Small plumbing repairs you can do yourself
BBS Helpful Hints & Tips
BBS Plumbing and Heating London can save you time and money with our expert, clear and straightforward guide to the TOP TEN plumbing jobs around the house that you can easily fix yourself.
What tools will you need?
To cover basic plumbing jobs such as dripping taps or leaking pipes, we recommend the following tools:
Basin wrench – designed to work in hard-to-reach spaces under a sink
Adjustable wrench – also known as a “mole grip”
Push lock pliers – multiple locking positions ideal for “tight” spaces
Long-nose / needle pliers – to securely hold on to the smallest parts
Small and medium flat head screwdrivers – to gain a purchase on washers, etc
Plumbers tape – to ensure a good seal on threaded pipes, tap supply lines, showerheads, etc
Plumbers putty – to create a water-resistant seal on un-pressured joints such as sink drains
Leaking under the sink?
How to fix a leaking pipe under your sink.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Clear the under-sink area of all items kept stored so you are able to gain full access to the ‘working area.’
Use a torchlight for checking the source of the leak.
To find the source of the leak – not always where the leak actually appears – which could be:
– From the pipes supplying water to the taps
– In the pipes draining water away from the sink
– A faulty seal around the sink pipe
– The tap itself
Source of the leak: Pipes Supplying Water To The Taps
Open the taps and check:
The pipes supplying water to the taps.
The water supply in the system is ‘under pressure.’ A leak can be immediately spotted because of water being forced out in a constant spray from around the pipe connections / valves.
How to repair
You will need to tighten the ‘compression fittings’ around the shut-off valves. Use an adjustable wrench to hold the valve while tightening up the compression nut with the other hand.
The spray may also come from the connections between the pipe and the taps usually found right up and under the sink below the tap. Because they are hard to reach, you will need to use adjustable / locking pliers to gain a better grip on the connection.
Source of the leak: Pipes draining water away from the sink
Open the taps and check to see if:
The leak is from the pipes draining water away from the sink caused by loose connections, blocked drains, or corrosion.
How to repair
If after all compression nuts have been tightened, including the trap, the drain lines still leak, you should suspect a blockage in the lines. Remove the trap and clear the blockage with a tool such as an auger, similar to a corkscrew.
If the compression nuts are unable to be turned on a trap made of metal because of corrosion then the trap will need to be replaced.
Source of the leak: Faulty seal around the sink drain
Open the taps once more and fill the sink with water to check for:
A faulty sink drain seal allowing the water to drain away.
How to repair
Unscrew the sink drain, remove the previous plumber’s putty and replace with a fresh layer to seal the leak.
Source of the leak: The Tap
Although tap leaks may be visible above the sink, sometimes water can flow down the back of the tap unit and drip underneath the sink without being detected.
How to repair
Repairing a leaking tap depends on the type of tap installed and usually involves tap disassembly and replacement of one or more washers.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
The mains water supply will need to be turned off and the water allowed to drain from the pipes.
If the tap is located in an upstairs area, such as a bathroom or toilet, the downstairs taps must also be opened up to drain the system pipes.
If a washer is being replaced on a hot tap, you must also turn off the immersion heater and boiler.
The stopcock for turning off the mains water supply is normally located under your kitchen sink.
WASHERS – Selecting the correct size to fit your specific tap
Different types of taps are likely to be fitted with their own size of washer. You need to determine the right size of washer that will fit your particular tap.
As a general guide only:
Hot and cold taps – 15mm and 20 mm blue washers or stronger red fibre washers for very hot water
Basin taps – 15mm
Bath taps – 20mm
HANDY TIP: It’s often best to purchase a multipack of washers in a variety of sizes including, 3/8th inch (9.5mm), 1/2 inch (12.7mm), 3/4 inch (19.05mm), which should be near to the estimated size you require.
How to repair
Before proceeding to dismantle the tap – insert the basin plug firmly into the basin plug hole to prevent losing any parts during the repair.
Remove tap indicator covers – hot water (red) and cold water (blue) – by carefully prising off with a small flathead screwdriver to expose the retaining screw just underneath each indicator cover.
Remove the tap head – by unscrewing the retaining screw, which should now allow you to remove the tap head itself.
Some taps may also have a body cover, which will also have to be removed before you can unscrew the top section (or stem) of the tap to access the washer underneath. Secure the tap with a wrench while removing the body cover.
Undo the main assembly unit in the middle of the tap – by grasping the flat surface on each side of the assembly body with the jaws of an adjustable or ring spanner and lift out once loosened.
You should be able to see the washer attached to the bottom of the assembly unit – either pressed into place or held in position with a nut.
Release the worn washer off the assembly unit, carefully (as it may break into pieces) – using a pair of pliers.
Clean any residue off the unit with a piece of steel wool before fitting a new washer.
Insert the assembly unit back into position – use the spanner to gently secure into place to finger tight level only – do not overtighten.
Replace the tap cover.
Turn the tap to the off position – and remove the plug out of the sink before turning the main water supply back on to test the tap.
POP UP PLUG NOT WORKING IN YOUR HANDWASH BASIN?
How to remedy a malfunctioning plug system
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
It is advised to wear rubber gloves to avoid contact with unpleasant waste, such as the build-up of hair and soap deposits, which are most likely causing a blockage and preventing the plug system from correctly functioning.
Source of malfunctioning plug: Build up of waste
How to repair
Pull out the plug stopper – along with the attached arm, and clean away any build-up of hair, soap, etc.
If the plug stopper is linked to a mechanism below, you will need to reach under the sink and unscrew the pivot rod retaining nut to disengage and pull out the pivot rod.
If water has been leaking when the plug stopper is down, you should also inspect the rubber seal around the plug stopper to see if there’s any sign of deterioration.
If either the plugs stopper is broken or the rubber seal looks worn, then they will need to be replaced, checking that the flanges have not corroded and can be tightly seated.
Refitting the plug stopper if it is attached to a pivot rod, which was disengaged at STEP 2
Aim the hole at the bottom of the plug stopper toward the pivot rod’s location, and drop the stopper back into the drain hole.
Insert the pivot rod so that it engages the hole in the bottom of the plug stopper, and tighten the retaining nut with the stopper in the up position.
When the drain is closed, the pivot rod should slope slightly upwards from the retaining pin to the tailpiece.
Loosen the set screw on the retaining pin and adjust the strap up or down so that it operates the pivot rod to open and close the plug stopper. Retighten the set screw.
You may also need to reset the pivot rod by squeezing the spring clip and freeing the pivot rod. Move the clip up to the next retaining pin hole and insert the rod, which may need some ‘tweaking’ to find the right hole on the pin.
Source of malfunctioning plug: Linkage assembly
POP UP PLUG TYPE 1:
If stopper moves by operating a knob on the overflow, the length of the linkage assembly will need to be adjusted.
How to repair
Unscrew the overflow cover plate – to remove linkage assembly and to locate a small screw contained just underneath.
Adjust the length of the linkage assembly – by shortening it by a couple of millimetres only.
Tighten the screw – return assembly behind the overflow before securing the cover plate.
POP UP PLUG TYPE 2:
If stopper moves by pulling a rod behind the tap, the length of the rod assembly will need to be adjusted.
How to repair
Check behind the basin/bath for the rod assembly to locate a small clip that determines the lengths of the rods, and carefully make the adjustment.
COLD WEATHER OUTSIDE TAP PROTECTION?
How to protect your outside water tap from freezing
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Some types of outside taps could be more vulnerable to freezing during extremely cold weather.
There is a quick and simple check you can make to see if your outside tap is more likely to be affected by freezing conditions:
Type One – Tap operated by a knob handle
Check the angle of the tap knob to the outside wall – if set at a 90 degree right angle to the brickwork, the tap is less vulnerable. This is because the tap knob turns a long stem that closes a valve inside the house in an area where the temperature should be above freezing.
If your tap knob is set at a 45 degree angle, it will be vulnerable to freezing.
PLEASE NOTE: A boiler drain installed at the exterior of the house will most likely have a knob handle set at a 90 degree right angle to the wall but is also vulnerable to freezing.
Type One – Tap operated by a handle
Double check to see if a long stem is present – by looking up inside the spout.
If you see a valve open and close when the handle is turned, your tap will be vulnerable to freezing.
How to protect your tap
Remove the garden water hose – if attached to an outside tap, and store in a garage or shed.
Turn off the valve which controls water supply to the outside tap – it will be located inside the house. You will need to first check to see if a shut-off valve is installed.
Open the tap to drain water from the supply pipe and leave open – so no water is present and liable to freeze.
If a shut-off valve to control water supply to the outside tap is not installed inside the house:
Insulate the exposed area of tap assembly – by either of the following methods:
1 Completely box in – after wrapping tap assembly with material ideal to use as insulation, such as bubble wrap, piping insulation, sacking, etc
2 Purchase a ready-made ‘outdoor tap insulation cover’ – from a DIY / garden centre / hardware store. First enclose tap with bubble wrap and then attach the tap insulation cover on top.
HANDY TIP 3 Enclose with several layers of bubble wrap – secured by cable ties and tape, is an inexpensive and effective solution against all but the most extreme freezing temperatures.
NO PRESSURE TO YOUR HEATING BOILER?
How to raise the pressure flow to your boiler
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Both a ‘System’ Boiler and a ‘Regular’ boiler – also known as a ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ boiler – heats your central heating system from hot water directly fed from an expansion tank in your loft. The water supply is kept at the required level to produce the necessary pressure for the system.
Combination boilers– also known as ‘combi’ boilers – are part of a sealed central heating system and may require the water level to be topped up to regulate the pressure level, if a leak has occurred.
Check the water pressure dial – which is usually located on the front of the boiler.
There should be two dials – one shows the pressure and the other shows the temperature.
The standard pressure for most boilers should be around 1.5 bar ( within the ‘green area’), which was set when the boiler was initially installed and is sometimes shown by a red indicator needle.
Check the boiler manual to determine the exact type and model of your boiler.
The manual is likely to contain a ‘ Troubleshooting’ section, which should include how to rectify a problem with a drop in pressure flow.
Instructions may also be found on the rear of your boiler control panel.
IMPORTANT: If tools are needed to remove your boiler panel, then you must not proceed further, and instead contact a qualified plumbing and heating engineer who is experienced in repairing your make and model of boiler.
Reason for water pressure drop – radiator leak
Check the radiators – pressure can be lost in a central heating system if the radiators were recently bled and a bleed valve has not been closed or a radiator valve is slightly leaking.
Re-tighten the radiator bleed valve – to stop the leak.
If a leak is detected from a radiator valve, which has likely become faulty or from a radiator pipe, the radiator valve and/or the pipe may need to be replaced, and you should contact a qualified plumbing and heating engineer for further advice.
Restoring water pressure – operating the ‘filling loop’
Pressure in most modern ‘combi’ boilers is maintained by cold water flowing from the water mains supply through a pipe known as the ‘filling loop’.
Identify the ‘filling loop’ – a silver flexible tube located below the boiler with a valve (or handle) at each end of the loop, plus a double check valve which prevents water from the central heating flowing back into the cold water supply.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Ensure that the central heating part of the boiler is off – and no hot water is circulating in the system.
IMPORTANT: The pressure dial must be constantly monitored whilst water pressure is being increased at the filling loop. You may require a second person to monitor the pressure dial to ensure that the required level of 1.5 bar ( within the ‘green area’) is not exceeded.
Using a screwdriver, slowly turn the two valves of the filling loop – from the closed position (at right angles to the flow of the pipe) to the open position (in line with the flow of the pipe).
Listen for water flowing through into the boiler.
Keep closely monitoring the pressure dial.
Turn the valves back into the original position when the needle reaches the 1.5 bar mark or between 1 bar and 2.2 bar.
Turn the ‘double-check’ valve ( located next to one of the loop valves) to the right angle position.
The boiler should now work as normal – if pressure problems reoccur, it is recommended that you contact a qualified plumbing and heating engineer who is experienced in repairing your make and model of boiler.
NO HOT WATER?
Easy check guide to find out why your heating system isn’t working
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
If you have a working boiler but no hot water, there are a few easy checks you can make to find the source of the problem, which you may be able to rectify yourself.
Combination / ‘combi’ Boilers
Power /energy supply – check the gas, electrical and water supplies to the boiler are turned on and working.
HANDY TIP – Turn the electrical supply to the boiler off and on, which might reset the boiler.
There may be a customer-operated reset switch usually found on the front of modern boilers. Refer to your boiler user manual on re-setting.
HANDY TIP – Turn your heating on maximum for a short period to see if the heating will restart.
Check the pilot light – some older boilers have a ‘permanent’ pilot light, which sometimes fail. Refer to your boiler manual on how to reset.
Indicator lights – check that panel lights, timer and other electronic components are working correctly.
Timer – check the clock programmer. Adjustment of the settings may be needed if:
There has been a power cut – the heating clock programmer may have returned to its factory settings when the power came back on.
HANDY TIP – Set heating to come on in 15 minutes time. If the programmer switches on, simply re-enter your normal settings.
The clocks went forward (at BST) or back (GMT) – Adjust the clock programmer to the right time.
Thermostat – check to see if the hot water thermostat has been turned down or is off.
Water pressure gauge – check to see if the needle is in the ‘green area’ – around 1.5 bar. A drop in pressure could be caused by a leak from the radiators valves or pipes.
Frozen pipes – check to see if the ‘condensate’ pipe* has frozen, which may be indicated by a ‘fault code’ or warning light on the boiler display. Another sign could be gurgling or bubbling sounds coming from the boiler or the pipe itself.
*A condensate pipe is usually a white or grey plastic pipe, which carries condensation from your boiler through an external wall to the outside drain.
HANDY TIP – Thaw the pipe by repeatedly pouring warm water only along its length, until the pipe has thawed. IMPORTANT: Do not use boiling water, which can crack or damage the pipe.
Open-vented system boilers
Identifiable by a small ‘feed and expansion’ tank usually located in the attic.
Ball float valve – check to see if the ball valve float in the cistern has become stuck and is preventing the water from circulating around the system. The water level in the cistern may be low.
DECORATING AND WANT TO REMOVE A RADIATOR?
How to cap off and remove a radiator before decorating your room.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Check to see if the radiator you wish to remove is part of a ‘looped’ central heating system.
Removing any single radiator and isolating the feed pipes is likely to cut off other radiators around the house. You are strongly advised to seek advice from a qualified, experienced plumbing and heating engineer.
IMPORTANT: If the radiator needs to be removed, and your home is heated by an ‘open-vented’ system – identifiable by a small ‘feed and expansion’ tank usually located in the attic – you should contact a professional, qualified heating and plumbing engineer to carry out the task.
Turn off the power to the boiler / central heating system – and allow the water in the radiator to cool.
NOTE : There are two types of valves – one at each end of your radiator:
1 Temperature Control Valve
2 Lockshield Valve
Close off the water supply to the radiator – by turning the manual ‘Temperature Control Valve’ clockwise until you are unable to close the valve any further.
IMPORTANT: Do not leave at the ‘frost ’ position.
Remove the plastic cap off the *Lockshield Valve.
* A Lockshield Valve controls the amount of water flowing to the radiator.
Turn the Lockshield Valve spindle clockwise – using an adjustable spanner.
Make a note of how many turns it takes to close the valve, so when the radiator is re-connected, the valve can be opened to the same setting.
Place a protective sheet / covers / towels on the floor around the Manual Control Valve.
Place a small bowl directly underneath the Manual Control Valve – for catching the water.
Loosen off the Bleed Valve – using the radiator key, which will allow water to drain into the bowl.
Secure the Manual Control Valve from moving – with an adjustable spanner.
Loosen the cap nut holding the Manual Control Valve onto the radiator – with a second adjustable spanner, allowing radiator water to fill the bowl.
Once bowl is full of water, tighten the cap nut again to stop the water flow – empty the bowl and repeat process until water flow has stopped.
Undo the other cap nut holding the Lockshield Valve onto the radiator – by using both spanners, as previously carried out with the Manual Control Valve.
Close the bleed valve.
Lift the radiator carefully off its supports – hold at an angle over a large bucket to finish draining all remaining water.
Cap the open end of the valves to avoid any leakage – with the correct sized plastic end caps purchased from a plumbing supplier. Wrap a length of plumber’s tape clockwise around the valve thread before tightening the cover with a wrench.
HANDY TIP – Cover the exposed pipes with a plastic carrier bag to protect when decorating.
TOILET NOT FLUSHING PROPERLY?
Easy fault-finding tips to locate the problem
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
A pair of rubber gloves are advised to be worn.
Toilet not flushing at all
Check for a blockage – by using a plunger, and applying a firm pressure to see if the obstruction can be easily siphoned away.
If, after a number of attempts, there are signs of dislodged waste material but the toilet still does not flush:
Remove the blockage – by using a ‘plumber’s snake’, a long slender, flexible rod used to dislodge clogs in plumbing systems.
HANDY HINT – Use a wire coat hanger, which can be opened up, straightened and reshaped to fit around the ‘hidden bend’ of the toilet waste pipe to reach the source of the blockage.
If a blockage cannot be detected, you will need to investigate further by removing the cistern tank lid.
Check to see if ballfloat is stuck – because it is touching against the sides, sometimes caused by a build-up of limescale deposit.
Dislodge the touching ballfloat – by slightly easing away the floatarm, to which the ball float is attached.
Loose or broken linkage
Check if the linkage connecting the flush lever to the *lift arm is broken or too loose – which will prevent the lift arm from opening and closing to activate the siphon and toilet to flush.
*Lift arm – an 8cm (3in) moulded plastic unit, usually white (but can be grey, brown or black), attached at a right angle to the flush lever by an adjusting screw visible on top.
Adjust loose linkage – by re-positioning lift-arm in a different hole in the lever arm.
Replace broken linkage – purchase from plumbing suppliers.
Water supply valve
Check to see if the cistern tank is empty – because water has been prevented from entering via a supply pipe valve not in the ‘open’ position. The valve can usually be located on the wall behind the toilet bowl.
Broken cistern siphon – the entire toilet cistern will need to be dismantled, involving isolation of the water supply and all water drained from the toilet. You should seek advice from a professional and qualified, plumbing and heating engineer.
Slow or weak flush
If your toilet does flush, but the water drains only slowly or fails to clear everything from the bowl:
Clogged siphon holes
Check for the build up of limescale deposits and dirt in the siphon holes – located around the inside rim of the toilet bowl, which may be blocking water flow.
Remove deposits – with a stiff wire brush and white vinegar and /or use a pointed tool, such as a small screwdriver.
If your toilet runs continuously after flushing, a leak may be causing the problem.
Check if the lift-arm is not properly positioned over the drain – which would cause water to leak into toilet and the flush to operate.
Check the floatarm is lifting and lowering properly.
Check the lift-arm is not obstructed – from dropping into place to seal the opening in the bottom of the tank.
NEED TO TURN OFF WATER SUPPLY INTO YOUR TOILET?
Easy tip for turning off the water supply
When you need to isolate the water supply to your toilet before a repair is to be made and you do not want to shut the water off to your entire home.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Cover the floor area with a dust sheet or towels to catch any slight water leakage.
Toilet with a shut-off lever or in-line valve
Locate the water shut-off lever on the supply pipe to your toilet cistern/tank – usually installed at a 90 degree right angle.
Alternatively, a water shut-off valve is installed ‘in-line’ with the supply line pipework.
Turn the inline valve – from the ‘open’ position (in line with the direction of the pipe) to ‘shut’ (at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the pipe) using a medium flat head screwdriver.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Inspect the condition of the water supply lever, which may have become rusty, stiff and brittle. Any forced attempt to turn might cause damage and leakage, and a replacement assembly will need to be fitted.
If the lever is badly corroded, it is recommended to first wrap the assembly in cloth and grip it firmly with a heavy wrench to prevent the valve from distorting the pipework while being turned.
Carefully attempt to turn the handle clockwise and shut off the water supply.
Toilet without a shut-off lever or in-line valve
HANDY TIP – Remove the cistern tank lid to locate the ballfloat – secure slightly above the waterline by carefully wedging a small piece of wood underneath the floatarm. This will prevent the arm from dropping back down to open the valve and allow water to refill the tank.
LEAKING WASHING MACHINE OR LEAKING HOSES?
What to look for if your washing machine is leaking.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
IMPORTANT! Switch off the power supply to the washing machine.
Clean away all water leakage from the floor area – to avoid accidents.
Leaking washing machine – not level to the floor
Check washing machine is level and stable on the floor – and not slightly tilted, which could cause water to leak.
Leaking washing machine – blocked soap drawer
Check for build up of soapy deposits blocking any pipes or drainage tubes – by removing the soap drawer (Refer to manufacturer user guide / instructions).
REMEDY – Remove excess soap deposits with a sponge and warm water.
Leaking washing machine – excess soap suds /detergent
Excess soap suds can be caused by the action of a water softening system.
Check if you are using too much detergent – by placing a small freshly washed item in a bowl of hot water before drying to see if water becomes excessively soapy.
REMEDY – Reduce the amount of detergent used.
Leaking washing machine – overloading
The weight of large loads can cause leaks by making the washing machine unstable or by blocking water flow.
Check if your machine still leaks while empty or filled just with a small load.
REMEDY – The drum should only be filled half to two-thirds full for best operating efficiency.
Leaking washing machine – front loader door seal leaking
Check the door seal edges – for signs of a buildup of soap, soiling, trapped waste, which prevents the door from closing properly.
Check for loosening or damage to the seal – such as rips, tears and punctures.
REMEDY – Replace seal.
Check for loose door hinges.
REMEDY – Readjust / tighten retaining screws to correct realignment.
Leaking washing machine – inlet and drain hoses
Check for loose connection clamps – on both the feed and drain hoses
Check the condition of the rubber washers – located within hose connections.
REMEDY – Replace washers if worn or there is water staining around the rear connection points.
Check for a restriction on the drain hose – stopping the water escaping.
Check the drain hose is properly inserted and secured in the drainpipe.
Check along the lengths of both hoses – with fingers or dry tissue for signs of leaking water.
Leaking washing machine – inlet filters
If your washing machine is leaking from the rear, or there is problem with filling with water you may need to check the inlet filters.
Remove hose connectors at both ends – remove the washers from connections.
Carefully draw the hose filters out of the back of the valve bodies – using pliers.
Rinse filters under running water – to remove any debris lodged in the valve inlet, ensuring no deposits become lodged in the valve itself. Refit hose connectors.
Leaking washing machine – water pump / inner & outer drum
Water appearing from under the washing machine indicates a possible leak from the water pump or the inner and outer drums.
Leaking washing machine – overflowing
Overflowing is usually caused by a water valve or pressure switch problem.
Replacement of parts*
* It is strongly advised that you contact a qualified plumbing/service engineer who is experienced in repairing your make and model of washing machine.
The above information is intended to provide a handy guide for those of you who feel confident to carry out basic plumbing tasks, from the handy DIY enthusiast to others who may have some previous home plumbing experience.
However, once you have taken a closer look at the problem you may decide against attempting the repair yourself.
At this point, you can save yourself any potential and expensive problems by just getting in touch with BBS Plumbing and Heating, Greater London to arrange for our qualified and experienced plumbing engineer to fix your problem without further delay.
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