Caring for Your Plumbing System
Article From
By: Joe Bousquin
Published: April 14, 2010

Care for your pipes so they'll last longer--and prevent a costly plumbing disaster later.

You probably don't think much about the network of water and sewer pipes inside your walls that deliver your hot and cold water-and
eliminate your waste-on demand. But giving your plumbing a little regular attention can prolong its life, prevent leaks, and avoid costly
repairs. Here's how to care for the pipes in your house.


Clogged drains are the most common home plumbing problem, and you can buy chemicals to clear them. But these products
sometimes do more harm than good. They can actually erode cast-iron drainpipes.

And because they typically don't remove the entire clog, the problem is likely to recur, causing you use the chemicals repeatedly. "Each
time, they'll eat away at the pipes a little more," says Passaic, N.J. plumber Joseph Gove. "Soon, you're going to get leaks."

Better to hire a plumber to snake the drain (usually $75 to $150) and completely remove the chunk of hair or grease that's plugging the
line. Or you can pick up a snake of your own, for around $20 at the hardware store, and try clearing the drain yourself.


Clogs aren't just nuisances. Backed-up water puts added pressure on your wastepipes, stressing them and shortening their lifespan. So
avoid plug-ups by watching what goes down your drains. That means keeping food scraps out of kitchen drains, hair out of bathroom
drains, and anything but sewage and toilet paper out of toilets.

Install screens over drains in showers and tubs, and pull out what hair you can every few weeks to prevent buildups. Scrape food into the
trash before doing dishes-even if you have a disposal-and never put liquid grease down the drain; pour it into a sealable container to put
in the garbage after it cools.

"Grease is only liquid when it's hot," Gove says. "When you pour it down the drain, it cools and becomes solid. Do that enough, and just
like a clogged artery, your drains won't work anymore."


As nice as high water pressure can be when you're taking a shower or filling a stockpot, it stresses your pipes, increasing the likelihood
of a leak. "That drastically reduces the life of your plumbing," says Phoenix, Ariz., plumber Alex Sarandos. "It makes your pipe joints,
faucets, and appliance valves work harder."

You can measure your water pressure with a hose bib gauge, available at the hardware store for under $10. Attach it to an outside spigot
and open the line. Normal pressure will register between 40 and 85 psi. If it's above that range, consider hiring a plumber to install a
pressure reducer (around $400).

By the way, adding a low-flow showerhead( won't affect
pressure in the pipes. It only affects the amount of water coming out of the showerhead itself.


If your water has a high mineral content-known as hard water-it can shorten your plumbing's lifespan. Those naturally occurring minerals,
usually magnesium or calcium, build up inside your pipes and restrict flow, increasing the pressure. Plus, they can corrode joints and
fittings. Although hard water can occur anywhere, it's most common in the Southwest and parts of the Northeast.

A white buildup on showerheads and faucets is a telltale sign of hard water. Or, if your house receives municipal water service, you can
easily find out how hard it is. By law, every municipality must file an annual water quality report with the Environmental Protection
Agency( If you have a well, check your most recent water test report for hardness
information. Anything over 140 parts per million is considered hard water.

The only way to effectively deal with hard water is by installing a water softener. Most use sodium to counteract the minerals in your water,
but new electronic softeners use electromagnetic pulses to dissolve minerals, and have the advantage of not adding sodium to your

You'll need a plumber to install a traditional, sodium-based softener, for $500 to $1,000. Electronic units start below $200, and because
the pipes don't have to be opened up, you can install one yourself. Keep in mind, though, that you'll need an outlet nearby to power the

If you opt for a sodium-based softener, consider installing a whole-house pre-filter at the same time. Since the plumber will already be
cutting into your pipes to install the softener, the pre-filter might add only $100 to the job. And not only will it give you cleaner drinking water
by removing particulates and chlorine, you'll reduce stress on your pipes that can occur when those particles clog faucet filters.


If you have municipal sewers, hire a plumber to snake your main sewage cleanout every few years. This will cost $75 to $150, and will
remove tree roots that inevitably work their way into these pipes-leading to messy sewage backups. If you have a septic system, get the
tank pumped( out every three to five years, for $200 to $500.


* Learn where your home's main water shut off valve is-so if there's ever a leak, you can go straight there and quickly turn off the water to
the entire house.
* Remove hoses from outdoor spigots in winter to prevent frozen water from cracking the pipes and causing a flood.
* Add pipe insulation to the plumbing in cold parts of your house-such as garages, basements, and crawl spaces-to avoid frozen pipes
(and to shorten the wait for hot water).
* Never use an exposed pipe as a hanger rod for laundry. Doing so can loosen joints and fasteners.
* Fix problems quickly. Even small leaks can make pipes corrode more quickly, and cause significant water damage or mold.
A former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, Joe Bousquin writes about housing, construction and home improvement. The galvanized
steel water pipes in his 1930 home in Sacramento, Calif., have all been replaced with copper.

Reprinted from HouseLogic ( with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS (R).
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
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