Tips from Thomas Curley plumbing and heating
No plumbing problem is more common or more frustrating than a clogged drain.
- Kitchen sink drains clog most often because of a buildup of grease that traps food particles.
- Hair and soap are often at fault in bathroom drains.
Drains can usually be cleared easily and inexpensively, but taking some simple precautions will help you avoid stop-ups. Proper disposal of kitchen waste will keep sink drain clogs to a minimum.
- Don’t pour grease down the kitchen sink.
- Don’t wash coffee grounds down the sink. Throw them out.
- Be sparing with chemical cleaners, particularly if you have brass, steel, or cast-iron traps and drainpipes; some caustic chemicals can corrode metal pipes.
- If used no more than once every few months, cleaners containing sodium hydroxide or sodium nitrate can be safe and effective.
- Clean floor drain strainers. Some tubs, showers, and basement floor drains have strainers that are screwed into the drain opening. You can easily remove these strainers and reach down into the drain with a bent wire to clear out accumulated debris. And be sure to scrub the strainer.
- Clean pop-up stoppers in the bathroom sink and the tub regularly. Lift out sink pop-ups once a week and rinse them off.
- Every few months, remove the overflow plate on a tub and pull up the pop-up assembly to reach the spring or rocker arm. Remove accumulated hair and rinse thoroughly.
- Keep the sewer pipes from the house free of tree roots that may invade them. If roots are a particular problem in your yard, you may need to call in professionals once a year or so to clear the pipes. They’ll use an electric auger to cut out the roots.
- Flush the drain-waste and vent systems whenever you go up onto your house roof to clean out downspouts or gutters. Run water from a garden hose into all vents, giving them a minute or two of full flow.
- 2. Winterizing Your Plumbing System Homeowners who used to simply turn down the thermostat in a vacated house for the winter are now closing down the plumbing system because of prohibitively high energy costs. Winterizing your plumbing is a virtually cost-free alternative to frozen pipes.
- Turn off the main shutoff valve or have the water company turn off service to the house.
- Starting at the top floor, open all faucets, both indoors and outside.
- When the last of the water has dripped from the taps, open the plug at the main shutoff valve if possible (you may have to contact the water company), and let it drain.
- Turn off the power or gas to the water heater and open its drain valve.
- To freezeproof the system, empty toilet bowls and tanks.
- Remove the clean out plugs on all sink traps or remove the traps, if necessary.
- Once emptied, replace them and fill with plumbing antifreeze mixed with water in the proportions specified for car in your climate.
- You won’t be able to drain tub and shower taps. Instead, add at least a full quart of antifreeze.
- Don’t put antifreeze into a dishwasher or clothes washer.
- If your home has a basement floor drain or a main house trap, fill each with full-strength antifreeze.
- It may also be advisable to have a Licensed Plumber come to your home to blow out you water line like you do a lawn sprinkler. Sometimes water can get trapped in your water lines.
A faucet that won’t yield water is the first sign of frozen pipes. If a severe cold snap hits, prevent freezing and subsequent bursting of pipes by following the suggestions below. Even if the pipes do freeze, you can thaw them before they burst if you act quickly. When temperatures fall very low, here’s how to keep your pipes from freezing:
- Keep a trickle of water running from the faucets.
- Beam a heat lamp or small heater at exposed pipes.
- Wrap uninsulated pipes with newspapers, heating wires, foam, or self-adhesive insulating tape.
- Keep doors ajar between heated and unheated rooms.
- Raise Thermostat up to a minimum of 70 degrees when temperature drops below 30 degrees.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
If a pipe freezes:
- Shut off the water at the main shutoff valve and open the faucet nearest to the frozen pipe so it can drain as it thaws.
- Waterproof the area with containers and plastic drop clothes in case leaks occur.
- Use one of the following methods to gradually warm the frozen pipe. Be sure to work from the faucet toward the iced-up area.
- Propane Torch With a flame-spreading-nozzle, the torch will quickly thaw a frozen pipe.
- Safety Tip Shield flammable areas with a fireproof sheet, don’t let the pipe get too hot to touch.
- Hair Dryer Used like the torch, a dryer will gently defrost the pipe.
- Heating Pad Wrap a length of pipe with a heating pad.
- Heat Lamp For pipes behind walls, floors, or ceilings, beam a heat lamp 8 or more inches from the surface.
- Hot Water If no other method is available, wrap the pipe (except plastic) in rags and pour boiling water on it.
Though it may difficult to unclog a shower drain with a plunger, it’s worth a try. If that doesn’t work, maneuver a snake down the drain opening into the trap. As a last resort, you can use a garden hose.
- Attach the hose to an outdoor faucet or to an indoor faucet with a threaded adapter.
- Push the hose deep into the drain and pack rags into the opening.
- Turning the water on in short, hard bursts should open the drain.
CAUTION: Never leave a hose in any drain: a sudden drop in water pressure could siphon sewage back into the fresh water supply.
- If your shower head leaks where it meets the arm, you probably need to replace the washer. To reach it, loosen the collar, using tape-wrapped rib-joint pliers. Unscrew the head from the adjusting ring.
- Erratic or weak pressure usually indicates mineral buildup. To restore proper flow, clean outlet holes with a pin or unscrew a perforated face plate and soak it overnight in vinegar, then scrub it clean.
- If the shower head pivots stiffly, check he washer for wear and coat the swivel ball with petroleum jelly before reassembling.
- Turn off the main shutoff valve to prevent water damage.
- Make temporary repairs to stop the leak.
- The pipe will have to be replaced as soon as it’s convenient to do so.
- Shut off any faucet or appliance (such as dishwasher) that’s draining into the sink.
- Unclog the sink using a plunger or snake.
- DON’T use a chemical drain cleaner if the blockage is total.
- Immediately turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valve underneath the sink.
- If there’s no valve there, turn off the main shutoff valve.
- Repair the faucet or, if necessary, replace it.
- Open all the hot water faucets to relieve the overheated hot water heater.
- Turn off the gas or electric supply to the heater.
- Let the faucets run until cold water flows from them (this indicates the water in the heater is no longer overheated).
- Close them.
Call in a professional to make any necessary repairs to the heater’s thermostat and pressure relief valve.