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For many homeowners, “out of sight, out of mind” describes how they feel about their home’s plumbing. That is, until problems arise or a sudden plumbing emergency strikes. It’s always better to be in the know than to be caught off guard. Here are the top five things you should know about your home’s plumbing so that doesn’t happen.

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1. Where are your homes Emergency Shutoff valve locations?
It’s important to know where your emergency shutoff valves are before you need them! There’s nothing worse than watching a rush of flowing water and wondering how to make a leak or overflow stop. For localized leaks, it’s easier to turn the water off to a specific fixture than to your entire house. Toilets, sink faucets, and washing machines have their own shutoff valves that can be found either behind the fixture or in the cabinet. Simply turn the valve clockwise to stop the flow of water.

Sometimes it’s necessary to shut off the water to your entire home. In these cases, you’ll need to access the main water shutoff valve. Depending on your home, this may be located indoors, in a basement or crawlspace, or next to your water heater in the garage. The main valve to the whole house is typically located outdoors near the water meter.

2. What is the source of your homes water?
The water from your home most likely comes from one of two sources: a residential well with a pump or a public city or county water line. If you live in a rural area, you’re more likely to have water from a well. If you live in a suburb or urban area, you probably get your water from a public city water line.

Knowing where your water comes from is crucial. If you have water from a well, you’re responsible for all of the water treatment that usually occurs at the city level. This includes making sure the water is treated so it’s safe to drink and free from pathogens and other groundwater contaminants. While you won’t pay a monthly water bill, you’ll still incur expenses for inspections, as well as pressure tank and well pump replacements.

3. Are you on Sewer or a Septic System?
Where your home gets its water will also answer the question of whether you have a sewer or septic system. If you have water from a well, you more than likely also have a private septic system. In a septic system, all of your home’s waste is channeled into an underground septic tank. Liquid sewage gradually flows into a dedicated area of your yard known as a leach field or drain field. These fields are designed to remove contaminants from the septic system waste. Naturally occurring bacteria in the soil completes the purification process, creating safe groundwater.

If you have city or county water, the waste from your home makes its way through the public sewer system. Any sewer line maintenance is handled by the city government, with no responsibility on the part of the homeowner. For this convenience, you’ll pay a monthly fee in addition to your water bill.

4. What is your homes Water Pressure?
You may hear people complain about low water pressure making their showers less enjoyable, or making it harder to wash dishes. But water pressure can have much bigger impacts on your home’s plumbing. High water pressure can damage plumbing fixtures, and even cause catastrophic blowouts in flex lines, pipes, or washing machine hoses. That’s why it’s important to test your home’s water pressure a few times a year, to identify potential problems before they become bigger and more expensive.

Testing your water pressure is easy and requires no special tools other than an inexpensive pressure gauge, which you can find at any home improvement or hardware store, pliers, and a screwdriver.

The process takes only three simple steps:
1. Hook the pressure gauge to a faucet or hose bib on the outside of your home. Tighten the gauge by hand and then turn the faucet on. If water leaks out, turn the faucet off and use pliers to tighten the gauge.
2. Turn the faucet on and observe what the pressure gauge displays. Ideally, you’ll see a reading between 45 and 55 psi (pounds per square inch) of water pressure.
3. If the pressure reading is below 40, or above 80, your water pressure isn’t quite right.

If the water pressure is too high, have a plumber check the Pressure Reduction Valve (PRV) to ensure a maximum flow of 75 psi. This regulator is installed on your main water line and controls the water to your whole home.

If the water pressure is too low it may be low due to the city or county municipal water lines delivering low water flow. If this is the case, you can have a water pressure booster installed to combat it. Low water pressure may also be due to a Pressure Reduction Valve (PRV) that’s set too low or isn’t functioning properly. In either scenario, contacting a plumber is the best thing to do.

5. Water heater basics!
Many homeowners don’t think about their water heater until it stops working. Hot water is a modern necessity, so knowing the basics of your water heater is important. At a minimum, you should know the age and type of water heater. You should also know where it is located in your home.

A. Age of the Water Heater:
Knowing the age of your water heater can help you form a rough timeline for any potential replacements. You can either ask your home builder or look back on paperwork to see when your heater was installed, or find the age using the serial number. The average water heater lasts between 8-12 years, depending on how well it’s maintained.

B. Type of Water Heater:
There are two basic types of tank water heaters, gas or electric. You also may have a gas tankless water heater. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, tankless or “on demand” water heaters remove the need for a large storage tank, making them ideal for smaller homes.