Renos & DIY

Practical Plumbing

By Claire Sibonney

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Practical Plumbing

While plumbing may not be the most glamorous do-it-yourself skill, it could be the most useful. Plumbing is so essential to the home, that when it's working properly, you take it for granted. Luxuries such as hot showers, dishwashers and garbage disposers all make life a lot easier. But when it's not working properly, things can get messy: clogged toilets, leaky faucets and flooded basements can disrupt your quality of life in an instant. The good news is, with a little research and a few important tools, almost anybody can attempt a basic plumbing job.

But the fear of unleashing large quantities of water in your home will have even the most experienced home-improvers running for cover. "Plumbing is such a main staple…If you don't have a toilet, what do you do?" says Mike McConnell, a plumbing expert at Home Depot. Hiring a plumber to come to the rescue is always an option — and for some situations it is certainly the best option — but remember, with the proper tools, knowledge and care, you too could be a hero during the next plumbing crisis. Once his customers accomplish the first couple projects, McConnell says they'll try almost anything next. "I can't get over how proud they are of themselves."

Useful Tools

Here is a list of common tools you will use from the most basic to advanced plumbing projects. While many do-it-yourself jobs will only require a few simple hand tools, others become a lot easier with more specialized ones. But no need to get overwhelmed - as you expand your skills you will also expand your plumber's tool kit. Remember, if a job requires the use of a tool that you have never heard of or have no idea how to operate, call a professional.

Acid/flux brush

Adjustable locking pliers

Adjustable wrench

Basin wrench

Bench vise

Caulking gun

Closet auger

Snake flashlight

Cold chisel

Copper fitting brush

Cordless screwdriver

Diagonal cutters

Drain snake

Files - round and flat

Flanged plunger

Flashlight

Hacksaw

Hammer

Hand auger

Allen wrench set

Inspection mirror

Level - carpenter's

Plastic tubing cutter

Plumber's putty

Pry bar

Ratchet wrench

Phillips screwdriver

Teflon tape

Slip pliers

Water-pump pliers

Safety First

If you're careful and use common sense, you'd be surprised how many plumbing projects you can handle on your own. But just as important as getting the job done, is doing it safely. A sloppy plumber can encounter plenty of accidents — not to mention hazardous materials. Here are some precautions to take:

· Wear eye protection

· Wear a respirator

· Wear gloves

· Wear good-quality work clothes

· Clean your hands

· Use the right tool

· Vent gases properly

· Don't be too proud to call a plumber

· Keep a list of utility, fire, police and medical emergency numbers nearby

Getting Started: Quick Fixes

Here are some common repair projects that will surely come in handy when disaster strikes, as illustrated in Home Depot's do-it-yourself manual Plumbing 1-2-3 (2001, Meredith Publishing Group). After you learn to solve these basic plumbing problems, you'll gain the experience and confidence to tackle even bigger and more complicated jobs.

Repairing Leaking or Burst Pipes:

You'll need: Tape measure, screwdriver or nut driver, water-pump pliers, flat metal file, scissors, plumber's epoxy putty, 1/16-inch-thick neoprene, rubber or bicycle tube patch, sleeve clamp, hose clamp or dresser coupling

Step 1 - Prepare the Surface for Patching: Clean the area around the rupture using a flat metal file on any sharp edges that may cut through the patch. Measure the length of the area you will need to patch and the diameter of the pipe. Buy the appropriate patching supplies (a combination of plumber's epoxy putty or 1/16-inch-thick neoprene, rubber or bicycle tube patch, sleeve clamp, hose clamp or dresser coupling) at your local home centre.

Step 2 - Cut the Patch to the Right Length: Use scissors to cut out the size of the neoprene rubber patch you will need to repair the leak.

Step 3 - Tighten the Clamps to Seal the Leak: Wrap the pipe with the neoprene rubber and secure it with hose clamps. This type of patch will work for most small fractures. Install either a dressing coupling or a sleeve clamp to fix this type of leak.

Getting Started: Quick Fixes

Unclogging a Toilet:

You'll need: flange plunger, closet auger, bucket, rags

Plan A - Plunge Forcefully About a Dozen Times: If there is no water in the bowl, pour some water into it. Then remove the plunger to allow the toilet to drain. If it doesn't drain, or drains slowly, repeat plunging.

Plan B - If Plunging Doesn't Work Use an Auger: The auger can shove the blockage forward into the drain system. Turn the crank clockwise and push. If the auger catches on the object, continue turning the crank as you pull out the cable until you can retrieve the object.

Plan C - Remove the Toilet: When plunging or auguring doesn't work, your only option will be to remove the toilet. Seek expert advice on how to do it yourself, or hire a plumber.

Repairing a Leaking Tank:

You'll need: Two adjustable wrenches, screwdriver, helper, spud wrench, small wire brush, flush valve gasket, fill valve, gaskets, spud washer, plumber's putty, white vinegar.

Step 1 - Drain and Clean All Surfaces: Turn off the water supply valve. Flush the toilet and disconnect the supply line from the tank. Then sponge the inside of the tank until it's dry.

Step 2 - Disconnect the Fill Valve: Use two adjustable wrenches to remove the fill valve. Remove the old fill gasket. (Take the gasket with you to the home centre so you'll be sure to get the right size part.) Then install the new fill valve and gasket. Turn on the supply line and check for leaks.

Step 3 - Unscrew the Tank Bolt: A screwdriver and adjustable wrench will remove most tank bolts. Remove the tank bolt, nut and gasket. Then clean the nut and bolt with white vinegar and a small wire brush.

Step 4 - Lift the Tank: Move it straight up and off the toilet base to remove it with a helper. Set the tank upside down on the floor on top of an old towel or rug.

Step 5 - Replace the Spud Washer: Place a new spud washer (of the right type) over the flush valve tailpiece. Lower the tank onto the base so the tank bolts go through the holes. Reinstall the tank bolts, gaskets and nuts. Then reinstall the supply tube coupling and fill valve. Finally, turn on the water supply and check for leaks.

Getting Started: Quick Fixes

Unclogging Drains and Waste Lines:

You'll need: water-pump pliers, bucket, hand auger.

Step 1 - Disconnect the Drain Trap: Place a bucket under the drain trap to catch wastewater. Loosen and slide back the slip nut couplings with water-pump pliers. Remove the trap. Then clean out any debris stuck in the trap.

Step 2 - Insert the Auger: Feed six inches of the hand auger cable into the drain pipe by turning the auger handle clockwise. Extend the auger until you find resistance. Give yourself a little more room to work by removing the drain elbow.

Step 3 - Tighten the Auger Locknut on the Side of the Auger: Be sure to maintain six inches of exposed cable. Rotate the handle clockwise and continue to push. Repeat until the auger will no longer advance. If you are able to catch the blockage, rotate the auger handle clockwise and pull the cable out slowly. If nothing is snagged, replace the trap and try auguring the main drain line.

Cleaning a Faucet Aerator, Sink Sprayer and Showerhead:

You'll need: water-pump pliers, small wire brush, toothbrush, paperclip, small bowl, masking tape, white vinegar solution or lime-dissolving solution.

Step 1 - Remove the Aerator: Use a pair of water-pump pliers to unscrew the aerator from the faucet spout. Protect the surface of the aerator by wrapping the jaws of the pliers in masking tape.

Step 2 - Disassemble the Aerator: Remove the internal parts of the aerator by pushing them out with your fingers. If the components are stuck, presoak the aerator in a vinegar solution. Use a pick or tweezers, but be careful not to damage any of the parts. Once they're removed, lay out the parts and inspect them for damage. Damage components will have to be replaced. Soak reusable parts in a vinegar solution overnight to loosen mineral deposits.

Step 3 - Clean the Aerator Parts: Remove the components from the vinegar solution and wipe them dry with a rag. Use a small wire brush to remove mineral deposits. Inspect all parts for damage after cleaning, and again, replace them if necessary. Reassemble the aerator and screw it back into the spout hand-tight. Then turn on the water and check for leaks, tightening if necessary.

Topics: Bathroom, DIY, Renos & DIY

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