Your home’s plumbing actually consists of two systems: Water supply and wastewater. The major difference between the two is that the supply system is pressurized and the wastewater flows away due to gravity.

Supply Water

The main water shut off is usually in the water meter box generally located in the ground near the curb in front of your house. There is always a stop valve on the city side of the meter to shut off the water. We suggest that you buy a stop valve wrench. It is much easier to use on the valve than an ordinary wrench and can be bought at most hardware stores. You should keep it in a convenient place, such as the water heater closet, so if you need it in hurry because your home is flooding, you won’t be wasting time looking for it. Some water meter box lids need a special key to open it. These keys may be purchased in the same place you buy your stop valve wrench and it would be wise to store them together.

Another way to help locate a leak would be to shut off water to different sections of the plumbing system one at a time, such as the commode, water heater, or laundry faucets, checking for a leak after you have shut off each one. A red flag that may indicate a leak would be a water bill that is larger than usual.

A question home buyers often ask is, “How can I tell if the main valve is on or off?”

Following are some answers:

  • Sometimes there is an arrow on top of the valve, when the arrow is pointing toward the house it is ON, when it is pointing toward the street it is OFF.

  • In some cases, if the top of the valve is in line with the pipe, it is ON, if it is perpendicular, it is OFF.

  • Other shut off valves are usually with supply lines under the fixtures they serve. These can be used to shut off the water if the water leak is down line from them or in the fixture.

Also, there is usually a shut off valve on the inlet pipe to the water heater. This can be used to shut off water to all hot water pipes in the house.

Water Hammer

Sometimes we are asked, “Why are my plumbing pipes so noisy?” – The noise they are usually referring to is known as water hammer. Water hammer noise is usually caused when a rapid flow of water is suddenly halted. It happens frequently when a faucet is turned off by hand or by an appliance, such as an automatic washing machine. The way to stop the noise is to install air chambers in the lines, which will act as cushions for the water. Your plumbing system may already have air chambers which have filled with water and all you have to do is, “drain the system to let the air back in, then refill the system with water.

Water Heaters

Your water heater plays a major role in your life, (if you don’t think so, try a cold shower) so we thought we should mention some facts about it. If you need to shut off the water to your water heater always shut of the gas or electricity to it. This is very easy to do; if it is gas, turn the control at the bottom of the water heater to OFF, if it is electric, you can flip the circuit breaker in the main electrical panel, which controls the water heater to the OFF position.

Never forget that the water from your water heater to your sink, lavatories, showers and tub faucets is scalding hot. Because most homes do not have safety features to prevent accidents, many children are injured in this fashion each year, even though one child may not be able to turn on the faucet another one can.

Your water heater has a valve on top of it that is known as the T&P valve, (temperature and pressure relief valve). This safety device should open if the water heater overheats. The T&P valve can also be opened to help drain the tank. If it opens by itself, you should turn the water heater off and turn the temperature control down. The T&P valve” may or may not reset itself, but if you have any doubts about the safety of the unit you should call a plumber.

Sometimes older water heaters will make popping noises, which is not a cause for concern. It is just a build up of mineral deposits in the bottom of the tank, which acts as a layer of insulation between the flame and the water. Some people recommend you drain your water heater every so often to stop this build up and keep your water heater operating at peak efficiency, however, you should consider these factors first: Let the water cool off before draining; Refill your heater and heat another tank after draining. This is a tremendous waste of water and energy and if your drain valve has not been used in a long while, it will often leak after you are through. We Do Not Recommend Draining Water Heaters.

Waste Water

The other main parts of the plumbing system drains wastewater from all home fixtures and also vents sewer gas to the atmosphere. The wastes are collected through house drains and transferred into a large main sewer pipe, where it is carried off into the public sewer system or to a private disposal system by gravity. The main vertical pipes that receive water from sinks and other fixtures are known as waste lines. The pipes that extend upward through the roof are called vent pipes or vent stacks. These pipes are left open at the top to allow air to enter when water is draining out which prevents creating a vacuum. Since they are connected to the sewer line, they do not need a rain cap. There is a water trap in the drain of each fixture (commonly known as a P-Trap because of its shape). The U-shaped bend in the drainpipe is not there to catch items that may be dropped into a sink or tub, although sometimes it does, but it is constantly filled with water to block sewer gases from entering the house.

Septic Systems

If the home you are purchasing has a septic system, we suggest you obtain as much information as possible from the owners before you buy. Find out where the tank and lateral lines are located so that you don’t damage them by driving over them with a vehicle and this information will come in handy if you should have any trouble in the future.

Many millions of homes are built in areas where a municipal sewer line is not available. The most practical and the safest alternative to a municipal hookup is a septic tank system. Sometimes people we work for ask if the septic system is adequate for the size of the home we are inspecting, WE DON’T KNOW. To obtain the answer, you would need to do a study involving such questions as, how many people will be living in the home, what type of soil the system drains in to, the size of the tank or tanks in the system. Because the system is underground, we can not determine the answers to these questions, we can only say that the system was not inspected. You will need to have a specialist check it out.

A septic system consists of a subsurface steel or concrete tank, which receives waste from the house, and a subsurface drainage field, which is usually made of perforated pipe imbedded in loose gravel. The tank will need to be pumped from time to time and you should ask the sellers how often they pump it and when it was pumped last. Bear in mind, the pumping schedule for them may not be the same as for you because the number of people in the house may vary. It is important to pump the tank before it backs up; if you wait until you reach the point where the drainage field may be clogged, you may have to rework the drainage field and that can be expensive.

Here are some DON’TS concerning septic systems:

  • Don’t cover absorption fields with extra fill.

  • Don’t drive cars or heavy equipment over the tank or drain field as you may damage the system

  • Don’t plant trees or shrub near the tank or drain field, their roots may clog the system

  • Don’t use your sewer system as a garbage disposal

  • Don’t waste money on chemical or biological septic aids or cleaners, they could cause failure of the absorption field

Cross Connections

Waste water and supply water should never come in contact with one another. Sometimes they do meet and it can create a life-threatening situation. How can this happen? One way is if you have a swimming pool or spa and use a water hose to add water by dipping the end of the hose into the pool or spa, turning the water on and leaving it for awhile. Now, lets say, there is a fire down the street, a fire truck hooks a large hose to the main water supply and starts pulling three thousand gallons a minute out of your supply. This much suction can pull water out of your pool or spa back into your house supply lines and contaminate your drinking water. An unusual situation, yes, but it has happened.

We recommend back flow preventers on all outside faucets and also we suggest you never put the end of the hose into any pool of water. Another situation where a cross connection occurs is if a home water heater is used for heating the water for a pool/spa.

Winterizing Plumbing

“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink!” which is what you may have if you are not prepared for cold weather. Here are a few suggestions that may help you avoid the wet feet and the “I love/hate my plumber” syndrome.

Here are some hints to keep the plumber away:

  • At the beginning of winter you should always remove garden water hoses from outside faucets. Leaving the hose on the faucet may cause it to hold water in the faucet allowing it to freeze and rupture.

  • If the faucet is not a frost-proof type, you should wrap it with some type of insulating material.

  • If your laundry facilities are in an unheated garage or utility room, you may want to have a small heater in that area for extra cold nights.

  • Most homes are okay in the winter as long as they are occupied, but if you are planning to take a trip in the winter such as during the Christmas Holidays, you might want to take precautions to prevent your plumbing system from freezing. The simplest way is to leave the furnace on low and open the cabinet doors under sinks. However, if there is a power outage or your furnace fails, your pipes could still freeze. A better way to winterize your home is to drain the system. Here’s how:

  • Begin by turning off the water heater, then turn off the water at the street and loosen the fitting connecting the supply pipe to the water meter.

  • Connect a water hose to the drain valve on the bottom of your water heater, open all faucets, and open the water heater’s T&P valve.

  • Pour a mixture of water and antifreeze into all P-traps and toilet bowls.


Most problems with disposal units happen because they jam or rust builds up inside. If your disposal suddenly stops and emits a low humming sound, a bone, bottle cap or some other hard object has probably been lodged in. it. Removing such objects can be dangerous. If you are not sure what to do, call a plumber. If you have the jam wrench that came with the disposal, turn the power to the disposal OFF first, and then use the wrench to back up the rotor from underneath. If you don’t have a wrench, you insert a short broom handle at the top to pry the disposal in the reverse direction until the rotor rotates freely. Use ice tongs or long nose pliers to remove the object. Sometimes you can use ice cubes to loosen hammers that are rusted in place. Once an obstruction is cleared, you may need to press the reset button which can be on the side or bottom of the disposal depending upon which model you have.

If your house is vacant for an extended period of time, pour one or two cups of cooking oil into the disposal. The oil will not evaporate and will help prevent rust. This is also good advice for dishwashers since it will help keep the seal in the bottom of the dishwasher lubricated and prevent drying and leaking seals.

Don’t use your garbage disposal for extra hard items or large quantities of items such as chicken skin, cornhusks, or cantaloupe peels. A good splashguard should be kept in place to prevent debris from flying out of the disposal.

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