Tips & Tricks

Locating a leaking pipe

Try these tips to locate a leak.

  • The sound of running water helps. If you hear it, follow it to its source. You can buy a listening device that amplifies sounds when it’s held up to a pipe.
  • If water is staining the ceiling or dripping down, the leak is probably directly above.
  • Occasionally, water may travel along a joist and then stain or drip at a point some distance from the leak.
  • If water stains a wall, it means there’s a leak in a section of pipe.
  • Any wall stain is likely to be below the actual location of the leak and you’ll probably need to remove part of the wall to find it.
  • Without the sound of running water and without drips or stains as evidence, leaks are more difficult to find. Using a flashlight, check all the pipes in the basement or in the crawl space.

Fixing a leaking pipe

If the leak is major, turn off the water immediately, either at the fixture shutoff valve or the main shutoff valve. You’ll probably have to replace the leaky section of pipe. If your experience working with pipes is limited, you’ll probably want to call in a plumber to do the job. If the leak is small, the ultimate solution is to replace the pipe, but there are temporary solutions until you have time for the replacement job. These methods work for small leaks only.

  • Clamps should stop most leaks for several months if they’re used with a solid rubber blanket. It’s a good idea to buy a sheet of rubber, as well as some clamps sized to fit your pipes at a hardware store and keep them on hand just for this purpose.
  • A sleeve clamp that exactly fits the pipe diameter works best. Wrap a rubber blanket over the leak, then screw the clamp down over the blanket.
  • An adjustable hose clamp used with a rubber blanket stops a pinhole leak.
  • If nothing else is at hand, use a C-clamp, a small block of wood and a rubber blanket.
  • In a pinch, try applying epoxy putty around a joint where a clamp won’t work. The pipe must be dry for the putty to adhere. Turn off the water supply to the leak and leave the water off until the putty hardens completely on the pipe.
  • If you don’t have a clamp or putty, you can still stop a small leak temporarily by plugging it with a pencil point.

Clogged drain in tub

Before trying any drain-clearing methods on a plugged drain, check that the tub’s pop-up stopper is opening fully and is free of hair and debris. If the stopper isn’t the problem, then the drainpipe is probably clogged. First, try a plunger or chemical drain cleaner.

If these fail to do the job, you’ll have to clear the trap with a snake.

  • Most tubs have a P trap in the drain. In some homes, the tub may have a drum trap in the floor near the tub instead (it will have a removable metal cover and a rubber gasket).
  • Using a snake in a tub P trap is much like snaking out a sink trap. If you have a drum trap, first try snaking it clear through the tub overflow.
  • If that doesn’t work, bailout all the standing water from the tub.
  • Then, using an adjustable-end wrench, unscrew the trap cover slowly.
  • Have rags ready for any water that wells up.
  • Remove the cover, bail out and clean the trap.
  • If, after this, water does not well up, snake toward he tub; if water does well up, snake toward he main drain.
  • If you can’t reach the clog from the trap, it’s probably deeper in he main drain.

Use pipe insulation to prevent sprayer snarls

If you have to jiggle the hose as you pull out your kitchen sink sprayer, chances are the hose is catching on the shutoff valves. For smooth operation, slip 1/2-in. foam pipe insulation over the pipes and shutoff handles.

Use a bucket of water to flush the toilet

You don’t have to run to the neighbor’s bathroom during a plumbing project. Before you turn off the water supply, fill 2- gallon buckets with water. Flush the toilet by dumping the water in the bowl. You’ll get one flush per bucket. Works just as well as the usual method, although it won’t refill the bowl.

Deaden sounds with expanding foam

Fill the space between two stainless steel sink basins with expanding foam. The foam deadens vibrations and lessens the gong effect. It’s possible to do this with the sink in place but much neater and easier before installation. Either way, let the foam harden and then trim away the excess with a knife.

Thawing pipes if they freeze

Shut off the water at the main shutoff valve and open the faucet nearest to the frozen pipe so it can drain as it thaws. Waterproof the area with containers and plastic drop clothes in case leaks occur.

Use one of the following methods to gradually warm the frozen pipe. Be sure to work from the faucet toward the iced-up area;

1) Propane torch with a flame-spreading-nozzle, the torch will quickly thaw a frozen pipe.
2) Hair dryer used like the torch, a dryer will gently defrost the pipe.
3) Hot water if no other method is available, wrap the pipe (except plastic) in rags and pour boiling water on it.

Shower head issues

1) If your shower head leaks where it meets the arm, you probably need to replace the washer. To reach it, loosen the collar, using tape-wrapped rib-joint pliers. Unscrew the head from the adjusting ring.

2) Erratic or weak pressure usually indicates mineral buildup. To restore proper flow, clean outlet holes with a pin or unscrew a perforated face plate and soak it overnight in vinegar, then scrub it clean.

3) If the shower head pivots stiffly, check he washer for wear and coat the swivel ball with petroleum jelly before reassembling.

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