Your home’s plumbing system is a significant part of your home investment. When your plumbing fails, repairs can cost a lot of money. Keeping a regular plumbing maintenance schedule can save you thousands of dollars in damage repair.
In my handyman business, simple jobs like opening stopped drains and reattaching broken gutters were a regular part of my workload. Still, many things I got paid to do were things most homeowners could do themselves. And no one ever hired me for regular maintenance. But then, how many people do you know actually contract out plumbing maintenance?
A complete home plumbing maintenance schedule can be as simple as a checklist. It should be comprehensive enough to ensure that the job gets done, and you don’t miss anything. I’ll cover most, if not all, of the items you should have on your checklist.
Stay Ahead of Plumbing Emergencies
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Who needs the expense and inconvenience of a thousand-dollar plumbing bill (or worse) when regular plumbing maintenance will prevent it?
Let’s talk about what should get regular attention…
Emergency Shut-Off Valves
Every water outlet has either a dedicated or general water cutoff. For example, you can look behind your toilet and see a shutoff valve at the water supply. A sink faucet will have a shutoff valve under it, usually inside a cabinet under the sink. Water heaters and boilers also have shutoff valves.
There is a main cutoff that shuts off water to everything as well. This valve may be in a box by the curb or inside the house where the source pipe comes in. You should know where it is and how to shut it off if something happens.
If you have an emergency and water is spilling into your house, you need to shut the water off quickly – and all the way.
Water Valve Maintenance
Locate where each cutoff valve is in your home. See if you can turn each one. If the valve sticks, won’t budge, is rusted or heavily corroded, or it springs a leak, it needs replacement. Ensuring that every valve is in proper working condition can literally save thousands of dollars when a major leak occurs.
You Must Be Able To Shut The Water Off
The first valve you need to find and check is your main cutoff. This valve needs to be in good working condition at all times. It controls the flow of water to your entire house. Its location is always where public water enters the property. It may be in a box at the curb, in the basement, or in the garage. It’s usually next to a meter, which counts gallons of water as it flows through it.
Find the main shutoff valve and write down the reading on the meter. Turn off the water. Then open a sink faucet to relieve pressure inside the pipes. An hour later, go back and check the meter reading. It should read exactly the same.
If the meter reading changed, water is flowing through the valve. Recheck it and have it replaced if you can’t get the water to stop. The main shutoff valve is the property of the city or utility company, so if the valve doesn’t function correctly or leaks, they should replace it at no charge to you.
Next, find each shutoff valve location throughout the house. Those places will be behind each toilet, under sinks, and near appliances, like washers and dishwashers. Check each one to be sure they are in good working order. Replace each one as needed.
When checking your laundry room plumbing, be sure and check the hoses that supply water to your washer. If they are bulging or cracked, then don’t fail to replace them.
First and foremost, make sure you don’t put anything into your drains that can potentially build up or clog your pipes, like grease. It will build up, harden, and eventually clog your drain. Coffee grounds can and do build up too.
Hand soap and shampoo can build up in sink and tub drains. Ensure that you keep some kind of screen over the tub and open sink drains to prevent hair from going into them.
Natural Drain Cleaners and Openers
Since it doesn’t make sense to stop using shampoo and soap, it’s a good idea to have a sink and tub drain cleaning routine. For clogged drains, I cover home remedies in another article found here, where I share find several natural solutions for opening and keeping pipes clean and clear.
Vinegar, salt, and hot water work wonders. Pour a half-cup of table salt followed by a half-cup of white vinegar into each drain. Wait for several minutes, then slowly pour a gallon of near-boiling water into it. Once the water is poured, turn on the faucet and chase everything through. That semi-annual treatment should keep it clear of the most common buildups.
Clean out Covers
Clean out covers offer access to main sewer drains. You can usually find cleanouts on your house’s side, buried in the yard, in the basement, or garage. From time to time, you can check to make sure you can remove each cleanout cover.
Spray a little WD40 or generously wipe some machine oil on the threads at regular intervals and a few days before opening it. Using Teflon tape on the threads can help maintain a good seal and prevent rust lockups.
It is sometimes possible to loosen a cleanout cover that’s completely rusted shut, but it will eventually be necessary to cut the surrounding pipe to safely access it.
Keep Your Pipes From Freezing
Protect all water valves that come into contact with winter air and freezing temperatures. Some outdoor faucets have indoor shutoffs. That’s a good thing. In the fall, shut off the indoor valve and open the outdoor valve to empty the pipe and close it again.
If there is no cutoff, wrap the exposed valve to not have direct contact with cold air. Make sure there is enough insulation around it to hold in any warm air that comes into contact with it.
A styrofoam faucet cover works pretty well if you can get it to make a good air seal. If not, wrap the valve with something insulating before attaching it as tightly as you can.
Water Heater Maintenance
Water heaters, depending on the quality and brand, usually last between ten and twenty years. All water heaters, however, can last longer than average with some simple plumbing maintenance.
Consider draining it annually or bi-annually to flush out sediment and sand that may be building up inside. If you have an older unit and you’ve never flushed water through it, and want to, consider hiring a plumber to do the job. A plumber can avert mishaps like a clogged or broken drain valve.
If removing and replacing the hose bib isn’t a problem for you, then this maintenance task is one you should perform. It will increase the efficiency of your water heater and add a year or two to its life. Well worth it!
After flushing out the sediment buildup, make sure your T&P valve works. However, suppose you have an older water heater and never tested it. In that case, it may likely not close again once it’s opened. A T&P valve relieves high water pressure and also opens if the water temperature inside the heater gets too high. If it hasn’t been tested in a while, skip this step and just remove the sediment.
You may consider adding a water heater pan and float switch if your unit doesn’t already have them. If your water heater should spring a leak and there is a pan with a float switch installed, it will automatically shut off the water and stop any flooding. If you’re considering a pan and control, look around the area and ask yourself how much potential damage could happen
Toilet Operation and Leak Detection
Do you suspect that your toilet may continuously be running, even just a little bit? Try putting several drops of dark food coloring in the tank and wait several minutes. Is the water in the bowl colored? If it is, you’ve got a leak. Not to worry, though. It’s likely to be the flapper, and it’s a very inexpensive fix. Not fixing a running toilet costs money and wastes a lot of water every year.
Home Water Treatment Systems
You should follow the manufacturer requirements for maintaining your water treatment system. Most water treatment systems remove sediments and balance the ph or soften hard water. Use a basic water testing kit to determine whether your water treatment unit is performing well or not.
PennState Extension recommends lab testing your water quality periodically, particularly if you have a water treatment system. You should hire a professional to get it done or work directly with a lab to ensure the test is performed correctly.
Follow regular maintenance and change water filters recommended by the manufacturer of the filtration system consistently. Don’t let it slide.
Reverse Osmosis systems filter water very effectively. They’re my favorite water filter add-on for any home. Still, they can become ineffective with dirty filters and build up in the lines. Regular filter changes and line maintenance are fundamental to clean, filtered drinking water. Get on, and stay on a filter changing schedule – and don’t forget to flush those lines!
Gutters and Downspout Maintenance
Gutters full of debris will lead to overflows and poor drainage around your home’s foundation. Simple cleaning will ensure that rainwater will flow away from your foundation.
Make sure the downspouts are open. Make sure everything is securely attached. Caulk gaps and areas where significant leaks occur with a good quality silicone caulk. While you’re at it, watch out for bird nests!
Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems
Irrigation system fixtures can be broken very quickly by lawnmowers and kids playing in the yard. You should check all connections at the beginning and the end of each season.
Make sure each sprinkler head pops up and drops back down freely throughout the spring and summer seasons.
Faucets and Shower Heads
Occasionally, you should remove and clean the aerator of each faucet and shower head. Sediment can build up inside the aerator and slow the flow of water down.
A variety of caulks and seals are used in plumbing, and most of them break down over time. Bathtubs, tub fixtures, and sinks are caulked, usually with silicone or similar caulking. It can peel away from the surface or allow mold to grow behind it. If either is detected, remove it and replace it.
Toilets often have caulk around the base of them, but not always. Some plumbers argue that you shouldn’t caulk them, and others say you should. There are good reasons for both arguments.
To me, it all depends on the floor. Yep. If you have a finished wood floor, don’t caulk. If it’s ceramic tile, then you should caulk. I err in favor of caulking when it is clear that removing it will be a reasonable task, and it won’t damage the floor.
That’s just me.
Septic System Maintenance
If you have a septic tank, it needs to be pumped and inspected regularly. A cracked cover, for example, can let mud and dirt into your septic tank, and accumulate over time. You can use an enzyme specifically designed for septic systems if there aren’t enough active bacteria present. Those are typically introduced to your system through the toilet.
The best approach is to find someone who can inspect and service your tank and have them make recommendations. Ask questions and follow their advice. They will be able to the best maintenance tips for your tank, explicitly. Every tank has features and conditions that are unique to it.
You can quick-check your sump pump by pouring a gallon of water into the pit and making sure it will turn on. Since the life of a sump pump is around seven to ten years, it may be a good idea to do just a little more;
Unplug and unhook the pump, pull it out, clean it, and clean out the sump pit. Ensure the pump’s inlet screen is clean and free of debris. Check the pump manual for additional steps, like lubricating bearings. Some bearings are sealed and maintenance-free.
After you’re done, set it back in place, plug it in, and pour in several gallons of water to make sure the float valve is operational and the unit comes on as it should. Inspect the discharge pipe by the pump for cracks and in the yard for obstructions like dirt, rocks, or weeds.
Testing and Maintaining Consistent Water Pressure
Where the water enters your home, there is often a water pressure regulator. A regulator is adjustable and will regulate the water pressure entering the house. You can also ask the water company to take a pressure reading.
Or, you can check it yourself with an inexpensive pressure gauge. Hook up the pressure gauge to an outdoor faucet and turn the water on. You’ll get a pressure reading immediately.
Most pressure regulators are preset at 50 psi. 45 psi is typically recommended. Most regulators can be set to allow up to 70-80 psi of water pressure. Warning! 80 psi can cause weak fittings to burst or fail altogether.
The Most Common Plumbing Problems
- Dripping faucets
- Slow drains
- Clogged drains
- Plugged toilet
- Running toilet
- Faulty water heater
- Low water pressure
- Jammed garbage disposal
- Sewer backups
- Smelly drains
Plumbing Maintenance Jobs Anyone Can Learn To Do:
- Regular inspection and essential maintenance
- Unclogging and keeping drains clean
- Toilet flapper replacement
- Toilet tank kit installation
- Checking and adjusting water pressure
- Flushing a water heater
- Cleaning the sump pump and pit
- Installing fixtures, like faucets
- Installing a disposal
There will be times when it’s best to hire a pro. You may need a full contractor or tradesman, and other times you can hire a general handyman.
Do you know what a typical handyman hourly rate is? It can vary widely so taking on as much as you comfortably can is always a good idea. Know your limitations and what you can budget out and go from there.