Other than a dripping faucet, the most common plumbing problems are clogged drains, running toilets and leaking or frozen pipes. If you have the right equipment--and it is inexpensive to get--you can fix all of these problems yourself.
Somehow, water that does not run presents more of a problem than water that runs all the time. Clogged drains can be cleared and slow-flowing ones made more enthusiastic.
If only one fixture is affected by the blockage, chances are it has a plugged trap. This is the curved pipe under it. More rarely, the waste line is blocked between the trap and the main drain. If more than one fixture is affected, you can assume that the blockage is farther down in the drainage system. When all the fixtures in the house are affected, the main house drain or sewer is suspect.
A rubber force cup or plunger is the first tool to reach for when a clog occurs. For this plumber’s friend to be most effective, make certain the pipe to be cleared is full of water, not air. Since water cannot be compressed, it transfers the full force of your efforts directly to the blockage.
If a force cup doesn’t clear the drain, you can use a drain pressurizer. This is an expandable section that screws onto a garden hose. Inserted into the drain as far as possible, water pressure expands the rubber bulb sealing it against the pipe wall. Pulsating blasts of water under pressure break up the clog and wash it down the pipe.
The drain auger or snake frees all but the hardest-to-reach blockages. Ranging in size and potency from light-duty hand operated snakes to power-driven professional augers, some are do-it-yourself items and others are wielded by plumbing or drain clearing services. A one-quarter inch diameter auger cable is recommended for clearing most household drains. A larger size may resist going around the curves in the pipes from your fixtures to the main drain stack.
Many household drain augers offer a selection of working tips and cutters. The most common types look like stiff wire spirals of various shapes. Root cutters look more like open-ended hole saws. A toilet auger has a hook on the end to catch an object like a hairbrush or a child’s toy so you can pull it back out.
If you cannot reach the blockage through the drain pipe on a fixture, you may have to enter the drain stack through a clean-out opening or even come down through the vent in the roof. If the roof is steeply pitched, leave this job for a professional.
Every properly installed drain system has a clean-out at the upper end of the horizontal run of pipe and at all turns or bends. In a house built on a concrete slab, look for clean-outs near floor level behind fixtures or low on outside walls near kitchens or bathrooms. The clean-outs may be visible or hidden behind removable wall panels.
In a house with a crawl space or basement, look for clean-outs under the first floor, either inside or outside the foundation. Long sewer lines also have clean-outs at or just below ground level. Make it a point to know where yours are so you can find them easily in an emergency.