Drains and Plumbing

When Your Old Water Pipes are Going Down the Drain

If you have on old house and having problems with water pressure, it may be more than a faulty shower head. But it doesn't hurt to rule out the simple things before moving onto more complex ones! First, ask yourself if the water pressure is general to the whole house or only in one or two spots. If it's everywhere, you have a global problem, but if it's only happening in the bathroom or the kitchen, you may have a simpler problem to solve. If it's in the shower or tub, it may be a problem at the site of delivery instead of in the walls: make sure that the faucet isn't clogged.
Take the fixture apart and inspect it: is the hole in the pipe open, or has it filled up with mineral deposits? You'd be amazed at the things that can end up in your water lines. Especially in cities with large water mains, sediment can actually produce little pebbles that make their way through the water lines and get trapped in a faucet or shower. Make sure shower heads aren't clogged with debris: if they are, you can clean them yourself. Sometimes all you have to do it take off the fixture and knock the rocks out: otherwise, you might have to soak the thing in vinegar overnight and give it a good scrubbing before replacing it. If it's the shower, you're in luck: you can spend a little time and clean out the clogged head or just replace the whole shower head for about $15.

Once you've ruled out any problems with fittings and fixtures, you may discover that the problem is with the actual pipes in your house. Nothing in a house can last forever—roofs need reshingling, wooden boards go rotten with damp, and sills sometimes need to be replaced. Old water pipes also outlive their usefulness when they get clogged with mineral deposits, which is inevitable over time. Because old pipes were usually made of galvanized iron, they tend to corrode as well as to build up on the inside with minerals. Hot water makes the mineral deposits grow faster, and water lines laid horizontally also tend to build up faster than those running vertically. Old water pipes can become nearly clogged with minerals, and you can't really clean them out because while minerals build up, the walls of the pipes are also breaking down: even removing a length of pipe with a wrench can break it like a brittle twig.

It may be that once you've figured out what's involved in replacing your pipes, you don't want anything to do with it! So you hire a reputable plumber (and get a written estimate and contract with warranties). Some plumbers will put in copper pipes and join them to galvanized pipes which aren't as clogged. There are copper adaptors that can join the two metals, but you will end up with bigger problems than before, because the reaction between the galvanized iron and the copper creates additional corrosion in the galvanized pipe. When the copper pipes are added to the old iron ones, you will get leaks as the older pipes break down even faster than before. It's smarter in the long run to have all the piping replaced at one time if you can possibly afford it. Some people decide to go ahead and do the work themselves so they can save the money on the plumber and can afford to do the whole job.

It can be a matter of life and death to get the right pipes when you're working in the house. Some people have made the mistake of thinking their natural gas lines are water lines. Cutting into a gas line will cause an explosion! Gas lines are often black, and galvanized iron water pipes are gray unless someone has painted them. If they’re painted, you may have problems figuring out which pipes go with which utility. Water pipes are usually 7/8ths on an inch in diameter, but lines may vary depending on the date on construction, building codes and builders. The upshot is that you should never work on a pipe unless you are absolutely sure you know what's inside of it!

If you buy fittings that don't come with the solder already on them, make sure you buy lead free solder: you don't want lead ending up in your water! To solder copper pipes, you'll need the tubing, a tube cutter of, flux, and a propane torch. If you're new to soldering or haven't done it in while, practice on some left over tubing first, so you're confident when it comes time to solder the actual joints.

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Natural Drain Cleaner for Clogged Drains

The first thing you need to know before working on a clogged drain is that the drain cleaners you see advertised on TV or on the supermarket shelves are made of dangerous chemicals that will eat through rubber gloves, skin, certain kinds of pipe, wood and anything else they touch. If their fumes are inhaled, they can cause damage to the lungs, nose and mouth. If they are eaten, they will kill, even in small amounts. Even when they are used "properly", they can ruin septic systems, pollute groundwater, and destroy pipes.

For a more healthy and safe alternative, try a natural drain cleaner, such as Drainbo, that is made from natually occuring bacteria that will fix a clogged drain, but won't hurt your drain pipes or the environment.

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