How to Prevent Plumbing Emergencies

A busted pipe spraying water.

Nothing will ruin your day as thoroughly as a plumbing emergency. Burst pipes, overflowing drains, sudden leaks—even the smallest plumbing problem can become a huge issue in a matter of moments. Practice a few simple tips every day to prevent some of the worst plumbing emergencies and stay dry.

Make Disaster Work Harder to Find You

Veggie scraps sitting in a stainless steel sink.

Treat your pipes well, and you’ll have to face far fewer plumbing emergencies over the course of your lifetime. If you put some basic principles into practice, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of having the day ruined by water.

Watch what you put in your sink drains. If you can name 10 things you’ve put down your sink drains, chances are very high that eight of those things were never meant to go in there. Lots of people pour stuff down the drain that has no business being in pipes, and that leads to nightmare drain clogs and leaks.

  • Grease: It’s not meant for the drain. Don’t ever, ever pour grease in your sink drain. Pour it into a ceramic or glass container and let it harden. Once it does, throw it away in a trash can.

  • Drain cleaners: Liquid drain cleaners are the bane of plumbers everywhere. Yes, drain cleaners will eat through clogs. However, they may also eat through your drain lines. Even after using a liquid drain cleaner only once, you can create multiple pinhole leaks in your drain that will add up to big dollars in lost water on your monthly bills.

  • Food waste: Even if you have a garbage disposal, most food waste isn’t meant to go down the drain. Cabbage, carrots, eggshells, peels, and a whole list of items as long as your arm shouldn’t go in the disposal. In fact, kitchen garbage disposals are designed for the stuff you scrape off your plate at the end of a meal -- not for all the husks and stuff that’s left after you cook the meal.

Please be kind to your toilet. Just like the rest of the drains in your home, the toilet is sensitive. No matter how strong the flush or how new the toilet, the drain is designed for a specific purpose and shouldn’t be used for anything else. You should never flush food waste, trash, or paper down the toilet. In fact, the only thing you should ever put in your toilet (other than the obvious) is toilet paper. And remember not to use too much of that, either.

  • And know how to unclog it: Even when you’re careful with your toilet, the drain may become clogged. If it does, treat the clog correctly. Use a plunger or a plumber’s snake to pull the clog free, and nothing else. The last thing you want to do is stick a coat hanger in there and start poking around, because you may poke a hole through a pipe or a rubber seal and create a much bigger problem for yourself.

Make Emergencies More Manageable

Sump pump in a concrete basement floor.

Pay attention to your pipes. If you’re aware of what’s going on with your plumbing, you’ll be alerted to problems as soon as they begin and, maybe, you can catch these problems before they blossom into emergencies. If you notice a change in your water pressure or if something with your water seems somehow off, that’s a red flag. A change in water pressure could signal that there is a leak in your water line somewhere. Noticing your plumbing is the first step in preventing an emergency.

Find out where your shut-off valves are located. Your toilet, kitchen sink, and water heater probably all have their own shut-off valve. There is also a main shut-off valve to your house. Locate your shut-off valves, and they may become your savior one day. When a pipe bursts or a big leak appears out of nowhere, run for the shut-off valve so you don’t end up with a flood of water. When the water is shut off, you can start to deal with the problem that’s causing all the trouble.

Have a basement? Get a sump pump installed. The sump pump is designed to pump excess water out and away from your home. If there is a flood in the basement due to a plumbing problem, the sump pump should kick in and help remove that excess water before it starts to destroy everything.

Emergencies are going to happen, and they’re going to be a lot worse if you don’t know what to do when they happen. So, take a few steps before plumbing emergencies happen, and when they do they won’t be so hard to deal with after all.