We all forget about things: let them go for a few weeks... then months... then years. At that point, they generally fall away (which is great since they'll never get taken care of). And usually, if something can go unaddressed for that long, it probably wasn't that important to begin with. Plumbing maintenance is an entirely different and particularly vicious beast. While just as easily forgotten, put off, or ignored, plumbing never lets you off the hook. With the patience of a saint - and the malice of a demon - plumbing problems can take their time developing, smoldering, until that once-tiny leak turns menace, threatening the very structure of the home.
Fortunately, routine maintenance and observation can forestall or eliminate most of those problems. The key is to be comprehensive – and to actually devote a few hours to getting to know your house (as off-putting as "doing maintenance" might sound, it is an opportunity to do just that). To aid in this learning/bonding experience, we offer the following checklist, hitting up the most vulnerable and troublesome spots in the home.
Plumbing Maintenance Checklist
Perform an in-depth leak check throughout your home. For help, take a look at our guide to finding leaks.
When you visit each fixture, look for a shut-off valve on the water supply lines. Test them out to have some assurance they'll work when you need to perform repairs, or prevent a flood!
Check any visible pipes and joints (you really should go into the basement or crawlspace) for signs of corrosion: bluish-green deposits on brass and copper, rust on iron and steel. While there may be no problems as of yet, leaks will eventually develop. Consult with a plumber to determine the best course of action.
Look and listen to the drains in your sinks, tubs, and showers. Are they draining quickly and smoothly? Is there any gurgling? A slow drain is an obvious indicator of a clog; gurgling could mean the same, or a blockage in the drain vent. While some blockages can be dealt with by the amateur, if you can't solve the problem by manually clearing the drain or using vinegar and baking soda, it could mean the issue is further down the line, requiring professional attention. Learn more about clog prevention and drain maintenance.
Even if your sink drains seem fine, you know what they say about prevention and cure. Cleaning out the p-traps under your sinks will help protect against future clogs, and you may even find that earring that went missing last Thanksgiving!
While you're under the sink, take a good look around for leaks, or signs thereof: stains, mildew, warping, or peeling. Not every leak is constant, and a seemingly dry area may be hiding damage below.
Garbage disposal? There's likely regular maintenance recommended by the manufacturer; consult your owner's manual or our tips on garbage disposer care. At the very least, give it a quick cleaning using ice cubes made of white vinegar.
If your refrigerator has an ice maker, take a look at the water supply tubing and connection to ensure no leaks are present. Leaks from ice makers can become big problems, and are often overlooked.
Check faucet aerators and shower heads: each can become clogged with minerals and debris, compromising performance. Aerators can usually be cleaned with a toothbrush and soapy water, or vinegar. Shower heads should be submerged in vinegar for 30 minutes (or overnight, depending) - for more help, check out how to clean a shower head.
Examine the caulking around the tub/shower, shower doors, toilet bases, and sinks (including the kitchen). If any spots are dried out, missing, or otherwise iffy, thoroughly remove the old caulk and replace with some fresh silicone.
Without using too much force, try to move or rock your toilets. If there's movement, check the mounting bolts at the base. If these are tight, the flange may need to be replaced and the toilet reinstalled. Need help? Check this out.
Remove the tank lids off your toilets and peek inside. Check for any obvious signs of wear or damage. Reach in and feel the flapper: these and other rubbery parts have a habit of rapidly deteriorating in highly-chlorinated water, and with the use of cleaning additives (the blue stuff, which should never be used). Beware! Deteriorated flappers can leave a serious mess on your hands (literally). If you want to make sure your toilet is in top-notch working order, check out how to improve toilet performance.
Note: Be extremely careful when taking off tank lids! They can be heavy, and break oh-so-easily. Place them on a flat, steady surface to avoid damage. And if you're sitting there thinking, "Well that information would have been useful to me yesterday…" - we have a HUGE selection of replacement tank lids.
If you have a running toilet – and the flapper is in good shape, forming an even seal – perform some troubleshooting to help figure out what the problem may be. Many times this is a quick and easy fix.
Any rarely used toilets in the house? Give them a flush to make sure things are as they should be. Your future guests will appreciate it.
Another oft-overlooked leak source is the washing machine: in particular, the water supply lines. Examine these hoses for cracks or brittleness, ensure the connections are secure, and that the surrounding walls and floor are dry.
While low water pressure is pretty easy to notice, high pressure can be a bit trickier. Even if you have a pressure regulator installed, check the actual pressure regularly using a test gauge. An ideal pressure is somewhere between 40-65 psi. High pressure can mess with valves and fixtures, and can even cause blowouts in supply lines. Regulators and pumps can help keep things proper.
If you haven't done so in the past year (or ever), flush your water heater and replace the anode rod, if necessary.
The Temperature and Pressure Relief valve on your water heater should be checked every few years for proper operation. If it's been a while, be sure you have a receptacle for the hot water that will stream out (be careful - it can be VERY HOT water), and flip that switch! Sometimes if they're too worn, these won't re-seal after testing them out, so be prepared to replace this vital mechanism.
Be sure to know the locations of the main water shut-off, as well as your sewage cleanouts.
… Doesn't sound too bad, does it? So roll up those sleeves and get to maintainin'!