Top 10 Ways to AVOID major problems and SAVE money with your plumbing system
1. Always turn off your water pump (or close main shut-off valve if you have city water) when you leave the house for more than one day.
This is the single most important piece of plumbing advice available. Every year, we see numerous properties incur CATASTROPHIC water damage because a plumbing leak went undetected for days, weeks, or even months. If your pump is shut off, a leak in your water piping will not be able to cause major damage while you're away.
2. Always make sure you have an adequate supply of heating fuel during the winter months.
This is especially important for absentee home-owners (i.e. week-end home owners and snow birds). If you run out of fuel in cold weather, the temperature in your home can drop below freezing within 12 to 24 hours. This can cause your plumbing system to freeze and then in turn cause pipes and fixtures to crack. Each year we see several cases where an entire plumbing system is ruined this way. Adding insult to injury, it is usually necessary to tear open walls and ceilings to make repairs.
Most LP gas companies have "keep fill" programs available. They will fill your tank at regular intervals without being called. While this is handy, it does not absolutely guarantee that you won't run out of fuel. Some companies won't even provide this service to absentee owners. If you're going to be away from your home for extended periods of time in the winter, make sure you have a good system for keeping your tank full.
3. Always make sure your heating system is in good working order.
This is important for all of the same reasons as #1 and #2. It's a good idea to arrange a regular service agreement with a competent, licensed heating contractor. Have this contractor check your furnace or boiler at least once per year. Find out if they stock parts for your brand and model of furnace. If they don't, consider ordering the most commonly needed emergency repair parts to keep on hand. This will increase the chances of being able to get your furnace up and running quickly in the event that it fails.
4. Always monitor the temperature in your home on a daily basis when you are away during the winter.
Have a friend, neighbor, or handyman check your house daily while you're gone to make sure your heating system is working. You can also have a security company install sensors that monitor the temperature and automatically call you and/or others if the temperature drops too low.
You may also want to consider winterizing your plumbing system if you plan to be gone for an extended period. This consists of using compressed air to blow the water out of your water pipes, and also putting non-toxic anti-freeze in your toilets and traps. (NOTE: It is usually advisable to maintain above-freezing temperatures in your home even if you do winterize the plumbing system.)
5. Always remember to winterize all exterior faucets in the fall.
Even a "frost-free" hose bibb will freeze and crack if a hose is left connected to it during freezing weather.
Outside faucets which are NOT frost-free need to be shut off inside the building and drained completely before freezing temperatures hit.
If you plan to hire a professional to assist you with winterization, do NOT wait until the last minute to call them. You may not be able to find someone to come on short notice, or you may have to pay overtime rates to get someone to come.
6. If you have a sewage ejector pump in your basement, plan for the fact that it will eventually fail.
These pumps operate in a very harsh environment (submersed in sewage) and often fail after just a few years. Failure of your pump could mean sewage back-up in your basement.
The risk of a damaging back-up is especially high if you have a water softener which drains into the sewage ejector system. If the softener regenerates while the ejector pump is not functioning, you could end up with up to 100 gallons of sewage backing up through the floor drain. All of this could happen at night while you are asleep, that is when most softeners regenerate.
Consider installing an alarm in your sewage ejector tank. An alarm is designed to buzz loudly in the event of pump failure. Assuming you're home when this occurs, you should have ample time to shut-off your water before the sewage reaches flood level.
Remember, alarms can fail too! It is best to NOT store valuable items on the basement floor if they could be damaged by water or sewage flooding.
7. Plan for the fact that your water heater will also eventually fail.
Water heaters have a useful life of between 5 and 15 years, depending on usage and water quality. Approximately 20-30 percent of water heaters we replace are being replaced because they have sprung a leak. The others have just quit working.
If your water heater is located in a spot where leakage could cause property damage, consider replacing it if it is more than 10 years old (5 years for poor water quality or high usage).
Water heaters have a way of failing at very inopportune times (i.e. Christmas Day with 25 guests). If your water heater is near the end of its useful life, consider replacing it before it starts causing you trouble. This is usually less expensive and less stressful than waiting until you have an emergency.
8. If you purchase faucets to install in your home stick to professional grade, name brand fixtures.
We recommend Delta or Moen faucets; they are by far the easiest to get parts for. Kohler, American Standard, Gerber, Chicago, Symmons, Brizo, and Grohe are also good quality products, but a bit harder to get parts for.
"Big box" home centers do sell Delta and Moen, but BE CAREFUL when purchasing there. Delta and Moen sometimes put together faucet packages for these stores which have non-professional grade components. If you're buying a Delta faucet at these stores, make sure the exact faucet model # you are purchasing appears in the Delta full-line catalog. If it does not, you're not getting a professional grade product. Same goes for Moen.
If you're shopping in a home center for a more stylish faucet (especially those with special finishes like nickel or bronze) it can be very tempting to buy an off-brand faucet that looks just like the Delta or Moen but costs 50% to 75% less. DON'T DO IT! The quality level of these fixtures is very low. They have completely different internal workings. They often start dripping very soon after installation. They are difficult if not impossible to get parts for. Their finish becomes worn or tarnished easily. Pay the extra and get a good faucet.
If you are planning to hire a professional plumbing company to install your faucet, it is usually wise to purchase it from that company. That way, if there are problems with your faucet during the warranty period (usually 1 year) they will come back and repair it free of charge.
9. If you have a well, make sure you have a properly sized pressure tank. Make sure the air charge in that tank is maintained at the proper level.
A good rule of thumb is that your pump should run at least 1 minute after it comes on. If your pump only runs for a few seconds then shuts off, you should either charge your tank with more air or install a larger tank. Short run times waste energy and cause pumps to overheat and fail prematurely.
10. If you don't know a lot about plumbing, consider hiring a licensed plumber to do a walk-through with you in your home
During this walk through, the plumber can answer any questions you have and explain the basics to you, like where and how to shut things off in the event of an emergency. Together you and the plumber can look at all the components of your system and determine if there are any potential problems brewing. You can look closely at items #1-9 listed above as they pertain to your home.
Have the plumber record important information like water heater type and size, type and age of piping, faucet brands, etc. He can then keep this info in your customer file to help with future planning of repair or replacement work.
Ask the plumber if he sees any unusual risks or potential problems in your home that you should be aware of, and if he sees any code violations that you are concerned with. These items are also things that he can record in his notes and put in your customer file.
At the end of the walk-through, you and the plumber should be able to come up with a good game plan for maintaining, repairing, and updating your plumbing system.
A good walk through with appropriate follow-up should greatly reduce the risk of future plumbing emergencies.