SIX MOST COMMON CAUSES OF PLUMBING PROBLEMS

Angle Stops & Supply Lines             Washing Machine Hoses

Sewer Backups                                    Water Heaters

Slab Leaks                                            Quest Pipe

Angle Stops and Supply Lines

Main Causation: Wear, tear and/or deterioration, poor quality.

Life Expectancy: 20-25 years

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Check the pressure regulator. When pressure regulators fail, water pressure can fluctuate from 100-200 psi (pounds per square inch). Angle stops and supply lines are designed to hold 60-80 psi, and no piping or appliance in a home is designed or warranted from failure above 80 psi. Anything above that will cause piping failures, supply line failures and premature appliance valve failures.
  • Check angle stops (shut-off valves) every month. If you can’t turn it by hand easily, and there is a leak, then use the whole house shut-off valve and replace the angle stops. Do not touch round white-handled angle stops because they have a high failure rate and should be replaced.
  • Check for corrosion and rust. Replace if found.
  • Do not ignore supply lines to the dishwasher and icemaker. These areas are mostly overlooked since they are usually hidden. Replace plastic tubing with soft copper or braided steel stainless hoses.
  • Have braided steel supply lines installed. One-piece angle stop and supply line combinations (installed in most newly constructed homes since they are mass produced and cheaper to install) have a much higher failure rate than steel braided ones. Many one-piece supply lines have plastic round handles and plastic o-rings that have been known to break within the first five years of installation. Braided steel supply lines are threaded on both ends and when installed properly, will outlast other types of supply lines.

Sewer Backups

Main Causation: Wear, tear, deterioration, tree roots and earth movement.

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Repeated backups and drain problems could indicate a possible sewer line problem. A licensed plumber should be called out to determine if the problem is more serious than a simple clogged drain line.
  • If the house is over 10 years old and there is a large tree in the front yard, a sewer camera should be used to determine if there is damage to the sewer line from tree roots.
  • From time to time you should think about having the sewer line snaked or jetted, especially in a home with cast iron drains. Jetting is the use of a high-pressure hose to clean the walls of the sewer.

Slab Leaks

Note: Slab leaks are one of the most difficult plumbing losses to prevent, locate and repair since water lines are located under the slab.

Main Causation: Wear, tear, deterioration, and/or improper construction, “hot” soil and water quality.

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Check the pressure regulator. Too much pressure can cause plumbing lines to break, especially if there are weak spots (i.e. old/deteriorated slab water line). Regulators should be checked to see if they are working properly. This is done with the use of a pressure gauge that can be purchased at any hardware store.
  • Install a whole-house water treatment system to filter out the chemicals that corrode copper pipe.
  • Slab leaks may also show up with an increase in your gas and/or water bill. Hot spots on the floor are another indication of a slab leak.

Washing Machine Hoses

Main Causation: Wear, tear and/or deterioration.

Life Expectancy: 5-6 years for rubber hoses; 10 years or more for steel braided hoses.

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Buy braided steel hoses. They last twice as long as rubber hoses, and the steel braid on the outside keeps the rubber on the inside from ripping. If you decide to buy a new washing machine, always buy new washing machine hoses. The biggest mistake a homeowner makes is reusing old hoses when new washing machines are purchased. Do not use the rubber hoses supplied with a new washing machine as they have a much shorter life span than stainless steel hoses.

Check the pressure regulator. When they fail, water pressure can fluctuate from 100-200 psi. Hoses are not designed for sustained high pressure.

Water Heaters

Main Causation: Wear, tear and/or deterioration.

Life Expectancy: 6 to 10 years average

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Check for corrosion/rust.
  • Check to see if there is a drain pan under the water heater, and check to see where the pan drains. If there is no drain pan, you might want to hire a plumbing contractor to install one.
  • Check to see if the heater’s valves are working. Gate valves are commonly found in track homes and corrode and fail faster than ball valves. Gate valves should be checked to see if they work by turning them every 6 months. Ball valves are more expensive than gate valves, but rarely break and most last about 30 years.
  • Check supply lines and piping into the water heater for corrosion.

Always have a licensed plumber make repairs.

Quest Pipe (Polybutylene)

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, millions of homes were built using polybutylene pipes for plumbing instead of standard copper. Unfortunately, the polybutylene pipes started to fail due to the chemicals in the municipal water supplies, causing the polybutylene to deteriorate from the inside out, resulting in water leaks and burst pipes. All Quest pipe will eventually fail and need to be replaced, so identifying polybutylene pipes is important.

Explanation & Recommendations:

  • Look in the attic for light gray tubing. If it is there, make sure the water pressure is set below 50 psi and the water heater is set to a minimum temperature. High heat will harden the tubing, and high pressure will aggravate weak spots.
  • Polybutylene pipe is also used for yard piping and is blue in color. Homeowners should expect to repipe all water piping in the future, preferably before water damage occurs.

Preventative Action

Simple steps to help avoid major losses:

  • Find out how to turn the water off to your house. Make sure the valve works. Determine if the valve is a gate valve or a ball valve. Gate valves have a high failure rate and may not work when it counts. Test it and replace as needed.
  • Is there a shut off on the “house side” of the water meter, and if so, does it work? If your shut-off valve does not work in the case of an emergency, the fire department will shut off the water at the city valve.
  • Watch for warm spots inside the house and wet spots outside the house that don’t dry.
  • Open the water meter box and watch the dial. If no fixtures are in use, the dial should not move. If it does, there is something leaking. It might be something as simple as a toilet flapper or as serious as a slab leak. If you are unable to determine whether you have any of these potential problems, call the plumbing professionals at Brockmire Plumbing Services at 858-679-0585.