In a plumbing emergency, you'll need to stop the flow of water quickly. To do this, you and each member of your family needs to know the location of the shutoff valve for every fixture and appliance, as well as the main shutoff valve for the house, and how they operate.
If the emergency involves a specific fixture or appliance, first look for its shutoff valve and turn it clockwise to shut off the water to that fixture or appliance only.
The valve is usually located underneath a fixture such as a sink or a toilet, or behind an appliance, such as a clothes washer, at the point where the water supply pipe (or pipes) connects to it.
If the problem is not with a particular fixture or appliance, or if there's no shutoff valve for the fixture or appliance, use the main shutoff valve to turn off the water supply to the entire house.
You'll find the main shutoff valve on the inside or outside of your house where the main water supply pipe enters.
In cold climates, look just inside the foundation wall in the basement or crawl space.
Turn the valve clockwise to shut it off.
Professional Tip If you need a wrench to turn the valve, keep one, specially labeled near the valve so it's handy.
If the main shutoff valve itself is defective and needs to be repaired, call your water company; they can send someone out with the special tool that's required to shut off the water at the street before it reaches the valve.
A Leaking or Broken Pipe
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.
A Stopped-Up Sink
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.
A Faucet That Won't Shut Off
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.
A Steaming Hot Water Faucet
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).
Call in a professional to make any necessary repairs to the heater's thermostat and pressure relief valve.
Pipes Making Noise?
Pipe noises range from loud hammering sounds to high-pitched squeaks. The causes may be loose pipes, water logged air chambers, or water pressure that's too high. Anchoring exposed pipes is a simple solution; other remedies such as anchoring pipes concealed inside walls, floors or ceilings, may call for a professional.
Pipes are usually anchored with pipe straps every 6 to 8 feet for horizontal runs, 8 to 10 feet for vertical.
If your pipes bang when you turn on the water, you may need to add straps, cushion the pipes with a rubber blanket, or both.
When you anchor a pipe-especially a plastic one-leave room for expansion.
Don't use galvanized straps on copper pipes.
Only hot water pipes squeak. As the pipe expands, it moves in its strap, and friction causes the squeak.
Solution: Cushion it as you would a banging pipe.
This noise occurs when you turn off the water at a faucet or an appliance quickly. The water flowing through the pipes slams to a stop, causing a hammering noise.
Anchor the pipes.
Faulty air chambers. These lengths of pipe, installed behind fixtures and appliances, hold air that cushions the shock when flowing water is shut off. They can get filled with water and lose their effectiveness.
To restore air to the chambers, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve. Open all the faucets to drain the system. Close the faucets and turn the water on again. The air chambers should fill with air.
Water pressure that's above 80 psi (pounds per square inch).
To lower the pressure, install a pressure-reducing valve (you can call in a plumber to do the work if this is a job you don't want to do yourself).
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.
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.
Professional Tip for Frozen Pipes
When loosening frozen connections, instead of using a wrench to force nuts and couplings frozen in place, douse the connection with penetrating oil. Wait half an hour; then loosen with a wrench.
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.
Like sink faucets, tub faucets can be compression style or washerless. To take apart any style tub faucet, pry off the cap, unscrew the handle, and remove the escutcheon. In a compression faucet, you'll see the stem and packing nut. You may need to use a deep-socket wrench to grip and loosen a recessed packing nut. To repair a washerless tub faucet, remove the stop tube and draw out the retainer clip to get at the cartridge.
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.
A stopped sink drain isn't just an inconvenience; it can sometimes be an emergency. It's always best to prevent clogs before they happen. Be alert to the warning signs of a sluggish drain. It's easier to open a drain that's slowing down than one that's stopped completely.
Run or pour scalding water down the drain to break up grease buildups.
If hot water doesn't unclog the drain, there could be some object in the drain.
To check, remove and thoroughly clean the sink pop-up stopper or strainer.
Determine if the clog is close to the sink by checking the other drains in your home. If more than one won't clear, something is stuck in the main drain.
The most effective way to clear a clog is with a snake.
You can try using a plunger or a chemical drain .
Clearing Drains with a Plunger
The plunger is a good drain-clearing tool, but it often fails to work because it's incorrectly used. Don't make the typical mistake of pumping up and down two or three times, expecting the water to whoosh down the drain. Though no great expertise is needed to use this simple tool, here are a few tips to guide you:
Choose a plunger with a suction cup large enough to cover the drain opening completely.
Fill the clogged fixture with enough water to cover the plunger cup.
Coat the rim of the plunger cup with petroleum jelly to ensure a tight seal.
Block off all other outlets (the overflow, second drain in a double sink, adjacent fixtures) with wet rags.
Insert the plunger into the water at an angle so no air remains trapped under it.
Use 15 to 20 forceful strokes, holding the plunger upright and pumping vigorously.
Repeat the plunging two or three times before giving up.
Using Chemical Drain Cleaners
Though routine use of chemical drain cleaners to prevent clogs may eventually damage your pipes, these cleaners can be helpful in opening clogged drains. If water is draining somewhat, but plunging has failed to open the drain completely, you may want to try using a drain cleaner. Whenever you use chemicals, do so with caution and in a well-ventilated room. Be sure to take these precautions:
Never use a plunger if a chemical cleaner is present in the drain; you risk splashing caustic water on yourself.
Wear rubber gloves to prevent the chemical from burning your skin.
Don't use a chemical cleaner if the blockage is total, especially if the fixture is filled with water. It won't clear the blockage and you'll face another problem-how to get rid of the caustic water.
Never use a chemical cleaner in a garbage disposal.
Read labels and match cleaners with clogs. Alkalis cut grease; acids dissolve soap and hair.
Don't mix chemicals. Mixing an acid and an alkali cleaner can cause an explosion.
Don't look down the drain after pouring a chemical. The solution often boils up and gives off toxic fumes.
Before trying any drain-clearing methods on a plugged drain, check that the tub's pop-up stopper is opening fully and is free of hair and debris. If the stopper isn't the problem, then the drainpipe is probably clogged. First, try a plunger or chemical drain cleaner.
If these fail to do the job, you'll have to clear the trap with a snake.
Most tubs have a P trap in the drain. In some homes, the tub may have a drum trap in the floor near the tub instead (it will have a removable metal cover and a rubber gasket).
Using a snake in a tub P trap is much like snaking out a sink trap. If you have a drum trap, first try snaking it clear through the tub overflow.
If that doesn't work, bailout all the standing water from the tub.
Then, using an adjustable-end wrench, unscrew the trap cover slowly.
Have rags ready for any water that wells up.
Remove the cover, bail out and clean the trap.
If, after this, water does not well up, snake toward he tub; if water does well up, snake toward he main drain.
If you can't reach the clog from the trap, it's probably deeper in he main drain.
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.
How your toilet works.
Two assemblies are concealed under the lid of a toilet tank; a ball cock assembly, which regulates the filling of he tank, and a flush valve assembly, which controls the flow of water from the tank to the bowl. When someone presses the flush handle, the trip lever raises the lift wires (or chain) connected to the tank stopper. As the stopper goes up, water rushes through the valve seat into the bowl via the flush passages. The water in the bowl yields to gravity and is siphoned out the trap.
Once the tank empties, the stopper drops into the flush valve seat. The float ball trips the ball cock assembly to let a new supply of water into the tank through the tank fill tube. As the tank water level rises, the float ball rises until it gets high enough to shut off the flow of water. If the water fails to shut off, the overflow tube carries water down into the bowl to prevent an overflow.
Troubleshooting Toilet Problems
Restricted water flow.
Defective ball cock assembly.
Adjust the shutoff valve first.
Oil the trip lever or replace the ball cock washers.
Replace the entire ball cock assembly.
CAUTION: First turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valve. Then flush the toilet to empty the tank and sponge out any remaining water.
Float arm not rising high enough.
Water-filled float ball.
Tank stopper not seating properly.
Corroded flush valve seal.
Cracked overflow tube.
Ball cock valve doesn't shut off.
Bend float arm down or away from tank wall.
Adjust stopper guide rod and lift wires or chain. Replace defective stopper.
Scour valve seat or replace.
Replace tube or install new flush valve assembly.
Oil trip lever, replace faulty washers, or install new ball cock assembly.
Blockage in drain.
Remove blockage with plunger or closet auger.
Faulty linkage between handle and trip lever.
Tank stopper closes before tank empties.
Leak between tank and bowl.
Clogged flush passages.
Tighten setscrew on handle linkage or replace handle.
Adjust stopper guide rod and lift wires or chain.
Tighten tank bolts or couplings or replace gasket.
Clear obstructions from passages with wire.
To stop a leak between the tank and bowl of a bowl-mounted toilet tank, tighten the bolts in the tank, or remove them and replace their gaskets.
To seal the connections on a wall-mounted tank, tighten the couplings on the pipe connecting the tank and bowl, or unscrew the couplings, remove the pipe, and replace the washers.
If the bowl leaks around its base, you'll have to lift the bowl up and reseal it along the base.
If you don 't want to do this job yourself, call in a professional plumber.
This problem occurs most often in the summer when cold water in the tank cools the porcelain, and warm, moist air encourages mildew, loosens floor tiles, and rots sub-flooring. An easy solution is to insulate the inside of the tank by draining it and then gluing a liner made of foam rubber pads to the inside walls. A more costly remedy, and one that's usually a job for a professional, is to install a tempering valve that mixes hot water with the cold water entering the tank.
Install tank insulation or a tempering valve.
When loosening connections, avoid slipping with a wrench and cracking the fixture by dousing stubborn connections with penetrating oil.
When trying to detect a tank leak, add food coloring to the tank water if you can't tell whether your toilet is leaking around the tank bolts or just sweating. Wait an hour; then touch the bolt tips and nuts under the tank with white tissue. If the tissue shows coloring, you have a leak; otherwise, it's condensation.
Preventing Kitchen Drain Clogs
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
A higher than normal water bill might be your first indication of a leaking pipe. Or you might hear the sound of running water even when all your fixtures are turned off. When you suspect a leak, check the fixtures first to make sure all the faucets are tightly closed. Then go to the water meter, if you have one. If the dial is moving, you're losing water somewhere in the system.
Locating the Leak
Try these tips to locate a leak.
The sound of running water helps. If you hear it, follow it to its source. You can buy a listening device that amplifies sounds when it's held up to a pipe.
If water is staining the ceiling or dripping down, the leak is probably directly above.
Occasionally, water may travel along a joist and then stain or drip at a point some distance from the leak.
If water stains a wall, it means there's a leak in a section of pipe.
Any wall stain is likely to be below the actual location of the leak and you'll probably need to remove part of the wall to find it.
Without the sound of running water and without drips or stains as evidence, leaks are more difficult to find. Using a flashlight, check all the pipes in the basement or in the crawl space.
Fixing the Leak
If the leak is major, turn off the water immediately, either at the fixture shutoff valve or the main shutoff valve. You'll probably have to replace the leaky section of pipe. If your experience working with pipes is limited, you'll probably want to call in a plumber to do the job. If the leak is small, the ultimate solution is to replace the pipe, but there are temporary solutions until you have time for the replacement job. These methods work for small leaks only.
Clamps should stop most leaks for several months if they're used with a solid rubber blanket. It's a good idea to buy a sheet of rubber, as well as some clamps sized to fit your pipes at a hardware store and keep them on hand just for this purpose.
A sleeve clamp that exactly fits the pipe diameter works best. Wrap a rubber blanket over the leak, then screw the clamp down over the blanket.
An adjustable hose clamp used with a rubber blanket stops a pinhole leak.
If nothing else is at hand, use a C-clamp, a small block of wood and a rubber blanket.
In a pinch, try applying epoxy putty around a joint where a clamp won't work. The pipe must be dry for the putty to adhere. Turn off the water supply to the leak and leave the water off until the putty hardens completely on the pipe.
If you don't have a clamp or putty, you can still stop a small leak temporarily by plugging it with a pencil point.
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