10 Easy Plumbing Repairs That Don't Require a Plumber

by Ashley Watson on 24 June 2013 6 comments

When I wrote for the HVAC and plumbing industry, DIY articles and blog posts were frowned upon. After all, why teach people to do it themselves when the plumbers can overcharge them for an easy repair? Now that I no longer work in that industry, I'm free to educate homeowners about small repairs and upgrades that do not require a plumber. 

Depending on how comfortable you are with DIY repairs, you can complete many minor plumbing jobs with the right tools. Many of these include ways to upgrade and save water, which can save you a ton of money in the long run. Some plumbers will even walk you through the steps, especially if you have used their services before. (See also: 5 Household Fixes You Should Stop Paying Others For)

Find a good online DIY source that you trust. I recommend This Old House for detailed and easy-to-understand instructions on common plumbing repairs you can do yourself. Make sure you know where to locate the main water supply and the supply to each plumbing application, which is typically located under a sink or behind the toilet. Lastly, familiarize yourself with local codes and regulations. Some municipalities require that you hire a certified plumber for certain plumbing jobs.

Here's a list of what you should have in your toolbox for basic plumbing tasks:

  • Plunger (one for the sink and one for the toilet)
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Utility Knife
  • Plumbing Tape
  • Caulking Gun

You may need other tools depending on the job, but these should cover the basics.

1. Leaky Faucet

A leaky faucet can be a relatively easy fix depending on the type of faucet, so get to know the basic types of faucets and how to take them apart. You can look for instructions online; YouTube videos are the most useful. A slow drip usually means that all you have to replace is a washer, but make sure you know which size you need before buying a new one.

2. Installing a Kitchen or Bathroom Faucet

For more difficult repairs, it may be easier to replace the entire faucet, and there will be instructions included with the new one. Anyone at your local hardware store will be able to assist you in finding the right replacement parts and giving you tips on how to locate the cause of the problem and what you need to do to fix it.

3. Clogged Drain

Knowing how to prevent a clogged or slow drain is just as important as knowing how to fix it. Use hair catchers in bathroom drains. Avoid putting grease or food particles down kitchen drains, and be sure you know what types of food are okay to put in your garbage disposal and how to properly operate it.

Keep in mind that a slow drain could be an issue with a plumbing vent, which regulates the air pressure in the pipes. Plumbing vent issues should be handled by a plumber, but if you have debris caught in your drain pipes, then you should be able to fix it with a sink plunger or snaking the drain with a cable auger. You can find these at any hardware store.

Also, don't use conventional drain cleaners. These can harm your plumbing system and damage pipes made of soft metals. They are also a temporary fix. Keeping drains clean and using natural solvents, such as baking soda and vinegar, on a regular basis are highly recommended.

4. Running Toilet

A running toilet is usually caused by a faulty stop valve or floater switch. This is also called the floater valve or float cup. Essentially it's the large bulb in the back of the toilet that stops the flow of fresh water into the toilet once the tank is full. While jiggling the handle to stop a running toilet may fix the problem temporarily, you can fix it permanently by replacing the entire assembly. And don't be afraid to put your hands in the water. The water in the tank is clean!

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

5. Replacing Kitchen Sink Sprayer

This is one of the easiest DIY plumbing jobs. Make sure that you know what type of sprayer you have. Does it have a detachable hose? Most older sink sprayers can be replaced without having to replace the hose. If there's a tear in the hose, you may need to purchase a new hose and a new sprayer nozzle. Newer models usually come as one piece. If you have to replace the hose, then you'll need to make sure you have plumbing thread. All new parts come with instructions.

6. Upgrading Showerheads

Did you know that upgrading to low flow showerheads can save you anywhere from 20-30% on your monthly water bill? You'd be surprised at how much you can reduce your water consumption with this simple upgrade. These are available at most plumbing supply or hardware stores.

7. Caulking Bathtubs and Showers

The trick to caulking tubs and showers is using the right type of caulk. There are many different kinds of caulk out there that are used for home repair, from filling cracks in drywall to sealing off plumbing appliances. Make sure you check the label, and only get caulk that is designed for tubs and showers, or ask someone at the hardware store for help. Go for quality when you purchase a caulking gun. They aren't that expensive, and they are easier to use and last longer.

8. Installing a Toilet

If you are installing a new toilet, consider a dual flush toilet, although any upgrade will save water if you have an older toilet. You can get them at any plumbing supply store. Make sure you understand the instructions, or find a good online DIY source that includes clear images and instructions, such as this one. If you don't get a proper seal, it could cause a leak and bad odors.

9. Sump Pump Repair

Not every home has a sump pump, but this can be one of the most labor-intensive plumbing repairs. I recommend calling a plumber if you aren't comfortable with doing any sort of electrical work. Always unplug the motor before doing any work. Be sure to double check with your local building inspector before making any major changes to your sump pump system.

One easy repair is fixing a constantly running motor. If you have a submersible motors (ones that are designed to sit inside the pit or well), this is usually caused by dirt or debris getting lodged under the float switch, which is the large floater bulb that looks very similar to the one in the back of your toilet. Make sure you know how to drain and clean out your sump pit, or have your plumber show you the next time you hire one.

10. Garbage Disposal Repair

Clogged or jammed garbage disposals are some of the easiest repairs to make. You don't even need an extra tool because every new garbage disposal should come with a hex wrench attached to the disposal itself. Your garbage disposal should also come with instructions on how to properly repair the disposal if it gets jammed. Always make sure the power to the disposal is turned off at the source before you attempt any repairs. Make sure you know what types of foods are intended for garbage disposals, and run it as often as you can to prevent clogs or jams.

Have I missed any DIY plumbing repairs? Please share your tips in comments!

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Guest's picture

DIY plumbing repairs are the most nerve wracking home repairs for me because I am afraid of flooding something or royally screwing it up but calling a plumber is often a pain and can get costly. Thank you for sharing these tips.

Ashley Watson's picture

Thanks for reading and sharing your comment, Mary. I'm glad these tips are helpful to you! Some plumbers are nice enough to walk you through small projects over the phone or answer basic questions, such as "how do I turn off my main water source?" It's just a matter of finding a plumber willing to do this. Good luck!

Guest's picture
PurchaseWisely

On #5 you wrote "If you have to replace the hose, then you'll need to make sure you have plumbing thread." I think you're missing the tape... and you'll definitely need it (grin). Don't forget to have a bucket or large bowl for places a bucket won't fit.

Seriously, I've done a lot of plumbing repairs, from installing sinks and fixtures, toilet replacement and repair, caulking and recaulking to replacing a garbage disposal. Probably the most frustrating thing I've encountered was needing a specialty tool for one repair; for me it was a basin wrench. Some hardware stores will loan tools, so it's worth it to find that out ahead of time.

Also, realize that some supply stores you may find online or in a directory are wholesale only and will only sell you supplies if you have a resale or contractor's license. Pretty important to know if you have to shut the water off at the main valve for the house for a repair and THEN find out you can't get the replacement part at Home Depot after you've already taken the fixture apart. Shower valves are infamous for this, since the older ones don't have shutoffs at the valve, which is in the wall, so you can't see it until you're in there - and you can't get in there until you've shut off the water at the main.

The next most important thing you can have handy is the name and phone number of a good local plumber, just in case you can't fix it yourself after all.

Ashley Watson's picture

Haha, yes. Good point! I meant to write "tape" instead of "thread." This is all very good information as well, which is why we love comments! Keep em coming!

Guest's picture

For hair, there's something called a zip that works really great.

I've learned that most plumbing, at least with CPVC, is like Legos with glue, and PEX is even easier. :) I used to be scared of it--but no longer!

Guest's picture
Mohamed Ismail

Hi, justcurious about the 'zip' thing...somehow hairs just find their way into the sink piping. I occasionally pour Draino when my sink runs a bit slow. Woula Draino also eat away the hair?