If you’re like most people, you’re probably too busy living your life to think about your home’s plumbing until it’s too late and something goes wrong. The water pressure in the shower suddenly takes a nosedive. A pipe bursts sending water gushing onto your new hardwood floors. The drain in your bathtub is making an eerie, gurgling sound.

When plumbing disasters strike, you sometimes need to jump into action immediately. So, if you’re feeling less than prepared to deal with the next plumbing emergency at your home, now is good time to learn some plumbing repair basics.

Basic Overview of Residential Plumbing

The first thing to know is that residential plumbing systems consist of two separate subsystems. One of these subsystems brings fresh water into your house - the supply system. The other one escorts wastewater out of it - the drainage system.

Supply System

The water brought into your home is under pressure, which allows it to travel upstairs or wherever you need it to go. Water originating from your main supply can be immediately used to meet your cold water needs. However, the hot water supply necessitates another process. A pipe transfers water from your cold water system to the water heater. After arriving at the water heater, a hot water line transports the heated water to all of your appliances and fixtures.

Drainage System

Unlike supply systems, drainage systems don’t rely on pressure to get the job done. Waste material exits your home due to the pitch or downward angle of the drainage pipes. Thankfully, the law of gravity nudges the waste along. Your sewer line moves waste to the septic tank or to a nearby sewage treatment facility. The success of this interesting and likely undervalued process depends on the help it receives from three other players:

  • Vents
  • Traps
  • Clean-out plus


Vents are located on the roof of your home, permitting air to enter the drainpipes. Traps are the curved section of pipes underneath your drains. When you turn on the water in your sinks, bathtubs, or showers, it flows with just enough force to move through traps and drainpipes. However, those traps retain enough water to prevent sewer gas from backing up in your home. Some traps contain clean-out plugs. These plugs provide you with easy access to clean out the stubborn hair or grease that clogs your drainpipes.

Tool-Box Must-Haves for the DIY Plumber

man fixing pipes under a white sink with a red wrench

Because plumbing issues can arise without providing much notice, keeping a well-stocked toolbox for do-it-yourself repairs is not only a great idea, it can be the difference between a minor issue and a full-blown disaster. While not an extensive list, here are some essential items to have in place:

  • A closet auger
  • A pipe wrench
  • A basin wrench
  • A pair of slip-joint pliers
  • Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Safety glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plumbers putty
  • O-rings and rubber washers
  • Shop towels and plastic drop cloths


A closet auger is a handy tool that will often unclog your toilet when a mere plunger can’t. Pipe wrenches are useful for gripping and turning pipes, and are available in numerous sizes. Their adjustable jaws are designed to grip in one direction and slide in the other one. The basin wrench consists of a long handle with jaws at the end of it. This convenient tool helps you grasp nuts in hard to reach areas. Useful for tackling all sorts of plumbing tasks, slip-joint pliers help you remove large nuts like those found on the traps under your sinks easily.

red pipe wrench for plumbing repairs

Pipe wrench

pair of green slip joint pliers for plumbing repairs

Slip joint pliers

Have you ever accidentally dropped something valuable down the drain of a sink - maybe an earring or small necklace pendant? Watching that memento circle around the drain seems to happen in slow motion and in a flash. Luckily, all is not lost. Both pipe wrenches and slip-joint pliers can help you retrieve those items quickly. When dealing with unsanitary toilet clogs, always wear a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves. Finally, shop towels and plastic drop cloths are wonderful to have handy when toilets leak or pipes burst, saving your floors and walls from becoming plumbing victims.

Sanity Saving Advice to Help You Shut Off Your Water

woman catching dripping water with a pan after a plumbing disaster upstairs

During a plumbing emergency, shutting off the water should be your first priority. Most water-utilizing fixtures and appliances consist of individual shut-off valves, which allow you to turn off water to one item without shutting it off to your entire home. For instance, if you need to shut off a toilet, look for a stop valve connected to the water supply tubes. Often, the valve is constructed from chrome or plastic. To shut down the valve, turn it clockwise. Gripping the handle with a pair of slip-joint pliers can make your task more manageable.

To turn off the water to your whole house and property, you’ll need to locate the main shut-off valve. If you have well water, this valve will likely be located near the pressure tank. If the valve is attached to the pipe connected to the tank leading toward your home, you can immediately turn it off. However, if the valve is located before the tank, you’ll need to wait for the pressure in the tank to decrease. To accelerate this process, open all of your outside hose faucets.

If you utilize city water, you’ll likely have a meter located near the sidewalk or curb in your front yard. Lift the lid off the meter carefully. Spiders and other insects often make their homes here, so a pair of gloves is helpful. All meters have two sides, one for the homeowner and one for the city. If the homeowner side has a hand-operated shut-off valve, turn it clockwise until it stops to close and counter-clockwise to open. If a hand-operated shut-off valve isn’t present, you’ll have to utilize the city side of the meter. This side requires the use of a meter key. You can purchase a meter key at most hardware outlets. Inserting the meter key into a notch will turn it clockwise. When the holes line up, the water to your home will turn off.

Making sure all of the adults and older kids in your household at least know where the main shut-off valve is can be a lifesaver when a plumbing emergency arises.

Whether you’re a new or experienced homeowner, plumbing issues are bound to arise from time to time. Learning basic plumbing repair skills might help prevent panic attacks and property damage the next time something goes wrong at your home. Don’t forget that Chrysmo plumbing pros are available to chat if you need DIY assistance or even a local plumber.

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