In this series of articles, we discuss what needs to be maintained in a home, how to do it, and how often.
Today's topic is Plumbing
Your home's plumbing is one of its most essential systems. Just like your car needs to have its oil changed, your plumbing needs regular upkeep for it to work properly. Let's talk about what that maintenance looks like:
Clean out and use your drains
All of the drains in your home have some sort of a p-trap in them. That p-trap allows you to usually retrieve small items out of your plumbing if you drop them down the drain. They always holds water to keep sewer gases from coming into your house. You need to use your plumbing fixtures at least monthly to keep water in them. If you have a sink you don't use regularly, make it a point to go wash your hands in that sink once a month so your p-trap doesn't dry out and your house smells like sewage.
Also, water is not the only thing going down these drains, so you need to clean them out regularly to keep them flowing properly. How often you clean them will depend on your usage. If someone in your house tends to shed a lot of hair in their shower, you might need to clean that drain every month or two. Otherwise we recommend cleaning out shower drains every 3-6 months. For the rest of the house, giving them a good annual clean should be enough. We like these barbed flexible snakes to remove hair because you can use them once for all of your drains and then toss them (no gross cleanup). We also love this Thrift drain cleaner because it is way less toxic than most drain cleaners and is very easy to use.
Flush your water heater
Water coming into your home is never 100% pure water; it all has some minerals and sediment in it. That sediment can build up in your water heater and cause it to break down prematurely. We recommend flushing out your water heater at least annually (more if you have a water source with above average sediment in it, like well water). The process is fairly simple and should only take an hour or two. To see how, check out this video on cleaning out your tankless water heater or this one if you have a tanked water heater.
Important note: after cleaning your water heater, you'll want to flush it and the water lines out before any loosened sediment clogs your faucets or sinks. To do that, open up a hose bib outside and run the water there until it's clear. Do the same thing with a faucet inside the house, but remove the aerator first.
Clean your fixtures
Always follow your manufacturer's directions on how to clean your fixtures, especially on fixtures that have "living" finishes. On most standard finishes though, we've found that a 50/50 mixture of warm water and white vinegar does a great job removing hard water and soap scum stains without damaging the finish. Using the mixture, scrub it with a soft sponge and then polish it with a clean microfiber cloth. For hard to clean stains, we really like this steam cleaner from Dupray. It also works great on tile, countertops, appliances, and glass, just make sure it can take the heat!
One of the most important things you need to do as a homeowner is protect your pipes from freezing in cold weather. The two biggest culprits of freezing pipes are hose bibs and pipes in unconditioned crawl spaces. Ideally, and in all the houses that we build, your crawl space is conditioned (without exterior vents but with insulation on the walls and
some heating/air) and you have frost proof hose bibs. If not, you'll need to do a little bit of work as Winter arrives to prepare. Here in Georgia, all hose bibs are required to have shut offs inside the house. Before it freezes, turn off those shutoffs and open the hose bib up so the remaining water in that pipe drains out. If you don't have a shut off, you'll need to at least wrap your hose bibs in one of these insulated covers when temperatures are going to dip below freezing. Additionally, and especially if you have pipes in an unconditioned crawl space, you'll need to turn your water on enough so that it slowly drips. That movement of water will help stop the water in your pipes from freezing, which would make them expand and burst.
If you have any specialty items like a water softener (usually a great idea) or an ice maker, you'll need to follow the regular maintenance schedule prescribed by the manufacturer. The maintenance of these items should be an important part of your buying decision. One type of ice maker might be a pain to clean two or three times a year and another you might not have to clean more than every couple of years, if at all (real example).
Consistently maintaining your home will make it function like it should for longer and keep it looking great for years to come.