Homeowner’s Manual: Water Supply Piping and Fixtures (Updated for 2021!)
Locate your homeowner’s main water shut-off valve. The water meter is usually located on the left or right property line, approximately two feet from the curb. Be sure it is not leaking and is easily accessible and operating in case of an emergency. Fire ants are a common problem. Keep the cover in place and the enclosure cleaned out. If a water leak occurs at the meter, it should be determined which side of the meter is leaking. To do this, you should cut off the main valve to your home. If the indicator on the meter continues to turn, the leak is on the house side of the meter. If this is the case, notify your Plumbing Contractor immediately. If, after you cut off the main valve to your home, the indicator on the meter stops turning, the leak is on the city side of the meter. If this is the case, contact the water company’s emergency repair department immediately. Close and open the main water supply shutoff valve (periodically) to ensure that it has not stuck in the open position. Check fixture shutoff valves periodically as well. Both the main valve and fixture valves must be operable so water can be turned off in an emergency or when plumbing repairs are necessary.
Inspect all exterior faucets for leaks. There are typically two outside hose bibs, usually located on opposite sides of your home. Care should be taken when pulling a garden hose, so not to apply too much pressure on the hose bib itself. A single dripping faucet can waste hundreds of gallons of water a year. Also inspect for broken handles and the presence of backflow (anti-siphon) protection on each faucet. Backflow protection devices for exterior faucets are readily available and are intended to prevent contamination of drinking water caused by back siphoning. Before cold weather comes, unscrew, drain and store garden hoses inside for the winter. Install insulated covers on outside faucets to protect them from freezing weather.
Crawlspace Plumbing (Pier & Beam Homes)
An annual inspection of the crawl space is best left to a qualified inspector. If you must do it yourself, follow these safety tips. Always let someone know where you will be, wear sturdy coveralls and a dust mask, carry a bright light and avoid contact with any electrical wiring. The crawl space should be clean and dry. Nothing should ever be stored in the crawl space. Before entering the crawl space, turn the interior water fixtures on at the sink/lavatories, tubs, and showers and flush each commode/toilet at least twice. (CAUTION: NEVER ENTER A CRAWL SPACE WITH STANDING WATER.)
While under the house, look for evidence of animal and insect infestation, leaking plumbing and anything else unusual like damp or rotted wood in bath and kitchen areas.
Inspect distribution and drainage pipes for leakage or signs of weakness (annually). Giving extra attention to the drain lines at the commodes, bathtubs and shower enclosure areas. Look for rust, corrosion, greenish deposits, and mineral deposits around fittings, valves and along the length of the pipe. (Note: Water from small holes can evaporate before a drip forms, leaving only a telltale whitish or colored deposit.)
Check the insulation on all of the water distribution lines. Replace any damaged or missing insulation. This will prevent water lines from freezing in the wintertime and help the hot water lines hold their heat longer. After completing your inspection, be sure that the access hatch cover is in good repair, fits the opening properly and is securely closed.
Sinks & Tub Faucets
Daily use of water faucets in the house should make it obvious when they are hard to turn off, start to drip or splatter water on countertops. Dripping faucets are usually caused by worn or damaged washers. To prolong the life of the washers, turn the faucet only hard enough to stop the flow of water. Replacing faucet washers can usually repair dripping faucets. If washer type, replace faucet washer and check washer seat for roughening; smooth if needed. If washerless, consult an installation manual or the personnel in a plumbing or hardware store for replacement procedures. Washers come in various sizes and may be bought at any hardware store for a nominal price. Washers are easily replaced with a Phillips screwdriver and a crescent wrench. Before replacing washers, be sure to turn the water off at the main cut-off valve. To replace a washer, remove the Phillips screw holding the handle onto the faucet itself. After this is done, use the crescent wrench to unscrew the brass connector which holds the stem and connected washer in place. Merely unscrew the brass connector, and the stem and washer will back out into your hand. At this time, you can see and replace the worn-out washer by removing the Phillips screw that holds the washer in place. The faucet is then reassembled in the same fashion. Initially, some faucets will drip until the washers seat themselves.
Sediment in many water systems can build up in faucet aerators, restricting water flow and spattering water. To solve this problem, clean aerators on faucets (every three or four months, depending upon water hardness). Unscrew the aerator from the faucet spout, disassemble it (keeping parts in proper order), rinse away sediment, reassemble and screw the aerator back on. Occasionally it may be necessary to replace the aerator to achieve proper performance. Periodically inspect supply shut-off valves under sinks for proper operation, corrosion and leaks. A leaking or inoperable valve can create a lagoon of trouble if not caught and corrected early. Occasionally fill sinks with water and watch them drain while the water continues to run. A properly draining sink will empty faster then it fills. At the same time, look under the sink (a good flashlight helps) for leaks in the drain pipes. Bathtubs should also drain faster than the water runs, so you’re not standing in a lake while showering. Repairing these simple plumbing problems early can help avoid bigger problems later.
Another big water waster is a running toilet. Here is an easy test to see if you have a problem. Put a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank-do not flush yet. If any color appears in the toilet bowl, you have a leak. Replacing the rubber flapper in your tank will cost only a few dollars and save hundreds of gallons of water a month. While the lid is off your toilet tank, check flush mechanisms, handles, chain flappers and ballcock valves. A poorly adjusted or worn ballcock valve (also called a fill valve) can also cause a toilet to run. Running toilets are usually caused by a worn or sticking ballcock shutoff valve or a float that is too high. After the toilet is several years old, a worn ballcock shutoff valve is normally at fault and requires replacement. Ballcock valves are easily replaced and are available at any hardware store. Make sure your replacement ballcock valve is an anti-siphon type, where the valve assembly is above the overflow tube in the toilet tank to avoid back siphoning and contamination.
If the running is caused by a float that is too high, the level can easily be adjusted downward. Merely unscrew the float itself, causing it to move further out on the arm of the float. For the best operation, the water level in the tank, when full, should rest at the waterline stamped inside the tank. Since usage will affect adjustment, the water line should be checked whenever your toilet begins to flush abnormally. Also make sure the toilet is anchored securely to the floor, with no leaks between bowl and tank or at the water supply valve on the wall.
Some bathtub recesses and shower enclosure walls are covered with ceramic tile. Through normal house settling and usage, some separation at the grout (mortar) and/or caulk lines may occur. Other areas to be watched include the base of the tub and/or shower and the joint between the tile and tub/showers. These cracks should be filled with a compound such as tile putty, grout, or tub/shower caulking, available at all hardware stores. These cracks should be corrected promptly, as they allow water to get behind the gypsum board or vinyl floor covering causing further damage.
If yours is a marble tub, use liquid detergent (without abrasives) to remove residue. Never use wire brushes or metal tools on any part of the tub. Liquid cleaning compound (such as is used for cars) with a light application of liquid wax or paste will restore dull surfaces. Clean plated surfaces with water only. Do not use any ammonia based or abrasive cleaners as this will harm the plating on knobs, jets, etc., and void the warranty on plated finishes.
Check laundry faucets and washer connections for leaks and corrosion. Corrosion at faucets indicates small leaks that can turn into big leaks. In hard water areas, periodically clean the screens in the hose at the washer connections. Consider replacing old worn hoses to prevent bursting and flooding. If a floor drain is present, pour a cup of water in it and check the exterior termination to be sure it is not clogged.
How to Protect Your Home Against Freezing Cold Weather
During periods of extreme cold weather (not very common in San Antonio or South Texas), your home is subject to freeze damage. In some areas, temperatures can drop dramatically as cold fronts come through, and in others, freezing temperatures may be a daily occurrence during the winter season. In all cases, freezing temperatures may cause damage to your home, and there are several preventative measures recommended for protecting your investment. It is important that you watch for forecasts of extreme cold weather and take appropriate measures to protect your home.
You should disconnect all exterior hoses from plumbing fixtures and wrap all exterior faucets with insulating material. Most hardware stores carry such material, and you will also find faucet covers designed just for this purpose. If you have a sprinkler system, you may need to turn it off and drain it during times of freezing temperatures. Open the doors of any cabinets that are positioned on outside walls to allow warmer insider air to circulate within the cabinets.
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