There are three major types of plumbing repair to address malfunctions that can occur with plumbing systems in most western households: repair of a leak, repair of the mechanical parts of a plumbing fixture like a faucet or valve, and clearing of a clog in the drainage system. Leaks can occur anywhere in the system for a variety of reasons. Mechanical malfunctions occur primarily when valves don't operate properly and the flow of water is not properly regulated, and often evidenced by water leaks. Clogs generally occur in the drainage side of the system, and become apparent when water doesn't properly drain from a sink or a toilet. Any type of plumbing malfunction can pose a risk to health or property and should be attended to immediately.
Most plumbing systems consist of a supply side, which carries water from a central supply, and a drainage side, which drains water once used, together with any waste. The supply side carries water under pressure through a system of non-toxic tubes that can withstand the water pressure. When tubes are joined, the joints are secured by one of a number of methods, such as soldering, compression joints, or solvent welding. The drainage side consists of wider pipes that carry used water and waste products to the sewer system.
Leaks in the supply portion of the system generally occur either when a pipe has frozen and consequently burst, when a joint has failed, or when a plastic tube has deteriorated prematurely. When a leak occurs in the supply side of the system, water escapes the system under pressure and can cause damage to the immediate area, including causing a flood. When a leak occurs in the supply side of a system it must be stopped and repaired immediately.
After cutting off the supply of water to the affected area, the water must be drained from the affected portion of the system to facilitate the plumbing repair, which will usually involve replacing damaged section. This type of plumbing repair can be a costly and time-consuming operation because most supply tubes are concealed behind walls and under floors, making access difficult. Care must also be taken to protect flammable items if heat soldering is part of the plumbing repair.
It's no less important to repair leaks in the drainage side of the system, even though the water isn't escaping under pressure. Water leaking from the drainage side of a plumbing system may simply pool and stagnate, but the presence of waste products in the water can make such puddles toxic. Repairs to leaks in drain pipes are as troublesome as repairs to supply tubes, compounded by the fact that drainage pipes often run under a portion of the house and landscaping before discharging into a sewer system. Typically, a homeowner is responsible for the entire system, from the point where the house's supply tube meets the public supply line (often identified by a water meter) to the point where the drainage pipe returns waste water to the sewer system.
The next plumbing repair is of a malfunctioning fixture. A household plumbing system services a number of fixtures, such as toilets, sinks, showers, bathtubs, landscape irrigation systems, etc. Failures in any of these fixtures can potentially cause problems system-wide, especially when the problem results in a loss of water pressure due to a leak. The most common problems in plumbing fixtures are dripping faucets and malfunctioning toilets. Dripping faucets are usually caused either by a worn-out washer or faucet cartridge, both of which are relatively simple repairs and are often undertaken by the homeowner.
Toilets malfunction in a number of different ways, most inside the water tank. The two most common problems are a worn flap-valve or a malfunctioning float valve. Fortunately for the homeowner, either plumbing repair is quickly and easily accomplished.
The third plumbing repair is the clearance of a clog in the drainage system. Clogs cause slow-draining sinks, bathtubs, and toilets, and if the clog is sufficiently severe, it can back up water to overflowing. There are several ways to treat a clogged drainpipe, the most direct of which is to clear the drain physically by forcing a cable through it. Small stoppages can be cleared with a small hand-operated cable called a closet auger, while large clogs can be cleared with an electric plumber's snake. These devices have different attachments to clear obstructions either by pushing them all the way through to the sewer or by shredding them and letting running water wash out the pieces. Many different caustic chemical mixtures are also commercially available to pour down clogged or sluggish drains. These mixtures work over time by loosening clogs, especially those caused by combinations of hair, kitchen waste and grease.