How to Avoid 6 Common Plumbing Mistakes

Written by Doug Bonderud
Updated September 4, 2015
Plumbing pipes
Make sure you know what you're doing on DIY plumbing jobs to avoid getting in over your head. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

You can fall prey to simple plumbing mistakes that may cost you both time and money.

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DIY plumbing in bathroom
Be careful when it comes to DIY plumbing, as you can make mistakes that could end up costing you more to fix in the long run. (Photo by Ray Mata)

There are a host of simple plumbing problems homeowners can tackle on their own, without taking on the expense of a professional plumber. But even simple fixes can lead to costly mistakes - mistakes made by even the savviest handymen and women. Here are six of the most common DIY plumbing mistakes and how to fix or avoid them.

1. Using too much drain cleaner

While commercial drain cleaners are great at clearing away clogs and getting rid of built-up residue, using too much or using these products too often can damage your drains. Drain cleaners typically include harsh chemicals to break up solid waste and scour pipes clean; overuse can start to eat away the walls of both metal and PVC pipes.

Instead of using a heavy-duty product, consider an eco-friendly alternative such as 1/2 a cup of vinegar followed by 1/2 a cup of baking soda (be ready for foam), and then follow that up with a pot of boiling water after an hour. You can also try using a pipe snake to clear out clogs and reduce the wear and tear on your pipes.

2. Using drain cleaner in the wrong places

Homeowners also need to be careful where they use drain cleaners, even if they rarely try commercial solutions. While most commercial drain cleaning products are safe to use on bathroom and kitchen sinks as well as tubs and showers, toilets can be damaged if you use the wrong type of cleaner.

You also need to be careful when cleaning a washing machine drain pipe; if you damage the pipe and cause a leak, it can result in serious water damage to your home.

To avoid these problems with drain cleaners, make sure to carefully read all labels before use.

3. Leaving an outside hose connected in winter

It's easy to leave a garden hose connected to an outside faucet during a hot summer, but if left connected during the winter months, it can cause your water lines to freeze and burst. If this happens in your house, you may have thousands of dollars in water damage before you notice any symptoms.

To avoid this problem, always disconnect your outside hoses before freezing temperatures arrive in winter, and if they have a shutoff, turn off the water supply to outside taps as well.

4. Mismatching your pipes

Minor, easily visible water leaks - such as those coming from under a sink or in a basement - often inspire a homeowner to try plumbing on their own. When replacing the leaky pipe, however, many DIY plumbers choose the wrong size or type, or try to make the right size fit with the wrong connectors. Galvanized metal pipes, for example, should never connect directly to copper or you risk corrosion, and the proper connector, along with pipe sealant, must be used to ensure a solid fit. Just because pipes seem tight it doesn't mean they'll hold water.

Always double-check the type of pipe and connector you need to use.

5. Not turning off the water

If a pipe springs a leak or if you're pressed for time, it's easy to forget the first rule of DIY plumbing: Shut off the water. No matter how minor the repair, no matter where it is in a home, always shut off the water before attempting a repair.

At best, forgetting to shut off water lines means a mess on the floor and a little bit of extra damage to pipes as you struggle to reconnect them before more water escapes. At worst, leaving the water on and then disconnecting a pipe causes a flood and costs you far more than time.

6. Not hiring a professional plumber

There are some DIY jobs you can easily take on: installing a new faucet, making minor repairs to a toilet or dealing with minor pipe blockages. But any project that seems beyond your ability or requires accessing main water lines or cutting into walls or floors is best left to a plumber. While the cost of hiring a pro will be more than the materials and sweat equity of a DIY effort, the money paid is offset by the assurance that a complicated job will be properly completed, and without risk of error due to inexperience.

Tackling minor plumbing repairs can save homeowners money, so long as they know how to correct or avoid common mistakes and are willing to hire professionals when needed.

Have you ever had trouble with a DIY plumbing job? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted Jan. 24, 2013. 

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