Plumbing follows the basic laws of nature — gravity, pressure, water seeking its own level. Knowing this, you can understand its “mysteries” and make dozens of fixes to your home’s plumbing system. You can save yourself time, trouble, and money with these DIY plumbing tips from the experts.
According to plumbing experts from How Stuff Works, the plumbing system in your home is composed of two separate subsystems. One subsystem brings freshwater in, and the other takes wastewater out. The water that comes into your home is under pressure. It enters your home under enough pressure to allow it to travel upstairs, around corners, or wherever else it’s needed. As water comes into your home, it passes through a meter that registers the amount you use.
The main water shutoff, or stop, valve is typically located close to the meter. In a plumbing emergency, it’s vital that you quickly close the main shutoff valve. Otherwise, when a pipe bursts, it can flood your house in no time. If the emergency is confined to a sink, tub, or toilet, however, you may not want to turn off your entire water supply. Therefore, most fixtures should have individual stop valves.
How to fix leaky pipes and joints
There are all kinds of plumbing leaks. Some can flood your home, while others are not nearly so damaging. Your approach to stopping a leak depends on the type of leak it is. If the leak is at a joint, tighten the joint. If the leak is in a pipe, remove the section that is leaking and replace it with a new section. Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done.
For example, when you turn a threaded galvanized steel pipe to unscrew it from its fitting at one end, you tighten the pipe into its fitting at the other end. With copper pipe, the new section must be sweat-soldered in place. Most pipe replacement jobs are best left to a plumber, but as a do-it-yourselfer, you may consider an alternative: the pipe patch.
You’ll find patch kits for plumbing leaks at the hardware store, or you can make your own with a piece of heavy rubber from an old inner tube and a C-clamp. Another possibility is to use a hose clamp with a rubber patch. Factory-made kits contain a rubber pad that goes over the hole in the pipe and metal plates that compress the rubber pad over the hole. A quick and easy way to stop a leak, the patch kit can even be used on a permanent basis if the pipe is otherwise sound.
Other quick and easy temporary measures for stopping pipe leaks include wrapping waterproof tape over the bad spot or rubbing the hole with a stick of special compound. Applying epoxy paste or inserting a self-tapping plug into the hole are other alternatives. When using waterproof tape, be sure to dry the pipe thoroughly before you start wrapping.
Start the tape about 2 to 3 inches from the hole and extend it the same distance beyond. For tiny leaks in pipes, use a compound stick available at most hardware stores. Simply rub the stick over the hole to stop the leak. The compound stick can even stop small leaks while the water is still running in the pipe. Epoxy paste can be applied only to dry pipes, and the water must be turned off.
The problem with all of these solutions is that a pipe that’s bad enough to spring one leak often starts leaking in other places too. You may fix one spot only to see the pipe burst somewhere else. Especially in cases where the leak results from corrosion, the whole section of pipe will probably need replacing. This is typically a job for a professional plumber.
The Family Handyman advises the following when trying to stop a bathroom leak:
- Shut off the water at the main valve in your home and open up nearby faucets to completely drain the pipe with the leaky elbow.
- Dry the outside of the elbow and sand (120-grit paper or cloth) around the leaking joint to remove all surface corrosion.
- Apply soldering flux around the whole joint and apply heat with a torch until the old solder melts. Add new solder until a shiny ring of solder shows all around the joint.
- Let the pipe cool for five minutes, then turn the water back on and cross your fingers that you stopped the leak.
- If the leak continues, turn off the water again, open faucets to drain the line and cut out the entire elbow. Then solder in new fittings.
Remember that dripping water doesn’t necessarily indicate a leak. Also remember that not every plumbing problem can be a DIY project: if you have access to a reputable plumber, always opt for that option.
Sources: How Stuff Works and The Family Handyman