DIY Plumbing Repair - Where to Start?

As a homeowner the most common diy plumbing repair problems you will run into can be categorized as clogs, drips, and/or leaks. Each category will be described below along with a number (but by no means all) of the possible causes, their level of severity, and a brief analysis of how difficult a repair job it will be to address.

In their mildest form, these problems will be relativly easy for the beginner to address. They will typically require no specialized plumbing tools and no special skills. As the severity of the problem increases, the tool and plumbing skill requirements also increases. For severe problems like broken pipes or clogged septic lines or those that require special tools or skills, it is usually best call in the professionals. Before starting a diy plumbing repair project it is a good idea to asses your skills - if you are not confident that you can finish the job, you should not start it (yet).

Clogs: The description of a clog is simple - the water in your sink, toilet, tub, or shower drains slowly or not at all.

    Simple - An example of a simple clog is one where the water still drains however it may drain more slowly than other drains in your home. Simple clogs may be a result of something as simple as a plugged up strainer or drain plug.
    Moderate - With a moderate clog the water may drain at a trickle or not at all. The difference between a moderate clog and a server clog accesability to the problem area. As long as you have access to the problem area, this is still a pretty good diy plumbing repair for the novice handyman.
    Severe - Water is not draining at all or worse is backing up where it should not be them you have a larger problem. Unless you have the right tools and some experience with this type of problem it is time to call in the professionals.

Drips: This category includes any area where water continues to run once you have "turned it off" - this would also include a toilet that continues to run.

    Simple - A simple drip may be nothing more than the faucet handle not being turned off tightly or having a little play to it.
    Moderate - With a moderate leak you cannot (and should not force) the handle tight enough to stop the leak. A second example of this type of "drip" is . The repair may be as simple as replacing a washer or could require that you replace the entire fixture. While some repairs of this type will require special tools (such as a basin wrench), the more important factor is often the access to the problem.
    Severe - When the fixture to be repaired is not readily accessable (such as a tub or shower fixture) it is probably a good idea to call in the professionals - not only because of the problems of working in a tight space but because the consequences of an incorrectly completed repair may not be visible right away. You don't want to install a faucet in your shower only to find out you did it incorrectly when water starts to leak through the ceiling of the floor below.

Leaks: These are the most time sensitive of home plumbing repair problems because if ignored, it can cause damage. Depending on where the it is, leaks could be the easiest and cheapest or the most difficult and expensive diy plumbing repair project you attempt.

    Simple - This category will usually include the obvious and easily addressed repairs. Examples would include loose compression fittings and worn washers or bushings. These repairs rarely require more than an standard replacement part and a common open-end or crescent wrench. In many cases you don't even need to turn off the water supply to work on them.
    Moderate - Usually, this level of repair will require that you turn off the water and could get messy (keep the sponges and mop handy). If you are working with compression, slip, or threaded fittings they should be well withing the capabilities of the home handyman.
    Severe - If soldering, sweating, or cementing is involved or if access to the leak is limited then you are probably looking at a job for an experience handyman or service.
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