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The Usual Suspects: Common Plumbing Problems and How You Can Prevent Them

Thankfully, not all plumbing problems are common. We don’t have to perform a toilet exorcism every day (which is really fortunate. You do not want to know what a perturbed spirit can do with enough water pressure). However, as you probably already know, some plumbing problems are like the common cold. You’d think we’d find a way to do away with small but annoying things like sink clogs.

Maybe someday, when we have teleportation, they’ll be able to design plumbing that never needs maintenance. Until then, problems like the five below happen to pretty much everyone at some point. That’s why the experts at Ben Franklin Plumbing put together a couple tips on simple things you can do to prevent the most common plumbing problems from happening to you.

Trust us, we know a thing or two about these particular issues. Of the thousands upon thousands of mysterious plumbing cases we send our intrepid plumbing detectives out to solve, one of these “usual suspects” ends up being the culprit seven times out of ten. Consider this a kind of plumbing police lineup. Get to know the ugly mugs of these evildoers, learn their MOs, and then foil them at their own games.

Leaking Faucet

We hope this entry doesn’t trigger some traumatic memories. Leaky faucets waste a surprising amount of water, even if the leak is minor. They can also damage your home over time. And then there’s the dripping. It’s three in the morning. You have a meeting with an important client in five hours. You’re staring at the ceiling, your bloodshot eyes refusing to close. Drip. You flinch. Drip. Cold sweat. … …You think it stopped. You breathe a sigh of relief, and feel yourself begin, finally, to drift off to sleep… Drip.

Leaky faucets usually happen because the O-ring has worn down. Don’t be too hard on it; this part of the faucet is under a lot of pressure. An O-ring is a ⅜- to ⅝-inch rubber ring that seals off the handle of the faucet. It does a lot of the work to keep the faucet functional. That work wears down the rubber over time. A damaged O-ring isn’t the only cause of a leaking faucet, however: the faucet may have come dislodged from its appropriate placement, or could have been improperly installed in the first place. A leaky faucet could also happen if your valves are rusted, corroded, or otherwise stripped and won’t shut all the way.

What To Do

The best way to prevent a leaky faucet is to replace your O-rings every couple of years and to watch for any signs of rust or other damage around your faucets. It’s also important that anyone who uses your faucets isn’t cranking on them too hard. If you’re too hard on a faucet, you can damage its ability to effectively prevent leaks or even strip it so it won’t work at all. You can fix a leaky faucet or replace a sink at home, but be careful not to make any of the common mistakes we’ve seen before. You can also call us up anytime, and we can tell you exactly why your faucet was leaking, fix it quickly and effectively, and give you some more pointers on how to keep it from happening again.

Clogs

Probably the most common of all plumbing issues and certainly the most iconic, clogs happen when something restricts the water flow through your pipes, preventing the appliance you’re attempting to use from working properly.

Clogs can happen for a surprising number of reasons. It could be that a foreign object got lodged somewhere in your pipes, but that’s not always the case. Over time, sediment and minerals naturally found in water, especially hard water, build up along the inside walls of your pipes. Sometimes, clogs can even be caused by something you couldn’t have done anything about, like a tree root growing into one of your system’s pipes.

We’ve written about how you can prevent clogs from happening too frequently before. One easy way to start to prevent clogs is to pay closer attention to what you’re flushing down your drains. Soap scum, nails, hair, foreign objects, an excess of toilet paper or tissues, or greasy substances like cooking oil can all cause clogs over time. Periodic pipe cleanings and preventative plunging will also help reduce the frequency of clogs in your home.

What To Do

If you do have a clog, there are four options. Three of these options are possible at home, though they may be less effective if they’re not performed by a professional (We do this a lot). First, try plunging the drain using the plunger that’s right for the clogged drain. If that doesn’t work, you could try a cleaning product. Just make sure you go with a natural one like BioBen, instead of a chemical cleaner. The most intense thing you can do to clear clogs at home is to use a plumber’s snake on the drain yourself. Just be careful; if you don’t use the snake correctly, you could damage your pipes. If even that doesn’t work, give us a call and we can deploy the big guns–hydro jetting pipe rejuvenation. Ooh baby.

Low Water Pressure

Have you ever tried to take a shower with low water pressure? It just feels wrong; the feeling can follow you around afterward all day, like you just discovered you were in the Matrix or something. Like the other problems on this list, low water pressure can be caused by a lot of reasons. Just like with clogs, it could be that sediment or some kind of debris has built up along the inner walls of your pipes. Since some water is still getting through your pipes, low water pressure can be a sign of an imminent clog. Similarly, your pipes could have become corroded, and that corrosion could be blocking the flow of water. You could also have a hidden leak somewhere in your pipes that’s depressurizing the water before it gets to you.

What To Do

Installing a new showerhead or faucet, or at least performing some maintenance on your current ones, could solve your water pressure problem. You should also try cleaning out your pipes the way you would if they were clogged. A lot of the sediment that builds up in pipes is caused by the minerals in hard water, so a water softener could help your water pressure, too.

You can perform routine maintenance on your faucets or shower head by disassembling them and soaking the aerator screen in vinegar. An aerator screen is located near the tip of the faucet or showerhead, and filters out debris in your water before it comes through to you. Often, lower water pressure happens when your aerator gets plugged up with sediment or debris.

If cleaning your pipes and aerators doesn’t work, you may either have a leak or need to replace the faucet. If your pipes are corroded, you may want to consider replacing those, as well. Replacing faucets and showerheads yourself is doable, but we recommend a professional for leak identification and pipe replacement.

Running Toilet

You’re in the bathroom, doing your thing. Everything’s a-ok. You flush the toilet, wash your hands, and go back to watching The Bachelor. But wait. Why is the toilet still running? It doesn’t usually make that noise for this long, does it? Is something going on? Should I be worried? Is it going to overflow? Is my toilet about to explode? Now you’re sitting on a chair in the bathroom, staring intently at the toilet to make sure it’s not about to blow, and you’re missing the final decision back in the living room!

Running toilets aren’t actually usually that dramatic, but they are psychologically stressful and they waste a lot of water. When your toilet runs for too long, the fill valve is introducing water into the tank for too long. After every time the toilet is flushed, the refill valve opens to allow water from the main line to fill the tank. Once the tank is full and ready to be flushed again, the refill valve closes and the sound of the toilet “running” will stop.

If your toilet runs for a long time and it isn’t overflowing, the flapper valve probably isn’t closing after a flush. When the toilet is flushed, the flapper valve opens to let water from the tank into the toilet bowl. This creates the flush. When the tank needs to be refilled, the flapper valve closes again so that refilling water doesn’t flow from the tank into the bowl. If the flapper valve won’t close, water will keep flowing into the toilet bowl and the tank won’t be able to fill up. There could also be a problem with the ball float that detects when the tank is full.

What To Do

A running toilet is usually a sign that your toilet is getting old. Flapper valves and ball floats decay over time and become less effective. Replacing either or both of these parts of your toilet isn’t as complex as you might think. Make sure you find parts that are the right size for the model of your toilet, however. Plumbers will be able to identify which part you should be using and install it for you easily. If installing a flapper valve or ball float doesn’t fix the problem, there could be a leak either in the toilet or in the pipe connecting to it. That’s a more serious problem, and should only be handled by a professional.

These aren’t by any means all the plumbing problems you’re likely to run into, but they are the most prevalent in our experience. By following basic preventative maintenance tips like the ones we’ve provided and paying attention to the health of your plumbing system, you can reduce the number of plumbing issues you have and save yourself a lot of money. Unfortunately, sometimes plumbing problems happen regardless of how well you’re prepared. In those cases, give Ben Franklin Plumbing a call anytime. Whether you have an emergency or just a couple questions, we always have your back. We’ve had plenty of run-ins with these ruffians before, and we always come out on top.