DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Plumbing FAQ's

I think my flush valve is leaking, is there a way to fix this without removing the tank from the bowl?

Maybe. Start by checking the flapper, which is the rubber and plastic assembly piece that is attached to the chain. When the tank lever is pressed, the flapper is raised to let water flush from the tank into the bowl. Sometimes the flapper doesn’t seat properly and needs to be adjusted. Oftentimes, the flapper can be replaced without replacing the entire flush valve.

My toilet is constantly running causing ripples in the bowl. What’s wrong?

Either the float on the fill valve is stuck or it is set too high, causing water to overflow from the tank into the bowl through the overflow tube. Check the float on the fill valve to make sure it isn’t getting stuck on anything. Next, check for mineral build-up on the body of the fill valve, which may be causing the float to stick. This can be removed with steel wool or fine grit sandpaper.

My sump pump runs constantly, do I need to buy a new one?

It could just be a bad switch that is easy to replace.

When sweating copper, should I use propane gas in the blue cylinder or and propylene gas in the yellow cylinder?

Either one will work. The difference is that propylene in the yellow cylinder burns hotter. It has a flame temperature of 3,600 degrees F opposed to 3,450 degrees F for propane. A hotter flame means it can heat the pipe faster so it is ready to solder sooner. The higher temperature can also overcome the effects of a small amount of water left in the line, which is common in plumbing retrofits. The negative of propylene is the cost: about three times that of propane.

How do I know the correct size of sump pump to install?

If this is a replacement, and the previous one served well for a number of years, you can simply install the same size. If the old one seemed to run too often, you may want to get a slightly larger pump so it doesn’t have to work so hard. If this is for a new installation, 1/3 horsepower will normally handle occasional water flow, while a ½ horsepower will be needed if there is daily water flow.

I just refinished my basement and I want to ensure that it doesn’t flood. Do you have any advice?

You can buy a sump pump that has a battery back up. There are also high-water alarms.

If I’m soldering a copper pipe fitting onto an existing water line, do I have to remove all the water from the pipe first?

Yes. You must first remove all existing water in the line before soldering. Water cools the pipe, which doesn’t allow it to heat up to the proper soldering temperature. A propylene torch can help with this because it burns hotter. The best measure to take is to remove all water from the pipe before soldering. Stuff a ball of white bread (Wonder Bread works great) into the pipe to stop water. Then, after you soldering the fitting and turn the water back on, purge the line of the bread through the nearest exterior hose bib. Plumbers have used this trick for years.

What is a check valve?

A check valve keeps water from returning to the sump pit or crawl space after the pump shuts off.

What is a pressure assist toilet?

It is a type of flush mechanism that uses both water and compressed air to flush the toilet, which helps eliminate clogs by flushing waster further than a gravity fed system.

I’ve heard I need to open a shut-off valve (either a ball or a gate valve) before soldering it to a copper pipe. Why?

By opening the valve it prevents the washer inside the valve from getting damaged by excessive heat when soldering.

I have a problem with the plumbing in my house making groaning and honking sounds. What causes this?

It could be that you have lost your “air cushion.” To get it back, turn the water supply off at the main valve. Turn on all the faucets around your home. Then turn on the main valve again and shut off each faucet. This should take care of the problem.

What is a supply valve?

This is valve is under the sink or beside the toilet and shuts off the water to the faucet or toilet.

Can I use a cup plunger to unclog my toilet?

It may work, but a forced ball plunger is designed to make more of a seal around the bottom of the toilet to remove the clog.

What is the difference between PVC and CPVC plastic pipe?

CPVC can be used on hot and cold lines, while PVC is for cold water only. PVC is usually used as a drainpipe.

Can the fittings be removed after they have been glued?

No. They are permanently joined and cannot be taken apart.

What do the letters “K,” “L” and “M” on copper tubing mean?

Type K is the heaviest. Type L is medium weight and used most often for waterlines in homes. Type M is thinner and is used underground or for light domestic water lines if local codes allow.

How should I cut plastic pipe?

Any fine tooth saw will work, but make sure you remove any burs.

What is the difference between soft copper tubing and hard copper tubing?

Hard copper is rigid line used throughout the house. Soft copper is used where flexibility is needed, such as faucet supply lines.

What is a compression fitting?

This type of fitting squeezes a brass or plastic ring around copper or plastic tubing.

The pull-out spray nozzle in my new faucet won’t retract back into the faucet, what’s causing this?

Perhaps the weight that retracts the spray hose fell off or is caught on something underneath the sink.

What is a flare fitting?

A connector is slipped over the end of a copper tube, which is then flared out using a special tool. The fitting can then be screwed into another fitting.

What is the proper way to join galvanized to copper pipe?

You should use a dielectric union. This will prevent electrolysis from occurring, which deteriorates the copper tubing.

What does O.D. and I.D. mean?

This refers to the diameter of a pipe. Some pipes are measured base on their outside diameter, or O.D. Others are measured by their interior diameter, or I.D.

How close to the copper fitting do you need to hold the flame to get bring it up to soldering temperature?

The inner blue cone within the flame is the hottest part of the flame and should always touch the copper. When the copper starts to turn iridescent in color and gets a shiny appearance, gently touch the tip of the solder to the joint. I should melt and run into the joint.

Can I attach metal fittings and plastic fittings?

Yes, there are transition fittings that make this possible.

I bought a new faucet with a built-in pull out spray nozzle, and now I have an extra hole in my sink where the pull-out spray used to be.

You can use this hole for a variety of handy accessories, such as a soap dispenser or for the dispenser of an under-sink water filtration system.

Do you measure the diameter of hard copper and the same as soft copper?

No, you measure hard coppers with I.D. (inside diameter). You measure soft coppers by their O.D. (outside diameters).

I have a water pipe in an unheated garage, how can I protect it from freezing?

Wrap the pipe with a heat tape, which comes in different lengths.

Is ½” CPVC and ½” PVC the same size?

No. CPVC is measured by O.D., which makes its sizing similar to hard copper. PVC is measured by I.D., which makes its sizing similar to iron pipe.

Can you have a garbage disposal if you have a septic system?

Yes, in fact, many manufacturers make models specifically for homes with septic systems.

My garbage disposal smells bad. What can I do?

There are garbage disposer cleaners that will eliminate this smell, or a home remedy is to grind up citrus peels in the disposer, which will also eliminate the smell.

What is an under-mount sink?

It’s a type of sink that mounts underneath the counter. It’s common in kitchens with solid surface counters.

There is dripping along some of my pipes. Does this indicate a leak?

Not necessarily. Warm, moist air condenses when it strikes cold pipes. To prevent this condensation, wrap the pipes in insulation.

What does the toilet vent pipe do?

It is a pipe that runs from the toilet drain to the outside, usually to the roof. This prevents air lock in the drain line.

I think my kitchen drains are partially clogged, because the sink drains slowly. What do you recommend?

First, try using a plunger. Second, try using a liquid drain opener, but use caution and read directions. Third, you can remove the trap. Be careful if you have used a liquid drain opener because there may be some in the trap. Fourth, if the clog is beyond the trap, we have drain augers that extend from about 15 feet to about 50 feet.

Is a trap necessary under the sink?

You need a trap to shut off odor (sewer gas) from coming into the kitchen and bath area.

What diameter trap do I need for my kitchen sink?

These are almost always 1 ½ inches. The 1 ¼ inch traps are for bathroom lavatories.

I need to install a new water heater. What type of fitting will I need to connect the unit to my plumbing?

You need a union that is a compression fitting that can be tightened or disconnected later.

In the long run, which is better—chrome drain parts or plastic?

Plastic will usually last much longer than chrome, but you have to be careful because it can be affected by some harsh chemicals in drain cleaners.

I want to transition from 3/4″ copper pipe to 1/2″ copper pipe. How do I do that?

You need a reducer coupling or elbow (if there is a change in direction) to join the two pieces together.

Can I hook a 1-¼ inch drainpipe to a 1 ½ J-bend trap?

Yes, use a reducing slip joint rubber or plastic washer.

What is a toilet vent?

It is a pipe that runs from the toilet drain to the outside, usually to the roof. This prevents air lock in the drain line.

How do I join PVC fittings to PVC pipe?

Use a solvent welding glue, which softens the pipe and fittings so they can melt together.

Do I need all of those special wrenches? Can’t I just use a standard wrench or a pair of adjustable pliers?

The plumbing fittings these wrenches are designed for are usually difficult to access and the standard wrench or pliers will not fit into those tight spaces. Using the proper tool will save frustration and ensure a proper installation.

What is plumber’s putty?

It is a sealing putty used for a variety of tasks including to seal basket strainers, garbage disposal rims and tub drains.

How do I remove the seat?

Use a seat wrench, which has several sizes of square and hex ends.

Can I use an ordinary hacksaw to cut copper pipe?

Yes, but it doesnít do as good a job as a tube cutter, which makes a cleaner cut at a 90-degree angle.

What is the purpose of pipe joint compound or tape?

They reduce friction in assembly and provide a watertight seal.

Which is better for sealing—Teflon™ tape or thread joint compound?

They do the same job, but Teflon™ tape is easier to work with and makes a cleaner joint.

Can I use a copper tube cutter to cut PVC pipe?

While there are separate cutting wheels available for plastic pipe, such as PVC, you would probably be better off buying a PVC cutter.

Do I use the same type of glue for both PVC and CPVC?

No, CPVC requires a special solvent cement that is different from cement used for other types of plastic pipe.

How do I join fittings to plastic pipe?

Use a solvent welding glue, which softens the pipe and fittings so they can melt together.

Do you recommend a plastic pipe cleaners and primers?

These are applied to a pipe and fitting, before applying the solvent weld glue to ensure a strong bond. Their use is always a good idea, especially if it’s for a water supply line or the connection is going to be somewhere that will be difficult to get to in the future.

How do I solder copper tubing?

Clean the inside of the fitting, clean the outside of the tubing, apply acid flux, heat the fitting and apply the solder.

What kind of solder do I use on a water line?

Health codes require lead-free solder.

My faucet is leaking and I think it is due to my hard water. What do you recommend?

Instead of buying a new valve stem, try to ream the faucet seat with a seat reamer to remove any calcium deposits that may have formed from your hard water.

What does the flux do?

It cleans the surface prior to soldering. It prevents the oxidation of the metal. And it allows the solder to flow freely.

I have heat tape on my water line. What type of pipe wrap should I use over the heat tape?

Use fiberglass. Don’t use foam wrap, because the heat could melt it.

What type of liquid drain cleaner do you recommend?

A sulfuric base is one of the most effective. Care should be taken, because it is highly corrosive. Do not use on aluminum pipes.

I am getting no hot water from my electric water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The high-temperature cutoff may have been tripped, which requires someone to press the reset. Otherwise its probably a faulty heating element or thermostat, which can be replaced.

What is the correct size garbage disposer I should put under my sink?

If you are replacing an existing unit that has worked well for a number of years, the old size should work fine. Otherwise, a unit with a 1/3 horsepower motor will handle limited use once a day. A standard unit with a ½ horsepower motor will normally suffice for general use. Heavy-duty ¾ horsepower units and larger are designed for a large volume of garbage.

I’m not getting enough hot water from my electric water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The temperature control may be set too low. Otherwise its probably a faulty heating element or thermostat, which can be replaced.

The water from my electric hot water tank is too hot. What could be the cause of this?

The thermostat may be set too high, or it may be faulty. It could also be a grounded heating element.

Are all electric hot water heater elements the same?

Three are three types—screw in, bolt in and clamp in. The also have different wattage ratings and can work on either 120 or 240 voltage.

Can the plastic pipe fittings be removed after they have been glued?

No, they are permanently joined and cannot be taken apart.

I am getting no hot water from my gas water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The pilot light might be out, or you may have a faulty thermostat.

I am not getting enough hot water from my gas water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The thermostat may be set too low, otherwise it the burner is probably not burning correctly. If that’s the case, it’s best to call a service technician.

Why is the torch hard to light?

The valve may be open to far. Open the valve just slightly so the rush of gas doesnít blow out the flame

There is water leaking from my water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The pressure relief valve could be leaking. Try operating the valve to see if it will stop. It also might need tightening. A gasket around the heating element may need replaced, or the tank could be rusted out, which requires a new hot water heater.

What is the purpose of a pressure relief valve on a water heater?

This is a safety device that will open in case of high pressure or temperature.

Why won’t the torch stay lit while upside down?

In some torches, the liquid propane in an upside down tank works its way through the torch and blows out the flame. To avoid this, use a pressure regulated torch.

Can you repair a leaky valve?

Gate valves can sometimes be repaired by tightening the outside hex nut or by removing the hex nut and adding stem packing.

What is a gasket?

It is made of rubber, plastic or paper and is the component that seals the joints in fittings and valves. It is sometimes available in liquid form.

When replacing a faucet, do I need to put putty underneath it?

Yes, this will prevent water and moisture from leaking around the faucet and underneath the counter.

How can I make my cultured marble sink look shiny again?

Use a polishing compound. To fill in scratches or dents, use appliance wax or car wax.

Can I replace my sink with a larger one?

Yes, if you have laminate countertops and if there is enough room in the cabinet under your existing sink to accommodate the larger sink. You’ll need to cut a larger hole in the counter with a saber saw to accommodate the new sink, which should come with a template for sizing the hole properly. If you have a solid surface countertop, then it’s best to call a professional.

Which is better for sealing pipe threads, teflon tape or pipe paste?

They both do a similar job, but the teflon tape is a bit easier to use. Be sure to wrap in a clockwise direction when using teflon tape.

Pipe paste will remain gooey and flexible.

How do I remove hard water stains from my stainless steel sink?

Try cleaning it with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol.

How do I test my toilet flapper for leaks?

Test your toilet flapper by pouring a bit of food coloring into the tank, then check back in 15 minutes to see if the water in the bowl has changed color. If it has, then most likely your toilet flapper needs to be replaced. If this does not fix the leak, you may need to replace the entire flush valve. For more information on diagnosing a leaky toilet, watch our video “Why is My Toilet Leaking.” To learn how to change your entire flush valve, watch our video “Installing a Flush Valve.”

Why is my showerhead spraying unevenly, or why is water not coming through some of the holes?

The shower head may need to be cleaned of hard water deposits. Take the shower head apart and clean it using an old toothbrush and a decalcifying-type cleaner.

What type of plunger should I use to unclog my toilet?

The best type of plunger to buy is one that includes a flange around the bottom. This allows the plunger to create a better seal inside the toilet. For more information on the best products to clear your toilet, watch our video “Unclogging a Toilet.”

Why can’t I just get a regular showerhead instead of one of those water saver types?

Federal law has set a standard on the flow rate of water from showerheads. However, many of the new showerheads mix air with water. The resulting shower is as satisfying as any shower, and youíll likely never know you were using a low-flow showerhead.

What is an anti-siphon toilet fill valve?

The anti-siphon protection prevents the toilet tank water from getting into your home water supply system.

How does a typical water filter work?

Different types of filters work differently.
If it is a bacteria/sediment/taste/odor filter, water flows through a silver-impregnated ceramic wall, which traps particles down to one micron. Then it flows through a granular-activated charcoal liner that absorbs chemicals, unpleasant tastes and odors. Water that is free of bacteria then passes through the center hole and out of the filter.

If it is a filter that removes chemical/taste/odors, water enters the filter and surrounds a cartridge inside. Water then passes through the hole at the bottom of the cartridge and flows up through a bed of granular activated carbon, which absorbs chemicals, tastes and odors, and then out of the filter.

If it is a filter that removes sediment, it is installed at the source of the supply. Water containing sand, silt, algae and rust enters the filter and surrounds the cartridge, which is tightly sealed at both ends. Water passes through the cartridge well, which traps sediment particles. Relatively free of solid matter (depending on micron rating of the filter), the water flows up through the center hole and out of the filter.


Why is water leaking from the base of my toilet?

Most likely the wax ring at the base of your toilet has failed. To replace it you will need to loosen the bolts that hold the toilet to the floor, pull it up and remove the old wax ring. Place a new wax ring at the base of the toilet and replace the toilet using new bolts. For more information on this, watch our video “How to Replace a Toilet.”

What’s the most likely reason my sump pump isn’t working?

Usually its the switch. If the pump shifts inside the sump pit, the float switch may become stuck and not float freely on the water. Debris can also get into the sump pit and interfere with the switch action.

What can I use to make sure my water pipe does not freeze?

Heat tapes have a thermostat on them so they know when to turn on and off. Simply wrap the pipe and plug them in.

There is water seeping from around the base of my toilet. What do I need to do to solve this problem?

Your wax gasket is probably not working anymore. This is a simple problem to fix. You need to remove the toilet and install a new wax ring. While you have the toilet off you should go ahead and replace the bolts. Otherwise, it could be a crack in your toilet bowl.

What do I do if there is a crack in my toilet bowl?

If it is small crack, you can try to repair it. Drain the toilet, dry it off, apply some Plumber’s Goop and let it dry completely before refilling the tank. However, you may have to replace the bowl.

Why isn’t my toilet bowl filling up?

See if you toilet has an overflow pipe. If so, a rubber tube should go into it. It has a metal clip on it and sometimes it can come loose.

What are the working parts of a toilet?

The refill valve, the flush valve and the trip lever.

What type of caulk should I use in my shower?

Silicone caulks are water resistant and provide excellent adhesion to smooth surfaces, such as metal, glass and tile. However, it does not adhere well to masonry and is paint resistant. It is also difficult to work with and smears must be cleaned up with paint thinner.

Are there different kinds of latex caulk?

Yes. For example, vinyl latex is good for small cracks. Acrylic latex is a little more flexible and lasts longer up to 10 or 15 years. Siliconized acrlic latex should not be confused with a pure silicone caulk, but it is a medium-performance caulk that provides some water resistance and lasts up to 25 years or more.

Why is my toilet refilling every 10 minutes. What is the problem?

More than likely, water is leaking from the tank into the bowl. This could be the result of the lift chain being tangled which isn’t letting the flapper seat properly. A build-up of scale or hard water deposits on the seat of the flapper might also be preventing the flapper from seating properly. Remove this scale with steel wool or with No. 500 abrasive paper.

How do I test to see if water is leaking from the tank into the bowl?

After flushing the toilet, let it refill. Now put a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If the color appears in the bowl after a few minutes, there is a leak.

Can I test to see if the leak is coming from the refill or the flush valve?

Yes. Shut off the water supply to the toilet. Mark the water level on the inside of the tank with a pencil. Check the water level in 10 or 20 minutes. If the water has fallen, you know the flush valve is leaking.

Why is water constantly running into my toilet?

If the refill valve is leaking, the tank overfills and the excess water runs into the overflow pipe and into the bowl.

How high should the water level in the toilet tank be?

It needs to be high enough for complete flushes, but it should be below the top of the overflow pipe. The tank should have a colored or molded water level mark. The rule of thumb is to set the water level about ¾” below the top of the overflow pipe.

What spray tip is best to use with my pressure washer when cleaning exterior siding?

Choose a tip that won’t damage the siding. A 15-degree tip is a good choice.

How do I adjust toilet water level?

To adjust the water level on a toilet with modern tank components, there is a lock ring or pinch clamp that allows you to raise or lower the float on the fill valve. On toilets with older fill valves, you can simply bend the float arm down to lower the water level or up to raise it.

How do I replace a damaged refill valve?

Turn off the toilet’s water supply valve, flush the toilet and sponge out any remaining water in the tank. The refill valve is usually removed by turning a nut that holds it in place. When the nut is off, the refill assembly can be lifted out. Install the new assembly by following the manufacture’s directions.

What size water supply line do I need?

There are generally two sizes of supply lines. The toilet supply line head is the larger of the two. The smaller ones are sink supply lines.

I need to retrofit some plumbing lines. What are the advantages of choosing plastic (CPVC) pipe over copper?

First, it’s traditionally about half the price of copper. Second, it’s not affected by the pH conditions of water or soil. Copper can fail if water or soil conditions are too acidic. Drawbacks include that CPVC expands and contracts with temperature swings and the solvent welding process does emit VOCs as it cures.

What do I need to do to repair my leaking faucet?

Is it leaking from the handle or out the spout? Most faucets are washer-type, and if these are leaking from the spout, you will have to replace the washer. If the seat is corroded, you will have to dress it or replace it. If it is leaking from the handle, you may need to replace the O-rings, tighten the packing nut or replace the packing. If a disk faucet is leaking, you will need to replace the O-ring. If it is leaking from the spout, you will need to replace the disk assembly. For ball-type faucet leaks, you may need to replace the cam assembly, the seat assembly and the ball.

What can I use to join plastic (CPVC) to copper?

The easiest thing is to use a push fitting.

Are all faucet seats the same?

No, you will need to bring in your old seat to match up with the new one when you visit your local hardware store. Each brand has its own design and thread.

When it comes to plastic piping, Is ½-inch CPVC and ½-inch PVC the same size?

No. CPVC is measured by O.D., which makes its sizing similar to hard copper. PVC is measured by I.D., which makes its sizing similar to iron pipe.

How do I remove a faucet seat?

Use a seat wrench, which has several sizes of square and hex ends.

What are the advantages of plastic supply lines?

They are less expensive, do not corrode, will not kink, are more flexible and are non-toxic.

What does it mean when a faucet is said to have 8-inch centers?

The faucet mounts with the fixture holes set 8 inches apart. It’s important that you buy the right size faucet to fit.

What is the purpose of an aerator on a faucet?

An aerator diffuses the water to prevent splashing.

Do I need plumbers putty underneath my faucet?

This is a good idea to keep moisture from getting under the faucet and into the cabinet below.

I think my toilet may be leaking. What should I do?

The most likely cause is that your toilet’s flush valve is leaking through the flapper, letting water continue to drain from the tank down into the bowl. You can check this by pouring some food coloring or blue fabric softener into the tank. Let it sit for 10 minutes than check back to see if the color of the water is the bowl has changed. If so, start by making sure the flapper is seating properly, and replace it if necessary.