Prepare for plumbing emergencies now

Some of the most exasperating home repair problems crop up when something goes wrong with the plumbing. And serious difficulties can lead to costly repair bills. Planning for plumbing emergencies now can save you money and headaches later.

Fortunately, a properly installed system should not cause you many problems. Better yet, some common minor plumbing hassles, such as clogged drains and leaky faucets, probably can be treated successfully by those industrious homeowners looking to save a few dollars.

Your first step should be to do a little homework on the subject of plumbing. Browse through home repair books at the library or bookstore. Most will offer easy-to-follow advice on how to fix a variety of things around the house. Books containing detailed diagrams and user-friendly instructions are the best. With so many "do-it-yourself" books on the shelves, picking out only one or two suitable volumes may be your biggest dilemma.

Now it's time to tour your home and become acquainted with the plumbing system. Learn the location of all shutoff valves, particularly the main shutoff valve. A good place to look for the main valve is near the water meter.

Shutoff valves for sinks, commodes and other fixtures ordinarily are located beneath the fixture in question. However, in some homes, they might be found in the basement or crawl space. Use these valves—when accessible—to cut off the water supply to malfunctioning fixtures.

Make sure that adults in the family know the location of the main shutoff value since it controls water to the entire house.

What type of tools should you have on hand for plumbing emergencies? A plunger, an adjustable wrench, an auger and a screwdriver will be enough for most drain problems. For leaky faucets, you'll also need assorted washers, a reseating tool and some packing thread. A reliable hardware or plumbing supply dealer is a good source for tools and for answers to your specific questions.

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall if the house is unoccupied. But if you've forgotten and all of a sudden you're in the middle of a deep freeze, there's still time to prevent disaster.

Here's how to save your pipes from bursting:

  • If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turn on both indoors and outdoor faucets lightly to keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. Aim for about five drips per minute.
  • During cold weather, open the cabinet doors that cover any plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom to help prevent the exposed piping from freezing.
  • If your pipes are already freezing, wrap them with warm towels. If hot rags aren't doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: Do not use use a blow torch!
  • Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now's the time to find it!)

While you won't be able to handle every plumbing emergency yourself, armed with a little knowledge, a few tools and common sense, you should be able to trim costs for minor repairs. But in a real emergency, call in the professionals to avoid even bigger and more costly plumbing repair costs down the road.

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