A Guide to Your Bathroom Plumbing and What You Need to Know

A Guide to Your Bathroom Plumbing and What You Need to Know

There’s rarely a more “uh-oh” moment than when something goes wrong with your bathroom plumbing. Keeping your pipes, sinks, and commode functioning well is important, and regular preventive maintenance can help avoid catastrophic issues and costly repairs. We’ve put together a primer on bathroom basics so you don’t end up backed up.

Plumbing at a Glance

Bathroom plumbing follows the laws of nature – gravity, pressure, and water seeking its own level. When you keep these in mind, the mysteries of plumbing make a lot more sense. The water moves predictably, following the laws of gravity, but it can be manipulated using pressure. This is essentially how your bathroom plumbing functions.

The Water Supply

There are two different water systems in your household bathroom plumbing, the supply subsystem, and the drainage subsystem. They’re two distinct systems without overlap, and in the bathroom fixtures that both provide fresh water and remove waste, there are bridges in place to keep the two systems separate.

The water entering your home comes from your municipal water supply, typically the city’s main water line, or, in rural areas, from a private well. Once inside, the water breaks into two-pipe systems, one to the water heater and the other directly to your bathroom fixtures (sinks, toilet, shower). From the water heater, the hot water pipes also feed into the bathroom. The water is under just enough pressure to allow it to travel upstairs and around corners.

Water usage is measured by a meter near where the main water line enters the house – this is how your usage and bill are calculated. The main water shut-off valve is located near the meter. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the location of the water main and how to shut it off. In an emergency, you’ll want to be able to shut off the water fast. In addition to the main water shut-off, your bathroom fixtures should have individual shut off valves, too. If a leak is confined to the sink or toilet, you may not need to shut off the entire water supply, just the water to the affected area.

Wastewater is removed from the bathroom through downward-facing pipes (gravity, again, remember?) that pull the waste out and into the municipal sewer line for wastewater processing.

Vents and Drains

You may not realize it, but properly working vents are essential to your bathroom water supply and plumbing working properly. The vents in your plumbing keep the right amount of air in the system, which helps decrease water pressure, prevent back-ups in the pipes, and keeps the traps from being siphoned. Vents also help the waste move out of the pipes more efficiently.

The drainage system is a series of pipes, typically constructed from PVC, a strong, high-density plastic with enough durability and reliability to handle the constant use of water in your home’s plumbing. The drainage pipes from the bathroom lead to a master stack of pipes, typically in the basement or crawlspace fo the house and referred to by plumbers as the “soil stack.” These pipes connect to the sewer line and are engineered to encourage optimal flow each time a toilet is flushed or a sink is drained. To allow the drainage system to function correctly, each fixture has to connect to one of the main vents.

Common Plumbing Issues in Bathrooms

It’s estimated that an average household can save about 10% of their water bill each year simply by fixing small leaks in the fixtures. It’s not just money saved on water usage that makes it important to fix small leaks. The damage that these causes over time can damage your cabinetry and the interior walls of your home. The most common plumbing issues in bathrooms are leaks and clogs, both of which can be easy fixes, or turn into a nightmare repair if they aren’t tended to right away.

Leaky Pipes

The pipes in your bathroom can become clogged easily, with hair or just general debris. These clogs can cause leaks in the pipes, as the water has to move past the clog with more than the ideal force. The increased pressure can cause leaks at the seams of the pipes. The excess pressure, corroded pipes (more common in older homes when pipes weren’t fashioned from PVC) broken seals, or temperature changes, especially in the winter, can lead to leaks.

Although you may feel like you can fix a leaky pipe yourself, if you don’t have direct experience doing so, it’s best to contact a professional plumber to fix the leak, instead of trying to do it yourself and ending up making the problem worse. If you notice a leaking pipe, shut off the water to the fixture to prevent further water damage and call a plumber.

Clogs in the Sink or Toilet

Toilets can become clogged with excess tissue paper, feminine hygiene products, cotton balls, or baby wipes. Most sewage systems aren’t designed to handle anything other than toilet paper, so flushing anything else down the commode can lead to either a clogged toilet or clogs further down the pipe.

Typically, a clogged toilet can be fixed with a plunger and a little bit of effort and clogged drains with either a small plastic snake or a chemical clog-dissolver. Shower clogs are generally due to excess hair in the drain. A removable drain guard can collect the hair in a clump, and can be removed to remove the hair clumps. A small plastic wand that fits in the shower drain can be manipulated into removing hair clumps that are farther down in the pipes.

However, if these DIY home solutions to a blocked commode or drain don’t work., you’ll need the services of a professional plumber.

When to Call a Plumber

For anything other than a routine clog, it’s best to have a professional plumber take care of issues in your home’s bathroom. One wrong move on your part could cause your home to flood, and you may not be covered on your homeowners’ insurance if you caused the problem with a DIY fix. For comprehensive plumbing repairs, including preventative maintenance and 24-hour emergency, service, turn to the professionals at Bluefrog Plumbing + Drain for all your water needs.

Photo By Peshkova at Shutterstock
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