Most enter the holidays in a spirit of joy, ready to eat, reconnect and have fun - the last thing anyone wants to think about are shower schedules or what could go wrong with their plumbing. But the holidays are a busy time for plumbers, and it's easy to see why: cold temperatures and increased demand on a home's plumbing can spell doom for an older or "lightly maintained" system. What can be done to mitigate the risk of something going terribly wrong? There are many simple tools and strategies to help prepare your home for the influx of merriment and keep everyone warm, dry and happy.
Toilets shouldn't require instructions.
Your toilet is going to be subjected to heavy traffic, and given the nightmarish scenarios toilet problems can produce, it's to everyone's benefit to make sure yours is in tip-top shape.
- Your toilet might have minor annoyances about it - having to hold down the handle to flush - or it might require a set of instructions for those unfamiliar with its "quirks." But a toilet should not have quirks; these are problems. Some of these problems are simple: with a handle that needs to be held down to flush, take a look at the chain or strap connecting the handle/trip lever to the flapper. If it's too long with too much slack, try shortening that length. If that doesn't work, it could be that the flapper needs replacing.
- If it's been a while since you gave your toilet any attention, we recommend going through our Toilet Troubleshooting Guide to identify problems and improve your toilet's performance. If you already know what's wrong, what you need, and how to fix it, you can go straight to our toilet repair parts index to find everything from flappers and flush valves to bolt caps and wax rings.
- As much as you try to prepare, there are times when Murphy's Law wins out. And when your Uncle clogs the toilet, or the irresponsible neighbors back up the sewer line, it's good to be empowered. Whether you're the host or guest, it always pays to know how to properly unclog a toilet.
- We also recommend making sure the bathroom is well stocked with toilet paper, extra towels and handsoap, and a good plunger (no one likes to ask for one). As a side note, we also suggest evaluating your toilet paper choice while your bathroom is getting so much use; avoid the extra super-duper fluffy stuff and find a quality paper that will still break down very easily. There's nothing like a giant toilet paper clog to ruin a holiday gathering!
- In that same vein, homeowners should also know the location of their sewer clean-out in the event of a blockage. Should a blockage lead to overflow, having flood alarms in high-risk areas (and Flood Guards installed on any floor drains) could be the difference between a beautiful holiday, and one that can only be funny (after time has worn away the resentment).
"I want the turkey wishbone!" - said no garbage disposer, ever.
While the food is many people's favorite part of the season, it can also be the most laborious. The preparation, cooking, and serving all demand attention to detail and teamwork. It's important to observe good habits in the kitchen, and be prepared for the many contingencies of a holiday feast.
- How's your faucet doing? This will be one of the most heavily used items in your kitchen, and any issues you're currently experiencing will only be exacerbated over the holidays. Any leaks should be taken care of, and repairs that have been put off should be done. If your old faucet is on its last leg, or you're just tired of it, the holidays are a great time to put a new faucet through its paces - your kitchen will never be the same after you add a pull-out spout!
- We've all (hopefully) read or been told about what's safe to put down a garbage disposal. But it's inevitable: someone, somewhere will put turkey bones, potato peelings, celery, gravy, or a chunk of fat down somebody's disposal, and no good will come of it. Don't worry: when things go awry, we're here to help with troubleshooting advice that should hopefully keep all your limbs intact.
- It would of course be best to avoid this kind of situation altogether. To this end, you might consider labeling a garbage can or small canister "Food Scraps" and placing it near the disposal. If you are a composter, make sure to clearly designate between compostable scraps and trash. You could also place a note next to the sink listing the items that belong in the trash, not in the pipes.
- Worried about odors and contamination from scraps? You could take the garbage out often, or you could temporarily store scraps in a container or bag in the freezer (if there's any room left) until trash day.
- Pro-Tip: Taking these precautions won't help what's happened in the past, however. This is why it's a good idea to make sure all your drains and pipes are clear before the madness. If you're experiencing any noise or back-ups, a snaking could be in order. You can also proactively clear out debris from your drains with vinegar and baking soda, or a safe bacterial drain cleaner.
Clogged drains always get put on the naughty list.
- The good news is that family and friends are together, catching up and (hopefully) having fun. The bad news is that the amount of hair going down your drain has increased. Significantly. The simplest way to avoid this becoming a problem is having a mesh strainer over the shower drain. If you're lucky enough to have an Ebbe drain, they offer their own superb hair trap that's super easy to replace.
- Shower drains aren't the only place where unwanted material can cause problems. For your kitchen and bathroom sinks, you might consider an Add-a-Trap to provide an extra safeguard against clogs (these are also particularly handy if Aunt Myrtle accidentally drops her heirloom diamond earring in the sink!). The removable strainers in these traps will catch things like jewelry even with the water on, so you don't have to worry about calling a plumber or your valuables being lost forever. Plus, they're fairly easy for a weekend DIY'er to install.
Your water heater could land you in lukewarm water...
You and your guests will be in close proximity over the course of the visit, so showering is of key importance. But what if your family can hardly get through a morning without having someone get the short end of the stick - a lukewarm or even cold shower?
- Check your temperature/pressure relief valve for proper operation by putting a bucket or something down to catch the water, and opening the valve. Hot water should come out, but at a regular rate. If your valve drips or spews, there's a problem.
- Has your anode rod been replaced lately? These sacrificial rods corrode so your tank doesn't have to, keeping the water heater performing efficiently. If they are too old, the corrosion process can cause pieces to break off in the tank, where they can possibly damage the glass lining of the tank.
- It is also advised to flush your water heater tank at least every year. Sediment and deposits can lead to inefficiency, and even build to the point of burning out the heater element. Since replacing the anode rod requires that some water be drained from the tank, why not check out the rod and take care of both issues at the same time?
- With a standard tank water heater, it's best to wait 10-15 minutes between showers to ensure that steamy shower on a cold morning doesn't turn into a teeth-chattering experience. Your guests may need to adjust their schedules accordingly, but they will certainly appreciate the outcome.
- A tankless water heater could make hot water supply issues a thing of the past. Rather than storing and constantly re-heating a large amount of water in a tank, tankless heaters provide instant, steady hot water - allowing for hot shower after hot shower. You don't necessarily need a whole house tankless water heater either - there are many point-of-use tankless water heaters that can be installed anywhere you need hot water fast. Going tankless can be a significant investment, however: the electrical or gas supply may need to be upgraded, and new ventilation may be required. If an upgrade isn't in the cards right now, we also offer boosters for your tank water heater
- Bright Idea: Point-of-use heaters are a great idea for the kitchen, where they can instantly provide cup after cup of steaming-hot cocoa, tea, or cider. Complete packages are available with faucet, hot water tank (for extended use), and filter.
Baby, it's cold outside...
Though we've focused mostly on indoor factors, it's important to keep in mind that the elements present another host of challenges to your holiday happiness. While you might be warm inside the house, enjoying your company and the time off work, your home's outdoor plumbing could be freezing, approaching the breaking-point!
- In addition to insulating your exposed pipes with sleeves or wraps, a freezeless outdoor faucet (which prevents water from remaining in the faucet) can help minimize the risk of a burst pipe. If you don't want or need to replace your hose faucets, an easy to install Freeze Cap (or Hose Bibb Insulator) is a good alternative to protect existing outdoor faucets.
- If you'll be the one leaving home for some time, and you live in a colder area, it is always a good idea to drain your pipes before leaving to prevent any trapped water from freezing. If you don't already know where your main water supply shut-off valve is, find out (in the event of a clogged or burst pipe, dealing with it is easier when you aren't scrambling or panicking to stop water from flowing). Once you've turned off the water, turn on your faucets to drain the pipes. Rather than let this water run down the drain, consider saving it for another use (watering plants, flushing the toilet, etc.).
Plumbing maintenance is forever ongoing, and nothing is foolproof. Accidents will happen even to the best prepared among us - so try not to worry! May your memories be of laughter, great company, cute kids, and delicious food - and have nothing to do with plumbing!