Frequently Asked Plumbing Questions

March 21, 2011

We are frequently asked plumbing questions from our clients. These generally fall into two categories: those questions with simple answers or solutions which may be something a homeowner can handle on their own and others which require the attention of a professional plumber to address.  Knowing the facts can save you time and money. And don’t forget you can always visit our website and ask an expert about any of your plumbing questions or concerns.

Below are answers to some of the ‘simpler’ frequently asked plumbing questions:

Question: What is a vent and why does my plumbing system need one?

Answer: A plumbing vent sticks out of the roof of your home, about 12” high. The vent allows for the release of sewer gasses outside of your home so that they do not remain inside. When these gases remain in your home you may experience the unpleasant odor of methane gas. Sewer gases are harmful when breathed in and, a sufficient quantity of sewer gas could even be explosive. It also provides air into your pipes so that fixtures (like your sinks) will drain properly. Without vents, a fixture may be unable to drain properly causing another drain to back up into your home.
(As an example, the affect of a plumbing vent in allowing the flow of air is similar to the flow of liquid through a straw…if you put your finger at the top of the straw it will trap the liquid in the straw; releasing your finger allows the liquid to flow again. A plumbing vent allows harmful sewer gasses to ‘flow’ out of the home.)

Question: Besides a leaking faucet or pipe what else can contribute to a high water bill?

Answer: Leaks are commonly found in toilet tanks, resulting from worn parts or improper alignment of a part of the flushing mechanism. Stop these leaks right away because they’ll add up in your monthly utilities

Question: Is there a way to tell if my toilet leaks? What do I do?

Answer: A common, but not easily detected cause of leaks is due to deteriorated or defective flapper in the toilet tank. An improperly seated flapper that does not form a water-tight seal will allow water to leak into the toilet bowl. Because this is a “silent” leak you won’t have any signs that it is occurring and could be losing thousands of gallons of water due to this undetected leak. An easy way to check if you have a leak is with this simple food coloring test. First, remove the tank lid, then flush. Wait for the flapper to drop and the tank to refill, and then add several drops of dark food coloring. Wait 20-30 minutes and if you see any trace of color in the toilet bowl then there is a leak. An improperly adjusted or broken fill valve is the second most common type of leak. If the float is set too high or the shut-off valve fails to close completely, water will continue to enter the tank and flow into the overflow tube. You can check for this type of leak simply by taking the tank cover off and observing if water is flowing into the overflow tube once the tank is full. If you are experiencing either of these types of leaks and do not know how to fix them, contact a professional plumber.

Question: My toilet is running what can I do?

Answer: A running toilet is usually the result of a broken or faulty flapper (aka, flush valve or “tank” ball) in the bottom of the tank that needs to be replaced. The chain in your tank could be the culprit as well. If it is too long it can get caught under the flapper. Both problems are easily fixed.

Question: Water doesn’t enter the toilet bowl when I flush. What is wrong?

Answer: First, make sure your water supply is turned on. When you’ve determined this, remove the toilet tank cover. Chances are it is the chain to the flapper that is either broken or come loose. Another possibility could be a blockage in the toilet “jets” that run around the rim of your toilet.

Question: My toilet tank won’t stop over flowing. What should I do?

Answer: Most of the time this means the fill valve in your tank has a leak. If it’s old, go ahead and replace it. Another possibility is the shaft or wire that is used to set the level could have corroded off. If the shaft or wire is the problem, replacing it should fix the problem. Also if you’ve replaced the fill valve recently it may just be set too high.

Question: If I have a major water leak in my home what should I do?

Answer: First, turn off your water supply at the main shut-off valve. As a homeowner it’s important to know where this is located and educate your family member as well. Second, always contact a professional plumber during emergencies. And don’t touch any wet electrical fittings – call in an electrician to deal with that.

Question: I just read something recently about the importance of changing the hose on my washing machine, is this necessary?

Answer: Absolutely. Consider this, a failure at 70 pounds of pressure can expel up to 650 gallons of water per hour. That’s what you could be faced with if your washing machine hose fails. The problem is that most washing machine hoses are poorly constructed and offer very little in the way of protection. Also, washing machine hoses are usually made of reinforced rubber, which can lose resiliency and burst as it gets older. To reduce the chances that your hoses will fail, it’s a good idea to inspect your washing machine hoses regularly, and to take steps to minimize the factors that can cause damage. Invest money in new washing machine hoses, and you’ll be taking an important step toward avoiding costly damage, mess, inconvenience and the loss of items that could never be replaced. For more information you can contact a professional plumber, who can tell you about other products, such as water hammer arrestors, which may lessen the chances of washing machine hoses breaking.

Question: My water heater has a horrible smell almost like rotten eggs. What is causing it and what do I do?

Answer: Your water heater tank has a magnesium anode rod (aka “sacrificial” anode) that protects the tank surface. If your tank has a lot of sulfur in the water or bacteria in the tank the anode rod interacts with this and generates an odor. Replacing the magnesium anode rod with an aluminum anode may minimize the problem. However, the most efficient method of eliminating the hydrogen sulfide odor is to control the bacteria and the best way to do this is to annually drain and refill your water heater.

Question: Is it safe to use chemical drain cleaners?

Answer: Drain cleaners are usually very toxic, not a good thing to keep around the home especially if you have children or pets. These toxic chemicals also have a negative effect on your pipes, causing deterioration from the inside out. When this happens, the drains lines will need to be replaced. There are various products on the market that contain “friendly” bacteria and enzymes. These work great for keeping drain sludge and grease from building up on the pipes. For serious clogs contact a professional plumber.

More questions, contact us on our Ask An Expert page.


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Last Updated: June 09, 2023