Plumbing Tips: Tap Leaks and Drainage Pipe Blockage
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Published by TOP4 Team
Taps may leak from a number of places. We are all familiar with the leaky washer which is evident the moment the tap is turned off — it drips.
If a tap is leaking from the spout, it means the washer needs to be replaced. the tap may even be hard to turn off.
If the washer has been replaced, but only lasts for a month or so, you may need to call in the plumber to regrind the seat of the tap. This is the surface the washer presses on, to shut off the flow of the water. It may become pitted over the years, or dezincify (that is, the brass alloy breaks down). Regrinding must be done with the correct reseating tool so that the seat and the washer meet at the correct angle and the tap seals properly. A tap reseating tool is used to grind and then polish the tap seat.
It may be that the tap is so worn and pitted that replacement is the best alternative.
The other main kind of tap leak is only noticeable when the tap is on. This is where the water either wells up the spindle when the tap is turned on or, on decorative taps, comes out from underneath the cover plates on sinks or basins.
The problem will be affected by the age of the tap. Older taps have a gland that may need tightening or repacking; newer taps have an ‘O’ ring that may be damaged and needs to be replaced. If the gland can be tightened and the tap still turned on or off easily, the problem is fixed — normally, however, there is more to it than this. Either way, a plumber will have to turn off the water, and dismantle the tap to effect repairs.
Drainage Pipe Blockages
Blockages in pipes can occur anywhere — from a waste in the home to where the sewerage enters the mains or a septic system.
Good plumbing installations have plenty of provisions for access to pipes — to check for blockages, and to clean out the pipes. The convolutions in the pipes under wastes in the house are a natural traps and prime spots for blockages. The problems can usually be analysed by slow draining of water from sinks or basins. Foreign matter, such as straws, toothpicks, poultry bones, bits of plastic, can all restrict passage of smaller particles around tight bends, and gradually the whole area becomes blocked.
If the system is taken apart, rubber seals must be carefully replaced in the correct position, otherwise the joints will leak. It is also important that the pipes, joiners and rubber seals are wiped clean or replaced to form a good seal.
Pipes, no matter what material they are made of, are prone to tree roots entering and blocking the passage. A slight fracture will allow roots to find moisture and nutrition in the pipe; as the roots grow, the crack will open, more roots will enter, and the feeder roots will gradually take over the space in the pipe. The first sign of anything untoward happening is often water backing up through a gully, or seeping as a soggy patch on the ground somewhere.
Where roots have become established in the pipes, a drain cleaner (such as an ‘electric eel’ or ‘snake’) must be used to clean out the pipe. Access will usually be possible through the gully, or any inspection holes in the system. Eels can be hired, but are tricky to use; if the cutter grabs on something that won’t budge, the machine may flip — not a pleasant experience. Extra care must be taken when working with plastic pipes; the steel cutter can easily cut through the material if a sudden bend is encountered. There should incidentally not be any sudden bends without access to the pipes at these points.
Once roots have been cut out, they can be controlled by the periodic addition of a copper-based, root control pellet into the system, via the toilet bowl. These are available from hardware stores. They don’t affect the trees, but will kill and control root growth in the pipes. They cannot be used to control and repair an existing blockage in the first place, however.