9 Common Plumbing Questions Answered
As homeowners, we have all experienced a leaky faucet or two and, of course, an occasional clogged toilet. In fact, unclogging a toilet is the most commonly asked plumbing question in Google, ranging upwards of over 70,000 searches each month. That's a lot of clogged toilets! We wanted to go further and know what are the most common plumbing questions people are searching for on Google, and better yet, have them answered by some of the best plumbing professionals from across the U.S. Here are nine of the most common plumbing questions (and their answers) you may find yourself asking as a homeowner.
1) Why are my pipes knocking when the toilet is flushed?
Google searches per month: 500
There are many reasons why your pipes may knock in your house. For example, whether it is a pipe that carries hot water or cold water making the knocking sound can make a big difference. A hot water pipe would make noise due to thermal expansion, though either a hot or cold water pipe may make noise due to improper fastening. Likewise, improper pressure in your water distribution system could also cause your pipes to knock. Usually, your water pressure is too high.
Another reason you may hear a banging noise could come from the toilet and its fill valve. The fill valve regulates the water level in the toilet tank. Newer models of this valve tend to close very abruptly. When this happens, it sometimes causes what we call a "water hammer" and can lead to banging noises. In fact, any fast closing valve could potentially cause a water hammer situation, even those found in your dishwashers, washing machines, and ice makers.
If you hear sounds like a loud chattering or clattering noise coming from the toilet when you flush, that's usually caused by a loose washer in the shutoff valve. When the water flows over that washer, it opens and closes making a loud noise but usually stops as soon as the water flow stops.
Finally, you may hear a high pitched squeal that comes on suddenly as if your bathroom is haunted! That is caused by a slow leak in the toilet that causes the water metering valve to come on unexpectedly to fill the toilet. This is usually caused by the flapper not sealing properly.
2) Why do I have cloudy tap water?
Google searches per month: 850
The most common reason for cloudiness in tap water is very simple: AIR!
Tiny air bubbles can form inside your water distribution system in your home, giving the appearance of cloudy water. During the colder months, it can become more common as cold water traps air more easily than warm water.
Other reasons for cloudy water could be sediment or particulates in your water. While homes on well-fed water supply are more prone to sediment in the water, city-fed water supplies can also fall victim to sediment and particulates.
A yearly water quality test is suggested to make sure you are on the right track to clean, safe drinking water. It tests for water hardness, TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), chlorine, and many other factors that can have a direct impact on your water quality. Products such as whole-home water filtration systems, water conditioning systems, and point-of-use filtration are a great way to ensure that your home is providing you with the best water quality.
3) My garbage disposal stopped working, what do I do?
Google searches per month: 1,700
If your garbage disposal stopped working there can be a variety of problems that could have taken place. But before proceeding to diagnose the issue turn off the electric breaker that powers the garbage disposal unit and then test the switch to ensure there is no power is running to it.
First, determine the overall condition of the garbage disposal. If the disposal has obvious damaged, aged, or has significant surface rust it may be in your best interest to replace the unit rather than repair it.
If you determine the disposal is in fair or good condition you will then want to see if the disposal is jammed up. Most disposals have a slot for an Allen wrench (also known as a hex key) located on the bottom of the unit. Insert the Allen wrench and turn a full rotation. You will likely feel slight resistance at the beginning of the rotation if a jam is indeed your problem. Turn your electric breaker back on to power the unit and test.
If you were unable to turn the wrench to manually un-jam the disposal, use a flashlight to look down the disposal from the sink drain. You may see an obvious obstruction such as a spoon or other utensil. Take extra caution to ensure there is no power to the unit before removing the object.
If you determine that the disposal is not jammed then generally calling a professional is the next step unless you have extensive electrical knowledge and a voltmeter. The technician should test to ensure power is getting to the disposal. If your unit is receiving power, then most likely your disposal has a burnt out motor and needs replacement. If you are not getting power to the unit it is likely there is an electrical issue and the disposal is probably in working order.
Other issues such as a disposal unit leaking can happen but are far less likely. If you think there is water leaking from the disposal, run water while looking at the disposal with a flashlight. If you determine it is leaking from a connection point you may just need a gasket, plumbers putty, or to simply tighten the hose clamp. If you determine the disposal itself is leaking you will need to replace the unit.
If you are not exactly sure of what you are doing at any point, call a professional.
4) Where is my main water shut off valve?
Google searches per month: 1,700
As homeowners, it's essential to know where your main water shut off valve is and how to turn it off before an emergency happens. A burst pipe inside a house can cause catastrophic damage while you search for the valve or wait for a plumber.
Your water shut off valve is on the main water line serving the house. The valve will most likely be located outside the house and close the exterior wall. It is typically attached to an exterior wall or it is located in an accessible underground box. You may have to look around a bit because the valve may also be located in a basement or crawl space.
There is also a separate valve that controls the hot water piping in the house. This valve is located at your water heater, which is typically inside the house. This valve is often quicker and easier to access and closer than the house's main water valve. Every second matters when water is flooding into your home, but remember that this valve only controls the home's hot water piping and is not the main water shut off valve.
5) My water heater is leaking, what should I do?
Google searches per month: 2,900
Suspect that your water heater may be leaking? You may be right. Follow these steps to fix your leak:
Turn the water and gas supply off to the water heater unit.
On the pipe entering the water heater, there should be a valve within a few feet. Turn the lever a quarter turn, or if it's circular turn it clockwise as much as possible until tight.
If you have a gas water heater, turn the gas supply off by finding the valve located on the piping entering the bottom of the unit. This will help prevent water damage until you can have a trained professional come out to make sure no other issues occur.
Opening hot water fixtures enough to relieve the excess pressure might be a good option as well in order to limit the amount of water that leaks out. Once the pressure is relieved, turn the fixtures off so the unit has a vacuum effect. This will help keep the remaining water in until a repair or replacement can be done. Try to avoid using single handle fixtures until a repair can be done to prevent cold water to siphon back into the hot water heater and cause more leaking to occur.
Water heaters, and in particular gas water heaters, can be extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, we have seen some bad consequences of clients attempting to perform repairs or replacements on units by themselves without receiving the proper training. Some repairs resulted in the loss of their homes through fires or serious injury.
6) How do I flush a water heater?
Google searches per month: 2,900
Tank type water heaters are one of those common appliances you rely upon every day. Whether gas or electric, they are generally very dependable and quiet. Water heaters can last for a decade or more with annual maintenance. The maintenance removes the sediment that builds up through draining and flushing.
Sediment (also known as calcium carbonate) is a mineral present in water. This mineral precipitates (turns into a solid) when water is heated and settles to the bottom of the tank where it does a number of bad things.
Sediment forms a layer of insulation between the gas burner and the water. This slows down the heat transfer and overheats the bottom of the tank. Overheating weakens the steel and damages the glass lining. In the case of electric, it can bury the element and cause it to burn out. It can move into your recirculation lines, jam open check valves, and cause the recirculation pump to stick until it burns out. It can clog your drain valve. And finally, it causes noise. This noise is caused by small amounts of water under the sediment layer turning to seam bubbles, which collapse violently.
By flushing your water heater, you can extend the life of your water heater even further and save money in the process. To perform a full tank drain and flush follow the steps below:
- Locate the valve on the cold inlet side of the water heater and turn it off
- For a gas water heater, turn the temperature setting on the control valve to Pilot
- For an electric water heater turn off the breaker
- Connect a garden hose to the drain valve located near the bottom of the heater
- Open the drain valve
- Open the temperature and pressure (T&P or blow-off) valve by pulling on the lever to allow air into the tank
- Once the water heater has fully drained open the water valve on the inlet side of the water heater to flush out as much sediment as possible
- Close the drain valve once flushed
- Close the T&P valve when water begins to flow through the valve
- For gas water heater turn the temperature setting on the control valve to hot
- For an electric water heater turn on the breaker
- Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
7) I have no hot water in my house, what happened?
Google searches per month: 2,900
If you are suddenly not getting any hot water in your home and you don't know what happened, the cause will vary depending on the type of water heater you have in your home.
If Your Home Has a Gas Water Heater
Many homes today still use large gas water heaters to get hot water out of faucets and showerheads within the home. You know you have a gas water heater if there is a giant water tank somewhere on your property, probably down in the basement or garage.
The first suspect for a hot water outage with a gas-based system is a lack of gas. If for whatever reason your home's gas supply is being disrupted, then there's no way for the heater to raise the temperature of the water. Please be mindful that a problem with the gas supply could be indicative of a gas leak. You should always call a professional plumber to safely complete repairs to gas water heaters.
A gas water heater also uses a big tank of water, heats it up throughout the day, and sends it to pipes as needed. The amount of hot water you can use is limited to the size of that tank. If you use a lot of hot water in a short amount of time, then you will eventually run out of hot water until the tank has time to refill and reheat. If that is something you continuously experience and you would rather have extra long hot showers or run multiple showers and fixtures at the same time with hot water, then a Tankless Water Heater may be the right option for you.
If Your Home Has an Electric Water Heater
If your home has an electric water heater, then your sudden lack of hot water is probably related to a bit of faulty electric equipment within the heater. A thermostat regulates the temperature of the water that passes through your electric water heater, so a defective thermostat could be causing the water to be heated to a temperature much lower than the one selected.
Another common source of cold water coming out of an electric water heater is a tripped circuit breaker. Your electric water heater consumes electricity like a major appliance, so it has the potential of putting too much pressure on your breaker, resulting it to trip.
8) Why do I have a sewer gas smell in my home?
Google searches per month: 4,300
There are many reasons why you could have sewer gas entering your home, but the most common causes are:
Improperly installed plumbing systems in your home. In most states, becoming a licensed plumber takes years of hard work, training and examination. During this process, licensed plumbers learn everything from what type of material pipes should be used when accessing city water mains, to how to property (and safely) vent appliances such as water heaters to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.
Many times, unlicensed plumbers can cause serious harm to your property that may not be readily apparent for several months or years. When looking for a plumbing contractor, always check with your state's Corporation Commission and Licensing Board to make sure your contractor is in good standing, and always ask for proof of insurances and evaluate customer reviews.
Dried traps. Sewer gas smell could be caused by drains in your home that are infrequently used- such as large garden tubs or large floor drains in a basement.
Below almost all home drains is a pipe shaped like a "J," which is designed to hold water at all times to form a seal that prevents sewer gasses from escaping. If the water in the trap leaks or evaporates out, however, the seal is lost, and an odor will ensue.
To help prevent this, be sure to run any water down drains that aren't used very often, especially during winter months.
Other causes. If you can't locate the cause of the sewer smell there are a few remaining options to investigate. For example, the wax seal around toilets can go bad, or a vent line could be broken somewhere within the property. In some cases, the issue can be so complex that hiring a leak detection specialist is the most logical option. They often have special equipment that helps them test your complete plumbing system to identify the source of the leak.
If you're experiencing a sewer gas smell in your home, it's time to call in the professionals. Look for a licensed and highly reviewed plumber in your area to help you diagnose the problem and fix it.
9) Why does my toilet keep running?
Google searches per month: 9,300
Does your toilet seem possessed? Most likely it's not and some simple repairs just need to be made, though what's making your toilet run could be a number of things.
The most common issue of a running toilet is the flapper, located in the tank of the toilet, has shrunken due to chemicals in the water. This normally takes around 3 to 5 years to happen.
Another common problem is that the fill-valve over time will lose its ability to regulate the water level in the tank, and at that time it will need to be replaced. There is also the fill tube assembly, which has a lower gasket that can leak or a leak can form from the tube itself.
It's always a good idea to perform regular maintenance on your toilet by replacing the flapper and fill valve to prevent leakage that you may not hear or see.
A great way to check your toilets for water flow is by dropping food coloring dye into the tank. Let the dye set for 5 to 10 minutes and then see if the food coloring dye shows in the bowl of the toilet. If you do, that means you have a hidden toilet water leak.