Common Beginning Plumbing Mistakes

A rusty wrench held in front of a stainless steel sink.
  • 1-3 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-500

Many homeowners often choose to save a few dollars by attempting to repair their own plumbing. While many plumbing repairs are easy for folks with some level of home repair experience, sometimes even the most experienced find themselves drowning in a plumbing nightmare. This post will cover a few of the basic mistakes novice homeowners make when attempting to repair their plumbing.

1. Failure to Check the Valve

While this may sound obvious, many homeowners fail to turn off their main water valve before attempting a repair. The consequences can be astronomical and turn a simple, inexpensive repair into a costly affair. Failure to turn off the water supply—and verify it is indeed off before attempting a repair—can dump hundreds of gallons of water into your home. If this happens, you could face water damage to cabinetry, flooring, baseboards, and drywall. In addition, the moisture can invite mold and mildew growth that is not only a known health hazard, but costly to eliminate.

2. Improper Water Heater Repair or Replacement

A man working on a water heater.

Replacing or repairing a water heater is one of the most common plumbing repairs folks take on to save a few dollars. However, it is also a repair that can cost you if you do not know a few of the basic steps when installing one. Here's a couple tips:

Always turn off the power before working on an appliance, especially one that involves water. Most water heaters require 220 volts of electricity that can cause severe injury or even death if an accident occurs.

It's imperative to fill the new tank completely before restoring power. During the initial fill, you must open the pressure relief valve to allow trapped air inside the tank to escape. Not only does this allow you to check and/or address any leaks before activating the new unit, but it also prevents damage to the elements that can burn out prematurely if not completely submerged in water.

3. Forgetting to Flush the Lines

One of the most important aspects of plumbing repair is flushing the lines before connecting new faucets or fixtures. During a plumbing repair, scale, rust, and other debris that has built up in the pipes over the years can break loose. Many novice repair enthusiasts fail to flush the open supply lines before connecting them to their new faucet or fixture, thus introducing the debris into the inner workings of the device. This can clog the fixture or even damage it beyond repair and send you back to the home improvement or plumbing supply center for a replacement.

4. Chemical Drain Cleaning Mistakes

A man using a plunger on a stainless steel sink.

Most homeowners encounter a sluggish or blocked drain from time to time. Many attack the problem with chemical drain cleaners. While this may seem like the easiest and least expensive option, it can become a costly experience as drain cleaners can cause damage to the system.

Chemical drain cleaners come in several forms including gel, powder, or liquid, and are considered caustic or oxidizing. Most are available over the counter. Acid-based cleaners are generally only available to licensed plumbers.

Because of the chemical interaction that takes place with these types of chemical drain cleaner products, heat is released within the pipes. If not used properly and per the manufacturer’s instructions, the built-up heat can melt PVC pipes and can severely damage metal pipes found in older homes. Using these types of chemical drain cleaners repeatedly can also weaken the pipes. Also, if the cleaner doesn’t work, the result is that strong chemicals are just sitting inside the pipes, not moving, with the potential to cause damage to the very pipes you’re trying to unclog.

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to clear a clogged sink is by using a plunger and a snake, also referred to as a hand auger. With these two items, it’s possible to clear out most, if not all, of the stopped-up drain.

One thing to keep in mind is to never plunge a sink where harsh chemicals have been recently used. While plunging, the chemicals can splash on your skin or into your eyes or mouth. Each of these situations is dangerous to your health.