Bathroom plumbing tips
Flushing a toilet may seem simple enough, but the plumbing system that supports it represents hundreds of years of mankind’s best mechanical engineering efforts. The three components that make up a bathroom plumbing system — water supply, drainage and venting — each play a critical role in ensuring a safe and reliable plumbing system.
Water is supplied to fixtures via a branch line connected to the main water supply. Hot water (for faucets, bathtubs, showers) is supplied from a separate branch line connected to the hot water heater.
The drainage system works by gravity. Waste water from each fixture moves into the trap, a P-shaped pipe that holds water. (The water prevents toxic and flammable sewer gas from entering the home.) The waste water proceeds from the trap to a vertical drain pipe (within the wall) and through a system of progressively larger drainage pipes until it reaches the main sewer line. The vertical drain pipe is also connected to vent pipes that connect to the roof vent. The vent system prevents suction from slowing or stopping drainage.
Problem: Water won’t drain in bathroom sink.
Blockage in bathroom plumbing is usually the result of hair, soap, grease and foreign objects.
- Place a 5-gallon bucket under the trap. Unfasten trap’s two slip nuts; remove trap and drain.
- Inspect trap for objects; remove debris with small wire brush.
- For clogs further down the drainage system, Martin Gonzalez, owner of Marvy Remodeling, a Chicago-area general contractor, likes to use sink machines (also know as power augers or rodders). They feature a 5/16-inch wire cable (ideal for residential applications), have a pistol grip and trigger like a power drill, and a motor that drives the wire cable through the drain. Unlike similar manual tools, “the cable goes in really easy,” says Gonzalez.
- Retrieve the wire cable and examine it for foreign objects.
- Before reconnecting the trap, inspect the slip nut washers for wear; replace them if necessary.
Problem: Water backs into bathtub when washing machine is in use.
In many homes, the washing machine and bathtub share a common horizontal drain that feeds into a vertical one. Washing machine lint, hair and soap create a blockage in the vertical pipe, resulting in backups.
For this problem, Gonzalez also uses a sink machine. But in this case, he runs the wire cable down through the overflow drain. To find the vertical drop, bend the end of sink machine’s cable at a 15-degree angle, advises Chuck Stephens, director of service and training, Ridgid Tool. After rodding is complete, run hot water to flush out broken debris.
Problem: Pinhole leaks in copper pipe
Pitting corrosion is the most frequent culprit of pinhole leaks.
When it comes to fixing pinhole leaks, Gonzalez likes to use the new coupler devices on the market. For example, Cash Acme’s SharkBite press-fit joining system eliminates the need for either flux or solder.
Cut the pipe directly at the source of leak. Drain water. Spread the pipes apart and insert the press-fit coupler over the two ends of the pipe. Use a press tool to join the two pipes together.
Problem: Faucet drips
Leaks are frequently caused by worn or dirty washers, O-rings or seals. Repair techniques vary by faucet type—ball, cartridge, compression (the most common bathroom faucet) or disc. “Most of the time, you just need to replace the washers,” says Gonzalez.
Plumbing tips (for a compression faucet)
- Determine which water source is leaking.
- Shut off water supply.
- Pull off index cap.
- Unscrew handle screw.
- Remove handle.
- Use channel pliers to unscrew stem.
- Remove screw at stem base.
- Unscrew retaining nut.
Copper vs. PEX
Decades ago, copper piping replaced galvanized piping as the standard in residential construction. Now cross-linked polyethylene (known as PEX) is doing the same to copper. PEX piping offers several advantages over copper piping. For starters, unlike copper, it doesn’t corrode. It’s also flexible, which makes it easier to accommodate structural elements and go through walls and crawlspaces.
In addition, it allows for “home-run plumbing,” which means a central plumbing manifold is used to run parallel supply hot and cold to each fixture, providing consistence water pressure to each device.
PEX requires fewer labor hours to install than copper piping. A study by the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) found a PEX installation took 19.3 labor hours; by comparison, the copper installation in an identical house took 36.1 labor hours. PEX does have some disadvantages over copper. It has higher material cost than copper, is less flame-resistant, and is prohibited in some municipalities, such as Chicago.