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How to visually inspect your plumbing

Posted Friday, January 20th, 2017
leaking plumbing with rag to allow water to drip into basin

Knowing what to look for can save your home from flooding

Becoming a homeowner is a big step. Some of the skills you need to keep your home running smoothly are pretty easy to figure out, like shoveling your sidewalk or paying your energy bill on time. Others are a lot harder to master. The good news is that you can easily learn a bit about your plumbing, even though it might seem daunting at first. Moreover, the effort is well worth it. You’ll avoid the expense of learning something is wrong only after leaking water has caused a great deal of cosmetic and structural damage. Here’s a short list of things to look for that signal trouble.

Inspecting exposed pipes

For this job you’ll need a good flashlight and some patience. Look under your laundry, bathroom and kitchen sinks. Once you’ve cleared away a year’s worth of old cleaning supplies and half-used bottles of shampoo, check all the valves and connections. Even if you don’t see water dripping currently, is there corrosion at any of these points? That’s a sure indicator you have a leak on your hands. You should also look at the bottoms and backs of cabinets. Water stains and mildew here are like neon signs blinking “Leaky Pipes.”

Check your supply lines.

The supply lines in your home bring gas and water to your appliances. Water supply lines will run to the dishwasher, icemaker, toilet, water heater, and washing machine. These lines have supply valves which will cut off the flow of the water. Make sure these are working, since it’s important to be able to turn off the water before leaving on trips. Look for dripping water or leaking. Some of these supply lines carry a lot of water, and a broken line can cause a big flood. Again, corrosion around the connections or valves signals impending leakage.

Look on floors and ceilings.

Do you see water-damaged, cracked, or warped flooring near the base of the refrigerator (if it has an icemaker), bathtub, shower or dishwasher? Persistent dampness in these spaces will damage the floors, and probably means that there is a leak. If your bathtub or shower is not properly sealed, the accruing moisture can destroy the subfloor as well, creating an expensive repair. Brown watermarks on the ceiling show that the water is leaching through the subflooring. Act fast if you see them on the ceiling directly below a bathroom or a major appliance.

Check for drainage issues outside the house.

If your gutters are clogged or blocked by ice, water spills over the edges and lands right along the foundation. This water presses along your foundation walls looking for somewhere to go. You’ll end up with anything from elevated levels of dampness and mildew to a river water running through your basement. Make sure all your gutters are draining properly and that your downspouts carry the water at least five feet away from the house. Worst case scenario, untreated drainage issues outside will cause structural damage to your foundation and cost you tens of thousands to fix everything.

Loose toilets are often leaky.

Put your hands firmly on either side of the toilet and shake it gently. Does it rock back and forth at all? If the toilet is loose it often begins to leak around the base. To see if it is already leaking flush the toilet 3–5 times, then look carefully along the sides and behind the toilet. Water around the base will damage the floor, so even if you don’t see much leaking water, look at the flooring to see if it is cracked or warped. Finally, a spongy feel to the floor around the toilet means that the water has already begun to damage the subfloor materials.

When should you call a professional?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a plumber. While every responsible homeowner should know how to inspect their own plumbing, once you’ve identified the problem, call for reinforcements. A licensed plumber can confirm what you suspect and tackle the problem right away. Of course, sometimes you know there’s a problem only because you are floating boats across your basement. As soon as you’ve called your trusted plumber, make another call to Modernistic. We’re here with a 24/7 emergency response team to get that water out before it damages your home permanently. When disaster strikes, Modernistic is ready.

Bailing out residents of Mt. Pleasant, MI for 40 years.

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