Part I

When to DIY room by room

Indoor plumbing has remained substantially the same since ancient Egyptians installed it in pyramids centuries ago. (You’ve never seen a National Geographic special showing a pyramid in the foreground and an outhouse in the background, have you?)

Today, though, life is a little more complicated. You’re probably not a pharaoh, which means you probably don’t have legions of soldiers waiting to fix your dripping bathroom faucet. So the question becomes:

Is this something I can fix, or is this a situation where I need to call in a pro?

In the first of at least two articles, Mike Frentz is going to go room by room through your house, discuss typical problems and then advise you next week on the best way, step by step, to fix them.

The Bathroom

Things you can do
“For example, the bathroom toilet is the number one plumbing fixture problem people need help with,” Mike says.You can fix the two most common problems yourself. If the toilet is running, or seems to refill itself, the problem is a leaking flapper, the best-selling repair part for bathroom plumbing.

The flapper is the rubber disk that allows water in and out of the tank when the flush handle is pushed. When the seal isn’t perfect, the water runs – a problem Mike notes can be very costly over a long period of time. This is something you can do.

The other thing you can tackle is fixing the fill valve, which used to be called a ball cock until some companies decided the name might carry the connotation of political incorrectness.

The fill valve is the device that refills the tank after it is flushed. Fixing or replacing this valve is another thing you can do.

Mike also knows fixing the trap under a sink isn’t as difficult as most people think it is. The same goes for installing a new showerhead, a new stopper in the tub, or fixing the drain in the tub if it isn’t staying open.

Let a pro do it
“Replacing the wax seal underneath the toilet. That’s something I’d recommend people not tackle themselves unless they’ve had some experience with replacing toilets,” Mike says.

The very top of a cast iron pipe that your toilet is seated on is called a flange. When the toilet was installed, a wax seal was place between the flange and the toilet to make the connection airtight. “The problem is that the flange could be cracked or broken, in which case it might need to be chiseled off. That involves knowing what you’re doing, because you could easily crack the pipe the flange is attached to, and that’s very expensive to fix,” Mike says.

The Kitchen

Things you can do
“There’s actually a lot you can do yourself. You can replace the faucet and sink, fix a dripping spout, fix a leaking handle on the faucet and even fix a leaking spout,” Mike says. In most cases, it’s just the washers are wearing out from use. The same holds true for the sink in your bathroom.

The trap – the “U” shaped pipe beneath the sink, is also something you can replace. Mike says some people try and make do with a straight pipe, but that’s a very bad error. “You need an airtight seal between the wall and the sink, which is why you need a U-shaped pipe. There’s always water in the bottom of the U, and that’s what forms the seal. Otherwise, sewer gas can leak into your house through the drain and that’s a real health risk.”

Replacing the garbage disposal is another item that’s become much easier over the years.

Replacing a dishwasher is something many people think they need a pro to do, but Mike says newer connectors make it easy to install.

Let a pro do it
On the other hand, if you’re going to install – not replace – a dishwasher, Mike thinks you’d be much better off letting a pro handle the job. This project involves running new plumbing lines and tapping into existing lines.

Another job to let a pro handle is removing or replacing an old, cast iron sink. This isn’t the sort of thing you want to tackle with your buddies on a Saturday afternoon. “Those sinks can weigh 160 or 170 pounds and getting enough leverage to move them without damaging your countertop isn’t at all easy. There’s not a lot of room to work with,” Mike says.