What Seniors Need To Know About Plumbing
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Plumbing issues come under home maintenance. However, plumbing is a special class of maintenance because failure to address plumbing issues can have a catastrophic effect on a senior’s home. In other words, seniors need to know about plumbing. Flooding can make a house uninhabitable. What are plumbing issues? How can they be addressed?
How Common Is Water Damage?
Carmen and I rarely met a senior who didn’t have an experience where water damaged their home. In our interviews, we discovered water damage as the most common catastrophic home-related expense. It was odd how often the seniors had to absorb the costs because their insurance company said the damage could have been prevented with regular maintenance. Most insurance policies will not cover damage that has been occurring for a long period of time. May plumbing issues, like a slow leak, do their damage over time.
Type Of Water Damage
Plumbing problems are serious because they often involve leaks. Leaks in the wrong places cause home damage. Water causes some of the most expensive damage a home can incur. Costly water damages include:
Water Reaks Havoc On Wood
When floors and floor treatments (hardwoods, carpets, etc.) get wet damage ensues.
Sewer Odor Smells
The stuff you put in your toilet needs to leave your house. Its channeled out of your house using standard plumbing techniques that involve traps, drains and vents. The traps, drains and vents are constructed to keep sewer smells out of your home. These systems involve plugs, ring seals, and connectors. Theses get old and can fail. This allows smells to flow back into the house. Also, stuff can evaporate and stop up traps. This can also create bad smells. Occasionally sewer lines crack. Unless you’re an amateur plumbing expert or a real do it “yourselfer” in great health, call a plumber.
No Water in Winter
Winter water problems are common. In fact, there so common that most plumbers will tell you its essential that you understand your homes plumbing structure so you can winterproof your plumbing. First, any plumbing exposed to extreme cold is likely to freeze. Plumbers address thins in several ways. First they can insulate these pipes or place them underground so they aren’t effected by extreme cold. Second, they can ensure that they have their own switch or valve (enabling them to have their own water supply) and these areas can be emptied of water during the winter. This is how irrigation systems are managed. The most vulnerable pipes are used in irrigations systems, crawl spaces and attics.
A Monthly Spike in Water Costs
Carmen and I once received a water bill for 10 times what was the prior month. We were shocked. We didn’t fill a pool, water the neighborhood or build a water slide. We did have irrigation work done. It’s our belief that this work resulted in a very sever leak. The irrigation company denied that their work created any problem. They even showed us the math that allegedly showed that if the irrigation system ran every day for the month, it couldn’t have used the water the shown on the utility company bill. The usage fell to normal levels the ensuing month. We never definitively found out what caused the usage. The utility company had a policy of cutting in half a high bill if you told them you had a problem and it was fixed. Irrigation plumbing problems are not he most common reasons for high water bills. Leaks are. A leaky toilet can waste hundreds of gallon of water a day. A leaky pipe, more.
Low Water Pressure
Most seniors relish their baths and showers. But when the gush of water slows to a trickle, you’ve got a problem. Loss of water pressure is usually a problem with an aerator, pipe plumbing or water pump.
Some basic diagnostic questions can help you assess what might be causing the problem. The first question is, “Is the pressure loss occurring throughout the house, or from a single faucet or shower head?” If the loss of pressure is occurring at a single source, you may have an aerator problem. The most common pressure problems are caused by clogged aerators. Aerators are an attachment at the end of faucets designed to eliminate splashes and direct the water flow. They get stopped up with mineral deposits contained in water. You can screw off the faucet head (and sometimes the aerator from the head) and soak it overnight in a vinegar solution or a commercial product (e.g., CLR, Lime-A-Way, etc.). These will generally dissolve calcium and other mineral deposits that clog aerators.
If water pressure throughout the house has failed, it’s likely that you have a pipe or pump problem. Professional plumbers can quickly determine if you have a pump problem or if you have leaks in the pipes. But you can scout the house for any signs of water damage, or hissing sounds. Water damage can be identified by discolored walls or ceilings. You may also see puddling or pooling of water.
Occasionally, your systems will be fine. The problem will reside in main lines maintained by the water utility company.
Running Toilet & Phantom Flushing
Leaky running toilets wastewater. They can waste hundreds of gallons a day. If you have to wriggle the handle of your toilet to get the toilet to stop running, it’s time for some maintenance. For $10 – $30 you can get a complete replacement kit for your toilet. They come with a fill valve, float cup, flapper and gaskets. The maintenance is easy and takes less than an hour, even for a novice.
A Fluidmaster system
If you flush the toilet, and after a period of time, you hear the toilet flush again you have phantom flushing. Your toilet’s water refill valve is being randomly activated. Water is draining from the tank incrementally. It’s usually caused by poorly connected flapper, which lowers the float to critical height and signals the water to turn on. An easy test is to put some food dye into the tank and waiting an hour. If the dye seeps into the bowl, you likely have a flapper issue.
Pipes leak. As seniors, we should know that. After enough time, our pipes leak. Ads for adult diapers are evidence of this common condition. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the pipes in our home leak. Causes of leaks include the following:
What Causes Leaks
Water is moved through pressure. If the pressure is the pressure is too high, this pressure can separate pipes.
Pipes corrode over time for a variety of reasons including age, chemical reactions, and water quality. Sometimes you’ll see rust colored water, which is an indication of possible corrosion.
There are two types of temperature events impacting your pipes. The first is the change in water temperature moving through the pipes. We like hot showers but may occasionally use cold water. This change in temperature can have some effect on pipes, especially if the original pipe workmanship and materials were poor. In addition to the water temperature, outdoor atmospheric temperatures can have an effect on your pipes. Frozen water expands, and if you have water in your pipe, udder pressure, meaning its “in a section of your pipes from top to bottom” and that water expands, it can crack or burst that section of pipe.
Pipes clog. Clogging puts added pressure on pipes in other areas of the home. Especially pipes below the clog.
Your home shifts over time. In earthquake-prone areas your home may move a lot. As the house and foundation move, pipes are likely to move. This movement can cause pipes to separate or hasten the aging process.
Any indication of problems like water stains, pooling water or fluctuating water pressure should be a sign to call a plumber. Although some pipe leaks are easy to fix, if you’re not experienced in fixing leaky pipes, starting in your seventies or eighties is a bad idea.
Slow or Clogged Drains
Keep a plunger near your toilets. Most toilet blockages can be fixed with a few plunger plunges. Slow or blocked drains in sinks, showers and tubs can be fixed with a plastic snake. These plastic snakes with attached thorns remove hair, food and other materials that clog drains.
Some people use commercial drain cleaners and clog removers. Used occasionally they don’t do much harm. However, they use caustic chemicals that can damage some pipe materials over time.
Leaky faucets create lots of problems. Trying to sleep with the sounds of “drip, drip, drip” is torcher for some seniors. If the leak is more than a drip, the unnecessary water usage can add up and become costly. If the water leak is not contained, the damage the water causes can be dramatic.
Leaks are usually caused because seals used in your pipes degrade. Water is able to move through your home because its under pressure. The pressure is maintained by the pipes being sealed. “Sealed tight” is create with silicone and rubber washers. But over time these washers harden, stiffen, and crack.
Pipes get discolored when they are exposed to water. If you see pipes rusting on the outside it’s a bad sign. This issue should be further investigated. Old and damaged pipes can get rusty. In many cases this rust is a sign of deterioration. Because your plumbing is under pressure, old or damaged pipes can lead to serious problems.
Do-It-Yourself Plumbing Repair Tips For Seniors
All do-it-yourself projects are not the same. Some are simple, some are not. Regardless, there are a few rules of thumb concerning what a senior might try to fix, what they probably shouldn’t, and a few universal best practices.
Rule #1: What you know matters
What you know matters. If you’ve been doing plumbing repairs your whole life, you know a lot about plumbing repairs. If you haven’t you don’t. If you’re a novice, stick with only the simple repairs. If your knowledgeable and experienced, keep in mind age related issues and stay safe. In both cases, odds are someone at your Church or senior center knows a lot about plumbing. Ask for help and make it a lunch.
Rule #2: Don’t take on difficult projects
Don’t take on projects too difficult for you to repair.
Easy plumbing repairs:
> Running toilets
> Calking bathroom and showers
> Leaky faucet
> Clogged drain
> Upgrading shower heads
> Installing a kitchen or bathroom faucet
> Replacing kitchen sink sprayer hose
> Garbage disposal repair or replacement
> Installing a toilet
> Sump pump repair or replacement
> Installing a toilet
Call a plumber
> Water pump repair/replacement
> Water heater repairs/replacement
> Burst pipes
Rule #3: Forgetting how things get put back together
Forgetting how things get put back together – camera phones make it easy to take pictures before your start, and at every step along the way
Rule #4: Overtightening
Don;t overtighten. This cracks pipes and breaks seals,
Rule #5: Failing to turn off the water
Failing to turn off the water. Some fixtures have their own shut off valves, others require the house water supply be shut off
Rule #6: No plan
No plan – if you don’t have a plan it’s easy to make mistakes, get stuck, or make a faulty repair.
When Seniors Should Call A Professional Plumber
Some repairs and replacement create safety issues that shouldn’t be attempted by anyone but the healthiest and most experienced senior. Others are potentially so damaging to your home, the waiting or making mistakes is not worth the money you’ll save. These include:
Other Resources On Plumbing
Good article on easy plumbing repairs here.
Detailed plumbing information from the CDC here.