Most homeowners are familiar with blocked pipes, leaks, and even the occasional overflowing water fixture. You’re probably no exception — in fact, we’re willing to bet that you have at least a little experience with tube snakes and drain cleaner. However, sometimes those simple fixes just aren’t sufficient to deal with a serious plumbing problem. Furthermore, plumbing emergencies aren’t always immediately apparent. To the untrained eye, they can look just like small issues until you try to solve them and end up knee-deep in trouble (or water). That’s why it pays to learn what an impending plumbing disaster looks like before it occurs.
We’re here to help you spot the signs of a plumbing emergency early, so that you’ll be able to tell when you’re getting out of your depth (okay, we’ll stop) with DIY fixes and hand things over to a qualified professional. Doing so at the right moment could save you a bunch of money in the long run — and keep the water in your pipes where it belongs.
What Plumbing Issues Can You Fix Yourself?
We want to be clear: not every plumbing issue requires professional help. There are a few things most people can take care of on their own; you just need to know the difference between what you can handle solo and what you can’t.
Here’s a quick list of plumbing problems that you can usually solve without a plumber — but remember not to let your pride get the best of you. You can (and should) still call for help if you don’t feel comfortable tackling these situations on your own:
- Dripping taps. A leaking faucet can create an annoying sound, and it can drive up your hydro bills too. Taps usually leak because of a faulty washer, so if you’re comfortable removing and replacing the offending component then they’re easy enough to repair yourself.
- Sinks draining slowly. A sink that won’t drain at normal speed is generally due to a blocked pipe somewhere underneath the basin. Here’s where plumbing snakes and drain cleaners can come in handy — just remember to wear gloves and follow the instructions if you use chemicals to unblock the drain, and don’t mix them since that can create toxic fumes. It’s also worth mentioning that chemical drain cleaners will probably damage your pipes if used repeatedly over time, so try using the snake by itself before you go for the Drano.
- Clogged bathroom fixtures. If your toilet or bathtub seems backed up, it’s time to trade that plumbing snake for a plunger. Just make sure that the whole head of the plunger is submerged in water so that it can function properly, and consider adding some petroleum jelly to the edges to improve suction.
What Plumbing Issues are Actually Emergencies?
You can’t fix everything with standard household tools. After all, there’s a reason plumbers go through rigorous professional training and have to earn licenses: lots of plumbing problems are really hard to fix!
If you notice any of the following red flags, the issue is likely something you can’t handle without a pro. Save yourself time and trouble by calling a licensed plumber to come and help you before the drawback causes serious damage.
- A water fixture is backed up… with sewage. Not every backed-up pipe is a reason to panic, but if the backup is the wrong color (or smell) then you could be dealing with a backed-up sewer line. Raw sewage is obviously a health hazard, and you won’t be able to use your water fixtures until the backup has been fixed — so it’s best to call for help as soon as you possibly can. Only a trained plumber will be able to handle the hazardous materials safely and restore your pipes to a usable condition.
Look for: brown/black water coming out of water fixtures, terrible odours.
- You have no running water. Running water is a basic necessity for just about every building, since it’s nearly impossible to cook or clean without it. If you can’t get a steady stream from any of the water fixtures in your property, there’s a good chance you’ll need a plumber to check the water main that supplies the building. However, this task is much more complicated than it sounds — it’s not simply a matter of flicking an on/off switch, and in some cases it can cause leaks if performed improperly. In the vast majority of cases, you should let professionals handle any work that involves messing around with your building’s water supply systems.
Look for: dry taps and showerheads, possibly with creaking sounds.
- You suspect your pipes are frozen. If you have large water fixtures with pipes that run near the outside of your house (like basement utility sinks), you might want to let a trickle of hot water run through them on cold winter nights to prevent your pipes from freezing. A frozen pipe can not only block water from coming through — it can also crack when the weather warms up, which causes the material from which it is made to thaw and warp. If you suspect that your pipes might be frozen, stop using the attached water fixtures immediately and call for help. Trained plumbers will know how to prevent and repair freezing pipes, and will also be able to replace them if necessary. Be wary if it’s below zero degrees outside and you spot frost collecting around any of your pipes.
Look for: frosty pipes, cold temperatures outside
Plumbing Emergencies Can’t Wait
There are plenty of other issues, such as running toilets and slow running drain clogs, that you might not feel comfortable fixing on your own — but these don’t necessarily count as plumbing emergencies. It’s only a true emergency if the problem needs immediate professional attention to prevent further (and often costly) damage. Sewage backups, lack of running water, and frozen pipes are three perfect examples of issues that you shouldn’t wait to fix or try to repair by yourself. Keep an eye out for the signs listed above, and call Quicker Rooter Plumbing and Drain Cleaning for help.