Open House: Home Repair 101 – Plumbing

Plumbing is an issue that unfortunately is usually caught after it’s too late, especially in a new home when you have no idea what has found its way down the drain. It can also present itself in several different ways. Toilets, showers/bathtubs, and dishwashers, are just some of the ways plumbing can present a problem in your home. They also can have completely different fixes.

In this edition of Open House, I’ll cover some common issues you might encounter with your home plumbing system and some potential fixes you can perform yourself.


Most of us have probably had to use a plunger at some point in our lives. But major plumbing issues can be caused by flushing things other than waste and designated paper products. Hygiene products, baby wipes, sanitizing wipes, and basically anything other than toilet paper should not be flushed. If they are, they can cause a back up somewhere in the pipe system. That will require more than a plunger and most likely a trained plumber.

One of the more common issues with toilets is a toilet that runs. This is actually something really easy to fix and takes less than a minute! Typically when a toilet runs there is a piece in the tank that needs to be adjusted. Here is a super helpful video on how to fix your running toilet.

Septic System

If you have a septic tank, that is another reason to make sure you only flush approved items. Most homes in cities and suburbs have city sewer hook ups, meaning they run water that goes through their pipes into a main pipe that connects to the sewer at or near the street, and then is carried to a treatment facility.

But in more rural or less developed areas, homes usually have a septic system instead. A septic system is a big tank located underground that all your plumbing drains into. Through a filtration system, all the solid waste you flush or drain stays in the tank, while the water is trickled out and put back into the ground.

These tanks are meant to hold only organic, compostable materials, so if you are flushing things that can’t be broken down, it can cause your tank to fill up faster than it’s built to, pushing all that waste back up your pipes.

If you need to replace a septic system for whatever reason, it can be quite a process. You’ll need to dig up the tank, a process that usually takes some heavy machinery. If you’re replacing the septic tank, you’ll need to empty the tank, have the tank hauled off, and install a new tank. This can easily cost $10,000+, depending on tank size, the type of soil, and other similar factors. You’ll also need to regularly empty your septic system usually every three to five years. The national average to pump the system is $300-$600, depending on region.

Showers & Bathtubs

If I had to guess, I would say the number one reason for a backup in a shower drain would be hair, at least in my experience. I have pulled my fair share of hairballs from drains that all of a sudden have standing water in the shower.

A simple way to prevent this is to get a number of different drain cover devices. They catch anything carried away in the water and are easily rinsible. A drain cover like this costs anywhere from $2-$10. If you’re past the preventative stage and you’ve already started to collect hair in your drain, there are also plastic drain snakes that you can use to pull out clogs. These little snakes, like the ones below, have teeth that grab anything in the way. They usually come in a multi-pack for anywhere from $5-$10 and can be found at most hardware stores or Amazon.

Dishwashers & Garbage Disposals

Dishwashers and garbage disposals have a few culprits that can cause issues. The most obvious is food particles. Putting large amounts of foods, hard foods, or sticky food down the garbage disposal can cause food build up over time. By putting in hard food, like bones, you can dull the blades. Over time, that causes the food to get less broken down, and that, along with putting large amounts of food in the disposal, causes food to get stuck down the pipe.

Sticky food, or foods that solidify like animal fat and coconut oil, might seem like they can just wash down the sink. But as the food waste starts to cool, it starts to become solid. And if the oil or fat doesn’t make it all the way through your pipes, it can clog quickly.

Most dishwashers have some type of filter system on them. You’d be surprised that most are able to pop out and be washed, but can also be hard to find. You can look up your dishwasher’s model number online and see if it has a filter and where it’s located.

The fixes for these problems are free, they just take time and diligence.

DIY Plumbing Fixes

One thing I was thrilled to learn this year is that Home Depot rents drain snakes! When our kitchen sink stopped draining, and Draino did nothing, my husband did some searching on YouTube and thought that our solution would be to snake the drain.

Think of a drain snake as a thick, long metal tube wrapped up, like fishing line on a reel. You unwind the snake into the drain, pushing the snake through the back up, and hope that it pushes free whatever blockage is there. The problem is, most people don’t have a snake, and hopefully will never need to use it more than once. So, there isn’t really a reason to have one in your tool box.

A snake is one of the most common reasons to call a plumber. But, rather than spend $300 for a 30 minute house call, we were able to rent a snake for $60 a day! I would not consider myself very hand, and I was able to perform the snake process myself.

However, if you encounter a more serious issue like water flowing out, foul smelling water, or simply can’t push the snake past the clog, you should call in an expert.

Homes for Heroes also has deals with local and national plumbers and other home services if it comes to calling an expert. Just another way we help you save money on your home.

About the Author

Maggie is the Content Manager at Homes for Heroes. She has bought, sold, and refinanced a home and gives her personal views on all three types of home transactions. Her Heroes include her father (teacher), brother in law (veteran), and friends and family in healthcare and law enforcement. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two dogs. If you have an idea for an Open House topic, email Maggie here.

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