This Valentines Day show your plumbing a little “TLC”. Giving your plumbing a little regular attention can prolong its life, prevent leaks, and avoid costly repairs. Here’s how to care for the pipes in your house inbetween visits from a plumber.
Avoid chemical drain-clearing products. Clogged drains are the most common home plumbing problem, and you can buy chemicals to clear them. But these products sometimes do more harm than good. They can actually erode cast-iron drainpipes.
Reduce pressure. As nice as high water pressure can be when you’re taking a shower or filling a stockpot, it stresses your pipes, increasing the likelihood of a leak. You can measure your water pressure with a hose bib gauge, available at the hardware store for under $10. Attach it to an outside spigot and open the line. If it’s above 40 and 85 psi. in range, consider hiring a plumber to install a pressure reducer (around $400).
Soften the water. If your water has a high mineral content—known as hard water—it can shorten your plumbing’s lifespan. Those naturally occurring minerals, usually magnesium or calcium, build up inside your pipes and restrict flow, increasing the pressure. Plus, they can corrode joints and fittings. Although hard water can occur anywhere, it’s most common in the Southwest and parts of the Northeast.
A white buildup on showerheads and faucets is a telltale sign of hard water. Or, if your house receives municipal water service, you can easily find out how hard it is. By law, every municipality must file an annual water quality report with the Environmental Protection Agency. If you have a well, check your most recent water test report for hardness information. Anything over 140 parts per million is considered hard water.
The only way to effectively deal with hard water is by installing a water softener. Most use sodium to counteract the minerals in your water, but new electronic softeners use electromagnetic pulses to dissolve minerals, and have the advantage of not adding sodium to your water.
You’ll need a plumber to install a traditional, sodium-based softener, for $500 to $1,000. Electronic units start below $200, and because the pipes don’t have to be opened up, you can install one yourself. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need an outlet nearby to power the unit.
If you opt for a sodium-based softener, consider installing a whole-house pre-filter at the same time. Since the plumber will already be cutting into your pipes to install the softener; not only will it give you better drinking water by removing particulates and chlorine, you’ll reduce stress on your pipes that can occur when those particles clog faucet filters.
Keep your sewer lines or septic tank clear: *If you have municipal sewers, hire a plumber to snake your main sewage cleanout every few years. This will cost $75 to $150, and will remove tree roots that inevitably work their way into these pipes—leading to messy sewage backups. If you have a septic system, get the tank pumped out every three to five years, for $200 to $500.*