It's that time of year again, to reflect on your goals and find areas in your life that you would like to improve. You’ve probably thought about goals related to fitness, finance, or maybe even making new friends, but what about your Plumbing? Most likely, you have never even considered taking any action on your plumbing, other than calling a plumber when water is leaking where you don't want it to be.
What if we told you that there are a handful of preventive measures that you can do to prevent damage to your home from plumbing? Here is a list of simple actions that you can do this week end to save you a headache or even thousands of dollars.
1. Check those Sinks!
Like most of your neighbors here in Spokane, there are a few hundred dollars of cleaning supplies and toiletry items under the sink. A lot of items stored under the kitchen or bathroom sink make it hard to see if the water lines are leaking. We often get called out to repair a leak in a bathroom that has been leaking for months going unnoticed. At that point, the plumbing repair is much less expensive than the mitigation that needs to be done to repair the water damage.
A simple solution to this would be to remove all items (maybe even discard any unused items while your at it) and look for signs of water or better yet, run your hands along the pipes to feel for moisture. If you feel any moisture, the repairs under the sink typically are simple and inexpensive to repair. If you see signs of water damage or even mold, we would recommend consulting a local mitigation company to see what the next steps may look like.
2. Check that Water Heater!
One of the first steps here would be to see how old your water heater is. Look at the model plate/sticker on the water heater and locate the serial number and then go to https://www.waterheaterhub.com/water-heater-age-lookup/ to decode the serial number to see the age. The reason I suggest this first over flushing water heater is because the average water heater life in Spokane is about 20 years. If the water heater has not been flushed in 15 to 20 years, most likely you wont be able to successfully remove much sediment from the tank and the drain will probably start leaking once you open it (or break...).
A water heater can go as long as 30 years in Spokane because the PH of our water is pretty neutral as opposed to areas that have alkaline water that eats the anode rod and then causes the water heaters tank to leak. But after 20 years it becomes a gamble as to when that tank will begin leaking and possibly cause water damage. If your water heater is 20 years old, you may want to consider upgrading your water heater to a tankless water heater, we'll go into that in a later post.
So what can you do if your water heater is only 5 to 10 years old? First, lets do the same visual and physical check for any leaks or signs of leaks on the pipes connecting to the water heater. Like the leak under the sink, these repairs are pretty reasonable if taken care of once they start leaking. If there are no leaks on the water heater, hook up a hose to the bottom of the water heater and run to the nearest drain.
Some say to just drain the water heater, but this is less than effective. We want to use the incoming water pressure to the house, to stir up the water in the tank and flush it out, just hook it up and let it run on high for 15 minutes. This practice is effective especially on a new water heater that has minimal mineral deposits in the tank to keep it clean over the years. Once a water heater is passed that 10-year mark, the flush is not as effective as the mineral deposits may have already built up significantly, especially on electric water heaters.
If you have a gas water heater, check the venting. We have seen some scary vent connections on water heaters that were installed by handymen or other people that were not plumbers. The flue vent should always slope up and all connections should be secured with a minimum of 3 screws. The vent should not have any tape on it or have any flex connections.
3. Inspect that Main Sewer!
When the sewer backs up, the back up is the symptom of a greater underlying issue. There is really only two causes to main sewer clogs, the pipe is compromised in some way or something is being flushed down the toilet that shouldn't be, "Unflushables" as we call them. Believe it or not, you can avoid most sewer clogs by having the sewer inspected to know if there are any concerns with your existing drain.
In Spokane, it's very common, especially in older areas like the South Hill area, to have root intrusions. This is where there is a section of pipe that has roots growing into it, typically through a fitting that has begun leaking over time. These “Root Intrusions” grow into large balls of roots until they have completely blocked the drain. Most roots can be removed through various drain cleaning techniques like hydro jetting or high-speed chain cutting.
By having your main sewer inspected, these issues can be found and addressed before you have a basement full of sewage on the holiday weekend! Now, about those "unflushables"... flushable wipes, cleaning wipes, baby wipes, WIPES OF ANY KIND, paper towels, any hygiene products, honestly the list goes on from socks and shirts and so much more! Basically, you should not flush anything down the toilet that is not toilet paper or product of number one and two. Newer homes that have plastic main sewers (ABS, PVC, SDR-35) are a lot more forgiving than your older homes that have cast iron, clay, transite, or Orangeburg pipe.
4. Where is your Main Water Shutoff?
Do you know where to shut the water off in case of an emergency? This is so important to know if your home was experiencing an emergency and you needed to quickly shut the main water off to the home. There are two types of shut offs, ball valves and gate valves.
Gate valves have a round handle and require multiple turns in the clockwise rotatian to shut the water off. Gate valves can be problematic. They often will not completely shut your water off, which can be difficult in an emergency or even if your just making a plumbing repair in the home. Gate valves are notorius for breaking in the off position... which is not fully off. If you main water shut off does happen to shut all the way, chances are it will leak slightly when you turn it back on from the packing nut. The packing nut is hex nut that secures the stem of the valve to the body of the valve, if it leaks, try giving it a little tightening.
Ball valves make a much better main water shut off, they are less likely to leak and usually turn the water off completely in just a quarter of a turn. When we replace a main water shut off, we coordinate with your water authority to shut the water off to the property while we install the new shut off. Once the installation is complete, we again coordinate to have them turn the water back on.
So in conclusion, let's make sure that 2021 is a much better year than 2020! You can sleep a little better at night knowing that your plumbing is less likely to be an issue, if you take a little time this weekend to check your sinks and even toilets for small leaks. Check out your water heater and maybe flush it too. Talk to your family about what should and should not be flushed down the toilets in your home. Locate your main water shut off and share the location of it with your family in case of an emergency and perhaps identify whether you should consider replacing it with a more reliable valve. Happy New Year!