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Plumbers can smell your fear, and they charge you for it. Whether it’s a running toilet or a clogged drain, a plumber is going to charge you $80 – $100 just for the trip; and another $80 – $100 for each additional hour. Plumbing parts don’t cost nearly that much, and $80 an hour is a steep labor fee (I know I don’t make nearly that much). So what are you being charged for? The answer is your fear. Often times the fix is easier than putting together Legos. But plumbing is intimidating. And what if you make a mistake? A water leak can cost thousands in repairing damage to flooring and walls. Well I’m going to let you in on a little secret that might cost me a few of my plumber customers. Plumbing is easy. Sometimes a little nasty, but it’s not rocket science. It can be as easy as screwing a hose to a water faucet. And if you have a helpful, local hardware store; a sales person will tell you what you need and how to fix it. If you exercise that option, you may get out of your plumbing bind for less than $10.

In this article, I’m going to go over a few common plumbing issues and how to fix them. But all you really need to know is how to get to your local hardware store. Take a picture of your issue with your cell phone. Be sure to include a ruler or tape measure in the picture to help determine the size of plumbing parts. If your sales person is worth their salt, they will sell you the parts you need and walk you through the repair.

Leaky Faucets
Faucets include kitchen and bathroom sinks, bathtubs and showers, and outdoor garden hose faucets. There are two ways they can leak; through the spout, or out the handle. The handles are connected by a screw to a valve called the stem. The stem either blocks or allows the flow of water by being turned by the handle. It has a rubber washer that is screwed on to the opposite end from the handle. This washer seals the water blockage. Eventually it wears out, allowing a little water to pass through the valve and drip out of the faucet. You only need a screwdriver to disconnect the handle and washer from the stem. With a dollar for a new washer and gas money, you can save the $80 plumbers fee with a trip to the hardware store. If the water is leaking out of the handle of the faucet, the packing in the stem has worn out. With a dollar and some change you can buy new packing. You simply apply it around the stem just before re-attaching the handle. I always suggest replacing both the washer and packing anytime you remove the stem.

Running Toilets
A running toilet can be caused by one of three things. It is very difficult to figure out which one of the three is the cause of your leak. Since the cheapest of these fixes is also the easiest, I suggest starting there. Replace your flapper. Your flapper is a piece of rubber that lifts when you push the handle and slowly falls and blocks the hole once your tank fills with water. These wear out regularly and need to be replaced. Cut the water off to the toilet by turning the valve on the wall located behind the toilet all the way clockwise. Open your tank and simply unhook the flapper from the flush valve. Take it to the hardware store so they can match it up. If that doesn’t stop your leak, I would next try replacing the fill valve. This is the contraption with a float that moves up and down with the water level. It cuts off the water when the water level reaches the desired level in the tank. It can malfunction causing the toilet to run. These are fairly universal but it never hurts to take your old one to the hardware store. It’s a little more labor intensive to disassemble than the flapper, but it is still fairly easy. After you cut the water off and flush the toilet, place a bucket under the toilet tank to catch the water that will leak. Disconnect the water supply line and the nut under the tank and the fill valve will come right out. If replacing the fill valve doesn’t work, then there must be some obstruction to the surface where the flapper lies. This is a part of the flush valve and can be replaced similarly to the fill valve.

Clogged Drains
This is the most common plumbing issue. Fortunately it is often the easiest to fix. We sell many devices for unclogging drains, but I’m going to tell you about the most popular ones. The number one selling item in our store is Liquid Fire. It is a sulfuric acid based liquid that you poor down the drain. It will dissolve any organic matter such as hair but not plastics or metal which make up your drain plumbing. Be careful using it on finely polished sink drains as it can discolor the metal.

An even cheaper fix is an item we sell for $3.49. It’s called a Mini Snake. It is a long, thin, hard, but flexible piece of plastic with a handle on one end and barbs on the other. Every home should have one of these on hand, especially if you have or live with someone who has long hair. You stick it down the drain until you feel resistance. Work it in as far as you can then pull it back out of the drain. The barbs will grab and retract whatever is obstructing the flow of water.

If neither of these solutions work, consider removing the drain and cleaning it out. Kitchen and bathroom sink drains are very easy to remove. The clog is likely in the trap which is the curvy pipe under the sink. It removes and connects by loosening or tightening the plastic nut by hand. These nuts have washers in them which I suggest replacing each time you dissemble the drain. They can wear out and cause leaks.

When our midtown homes were built, plumbers used terracotta pipes made of clay to run from the house to the street. If you have never had this pipe replaced, I guarantee it is full of roots and you are destined for a clog. They connected the clay pipes with cement which by now would have worn out allowing space for roots to enter the pipe. For larger drain clogs such as these, I recommend something called a Drain King. I had a house on Fulton St which had terracotta pipes full of roots. I was very young and poor at the time, so I couldn’t afford to have the pipes replaced. I was able to buy myself a year using a Drain King once a week before finally having to replace the pipe. A Drain King is a bladder that you screw on to the end of the hose. You shove the hose down the drain, towards the clog and turn on the water. The bladder expands creating pressure in the pipe and shoots water at the clog.

All of these fixes are at or under $10. So instead of calling a plumber next time, I encourage you to try and fix it yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is. And if your neighbor is a plumber, please go to their mailbox right now and remove this publication from their mailbox. Thanks!

— By: Mick Blankenship

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