For the avid DIY-er, it may be difficult to admit defeat and call a plumber when you’re having trouble fixing stubborn problems with toilets, showers, faucets, or pipes throughout your home. You know that you’re experienced with using tools and can address many common plumbing issues yourself. And you’d never dream of calling in a professional for simple things like plunging clogged toilets or remedying dripping faucets, though many people do. You may even have some bathroom and other remodeling experience under your belt at this point and have installed toilets, sinks, and drain systems yourself. The truth is that even the most experienced hobbyist plumber sometimes needs to consult the deeper expertise of a professional. The trick is determining when you’re in over your head and need to make that call.
So, what are some home plumbing jobs that you can expect to accomplish yourself, and which ones probably require professional assistance? You might be surprised. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common plumbing problems homeowners experience and separate the “easy” jobs from those that should be reserved for pros only.
Common plumbing problems you can fix yourself
It’s an old trope in TV shows and movies – the dripping faucet that’s driving the insomniac to the brink of insanity as they try to finally fall asleep. We laugh, but leaking faucets are incredibly wasteful and unnecessarily inflate your water and sewer bills by increasing your usage. In many cases, a dripping faucet will only require the relatively simple fix of replacing the silicone or rubber washers that stop the flow of water from your pipes through the tap. Over time, these washers fail based on simple age-related deterioration. Though, you’ll want to assure you have the right tools to accomplish this job, replacing washers on your faucet is not difficult for most do-it-yourself enthusiasts.
Of course, this task is not always so straightforward. Faucets come in an unprecedented range of types and styles today, and your leaking one may not have a washer at all. For example, disc or canister taps rely on coordinating ceramic plates to form the seal. These are more complicated to repair, though luckily they should not need attention as often as those taps with washers. If you have your leaking faucet torn apart now and you’re not seeing that familiar washer, you may want to dial your plumber to assure a fast, expert repair.
Is your leak at an outdoor spigot where you may or may not attach a garden hose? These utilitarian faucets are often the source of sneaky leaks that may go unnoticed for longer periods of time, especially in the springtime when the weather warms. Usually, the best remedy for outdoor faucet leaks is replacement with a “frost-free” model that doesn’t require winterization each year to avoid damage from freezing temperatures. Because let’s be honest, not many homeowners remember to winterize their outdoor faucets each year. Installation of a new faucet is something that more advanced DIY-ers may be comfortable with, but these projects often require pipework with special tools you may not currently own. Consider calling a plumber for faucet replacement projects.
Does your toilet take many minutes to refill after flushing or does it randomly begin running when no one has flushed it? Toilets feature many parts made of various materials that aid in flushing and keeping water where it belongs in the tank and bowl. Ill-fitting flapper valves, imbalanced floats, or snapped chains are a few examples of common toilet malfunctions that can be addressed by homeowners with inexpensive and widely available repair kits.
If you’ve tried all of the usual toilet troubleshooting tips and your toilet is still running incessantly, you may have a more complicated problem on your hands. Or perhaps you’ve fixed the excessive running, but your water bills are still suspiciously high, signaling the presence of a silent leak. At this point, calling a professional for help is wise. The savings you’ll realize on your utility bills will more than make up for the cost of a plumbing service call in very short order.
Plunging a toilet is probably something you could do in your sleep, and you’ve likely also cleared many clogs in sinks and bathtubs with trusty old Liquid Plumber and a drain snake. While never anyone’s idea of fun, most drain clogs are easily removed without a professional plumber’s assistance. When you should call for help is when you’ve got drains that repeatedly become clogged with normal use. Relying on commercial drain cleaning fluids or other chemical clog removers is not a long-term solution, as these are damaging to pipes if employed often, and they’re not great for the environment either.
Sump pump failures
Not everyone’s home has or requires a sump pump, but here in Ressler & Mateer’s home service area in southcentral PA, these hardworking basement flood stoppers are common. And they’re often ignored in terms of regular maintenance. Sump pumps should be tested at least every 2-3 months to guard against failure when a properly working pump is critical, such as after spring and summer storms that suddenly drop multiple inches of rain. Testing and pump maintenance is something that can and should easily be accomplished by knowledgeable homeowners. Problems with pumps often constitute an emergency, however, and a plumbing pro will be needed for immediate help. Similarly, if you find that you need to have a new pump installed, it’s best to turn to the pros.
Common plumbing problems that professionals can fix for you
Low Water Pressure
It’s true that low water pressure at a particular faucet or shower head is often due to mineral buildup on aerators or sediment causing blockages, which are often easy for homeowners to remedy without professional assistance through simple cleaning processes. However, low water pressure can be caused by many factors that can range from water main breaks nearby (not your problem to fix, thank goodness) to burst pipes. If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause of low water pressure to just one fixture or especially throughout your entire plumbing system, it’s time to call a professional plumber.
Obviously, pipes that have burst and are gushing water constitute a plumbing emergency that requires immediate professional attention. If you discover that a catastrophic pipe failure has occurred in your home, shut off your main water supply and call your plumber (and your insurance company) right away.
Smaller, slower leaks don’t often constitute emergencies, but if you’re not skilled in the art of pipe repair, you should contact a plumbing professional as soon as possible. Small leaks in pipes can become big leaks in pipes in shockingly short periods of time, so don’t wait to call about a pipe problem. Repairing small pipe leaks is much more cost effective for both you and your plumbing contractor than having to respond to leak emergency.
Water Heater Failures
Did you know that based on manufacturer-reported averages, the lifespan of your home’s water heater is between eight and 12 years? Especially if you haven’t maintained your water heater on an annual basis, the end of its life may present unexpected hassles for you and your family when they wake up in the morning to find only cold showers are available! Often, water heaters will clue you into their imminent failure with leakage, but sometimes they stop doing their job with no warning.
In either case, you will likely need a water heater replacement, and while this job is not necessarily beyond the skill-level of handier homeowners, it requires lots of heavy lifting and disposal of your bulky old water heater. These aspects of the job are better handled by professional plumbers, as they have the equipment and resources readily available to safely remove old water heaters and properly recycle them. They also have access to a broader range of the newest replacement equipment from specialized manufacturers that may only sell to the trade.
What about maintenance?
As we just mentioned, specific components of your home’s plumbing system require regular maintenance to assure proper functioning over time. Sump pumps, water heaters, and even outdoor faucets are some classic examples. However, they are also classic examples of things in your home that you may forget even exist until you have a problem. With all of the demands of life, few homeowners find the time to regularly test, clean, or check vulnerable plumbing fixtures. However, you don’t have to feel guilty – many plumbing contractors will be happy to do the remembering for you through a customized maintenance program. Even if you love performing troubleshooting and repairs to your home’s systems yourself, you can admit that you don’t often have time. Let the professionals back you up on plumbing maintenance, so you have one less thing to worry about.
Still feeling pained over having to call in a pro to tackle a particularly vexing plumbing issue? Remember, your DIY knowledge isn’t wasted just because you had to call. Friendly, professional plumbers like those we employ here at Ressler & Mateer appreciate knowledgeable homeowners who are committed to problem-solving and want to work side by side with you to protect your home. You can help your plumber more quickly determine what your problem might be by explaining the steps you’ve already taken in your troubleshooting process, and this will help save everyone frustration, time, and money.