Maintaining a home is expensive. With rates starting at $100 and up just to get a plumber to drive over to your house, plumbing repairs can be especially costly so your best bet is to practice sound preventative maintenance on those “watery” areas. But what are the specific things we can do around the house to avoid the need to call the plumber? Here are four ways to keep plumbing costs down:
1. Prevent clogged drains
The most common plumbing repair is a clogged drain. While some clogs are unavoidable, most can be avoided by following this advice where the drains around your home are concerned:
Toilets: Make sure everyone in the household understands that only bodily waste and toilet paper should be flushed. Avoid flushing anything else, even if it claims to be flushable.
You have to be especially careful if you have young children around the house. My son once tried to flush a Lego Duplo Batman figure down the toilet when he was about four years ago just so he could see what would happen. I had another friend who had a backed-up toilet that caused tens of thousands in water damage. Explain to your kids what goes into the toilet and what doesn’t before it’s too late.
Kitchen sink: Don’t put grease down your kitchen sink. Dispose of large amounts of grease by pouring it into a can and throwing it away in your trash. At the very least, make sure you are running hot water while you pour oil down the drain so it won’t cool and turn into jelly, clogging your drain.
Should you experience a grease clog, pour some hot vinegar down your drain and let it sit in there for 20 minutes. After that, pour boiling water down the drain and flush everything down. In many cases, this treatment will clear the grease clog.
Garbage disposal: Remember — your garbage disposal’s job is to eliminate waste that could potentially clog your drain. Don’t make its job more difficult by putting materials that will certainly cause a clog, including anything fibrous, greasy, or non-biodegradable down it. Keep your disposal drain clear by running cold water for 15 seconds before you turn it on, leaving it running throughout, and for 15 seconds after you turn it off.
If your garbage disposal gets stuck, know that pretty much every unit has a manual screw hole (usually at the bottom of the unit) that can be turned to loosen anything caught in the blades by the supplied wrench. And in the cases where you’ve lost the supplied wrench, it’s a common part that can be purchased at home a supply goods store.
Shower: The big culprit here is hair. Purchase a screen (available at any store that sells plumbing supplies) that fits over the drain to catch hair before it gets into your pipes.
Laundry hose: Lint from your laundry will go into your washing machine drain and cause a clog. You can purchase screens (at most stores that sell laundry detergent) that fit the end of the hose that drains the water from the washer. Simply attach the screen with the enclosed plastic tie and replace the screen when it’s full of lint.
2. Purchase fixtures yourself
Some plumbers may offer to sell you fixtures (from faucets to toilets) but they will be less expensive if you buy them yourself at a home store. You want to pay your plumber for professional services only. Plus, you’ll get to pick the exact model and match the look of the other faucets in your bathroom and home.
Do consult with your plumber, however, before you purchase such items to get recommendations for brands and features. For example, a plumber may recommend you purchase a faucet with a ceramic valve because it will last longer. Your plumber will also be aware of which brands offer high quality, which saves water, which are easy to work with, and which have good warranties. This information will help you make the wisest choice when confronted with that aisle full of fixtures.
3. Know the problem before you even call
When bigger appliances break down, your best bet is to call the manufacturer directly and see if they can troubleshoot the issue. They may tell you that everything is under warranty and that they will send the replacement parts out to you first. This instantly saves you money even if you have to get a plumber out to replace the parts because you are now asking him to install the parts instead of paying for him to troubleshoot, call the manufacturer on your behalf and then come out again to replace the parts when they arrive.
Even if the parts aren’t under warranty, calling the manufacturer yourself ahead of time arms you with enough knowledge of what could be wrong with the unit so that you can qualify whether the plumber you called is competent enough to fix the issue for you.
3. Be vigilant
You can substantially reduce the likelihood of needing the services of a plumber if you make a habit of keeping your eyes and ears peeled around your home. Even if you don’t want to tackle the repairs yourself, make a list of every slow drain or drip you notice. Then, when you do call the plumber, the time he spends (and you pay for) can be spent actually attending to your problems rather than finding them.
And when you do find an issue, don’t be lazy and get the problem fixed. I made the mistake of letting a leaking shower faucet slide that might’ve cost me tens of thousands of dollars. You see, the shower in my guest bathroom started leaking and dripping intermittently. I knew I should’ve gotten it fixed, but then the problem disappeared after a week or two. I totally forgot about it. A year later, I moved and put my house on the market. I already moved out, but I went back to check on my now empty house one day and noticed that the shower was dripping again. It was no wonder that the unit was sitting on the market without an offer in an otherwise red hot property market.
I quickly asked a plumber to come fix the issue and got an offer shortly after. I already know I’ve lost money on carrying costs while my home was sitting there without a buyer, but sometimes I wonder if I would’ve gotten a higher offer too if the house showed without the leak from the get-go.
Don’t make the same mistake I made.
4. Find a trusted plumber
When you choose an experienced plumber, his experience will translate into savings for you. Like in plumbing supplies, you’ll only get what you pay for if you shop exclusively by price. Ask for recommendations, especially from real estate agents who are active in your area. They deal with these issues all the time and would always have good contacts.
The first rule of keeping plumbing costs down is to be smart. The second rule is to choose smart.
Remember them both and you’ll keep your plumbing costs under control.