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How to avoid a DIY plumbing disaster

Last Updated Sep 14, 2018 · Written by Rob Schneider


We're all tempted to do DIY work around the house. We're especially tempted when we consider the cost of hiring a plumber versus the cost of DIY plumbing. It's worth thinking twice before tackling a DIY plumbing job, though. If you don't know what you're doing, you could end up with a DIY disaster. Here's how to avoid a DIY plumbing disaster.

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In this article:

  1. Legal and Insurance Issues
  2. How to Avoid a DIY Plumbing Disaster: the Basics
  3. More DIY Plumbing Tips

Legal and Insurance Issues

Look online for DIY plumbing advice and it often comes from the U.S. or another country that has different laws regarding DIY plumbing. The law in Australia is fairly strict. Basically, there are only a few jobs you can do. These don't involve installing pipes or welding copper pipes. Some jobs you can handle yourself include:

  • Replacing filters
  • Installing a showerhead
  • Installing a new tap
  • Fixing a leaky toilet (in the cistern only)

These are easily accessible and don't require a plumber's expertise. The laws are similar in all states, but there are differences. Before you tackle a DIY job, find your state or territory on Licensed Trades/Plumbing and read about the licensing requirements in your area. For example, if you live in Queensland, you can only do a limited number of jobs. In New South Wales, a licensed plumber is required for any plumbing or gasfitting job.

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Many plumbing jobs require a "compliance certificate." A compliance certificate will only be issued to a licensed plumber. Without this certificate, you will be responsible for anything that goes wrong. In some states, a certificate is required for jobs of any cost. In other states, jobs over a certain value require compliance certificates. Check with your local authorities to find out what the regulations are in your state.

You also need to be aware that DIY plumbing jobs can void a warranty. For example, if you or an unlicensed "plumber" install a rainwater tank and something goes wrong, your warranty won't cover the repairs.

If you have a plumbing disaster and need house repairs, your insurance company probably won't cover the cost if it is a result of a DIY plumbing job. Between your warranty and insurance, you have to take steps to avoid a plumbing disaster or your DIY job may end up costing more than the price of a plumber.

How to Avoid a DIY Plumbing Disaster: the Basics

No matter what the DIY plumbing job is, there are some basic steps you need to take before you begin:

  1. Turn of the water
  2. Have more tools than you think you need
  3. Familiarise yourself with your plumbing system
  4. Follow installation directions to the letter

In some homes, you can turn off the water in separate rooms. In others, you will need to find the main shut-off valve and turn off the water in the entire home until your job is complete. Turning off the water should be a no-brainer, but when you're replacing a washer or fixing a leaking toilet, you may not think it's necessary. It is a safety precaution you should always take. You never know when something will go wrong.

You have a spanner and vice-grips, so you think you're all set. That may not be the case. Some of the basic plumber's tools you may need include:

  • A Plumber's wrench
  • A basin wrench allows you to work in tight spaces
  • You may need a seat wrench when replacing bathtub or sink taps
  • Having a drain snake on hand is handy
  • Plumber's putty is great for sealing joints
  • Teflon tape will prevent leaks in threaded pipe fittings

You may not need all these items, but having them available can prevent a DIY plumbing disaster.

You don't need to know everything about your plumbing system, but you should know enough to be able to turn off the water supply both in the room where you're working and at the main outlet if needed. You may need to turn off the water in a hurry, so know where to go ahead of time and avoid a potential torrent of water if you make a mistake.

You can find installation directions online or they may come with your new taps or showerhead. Don't skip any steps. If the directions say wrap teflon tape around a threaded pipe, don't skip that step because you don't want to make a trip to the hardware store.

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More DIY Plumbing Tips

If DIY plumbing is allowed in your state, here are some more DIY plumbing tips to keep in mind.

Replacing a showerhead is one of the easiest jobs you can do. After you've turned off the water, simply:

  • Unscrew the old showerhead
  • Clean the threads on the shower arm (the end that protrudes from the wall)
  • Wrap teflon tape around the threads
  • Install the new showerhead. Be sure not to under-tighten or over-tighten, which can strip the threads.

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Fixing a leaking tap can be a little more complicated. You may run into one of three mechanical devices that prevent leaks:

  1. A rotating ball valve is a spring-loaded seal. The ball, the spring, the seals and the gasket can all wear out. To be on the safe side, replace them all.
  2. A cartridge seal is a single cartridge that controls water flow. Replace the cartridge, but don't forget to also replace the washers or O-rings on both sides of the cartridge.
  3. Ceramic discs are common. You will need to replace one or both of the ceramic discs. One is fixed in place and the other moves to control water flow.

You may not know what device controls your water flow, so be prepared to keep the water turned off until you can go to the hardware or plumbing supply shop and get the right device for your tap.

If you have a two-handle tap, you may have another type of water flow device. A compression tap has rubber washers. Rubber washers wear out faster than other devices and you need to be sure you get the right replacement washers.

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A common problem is a running toilet. After you've flushed the toilet, it doesn't stop trying to refill the cistern. If you look in the cistern, you'll see the water and may wonder why it hasn't shut off. Usually the problem is somewhere in the cistern. It may be because:

  • The flush valve isn't closing properly.
  • The water in the tank is too high and is spilling out of the overflow pipe. The toilet "thinks" it's low on water when it isn't.
  • The flush valve may need replacing if it's worn.

These repairs can be DIY jobs if allowed in your state. However, you will need to know what you're doing. Look for online tutorials or ask for directions from someone with experience. The last thing you want to do is make the problem worse.

Before you undertake any DIY plumbing job, ask yourself four questions:

  1. Is it legal in my state?
  2. Is a compliance certificate needed?
  3. Do I know exactly what to do?
  4. Do I have the tools for the job?

If you can't answer these questions in the affirmative, get quotes from licensed plumbers. It may cost more, but you will know the job has been done right and you won't be breaking the law or potentially voiding a warranty or your home insurance.

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