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Basic Plumbing: Unclogging Drains and Preventing Frozen Pipes

It’s wet, it’s cold and your plumbing is suffering. What can you do about it? Step away from the phone and get ready for some praise. Dealing with clogged drains and frozen pipes might seem a little bit daunting, but it’s much easier than it looks. Pipes and drains are the bread and butter of the plumbing world, and learning more about them will open you up to a whole bunch of DIY possibilities. So why call the plumbers? Do it yourself, and check out our basic tips for unclogging drains and preventing frozen pipes.


Clogged or Not?

First thing’s first: you need to determine whether you have a problem or not, and what those crucial signs of blockage are, so you can prevent those clogs before they happen. Here’s what you should be looking out for:

  • Your sink doesn’t empty quite as quickly as you’d like
  • You can actually see a physical clog
  • Your drains are backed up and spitting water out instead of draining it away
  • Your sinks or drains start to smell funky
  • Your toilet just doesn’t want to flush properly

When you’ve officially found your blockage, you have to deal with it. Some clogs will be easier to get rid of than others, and it’s a good idea to invest in a drain screen for showers, baths, and kitchen sinks. They will catch soap scum and hair before they can get into your drain. Run boiling water before and after you wash the dishes to really clean them out.

If you have a sturdier blockage, you might try a home remedy of baking soda, vinegar and boiling water. Pour each component into your drain separately to loosen clogs, and if that doesn’t work, try a standard drain cleaner. A plunger will help with tough blockages as well, but if you’ve got some serious back up and nothing else works, it might be time to get out the plumber’s drain snake. This tool is best wielded by someone who has some knowhow, and it might be appropriate for you to get some training before you attempt to use it.


-200 Degrees: Pipe Prevention is Better Than Cure 

The second bane of winter, is the frozen pipe. With the excess of water and slush in low temperatures, your drains will likely get clogged. That build-up of water will freeze in cold weather and lead to frozen pipes. Frozen pipes burst and cause untold damage to your valuables – if the flooding hasn’t already – and are costly to replace. Unclogging drains, covering your pipes in insulation tape or foam, and monitoring the situation will often stand you in good stead for the winter. However, frozen pipes do happen, and you can deal with them without calling in a specialist.

‘How!’ you cry? Simply:

  • Check the extent of your freeze. You can do this by turning on your faucets and ascertaining exactly where the problem has arisen.
  • Leave those faucets that are frozen open, so they can drain as you thaw the pipes.
  • Heat your pipes – slowly – with a blow dryer or a space heater, or even a heating pad. This will thaw your pipes and allow them to drain with ease. More drainage, less cracks.

Rolling up hoses and storing them before the winter sets in will help prevent faucets from freezing outdoors. Insulation is the best way to prevent pipe freeze and to avoid the whole ‘thawing’ effort in the first instance. It’s relatively cheap and works for outdoor pipes as well as exposed areas in your basement. You should always check for pipe leaks before they become cracks.

If you’re ever in doubt about your plumbing prowess, there are plenty of DIY course options to set you off on the right path.