This article was posted on Friday, May 01, 2015

Plumbing seems simple enough, but it can often be a mystery to the inexperienced consumer.  I’ve compiled a sort list of common myths, legends and sage advice.  Hopefully, they can assist you the next time you run into a plumbing problem or help you to avoid one altogether. 

Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure is not really low water pressure (usually).  The more the better, right?  Low water pressure is a common complaint plumbers hear, especially when a pressure reducing valve is being recommended.  So what kind of crazy person wants less pressure?! 

The fact is most fixtures in your home, including your water heater, are rated for 80 psi (pounds per square inch) as the normal working pressure – anything greater than that wears on your plumbing system and risks possible early failure of piping and components.  So why is it that your faucet or shower doesn’t feel like there is enough pressure?  Often (not always), the perception of low water pressure is really a restriction in volume.  Imagine two extremes: 

  • A hose with a tiny pin-hole, with 200 psi or
  • A two inch pipe wide open at only 20 psi 

Which one would “feel” like more pressure?  Scenario two – more water tends to feel “wetter” and the misperception is that volume equals pressure.  Low volume can feel like less pressure and be a symptom of any one of a number of different issues – a restriction in the piping, aging galvanized piping, undersized portions of the system or even certain failed components that are now restricting flow. 

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Flushable Applies to Toilet Paper Only

Ah, the treasures that plumbers pull from within the cavernous depths of a clogged sewer.  Seriously, these are tales best left untold, unless it is your drain that is clogged. 

A good drain technician can usually identify a drain clogging culprit.  High on the list of the “most unwanted” are “flushable” products.  These products, ranging from disposable diapers to cat litter are not what your plumbing drain were designed for.  They can clog and cause expensive backups and/or repair.  The list of non-flushable items is extensive.  The best rule of thumb is – if it isn’t toilet paper, don’t flush it! 

Your Toilet Doesn’t Need

To Be Held Down By a Brick

Home remedies placed in toilet tanks to reduce the amount of water used per flus, like bricks and bottles are not a good idea.  Sure, they can save water, but they can also diminish the quality of flush needed to evacuate the toilet properly.

Instead of risking a clogged toilet or drain, it’s better to invest in a quality low-flushing toilet.  There are a number of low-flush toilets that just don’t hold up performance-wise.  But there are toilets available that flush as low as 1.28 GPF (gallons per flush) without sacrificing performance.  You will typically find these toilets sold by a plumbing shop that stands behind their work for at least a year. 

Know Thy House

It may seem like a simple thing, but in time of emergency, knowing where and how to shut your water and gas off is critical to minimizing water damage.  We’re often asked to instruct a home owner over the phone where to turn their water off so we created a free program to specifically show homeowners how and where to shut off their water and gas before an emergency.  It’s called ID For Free. 

The Garbage Disposal’s Secret Hand Shake

A garbage disposal on a kitchen sink can be overloaded and the wrong items can damage or case a clog.  The general rule of thumb is to recycle and compost what you can and never put anything you wouldn’t eat down the garbage disposal.

For specific guidelines, you can also refer to the user manual.  But what if the garbage disposal doesn’t work and you want to try something on your own before calling a plumber?  Some disposals will come with a hexagon wrench that (turn the power off first) can be inserted underneath in the center of the disposal to manually work the motor to break free.  If the unit has overheated, it can be the reset by pressing the reset button located underneath the unit once it has cooled down. [This is good information to give your tenant – instruct them to try this before you call for plumbing repairs.  All resident managers should know this as well – it could save you a lot of money!] 

Clogs and Chemicals

When there is a clog, the temptation is to immediately dump chemicals down the drain, but using drain chemicals can be risky.  You never know what else is in that drain that the chemical may react with.  Always wear proper safety gear and eye protection and follow the safety instructions included with the product.    Take a few moments to read about your drain chemical.  Some chemicals won’t work with certain types of clogs and others may damage fixtures and piping.  Chemicals should not be used on a garbage disposal. 

As a rule, it is never recommended to dump a chemical into a drain without some sort of drainage.  Imagine a complete stoppage with absolutely no flow.  Once there is a chemical in the mix, now the problem has changed from just a clogged drain, to a clogged drain with hazardous chemicals present. 

Containment will also be an issue when assessing piping to clear the drain.  The other rule of thumb is that chemicals don’t work on toilets or main sewer lines three inches and up.  If your house or toilet is backing up, do-it-yourself remedies typically won’t make a dent.  At this point, it is time to call in the professionals.

Plumbing good or bad, is a part of daily life.  If you encounter a problem, these bits of wisdom could help you navigate the waters.  Read them, share them and commit them to memory.  If you find that you’re in over your head, don’t be afraid to call a plumber.  They are there to help! 

Reprinted with permission of Rental Housing Association UPDATE.