Fortunately, major plumbing leaks don't often occur without warning. If you have an older home, however, or if you tend to delay preventive maintenance, here are a few suggestions that might save you from disaster.
Are you noticing leaks, drips or reduced water flow?
If you have a persistent drip, it might be a sign that a faucet or fixture needs replacement. If your kitchen faucet suddenly stops delivering the forceful stream of water you need, the cause may be a clogged aerator. Shower heads can become clogged and coated with film. If you're handy, you might want to attempt a simple adjustment, replace a washer, or remove and clean the aerator or filter. If you'd rather not tackle even minor fixes, call a professional plumber to take care of your concerns quickly, efficiently and economically.
What staining and deposit build-up are you not seeing?
Not all water is the same, and water quality can vary drastically depending on trace minerals and additives. If you notice staining of any kind on your fixtures and faucets, or a white, green or brown powder or crusty build-up, you should realize that the same kind of build-up may be affecting the flow of water in your pipes. If you spot these problems, or if your metal faucets become pitted, it's smart to have a professional check the plumbing that you cannot see. A recommendation might be to install either a whole-house purification system, or some "point of use" filters.
Are your outdoor hose bibs rattling?
Having at least one outdoor water spigot is generally a building requirement, and many homes havemultiple outdoor hose bibs to deliver water for landscaping. All modern installations are "frost-free," meaning that they have built-in controls that eliminate the need for seasonal draining or winter "wrapping." Even so, remember to disconnect hoses before winter arrives. In the spring and during lawn and landscape watering seasons, check regularly for drips and loose fittings and have them repaired if necessary. Defective hose bibs, or pipes that rattle and wiggle can sometimes cause a leak inside the walls. That's serious. If you do notice any of these signs, it may be time to call a plumber.
How are your pipes and tubing?
Depending on your area and the age of your home, your water lines might be copper or plastic and your pipes can be cast iron, galvanized steel or PVC. Although modern materials are, for the most part, long-lasting and reliable, fittings can be defective, pipes can deteriorate, and outside influences can cause problems. Sometimes a nick caused by a nail during construction will cause a pipe to burst months or years later. Crimping an icemaker line accidentally might lead to a delayed geyser of water in the middle of the night. At times like these, you will want your plumber's number handy.
Do you have a main shutoff valve?
If you don't have one inside the house, consider having one installed, and be certain that all family members know where it is and how the valve operates. The faster you can shut your water off, may help you save big bucks and prevent major damage to your home and belongings in case of an emergency.
You may not be able to prevent a pipe from breaking, but you can learn to be aware of some symptoms that lead to future plumbing problems. One of the best tips, recommended for all homeowners, is to find a reliable plumber before you need one and always have their number somewhere quickly and easily accessible.