A correctly designed and installed home plumbing system is practically trouble-free. Should problems occur, there are standard methods for dealing with them for the do-it-yourselfer. And there are good reasons as well – a neglected leak inside a wall, on the floor, or in the ceiling may cause serious damage.
Most plumbing systems provide numerous shutoff valves for controlling water flow in the supply system. Sinks and lavatories have individual shutoffs for hot and cold water; toilets have just one. The first thing to do in an emergency at a fixture is to close the shutoff valve.
Whether or not the home has individual fixture controls for the water supply, you will always find a main shutoff near the water meter or at the wall where the main water line enters the house. Leaks and overflows can be stopped quickly at the main shutoff, eliminating a search for individual shutoffs. Become familiar with all shutoffs so you can get to them quickly in an emergency.
What to do in an emergency:
Pipe leaks – Joints that have corroded or frozen (and burst) will leak. Tightening a threaded joint or re-soldering (or re-gluing) it may cure the leak. Burst pipes can sometimes be mended with a clamp-on pipe patch. If not, they must be replaced.
Leak in a wall – Most often caused by a faulty riser pipe to a shower or to fixtures on a higher floor. With this situation it is best to get professional help. A reputable plumber should be able to tell you whether he has to cut into the wall to make the repair.
Overflowing toilet tank – A toilet tank overflowing into the toilet bowl will be heard long after flushing. Close the tank shutoff valve. Access the water closet where the flapper valve is located. Lift the float by hand. If the water stops, bend the float arm slightly to lower the float. Flush and test again. Adjust as needed. If the flowing persists I suggest replacing all the components in the water closet. It fairly cheap and easy to do this.
Stopped up sink drain – First try a rubber plunger. If this doesn’t break the clog then try a chemical drain-opener following the directions on the container. If this fails put a bucket under the trap (the U-shaped pipe), loosen it and remove it. Most home improvement stores sale a clog removal device made just for this problem. Remove the clog, usually hair and soap. Replace the trap and run hot water for a few minutes to flush everything.
There are a few of the common plumbing emergencies you may encounter. Most can be corrected by the homeowner without resorting to a plumber. If you encounter a problem you feel is more than you can handle then call a professional immediately. The longer you wait the more costly damage that may occur.