Ah, the holidays. A time when friends and family gather to celebrate and enjoy time together. A time with more people in the house, doing more cooking, showering, and bathrooming than usual. A time when the outside temperatures are likely to be near freezing or below.
And … a time when things can go terribly wrong in the plumbing department, just when everyone is enjoying themselves the most.
Find out what to do to avoid common pitfalls and maintain your plumbing during the holidays, whether you’re at home or you’re traveling, and how to handle plumbing/repair services if you do have an unwelcome holiday plumbing emergency.
- Learn the common pitfalls that occur around the holidays for your plumbing system.
- Find out some DIY solutions that you can use until your plumber arrives.
It’s the Holidays. What Could Go Wrong?
Actually, a lot can go wrong. Here’s a short list, starting with the worst:
Temperatures at or below 32 F freeze water. Frozen water expands. So, water in pipes where the temperature that gets to freezing can burst the pipes. In short: big, expensive mess.
Lots of stuff goes down the various drains in your home – think kitchen and bathroom sinks, toilets. Sometimes it’s too much stuff, or stuff that shouldn’t go down in the first place (any toddlers around?). And presto, you have a sink that won’t drain, a toilet that won’t flush, or worse.
A Strained Water System
More people equals more water use. Worst case, if you have a septic tank, it backs up. Less worse is not enough water pressure for showers and cleaning, or not enough hot water.
An Overloaded Garbage Disposal
Lots of food prep & meals leads to lots more food waste going down the disposal if you have one. That can lead to it clogging, damaging the blades, getting jammed, and more wear and tear on the equipment.
Be Prepared for Plumbing Emergencies
Here’s what you can do before the holidays to avoid plumbing headaches.
Know Your System
Know the Location of Your Main Shut-Off Valve
At times you may need to cut off the water to the house quickly. You’d do that, for example, if a pipe bursts.
Know Your Plumbing Layout
If a plumbing problem occurs, it helps to have an understanding of where drain lines, sewer lines, and water supply lines are located.
Make Sure Your Pipes Are Well-Insulated
Even temperate climates can experience a deep freeze. Look for pipes, valves and fittings that will be most exposed to the elements. Make sure those are insulated with foam pipe sleeves, fiberglass wraps, pipe wraps with self-sealing adhesive, or for extreme cold, use heating cables or heating tape. Inspect existing insulation to make sure it’s intact and not damaged. If it is, replace it.
Use Water-Saving Appliances and Fixtures
Today’s washing machines, dishwashers, faucets, and showerheads are designed for maximum water efficiency. If you haven’t already, consider giving your home the holiday gift of replacement models.
Check the Drainage System
Check for existing clogs, consider cleaning out all the drains, both inside and outside your home. Make sure you know the locations of any of these that apply: sump pump, sewer or septic clean out. Check gutters and downspouts outside – holiday weather can bring a lot of rain or moisture. If gutters and downspouts are clogged, you and your guests could be wading through water when you step outside.
Get a Benchmark Reading of Your Water Pressure
If you know what your water pressure is in normal situations, you’ll be able to detect if the pressure changes suddenly, which can mean there’s a problem.
Check Your Water Heater
What is the age and capacity of your water heater? It might pay to have it serviced ahead of the holidays.
Inspect, Inspect, Inspect
It’s a solid idea to have a professional inspect your plumbing system before the holidays. They’ll know best how to spot trouble before it starts. Short of that, you can inspect your pipes, sinks, tubs, toilets, and drains. If you spot leaks or cracks, now’s the time to remediate them.
Have Important Info and Tools at Hand
Know Who to Call
Now’s the time to make a list of plumbing/repair services in your area that do 24/7 service calls, including holidays.
Have Essential Know-How and Tools for Handling Minor Problems
You’ll save yourself some time and money if you know how to fix a dripping faucet or a running toilet on your own. Those kinds of minor issues can turn into bigger problems if you don’t take care of them quickly.
Tools you may need include:
- Adjustable wrench
- Basin wrench
- Caulking gun
- Compression sleeve puller
- Pipe cutter
- Pipe threader
- Pipe wrench
- Pliers: slip-joint pliers or tongue-and-groove pliers
- Plumber’s tape
- Plumbing snake (auger or drain snake)
- Safety gear, including work gloves, safety goggles, and knee pads
- Teflon tape (PTFE)
- Torch and flux
- Water pressure gauge
If you and your guests utilize the best practices listed below, you’ll help avoid plumbing problems.
Use The Least Amount Of Water
The more people in the house, the more water used. If you’ve got a large group, you can minimize the impact of that by:
- Taking fewer, and shorter, showers and baths
- Only running the dishwasher and washing machines with a full load
Dispose of Things Carefully
Getting rid of trash, used and unwanted items, and food waste is a major source of drain and pipe clogs.
- Use drain guards to prevent food particles and other substances that aren’t water from going down kitchen or bathroom drains
- Have trash bins in handy places to toss waste instead of down a drain or toilet
- Put oil, fat, or grease down a drain
- Flush wipes down the toilet – even the ones marked “flushable” can cause clogs
- Flush sanitary pads, tampons, or paper towels
- Use your garbage without the water running or for:
- Tough, hard, or fibrous food waste such as fruit pits, potato peels, celery, corn husks, or bones
- Starchy foods like rice or pasta down the drain or in the disposal as they can cause blockages when they expand
- Non-food items in the disposal
- Too much food waste all at once
Pass the Word
It’s important that everyone in your home is on the same page about how to avoid plumbing problems.
Here are some ideas of how to do that in a hospitable way:
- When your guests arrive, look for a time to let them know about water conservation and how to help avoid plumbing issues. If you have low-flow toilets, for example, they may not be as familiar with how they work.
- Let one or more of your guests know where the main water shutoff valve is in the event there’s an emergency and you’re not there.
- Post signs near toilets, sinks, tubs, and showers asking them to conserve water by turning off the water while brushing teeth or soaping up, and to not flush things that can cause a clog.
- Post a reminder near the garbage disposal about what not to put in it.
- Show them where you recycle and toss waste.
- Lead by example. As you brush and wash hands, for instance, do it in a water-conserving way.
When You’re Away from Home Over the Holidays
If you’ll be away during the holidays and no one will be home, here are steps you can take to help avoid a plumbing emergency and to handle one if it occurs:
- Set your thermostat so that indoor temps don’t reach freezing.
- Ask a neighbor or a friend to periodically check on your house. Show them where the water shut off is located.
- Shut off the main water supply. In very cold climates you may need to drain your pipes as well. A professional plumber can winterize your pipes and plumbing system for long absences.
- Make sure your water heater is set at a level to save energy and not freeze.
Handling A Plumbing Emergency
Even when you’ve taken all the above advice and completed all the steps to avoid a plumbing emergency, they do sometimes occur.
If you’re home and can handle a minor repair yourself, then do that as soon as possible. If, however, any of the following occur, it’s time to call for professional plumbing/repair services:
- You smell gas or suspect a gas leak. Have everyone leave the home immediately, don’t use any flames, and call a professional.
- You have a sewage backup. This is a situation that presents high risk of negative health consequences.
- You have a burst pipe. Shut off the main water supply and call a pro.
- Your septic system backs up, is draining slowly or has a foul odor.
- Your pipes are frozen. Don’t try thawing them out on your own.
- Your hot water heater is leaking.
- You have a toilet that’s not flushing at all or running all the time and you’ve been unable to fix it.
- You have a drain that you’ve been unable to unclog.
- You have no hot water and haven’t been able to diagnose and fix the problem yourself.
- Your water pressure suddenly drops significantly.
Need Plumbing Repair Services?
The holidays are a busy time to begin with, let alone if you have plumbing problems that require a professional plumber. Taking care of some minor plumbing tasks on your own can prevent major mishaps that ruin your day.
If you need professional plumbing repairs or service, contact us at Sierra to schedule your appointment!