Common Plumbing Problems for Chicago Homeowners

Depending on the cause and location of a clog, drain cleaning may or may not be effective. Additionally, because clogs in multiple places can contribute to the problem, successfully clearing one problem spot might not solve all long-term problems.

Toilet clogs. Toilet clogs can often be cleared with a toilet plunger. If, however, the clog is difficult to remove with a plunger, plumbers can use special tools called augers, or snakes. Snakes are long, flexible, spring-like tools that are inserted into the clogged drain and rotated to manually break up the clog.

Grease clogs. Grease clogs may represent a more difficult problem. Grease clogs usually occur in the two-inch drainpipe connecting the kitchen sink to the main four-inch drainpipe that handles toilet waste and leads to the sewer. Because the washing machine pump forces water into the same two-inch drainpipe, a grease clog is commonly misdiagnosed as a clogged washing machine drain line.

Because grease naturally sticks to the walls of drain lines, it is relatively difficult to remove. In some cases, the most economically feasible alternative is to replace the two-inch drain line. However, because of the high cost of replacing the line, the first attempt at alleviating the problem is to use a plumber’s snake to punch a hole through the grease and remove as much of the grease as possible. Because this repair cannot remove all the grease, in time the line usually reclogs. If the same drain repeatedly clogs, you may need to replace the line instead of investing more money in additional snaking.

Clogs in the main sewer line. Broken seals, joints, or pipe sections are the primary causes of most sewer line clogs. These breaks allow tree roots to penetrate and grow in the line, gradually filling it and blocking the flow of water and waste. The only way to remove all the roots from the line is to replace it, which is very expensive. In many cases, enough of the roots can be cut from the inside of the line with a sewer machine to open up the flow. Unfortunately, because damaged roots can grow back in a fertile environment, the line often reclogs. Furthermore, because some partially cut roots tend to shift position, the line may reclog almost immediately. If the sewer line reclogs after the sewer machine cuts the roots, you may be better off replacing the line instead of investing more money in additional rooter attempts. Remember that cutting the roots out of a sewer line only treats the symptom of the real problem, which is a broken seal, joint, or pipe section.

Dripping faucets. Dripping faucets are usually caused by wear on one or more parts of the faucet. Since various faucet designs shut off water flow differently, a variety of components can cause the faucet to drip. In a standard two-handle faucet, a worn rubber washer/O-ring or a worn valve seat usually causes the drip.

Free-flowing toilets (water keeps running). A flapper or tank valve that does not seat properly after the toilet is flushed usually causes the toilet to free flow. Until the flapper or tank valve seats properly, all the water entering the tank flows directly into the toilet bowl. Sometimes simply jiggling the tank handle will reseat the flapper or tank ball, thus allowing the tank to refill and the toilet to stop running. If the problem recurs, the flapper or tank ball may be out of adjustment, the chain from the handle may be too long, or there could be a poorly adjusted refill mechanism.

Toilets that will not flush. A disconnected handle chain may be the cause of this problem. If the tank is full, make sure that the chain connecting the handle arm to the flapper or tank ball is properly connected. If not, reconnecting the chain to the handle arm is usually simple. However, it involves sticking your hand into the tank to retrieve the chain. If the tank is empty, it may be that no water is getting to the toilet from the supply line.

Water heaters. Because improperly installed water heaters can start fires, poison the air inside the home, or even explode, current building codes strictly specify water heater installation. Unfortunately, some plumbers currently install replacement water heaters without fixing code violations—a practice that is both illegal and dangerous. A quote that brings the installation to code may be more expensive than one that does not, but it also represents more valuable work. If you purchase an installed water heater from a less reputable source, make sure you get the finished installation inspected by a county building inspector.