You may find it surprising that your home’s plumbing system is a significant part of your entire home investment. When your plumbing fails, it can cause headaches, other related problems, and a ton of money to get everything fixed. Keeping a regular plumbing maintenance schedule can save you thousands of dollars over time.
When I was running my handyman business, simple jobs like unstopping plugged drains and reattaching broken gutters made up a decent amount of the work I performed. Many things I got paid to do were things most homeowners I encountered could have probably done themselves.
Some prefer not to bother with a maintenance schedule in favor of hiring everything out, which I suppose can work. But seriously, how many people do you know who contract out plumbing maintenance?
Anyway, I’m guessing that you’re here to put a maintenance schedule together so you can save the cash as well as the headaches. It’s not just the cost of repairs that matters. It’s the headaches.
Creating and following a customized plumbing maintenance schedule can help you steer clear of both.
A complete home plumbing maintenance “system” can be as simple as following a checklist created specifically for your home. It should be comprehensive enough to ensure that the cost of maintaining your plumbing system is minimized, and that you don’t miss anything. I’ll cover most, if not all, of the items you should have on your checklist.
A Good Plumbing Maintenance Schedule
Making sure outdoor spigots are wrapped and protected from freezing is one plumbing maintenance chore you need to do in the fall. On the other hand, cleaning out your gutters right before your trees drop their leaves doesn’t make much sense.
Other things can be done at any time, like checking and maintaining the right water pressure throughout the home or maintaining clean and open drains.
Knowing exactly where your emergency water valves are is necessary to stop major flooding in an emergency. That they are in good working condition isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential.
Those are all easy to understand examples of how a seasonal plumbing maintenance schedule makes good sense. So, let’s do it!
Any Regular Plumbing Maintenance Should Ensure:
- All your valves are in good working order
- Drains remain clean and open
- Pipes don’t freeze in cold weather
- Water heater inspection and flushing are performed at regular intervals
- Reliable operation of the sump pump
- Consistent water pressure
- Corrosion and rust don’t inhibit the use of fixtures
- There are no leaks
- Seals and caulking are mold-free and still sealing
- Everything is working properly
How To 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 (and cheap) plumbing maintenance will do the job?
Emergency Shut-Off Valves
Every water outlet has either a dedicated or general water cutoff for it. For example, you can look behind your toilet and see a shutoff valve where the water comes in through the wall. 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 for each.
There is a main cutoff that shuts off water to your entire house as well. (see image above) This valve may be in a box by the curb or inside the house where the source pipe comes in. Every homeowner should be fully aware of where it is and how to shut it off if something happens that requires it.
If you should ever have an emergency where water is spilling into your house, you need to be able to shut flowing water off quickly and all the way.
Water Shut-off Valve Maintenance - What To Do First
Locate where each cutoff valve is in your home. Next, see if you can turn, in a counter-clockwise direction, each valve. 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 As Quickly As Possible
The first valve you need to find and check is your main water cutoff. This valve needs to be in good working condition at all times. This valve turns the water on and off to your entire house. Its location is always where public water enters your property. It may be in a box at the curb, in the basement, or in the garage. It’s usually right next to a meter, which counts gallons (in tenths) as water flows through it.
In an initial test, find the main shutoff valve and write down the reading on the meter. Turn off the water. Then open a faucet, like at a sink, to relieve pressure inside the pipes. An hour later, go back and check the meter reading. It should read exactly the same.
If it has a higher reading, it did not shut off the water completely. Test it again to be sure it has indeed failed, and if it doesn’t turn off the water completely, have it replaced. The main shutoff is almost always the property of the city. If the valve doesn’t function correctly, or leaks, the city should replace it at no charge.
Next, find every shutoff valve location throughout the house. Those places will be behind each toilet, under sinks, and near utilities, like washers and dishwashers. Check each one to be sure they are working correctly. 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.
House Drain Maintenance and Keeping Drains Open
We can start by stating the obvious.. Make sure you don’t put anything into your drains that can potentially build up in it, or clog up your pipes.
Grease shouldn’t be poured into any drain. It will harden over time and slowly build up. It is an eventual certainty that you’ll have a clogged drain if this becomes a habit.
Likewise, hand soap and shampoo can build up in the bathroom sink and tub drains. Make sure you keep some kind of screen over the tub and sink drains to prevent hair from going into them.
Natural Drain Cleaners and Openers
Since it doesn’t make much sense to stop using shampoo and soap, it’s a good idea to have a regular routine of cleaning sink and tub drains.
Vinegar, salt, and hot water help keep drains clean and open. Pour a half-cup of salt followed by a cup of white vinegar into each drain. Wait for several minutes, then slowly pour a gallon of boiling water into it. Once the boiling water is poured in, turn on the faucet and chase everything through.
That prevention treatment should keep it clear of the most common buildups. It won’t dissolve hair and it probably won’t open a clog, but it’s great for keeping the inside of a drain clean.
There are enzymes available for drain maintenance as well. Enzymes break down natural buildups like food and grease particles, which allows them to flow through the pipes easily.
Soap or shampoo isn’t bacterial, though, so enzymes won’t help you much with those.
Cleanout Cover Maintenance
Clean out covers offer access to main sewer drains. You can usually find clean outs on the side of your house, buried in the yard, in the basement, or garage.
Occasionally, you should check to make sure you can remove each cover. You can spray a little WD-40 or generously wipe some machine oil on the threads at regular intervals.
The clean out pictured above is situated in the basement garage of this home. Because the threads of the cover rusted solid, the vertical drain pipe had to be cut and a sleeve installed so the drain could be accessed. Regular cleaning and oiling of the threads could have avoided this.
It is sometimes possible to loosen a clean out 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 indoor cutoff, you should wrap the exposed valve so that it will not have direct contact with the 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 reasonably well if you can get it to make a good seal. If not, wrap the valve with something insulating before attaching the cover as tightly as you can. The insulated “bag” in the above photo works well and was inexpensive.
Water Heater Maintenance
Water heaters last around ten to twenty years, depending on the warranty and price. All water heaters, however, can last longer with some simple plumbing maintenance than without any maintenance at all.
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.
Make sure your T&P valve works. However, if you have an older water heater and never tested the T&P valve, it may likely not fully 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.
You may consider installing a water heater pan and a leak shut off or float switch if your unit doesn’t already have one.
If your water heater should spring a leak and there’s a pan and shut off switch installed, it will automatically turn the water off and stop potential flooding. If you’re considering a pan and switch, look around the area and ask yourself, how much potential damage could happen?
How To Check a Toilet For Proper Operation and Leaks
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. Did it color the water in the bowl? If it did, 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.
Maintaining Home Water Treatment Systems
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.
You should follow the manufacturer requirements for maintaining your water treatment system.
PennState Extension recommends lab testing your water quality periodically, especially if you have a water treatment system.
You should hire a professional to perform a water test or work directly with a lab to ensure the test is performed correctly.
Water Filtration Systems Maintenance
You should follow regular maintenance and change water filters as recommended by the manufacturer of the filtration system consistently.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems filter water quite effectively. They are my favorite water filtration 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 and stay on a filter changing schedule – and don’t forget to flush those lines!
Gutters and Downspout Maintenance
Gutters that are full of debris will lead to overflows and poor drainage around the foundation of your home. Simple cleaning and freeing your downspouts of blockages will ensure that rainwater will flow away from your foundation.
Check that your gutters and downspouts are securely attached. Caulk gaps and areas where significant leaks occur with a good quality silicone caulk.
While you’re working up there, watch out for bird nests!
Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems
Irrigation system fixtures can be broken very quickly by lawnmowers and over-zealous 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.
The shower head pictured above is in dire need of cleaning!
Caulking and Seal Maintenance
There are a handful of caulks and seals that are typically used in plumbing, and all of them break down over time.
Bathtubs, tub fixtures, and sinks are caulked, usually with silicone-based caulking. It can peel away from the surface or allow mold to grow behind it. If either case is detected, it should be removed and replaced.
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 arguments on both sides.
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.
Septic System Maintenance
If you have a septic tank, it needs to be pumped and inspected regularly. A cracked cover can let mud and dirt into your septic tank, which can build up 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 a toilet flush.
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 give you the best maintenance tips for your tank, explicitly.
Every septic system presents a unique situation. Conditions and recommendations should be addressed individually.
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 when it starts to age;
Unplug and unhook the pump, pull it out, clean it, and clean out the sump pit.
Make sure the pump’s inlet screen is clean and free of any debris before setting it back into the hole. Check the pump manual for additional steps, like lubricating bearings. Some bearings are sealed, which won’t need lubrication.
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. It’s recommended to set it at around 45 psi. Most regulators can be opened up to allow up to approximately 70-80 psi of water pressure. However, be aware that 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
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