From fixing leaking pipes and taps to replacing heating systems, plumbing covers a wide range of jobs within homes and properties. Our guide is packed full of general maintenance tips to keep your plumbing systems working as they should, as well as some suggestions on driving down your water wastage to protect the environment and reduce your energy bills.
You will also discover the rules and regulations that surround the plumbing trade and any plumbing work that takes place within residential and business properties. To help you stay safe when working on a DIY plumbing project we have included some of our top safety tips. If you are considering hiring a professional, we share with you what to look out for.
- General Maintenance
- Water Efficiency – How To Reduce Water Waste
- Seasonal Plumbing Advice
- Plumbing Laws and Regulations
- Carrying Out Plumbing Work Yourself – DIY Safety Advice
- Hiring a Plumber – What to Look Out For
- Frequently Asked Questions – Common Plumbing Problems
The best way to keep the plumbing system in your house working as it should is by undertaking regular maintenance checks and completing any work required as soon as possible. A local plumbing company such as Perfect Plumbers can help you to conduct a routine maintenance check, but there are also some things you can look out for yourself.
When undertaking a maintenance check, keep your eyes peeled for any areas where there could be potential problems. If you spot something that does not look right, try to fix it yourself if you can do so safely. If you’re not confident it’s worth calling a registered plumber to help you. This will help save you
The key things to include in your plumbing general maintenance check are:
- Look out for signs of water damage near walls or cupboards, as this could indicate a leaking pipe. Leaking or burst pipes can cause expensive damage to your property if left unchecked. If you suspect you have a leak, it is vital to act straight away.
- Check pipes and plumbing fixtures for any visible signs of damage or corrosion.
- Look around your toilet to make sure that it is not leaking and that it is flushing properly.
- Make sure all of the taps around your house have adequate water pressure. A leaking tap can add extra costs to your water bill and become a nuisance.
- Check the ceiling under your bathroom for any signs of a leaking shower or bathtub.
- Check the garbage disposal and water heater for any leaks, damage or corrosion.
- Check the drains to make sure they are not clogged and clean them where you can.
- Conduct a pressure test that will detect any small cracks or leaks in the pipes that you cannot see just by looking.
- Inspect radiators for leaks or problems when initially heating up.
- If you have completed all the checks above but still have some concerns around your plumbing, ask your plumbing company to perform a video pipe inspection. They can also include lead testing in routine maintenance checks if required.
Alongside regularly conducting routine maintenance checks, there are also some actions you can take to keep your pipes, fixtures and appliances in good working order.
Keeping Your Sink Clear
As a direct link to your plumbing system, you should be careful with how you maintain your sink. When cooking, avoid pouring any fats, oils or grease (FOGs) into the sink or drain and keep hard, stringy and fibrous materials away too. Regularly flush your kitchen sink with boiling water to remove any fat or oil deposits that may have accumulated.
Occasionally, flush the sink with baking soda and vinegar to clear it of any stubborn build-ups or bad smells.
Taking Care of Your Toilet
Be careful with the items that you flush down your toilet. Do not flush sanitary products, medicines, toys or anything else that should not be in the toilet as these can cause a blockage. If you do notice a blockage, use a plunger to remove it as quickly as possible instead of letting it build up and become worse.
Maintaining your Stopcock
Firstly, you should make yourself familiar with your household stopcocks. There are two stopcocks put in place to prevent flooding within a property, one is located inside the house (usually under the kitchen sink or where the mains line enters the building) and the second is found outside the property boundary and will usually be covered with a small manhole cover with ‘water metre’ or the name of the water supplier written on it.
Your main priority is taking care of the stopcock found within your property, as this is the one you will first need to try in the event of a flood or if you want to turn off your water supply. It is advisable to spray your stopcock with some WD40 every now again to make sure that you can still operate it when you need it to.
Limescale is a hard, chalky deposit caused by soluble calcium bicarbonate. It is found in places where water is heated or left standing and forms either a crust around taps and plugs or it creates a white film on your shower screen. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind calcium and magnesium deposits to form limescale. Limescale is more of a problem for those living in hard water areas as hard water is water that contains a higher mineral content, and therefore causes a bigger limescale problem after it evaporates.
Limescale build-ups can stop your appliances from working correctly, especially washing machines, dishwashers, and showerheads. Removing limescale should be a regular part of your cleaning and maintenance schedule and can be done with vinegar. If your shower head has a build-up of limescale, you can leave it to soak in vinegar and water to break down the limescale and remove it. If your taps are suffering from a limescale build-up, you can soak a cloth or paper towels in vinegar, wrap around the tap and leave overnight. There are also various products you can use to help you get rid of limescale in appliances like your washing machine and dishwasher.
Cleaning Your Drains
It is easy for drains to become blocked causing problems with adequate drainage and nasty smells, however, most of the time this is an easily fixed problem. There are many products designed to help you unclog drains or you could use bicarbonate of soda and some vinegar instead. Pour two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and a good measure of vinegar into the blocked drain and leave for around 30 minutes. Then, using boiling water from the kettle, attempt to flush away the blockage after the bicarbonate of soda has started to loosen it.
Bleeding Your Radiators
When pockets of air become trapped inside a radiator it can cause it to circulate hot water less effectively and provide less heat. You may notice that air is trapped inside a radiator if it makes loud banging noises as it begins to warm up, or if it stays cold even after your heating has been turned on for a while. Radiators that need bleeding will cause your home to be colder and add to your energy bills.
To bleed your radiators, you should complete the following steps:
- First, identify which radiators need bleeding by turning on your central heating and checking each radiator to make sure it is heating up correctly. Any radiators that have cold spots will need bleeding.
- Once you have found the radiators that require bleeding, turn off your heating and wait for them to cool completely before you begin any work.
- Most newer models of a radiator will need a radiator key to bleed them, or in some cases, a screwdriver can be used. Radiator keys can be found at most DIY stores.
- Place a cloth underneath the radiator before you start so you can catch any water that drains out.
- Hold the key or screwdriver with a cloth and carefully turn anti-clockwise to open the radiator valve. You should notice a hissing sound as the trapped air escapes.
- Once the hissing sound stops and water begins to leak out of the radiator, all of the air has been released. When this happens slowly turn the key clockwise to close the valve.
- After you have bled the radiators, check the water pressure on your boiler – if it is too low you will need to rebalance it.
- Switch your heating back on and check that all the radiators are now working as they should.
Water Efficiency – How To Reduce Water Waste
Becoming water efficient will help you to lower your energy bills and put less strain on your plumbing systems. Saving water is important for protecting the environment and using it efficiently reduces the amount that needs to be taken from our natural resources such as rivers and aquifers. It is estimated that the average person in England and Wales uses 143 litres per day, and 145 litres in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our use of water is also integrated with the amount of energy we use, so reducing both of these can help to combat the effects of climate change too.
Reducing the amount of water we use will also help to cut down the amount we spend on energy bills. Below is some advice on ways to cut down the use of water around the home.
Reducing Water Waste in the Bathroom
There are some simple steps you can take to cut down on the amount of water wasted within your bathrooms. Turning off the taps when you are brushing your teeth can save up to 6 litres per minute, and having a shower instead of a bath can save up to 80 litres if the shower is fitted with a water-efficient showerhead. Aerated showerheads and low flow showerheads both reduce the amount of water used in a shower without disrupting it.
Reducing the amount of time spent in a shower can also cut down on the amount of water used, it is estimated that if every household in the UK cut one minute off their shower time each day it would save £215 million in energy bills each year.
If you do not have a shower fitted in your bathroom and must use a bath, reducing the amount of water you fill it by will help. Just one inch less water can help you save around 5 litres of water. You can also reuse your bathwater to water your houseplants or garden.
Regularly checking your bathroom for leaks can also help you to save water and cut down on your energy bills. Check your taps and toilet to make sure there are no leaks or drips and if you do notice anything, repair the leak as soon as possible.
Reducing Water Waste in the Kitchen
When it comes to conserving water in your kitchen, there are some easy steps you can take. If you have the space to install a dishwasher this can work out to be more eco-friendly than washing the dishes by hand. When a dishwasher is full and used on the eco-setting it uses water much more effectively than manually washing the dishes. To further save on water usage, avoid pre-washing dishes before you put them into the dishwasher. Washing detergents are effective enough to clean the dishes without the need to rinse them first.
When it comes to doing your laundry, having an eco-friendly washing machine can help you cut down on the amount of water you are using for each load. Before you buy a new machine check its credentials to make sure it works for the environment too. In many cases, people do not fill their washing machines to near full capacity, so if you can wait until you have enough laundry you can fully utilise your washing machine with each load!
When boiling the kettle, only boil the amount of water that you require at the time. Overfilling kettles is a common cause of wasted water within the home. Likewise, when cooking with water, only fill the saucepan with the amount of water required. Also, keeping the lid on the saucepan whilst cooking will help to reduce any water lost through evaporation.
Reducing Water Waste in the Garden
Watering plants and lawns can be a huge source of water usage around the home, but there are ways that you can conserve water while still helping your garden to look its best. If you intend to water your lawn with a hose or use a garden sprinkler, use it in the early morning or late afternoon as this is when evaporation rates are lower. Additionally, adding mulch or bark to your lawn and flower beds will help to reduce the evaporation rate by up to 75%.
Also, reconsider whether you need to water your lawn. Letting the grass turn brown will help it to build up a resistance and to recover after a rainfall. If you can, instead of using a hose or a sprinkler, use a watering can as an alternative filled with rainwater.
Consider installing a water butt in your garden to collect rainwater, this can then be used to water lawns and plants during dry periods without costing you a penny. Alternatively, save your bathwater to use on your plants and grass outside instead.
Seasonal Plumbing Advice
Winter Water Advice
Cold weather can put additional strain on heating and plumbing systems due to increased use. There are certain measures that homeowners can take to make sure they maintain a working plumbing system during the colder months.
The first step is to prevent the water in your pipes from freezing by turning off all outdoor water valves and looking for pipes in un-insulated areas. Pipes that are not insulated are at greater risk of freezing, so to prevent this you can wrap them with towels or foam. If the weather is extremely cold, before turning on a faucet fully, first let it drip slowly to encourage water flow and reduce the risk of bursting the pipe.
During the winter do not let the temperature of your house become too low. Low temperatures increase the risk of pipes freezing and rupturing, causing costly damage to your property. Before entering winter, it is also advised to have a heating engineer check over your water heater and heating system.
Preparing your outside drainage systems for winter is another task that should be undertaken when moving into the colder seasons. Remove any debris that can block drains or guttering and regularly check to make sure they are still clear throughout the season. You could also look at preparing your lawn to prevent excess water from rain and snow from overwhelming your drainage system. To do this, trim back trees and plants (especially those with dead branches that are likely to fall in rough weather) cut the grass and stock up on supplies to remove snow and ice.
Spring Plumbing Checks
Spring is a great time to undertake some spring cleaning of your plumbing system around the house and outside. Clean all your appliances, drains and fixtures to free them of any limescale and dirt build-ups.
Check inside and outside drains to make sure there are no clogs or blockages. If you have any infrequently used drains, pour a gallon of water into them to fill the trap and prevent any bad smells from entering the house.
Similarly, if your house has a sump pump, check that it is operating properly by pouring a few buckets of water into the sump pit. After you have done this, the pump should quickly activate, take away the water and then turn off without any problems.
Spring is also a good time to turn your attention to the plumbing work on the outside of your home. Check all outdoor drains, gutters and downspouts to make sure they are clean and free of any debris.
If you have an outdoor tap, check for leaks and to make sure that the water flows freely.
Summer Plumbing Advice
When the warm weather arrives, there are certain areas of your home plumbing system that will see more use. As watering outdoor plants and lawns become necessary there will be extra strain on outdoor taps. This can result in problems with the faucet such as leakages, so to ensure your outdoor taps work as they should carefully monitor them each time they are used. If you have a sprinkler system installed, this will also need to be checked for problems such as low pressure, clogged sprinkler heads or leaks along the lines.
Plumbing Laws and Regulations
Whether you are carrying out plumbing work yourself or if you have asked a plumbing professional to help you, certain rules and regulations must be adhered to. Before you begin any substantial amount of work such as the installations of new systems, or large changes to existing systems, you may need to notify the local water supplier and obtain permission before you can start.
Any plumbing work that you have done will need to meet with the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations and Byelaws. The regulations apply to most types of domestic and commercial plumbing work including the works listed below:
- The construction of a house or other property or structure.
- Extending or altering the water system on a non-household building.
- Changing the use of a building or installing any new systems such as rainwater harvesting.
- Installing a swimming pool or a pond over 10,000 litres.
- Installing a garden watering system.
- Installing a bath that holds more than 230 litres of water.
- Installing a bidet with an upward spray or a flexible hose.
- Installing a water system that is either less than 750mm or more than 1350mm below ground.
The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations and Byelaws are in place to protect public health, safeguard water supplies and encourage the efficient use of water around the home and in businesses. They are legal requirements to prevent misuse of water, waste, undue consumption or erroneous measurement of water, and to prevent the contamination of drinking water.
The regulations are in force in all premises supplied by, or due to be supplied by a water company. The application comes into effect from the point where the water supply enters the properties underground pipe, to where the water is used in plumbing systems, appliances and water-fittings.
If you are working within a property that has a private water supply (not topped up by a water company) then the regulations will not apply here.
One of the best ways to ensure that you comply with the Water Supply Regulations is by using approved products when carrying out any plumbing work on your property. Approved products have been tested and guaranteed as safe to carry drinking water within your property – this means they do not contain any harmful materials that could contaminate the water supply and make it unfit for human consumption. Although not illegal to sell unapproved fittings, it is against the law to install them into a plumbing system so the onus falls onto the property owner to check their safety. The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WARS) has a directory of approved fittings that you can see here.
Building regulations also apply to plumbing work and should be considered when you are undertaking any changes to plumbing systems. Building regulations are in place to ensure the accessibility of plumbing systems and to make sure they are safe. Building regulations cover several areas of plumbing systems such as the size of the pipes, the positioning of waste pipes, and pipe ventilation.
To ensure that your plumbing work complies with building regulations, using a certified plumbing company such as Perfect Plumbers will cover you. You will also receive a certificate of compliance after any work has been completed, as well as notifying the local authority if necessary.
Carrying Out Plumbing Work Yourself – DIY Safety Advice
If you are working on a plumbing DIY project you should take all of the necessary precautions to protect yourself and those around you.
Before carrying out any sort of DIY task, always prepare for the job at hand. This means allowing yourself enough time to complete it without rushing and having all the necessary tools to hand. You should also do your research and make sure you are familiar with all of the required regulations and building codes, so you know that the work will be completed in line with the safety requirements.
Wearing the right safety equipment is also important when you are working on a plumbing project. Protecting your eyes from potentially contaminated water, or splinters from metalwork or piping is especially important. If you are using power tools such as drills or saws, you will also need to protect your hearing.
Wearing long-sleeved tops and gloves will protect you from cuts and infections, especially if you are dealing with waste, dirty water, chemicals or mould.
When working in an environment with a lot of water on the ground, slipping can become a very real hazard. Wearing slip-resistant boots will protect you from potentially dangerous falls and protect your feet from any dropped tools or sharp objects.
Using the right tools for the job at hand is vitally important, as well as making sure those tools are in good condition before use. A dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp blade. If you do need to change any parts on tools (such as drill parts), make sure the tool is turned off and unplugged before making the changes. Before, after and during your DIY project you must always ensure that tools are kept safely out of reach of children and pets.
As with any DIY project, if possible, you should have a person that you trust around to help you. If not, alert a friend, family or neighbour if you suffer an injury and require medical attention. You should also keep a well-stocked first aid kit close to where you are working in case of an emergency.
Some plumbing jobs will require you to work in confined spaces or lofts where it is extremely warm (especially during the summer). If you are working in warm conditions remember to stop frequently and hydrate yourself to avoid succumbing to heatstroke.
Finally, if you are working on a DIY plumbing project and are unsure about any aspects, always have a trusted plumber on hand to help you. Even if it is just to check over your work once you are finished to ensure it meets with regulations and guidelines.
Hiring a Plumber – What to Look Out For
If you do not have the time or the skills required to complete plumbing work yourself, you may be considering hiring a professional plumber. With so many to choose from, finding the right person to help you can seem like a difficult task. We have listed some of the key things to look for before hiring a plumbing contractor below.
- Qualifications – Check that your chosen tradesperson has all of the necessary qualifications and accreditations to perform the job correctly and safely. If the job involves gas or heating work, the plumber must be registered with the right organisations such as Gas Safe or OFTEC. Other trade bodies can prove a trades person’s competence such as Which?, Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers (CIPHE) and The Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS)
- You will also have the option of choosing a local smaller plumber or a nationwide plumbing company. A local plumber may be more open to negotiating on the price of the work and may also go to extra lengths to protect their reputation. A national company may be more rigid with their pricing structures but if you need a plumber within a shorter time frame this may work out to be a better option for you. Larger organisations will also impose checks on all of their staff so you are assured that your plumber will be adequately qualified for the job at hand.
- Finally, when hiring a plumber, you will need to make sure you are paying the correct price. Typically, plumbing work costs around £40 per hour for labour, often with a call out fee of around £45 plus. In some areas such as London though, this cost rises to more than £100 per hour for labour. It pays to spend some time getting quotes from different plumbers to give you an accurate idea of the price that you should expect to pay.
Frequently Asked Questions – Common Plumbing Problems
Plumbing is an essential part of your household covering many areas and applications. There are many questions surrounding plumbing, so we have tried to collate some of the main ones below.
What is backflow and how can I protect my plumbing system against it?
Backflow occurs when fluids travel back to the source – the opposite way they were intended to flow. Backflow can happen where the water pressure fluctuates, and negative pressure or vacuum occurs – this can happen if there is a lot of usage on the system or repair work is being carried out. Backflow can also occur where the pressure in the system downstream is greater forcing the fluid back towards the source.
Backflow is problematic because the fluids can contaminate the rest of the system and in some cases even make their way back into the public mains.
To protect your plumbing system against backflow, the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations outline the risk of contamination and the steps that must be taken to prevent backflow in each scenario. The risks are categorised in fluid categories, the risk to health and the devices that may be used to prevent backflow.
- When dealing with drinking water there is no risk, so no prevention device is needed in this scenario.
- When there is a slight change in taste, odour or temperature that is slightly unpleasant, a single check valve should be used.
- Where there are chemicals of low toxicity that pose a low health hazard, a double valve should be used.
- If there are toxic chemicals or carcinogenic substances in the water, then a reduced pressure zone valve (RPZ) or break cistern incorporating a type AF air gap should be used to prevent backflow.
- Where there are radioactive or very toxic substances, faecal and pathogenic organisms that pose a serious health risk, a broken cistern incorporating a Type AA or AB air gap should be used to stop backflow from occurring.
How do I turn off my water supply?
Before you carry out any plumbing work you will need to isolate the appliance you are working on and perhaps even shut off the main water supply to your property. There are internal and external stop taps to control the flow of water into your home.
To locate the internal stop tap, look under the kitchen sink where they are commonly installed. Alternatively, your stop tap may be found in an airing cupboard or under the floorboards near the front door.
An external tap should only really be operated by your water supplier or a qualified plumber and you may need permission to turn it off, even in an emergency. The external tap will be near the property boundaries and could be under a cover with the name of the water supplier engraved on top. Many external stop taps are found within pavements or roads so if you are trying to access it you should be aware of any oncoming traffic.
If you live in a block of flats or share a water supply with another property then you need to keep in mind that shutting the water off from the external tap will cut the water supply to all involved properties.
What should I do if I cannot turn off my water supply?
If you are unable to shut off the water supply using the internal stop tap (or even if you cannot find it) an experienced plumber such as Perfect Plumbers will be able to help. A qualified plumber will also be able to access the external stop tap and speak to the water supplier if there are any further problems.
What is the correct pressure for water from my supplier?
Water pressure varies from household to household and between different times of the day. The water pressure within your home depends on several factors including; where you are based, the type and height of the property, the type of appliances being used, and finally how many other customers are using the water supply at the same time. Water pressure is generally higher at night when people are not using their taps or appliances, and lower in the mornings when more people are having baths or showers.
As a general reference point for water suppliers, the water pressure should be ten metres head of pressure (or one bar) with a flow of nine litres per minute. This means that the pressure should be powerful enough to push the water to a height of ten metres. To measure this within your home, you should be able to fill a bucket of 4.5 litres (or one gallon) within 30 seconds with all other taps and appliances turned off.
What should I do if I have a water leak?
A water leak can be disastrous for your property, causing expensive amounts of damage. If you suspect that you have a leak you should turn off your water supply immediately using the main stopcock. If you can fix the leak yourself you should carry out the work as soon as possible, or contact a professional plumbing contractor such as Perfect Plumbers to help you fix the problem.
Do I need to have my boiler serviced?
Yes, to keep your boiler working safely and efficiently it is important to have it serviced regularly by a qualified professional. An annual boiler service can help you to detect any small problems and correct them before they become bigger and more costly to repair.
How hot should my water be?
Water in the home should be no more than 120 degrees. If heated to a higher temperature the water could become dangerous to elderly or vulnerable people and small children. You can control the temperature of your water the thermostat on your boiler.