Most plumbing problems are immune to the technological advances that allow us to interact with our phones, computing devices, televisions and even appliances. Granted, smart technology has arrived in toilets, but mostly for add-on features such as MP3 players, speakers, heated seats, washing and air driers (no kidding).
If you ask, “Hey toilet, why do you keep running?” you’re not going to get an answer unless you’re having a very strange dream.
What the running toilet would tell you, if it could, is that it’s one of 12 plumbing problems that can drain your bank account. Among the others are a dripping faucet, a water heater leaking, a faulty garbage disposal and a sewer system backup. Let’s take a look at the dirty dozen, and along the way, talk about some ways you can clean up some potential messes.
1. Dripping Faucets
That constant dripping is more than just annoying. Even if it’s just a drip every few seconds from a single leaky faucet, the result can be an extra thousand gallons of water per year that shows up on your water bill.
Many leaky faucets are the result of defective gaskets or washers and can be a DIY plumbing job for homeowners with the proper tools and some basic plumbing knowledge. But if the problem persists, a licensed plumber can tackle the issue.
2. Slow-Draining Sinks
A slow-draining sink is often caused by a buildup of soap scum along with hair and other materials such as toothpaste (in a bathroom sink) and food (in a kitchen sink). A drain cleaner might provide short-term help, but most have harsh chemicals that can damage older pipes.
Chemical-free alternatives for a slow-draining sink include using a hair-clog tool, cleaning the stopper and combining baking soda and vinegar to help clean accumulated gunk off the pipes.
If you have multiple slow drains in the house, or drains smell bad or make gurgling sounds, it could be a sign of a more serious problem, such as a partially clogged sewer line.
3. Clogged Bath or Shower Drain
A mixture of hair and soap is usually the cause of a clogged bath or shower drain. There are several at-home remedies that might work, including using boiling water or a plunger.
The severity of the clogged drain, as well as how deep down the clog is in the pipe, might determine whether you need professional plumbing service.
4. Clogged Toilet
A clogged toilet can be disgusting, but it’s often a problem that a homeowner can solve. One thing to remember is that when a toilet is fully clogged, it should never be flushed a second time in hopes that the clog will go away.
The water in the toilet bowl will then overflow, and it can cause costly damage to floors in the bathroom and beyond – and a nauseating clean up job.
Let it sit to see if the water level drops. You may want to try dislodging the clog with a plunger when the water in the toilet bowl gets low enough that you won’t splash any of it out. Have a plastic bag or bucket handy to carry the dirty plunger out of the house.
5. Running Toilet
A constantly running toilet is a common problem, and the typical causes are a worn-out flapper valve, an imbalanced float or a leak. There are multiple ways to troubleshoot the reason for the running toilet, and it’s certainly something you – or a professional plumber – should address. A leak that causes a toilet to constantly run can waste 250 gallons of water per day.
6. Faulty Water Heater
A water heater leaking can be a sign of a serious problem, but sometimes it’s difficult to know if there is a problem at all. Other plumbing pipes and fixtures around a water heater might be the culprit, and small puddles can also be caused by condensation.
Check for leaks on the tubes and connections on top of the hot water heater, where water enters and leaves the tank. Also check at the bottom of the tank to make sure the drain valve isn’t leaking. If you have a tankless water heater, check all joints in the incoming and outgoing water lines.
Water heaters generally last about 10 to 15 years, but their efficiency declines over time. If it’s time for a water heater replacement, you’ll want to find both a quality unit and expert water heater installation.
7. Low Water Pressure
If you’re frustrated by low water pressure in your home, it’s time to troubleshoot the problem. Low water pressure is often caused by serious issues such as clogged pipes or leaky pipes, but start with these tips:
- If the low water pressure is only an issue at one location, check the faucet. It could be a clogged faucet or aerator.
- If the low water pressure is evident throughout the house, check the water shut-off valve in your home to make sure it’s not partially closed.
- Check your toilets to make sure they do not have a leak.
If you can’t pinpoint the leak, professional plumbers can do it and make the necessary repairs.
8. Garbage Disposal Jammed
A jammed garbage disposal qualifies as one of 12 plumbing problems that can drain your bank account, but before you decide that you need garbage disposal repair, here’s something that you might not know:
There’s a reset button on the bottom of the disposal. When a disposal is clogged or overheats, it often shuts down automatically and then needs to be reset. After making sure the garbage disposal switch is turned to the off position, duck your head under the sink and find the reset button on the bottom of the disposal. (And make sure to keep your head down when you start to stand up again, so you don’t end up with a bump on the noggin).
If the reset button doesn’t solve the problem, you might be able to clear a jam by inserting a hex wrench into the underside of the disposal. The right size hex (Allen) wrench usually comes with the disposal. You may find it convenient to keep it handy under the kitchen sink.
9. Leaky Pipes
Leaky pipes can be caused by corrosion, fixture cracks, bad seals, joint damage or a number of other factors. The leaks can create a mess and damage your home, so the repairs are often best left to a professional plumber.
But if it’s a small leak, or you simply want a temporary fix as you decide on a permanent one, you have some options. Among them is applying an epoxy putty over a leak.
10. Sewer Backup
A sewer backup is most commonly caused by clogged pipes, which can get jammed with hair, grease, soap scum, toilet paper and … well, that’s probably gross enough, right? Sometimes a sewer backup can also be caused by collapsed pipes or the intrusion of tree roots, which are attracted to moisture and can find small cracks in pipe sections or at loose joints.
Here are three signs that you might have a sewer system backup:
- More than one drain in the house is clogged.
- Water backs up in other drains. For example, you flush a toilet and then hear gurgling sounds in a nearby shower or a small amount of water appears in a sink.
- Toilets aren’t flushing properly. It’s not unusual to have an occasional clogged toilet, but if it’s a recurring problem, the sewer system should be checked by a plumber.
11. Leaking Hose Bibb
That outdoor faucet where your garden hose connects is called a hose bibb. (Go ahead, impress -- or bore -- your friends with that bit of trivia).
The hose bibb doesn’t get used as often as the faucets in the house, but if you run water through the hose and you have a leaky hose bibb, you’re paying extra on your water bill. If you have a leaky packing nut, the hose bibb can drip even when turned off.
It’s not difficult to determine of you have a leaking hose bibb. If it’s not something you can fix, a certified plumber can take care of it.
NOTE: in most jurisdictions hose bibbs must be equipped with a safety devices called a hose connection vacuum breaker (HVB). If water pressure in the hose drops (such as when you turn off the water at the hose bibb and have the nozzle closed) the HVB vents the water onto the ground so it won’t flow back into the water supply lines in your home. Some are integrated with the hose bibb, others are added later. Do not remove these devices.
12. Water Heater/No Hot Water
We talked about a leaky water heater earlier, but what if you’re getting no hot water at all in your home?
The troubleshooting process varies based on whether you have an electric or gas water heater. Hopefully it’s not a serious problem, but if you can’t resolve it quickly, it’s a plumbing emergency. Most water heater repairs can be very technical, and for the safety of you and your family, don’t rely on guesswork. Contact a plumbing pro.
Plumbing problems can come in many forms, including a dripping faucet, clogged drain, jammed garbage disposal, leaky pipes, sewer backup and water heater failure. In some cases, you can troubleshoot the problem and make the necessary repairs.
But some plumbing problems that can drain your bank account require the attention of a professional plumber, both for your safety and to prevent more serious problems. If you feel at all unsure about a particular case of plumbing maintenance, repair or installation, contact a professional plumbing service.