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The average cost per hour for a plumbing job can range to as high as $150 an hour. If you need a house plumbed or a new sink installed, we’re betting you’ll want to hand over the cash, but if all you need is a clogged sink cleared, it might be worth tackling the job yourself. Do you have what it takes to master some of the most common plumbing jobs around the house? Keep reading to find out.
When to Call a Plumber and When To DIY
Doing it yourself (DIY) is a huge trend now thanks to Pinterest, YouTube, and a whole host of helpful online sites that help you navigate home repairs. DIY’ing isn’t always a foolproof solution, however, and it’s important to know your limits and do your research carefully. You should also keep in mind that everything you read on the internet isn’t necessarily true, so make sure you’re getting your information from a reputable site (like this one).
It’s also worth noting that hiring or asking for help doesn’t make you less handy. In fact, it’s worth a little analyzing: if you are unsure of what you’re doing and end up making a mistake, it could be very costly to fix. It also might cost you a ton of your time, which might be worth a lot to you in the long run. In the end, it might cost less to hire a plumber than to try to do it yourself. That said if you’re willing to learn and look forward to using your knowledge in the future, learning to repair your home breakdowns is extremely rewarding.
Again, do your research. Talk to people who have experience, ask for help, or plan to hire a plumber for all or part of the project. Codes and permits or holder homes are common pitfalls for many. Our basic rule of thumb is that if you have a major plumbing emergency or a renovation, you should hire a licensed, insured plumber.
Still ready to try some residential plumbing projects yourself? Great! We’ve got you covered. First, let’s take a look at the gear you should keep on hand.
Basic Plumbing Tools to Have on Hand
Some of these tools are things you’ll need for other projects, and some are just for things like DIY toilet plumbing, but here’s our short-list of tools that will help you perform most of your basic DIY plumbing projects:
The two pliers we recommend are long-nosed pliers and tongue-and-groove pliers (in 10-inch and 12-inch sizes). Both of these tools are all around useful for any DIY job around the home and will be especially useful as you need to grab, twist, pull, hold, or tighten things.
If you don’t consider a plunger a necessity for toilet repairs, you’re probably not using it right. While most people keep a cup plunger on hand for toilets, the best plunger to use is a flange plunger (it looks like an accordion and is usually black). For best results, you can keep a flange plunger and a cup plunger on hand (make sure they’re marked for toilet use).
Did you know you can also use a plunger for a clogged sink? Do the same thing for your sink as you’d do for your toilet–just make sure you use a dedicated sink plunger. You do not want to mix toilet contents with your sink contents.
Plumbing tape (also called Teflon tape) is a must-have any time you’re connecting two pipes. Teflon tape helps to keep your connections from leaking and can withstand quite a bit of pressure.
Pipe wrenches are invaluable if you’re disconnecting two pipes, and you’ll need two. Adjustable wrenches are also important (and can be used far beyond plumbing) and if you’d like, you can grab a basin wrench while you’re at it. You won’t always need it, but it can come in handy.
Also known as a plumbing snake, this handy device steps in when you’re plunger has failed you. It is a long steel cable operated via a hand crank and can be used on any drain in your home.
Do not (we repeat: do not) begin a plumbing job without turning the water off. Trust us on this. You don’t normally need to turn off the main water supply; usually, you can turn off the supply at the base of the toilet (if you’re working on the toilet) or under the sink (there is usually a valve for hot water and another for cool water). Just turn them all way to the right (clockwise) before you begin working, and then all the way to the left (counter-clockwise) when you’re finished.
If you’re working on your bathtub or shower, the plumbing is generally inside the wall. Sometimes there is an access panel behind the fixtures–but sometimes there isn’t. This means that a full repair will involve opening up the drywall and then repairing it, so we’re not just talking plumbing repairs anymore!
If you can’t find the local water shut-off, you might have to turn the main water supply off to the whole house, but this can be more difficult. If it’s not easy to locate, this might be the time to call the plumber!
Easy Plumbing Jobs You Can DIY
Here are three plumbing jobs that are simple enough for even beginners to try:
1. Plunging a Toilet or Drain
If you’ve got a sink that won’t drain or a toilet that’s backed up, now is the time to pull out your trusty plunger (remember that a cup plunger is better for flat surfaces such as drains, but you’ll want to use a flange plunger for toilets).
First, turn off the water supply to the toilet (if that’s what you’re clearing). Second, adjust the water level. Remove too much water with a bucket or add water if necessary; you want the tank about half full. Third, insert the plunger and make sure it makes a tight seal by keeping the rubber ring in the drain opening.
Finally, alternate pushing and pulling on the handle with short, deliberate thrusts for about 15-25 seconds. Do not lift the plunger and do not break the seal during the time. Often, you will find this process successful, if not, repeat. If the drain is still clogged, it’s time to snake the drain.
2. Snaking a Drain
If your drains are seriously clogged, it’s time to try your hand auger. You do not need to turn the water off for this job. Insert the end of the auger’s coil into the drain and begin turning the handle. Alternate pushing the handle and uncoiling the auger until you feel the coil meet resistance.
Once you’ve hit the blockage, rotate the snake against it until it begins to feed freely again. Your goal is to get the tip of the snake to connect with the clog and disrupt it. If you can’t get to the end of it, try retracting the coil, which might bring the clog up so that you can manually remove it. Once you think you’ve removed the clog or loosened it up, run the water for several minutes. If the water still does not drain freely, start the process over again.
3. Install a New Shower Head
There are many reasons for installing a new shower head; you might want something that’s more efficient, that looks better, that doesn’t drip, or that has a better flow. Either way, it’s a super simple process.
First, unscrew the existing shower head. Usually you can do this by hand (though you might want to also use your adjustable wrench if it’s particularly tight). Be careful not to wrench on the shower arm! Also be careful about your footing–presumably you’ll be standing on something to reach the shower head, so make sure you don’t slip and fall. Next, clean off the threads on the shower arm. Use cleaning solution and apply some friction if necessary.
Most of the time, you’ll also want to apply plumber’s tape to the shower arm. Just wrap a small section of tape neatly around the threads (don’t wrap too much), but check your new shower head manufacturer’s instructions first, since some do not work when used with Teflon tape.
Finally, screw on the new shower head. If it’s especially heavy you can enlist help, but you should be able to do it yourself. Make sure you do not overtighten, and only use a wrench if it’s called for. Get out of the way, turn the shower on, and enjoy your new shower head!
Do it yourself plumbing projects can be intensely gratifying and it can save you quite a bit of money. Stock up on all the right plumbing tools, keep our basic rules in mind, and you should be set. Good luck!