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Be your own plumber  RSS feed

 
Posts: 69
Location: Missoula
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As I was flipping through Backwoods Home Magazine, I stumbled upon and article called Call me Plumber about a woman who instead of calling a plumber and spending $100+ to get a toy lodged out of the toilet, bought a drain snake for $15 and fixed the problem herself.  After reading this article I felt that maybe some plumbing issues can be fixed with out a costly plumber.  Does anyone have any good stories about playing plumber at their house?  Is there a good book or web site that I can read to help me get a better understanding of the basics?  Are their certain problems that I can fix myself?  When do I need to get a plumber involved?
 
Posts: 405
Location: New York
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Caitlin,

No really good stories to share, but I can tell you we've saved hundreds doing some simple, and not so simple repairs without calling a plumber.

I've changed faucets, toilet tank valves, toilet bowl honey buns, installed an electric water heater once, sweated in a new hot/cold faucet outlet for the washing machine, sweated in a new copper water line to a toilet, snaked open drains on sinks and toilet tanks, fixed the dishwasher's stuck water drain impeller, changed sink drains, and even changed the stopper valve on the tub. And, probably some other things I can't remember.  Maybe we've even saved thousands over the years.  Never had any experience before buying our home.  Looked at a book or two on home repair was all I ever used.   Anyone who is even slightly handy can do small plumbing repair.  Where we live it is like $175 to have the plumber walk through the door.   Desperation and lack of funds will turn you into a plumber real quick.

We just had an oil fired water heater replaced to the tune of $2700.  If it were not for the fact of needing a building permit to replace it, and a licensed plumber to do the repair, I may have tried to tackle it.  Would have saved $1000.

The worst that could happen on a DIY job is that you get a leak or can't fully complete the repair.  Then it is time to turn off the main water supply and call the plumber.  Bet you could do the repair, though.

Good luck on your next repair.  And remember, know where all the shut off valves are located before starting.


Al
 
Posts: 102
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I've done only minor things and would like to know more about plumbing but we do have a snake that comes in handy once in a while and if not only saving us money, saves us stress.  I've done some toilet and under-the-sink types of repairs but really lack the proper tools.

Our drains (mainly the shower drain) get clogged and I've been pouring baking soda down the drain followed by vinegar and then by boiling water then another baking soda/vinegar dose.  It seems to work pretty well but a friend has said I shouldn't be pouring boiling water down the drains if I don't know that they're not plastic since they could crack.  I don't know if any of these practices are harmful but they've been working so far and even without the boiling water I notice an improvement in drains where snakes aren't useful.
 
Al Loria
Posts: 405
Location: New York
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I find just running the hot tap water for a few minutes or so each week keeps the drains clear of soap and grease buildup.  Not the most efficient use of water, but the boiling water may have an effect on plastic pipes.  They may expand and loosen them around the joint fittings.

I like the baking soda and vinegar treatment.  Have to give that one a try.
 
Posts: 131
Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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Plumbing isn't particularly hard although it can be very hard work. However, I would disagree that the worst that can happen is a leak.

Case in point. Here where I live in the Dominican Republic, they often use PVC pipe for electrical conduit as well as water plumbing. The conduit does usually have thinner walls, but looks pretty much identical. It works fine....

One day I was rerouting some outdoor "plumbing" so I could put in a garden. I pulled out my handy dandy PVC cutters (a tool nut unlike pruning shears) and proceeded to cut through one of the pipes.

Of course, as you have already guessed, this one was not a water line, but a live electrical line. I was standing on fresh garden soil and just happened to be wearing rubber sandals (I am usually barefoot). Had I been barefoot, it is quite possible I wouldn't be writing this post since I had a grip on the cutters that wouldn't have permitted me to let go.

So, do think before you cut.

Also, remember that water leaks and electricity don't mix well. Know how to shut off your power in the event of a disaster including flooding around the electric shutoff. If all else fails, you should be able to break the seal on your meter and pull it out of the socket. The electric company won't send you and cards of gratitude though and the electrical connections in the socket will be live on the incoming side.
 
Posts: 125
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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Hi Caitlan,

You really only need a plumber when:
1. You don't have the proper tools or the understanding of their use
2. You are doing work which requires a professional in attendance for things like permits, licenses etc. that could later have a greater impact
3. You are in over your head

My story:

Two years ago our water softener backed up through the kitchen sink, not too bad no real damage done. Had a plumber come out to clean the pipe (basically a powered snake with more attachments is what he used). I had to be there on his time which was a four hour window, he was in and out in fifteen minutes. Six months after that the same thing happened again; after 2 days of waiting for a plumber to be available I again had to take off four hours for the plumbers window, again he was in and out in fifteen minutes. Did I mention they both showed up at the end of the four hour window.
The next day or so I honestly just happen to be in the plumbing section looking for outdoor items and I see the exact same machine both plumbers had brought to clean the pipes and it is on sale, and it is cheaper at the on sale price than the combination of my time lost from work plus the plumber bill from just one visit. Screw it right, I bought it!
Since I bought it I have used it multiple times before the problem got to the point of backing up through the sink and I did it after hours when it was convenient for me. It does take me about twice as much time but I am taking my time and not in a rush to be done. Also I can now help out friends in the same position I used to be in.

You know I read this and I feel like it sounds like I am bashing plumbers, I am not! Hell I understand all the reasons for the service windows etc, but it is not like I needed a professional I just needed to borrow his tools.

Jeff

 
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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I moved to Florida in 1999 to take a job as a property manager.  38 apartments, mow, cleanup the empties, keep the place tidy, fix stuff when it breaks.  I was told the place was just a few years old and in great shape, with the tenants all in their 40s and older.

I arrived to find the place about 30 years old, the cops parking on site on weekends to keep an eye on all the young partiers, and every tub, toilet, faucet, sink, shower, spigot, ALL OF THEM, were leaking or not working.  After 4 years of fixing, renovating, and evicting, the place was in shape and even had a reputation for being a decent place to live.

When I showed up, I had no clue how to fix faucets.  The only thing I knew about a toilet was that when you pull the lever the stuff went away.  Where it went was not a concern.  It went into the floor or something.  It was magic.

Plumbing around the house is not a complex operation.  Most of the stuff is pretty simple.  All that is required is a few simple tools and some idea of what is going on.  Plumbers make their money because many people don't know what to do.  A clogged drain is about the simplest thing.  Get under the sink with a bowl and a towel, start twisting the drain pipes.  A plunger will solve most of the problems you have with a toilet overflowing or a slow drain.  Most faucet drips require only a 10 cent rubber washer and a crescent wrench.  A simple water heater has 2 thermostats and 2 heating coils.  These can be purchased new for about $40 for all 4 parts.  You need a wrench and a screwdriver. 

There is a learning curve if you want to take a toilet apart, but when you understand there are only about a dozen parts, including the lid, you can remove the fear factor.  You can buy an entire toilet for less than 100 bucks, haul out the old one, replace the new one, and put it to use within an hour. 

If you want to dive in, take apart a bathroom sink.  Its about the simplest thing in the house.  If you can handle the bathroom sink, the kitchen is pretty much the same thing, just a little bit bigger.  The big box stores have customer training seminars and will walk through simple plumbing repairs.  Its an excellent chance to get some exposure to how it all works. 
 
Al Loria
Posts: 405
Location: New York
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lhtown wrote:
Plumbing isn't particularly hard although it can be very hard work. However, I would disagree that the worst that can happen is a leak.

Case in point. Here where I live in the Dominican Republic, they often use PVC pipe for electrical conduit as well as water plumbing. The conduit does usually have thinner walls, but looks pretty much identical. It works fine....

One day I was rerouting some outdoor "plumbing" so I could put in a garden. I pulled out my handy dandy PVC cutters (a tool nut unlike pruning shears) and proceeded to cut through one of the pipes.

Of course, as you have already guessed, this one was not a water line, but a live electrical line. I was standing on fresh garden soil and just happened to be wearing rubber sandals (I am usually barefoot). Had I been barefoot, it is quite possible I wouldn't be writing this post since I had a grip on the cutters that wouldn't have permitted me to let go.

So, do think before you cut.

Also, remember that water leaks and electricity don't mix well. Know how to shut off your power in the event of a disaster including flooding around the electric shutoff. If all else fails, you should be able to break the seal on your meter and pull it out of the socket. The electric company won't send you and cards of gratitude though and the electrical connections in the socket will be live on the incoming side.



I stand corrected.  Did not think about the electrical issues.  Thanks.
 
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