6 DIY Tips to have you Plumbing Like a Pro in no time15 April 2019 | Smart Saving Water
Plumbing can be a bit of a palaver. Say what you like about its noble origins in the temples and bathhouses of ancient Rome, or how sanitation technology is a cornerstone of civilisation itself – when you’re wriggling around on your back under the bath, playing hide and seek with an elusive leak, it can feel pretty darn unglamorous to say the least.
Many a DIYer has tried to turn their hand to the trade of taps, tanks and traps – and many have walked away considerably more frustrated (and damp) than when they began. You could be forgiven for wanting to just throw in the towel (once you’ve dried yourself off with it, of course) and call in the professionals – but neither your wallet nor your pride will thank you if you do. Besides, water leaks rarely respect your busy schedule and having the tools and skills to fix problems yourself can save you a lot of time as well as money.
So here at Hero Labs, we’ve put together 6 DIY tips that should have you plumbing like a pro in no time, and basking in the unending adoration of your family and loved ones as they admire your handiwork… Probably.
First things first: you’re going to need some tools. A basic set of hand-tools goes a long way, and will typically set you back less than the call-out fee for an average plumber. You’ll ideally want:
- A pair of plungers – different kinds for use in on sinks and toilets (read to find out why).
- A pipe wrench – or a fairly large adjustable spanner will also work and is somewhat more versatile. Jaws that open 40 or 50mm wide will cover you for most odd jobs.
- A screwdriver or two – most fixtures take the “Phillips” or plus-shaped type nowadays, but a flathead (minus shaped) can also come in handy, particularly if you’re working with older pre-existing plumbing.
- A pair of pliers. If you’re really on a tight budget, you can tick the box for both the wrench and the pliers by buying a set of “mole grips”, or locking pliers. They’re not as kind to fixtures as adjustable wrenches and can leave marks where they’ve gripped, but the weekend water warrior may be happy with the trade-off – and you can hedge against this by wrapping fixtures in a scrap of cloth or an old t-shirt first.
- A utility knife – the kind with interchangeable blades is most useful.
- Plumbing tape, AKA amalgamating tape or PTFE tape.
- A caulking gun, AKA sealant gun. For applying sealant, and playing James Bond.
Armed with the tools of the trade, let’s look at some of the most common plumbing predicaments and how to tackle them. Some of the solutions are simpler than you might think.
1. ‘O’ no, not a leak – but don’t call the plumber just yet
Water leaks are one of the most common problems that homeowners face. Chances are you won’t even know you have one until it’s too late (unless you’ve already been through our handy leak-locating checklist, that is). If you do discover a leak pooling around a fixture like a tap or a shower, there’s a fair chance you can fix it with just one component: an O-ring.
O-rings are the little circular pieces of rubber or silicone that create a seal between your pipes and fixtures. These little O-shaped rings have a very important job, but they do tend to eventually perish from being constantly immersed in water and squashed between moving parts. Most fixtures are designed in such a way that you can unscrew them by hand, pop the old O-ring out, and slip in a replacement – which can be purchased for about a pound at your local DIY store.
Generally, you want to isolate the incoming water supply to your home by locating and turning the stop tap, then running the offending tap or fixture until no more water comes out (this is what the pros call “draining down”). That way, when you open it up, you won’t cause a flood and make yourself more work. Open your fixture, remove the old O-ring, and take it to the shop for reference (they do come in more than one size). On your return, pop in the new ring, close it all up and revel in the praise and admiration of your peers. You are a plumbing god. Just don’t forget to turn the stop-tap back on afterwards.
2. Vinegar could fix that low water pressure problem
Stepping into a dribbling shower is enough to make anyone reach for the yellow pages and pick out a plumber. But what you probably didn’t know is that a simple bottle of vinegar could be the solution to all your water pressure woes. Most modern shower heads and taps contain something called an “aerator” or flow regulator. Its job is to regulate the water into a tight, evenly-pressured stream – which prevents it from splashing back up at you, saves water and even reduces faucet noise too. It’s a much nicer experience, but over time the aerator can start to accumulate limescale and become “calcified” – particularly if you live in a hard water area. Try unscrewing the aerator (you can usually do this by hand) and soaking it in normal household vinegar for a few hours. With a little luck, you should find most of the limescale has disappeared and your water pressure will be back to normal. For more stubborn limescale or larger fixtures, fill a bag with vinegar and drop your fixture in, then tie up the bag and leave overnight. This will work for limescale in your dishwasher too – just add vinegar to your cycle and let it go to work.
3. Do you have the right plunger for that clogged toilet?
A clogged toilet is the stuff of nightmares, and we really could forgive you for paying a professional for this one. But that’s not always an option – maybe you’re counting every penny, or maybe you just can’t wait! You can always try clearing the blockage yourself, but you’ll need with right kind of plunger.
Not all plungers are created equal. The stereotypical plunger, often found with a wooden handle and red cup, is in fact a “cup plunger”. It’s designed to seal against a flat surface and create pressure to clear the blockage – meaning it works great for sinks, showers and baths, but generally falls short when presented with the deep, curved bowl of a toilet.
For water-closet woes, you need a flange plunger. Flange plungers have an extra flap that protrudes below the main cup, allowing it to seal tightly around the bowl of a toilet. Submerge the plunger and make sure the flange is directly in the drain opening at the very bottom of the bowl. Push and pull on the handle using strong thrusts for about 30 seconds, trying not to break the seal as you do so, and the blockage should disappear.
4. My toilet runs like Usain Bolt
A running toilet can waste 400 litres a day, and drive you crazy to boot. It’s usually caused by a faulty stop valve – aka floater switch, floater valve, float cup, fill valve or even ballcock valve (no laughing at the back). In human terms, it’s the large bulb in the back of the toilet that rises with the water level and stops the flow of fresh water once the tank is full. It could be faulty, but more often it’s just improperly adjusted. You may well find that it has a threaded rod or a nut that can be turned to adjust the shut-off threshold: set it lower in the tank to fix a toilet that constantly runs, or just to save a little water with every flush. You can also get something called a “cistern displacement device” to reduce the volume of the tank and save water automatically – your water supplier might even give you one for free. Conversely, if your flush lacks force, you can move the float valve higher to draw more water into the cistern each time – just take care not to create the very problem that this tip aims to solve.
5. Drop something down the drain?
Small (and often expensive) items like jewellery are easily lost down the sink. Thankfully, they’re usually not gone for good – they’re typically heavier than water, so they sink and can often be retrieved from the “P-trap” below the sink.
The first thing to do is immediately stop running water to minimise the risk of the lost item being washed away into the sewers.
Now, it’s time to get friendly with your P-trap. The P-trap is the 180-degree bend in the pipe beneath your sink. Its purpose is to create an airlock so that the smells of the sewer don’t drift up into your nice clean kitchen or bathroom. Pop a bucket underneath it – or a towel if there isn’t enough room – and undo the nuts that connect it to the straight sections of pipe at either end. You shouldn’t even need tools to do it, and remember “lefty loosey, righty tighty”! Once it’s fully loose, gently pull it away and empty it into the bucket – with a little luck, your lost item has sunk to the bottom of the trap and can be retrieved. We recommend washing it… a lot of times. But hey, you got it back!
6. Sealing Bathtubs and Showers
Sealing might seem like a sticky business, but as long as you choose the right type of sealant it’s easy peasy. Sealants come in many forms – adhesive, acoustic, acrylic, elastic, silicone, polysulfide, you name it. But for showers, bathtubs and the like, you’re looking for “sanitary sealant” – a waterproof clear or white paste that often contains antibacterial and antifungal agents to keep it looking clean and fresh for longer.
As well as your sealant, you need a gun to apply it – you can pick up a basic one for as little as a pound, but squeezing out the thick paste is surprisingly physical so either get ready for a grip workout or spend a little more for a model with an assistive mechanism.
Our tip of the day is to keep a few damp cloths on hand while you do the job – one to wipe off excess and clean up mistakes, and one to rest the gun on when you need to put it down (there’s always a little oozing out of the tube). Most sealants are easy to clean when wet, but nearly impossible when cured so don’t leave it too long (they’re literally designed to resist water and cleaning chemicals). A cloth also helps you tidy up the “bead” of sealant afterwards and achieve a smooth, professional finish. Look at that!
Bonus tip: consider fitting a smart leak detector
It would be remiss of us not to mention our very own plumbing professional, Sonic the smart leak detector! Sonic sits alongside your stop tap and automatically monitors your plumbing for nasty surprises like slow leaks and burst pipes. You get alerts for leaks and unusual water usage right to your smart phone, you can see which appliances take the most water to run, and even shut off the water supply from the app when you decide to try out some of our pro plumbing tips. Perhaps we’re biased, but we think Sonic is the best tool a home improvement aficionado could ask for. And he might just save you money, too!