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Plumbing Not Always for the Pros

Home plumbing repair for some of us begins and ends with pouring some de-clogging liquid down the drain. When a blocked drain, running toilet, or leaking and frozen pipe rears its ugly head, we call the plumber. But with the right equipment, there's no reason the versatile do-it-yourselfer should fear these jobs, says Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The biggest clog known to plumbing comes when all the fixtures in the house aren't draining properly. That's a main house drain or sewer problem. The more fixtures affected, the farther down the problem. However, the large majority of drain problems are not as severe. When only one fixture is affected, the most common culprit is a plugged trap, the curved section of pipe under the fixture. A less likely but possible scenario is a clog in the waste line between the trap and main drain.

What do you reach for first? The plumber's friend, a rubber force cup or plunger. Make sure the pipe to be cleared is full of water, plug any vents in the sink with a finger or rag, and plunge away. If that doesn't work, gradually bring out the heavier artillery.

Next is the snake or drain auger, either hand-operated or power, the tool able to handle all but the most stubborn of clogs. Get one with a one-quarter-inch auger cable, the right diameter for most drains. Most have stiff wire spirals on the tip, while toilet augers come with a hook to fish out unwanted household items like a hair brush or toy. Another tool in your arsenal is the drain pressurizer, an expandable item that plugs into the garden hose and inserts into the drain, sending pulsating blasts of water to break up the clog and wash it down the drain.

If all else fails, you may have to find a different route to the clog. Following the drain stack, look for what is known as the clean-out opening. You'll find one at the upper end of the horizontal run of pipe, and at every turn or bend. If you're lucky, it will be visible or accessible behind a wall panel. On slab construction houses, cleanouts are near floor level behind fixtures or low on outside walls near kitchens or bathrooms. Houses with basements or crawlspaces have cleanouts under the first floor, either inside or outside the foundation. If you're really feeling adventurous, long sewer lines have cleanouts at or just below ground level. You may want to look for them at your leisure instead of in an emergency.