Electrical, Carpentry, Landscaping…by the end of a homeowner’s first year of new home ownership, they are almost able to pass trade exams. Every skill learned owning a house has its risks and rewards, perhaps none is as complicated as plumbing.
While learning the “do”s and “do not”s as you go ensures you’ll remember them forever (especially the “do not”s), it can be helpful to investigate DIY plumbing before taking the plunge.
Here’s a short list of five mistakes that are, unfortunately, often made when beginning the journey down the drain.
1. Forgetting to Shut off the Water
Number one for a reason is the biggest and most immediately regrettable mistake you can make when beginning a job. We’ve all been there; a small repair needs to be finished quickly. In the moment, it’s easy to overlook the most obvious and important step of any home plumbing activity.
It is one of those mistakes that, if made, is only made once. Not only are you sure to experience a second shower for the day (and possibly need a third, depending on the pipes you’re working with), but the immediate and desperate fitting of everything back together is liable to cause damage to the pipes and fittings.
None of this to mention the water damage that is likely to happen to the surroundings. Make sure the water main valve is turned off before attempting any DIY repair.
2. Mismatching Pipes and Connectors
Minor water leaks, especially those that are easily visible are often repairs that are tackled with maverick haste. The seeming simplicity often makes them the first repair a homeowner attempts without a professional.
The minor oversight of not correctly matching pipes’ sizes, connectors or materials can cause immense problems for a homeowner, however. For instance, trying to connect a galvanized metal pipe directly to a copper pipe can lead to almost-instantaneous corrosion.
Just because the pipes don’t correctly match up, doesn’t mean they need to be replaced. There is usually a proper connector and sealant that can connect them.
Two pipes fitting together does not mean they will hold water. Make sure to match them properly.
3. Improperly Sloping the Drain
Gravity – the great force behind all plumbing. While it makes sense that pipes and drains need to flow downhill into a sewer, many people don’t know the proper grade these pipes must take on their path. Installing or replacing pipes by yourself should never ever be guesswork.
One quarter-inch down for every one foot across of pipe is the ideal number for drainage. If it’s less than this grade, the pipes are unlikely to drain at all, more and they can drain too fast leaving the solid waste behind to clog the drains.
The few extra minutes it takes to measure can save you big time in the long run.
4. Using an Unvented Trap
You’ve undoubtedly seen drain traps before. They are arrangements of pipe that separate areas of your home from your plumbing system. Drain traps make sure that no critters are crawling up your pipes and can protect your home from explosive methane gas.
While the S-trap (made by connecting two traps to form an “S”) has become the default for do-it-yourselfers, S-traps are not properly vented and can cause problems down the road. The biggest of which, is the removal of the water barrier by the water being siphoned out of the trap.
Once that water barrier is removed, vermin have a free pass to crawl up the drain and into your home (not to mention that explosive methane gas).
Opting for a vented P-trap, instead, will eliminate the risk of losing the water barrier, as well as adding pipe space between the plumbing system and your home.
5. Choosing the Wrong Tools for the Job
You have a clog. The most common DIY plumbing repair is also the least complicated and one nearly every person has done at one time or another. I’m talking about using that fancy toilet plunger sitting next to the culprit. Sometimes, however, that plunger is just not enough to clear the clog.
In the heat of the battle, it is easy to find something that’s “good enough” to tackle the job. This, however, can prove far more damaging and time consuming than taking a moment to find the right tool.
Using a normal drain snake on a toilet clog, for instance, can damage the bowl of the toilet (Note: there is a special tool called a toilet auger made specifically for this purpose).
There are often different sized snakes for different jobs. Washing machines and bathtubs and toilets all have different sized drains. Using the wrong tool can damage those pipes and fittings and lead to leaks or corroded pipes later on.
Whenever you are working with a plumbing tool, make sure it is the proper tool designed for the job you need it.
DIY plumbing may be cost effective, but it does not come without risks. It is undoubtedly always a learning experience.
Following the guide above, however, should help that learning experience be a positive one. Understanding how plumbing works and avoiding common mistakes will keep you from finding yourself up a creek.