The plumbing system in a home consists of plastic drain piping, copper or plastic water delivery piping and the fixtures that connect to these piping systems (such as toilets, bathtubs and faucets). If you are finishing a basement, take note of the plumbing routes and make sure you leave access to meters, valves, drains and cleanouts.
Many plumbing components such as faucets and toilets are mechanical devices and as such require periodic maintenance or the replacement of parts.
Outside of municipalities, the home’s drainage system may carry sewage to a private, on-site sewage treatment system. If you have such a system, you must learn how to use it and maintain it properly. In Alberta, the “Private Sewage Systems Standard of Practice” requires installers to give system owners a manual. Make sure you receive this manual from your builder and are familiar with how to operate the system. Faulty systems create health hazards and contaminate the environment. A private sewage treatment system may require regular service by a professional.
Most systems are located some distance from the home and may have restrictions on what is placed or grown above or around them. Also, keep heavy construction equipment away from the septic tank and disposal system and keep all traffic off the system during the winter months.
Certain chemicals and products can alter the balance of bacteria and microbes that breakdown waste and should not enter your sewage treatment system.
Virtually all draining fixtures feature a water-filled ‘P’ trap. This trap holds a few cups of water to prevent sewer gases from entering your home. If a sink, bathtub or floor drain has not been used for an extended time, the water in the trap can evaporate. To re-establish a seal and keep sewer gases from entering your home, simply pour a few cups of water down the drain.
A blocked drain is the most common plumbing issue and can lead to a sewage back-up. If you experience a back-up from the main sewer line in the basement during a heavy rain, contact your builder, your insurer and your municipality. The issue may involve the municipal sewage system and will be beyond the control of your builder.
What should I do if my sewers, drains or fixtures are blocked?
To avoid the majority of drain blockage problems, do not pour fat, oil, wax, grease or any type of sediments (e.g. egg shells) into your home’s plumbing system. Also, do not dispose of flammable, noxious or dangerous materials through the plumbing system.
When a plumbing trap is blocked, the trap can usually be separated from the plumbing and the obstruction removed. Otherwise, your home’s plumbing will include several cleanouts. Specific plumbing tools can use these cleanouts to remove a blockage.
Extreme caution should be used if acid or corrosive drain cleaners have been poured into the plumbing system. Tell your plumber if you have utilized any chemical drain cleaners because these cleaners can cause chemical burns on exposed skin.
What should I do if my water pipes are leaking or have frozen and burst? How do I prevent this from happening again?
If a leak is detected in a water supply line, the water supply to the home or affected area should be turned off immediately, and your builder and insurer should be contacted.
When colder weather approaches, disconnect exterior hoses, close exterior valves and allow the line to the exterior hose bibs to drain. ‘Frost-free’ lines will not protect outside water supply lines from freezing if the exterior hoses have not been disconnected from the threaded connection.
Why is there condensation on my water supply lines and toilets?
When pipes or toilet tanks are cooled by the movement of cold water into or through them—and sufficient humidity is present—moisture in the air can condense on the cold surface of the piping or toilet tank. This is similar to the condensation that occurs on a cold glass of water on a humid summer day. Toilet condensation is most common after showers or baths and just after the toilet tank has filled. To remove the condensation, ventilate the area by opening a window or turning on the bathroom fan to remove excess humidity from the room.
Why does it feel like my water supply is inadequate?
There are several common reasons why water supply to a toilet or sink may seem inadequate. Sometimes, shut-off valves on the water lines that feed a sink or toilet may be partially closed, limiting the volume of water coming through the line. These valves are not designed to meter water flow and can affect the performance of fixtures and toilets if not fully open.
Another reason water supply may seem limited is the common use of faucet aerators in new homes to restrict water flow. This conserves water and is not a defect. However, water flow can be inappropriately reduced if an aerator becomes clogged by minerals in the water that accumulate over time. To improve flow, replace the aerator or clean it.
Within a city or town, water pressure is regulated by the municipality and is not usually adjusted. Variations may occur during peak periods of demand.
On private water systems (e.g. wells, cisterns), a pressure regulator valve is usually located on the outlet of the pressure tank. This valve should be set between 40 and 80 pounds per square inch (PSI) of water pressure.
When the flush lever is pressed on a gravity flow toilet, water flows out through the flush valve, into the toilet bowl and through the trap, taking waste with it. The toilet’s flush lever is connected to a chain or wire that lifts a flapper or a tank ball that controls the flow of water from the tank to the bowl. Water moving into the bowl from the tank acts like a siphon, pulling waste and water from the bowl into the drain line.
These toilets use water coming into the tank to compress air in a chamber inside the tank. The flush releases this air, pushing the water into the trap which starts the siphoning action.
Why does my toilet need more than one flush to empty the bowl?
Low-volume toilets, widely installed in new homes today, use less water to flush than older models. However, they are unable to handle the same amount of waste as an older model and may require more water—a second flush—to handle a greater load.
Gravity toilets regulate the amount of water released from the tank with a flush handle. Holding the flush handle down will allow more water into the bowl from the tank. Ensure the tank has completely filled before flushing a second time. The length of the chain or the location of the float on the wire connected to the flush valve can often be adjusted to keep the flapper valve open for longer. This allows more water to flow into the bowl with each flush.
With power-assisted toilets, avoid pushing the flush button before the tank has completely filled. Otherwise, the tank may not refill with enough water for the next flush. To correct this, shut off the water supply to the toilet, drain the tank completely and turn the water back on.
Over time, mineral and bacteria deposits may also reduce the performance of a toilet. Regular use of a toilet cleaner or vinegar may slow these deposits from forming. A toilet usually drains poorly because of drain blockages rather than a problem with the toilet itself.
Why does my toilet run continuously?
A running toilet is a common plumbing complaint. In a gravity flow toilet, this usually means the flapper seal is worn and should be replaced. New flapper seals are available at most hardware stores. Make sure you choose the right style for your toilet.
If a pressure-assisted toilet is running between flushes, it may mean a poorly adjusted flush button is keeping the flush-valve cartridge open. The button can be re-adjusted but in some cases you may have to replace the pressure regulating valve.
Why do I smell a sewer gas smell in my home?
A recurring sewer gas smell could indicate the wax seal between the base of the drain and the underside of the toilet has failed. Wax seals are available at any hardware store but do require some plumbing knowledge to install.
If you are adding a heated floor to your bathroom, do not run heating lines or cables within one foot of the wax seal. The heat could liquefy the seal and cause sewer gases to escape.
The smooth and glossy surfaces on plumbing fixtures are beautiful and durable but they are not indestructible. Harsh, abrasive cleaners will, in time, wear through the surface, making the finish dull and porous. Steel pads and strong cleaners can also do irreparable damage. Use only mild, non-abrasive cleaners.
Most new faucets use cartridge assemblies. Cartridges utilize different mechanisms to reduce dripping faucets and eliminate routine maintenance. Repairs to these cartridges should only be attempted, if you have the necessary tools, mechanical inclination and the patience to complete the job.
What should I do if my faucet starts leaking?
Faucets or showerheads often develop leaks over time from wear or mineral deposits. If this occurs, contact the manufacturer to find out if the fixture can be cleaned or if a replacement part or cartridge exists for your particular brand and model.
Bathroom and kitchen sinks can be made from ceramic, glass, metal, enamelled metal, stone composite or real stone. Tubs and showers can be made from enamel over steel, moulded acrylic, fibreglass or from an acrylic base with tile on the surrounding walls. See page 42 for information on tile maintenance.
What do I do if there are cracks, chips or scratches on my bathroom fixtures?
The likelihood of scratches, chips, stains and fading of bathroom fixtures depends on the material used to make the fixtures. Always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning and maintenance recommendations and never use abrasive cleaners. Also, when selecting accessories such as a soap dispenser, recognize that glass or ceramic items falling onto a bathroom fixture will likely chip or dent the fixture.
What should I do if my bathtub/shower enclosure door is leaking?
Sealants are used in many areas near a bathtub or shower. Sealant may be used between the tub and the tile, where the bathtub and tile surround meet and to seal the doorframe of a tub or shower stall. Rubber or vinyl seals are used where swinging or sliding doors come in contact with the doorframe.
Over time, with cleaning and movement, seals and sealants may need replacing. To repair, you must remove the old sealant, clean the substrate and add new, mildew-resistant sealant. To replace a door seal, contact your tub/shower manufacturer to confirm the correct type and size of seal needed.
A storage gas-fired water heater is the most common type of appliance used to heat water in Alberta homes. These water heaters typically have a burner at the base and a glass or metal-lined tank. Controls at the base allow you to adjust the temperature and shut down or start up your tank. Most tanks have pilot lights (a small flame that burns continuously) that light the burner when the tank calls for heat. Some tanks have an electronic ignition.
To select a temperature, choose the lowest temperature setting on the thermostat that will still provide you with an adequate supply of hot water. Consider turning the tank thermostat down to the lowest setting before going on holidays.
Most electric tanks have a top and bottom element. Usually the reset buttons and adjustable temperature settings can be found under the cover plate. When making adjustments, do not make contact with the adjacent wire ends on terminals located near the temperature setting screw. Doing so could cause electric shock. If your tank stops working, check the fuse or breaker panel before calling a plumber or an electrician.
Sediment that accumulates at the bottom of the tank (especially with immersion-type elements) can cause the heaters to operate longer than necessary. This increases your energy consumption. The tank should be flushed regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions.
Every hot water storage tank is equipped with a pressure relief valve at the top of the tank. This is a safety device designed to open and relieve pressure should the water pressure in the tank exceed its rated working pressure. Do not tamper with this valve.
Each year, many children and seniors are scalded by hot tap water. Even slightly lower hot water settings can prevent tragic burn accidents.
Inspect your home for uncapped gas lines. Occasionally, gas appliances are removed without proper termination of old lines. Any steel line not connected to an appliance should end with a valve and a black steel cap. Only a qualified gasfitter should install, repair or remove natural gas appliances. Gas appliances such as your furnace, water heater, stove, fireplace, etc. should be checked annually by a qualified professional.
If you detect a gas odour, immediately vacate the premises without activating any electrical switches (e.g. light switch) and leave the door open behind you. Immediately call your natural gas supplier for assistance.
Water softeners improve the quality of water by removing excessive minerals (usually calcium and magnesium). Mineral-laden water is often referred to as ‘hard water’.
Soaps and detergents lose some effectiveness in hard water. Instead of dissolving completely, soap combines with the minerals in the water to form a coagulated soap curd. Also, because less soap dissolves in the water, you will need to use more soap to clean. Hard water also reduces the efficiency of hot water tanks, toilets, humidifiers, dishwashers and virtually any devise or appliance that uses water. If your home has hard water, you will need to follow a de-scaling regime.
A water softener has two tanks—a mineral tank (where the water softening actually takes place) and a brine or salt tank (that flushes and cleans the mineral tank). In some systems the two tanks are placed in one enclosure.
Water softeners cycle/regenerate once every three or four days with a cycle of backwashing, recharging and rinsing. The regeneration cycle can take several hours and homeowners usually schedule this to happen at night when water demand is low.
Before selecting the size of a water softener, consider how hard your water is and how much water you consume on a daily basis. A unit that is too small will not soften the water enough and a unit that is too large will cause unnecessary regeneration, which wastes salt and water. Your owner’s manual will provide you with suggested settings for optimal results.