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31 Secrets Your Plumber Won’t Tell You

If you've ever had problems with your pipes you'll want to read these plumbing tips. Plumbers give us the scoop on clogged pipes, do-it-yourself plumbing repair, and more!

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If you need a recommendation, call a plumbing-supply or fixture store

They don’t tolerate bad plumbers, so you know they'll send you to the best of the best. If these plumbing tips are helpful, you'll also want to know these secrets home inspectors won't tell you.

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Don't trust the "flushable" label

Don't flush floss, tampons, or even so-called "flushable" wipes. They don't break down like toilet paper does and can come back to haunt you later. "Toilets are more water-efficient now than they were 20 years ago, so there sometimes isn't enough volume in the flush to force debris down," says Marcin Wroblewski, president of ExpressRooter Plumbing in Toronto. "An object will get lodged in the trap and cause blockage when waste builds up days later."

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A burst washing machine hose is a top homeowner-insurance claim

I’d replace those flimsy rubber hoses with stainless steel ones. That way, you only need to worry about these other laundry mistakes that could ruin your next load of wash.

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Don't flush cooking grease

"Don't pour fat down the drain. Wipe your pan with paper towels and compost them," Wroblewski advises. Grease can become rock-hard and may require professional removal.

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No bricks in the toilet tank

Some allege that putting a brick in the toilet tank can save water, but doing that can keep your toilet from flushing correctly. Another plumbing tip, avoid liquid drain cleaners. Liquid drain cleaners are also bad news—they eat away at the pipes. Try a plunger or, better yet, a $30 auger. Don't have either? Here's how to unclog a toilet without a plunger.

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Have a plumber over before you buy

Buying a home? Have a plumber scope your underground drain system with a camera to check for roots, collapses and other problems that typically aren't visible to home inspectors. "Spending $300 on an investigation could save you tens of thousands later in insurance claims for flood cleanup, excavation, and pipe replacements," Wroblewski says. In all home repair, pay attention to what your home is telling you. These signs indicate you should replace your roof. 

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Know where the main turnoff source is

I can’t tell you how many calls I get from people screaming and crying that their house is flooding and they don’t know what to do. The location of the main turnoff source is one of the 35 things every homeowner should know to save money and prevent big screw-ups.

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Watch out for long or shedding hair

If you’ve got a Rapunzel at home (or even a rapidly balding man), buy a drain strainer or a hair snare or tell them to use a paper towel to clear the drain. Soap can gum up the pipes, too, so use as little of that as you can.

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Ditch the harsh drain cleaners

Using corrosive chemicals to dissolve a clog is like throwing a grenade down a gopher hole. Instead, Wroblewski recommends flushing your drains weekly with a half cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar. Let it fizz in the drain for ten minutes, then pour in four cups of boiling water. Avoid this nightmare and others by checking out the plumbing nightmares that will make you cringe.

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When it comes to pay...

Pay me by the job, not by the hour. This is one of the most important plumbing tips you can remember.

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We might, if you ask

Yes, it’s against the rules to remove flow inhibitors from your showerheads, but some of us will do it if you ask.

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I'm a plumber

I’m not a babysitter, a mover, or an auto mechanic. Don’t ask for advice on things that aren't in my job description. However, we'll help you out this one time.

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The toilet handle is an easy fix

Always jiggling the toilet handle? You need to replace the flap valve. The part costs $4, and it’s an easy fix. I charge $100 just to walk in the door.

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Sometimes you don't even need me

There’s often an Allen wrench that comes with the garbage disposal. I keep it under the sink. When the thing jams, follow the directions in the manual, and I won’t need to come out. Another plumbing tip, don't believe the myth about putting lemon peels in the disposal to make it smell better. That will just make it jam faster. Along with lemon peels, these are the things you should never pour down the drain.

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One time...

I was working in one bathroom while my client was using the whirlpool in another one. And blow-drying her hair at the same time. Her husband had told her it was fine. I told her he was trying to get rid of her.

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Read your meter

Looking for an easy way to figure out why your water bill is mysteriously high? Shut off all fixtures, including the valve on your hot water tank. If the numbers on your meter keep moving, call a plumber—you might have sprung a hidden leak inside a wall or under flooring.

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Don't hang things from your pipes

Don’t hang clothes on those exposed pipes in your basement. I’ve seen them break and flood a basement. If they burst, I might find these shocking discoveries plumbers have found in pipes.

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Old toilet seats are harder to remove than you think

I see this all the time: Women want a new toilet seat and ask their husbands to make the switch. If the seat is old and has metal bolts, you probably need to cut it off with a hacksaw, not unscrew it. A wrench may slip, damaging the bowl and bloodying your knuckles. Make sure you don't fall for these common toilet mistakes, either.

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Don’t get wrapped up in how much I’m charging for the materials

“Sure, my material cost is different than the guy who runs his business out of his garage,” says Bill Stevens, owner of Berkey’s Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Texas. “But it’s not the copper you’re paying for, it’s the experience. At the end of the day, my material cost is between 25-30 percent of the cost of the job.”

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Don't underestimate expertise

Mondays and Tuesdays are when plumbers get the most phone calls from DIYers who realize they're out of their depth, Wroblewski says. Whatever you do, don't let anyone attempt these home improvement projects you should never DIY.

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Turn off your outside faucets in the winter

Another way to avoid a service call from your plumber is to make sure the outside faucets are turned off in the winter and make sure you disconnect the outside hoses. You need to shut the water off from the inside. Then, open the valve on the outside to let the water that’s in there drain out—you switch both of them to the opposite direction so one is always closed and one is always open. We have to fix tons of these in the spring mostly because people leave their outside hoses connected and they freeze up. The repair could cost $100-$200 or more. Another tip would be if you’re going away for any length of time, like on vacation, turn off your water. If on any of those days the temperature drops below freezing, have someone check in on your house. I’ve been called to homes where the family returned from vacation, and there was water flooding out from the front door.

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A company that has a good reputation for quality service might charge a little more up-front

But you’ll save in the long run by avoiding call-backs and extra charges. Look for a company that warranties its service for up to a year for major installations or repairs.

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Don't ignore drips and running toilets

Small drips can waste over eight gallons of water a day, and a continuously running toilet can waste more than 200 gallons of water, daily. If you ignore them, you’ll pay for it when your water bill arrives. Flammable lint, puddles, and drips are a part of these hidden home dangers you should never ignore.

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We'll check things for free

Sure, we’ll be happy to check those supply valves under your sink free of charge after we finish the work you’re paying us for. Just ask. Same goes for checking your water pressure.

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Don't leave your kids with us

I had another lady who said she wanted to run to the grocery store to get some coffee to make for me and my guys while we were installing her new kitchen. She said she was just gonna run to the store and asked if we wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out for her one-year-old daughter who was sleeping at the time. We said fine, but she ended up not returning until four hours later. The kid was screaming her head off and we didn’t know what to do. We tried holding her. We didn’t know if she was hungry or what to feed her. She just kept crying.

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Find a licensed plumber

“Don’t assume that every Mr. Fix-it advertising his services in the local Pennysaver or on Craigslist is a licensed plumber,” says one New York plumber. There is no national standard for issuing licenses. Some plumbers are licensed by the state, others by the counties they work in. Check with your local city hall or chamber of commerce. They should be able to direct you to the appropriate source for a list of licensed plumbers in your area.

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Don't go to the Yellow Pages

“Don’t go to the Yellow Pages to find a plumber,” says Berkey’s Bill Stevens. “It’s like guessing lottery numbers. Anyone can make an appealing ad, but that doesn’t mean they are legitimate. In this industry, it’s easy for a plumber who develops a poor reputation to advertise under a different name. They come and go.” Even searching for someone online may end up being a scam using fake reviews. Instead, look for a plumber who is well-established in your community. Check the Better Business Bureau and read customer reviews at sites such as HomeAdvisor, Angie's List, or Citysearch. Local contractors or plumbing fixture stores can also refer you to a quality plumber, according to Grady Daniel, who owns a plumbing company in Austin, Texas. “Most of these firms won’t work with bad plumbers.” Or simply ask your neighbors for a referral. A trusted plumber that consistently delivers quality service does not remain a secret for very long.

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Be wary of price quotes that are strikingly lower or higher than competitors

Get a minimum of three bids. Estimates for an average-sized job should be within a few hundred dollars. Be suspicious of anything that is substantially lower or double the price of the rest, and watch out for hidden fees, like charges for travel expenses. They could be signs of a home improvement scam. A good plumber will not nickel and dime you like this, and many of us will offer free estimates.

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Service calls aren't cheap

There's a reason why service calls aren't cheap. Not only is being a plumber hard on backs and knees, but workers also risk exposure to biohazards from sewage (where nasty diseases lurk, such as hepatitis A, B, and C, and leptospirosis) and toxic methane gas.

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Water damage is expensive

Water damage is the leading cause of home insurance claims, accounting for around 40 percent. Basement flooding and sewage backups, often caused by increasingly intense precipitation, are responsible for the most problems. Don't let those problems lead to the home inspector nightmares you have to see to believe

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Get a clue

You’re calling to say your garage-door opener doesn’t work ever since I fixed your faucet? Get a clue—and an electrician. By staying smart and doing these things all smart homeowners do once a year, you won't need to call me as often. Stay proactive and find out the 40 home repairs anyone can do.

 

Originally Published in Reader's Digest