It’s a rare occasion when you get to call a trade professional for something that isn’t an emergency. So plumbing services calls are made because the stove stopped working, the wind blew shingles off the roof, or the garage door broke. This is usually the case when you call a plumber. The water heater is leaking. The toilet has overflowed. A pipe has burst.
Your plumber is aware that you’re most likely calling them out of need. Possibly, immediate need. And emergencies, like plumbing repairs, are rarely planned expenses. But there are things that you can do that can reduce the need and frequency for panicked calls to your plumbing professional.
1) Do regular maintenance on your home
This probably seems like a simple statement. But it's one that lots of people ignore. There are simple things that you should be doing to care for your home on a regular basis and this regular maintenance can turn up issues long before the become an emergency. In fact, some maintenance can keep you from ever needing a plumber.
Here are just a few items that you should be sure to check regularly:
- Run water and flush toilets in unused parts of your home every two months or so (like in guest bathrooms). This prevents any build-up of grime in the pipes.
- Twice a year, check your water heater’s pressure relief valve. This will help to prevent leaks and make your water heater run more efficiently.
- You should also be sure to flush your hot water heater. This will remove any sediment and keep it running in top shape.
- Once a year, make sure to check the caulk around your sinks, showers, and tubs. Re-caulk these areas as needed.
- Also, be sure to check your pipes for any small leaks. This includes around toilets and near your washing machine.
- In the fall, turn off and flush out all your outside faucets. Remove your hoses as well, and store them for winter.
- If you have one, you should test your sump pump regularly as well. You don’t want to find out in a storm that it no longer works.
2) Know your DIY limits
There are a number of projects that, not only can you do on your own, but you should try and do before calling your plumber. These are projects that are easy to complete and much more cost effective for you to fix before calling a professional.
If your toilet is running, it’s likely a quick and inexpensive fix that doesn’t require a plumber. Many times, a running toilet is caused by a rubber flapper no longer having a complete seal. Replacing this, and many of the other parts in the tank can be accomplished by even the most inexperienced homeowner.
Slow or clogged drains may be easy to fix as well. Clogs are generally caused by a partial or complete blockage within the pipe, and using a plunger on the clog will frequently solve the problem. You can also try chemical drain cleaners, which are safe on your plumbing.
If your sink or shower seems to be running slow, try cleaning the faucets before picking up the phone. The aerators on sinks can get filled with sediment and can be quickly cleaned or replaced. Shower heads can even be cleaned without needing to take them down by using a plastic bag and white vinegar.
These are easy DIYs to try that can save you money and time. You may even be comfortable with a few plumbing repairs beyond this. But be careful how far you’ll willing to push your limits. A plumbing mistake may end up costing you more in the end to fix than the original problem.
When the problem goes beyond your skill set, call in a professional. Replacement of pipes, water heater issues, and septic tanks leaks are all problems your professional, licensed plumber deals with regularly.
These larger projects are ones they have a great deal of experience with, and that experience will help them avoid common mistakes that can turn a big project into a nightmare.
3) Do your research
Inevitably, as a homeowner, you’ll need the services of a plumber. And for a good plumber, an informed consumer is a good customer. That’s why reputable plumbers want people to do their research before picking up the phone.
First, make sure that the plumber you’re calling is licensed. Licensing varies from state to state, so make sure you understand how a professional in your area earns their licensing. (In Missouri, it’s done by the county or city).
Next, check online. With review services like Yelp and Home Advisor, it’s painless to check and see what others have rated a company and its service.
Once you’ve chosen a professional, make sure you’re asking the right questions. Steer clear of simple questions that can be answered in a single word. A professional should be able to explain what needs to be done in more than one syllable.
Also, use the time you have to understand the scope of what needs to be done. What kinds of problems might they encounter? What is the best-case scenario? What is the worst? Knowing this will help prevent sticker shock when the work is done.
4) Determine the need
Every unexpected plumbing issue feels like the end of the world. And there are times when the issue can be serious. It’s important, however, to be realistic about the urgency of your problem.
Maybe your toilet is leaking. You turn off the water at the valve, which essentially makes the toilet unusable. Do you have a second bathroom you can use?
If the answer is yes, then the problem may be an inconvenience, but probably not worth waking up your plumber at 2 am, not to mention the emergency call fee. But if it’s the only toilet in the home, the issue becomes, well, more urgent.
This is where being familiar with your home (because you’ve done regular maintenance, as suggested in #1, above) comes in handy. If a pipe is leaking, but you know where the shut-off valve is, your emergency just went from a 10 to a 7. You still need a professional right away, but at least you’re not calling them while standing ankle-deep in water that’s only getting higher by the minute.
5) Treat your plumber like a professional
Above all, your plumber would like you to know that they appreciate it when you treat them like the professionals they are. Emergency home repairs are a stressful time. And understandably so. The extent of the problem may be unknown, or you need service immediately. Either way, an unexpected cost is never a welcome thing. It might be tempting but don’t take your frustrations out on your plumber. Remember, they are there to help you fix the issue.
Also, remember that your plumber is there to do a specific job - to fix the problem they were called in for. Some problems can require extensive cleaning up or damage has been caused to walls, paint or flooring before. A good plumber will clean up after themselves but don’t expect them to clean up what was already there. Any damage that occurred because of the issue, and not because of the plumber, is something for the homeowner to fix.
Plumbers are service professionals who are there to help you through some desperate – and sometimes gross – problems as a homeowner. Try to be aware of problems before they become emergencies with regular maintenance, fix what you can, and call a plumber for what you can’t. They’ll help you get your home back to normal quickly and efficiently.