DIY Plumbing Tips for Common Household Repairs

As a homeowner, having basic plumbing skills can save you time and money when minor issues inevitably crop up. While complex repairs are best left to the professionals at Mullin Plumbing, here are DIY tips for several common household plumbing problems:

Unclogging a Sink Drain

Supplies You’ll Need

Before tackling a clogged drain, assemble supplies like:

  • Plunger – A standard cup plunger with a rubber flange on the bottom creates suction to dislodge clogs. Make sure it’s in good shape and the rubber seals tightly.
  • Drain snake/auger – A 3-4 foot flexible cable tool that feeds down pipes to grab and extract debris. Manual and powered versions are available.
  • Hot water – Helps melt grease clogs and wash away loosened gunk. Have a large pot ready.
  • Buckets – Place under work area to catch dirty water drained from pipes.
  • Old towels – Soak up any spills or splashes so they don’t damage cabinets or flooring.
  • Goggles – Protect eyes from dirty water backsplash and potential drain snake spring-back.

Gathering all necessary items ahead of time makes the unclogging process faster and more efficient once you get started.

Trying a Plunger First

Often a standard sink plunger can dislodge the clog and get water flowing freely again. Start by filling the blocked sink halfway with hot water – this helps applying force to the right spot. Place the plunger firmly over the drain opening to form an airtight seal. Working vigorously, quickly plunge the tool up and down, applying bursts of suction pressure down the length of the drain pipe. Repeat for several minutes, checking intermittently if water starts draining. Keep re-sealing the plunger and plunging until the clog is cleared or you determine no progress is being made.

Pro Plumber Tip: Put the stopper in the second sink basin while you work on one drain, as the pressure build up helps dislodge clogs. Switch stopper and plunger between basins as needed to determine which side has the most stubborn blockage.

Using a Snake or Auger

If repeated plunging fails to open the clogged drain, it’s time to employ a drain snake/auger. Start by removing the curved P-trap piece of visible plumbing under the sink – place a bucket beneath both ends to catch water. Feed the spring steel snake cable into the now-exposed drain tailpiece, cranking the handle of the tool slowly as you push. As it hits an obstruction, keep tension on the snake and work it steadily forwards and back, piercing into and agitating the clog. Run hot water down the drain when you pull some debris free to help wash the particles down. Once the cable moves freely for a full 8-10 inches, your drain line should be clear. Avoid excessive cranking or you may puncture pipes!

Warning: If you feel lots of tension but the snake isn’t budging at all, this signals a really massive clog or object stuck far down the line. Call in a professional plumber at this point to prevent getting over your head.

Preventing Future Clogs

Prevention is key to avoid repeated drain blockages. Monthly, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the sink, chase it quickly with 1 cup vinegar – this fizzing chemical reaction helps dissolve soap scum, hair, grease and other gunk sticking inside pipes. Let sit 5 minutes then run hot water for a full minute to flush remnants away. Use mesh drain covers and strainers in sinks and tubs to catch debris before it goes down the drain. Comb through with fingers and empty strainers weekly. Catching things early preserves free flowing pipes!

Fixing a Leaky Faucet

A dripping faucet seems harmless, but that tiny bit of water adds up! Not only is it annoying, leaks can waste hundreds of gallons over time, increasing your water bill. The constant moisture also promotes mold, wood rot, and potential water damage if left unresolved. Thankfully, stopping a leaky faucet is often an easy DIY project.

Identifying the Type of Faucet

Before attempting repairs, determine what type of faucet you have. Common varieties include:

  • Single-handle cartridge faucets – Contemporary design with one lever that rotates to adjust temperature and water flow. Fixes involve cartridge component replacement.
  • Dual-control compression (washer) faucets – Separate hot and cold handles that use washers and valve seats to control flow and dripless operation. Replacing washers and O rings typically fixes drips.
  • Ball valve faucets – Also dual-handled models relying on a slotted rotating ball component instead of washers and valves. Fixes involve replacing seats and rubber O ring seals.
  • Ceramic disk faucets – Single handle cartridge faucets that use a rotating ceramic disk to control flow instead of plastic cartridges. Disk replacement is most common repair.

If the faucet type and components aren’t evident, check manufacturer websites using the model etched on the exterior or imprinted on the interior components to identify the correct repair parts and process. If still unclear, call in a professional.

Replacing Faucet Washers

The most common source of drips in traditional dual-handle faucets are worn out rubber or neoplastic washers. To replace:

  1. Shut off water supply lines underneath the sink.
  2. Pry off decorative faucet cap with a screwdriver if present.
  3. Unscrew the screw holding the handle in place using an appropriate wrench based on screw head shape.
  4. Pull off handle and lift out interior components like cam and retaining nut.
  5. Unscrew brass valve stem, examine washer at bottom for cracks and deterioration. Replace if damaged.
  6. Insert valve stem back into faucet body, replacing any additional O rings or seals while apart.
  7. Reassemble components in reverse order of disassembly.

Test water flow in both hot and cold positions to ensure leak is resolved and confirm washer replacement fixed the issue before reinstalling pretty faucet caps!

Fixing Dripping Faucet Handles

With single-handle faucets, a dripping issue after shutting off is often due to loose handles. There is usually a set screw midway up the handle that tightens against the faucet cartridge stem to hold it in the correct orientation. Simply take a hex (Allen) wrench, reach inside the base of the handle and tighten the set screw snugly. Test water on and off and see if tightening helped. If handle wobble persists and drip continues, the interior cartridge likely needs replacing rather than just minor tightening. There are many cartridge styles so watch online tutorial videos specific to your faucet brand for step-by-step instructions to properly remove, identify and install replacements parts.

Warning: Do not force handles roughly if very stuck! Call in a plumber instead. Forcing delicate interior parts may damage the faucet beyond DIY repair.

Stopping Leaks at the Base of Faucet

If water leaks from the base of the faucet rather than the spout or handles, this points to issues with O rings or gaskets that seal joints against water pressure. Purchase O ring/seal replacement kits made for your specific faucet variety, disassemble the unit to access critical junction spots, remove old O rings and clean contact points of mineral buildup. Apply plumber’s grease to the new rubber O ring pieces and press into place by hand only – no tools! Replace any additional seals, washers or rings recommended by the manufacturer while you have it opened up, as these tend to wear out around the same time. Carefully reassemble fittings. Inspect closely a day or two later to confirm the new seals are creating a watertight junction and leak is resolved. Calling in a professional for very stubborn leaks may be wise if week later droplets still form.

Know Your Limits!

While DIY projects allow you to save money and gain immense satisfaction from self-sufficiency, also know thy limits! Not comfortable with electrical shut offs, sweating pipes or significant faucet disassembly? Don’t chance making the issue worse! Many a well-intentioned but under-qualified homeowner has created bigger messes by taking repairs too far over their heads.

As a general rule of thumb, it never hurts phoning a professional plumber for an initial consult. Show them your issues, ask for “troubleshooting only” assistance, and request a fair estimate quote for the full repair job if it proves bigger than expected. They’ll often provide enough pointers for free that you can still handle a scaled-back version yourself if original scope was too ambitious. This allows everyone to contribute their skill level comfortably to resolving the problem economically. DIY what’s within your capability – and allow the true experts to safely handle aspects beyond your current knowledge base.

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