Early spring approaching means college-bound students are starting to receive acceptance letters from institutions of higher learning. As this exciting new chapter opens up, are you, your child or your loved one educated on the basics of plumbing maintenance and repair?
These can be valuable skills to help get through the college years. Anyone setting out on their own should learn these six secrets and simple DIYs for basic plumbing.
1. Build a basic plumbing toolkit
Being able to handle any plumbing problem that bubbles to the surface during your school years requires having some essentials around the house. Fortunately, most of these tools also help with other household maintenance. Outfit yourself or your student with these standards:
- Plunger: This essential tool with help with both toilet and sink clogs that arise
- Bucket: When you have a leak or need to remove a section of pipe, this serves as a literal catch-all
- Pliers: To grab, twist or pull knobs, nuts or other plumbing hardware
- Wrench: Tighten and loosen nuts and bolts
- Snake: A more advanced tool for times when a plunger isn’t enough to dislodge a stubborn clog
- Gloves: Protection for when things get icky in the bathroom
2. Take the plunge … clogged drains & more!
A great way to dive into basic plumbing skills is learning to plunge a toilet (or sink). College housing often has old, finicky plumbing that gets a lot of use, so don’t forget to pack a plunger along with your PC when heading to your place of higher ed! Plunging is often the first and best option to troubleshoot a clogged drain.
Don gloves before plunging to avoid exposure to messy wastewater. Make a tight seal before vigorously plunging for 20 to 30 seconds, which should be enough to remove a clog.
If you’re using the plunger on a sink with double drains, make sure the one opening is sealed. Fill the sink you’re plunging with water before trying to dislodge a clog.
Other options include using an auger or snake to dislodge a clog or pour a mixture of baking soda and vinegar down the drain. Avoid commercial drain cleaners, which can harm plumbing.
Educate yourself how how to prevent clogged drains and other problems in kitchens and bathrooms, including using hair catchers and only throwing easy-to-dissolve organic waste in the garbage disposal.
3. Halt a running toilet.
A running toilet means you’re probably flushing money down the drain … something someone on a tight student budget would likely rather avoid. Signs include a flowing sound the persists long after flushing or rippling in the bowl that isn’t resolved without jiggling the handle or adjusting the flapper in the toilet tank. Luckily, you don’t need an advanced degree to swap out the basic parts in your toilet tank, which will likely fix the problem.
First, check if the water shutoff valve is fully open to see if that’s causing the problem — you can find the valve coming out the wall on the back of your toilet tank. If it’s fully open and the tank is still running, you’ll want to close it before changing out any parts. Make sure to buy a new assembly that fits the toilet you have. Drain the tank and replace the assembly. Turn the water valve back on and make sure the assembly is working properly.
4. Reset a garbage disposal.
If your garbage disposal is not functioning properly, make sure it’s connected (obviously!) and nothing is caught inside (disengage the unit before sticking your hand down the drain!). Most units have a red reset button, so that would be the next option to try. Make sure your unit is off when you press the reset button.
If that simple fix does not restore function, there should be a small hex-shaped hole at the bottom of the unit, into which you can fit a disposal wrench or a hex key to release a jam. One final option is to check your circuit breaker or fuse box to a switch hasn’t been flipped, disconnecting power to the unit.
5. Deal with low flow.
An easy way to deal with weak water pressure that every college student should know is simply cleaning the mineral buildup on faucets and showerheads. Remove faucet screens and showerheads and soak them in a mixture of vinegar and water and wipe off buildup of minerals and limescale. If that doesn’t improve the flow, you may need new plumbing accessories or an expert evaluation of your system.
6. Know what to do in a 911 situation.
In an emergency situation, such as a major weather event or flooding, it helps to know how to shut off the major systems in your home to avoid exacerbating damage. As mentioned above, you can shut off an overflowing toilet with the valve behind the tank.
In the case of a burst pipe or some other major flooding situation, it helps to know where your home’s main water shutoff valve is located. It will likely be near the front of a house in the basement, in those homes that have them. Otherwise, look near your water heater or in your garage. Ask your landlord or a professional plumber to show you where the valve is situated.
If you suddenly find yourself without hot water, it may be a simple case of an extinguished pilot light as opposed to a true emergency. Check your water heater and relight the pilot per the unit’s instructions. If that doesn’t work, you may have a bad thermocouple. Replacing it can be done in DIY fashion, but if that’s out of your comfort zone, call an expert.
When to contact a professional plumber
If repairs become more than you can handle or an emergency situation arises, don’t hesitate to call a pro. College-bound co-eds should go off to school with the number of a reputable plumber to contact when needed, such as a leak or overflow that’s causing collateral damage to floors, walls and other parts of the home.
The experts at John C. Flood offer professional plumbing service to homes in the Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, metropolitan D.C. and the surrounding areas.