Along with heating and cooling, plumbing in your home is one of the most essential systems. But how does your plumbing system work exactly, how do you know there’s a problem, and when should you consult an expert? 

Let’s take a look at the basics of your home’s plumbing, how to identify potential issues, and identify when it’s time to call in a professional.

Water supply line in the house

Your home’s plumbing comprises two main systems—the water supply line, and the sewage and waste line. These work in tandem to make sure your home has a fresh water supply and all the wastewater is taken away. 

Water supply 101

As the name suggests, the water supply provides you with water throughout your home. The water snakes through pipes installed in your walls and ceilings leading to your fixtures, such as your taps, toilet, and shower. In order to get hot water, your cold water main line branches off to a separate pipe that leads to your water heater where water is heated and directed back to wherever it’s needed. Your toilet obviously doesn’t require a hot water line, but your dishwasher and shower absolutely do. 

Your home’s water system is designed to move water and liquid waste through the pipes, but not chemicals or large solids. This is why you should check labels before using new cleaning products to make sure they’re compatible with the types of pipes in your home. It’s also why food should never be disposed of down the kitchen sink. The water supply system needs to be able to withstand back pressure hazards so your pipes don’t clog and burst, but it’s still not a good idea to test those limits. 

Sewage waste system

The sewage system includes a network of pumps and pipes that collect and dispose of wastewater. It relies on gravity, rather than pressure, to carry wastewater out of your house. Each fixture in your home, such as your washing machine, toilet, sinks, and dishwasher, is connected to a drainpipe by a P- or S-trap. The trap ensures wastewater goes out and sewer gas doesn’t get into your home. Each time you flush your toilet or empty your sink the water in the trap is replaced. These pipes lead to a larger vertical pipe, called a stack, which vents sewer gas, maintains atmospheric pressure in the system, and leads wastewater out to the nearest sewer line or your septic tank, depending on your system.

Every trap is filled with water to prevent sewer gas from entering your home. It’s typically found in your basement (if your laundry machines are down there, this is a good first place to look). If you notice something smells a bit off, pour some water into the trap to restore the barrier. If the smell persists, it’s time to call a plumber to make sure your waste water system is flowing properly.

Plumbing system maintenance

Your plumbing lines need regular inspection and maintenance to prevent leakage, accidental damage from serious clogs, and pipe corrosion. Regularly reviewing your system will also ensure your water quality is good, that there’s minimal water wasted, and will prevent the need for an entire overhaul of your piping system.

Here are some tips to maintain your plumbing system:

  • Don’t put anything in your toilet or sink that could clog it, such as cotton swabs, hair, or food.
  • Frequently clean out your sink strainers and plugs.
  • Unclog drains and toilets when needed.
  • Inspect pipes for rusting and damage and use cleaners or tape (found at your local hardware store) for quick repairs.
  • Empty your water heater at least twice a year.
  • Insulate your pipes in extremely cold temperatures to prevent freezing.
  • Use a non-corrosive drain cleaner that will not impact your pipe’s longevity.
  • Avoid planting trees along your sewer line to prevent roots from damaging underground pipes.

Plumbing Troubleshooting Guide

Signs you have plumbing problems

Here are some common signs to look out for to determine if maintenance is required on your pipes or plumbing systems:

  • unexpected water noises, such as a dripping faucet or running toilet;
  • clogged toilet;
  • leaky pipes;
  • low water pressure;
  • clogged or slow-draining sinks;
  • high water bills;
  • bubbling paint or brown spots on the walls or ceiling;
  • a loose, wobbling toilet;
  • pipe discolouration resulting from rust;.
  • sewer odour in the home;
  • no water pressure in the winter, indicating frozen pipes;
  • cloudy or brown water colour;
  • rattling sound in your pipes; and
  • flooding or water stains in the basement.

How to Fix a Leaky Sink Drain Pipe

How to fix a leaky sink pipe

You should fix a water leak as soon as possible. Plumbing leaks can affect your pipes,your water pressure and, if undetected, can cause damage to wood and lead to mould. Luckily, a lot of resources are available to help you perform quick repairs. Keep in mind these repairs are for small leaks only. Calling a professional for major issues is always recommended. 

To fix a leaky pipe under the sink, the first step is to always turn off the main water valve in your home. This is usually located in your basement.

If the leak is coming from a pipe connector, follow these steps:

  • Tighten all pipe connections and slip nuts with a wrench.
  • Replace rubber gaskets at pipe connections.
  • Reinforce and seal the connectors by tightly wrapping plumber’s tape or epoxy putty around the connections. Ensure the putty cures and hardens before testing.

If the leak is coming from a crack in the pipe, your best bet is to call a plumber. Even a small crack can pose a large issue and it’s not worth risking further damage. 

The steps to fix a leaking toilet

Steps to fix a leaky toilet

If your toilet is constantly “running” or there’s water pooling around the base of your toilet, it’s likely the flapper that creates a seal between the tank and the bowl is not working properly, or the seal between your toilet and flooring needs to be replaced. Repairs can be done following these steps:

If the toilet is “running”, follow these steps:

  1. Check the water level in the back of the tank. It should rise about an inch from the top of the overflow tube.
  2. If it doesn’t, take the flush chain off the flapper valve.
  3. Remove the flapper valve and replace it with a new one and reattach the flush chain.
  4. If the problem persists, adjust the chain’s length so there isn’t too much slack in the chain when the flapper is closed.

If your toilet is leaking from the base you likely need to replace the wax ring under your toilet. This can be done yourself, but if you’re not confident in your abilities you might want to call a plumber as the process can be quite involved. 

How to fix common plumbing problems

When to call in a professional

If you notice persistent leaking after you’ve tried to tackle any issue yourself, bubbling or brown spots on your ceiling and walls, or you’re unable to identify or tackle an issue on your own, it’s time to call a professional plumber. These are signs you have a more serious plumbing blunder on your hands and without professional help, structural damage could occur in your home and end up costing you both time and money. 

Understanding your plumbing system and what it takes to keep it working efficiently is an important part of being a homeowner. Being able to prevent, identify, and address problems can save you headaches in the future! 


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