubles might ensue that could leave your wallet drained and your property sinking in value. For instance, a misdiagnosed pipe issue could lead to flooding or further, costlier damages if you try to fix it yourself, while a mishandled problem with your heating system could possibly spark a fire that your insurance won't even cover.

Common Plumbing Problems You Shouldn't Fix Yourself

Malfunctioning Sink Pipes

This job would seem simple enough, considering how the pipes are visible when you open the cabinet under the sink. However, it's difficult to find out exactly where the problem is unless you take the pipes apart, and this can be a very risky undertaking.

Pipes are complex and very tricky to reassemble, particularly when they're in close proximity to other plumbing components and machinery, such as dishwashers or garbage disposals. Unless you are certain about the location and specifics of the obstruction in question — and you have prior experience with dismantling and reassembling pipes — the best thing that you can do when you have a problem with a blocked sink pipe is to call a professional plumber.

Clogged Drains

When a drain gets clogged, you might be tempted to buy one of the chemicals or snake devices on the market and try to unclog the drain yourself. Trouble is, drain clogs can often be a hairy situation, and the use of acids and foreign devices can only make matters worse. A plumbing snake, for instance, might not only fail to clear the obstruction, it could also damage the drain pipes to such an extent that you'd be forced to fork over a large sum of cash to have the drain system replaced. Acids and soda chemicals, on the other hand, should only be employed by plumbing experts who have the right safety equipment to handle such products.

Drains can get clogged for several reasons: It could be down to the age of your home, or it might be due to a lack of care on your part. If you allow hair, grease or other substances go down the drain of a sink, shower or bathtub, it could ultimately result in a clog.

When a clog is most definitely due to buildups of residue and waste in your pipes, it may seem practical to buy an over-the-counter drain-cleaning product and pour it right down so it can work its magic. For various reasons, however, drain cleaners are viewed unfavorably by most plumbing experts. Drain cleaners are discouraged primarily due to all the noxious chemicals that go into such products — chemicals that generally emit strong fumes that can last for hours and sometimes days. If tampered with or leaked, these chemical formulas can be of great danger to small children and pets. (Rule of thumb: If a chemical product is fatal if swallowed, it probably shouldn't even be in your house.)

Drain cleaners can also wear out the protective lining in your sewage pipes. If used repeatedly to fight clog after clog, a chemical cleaning formula could gradually cause pipe corrosion that might ultimately lead to leaks and a need for costly repairs.

Of course, the best thing you can do for your drains is to help prevent clogs from forming in the first place. For starters, try as much as possible to stop food particles, coffee grinds or grease from ever going down your kitchen sink. Even if you have a garbage disposal, only small food particles should ever be allowed to go down. In your bathtub or shower stall, place a strainer over the drain to prevent hair and soap-bar remains from going down and clogging the pipes.

In order to prevent the buildup of gunk in your kitchen sink or bathroom, pour at least a quart of boiling water down the drain on a regular basis. If clogging has already occurred, combine four cups of boiling water with one-half cup of baking soda and one-half cup of vinegar. Pour the mixture down the drain. Sometimes, that will do the trick — it's most likely to work for sinks with straight pipes.

However, clogs that form from grease deposits are not always located just below the drain. In some cases, the grease will wash right out of a house, but form buildups in the sewage pipes outside. These buildups attract other particles, which can lead to plumbing obstructions. When a buildup obstructs your entire drainage system, it's obviously beyond the scope of a mere hairball, and you're no doubt better off calling a professional plumber, who will have the tools necessary for handling such tasks.

Low Water Pressure

Sometimes, the lessening of water pressure from the faucet in your kitchen or bathroom sink is simply a case of gunk buildup in the faucet's aerator. In these cases, the problem can be remedied by simply screwing off the aerator, cleaning off the gunky residue and screwing it back onto the faucet.

In many other cases, however, low water pressure is much worse than just an aerator gunk issue. If that little cleanup method doesn't return the pressure to normal levels, there could be a serious issue at hand, such as a fractured pipe, an eroded water line or a water link in the system — basically, the common plumbing problems you shouldn't fix yourself.

If you're experiencing low water pressure, it's important to call a plumbing professional who will come to your residence, assess the matter and determine the right course of action. From time to time, low water pressure and the causes behind it could be indications of greater problems within a plumbing system. In circumstances such as these, quick solutions — such as the aerator cleanup — might only prolong the greater issue, allowing it to spiral into costlier problems.

Broken Toilets

There are some plumbing jobs that — while seeming quite easy to the uninitiated — are a lot more complicated than they might look on paper. One of the prime examples is a household item that few people could go more than a couple hours without: the toilet. When you think of how awful it would be to go a day or more without a functioning toilet in your house, it becomes plain to see why DIY plumbing advice of any kind would be misguided when it comes to this very important bathroom fixture.

For starters, the issues that could come into play when dealing with toilet malfunctions — whether they're due to stubborn clogs or busted pipes — require an in-depth understanding of how the pipework and water-flow work together in the simple yet complex design of this fixture. Even if you just need to have the toilet seal replaced, the job should still be handled by a professional, because leaks could result from improper placement that would likely lead to worse complications, not to mention water damage to the surrounding areas.

Arguably, a self-fix-it job gone awry with a toilet could be the worst of all possible amateur plumbing disasters. You would not only be without a functioning toilet, but it could also cough up a big, disgusting mess throughout your bathroom. Furthermore, it could be quite costly.

A Lack of Hot Water

When you find yourself in a situation where your water is either heating at a sluggish pace or not heating up at all, you can always check your thermostat to see whether it's set at too low a temperature. If that indeed is not the case, the issue might involve trouble inside the water heater, which could range from weak gas lines or broken heating components to sediment deposits or cracks in the water line. Due to both the high cost of replacing water heaters and the risky nature of gas leaks, the wisest thing to do in these situations is to call for a plumbing professional.

Installing water heaters can be a tricky process that generally requires experienced hands. The connection process itself involves both gas and water line hookups. In order to activate the treatment system, the main water lines have to be altered when they come into your house — the smallest mistake in this setup could leave your house without water.

When it comes to the repair of water heaters, there's pipe work involved that could lead to flooding in your house if mishandled. More dangerously, a heater-repair mishap could result in a burst that might leave you with burns on your body. If the water heater is centralized, you could risk slashing the warm water flow to different rooms in your house. Consequently, you would end up in the ironic situation where by trying to fix the heater yourself in an attempt to save money, you'd end up spending far more on costly water damage to your walls, floors, and carpets — not to mention in buying a new water heater and having it installed. If you had just called a professional to do the repairs, you would have saved yourself tons of money and countless headaches.

Other Types of Plumbing You Shouldn't Do Yourself

A Leaky Tap

When taps leak endlessly after the water has been shut off, the problem is usually due to a worn washer. Despite the apparent ease of rectifying such a matter, many faucets — particularly newer ones — are designed in a way that obscures the washer's location. Furthermore, taking off the cover on a tap can be difficult. Simply put, the risk of damaging a faucet is likely far too costly to even bother attempting this job on your own.

Frozen Pipes

Frost can be one of the most damaging elements to a set of pipes. Unfortunately, homeowners often assume that since the remedy for cold is heat, all you have to do is melt away the frost, and the problem will be solved. However, most people risk further damage by using a blow torch, which can't be of much use anyway when you don't even know which way to start the thaw. Needless to say, pipe thawing is a job for your local plumber. (Side note: If there's currently no lagging on your pipes, don't waste a single day to have it applied.)

Replacing or Rerouting Pipes

Some people think they can replace their sewer pipes based on a few simple tips from a plumbing advice manual. Such people, however, tend to wind up with far more confusion and stress than they'd ever bargained for in the first place.

Replacing rusted or cracked pipes is actually a very difficult undertaking, because large parts of the plumbing network are often dismantled in the process. Furthermore, copper pipes need to be fused with a torch, so for obvious reasons, you're best off leaving this to a professional.

Installing Dishwashers

Once in a blue moon, someone you know buys a new stove, fridge or dryer and sets it up in a few easy steps. How often do you hear of anyone doing this with a dishwashing machine? Most people who have dishwashing machines do so because it came with their house or apartment — but even if you do buy one new, the complexities involved with setup, such as installing water and drainage lines under the kitchen sink cabinet, are best handled by a professional.

Installing and Repairing Septic Tanks

If you reside in a secluded area, the outgoing water from your sinks, tub and toilet might go through a septic tank rather than a sewer line. In the event of a septic leak, you'd need to wait for a plumber to come and fix the problem. Though such a leak would likely emit a strong stench, only a plumbing professional would have the knowledge, skills and tools to remedy the situation.

Gas Line Plumbing

One of the most dangerous components of a home to work with is gas lines, which must be fitted securely with the proper tools. Taking such a task into your own hands is one of the primary DIY plumbing don'ts — only licensed plumbers should handle gas lines.

Trust Mr. Rooter for Your Plumbing Needs

No one enjoys plumbing malfunctions, but everyone is looking for ways to save money. However, attempts at following DIY plumbing advice often backfire and lead to further household damages that end up costing far more than professional maintenance. If any of the problems covered in this article emerge in your house, don't take matters into your own hands — have a licensed plumber take care of the job. If you live in the greater Syracuse, N.Y. area, contact the specialists at Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse to schedule an appointment.

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