Pipes, Etc.

By Ginny Frizzi

June 25, 2010 6 min read

To the average person, being able to understand home plumbing needs might seem like a pipe dream. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be the case, according to experts, who say the first commandment is to know the type of pipes installed in the house or apartment. Some houses built in the 1930s and '40s have copper or brass plumbing, but most homes built before the 1970s contain galvanized plumbing, which owners should count on replacing, according to Dawn Fotopulos of http://BestSmallBizHelp.com, a website that provides advice and support for small businesses. "Most galvanized plumbing will rust, clog up like an artery and have to be replaced," she says, noting that different areas of the country have different building codes, which determine whether PVC or other plastic pipes are permitted. Home repair expert David Lupberger of ServiceMagic.com, a website that features articles and information on home improvements and matches consumers with pre-screened contractors, agrees. "Over time, galvanized plumbing will rust and wear out. With outside faucets you'll get less water flow or less and less pressure to the second floor," he says. Another problem with galvanized plumbing is that it usually lacks more than one shut-off valve. "Shut-off valves give you the ability to isolate problems, such as a leak. Hot and cold shut-off valves are also important," says Lupberger, who gives the example of lines to and from a washing machine springing small leaks that could rot the floor. Fotopulos agrees with this advice. "You need good shut-off valves throughout the house. You also need to know where they are and how to turn them on and off," she says. Lupberger advises that residents periodically check the areas under their faucets, such as kitchen cabinets. Though plumbing in newer houses is generally more accessible, it all comes down to awareness, according to Lupberger. Replacing plumbing in older homes often involves opening up entire walls, which can bring a different set of challenges. "If you are looking to replace plumbing and have to get behind the walls, you'll probably open up an area filled with lead from the old pipes," Lupberger says. "This will involve lead-safe work practices, including isolating and working in 6-foot areas at a time." In addition, the area of the country you're in and the type of weather found there can play a role in the condition of your plumbing. According to Betsy Whitmore of Angie's List -- which puts consumers in touch with local contractors rated by their previous customers -- frozen and bursting water pipes are a preventable problem that can hit when the temperatures dip below zero. "Have your plumbing checked, and have your waterlines insulated," Whitmore says. "Cleaning all lines can help to remove clogs. Clogs cause backups, which can freeze and then cause the weakening of the pipes and bursting." Preventive steps that are taken with outside plumbing in the winter can help maintain indoor water flow during cold weather. Whitmore suggests wrapping pipes with insulation designed for plumbing, which, in many situations, is all that is needed. She also recommends making sure that outdoor sprinklers are shut off and that your outdoor spigots are shut off from the inside. Insulated covers can also be used to keep the outside faucet from freezing. Whitmore's other hints include leaving a small stream of water running and a cabinet door open where sinks are installed on an outside wall during extremely cold weather. And sump pumps should be maintained. "Making sure that your sump pump is working properly can help to defend your basement if your pipes freeze and burst," Whitmore says. "And have your home winterized if it will be left vacant for the winter." Fotopulos once had frozen water pipes in the ceiling break and flood her home with 5 inches of water in just a few minutes. She says houses in cold places often have pipes on the outside. People whose houses have older plumbing also should frost-proof their outdoor spigots, by draining them and then shutting them off. The proper insulation of pipes is important, even for those whose homes are located in warmer climates. "Warmer climates can cause condensation or sweating on pipes, which can turn into mold. This is the last thing you want, especially if mold gets into your walls," Fotopulos says. Even if you don't know that much about plumbing, you should make sure that you know the plumber you hire. "The best thing is to get the references of three plumbers before you contract for any work," Fotopulos advises. If a job requires the installation of a new part or piece of equipment, Fotopulos recommends asking the plumber whether he has done it before. It is a lesson she learned from personal experience. Fotopulos hired a plumber to install a thermostat in her shower, which was supposed to turn on the water and to control the temperature. It didn't work, and the first plumber didn't know why, so Fotopulos ended up calling in another plumber. "It turned out that the first plumber had never installed one and hadn't read the instructions. The second plumber opened the thermostat and fixed it right away," she says. "Make sure they know how to do the job and you'll save time and money."COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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