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What are the most common plumbing problems?

Every home, at one point or another, needs a plumber. That’s because plumbing problems are a lot more common than you might think. Unexpected plumbing emergencies can really bring life in your home to a screeching halt, interrupting your daily routine.

In this article, we’ll review some of the most common plumbing problems, what causes them, and why you should always work with an experienced, trustworthy plumber.

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Clogs are arguably the most common type of plumbing problem that homeowners run into. Drains clog all the time. Most of these clogs are pretty minor—you clear out a sink clog by running the disposal, or a toilet clog using the plunger.

But, many other clogs are much tougher to clear out. Some can even be a sign of a sewer line blockage—something that should never be taken lightly!

How to deal with clogs

This is how most homeowners approach a clog. They’ll try to clear it themselves and—should that approach fail—they’ll bring in a plumber.

After all, plumbers have access to specialized clog-clearing tools that most homeowners don’t have under their kitchen or bathroom sink. This includes a variety of snake tools, specialized plungers, augers, and more.

Should you use drain cleaning products?

When confronted with a clog, most homeowners are tempted to run out to the grocery store and grab a drain cleaning product. After all, this is typically cheaper than bringing in a plumber.

However, these drain cleaning chemicals don’t always work as well as they should. In many cases, they only partially clear the clog, which means you’re going to be dealing with a clog again very soon.

Plus, these harsh chemicals can be tough on your pipes. Repeated use can actually weaken and damage them.

Frozen Pipes

Throughout much of the United States—including here in Chicagoland—frozen pipes are a major problem in the winter.

All it takes is a particularly cold night and your heater going down for several hours (which are often related) for your home’s pipes to freeze. If your home has an electric furnace, a power outage could also lead to this problem.

What happens when pipes freeze?

For obvious reasons, pipes in exterior walls are at the greatest immediate risk. As the pipes freeze, the water inside of them expands.

If you’ve ever left a can of soda pop in the freezer overnight, you know what comes next: the expansion of water into ice puts immense pressure on the pipe.

Luckily, your home’s copper or PVC pipes are hardier than an aluminum can, but there’s only so much of this sustained pressure they can take. Your pipes are at risk of bursting at any time.

How should you thaw out frozen pipes?

Thawing these pipes out is trickier than you might think. Most homeowners instinctively reach for the hair dryer, but that can actually bring on a pipe burst, since rapidly heating the pipe’s surface may weaken it.

You’ll really want to bring in a plumber. We have specialized thawing tools designed to safely raise the temperature of the water inside of the pipe, defrosting it without damaging the pipe itself.

Preventing frozen pipes

While you can’t avoid every plumbing problem in your home, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of frozen pipes. For one, be sure to schedule a fall heating checkup and ensure your home’s furnace is running okay heading into winter.

Again: most frozen pipes occur when the home’s heater breaks down. You should also talk to your plumber about insulating pipes in exterior walls. In the event of a heater breakdown, this can buy you several extra hours, or protect your pipes completely.


Water leaks are a big deal—and a common problem. Whether they’re caused by frozen—and then burst—pipes, or just by aging pipes, water leaks can cause thousands of dollars in water damage to your home, relatively quickly.

For this reason, every leak—no matter how small it starts—needs to be treated like a major threat to your home.

Do you need leak detection?

Not all leaks start in convenient, easy-to-access places, either. Some leaks start behind walls, in ceilings, or underneath floors. Finding and accessing the leak actually might be the toughest part of the job.

This is where a professional plumber can really save you a lot of time, money, and headache. Using professional leak detection equipment—such as acoustic leak detectors—the plumber will pinpoint the location of the leak.

From there, they can make precision cuts into your drywall or slab to access and repair it.

Leaks and water damage

If you’ve got a leak, you’ve probably also got water damage and, potentially, mold growth. Once your plumber has fixed the leak, you’ll want to speak to a restoration and mold remediation specialist to make sure there’s no long-term, lingering damage to your home.

Water Heaters

In many ways, your water heater is the unsung hero of your home. Without it, there are no warm showers on cold winter mornings. There’s no doing the dishes, running the dishwasher, or doing laundry.

Most people don’t really appreciate just how essential their water heater truly is until it stops working.

What causes water heater problems?

Water heaters have the potential to run into a wide range of problems, especially as they age. Perhaps most noticeably, they may stop working altogether, indicating that there’s an issue with the heating element or perhaps the power supply.

They may start leaking, which is a warning sign that the tank shell has been compromised in some way.

Or, more subtly, they’ll start to cost more to run and provide less and less hot water—typically as sediment and corrosion accumulates at the bottom of the tank.

How long do water heaters last?

Standard water heaters typically last about 8-12 years. While you might be able to squeeze a few more years out of yours with the right approach to preventative maintenance, you should at least plan on replacing your water heater after about a decade or so.

If your water heater is on its last legs, now’s the time to talk to a plumber.

Sewer Lines

Your home’s sewer line carries all the wastewater from your home to the municipal sewer. This pipe typically runs under your front or side yard to the street.

For the most part, your sewer line works as-intended. But, when things go wrong, you could be facing a big, potential mess.

Sewer Line Leaks

Many homeowners eventually have to deal with sewer line leaks. These are caused by fractures in the pipe itself, which in turn are caused by shifting soil, thirsty tree roots growing around the line, or the aging and failing condition of the pipe material.

In any case, a sewer line leak results in wastewater being released under your yard. If you’re noticing a foul odor in your front yard, or the soil looks damp in a single spot, you may have a sewer line leak that needs to be fixed.

Sewer Line Clogs

Sewer line clogs are also a problem. Most sewer line clogs are caused by the homeowner.

Putting certain types of food and cooking waste down the drain—such as coffee grounds, grease, oil, uncooked rice, and more—can lead to a clog forming, deep in the line. With enough time, this clog eventually blocks the line entirely, putting your home in immediate danger of a sewer backup.

If this happens, you’ll first probably notice it when all the sinks, drains, and toilets in your home clog simultaneously. Turn off the water and immediately call a plumber. With quick action, you might be able to prevent a sewer line backup into your home!

Find a qualified plumber in advance

You don’t want to wait until you’re confronted by one of these six plumbing problems to find a local plumber. You don’t want to be calling around at 2 a.m. trying to find anyone—really, anyone—to come out and thaw your home’s pipes, or fix your water heater.

Put the time in now to find a reliable, locally trusted plumber that you can call for 24/7 service. It might sound cliche, but print their information out and put it on the fridge. Or, keep their number on speed dial.

In a vast majority of cases, the difference between calm and catastrophe can come down to an hour. You want someone you can call right away when you first notice you have a plumbing problem.

Confront your plumbing emergencies directly

Want to learn more about the most-common plumbing emergencies—and how you should deal with them? Check out our new infographic below.

This infographic outlines some of the most common plumbing emergencies and what homeowners should do about them.