It is all too easy to take your plumbing system for granted. Yet when you use something every day, wear and tear is inevitable, and regular maintenance is essential. As any plumber can tell you, it is vital to know how to spot abnormalities in your plumbing, so you can remedy them as soon as possible. A minor blockage or leak can rapidly become far more serious, which can mean costly repairs if allowed to get out of hand.
Even without the obvious risk of burst pipes, flooding, or a contaminated supply, poorly maintained plumbing can still cost you money. Over time, small leaks and loose fittings cause the system to lose water, which in turn can affect your water pressure, and the quality of your supply.
Fortunately, many common plumbing issues are easily detected if you know what to look out for. Here are a few typical warning signs, and the steps you can take to mitigate or prevent further damage to your home.
Leaks and Puddles
One of the most obvious indicators that something might be wrong is a buildup of water anywhere in your house. If a room seems damp, or you notice mould growth, it is worth checking hidden pipes for leaks. This may mean looking in cupboards, behind furniture, and crawlspaces.
Of course, if you find a pool of water, or spot anything dripping, then the chances are that you either have a damaged pipe, or some kind of blockage. In the case of a leak, isolate the problem pipe by stopping its water supply. If the issue is a backed-up drain, you may be able to remove the blockage by hand, or with a plunger.
However, the accumulation of materials such as hair, grease, and food can require a more aggressive method, such as drain snaking. Beware of using chemical drain cleaners, as many rely on corrosive ingredients which can damage the interior of your pipes.
You should also be especially wary of backed up sewage as it can pose a serious health risk and should not be handled without adequate protection. If you notice a sewage leak or buildup, seek professional guidance before attempting to tackle it.
Poor Water Quality
Another key sign that all is not as it should be is a reduction in the quality of your water supply. If it begins to taste strange, develops an unpleasant odour, or looks discoloured even after being allowed to settle, your supply may be contaminated.
This could mean that your pipes have corroded internally, which may also affect your water pressure. If your water tastes particularly metallic, or you notice a rust-like sediment, the chances are that your plumbing system needs an update.
Another cause of contamination can be damage to your main supply. Roots, and gradual shifting of the land over time can crack underground pipes, or pull sections apart. As a result, earth and similar debris can enter your supply, reducing the quality of your water. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may be able to clear the pipe using a drain snake. Otherwise it may be necessary to repair or replace the damaged sections.
If air becomes trapped in your pipes, it can drive up their internal pressure. This puts your plumbing under strain, loosening joints and fittings, and even increasing the chances of pipes cracking or becoming deformed. This is an easy problem to spot, however, as the trapped air causes pipes to rattle and groan as water moves through them.
Running your taps should flush the air pockets out, and reduce the noise. However, if the problem persists, you should seek professional assistance, as the rattling may be a sign of a more serious issue.
If water reaches an abrupt stopping point, it can send a reverberation back up through the pipe, placing strain on its joints. This can loosen or deform sections of pipe over time, which in turn can result in flooding and severe damage to your home. Fortunately, this can often be resolved by making minor adjustments to your pipe configuration. You can also dampen the noise by padding the problem sections with foam or lagging material.
Taps Running Slow
Of course, low pressure can be just as troublesome as high pressure, and may be a sign of a blockage, pump failure, or leak. Water companies have a legal obligation to supply water at a statutory minimum pressure. This can vary depending on your country, town or city. However, many properties receive their supply at a lower pressure than they should.
One of the first signs that your pressure has dropped is reduced flow from your taps. In addition, fixtures and appliances that require water at a minimum pressure, such as some shower heads, may cease to function.
Contact your supplier to ensure that the issue is not within the main supply, or due to a temporary reduction in service. Alternatively, if you find evidence that your pipes are blocked or damaged, your plumber should be able to advise you on how to tackle the issue and get your supply back to normal. You could also consider installing a pressure gauge, to help you monitor the health of your system, and identify problems before they are able to do any damage.
Lack of Maintenance
Finally, if it has been a while since you last checked over your system, there is a good chance that something will be in need of repair. Regularly ensuring that fittings are secure, pipes are insulated, and drains are clear can dramatically reduce your chances of facing a serious breakdown, flood, or loss of supply.
Many of these jobs can be carried out independently, but your local plumber can offer guidance and support if you are unsure about any aspect of your system’s maintenance. Annual drain snaking will also help to keep your main and sewage lines clear, which is a big step towards ensuring the long-term health of your water supply.
Ultimately, the most important step towards keeping your plumbing in good working order is to tackle problems as soon as they arise. A well-maintained system is far less likely to suddenly break down or flood your home, and will ultimately save you money through a combination of increased efficiency, and reduced need for emergency repairs. Nevertheless, accidents can happen, so make sure you know the location of your mains stop valve, just in case.