Avoid plumbing disasters during, after the holidays


With the holidays here, people are spending more time in the kitchen, as well as hosting relatives and guests in their homes.

"If you are going to be entertaining over the holidays, one of the things that many people don't think about is our plumbing. Unfortunately, when you have a lot of people in your house, that's when you are really putting strain on your plumbing and things can go wrong," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

Angie's List spoke to many highly rated plumbers who say holidays are the busiest time of the year for emergency calls nationwide. However, getting a plumber to come out to your house during the off hours might not be as easy as it sounds, and you should be prepared to pay top dollar for emergency service.

"When you have emergency plumbing service, you are going to be paying extra. So, my best advice to consumers is to do some preventative maintenance. Make sure things are in good working order and don't ignore your plumbing, because when you ignore it, that is when problems can crop up," said Hicks.

Angie's List says you can  follow these tips to help avoid the need for that emergency call.

Garbage disposal:

  • Use disposal properly: Turn the cold water on, let it run for 10-15 seconds. Turn the disposal on and start to feed the unit bits at a time until all the food is gone and let the water run for another 30 seconds to clear it all out and get it all down the drain.
  • Do not overload: Cut large food items into small pieces and put them into the garbage disposal slowly one at a time.
  • Avoid certain items: The disposal is meant for food only – avoid glass, rubber and bones. Avoid stringy vegetables such as celery. Celery doesn't get chopped up in the disposal. Instead the strings wrap around the blades and can eventually stop them from working.
  • Run the garbage disposal frequently: If you don't run the disposal for several days, or weeks, the blades can rust and corrode.
  • Simple remedies: If your disposal won't turn on, try to reset it. Most models come with a reset button on the bottom of the garbage disposal, underneath your sink. For a disposal that is jammed, some models have tool for you to crank yourself. The tool goes into the bottom of the unit and you can turn the inside part that actually spins. Never put your hands in the drain. If you are still having issues, consult with a plumber.

Sump Pumps:

  • In working order: Keep the pit free of debris. Test the pump's operation on a monthly basis by manually pulling the float up to engage the motor. Another way to test is to fill the sump pit with water and go outside to make sure the pump is actually discharging water. You can eliminate any build-up in the system by periodically pouring white vinegar through the unit.
  • What's your coverage?: Check your homeowner's insurance coverage to ensure it includes a sump pump failure clause.

Sink clogs:

  • Bathroom sinks: Occur over time from the buildup of hair bits, soap and fibers from towels that accumulates inside of pipes. Clogs in the kitchen sink are usually the result of excessive amounts of food being flushed down the drain.
  • Using a sink plunger: It is smaller and shaped differently than a toilet plunger. Place the plunger over the sink's drain hole, ensuring there's enough water at the bottom to form a seal. Pump the plunger up and down - while keeping a good seal - to help dislodge a clog.
  • Hot Water: Try pouring hot or near-boiling water down the drain. The water's heat may break up any organic compounds or soap scum within the clog. A combination of baking soda and hot water can add more clog-busting power to your drain-clearing efforts.
  • Drain cleaning products: Although it may be tempting to pour in over-the-counter drain-clearing products, many plumbers advise against it. Not only are the chemicals toxic if exposed to human skin, they can also damage drain pipes if overused.
  • In over your head?: A clogged drain may be best unclogged by a professional.

Toilet clogs:

  • Plunger: Use one as your first line of defense with a clogged toilet. It can also fix clogs in bathtubs or shower, but be sure to fill the base with an inch of water to help the plunger seal before plunging. 
  • Drain auger: Commonly called a "snake" – is a flexible cable that can be pushed in the drain to break up the clog. Augers will not harm your pipes, but they might scratch porcelain or ceramics, so use them carefully. 
  • Foreign objects: Toilets often endure items being flushed that should instead be thrown away such as paper towels or baby wipes. Those items can quickly block a drain line; especially in homes where tree roots have infiltrated the main sewer line. Clogged sewer lines caused by tree roots are an especially common problem in older neighborhoods.

Overflowing toilet:

  • Locate the shut off valve: Turn the valve until the water shuts off to prevent additional overflow. If your toilet does not have one, open the tank and rig the float to stay in its position and not let any more water fill the tank. If a clog is the culprit of the overflow, grab a plunger and try plunging it free.
  • Regular checkups: These valves should be inspected to ensure they are working properly.

Angie's List tips for hiring a professional plumber:

  • Check requirements: All states with the exception of Kansas, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Wyoming require plumbers to be licensed. Municipalities may also have their own plumbing license requirements. Verify that a plumber's license is current and ask for proof of insurance before you hire.
  • Costs: Plumbers may charge either by the hour or job. For basic plumbing services, plumbers tell us that the average hourly service charge ranges from $70 to $150, depending on the area you live in. For emergency calls, you can expect to pay time and a half.
  • Think ahead: The best thing you can do is find a plumber or a drain cleaning company before you need one. Research one ahead of time so you know what charges to expect. You can also ask about emergency service and holiday work.