Common Plumbing Issues

5 Common Plumbing Problems and How to Diagnose Them

     Plumbing problems are never fun. Plumbing problems can affect your ability to take a shower, flush the toilet, or even wash your hands (Gross), and always seem to happen in the middle of a shower! Sometimes there is neither a simple or inexpensive fix and that weekend getaway may have just flown out the window..  It can be difficult to self-diagnose plumbing problems or even articulate the issue to the plumber. To avoid sounding completely clueless, here are five common plumbing problems, how to inquire about them, and what to expect of the service.

Running toilet

 “My toilet is running.” (My bill doubled because of this, who wants an expensive water bill on top of a plumbing bill? Not Me!)

     The flapper that creates a seal between the tank and the bowl can become compromised, and water can leak from the tank to the bowl. Besides being annoying to hear in the middle of the night, this is wasting a significant amount of water, and will certainly raise your water bill. Most running toilets can be resolved by replacing the internal parts within the tank, or simply adjusting the length of the chain attached to the flapper. If a replacement in internal parts is needed, these parts include a flush valve, fill valve, gasket, nuts, bolts, and washers.

Time: Depending on the cause of the issue, a running toilet can take anywhere from a few minutes (adjusting chain length) to 1.5 hours for a major toilet rebuild. 

Clogged Drain

There is a stoppage in my (kitchen/bathroom/bathtub) drain.

     Debris such as hair (My last blog talked about this), food, grease, and toothpaste are getting caught in drain pipes and restricting the flow. If your home has galvanized pipes, these pipes corrode from the inside out, and the diameter of the pipe gets smaller over time, which can cause more stoppages. The plumber will need to determine if the clog is happening with all the drains or if it’s just one toilet or fixture that is not draining. If multiple drains are backing up in the home, it is likely that the clog is on the main line; if the clog is isolated to one drain, it is likely the clog is only in that area and not affecting other drains.

How to fix: The drain needs to be cleared, and this is done using a snake. (Not the one the slithers either eek!) A plumber will need to feed the snake into the pipes from a cleanout fitting or by disassembling a P-trap. Feeding the snake into the pipes will bore through the clogs in the pipes. Depending on the location or severity of the clog, a powered drain snake might need to be used. Plumbers can use a high-pressure drain scrubbing that cleans the inside of the pipe as it moves through the line. And then, they’ll use a camera to inspect the line to ensure that there is no buildup to cause future clogging.

Shower Leak

     Starting with where the leak is located. “Is there a leak at the showerhead? Is water continuously leaking from the tub spout? Are you noticing water on the floor after you shower? Or is water constantly on the floor even if no one has showered in that bathroom recently?” Jake with Mcintire Plumbing & Do All Service recommends being as concise as possible when describing the issue. This problem is usually indicative of a failing or faulty shower cartridge located in the valve or even a faulty shower valve all together, However the second type of shower leak we see occurs when water begins to saturate the wall behind the shower or even the ceiling below, when dealing with an upstairs bathroom. If the water is leaking directly under or behind the shower/tub—even when it’s not in use— you may have a leak behind the wall. Yikes!

     If the water is leaking from the showerhead it could be because you have hard water causing debris to build up and eventually become lodged in the cartridge, which is allowing small amounts of water to pass through. The shower head leaking only when the water is on would indicate an issue with the showerhead. Noticing water on the floor could indicate a leak in your shower pan, in the wall from the tub, shower assembly, or a grout issue.

How to fix: Depending on the problem, your plumber will need to remove the existing cartridge and install a new one, or your showerhead may need to be replaced or resealed. If you’re noticing water in the shower basin area the plumber would need to perform a diagnostic to determine the location of the leak. The repairs range from a copper pipe repair, resealing the shower stall, repairing the drain, to replacing the shower pan/liner.

Time: Depending on the cause of the issue shower leaks can take anywhere from 30 minutes (shower head replacement) to 4 hours (water line repair, shower valve replacement, drain repair, shower pan/liner replacement) to fix.

Time: The time will vary depending on the magnitude and location of the clog. For example, a professional will base the price on accessibility. A clean-out is what professionals consider ‘accessible,’ and without one there is a good chance you will face an additional charge to pull a toilet, or possibly even go on the roof to gain access to the vent and subsequent drain lines. If the plumber needs to use a camera, that can add to the cost as well. Depending on the cause of the issue, clogged drains can take anywhere from 1 hour [drain cleaning], to 2-plus hours [sewer repair] to fix.

Low-Pressure Water

     Before you call a plumber, check to see if the low pressure is in all the fixtures or just one. See if both hot and cold have low water pressure, since this information will help your plumber understand the scope of the problem. When you speak to the plumber, say: “When I turn on this fixture, there is low water pressure.” If the water flow is restricted. It could be as simple as a shutoff being closed and needs to be opened, or it could be a major problem such as having galvanized pipes in older homes that need to be replaced. In any event low water pressure issues will only get worse over time and could make taking a shower, watering the lawn, or even doing the dishes more difficult. (I would never get the soap out of my hair sigh..)

     If the whole home is experiencing low water pressure, it could indicate an issue with the pressure-reducing valve, well pump, water filtration system, or the water service line. The symptom of low water pressure should be repaired quickly. If you’ve noticed a dramatic reduction of water pressure throughout your home you could be losing hundreds, or even thousands of gallons of water per day. 

How to fix: If it’s a single fixture, the fix could be as easy as clearing debris from the aerator or cleaning or replacing the cartridge. If the whole home has low water pressure, you may need to adjust or replace your pressure reducing valve. If the low pressure is caused by a large leak in the water service line, the leaking section of pipe will need to be replaced.

Time: Depending on the cause of the issue, low water pressure can take anywhere from 30 minutes (aerator cleaning) to 2-plus hours (PRV replacement, water line repair) to fix.

Loss of Hot Water

      A common call we get is “There is no hot water when I turn on my faucet.”  Find out if it’s all the fixtures or just one, and most likely there is a problem with the water heater. It could be as simple as the water heater’s pilot light needing to be reignited, or something more daunting like needing to replace the water heater. If the water heater has stopped working, you won’t have hot water until it’s replaced. (I don’t like cold showers, If my skin isn’t burning we have an issue)! If your water heater is leaking or there is rust on the bottom, you should look to replace it ASAP, since old water heaters are inefficient and waste energy.

     The best-case scenario for lack of hot water—the unit has tripped, or the pilot light has gone out. Find a breaker, which is usually dedicated to the heater only, and check that the heater did not trip the breaker. If the breaker is tripped, you can try to reset it, then listen to the heater for a humming sound. “If the breaker trips again immediately or after a delay, it is best to call a pro for further diagnostics.

How to fix: If the hot water heater needs to be replaced, a plumber will have to turn off the water to the heater. It can get complicated if you do not have a reliable shut off to your heater. They’ll need to turn off the water to your home, drain the heater, uninstall the old heater, reinstall the new one, and make sure that all the water and gas connections are good.

Time: This could take between two to four hours. There are different types of water heaters, so you will need to figure out which best fits your needs and climate. 


Written by: Lisa Gray LEGs Media