In my 22+ years as a landlord, I’ve learned that plumbing issues sometimes come out of nowhere. One day, everything is working fine, and the next, your toilet is overflowing, or the sink won’t drain.
When the plumbing problems keep piling up, it’s frustrating. You’ll get stressed figuring out what’s causing them. But common plumbing issues can be avoided.
It’s also inconvenient and expensive, as each plumbing repair can cost a pretty penny. Here are reasons why you may be experiencing more plumbing problems than usual.
Table of Contents
Throwing Food Waste and Oils into the Drain
Your kitchen sink drain can easily clog if you’re not careful about what you put down. Food waste, grease, and cooking oils can all contribute to a clog. Only put soap and water down the drain to keep your drain flowing freely.
Food waste should go in the garbage. Wipe grease from plates and cooking surfaces with a paper towel before washing the dishes.
Don’t put spaghetti down the drain! Carb-heavy foods absorb water in your drains, puff up, and cause clogs.
Washing Hair Down the Drain
Most people don’t think twice about washing hair down the drain, but all that hair builds up over time, causing clogs. To prevent this, invest in a hair catcher for your shower drain.
It will allow water to flow freely down the drain while trapping any hair. You can then dispose of the hair properly, rather than flushing it down the drain, where it will cause problems.
You Have Hard Water
If you live in an area with hard water, your plumbing is likely to suffer. Hard water has high mineral content, which builds up in your pipes and fixtures, causing a breakdown and malfunction over time.
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Install a water softener to treat hard water, or have a plumber install an aerator on your faucets, reducing the impact of hard water.
See our many posts on how to clean with vinegar. The theme with each is addressing mineral buildup from hard water.
Tossing Objects Down the Toilet
Flushing objects down the toilet is one of the quickest ways to clog your pipes. Only human waste and toilet paper should go down the loo. Everything else, from feminine hygiene products to wipes and diapers, should be disposed of in the trash.
Years ago, I added to my leases that if feminine hygiene products caused a clog in the pipes, the tenant was responsible for paying to unclog it.
Having a trashcan next to the toilet makes you less likely to make this mistake.
The Pipes Are Old
Your plumbing system is likely rusting and deteriorating if the pipes are made from old galvanized steel or cast iron. It leads to leaks and other plumbing problems. Older homes are especially susceptible to this issue.
If your pipes are old, have a plumber inspect them to determine if they need a replacement. Additionally, when the insulation around your pipes starts to wear down, the pipes freeze in cold weather. It leads to significant plumbing problems, such as burst pipes.
There’s a Tree Root in the Sewer Line
As a landlord with over two decades of experience, I’ve dealt with my fair share of sewer line issues, including roots growing inside the pipes and causing blockages.
When I first started more than 20 years ago, a tenant reported that their toilet was overflowing, and I quickly realized that the issue was much larger than originally anticipated. Toilet water was in their hallway!
After bringing in a plumber, we discovered that the roots had grown so severely inside the pipes that the entire sewer main line had to be replaced.
This was a costly and time-consuming process that could have been prevented with regular maintenance.
The plumber told me that putting root killer down the drain a few times a year prevents this. It’s especially bad when a house has been vacant for a few months because roots have a chance to grow without the daily flow of “stuff” going through the pipes.
This has been a common and very costly issue. Ive had to replace several sewer laterals over the years. Clay pipes can’t handle roots, so you need to kill the roots or replace the pipe with PVC.
Now, when I have a vacancy I use natural ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and salt which are effective at killing roots without causing damage.
The more I use these products the less I find myself calling out someone to clear ore replace the sewer line.
Tree roots in your sewer line can cause significant damage and costly repairs. Tree roots are attracted to the moisture and nutrients in your sewer line, proliferating and causing cracks and breaks.
The Water Heater is Getting Old
If you’ve had your water heater for over ten years, it’s likely on its last leg. Water heaters have a lifespan of around 8-12 years. The older it gets, the more likely it will break down and cause plumbing problems.
We have learned over the years as landlords that you rarely need to replace the water heater. What generally fails is the “guts” inside of it. Often a water heater can be fixed for a few hundred dollars, instead of replacing them for $1k or more.
If your water heater shows signs of wear, such as leaking or not heating water as well as it used to, call a water heater repair expert.
Be Careful Storing Things Under The Sink
I’ve seen many cases where tenants store items under the bathroom sink, only to accidentally bump the pipes and cause leaks.
Please stay away from the pipes when storing items in the cabinet under the sink. This is particularly vital for cleaning materials that can spill and damage the pipes or cause corrosion over time.
It’s so common I’ve thought about screwing the cabinet door closed. Keep your bathroom sink cabinet organized and avoid storing heavy or bulky items near the pipes to prevent any accidental damage.
Be mindful of where you place heavy or bulky items and avoid placing them near the pipes to prevent any accidental damage.
Use storage solutions that are designed to fit around pipes, such as wire racks or slim shelves. Avoid stacking items on top of the pipes, as this can cause damage and make accessing other items stored beneath difficult.
DIY Methods For Unclogging Sinks And Drains
There are several easy ways to unclog drains.
Use Vinegar And Baking Soda To Unclog A Drain
You can easily unclog your sink with vinegar and baking soda.
The combination of baking soda and vinegar will create a chemical reaction that will help break down any blockages in your pipes.
Once the mixture has had time to work its magic, flush the drain with hot water for another minute to clear away any remaining debris. You should now have an unclogged sink!
Use A Plunger To Unclog A Sink
Using a plunger to unclog a drain is a classic plumbing hand tool that can dislodge clogs using simple hydraulic pressure. To use the plunger:
- Fill the sink or tub with enough water to cover the cup of the plunger.
- Take a little petroleum jelly and smear it along the bottom lip of the plunger. This will help form an airtight seal against the sink bottom.
- Run a steady stream of hot water into the drain for about 30 seconds before plunging. This will help loosen up any debris in the pipe.
- Place the plunger over the drain and press down firmly several times until you feel resistance from the clog.
- If necessary, repeat this process several times until you feel that all of the clog has been removed.
It is important to note that plunging should only be used on light clogs as attempting to force a clog through a toilet with a plunger can often make the problem worse.
If your clog persists after trying these steps, it may be best to call in a professional plumber who can safely and effectively remove your clog without causing any further damage.
Use A Plumbing Snake To Unclog A Drain
Using a plumbing snake can be an effective way to clear stubborn clogs in pipes and drains.
To use a plumbing snake:
- Start by inserting the head of the snake into the drain.
- Twist the handle to help drive the cable snake down further as you push it through the drain.
- Once you feel that the snake has made it past any blockages, reverse its direction in order to grab onto them and dislodge them from the pipe.
When using a snake, it’s important to be careful not to damage your pipes with too much force or pressure as this could cause bigger problems down the line.
It’s also important to make sure that your snake is long enough for your particular job. Some larger clogs may require longer snakes than others.
When using a plumbing snake, it’s important to be aware of any potential risks such as splashing water or sewer gas when dealing with a clogged drain.
It is possible that while attempting to remove a clog, you could create another one by breaking off pieces of debris that get caught elsewhere in the pipe.
To avoid these issues, make sure to practice caution when using a plumbing snake and consider calling in a professional if necessary.
Personally, I hate using snakes! Several times I have had professionals break my pipes using the wrong-size snakes! So I avoid trying it myself.
Easy Ways to Protect Your Pipes From Freezing
During winter, it’s important to take steps to protect your pipes from freezing temperatures. Here are some tips to help you keep your pipes safe:
- Insulate exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or foam rubber. This will help keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
- Seal any cracks in walls that could let cold air in, such as around windows and doors.
- Keep a tap running on cold days, especially if the water supply lines run through unheated areas of your home like the garage or basement.
- Set your thermostat above 55 degrees during cold weather to ensure that the temperature inside your home is warm enough to prevent freezing pipes.
- Disconnect garden hoses from outdoor faucets and drain any remaining water before winter arrives.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around plumbing fixtures, especially those located near exterior walls.
- Pipe Shield – Another great way to protect your pipes is with the Roto-Rooter Pipe Shield.
Pipes can crack when they freeze due to the pressure of expanding water. When water freezes, it expands and can cause pipes to burst.
Leaving a tap open does not prevent pipes from freezing, but it can help reduce the pressure in the pipes as the water expands, which may help prevent them from cracking.
To properly prevent your pipes from freezing, you should insulate exposed pipes, keep your thermostat set to a consistent temperature, and allow warm air to circulate near any cold spots in your home.
By following these simple steps, you can help protect your pipes from freezing this winter and avoid costly repairs down the line!
Signs of a Clogged or Blocked Pipe in Your Home
A hidden maze of pipes runs behind the walls of every room of your house. Like arteries in your body, these pipes supply fresh, clean water and carry away wastewater.
But just as arteries can get clogged, so can your home’s drainpipes. Spotting the symptoms of clogged pipes is vital to maintain your home’s structural health.
Ignoring the early signs of blocked pipes can lead to significant problems, both for your home and wallet. Persistent plumbing issues can also disrupt your daily life, causing undue stress and inconvenience.
Awareness is your first line of defense against plumbing issues. The more vigilant you are for these signs, the quicker you can act.
Slow Water Drainage
Slow water drainage is one of the most common and easily noticeable indicators of clogged pipes.
When you see water backing up in your sinks, showers, or bathtubs, it’s a sign there’s an obstruction blocking the normal flow of wastewater.
Overlooking these signs can cause strain on your plumbing system, escalating the wear and tear on your pipes and fixtures.
As a rule of thumb, if there are two or more slow drains in the house, the clog probably lies in the main sewer line that connects your house to the municipal sewer system.
Persistent Unpleasant Smells
Another warning sign is an unpleasant odor emanating from your drains. This foul smell often results from organic matter like food particles decaying in the pipes or even sewer gases backing up from the main sewer.
This not only indicates a blocked drainpipe but can also affect your home’s overall indoor air quality. Such odors also make living conditions uncomfortable and can be embarrassing when guests are around.
Gurgling Sounds from Drains
If you’ve ever heard a gurgling sound coming from your drains, it’s probably caused by trapped air in the pipes.
This is a subtle hint on how to find clogged water pipes in your house. If you identify the source of the sound, you can address the blockage causing it.
The longer these sounds persist, the worse the problem may get, requiring more extensive solutions.
Regular Toilet Backups
If your toilet frequently refuses to flush or overflows, there might be a severe blockage in the drainage system. When it’s not just the toilet but multiple fixtures showing signs, you might be dealing with a main sewer line blockage.
Why Homeowners Should Never Ignore Blocked Pipes
What you don’t know can hurt you when it comes to plumbing. Ignoring a blocked drain pipe can unleash a host of problems down the road. Initially, it may appear to be a minor inconvenience.
Over time, the repercussions can be extensive and costly.
Structural Damage Risks
Unchecked water overflow due to clogs can lead to severe property and structural damage.
Persistent moisture can weaken walls and foundations, potentially leading to cracks or even more severe structural problems. Repairs for such damage can be significantly more expensive than regular plumbing and drain solutions.
Possible Financial Setbacks
The cost of repairs and replacements due to severe blockages can be quite hefty. It’s always more cost-effective to address minor clogs before they become major plumbing emergencies.
Moreover, recurrent plumbing issues can decrease the market value of a property if left unchecked over time.
Sometimes You Need To call In The Pros
While DIY methods can be effective for minor clogs, significant sewer and drain blockages often require the expertise of a trained plumber or drain technician.
These professionals have the tools and knowledge to address and resolve the root causes of clogs, ensuring the longevity and efficiency of your plumbing system.
This is especially true if your sewer pipe is made of clay, concrete, cast iron, or Orangeburg. These pipes are very susceptible to tree root intrusion, which can quickly fill a pipe with net-like roots that capture waste, toilet paper, and kitchen grease.
A reliable plumber can also provide guidance on maintaining a clog-free home environment.
Benefits of Regular Pipe Inspection
Proactive measures, like regular sewer & drain cleanings by professionals, can be beneficial.
These maintenance cleanings serve as a kind of check-up and can identify potential issues before they become big problems, saving homeowners time and money in the long run.
A documented history of regular cleanings and inspections can be a selling point if you ever decide to sell your home.
I recently sold a rental house. The buyer’s inspection said given the age of the house we needed to replace the sewer lateral. I showed them a recent cleaning of the sewer lateral line.
The cleaning paperwork documented that the line was clear and operable. The buyer was fine with it. That saved me $5,000, or more.
Never Ignore Plumbing Issues
If you’re frequently experiencing plumbing problems, one of these seven reasons could be the cause. You’ll prevent further damage by addressing the issue and save yourself money in the long run.
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Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
Disclaimer: Any Financial Tips on ChaChingQueen are general and informational. Speak with a professional about your specific situation.