Following these rules will help reduce the seriousness and frequency of plumbing problems.

  • Make sure everyone who lives in your home knows the locations of water shutoff valves and how to use them. If you don’t know, ask a plumber to give you a tour; then label each valve with a description of its function and instructions for turning it off. If a pipe bursts, quickly stopping the flow of leaking water can prevent extensive damage. Once or twice a year test the main water shutoff valve to your home to make sure it is working properly.
  • Periodically check shutoff valves, exposed pipes, faucets, and your hot water heater for leaks. Regularly inspect ceilings and walls for signs of water damage. If you find a leak, have it repaired immediately.
  • If you have a septic-tank system, have it inspected regularly by a licensed professional.
  • Install smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors near your water heater and furnace.
  • Keep all flammable and combustible materials away from your hot water heater.
  • To reduce the risks of fire or health hazards, have a plumber or heating and air-conditioning service check your water heater’s venting for proper draft and to make sure the room is properly ventilated.
  • Dispose of grease or rendered-down fat in the trash; never pour it down a drain.
  • Cover bathtub and shower drains with screens to prevent hair from clogging up their pipes.
  • Chemical drain cleaners are extremely dangerous products—pay close attention to package directions and warning labels. When pouring a drain cleaner into a drain, avert your face and keep it as far away as possible from the bottle and the drain.
  • If a drain is completely clogged, do not use a drain cleaner—it will likely produce a large pool of highly caustic water. Also, using a drain cleaner on completely clogged drains may simply enlarge the blockage.
  • To prevent water pipes from freezing—and possibly bursting—cover pipes that run through an attic, crawl space, exterior walls, or unheated basement with insulation. If a certain section of pipe is highly susceptible to freezing, use electric heat tape to keep the pipe warm.
  • During winter, use shutoff valves inside your home to turn off the water supply to outside spigots, remove hoses attached to the house, and turn on the spigots to drain any remaining water from the pipes.
  • If you will be away from home during winter, do not completely shut off your heating system—instead, set your thermostat to 55°.
  • Don’t flush anything down the toilet that doesn’t belong there. Paper towels, feminine products, disposable diapers, cat litter, hair, and other items can clog up the works.
  • Use care when operating your garbage disposer. Make sure that its on-off switch is not located in an area where it can be accidentally turned on. If you have children, consider buying a batch-feed model that won’t operate without a stopper.
  • Heed warnings in your garbage disposer’s operating manual. Many models can become clogged if you try to dispose of coffee grounds, uncooked rice, etc. Always run a steady stream of water into your garbage disposer when in use.
  • Periodically check the temperature setting of your hot water heater—most models should be set between 120° and 140°. Running the burner at lower temperatures saves energy costs and extends the life of the appliance.