6 Things Plumbers Always Do in Their Own Homes
Plumbers say keeping up on a few basic tasks and best practices is the secret to a well-maintained, fully-functioning home plumbing system.
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Think like a plumber
A professional plumber has a significant advantage over the average homeowner when it comes to maintaining pipes, drains, fixtures, et al. Pros know exactly what to do and when to do it. They also know whether something is an emergency versus a “this can wait until the weekend” sort of thing.
But don’t be intimidated—you don’t need to memorize the Uniform Plumbing Code or pass your state’s licensing exam to maintain a plumbing system free of leaks, clogs, and sewage backups. It’s more a matter of implementing habits and routines that will help you minimize, if not avoid, the need to make a panicked phone call to Plumbing 911 on a Saturday night.
Here are six things professional plumbers always do in their own homes to keep things running smoothly.
Plumbers always put food waste into the trash or compost bin
Dumping bacon grease or the remnants of your toddler’s lunch into the sink and running the garbage disposal might seem like the quick-and-easy way to plow through a stack of dirty dishes. But it’s actually a terrible habit that can really wreak havoc on your plumbing system, says Aaron Mulder, co-owner and Operations Manager of Mr. Rooter Plumbing in San Antonio, Texas.
A better plan? Scrape your plates into the garbage can, and pour grease into an empty can that also goes in the trash. Composting is an option, too, if you have a way to dispose of the compost. Some cities offer compost pick-up, and many people use compost in their gardens.
Why is this so important? Grease sticks to the walls of your pipes and eventually clogs your drain. And the garbage disposal is not designed to break down and process things like meat, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Putting these items down the drain and running the disposal will overwork and eventually damage the device, Mulder says.
And if that isn’t enough to convince you, have you heard about the fatberg that waste treatment officials discovered in England in 2019? Enough said.
Plumbers flush their water heater regularly
If you find yourself standing in a cold shower every morning or hearing weird sounds coming from your water heater, it might be time to ask yourself if the unit has been flushed lately. Or ever.
“You should (flush your water heater) once a year,” says Jake Romano of John the Plumber in Burlington, Ontario.
Why is this necessary? According to Romano, over time sediment builds up at the bottom of your water heater tank. This sediment can damage the appliance, making it inefficient or even inoperable. Flushing is particularly important in areas with hard water, adds Mulder.
Fortunately, performing this annual to-do is not complicated, Romano says. And while you can certainly hire a plumber to flush a water heater on your behalf, many DIYers are perfectly capable of doing the job.
Plumbers use a smart device to check for leaks and drips
While it is certainly convenient to tell Alexa to order cat food or play your favorite song, the best smart device features help minimize genuine home-related problems—like plumbing leaks.
Mulder, for example, uses a smart, Wi-Fi-enabled leak detection device to monitor his home’s plumbing system. If a leak or drip is detected, the device immediately shuts off the water and sends a notification to his phone. That lets him tackle the repair before it becomes a catastrophe.
“(The device) basically monitors for fluctuations in water pressure and any type of leaks that may occur,” he says. “It is a really useful device.”
If you’re not ready to add a smart home leak monitor, remember to keep an eye out for leaks and drips. Romano says this is typically done by simply listening for the sound of rushing water or that tell-tale drop-drop sound. You can also go through your home and check each faucet.
“The sooner you catch stuff with good routine inspections, the cheaper it is to fix,” he says.
Plumbers always use a no-frills plunger
Sometimes, back-to-basics is best. Case in point: toilet plungers. You can buy all sorts of gimmicky, overly engineered plungers, but the ones that work best are the good old-fashioned, less than $8 plungers, says Romano.
Why? Because they quickly and effectively do the job they are meant to do—unclog a toilet. Plus, they are easy to clean. “Fancy” plungers, with their air holes, tempered handles, and drip-free magnetic collars, cost more and don’t do anything to help make plunging more pleasant. Save yourself the trouble (and the $20) by sticking to the original version, even if it doesn’t look as good in the corner of your bathroom.
On a related note, when you’re shopping for a plunger, add a basic pair of safety goggles to your cart, says Romano. Plunging can be an extremely dirty job (need I say more?) and you’ll want your eyes protected.
Plumbers change their water filter cartridges
If you use a plumbing-integrated water filter of any kind—whether it be a faucet filter, refrigerator filter, under-sink filter, or a whole-house water treatment filter—it’s essential you do exactly what a plumber would do and change those filter cartridges regularly, says Romano.
Generally, change the filter every six months, but this can vary based on use and manufacturer’s recommendations. Check the owner’s manual for your particular device.
OK, but my water still tastes fresh—is it really necessary to switch the filter out so often? They’re not cheap; new filters can set you back more than $130, depending on the type of replacement cartridges you need.
Yes, Mulder explains, because the filter collects various contaminants that could be in your city’s water system. (If you’re not sure which contaminants your filter blocks, this handy database can tell you.) In some cases, this is mostly about taste. Other times, it is about health. In either case, you want your filter to do its job. If you fail to change the filter, it can get dirty and clogged, rendering it useless.
Plumbers check their water pressure at least once a year
Water pressure that is too high or too low can be problematic, not to mention annoying. This is why plumbers like Mulder check the water pressure in their homes at least once a year.
What can go wrong if you don’t keep tabs on it? Well, with low water pressure, you’ll experience things like slow flow in the shower or a washing machine that takes forever to fill. High water pressure can lead to leaks, wear-and-tear on your appliances, and even burst pipes.
While it can vary by city code, in general, the water pressure should be set to a maximum of 80 PSI. This will allow you to easily rinse the shampoo out of your hair in the shower while also keeping your pipes in one piece. And good news! Checking your water pressure is really easy, Mulder explains. Just pick up a water pressure test gauge, secure it to your hose or faucet, turn on the water and wait for the reading to register.
If your pressure is too high or too low, you’ll need to seek help from a plumber or determine the cause of the issue and make the repair yourself. There are numerous causes of high and/or low pressure, but one possible fix for low pressure is the installation of a water pressure booster pump.
- Aaron Mulder, co-owner and Operations Manager of Mr. Rooter Plumbing
- Jake Romano of John the Plumber
- IAMPO: Uniform Code
- NYC.gov: Fatbergs
- NPR: Massive Fatberg Found Blocking Sewer in British Seaside Town
- CDC: Choosing Home Water Filters and Other Water Treatment Systems
- EPA: Water Health Series