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Test your plumbing – how does it stack up

Washington Energy | 01/04/2013 | Posted in Plumbing

How many of the following can you say yes to:

1. Noisy toilet
2. Toilet that continues to run
3. Temperature fluctuation in the shower
4. Low water flow from the showerhead
5. Frequently clogging toilet
6. Rust staining in toilet or tub
7. Shorter shower time than you remember (less hot water)
8. Banging pipes
9. Odors from your drain
10. Dripping tap or shower head

How did you do? If you have more than 3 of these problems, you are more likely to have a major plumbing failure in the future and we recommend a full home inspection.

These plumbing problems are very common and people just think they have to live with them, particularly in old Seattle houses. Not true! Let’s look at the most common reasons behind these problems and what you can do about them. Many of these plumbing problems can be simple replacements, which can save you from the expensive ones later.

The answers, why does this happen:

1. Toilet noise might sound like screech or abrasion after flushing, this could be from an old or faulty fill valve and replacing that part may solve the problem.

2. Running toilets are wasting water as well as annoying to listen to. Badly running ones can lose 200 gallons of water a day. This is often the result of a failing flapper. That’s the rubber disc shaped piece inside the tank. This will eventually fail completely and lead to non-stop flushing. Eventually all toilets will have the inside parts wear out. If you are not DIY inclined, you can have a plumber rebuild your toilet mechanism. This is particularly helpful when you have odd shaped old toilets that might be hard to replace today. (I have one from 1926 and one from 1954).

3. Temperature fluctuations (and water pressure changes) happen most often when other plumbing fixtures are in use in the house. There could be several causes including rusty pipes or a low water supply. The causes could be in your shower piping itself or with your water heater, or rotting pipes in between. The most practical solution to this problem is to first have a thorough inspection of your plumbing system before you dive into repairs. If you have a tankless water heater and you start to notice temperature inconsistencies, it could be that your cold water intake filter needs to be cleaned. While a tankless does not need to be drained, there is annual maintenance that you, or a plumber, can do to keep it working perfectly.

4. Clogged showerhead. This is caused by an accumulation of mineral deposits. If you have a metal showerhead here is a practical method to fix that: remove it, soak it submerged in white vinegar overnight. You should test a bit of vinegar on the showerhead first to ensure it does not discolor. This will take off any deposits. Use a toothpick to dislodge any deposits still blocking the holes. Do not use this process on painted fixtures as it will peel the paint.

5. Frequent toilet clogs could be caused by a build-up of waste in the pipes, and requires thorough pipe cleaning. Plunging may not solve this problem or may only temporarily solve it, leaving you vulnerable to future bathroom flooding.

6. Rust in the water. Your pipes may be filled with hard water minerals, rust from galvanized pipes, or dirt. Regular cleaners will not remove these and really you should fix the bigger issue, not just clean it up. You know that…

7. Running out of hot water sooner than you are used to. This problem is likely caused by sediment build up in your tank water heater. Mineral deposits in water heaters are natural which is why regular maintenance is recommended by all manufacturers. These deposits and sediments build up inside the tank, shortening the space for hot water and the lifespan of your tank. Drain your water heater annually. If the sediment build up is too thick for you to drain, ask for professional assistance and be prepared for heater repair or replacement. This accumulation of minerals can eventually wear out valves and lead to leaks. Sediment build up isn’t the only possible reason you may be running out of hot water. There may be something wrong with the dip tube that mixes the water in a standard tank water heater. These can rust and wear.

8. Pipe noise that sounds like a hammer is a common problem. It has several possible causes, including sudden valve closure and occasionally pump failure. The speed in which valves are shut off can create water pressure strong enough to reverberate in water pipe lines. That hammering can hurt pipes as well as your ears, so if your plumbing system has it, implement hammer arrestors or valves that close slowly.

9. Odors from drains could signal a problem with your trap, the part underneath a sink or tub drain. If you don’t use the drain often, it could be dry and needing a rinse. Or you might have a big clog or more serious trap leak. If there’s no leak, try a little bleach with a hot water chaser to clear the drain. If that does not help, you may need to get the trap replaced.

10. The drip drip drip of a faucet or tub can drive you mad. The most common causes include damaged parts in the faucet, primarily washers. This is a little piece of rubber, and they do wear out. If you have a cartridge faucet, it could be the cartridge itself. If it’s not the faucet itself, it could be a crack in a pipe or fitting, in which case you could benefit from having a plumber examine it.

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