10 Expert Ways to Take Care of Pipes and Drains
Of all our modern conveniences, indoor plumbing might be the one we most take for granted. Although we use our sinks and sewer system multiple times a day, they simply don’t require a ton of attention. And because plumbing lasts for decades, it’s rarely top of mind. When it is, it’s because there’s a problem: the nuisance of a clogged drain or a plugged-up toilet all the way to a disastrous sewer back-up.
Most homeowners can avoid a plumbing emergency with a little preventive care—most of which you can do yourself without involving a Pittsburgh plumber.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #1: Clean Every Drain Every Month
Pipes and sewers back up when water and waste can’t flow freely, which can happen when gunk builds up on the inside of your pipes. So, you should clean your drains monthly, using an enzyme-based cleaner—not a chemical-based one that can damage your pipes. If you prefer a homemade solution, send some baking soda and vinegar down the drain, let the combination work its magic for 15 minutes or so, and then rinse with boiling water.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #2: Flush Correctly
As in… don’t flush anything but human waste and toilet paper. No diapers, no so-called “flushable” wipes (no matter what the package says!), no feminine hygiene products, no paper towels, no kitty litter (for crying out loud), and absolutely no leftovers. (Yes, really. Some people use their toilet as a secondary garbage disposal, and it wreaks havoc on their sewer system.)
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #3: Never Pour Grease Down Your Kitchen Drain
All of your pipes eventually connect under your home at a main drain that carries everything to the sewer line. That means if you’re dumping grease down your kitchen sink, it’s going to coat not just that pipe, but also every pipe on its way to, and including, the main sewer line.
That grease can also transform into what some people lovingly (ahem) call “fatbergs”—oil, grease, and other gunk that accumulates over months or years and causes sewer mayhem in individual homes and city systems. In 2018, for example, Metro Detroit public works officials removed a fatberg from a county sewer line that was 11 feet wide, 100 feet long, and 6 feet tall. “Gross,” is an understatement.
Do your sewer (and city) a favor, and use paper towels to soak up grease and then toss the towels in the trash. (Not the toilet! See Tip #2.)
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #4: Use Your Garbage Disposal Sparingly
Grease is one of many things you shouldn’t put down your kitchen sink. Pasta, rice, fibrous or starchy veggies like celery and potatoes, egg shells, and coffee grounds should also be off-limits. Think of your garbage disposal more like a “crumb dispenser” and your plumbing will be better for it.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #5: Keep Roots Away From Your Sewer Line
Sometimes, sewers back up because of what’s going on inside your home. But often, they back up because of what’s happening in your backyard. If you have trees or large bushes planted too close to the sewer line, their roots can push through the pipe and create a clog or cause damage.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #6: Use a Drain Guard
When we’re in a hurry or feeling a bit lazy, we make mistakes. Adding a simple, inexpensive drain guard to each of your sinks can keep you from sending things down the drain that don’t belong there. A drain guard in the tub can help prevent those nasty hair-plus-soap clogs.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #7: Set Your Water Pressure No Higher Than 80 psi
Clogs are only one way to kill a plumbing system. The other way? Sending too much water through the pipes too quickly. Over time, water pressure that’s too high puts strain on valves, joints, and even the pipes themselves—setting you up for cracks and leaks. Pick up a water pressure gauge at the local hardware store, and if you discover your pressure is too high, call in a pro to install a regulator.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #8: Have Your Sewer Line Professionally Inspected and Cleaned Every Three Years (at least)
If you want to have total peace of mind that your sewer’s in good shape, have a Pittsburgh residential plumber inspect and then snake or hydrojet it every three years or so. This is particularly important if you have lots of roots near your out-pipes (see Tip #5).
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #9: Prevent Water from Freezing in Your Pipes
When water freezes, it expands—and if there’s enough of it in your pipes, they could burst. Check out the tips we shared last month to avoid this major plumbing disaster.
Pipe and Drain Care Tip #10: Replace Old Pipes
Yes, plumbing and sewer pipes last for decades—but houses typically last much longer. If your pipes are older, consider replacing them before you have a problem. Typical pipe lifespans are as follows:
- Brass supply pipes: 40-70 years
- Cast iron drain lines: 75-100 years
- Copper supply pipes: 50 years
- Galvanized steel supply pipes: 20-50 years
- PEX supply lines: 25-40 years
- PVC drain lines: Indefinite
If you still have lead pipes, you should have them replaced immediately.
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