A complete technical resource to help homeowners with plumbing needs.
Household plumbing is something most of us rely on for day-to-day living. Even a few hours without running water or functioning drains can be a serious problem.
By understanding how different parts of your plumbing system work, you will be better able to assess problems and make more informed decisions about how to get the issue resolved. Plumbing issues can range in severity and while it makes sense to hire a licensed professional for most plumbing issues and installations, you can be better prepared if you understand the problem at hand.
- Common household plumbing problems and issues
- Plumbing maintenance requirements
- Emergency plumbing procedures
- How to find a plumbing expert
It is important to keep in mind that not all plumbing issues can wait. If you are experiencing a plumbing emergency, it is best to contact a licensed professional as soon as possible to avoid any further damage. Learn more about our emergency plumbing services offered at Reliance™
Plumbing by room:
Understanding where your home's water comes from and goes.
Every home with plumbing has a supply of cold water coming into the building and a main drain to handle sewage leaving the building. The incoming cold water supply feeds both the cold water faucets and taps, as well as the water heater.
Hot and cold water supply lines extend to most fixtures in your house, with a series of smaller drain pipes leading from sinks, toilets, showers and tubs to the larger main drain. In general, problems with the water supply side of residential plumbing are usually about leaks of some kind. Drain issues are usually about blockages. Kitchen sinks and toilets are the most likely location for blockages, but all drain pipes can become blocked.
TECH TIP: Handling a Major Plumbing Leak
Although major plumbing leaks don’t happen often, when they do, they can cause serious damage in a very short time. That is why every homeowner needs to know where the main water supply shutoff valve is and how to use it. Find the main water supply pipe that enters your house, typically located on a basement wall. If your house is in a subdivision, water supply lines usually enter the wall closest to the road. The first valve present on this pipe is the main shutoff. Rotate the handle clockwise until it stops to shut off the flow of water. The valve handle might be difficult to turn, but clockwise rotation is the way most main valves shuts off.
Bathroom Plumbing — what to know
With a high concentration of plumbing fixtures, bathrooms are often the source of plumbing issues in your home. Most household toilets, sinks, showers and bath tubs are used frequently so occasional issues are not uncommon. Understanding how these plumbing fixtures work is the first step in understanding what is causing the problem.
Whenever the flush handle of a toilet is pushed down, it opens a flush valve in the bottom of the water tank. This allows water to rush down into the toilet bowl, carrying waste into a large drain pipe hidden in the floor. As the water level in the tank drops during a flush, it opens a fill valve to refill the tank to a preset water level, ready for the next flush. The water that remains in a toilet bowl after flushing seals out sewer gases and prevents them from entering your home.
Components of a toilet includes:
- the bowl
- water tank
- flush valve
- fill valve
- flush handle
Potential trouble spots for a toilet include the water supply connection to the water tank, the gasket that seals the toilet to the floor drain, the gasket that seals the tank to the bowl, and the flush valve and fill valve inside the tank.
Toilet Problems and Solutions:
Bathroom Sinks and Faucets
These are made differently than sinks and faucets in other parts of your house and they have unique repair issues.
Elements of a bathroom sink and faucet installation include:
- sink bowl
- mechanical drain stopper
- water supply lines
- drain pipe
Potential trouble spots for bathroom sinks and faucets include defective cartridge or washer, clogged or slow drain, leaking drain, and malfunctioning drain stopper
Bathroom Sink Problem and Solutions:
This heavily used part of most bathrooms includes a waterproof enclosure with hot and cold running water delivered by a faucet that’s typically enclosed behind the shower wall.
Elements of a shower and faucet include:
- shower door or curtain
Potential trouble spots for a shower include the faucet valve, drain and the enclosure itself.
Shower Problems and Solutions:
Most tubs offer the opportunity to take either a bath or shower and feature a combination faucet that includes taps, a tub spout and a shower head. Access to the hidden valve assembly is sometimes found through the wall on the other side of the tub.
Elements of a bathtub installation include:
- faucet and shower head
- door or shower curtain
Potential trouble spots in a bathtub installation include a leaky water supply valve, clogged drain or defective enclosure or caulking.
Bathtub Problems and Solutions:
Kitchen Plumbing — what to know
The kitchen is the centre of most homes, and plumbing has a lot to do with the reason why. Preparing and serving food and cleaning up afterwards depends largely on plumbing. Kitchens also have the greatest number of water-related technologies at work. In addition to faucets and drains, you might also have a dishwasher, a fridge with water dispenser, and maybe even laundry equipment in the kitchen.
Sink & Faucet
Elements of a kitchen sink and faucet installation include:
- double or single sink bowl
- drain pipe and debris screen
- spray hose with head*
- liquid soap dispenser*
- hot beverage water dispenser*
- reverse osmosis drinking water tap
*Optional features, may or may not be present in your kitchen
Potential trouble spots for a kitchen sink and faucet include dripping faucet (most common), leaks where the sink meets the counter top, leaking drain pipes, leaking connection between the water supply pipes and the faucet, a clogged drain, or a malfunctioning garbage disposal or hot water dispenser.
TECH TIP: Washer or Cartridge? What’s the Difference?
Most faucets and taps made until the 1970s used a small disk of rubber called a “washer” to stop the flow of water when the hot or cold tap handle was shut off. The faucet mechanism closes down and squeezes against the washer, sealing off the space for water to flow through. Eventually the washer gets old, brittle and cracked, allowing a small flow of water even when the handle is tightened down fully. Inexpensive replacement washers are still available in any hardware store to stop dripping, even for very old faucets. Most modern faucets don’t have washers but use a replaceable valve cartridge instead. When these leak, the only practical solution is to replace the cartridge. Both washer and cartridge replacement is something that a handy homeowner could complete themselves.
Kitchen Sink & Faucet Problems and Solutions:
TECH TIP: Gurgling Drains Solutions
The lack of an air vent is the leading cause of a sink drain that makes gurgling sounds as the water goes down. Adding an air admittance valve to the drain pipe may solves the problem. Not every jurisdiction allows air admittance valves, but they can work well and are relatively easy to install. If you are experiencing a gurgling drain, call a licensed plumber to see if an air admittance valve is an option.
All dishwashers have a connection to the drain (usually under the kitchen sink), but most only have an inlet for a hot water supply. Since dishwashers don’t have cold or warm cycles, a hot water feed is all that’s needed. This hot water feed usually taps into the supply pipe near the kitchen faucet. The only exception to this are high-end dishwashers with internal water heating capabilities. These might have a cold-only connection or they might heat the already-hot water to a higher temperature.
Elements of a dishwasher installation include:
- the dishwasher appliance itself
- a flexible hose carrying pressurized water (usually hot only) to the inlet of the machine
- a flexible drain line leading from the dishwasher to the kitchen drain pipe.
Dishwasher Problems and Solutions:
TECH TIP: Dirty Dishes Solution
If your dishwasher fails to get your dishes, glasses and cutlery as clean is you’d like, and it appears to be running well in other ways, try running your kitchen faucet until the water is hot before each dish washer load. These days dishwashers use so little water that they might not actually get to the completely hot water from the hot water supply pipe. Running the kitchen hot water tap until the water gets hot can improve dishwashing results by eliminating the residual cold.
Fridge with Water Dispenser
More and more refrigerators have a water supply connection for dispensing cold drinking water or making ice. No drain connection is present with fridges.
Elements of a fridge with a water connection include:
- A small, flexible copper or plastic tube that delivers water to the fridge at the back.
- A replaceable filter that removes unwanted taste from the water
Potential trouble spots for a refrigerator with a water dispenser include water leaks at the back of the fridge, low or no water pressure at the dispensing nozzle, and failure to produce ice.
TECH TIP: Dating Refrigerator Filters
Depending on how much drinking water you take from your fridge, the filter may need to be changed every six months to a year. Most fridges have a warning light to alert you when filter needs changing, but you might not get around to this right away. Be sure to check the manufactures recommended replacement cycle and mark the installation date on the filter label before installation so you know at a glance how long it’s been in place.
Fridge with Water Dispenser Problems and Solutions:
Basement Plumbing - What to know
Most unfinished basements have minimal plumbing, while finished basements can have almost as many plumbing fixtures as above-ground spaces in your home. Plumbing elements that are unique to basements may include:
- main water supply line
- floor drain
- laundry sinks and washing machine
- water supply to furnace humidifier
- outdoor faucet water supply lines
- drain line from heat recovery ventilator (HRV)
Potential water supply and main drain issues in the basement includes leaking taps, faucets and fixtures, main drain sewage backup, leaking washing machine connections, seasonal outdoor tap maintenance.
Basement Plumbing Problems and Solutions:
Outdoor Plumbing Fixtures - What to know
Most homes have a least one outdoor tap delivering cold water, but additional outdoor plumbing fixtures are becoming more common. These include hot and cold running water outdoors, and built-in lawn sprinkler systems.
Elements of outdoor plumbing include:
- hose tap (could be standard or frost- free type)
- yard irrigation system
- rooftop plumbing drain vent
- septic system
- greywater pit
Potential issues with outdoor plumbing include malfunctioning outdoor tap or yard irrigation system, a blocked plumbing vent that affects all drains in the house, or a failing septic system or greywater pit.
Outdoor Plumbing Problems and Solutions:
If you have any questions about your home's plumbing or are looking for a licensed professional, Call on Reliance™.