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Top 9 plumbing fixes you can do yourself

This week on Home Matters, hosts Pete and Rob talk about their top nine easy plumbing fixes.

“These are a lot of those little annoying things, you know, the running toilets and the noisy pipes,” says Pete. “Things that you notice and think, ‘Man, I gotta do something with that.'”

“I think the hardest one of them is going to be a four or a five, max,” adds Rob.

1. Unclog the disposal:
Rob says, first of all, to watch what you put down the disposal. Eggshells, he says, are fine, as well as tomatoes or even onion peels.

“But you don’t want to put celery down there. The stringiness that gets stuck between your teeth will get stuck between the teeth of your disposal.”

Potato peels are also something to steer clear of. To unjam your disposal, Rob says, look for a chuck on the bottom that will fit an Allen wrench. Using that chuck, you can manually toggle the teeth back and forth. Pete and Rob both recommend calling a plumber if the motor is burned out on your garbage disposal.

2. Noisy pipes:
Rob says the most common cause of noisy pipes is what’s called water hammer.

“What’s happening,” Rob says, “is there’s a wave of pressure that’s running through the pipe, and it gets to the dead end, which is usually the washing machine, and then the wave slams into the dead end and you hear that bang.”

He recommends buying a screw-in hammer stop, which will capture an air pocket and create a buffer between the wave and the dead end. These can be installed, he says, either under your sink or at the washer shut-off valve.

3. Cleaning drains:
“90 percent of clogged drains,” Rob says, “are at the trap. That’s why the trap is in there.”

The trap is the horseshoe-shaped bend in your plumbing – which has knobs, allowing you to pull it off by hand. Beware: the trap will have water in it, so put a pan underneath. You can also use an object with teeth pointing backward that gets inserted into the drain and dislodges the “Chewbacca hair ball,” which, according to Rob, is the correct technical term.

4. Fixing and replacing the shut-off valve:
Rob recommends, once a year, exercising your shut-off valves “because nothing is meant to sit around.” But what happens if the valve leaks after you exercise it? Rob says you’ll notice a nut underneath the valve which fits a Crescent wrench. Turn it clockwise until the leak stops. Pete, however, believes you should just replace the valves if they leak.

“If you exercise the valve and it starts leaking, get a new valve and put it on.”

If you’re going to replace a valve, find your main shut-off valve and turn it off. Make sure you have two wrenches, one to fit the new valve and one to fit the attached pipe. Once the valve is off, remove any Teflon tape residue and rub in new Teflon tape into the threads. Attach your new valve, and you’re done.

5. Replacing a bathroom vanity:
Rob says, “if you can set a cabinet, you can replace a vanity.” Pete adds that this level of replacement is only for pre-fabricated material. Using stone or granite will increase the level of difficulty. He also recommends either calling in a plumber to finish the job in older homes due to the dissimilar metals in the pipes, or using a decoupler. Once you’ve leveled and hung the vanity, simply reconnect the plumbing.

6. Flushing the water heater:
Rob recommends doing this once a year. There’s a valve at the bottom of your heater that looks similar to a garden hose bib.

“There’s a reason for that,” Rob says. “You take a garden hose and put that on there, and run the garden hose outside and flush it for five to ten minutes.”

This will help eliminate any sediment deposits on the bottom of the heater, or as Pete says, prevent rusting.

7. Fix a leaky faucet:
Rob says leaky faucets are generally caused by a faulty O-ring or a rubberized gasket. He recommends purchasing a repair kit, usually between $5 and $15.

“Just pull the faucet apart, replace all the parts inside, and you’ll be off and running.”

8. Preventing backflow:
Putting backflow preventers on your hose bibs can keep chemicals, like fertilizers, and other harmful substances from being sucked back into your pipes if your water valve is shut off.

Rob says these run from $1.50 to $5, and “it’s just a fixture that screws onto the hose bib, and then your hose screws onto the backflow preventer,” he says. “And then, when you turn off your hose, it creates an air gap so nothing gets sucked back into your pipes.”

9. Fix a running toilet:
Rob says this is really simple.

“Pull the lid off,” he says, “and the common thing is the flapper got stuck down there.”

He also adds there are also repair kits to fix bad seals. If that’s your case, shut off the valve, crawl underneath the tank of your toilet, remove the two bolts that hold the tank on and then remove the tank. You can then replace the flapper cartridge.

Home Matters can be heard on KIRO Radio Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Sundays at 6 a.m. Available anytime ON DEMAND at

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