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.
  • 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.