A few easy steps can prevent a plumbing disaster.
Most water supply pipes and drain lines are tucked away behind walls or in under-sink cabinets, so it’s easy to take a plumbing system for granted until something goes wrong. The plumbing, which is part of a home’s mechanical system, needs regular attention and maintenance to keep it working well. When plumbing problems occur, you could find yourself paying not only to replace the broken parts but also to repair water damage—and those fixes can be costly.
Fortunately, a few preventive measures can save homeowners the headache of a water heater that produces cold showers or an undetected leak that causes structural damage. Here, Daniel O'Brian, the technical expert for leading plumbing retailer SupplyHouse.com, shares six easy ways to protect your plumbing and your house.
1. Insulate water supply pipes to reduce heat loss.
As exterior temperatures drop, it's important to wrap both hot and cold water lines in insulation to keep their contents above the freezing point. On hot water supply pipes, O'Brian explains, pipe insulation increases heat retention in the water, so you won't have to wait as long when you turn on the hot water at the faucet or shower head. Insulation on cold supply lines helps avoid the condensation that can lead to freezing and possible ruptures. Shield your pipes with products like K-Flex Insul-Lock Pipe Insulation (available from SupplyHouse), which often comes in dense, six-foot-long foam rubber tubes with a slit along one side. The design makes installation simple: Just slip the slit over the pipe and the flexible tubing completely encases the pipe, protecting it from temperature changes.
2. Install leak detectors to notify you when a leak occurs.
Despite our best efforts, leaks happen. But if you catch them early enough, you can turn off the water and make fixes before the accumulated water causes structural damage—or worse, leads to mold and mildew growth. Installing a leak detector under sinks and near a sump pump, washer, or water heater will give you a heads-up when a leak occurs.
“Today’s leak detectors can send notifications right to your phone and sound out an audible alarm whenever there is water present where it shouldn’t be,” O’Brian says. Units that include freeze detection, such as the Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector (available from SupplyHouse), will even alert you to the freezing that occurs before a pipe bursts—particularly helpful for water supply pipes located in wine cellars or unheated basements.
3. Add an anti-sweat valve to your toilet's water supply line.
During humid summers and after steamy showers, the toilet tank often sweats. This condensation is caused by the difference between the cold water in the toilet tank and the warm air that surrounds it. Sometimes a toilet sweats so heavily that water drips from the tank and creates puddles on the floor.
You can put an end to the drippy problem by installing an anti-sweat valve, such as Raven’s Brass Anti-Sweat Valve (available from SupplyHouse) where the hot and cold lines meet. The anti-sweat valve “mixes hot water into the cold water line, providing a nice, tempered mixture into the tank of the toilet,” O’Brian says. By adjusting the valve, the homeowner can regulate the amount of hot water that enters the line. It often takes just a small amount of hot water to raise the water temperature above the dew point to stop the sweating.
4. Install water hammer arrestors if the pipes bang when you turn off a faucet.
Not only is the sound of water hammer loud and disruptive, but the force has also been known to break pipes and faucet components, so the problem should not be ignored. Water hammer is caused when “a faucet or valve shuts off and the water—with all its weight and momentum—slams into the closed valve,” O’Brian explains. “That sends a shock wave running through the pipes and causing a knocking ‘hammer’ sound.” If you discover a line that is knocking when appliances start and stop using water, install a water hammer arrestor, such as the Sioux Chief MiniRester Water Hammer Arrestor (available from SupplyHouse), to absorb the water shock so your pipes and faucets won’t have to take the brunt of the impact.
5. Install a water softener to prevent mineral buildup in water supply lines and appliances.
Hard water contains a high concentration of minerals—most often calcium, magnesium, and lime—that can all wreak havoc on a plumbing system. “As these minerals build up, layer by layer, they can greatly reduce water flow and even cause pipe corrosion and damage,” O’Brian says. Hard water can shorten the life of some household appliances, such as dishwashers and clothes washers, so it’s a good idea to tackle the problem sooner rather than later.
O’Brian suggests installing a product like the 3M Aqua-Pure Water Softener (available from SupplyHouse) on your home’s main water supply line. As water passes through the water softener, hard water ions are removed and replaced with sodium ions. The result is softer water that lathers easily and won’t damage plumbing.
6. Purify your family’s drinking water by installing an under-sink reverse osmosis system.
While the water that comes out of your kitchen faucet might look crystal clear, household water “can contain a number of different microorganisms, including disease-causing bacteria or viruses,” O’Brian says. “Private wells can also be contaminated with gasoline, toxins, and salt from the roads.” Not all water filtration systems can remove all those contaminants, but a reverse osmosis system—for example, the 3M Under-Sink Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System (available from SupplyHouse)—can. Reverse osmosis systems are highly effective at removing bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and chemical contaminants including nitrates, arsenic, and radium.
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