The Pro Referral archives are filled with thousands of great question and answer sessions with industry pros, all of which help clarify home maintenance questions from the common to the bizarre. From time to time we round up the most frequently asked questions and group them into one easy-to-access article.
This time around we’re highlighting common plumbing questions and the great answers by Pro Referral Pros in our “Ask An Expert” archives.
1. Why Is My Toilet Running?
A running toilet that continuously feeds the tank, or even just occasionally refills unexpectedly can be an annoyance, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal… until the water bill shows up. If not addressed quickly, that steady stream of water into the tank adds up fast. I’ve gotten distress calls from homeowners in a panic, wondering why their water bill has gone up by hundreds of dollars, and by far the most frequent culprit is a toilet leak that’s simply been left to run its course.
Luckily, the fix for a running toilet is easy, and well within the ability of most DIY-ers. The first place to look is the handle-flapper connection, which may be corrected with a simple adjustment. Or you may have to replace the fill valve, which is a more complicated solution, but still not overly difficult. This Q&A by Pro Referral Expert Rich Dana is a great overview of the causes and solutions of a running toilet.
“Ah yes, the running toilet that won’t stop. This is a problem that every homeowner runs into eventually! Although it can be easy to ignore or to put off the repair, it really isn’t a good idea to leave it too long.”
Need a pro to repair your toilet? Visit Pro Referral for all your plumbing needs!
2. Where is this Leak Coming From?
It often starts with a water stain on a ceiling or wall. There’s a leak in your home, and you know you need to fix the problem. The obvious source for the leak would be right on the other side of the wall. But when you look there, there’s no obvious source of water. Before you know it, you’re tearing open walls and swearing up a storm as you try to find the source of the leak.
Water leaks can be infuriating to track down because water will often travel over joists or other structural material, not falling onto ceiling or wall covering until it gets far enough away to confuse the poor contractor trying to track it down. Each leak must be dealt with individually. Unfortunately, this means that there’s no one single method to tracking down a water leak. But as a starting point, this expert response from Chris Deziel shows some of the thought process behind tracking down a leak around a water heater.
“The water may be coming from somewhere else. Try to locate the drip and follow the trail of the water back to the point at which it’s seeping out of the pipes.”
Sometimes leaks can be difficult to fix on their own. If you need a pro, visit Pro Referral for help.
3. Why is the Wall Next to the Shower Deteriorating?
A common area for drywall damage is along the wall next to a shower/tub surround. Water leaking from pipes or splash-out from the shower can cause drywall to bubble and degrade. A little bit of drywall damage is nothing to panic about, but if neglected it might lead to bigger problems down the road.
Pro Referral Expert Andrew Chase walks you through the common steps in dealing with such a situation in this Q&A.
“There is a small chance that only a section of drywall will have to be taken out and replaced, rather than the whole wall, so you may want to have a professional come out to take a look at the problem in person before making any decisions. That way, you’ll have a pretty good idea about what work needs to be done and how much it will cost.”
4. Why is My Water Brown?
It’s easy to take clean water for granted. If you’ve ever opened the tap and seen discolored water come pouring out, you know how disorienting it is when you can’t rely on this basic utility to be safe and clean.
The causes of discolored water can range from the simple and benign (the Fire Department flushing out hydrants) to calamitous (the recent water emergency in Flint, Michigan).
Check out Andrew’s expert answer on this topic for a good overview of some of the more common possibilities.
“If this is an issue with rust in the pipes, then you may have to have the pipes replaced. This is really only the case if you have galvanized steel pipes in your home. If you have copper pipes, then the water would be more of a bluish-green from corrosion, and if you have PEX or PVC then there wouldn’t be any rust at all.”
5. How Long Does a Hot Water Heater Last?
Most water heaters have about a fifteen year lifespan. Naturally there’s some variety, and your water heater may have a shorter or longer working life.
The best tip for extending the life of a traditional tank water heater is to flush out the tank once every year or so. Sediments from the water build up in the tank over time, and can interfere with the heater’s efficiency and the amount of hot water available at any time. Whether your heater is gas or electric, it will have a hose bib near its base. Set the heater to its ‘vacation’ setting. Turn off the cold water supply to the tank, and open up the hot water on one or two faucets elsewhere in the house. Then simply hook up a hose to the bib, run it to your floor drain or somewhere else that the water can drain to safely, and run the tank out.
Lou Franchino gives a nice, concise answer to this commonly asked question.
“You can help extend the life of your heater by making sure the area it is in is not excessively humid and that the unit is not sitting on a damp floor.”
6. What Can I Put in the Garbage Disposal?
There’s no shortage of advice available on what can or can’t be put in a garbage disposal. One source will say never put coffee grounds in a disposal, while another will swear by them for cleaning and eliminating odors. Complicating matters is that some disposals are more robust and can handle a wider variety of items than others.
The one universal is: never put anything in the disposal that you wouldn’t chew up and swallow yourself. So no plastic, glass, or other non-biodegradable items.
And remember, just because something can go through the disposal, doesn’t mean it won’t create a clog further down the line. The best practice is to run cold (not hot) water through the disposal before placing any food in it, and keep the water running throughout the disposal grind cycle as well as for a few seconds after you turn the disposal off. Anything to help keep the debris moving through the pipes.
For the definitive answer for your situation, you’ll need to check with the manufacturer for a list of materials that your disposal can handle. If you don’t have the user’s manual, look for a brand name and model number on the disposal itself. This information is usually located on the bottom of the unit. With that information, a quick internet search should provide a link to the manual.
If you don’t have a garbage disposal or if you need to install a new one, seek out a garbage disposal installer at Pro Referral.
7. Help! My Kid Just Flushed an Action Figure!
A plunger will work fine for clearing most normal toilet clogs. But if GI Joe got jammed up while leading the charge into the sewer line, more dramatic action is required.
This great Q&A with Rich covers the steps involved in a foreign object toilet clog.
“Unfortunately, the auger probably isn’t going to help much in a situation like this. If there is an irregularly shaped object, for instance a small doll, action figure or other toy, it can get lodged and the auger can just slip past it without moving it in either direction. I’m guessing you are going to need to remove the stool to access the obstruction. It’s a good thing you are handy, because this job is just a little tricky, and can get a bit…messy.”
8. How Do I Add a Sink or Other Plumbing Fixture?
A frequent question from homeowners is how expensive or difficult it would be to add a sink, washing machine, or other plumbing fixture to an existing finished space. These are tough questions to answer, because so much depends on the existing setup: the location and nature of the current supply and drain lines, as well as the building codes specific to that area.
For a good feel of how to start approaching such a problem, check out this Expert Q&A from Chris on installing a sink over an existing washing machine hookup.
“Everything you need to hook up a sink is there already, as you suspect, but it has to be reconfigured a bit to serve the new purpose…”
If you can’t install a sink on your own, Pro Referral has you covered.
9. Why do my Pipes Knock?
Knocking pipes are caused by poorly secured piping, or by air bubbles being compressed in the pipes. Neither issue is a major cause for concern.
Loose pipes can be secured with proper fittings, so that they don’t shake during operation. If the problem is being caused by air bubbles, the line can bled as required, or water hammer arrestors can be installed to give the air bubbles room to harmlessly expand.
This write-up from Rich is an excellent overview of the issue, and gives a solid walk-through of the ways to deal with it.
“Noisy pipes, eh? What you have there is a classic case of what is known as “water hammer” or more accurately “air hammer” in the water feed line to the toilet. What creates the banging sound is air trapped in the pipe.”
10. My Toilet ‘Burps’! What’s Going On?
The common issue of drains that gurgle or burp is caused by issues with the system’s pressurization. All plumbing drains require a trap to serve as a water plug, to keep sewer gas from entering the home. All traps require venting to prevent blowout during the plumbing system’s normal functions.
If the vent line becomes obstructed, the pressurization will be thrown off, resulting in distinctive ‘burping’ sounds.
For more information, check out a Q&A on this very issue—later in the article Andrew also addresses the possible causes for this ‘burping’ if your home has a sceptic system.
“It sounds to me like this is an issue with pressurized gas being built up in the system. This could be caused by a couple of different things. The first one that comes to mind is that your waste line ventstack (the pipe coming out of the roof) is clogged. If this is the case, then on top of the sounds you will have an odor coming out of the drains.”