Texas is in the midst of a crisis. Freezing temperatures are sweeping through the state of Texas along with power outages and critical food and water shortages. If that wasn’t enough to contend with, Texas plumbers say they are fielding an extraordinary number of calls during this time. Thanks to the power outages, there are disproportionate amounts of frozen pipes and plumbing emergencies. “Broken pipes have sent water gushing out of ceilings and walls, flooding homes,” KXAN reports. To prevent further damage until plumbers arrive, any plumbing service advises homeowners to turn the water off in the meantime.
While it is impossible to control the weather, it is possible for Texas homeowners to mitigate the effects of plumbing emergencies with some general know-how. In fact, people all across the nation can keep major repairs to a minimum by understanding their plumbing and performing regular plumbing maintenance. What do you need to know about your plumbing system? What is regular plumbing maintenance and when is it a must?
Understanding Your Septic System
“Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems,” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) writes, “A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drain field, or soil absorption field.”
A typical septic tank consists of two chambers. The first filters solid waste out of the wastewater. The second chamber continues the filtration process and the treated, remaining water, seeps out into the drain field. The drain field absorbs the treated water.
If you are uncertain whether you have a septic system, call in a septic provider or a residential plumbing service to help you make that determination.
If you have a septic tank system, and you notice any of the following, it is time to call a septic tank service:
- Perhaps the most obvious sign of a failing septic system is a foul smell.
- If your septic system is malfunctioning, wastewater may back up into your sink.
- If you notice water leaking into your basement or pooling on top of the drain field, call a professional to fix the problem.
Maintaining Your Septic Tank
Your septic tank is part of your plumbing system, and it is important to include it in your regular plumbing maintenance. To maintain your septic tank system:
- Use household water as efficiently as possible. “The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use improves the operation of a septic system and reduces the risk of failure,” the EPA writes. You can reduce water use in your home by investing in low-flow, energy-efficient fixtures, like low-flow faucets and showerheads. Energy-efficient toilets and Energy STAR-certified appliances also help cut back on water waste in your home.
- Know the basics of septic tank pumping. Septic tanks cannot effectively do their job indefinitely. They need regular plumbing maintenance or septic system maintenance to continue working over the years. The average system requires pumping “every three to five years,” the EPA continues. The needs of your system may vary based on the size of your septic tank, the number of people in your household, and the amount of wastewater flowing out of your home. Get systems inspected every three years to assess their condition and your pumping needs.
- Use toilet drains and sinks as intended. Some homeowners and guests use toilets and drain too freely. Generally speaking, the only thing that should go into your toilet is waste and toilet paper. Disposing of dental floss, baby wipes, paper towels, diapers, cooking grease, cat litter, or cigarettes down the toilet is only likely to lead to serious plumbing problems. Likewise, homeowners should not treat sinks like garbage disposals. Clear off plates before rinsing them. Don’t throw garbage down the sink, or pour grease down the drain. Observing these rules will help keep your septic tank in good working order.
- Take care of your entire system, including your drain field. It is important to carefully maintain your drain field. Place gutters or any other structures that may drain or divert water at a safe distance from the drain field. Do not park on the drain field, and make sure that any trees are far away from the area. Left unchecked, roots from nearby trees may infiltrate into your septic system and damage it.
Understanding Sewer Lines
If your home does not rely on well water, chances are the water supplied by your city comes from a municipal source. That water flows through your home from the water main. Sewer lines consist of pipes and plumbing that connect all the drains in your house to the water main and main sewer drain.
These lines average four to six inches across, and they are buried in your yard where they divert water to the main drain and then, ultimately, away from your home. Unfortunately, because their diameter is relatively small, sewer lines are quite vulnerable to clogs. If there is a partial clog in your sewer lines, you may notice toilets, showers, and sinks draining slowly. If a major clog occurs, trapped wastewater will flow back into your home.
Trees may also negatively affect a sewer line or your entire sewer system. To avoid root intrusion, plant trees a minimum of 10 feet away from sewer lines whenever possible. Trees with small or slow-growing root systems may be most suitable to plant near sewer lines if it is unavoidable. University of Tennessee (UT) Extension recommends species like the golden raintree or smoketree.
Should your sewer lines show signs of clogs, repairing them is an important part of regular plumbing maintenance? Call a residential plumbing service. They will be able to remedy small clogs with a concentrated jet of water that loosens buildup or debris. Major clogs may require more extensive measures, including trenchless pipe repairs.
What About Water Heaters?
When it comes to understanding your plumbing system and performing regular plumbing maintenance, it is important to understand what a hot water heater is and how it works. Hot water heaters heat water and store it until you are ready to use it. There are four main types of water heaters, including tank-type water heaters, tankless water heaters, hybrid models, and point-of-use water heaters.
- Tank-type water heaters. Tank-type water heaters heat water using electricity or gas. Gas water heaters are generally less expensive to maintain and operate, although electric water heaters are more effective and more energy-efficient. “Tank-type water heaters come in various sizes, ranging from about 20 to 80 gallons, but a 40- or 50-gallon tank is sufficient for most households,” Popular Mechanics writes. Tank-type systems hold a finite amount of water. If you use a lot of hot water in a short time, you may have to wait while new water entering the tank heats up.
- Tank-less water heaters. Tank-less water heaters are small, compact units. When a hot water faucet or tap triggers the system, the unit immediately heats water using a gas- or electric-powered heat exchanger and then transfers it directly to the faucet or sink in question. Tank-less water heaters do not store water for future use. Instead, they heat up water as needed, making them markedly more efficient. Unlike tank-types, there are no limits. You can use as much hot water as you like at any given time. The units are long-lasting, but they are significantly more expensive to install and repair.
- Hybrid type models. If you want the best of both worlds, invest in a hybrid model. For these particular systems, water heater installation costs more than tank-types but less than tank-less types. Hybrid models use a tank and a pump to get hot water to the faucets, showers, and tubs in your home. Plus, the “hybrid model uses 60% less energy than a conventional water heater,” Popular Mechanics continues.
- Point-of-use water heaters. Finally, point-of-use water heaters are systems without a tank that delivers water to a single point, like a single bath or shower. If you have an especially spacious house, homeowners buy these systems to deliver hot water to faraway bathrooms faster than relying on a whole-home system. These models are efficient and may last up to 25 years with regular plumbing maintenance.
Keep Drains Clean
Again, when it comes to regular plumbing maintenance and drain cleaning, the most effective solutions are preventative ones. It is much simpler to prevent a clog in the first place than it is to unclog a drain. “Don’t flush items like cotton swabs, gauze, tampons, maxi pads, diapers, paper towels, and heavier materials because those materials aren’t designed to break down easily,” Angie’s List recommends. It is also unwise to dispose of oil, grease, paint, or chemicals down the toilet. Even items that market themselves as “flushable,” like flushable wipes and flushable kitty litter, can clog the drain over time.
To clean drains or fix small clogs, avoid abrasive, chemical cleaners. These products may end up doing more damage to your pipes in the long-run. Opt for natural or mild cleaners instead. For example, you can clean the drain by using baking soda and vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice, or baking soda and salt. Whatever you decide to use, follow it up with a pot of boiling water to make it even more effective. These natural solutions will clear away most minor clogs. Use a plunger or a snake to tackle tough clogs.
If you are still experiencing problems after cleaning, snaking, and/or plunging your drain, call a local plumber to help you resolve the problem.
When You Need A Repair
Should you need a residential plumbing repair service, what is the next step? Sometimes regular plumbing maintenance just won’t do. In spite of your best efforts, things are bound to happen from time to time. To find the best plumbing company:
- Check their licenses or qualifications. Most states require plumbers to have a license. There are a few that do not. Kansas and New York do not require plumbers to be licensed, according to Angie’s List.
- Keep an eye out for insurance and warranties. Insurance protects you and the plumber in the event of an accident. Most plumbers also guarantee the quality and effectiveness of their work through warranties. A warranty will guarantee the life of a repair for up to a year.
- Read reviews, do your research, and check references. For the most part, you can rely on a plumbing service if they have been in business for a number of years. That gives you peace of mind that they are familiar with conducting inspections, performing regular plumbing maintenance, and undertaking minor and major repairs. You can rely on reviews and references to give you a better grasp of a plumbing company’s track record and abilities as well.
- Get an estimate. For major repairs, it is best to get at least three estimates. Remember, the cheapest estimate does not always indicate the best quality work. If the estimates are around the same ballpark and one is slightly cheaper, that is likely fine. If one is markedly lower — low enough to cause suspicion — it is best to ask yourself why.
Installing New Plumbing
Even the most assiduous homeowner cannot stave off major repairs forever with regular plumbing maintenance. The truth of the matter is that pipes only last so long, and then you must replace them. Expect to replace them sooner if you move into an older home.
You may need to replace your plumbing if it is leaking, if there are visible signs of cracks, corrosion, or rust, or if you see warped floorboards, warped wood, or any other signs of water damage. Call a plumbing service if you notice any of these signs. It is also wise to replace plumbing while in the process of renovating or remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. That way, plumbing is already exposed, and there may be less work for the plumber to do.
No matter where you live, regular plumbing maintenance is a must. Keep repair costs low by understanding the different parts of your plumbing system and how to maintain them.