9 DIY Home Plumbing Projects – Ideas, Instructions & Tips to Save
Like other skilled tradespeople, plumbers do pretty well for themselves.
According to HomeAdvisor, plumbers typically charge between $45 and $200 per hour, depending on their specialty, business type (independent or employed), and geographical market. They can and do charge even more for emergency calls outside regular business hours. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters” earn $57,070 per year, on average. That’s not bad for a gig that doesn’t require a four-year college degree.
Not surprisingly, labor is the single biggest cost driver for most plumbing repair projects. Bypassing the professional plumber dramatically cuts the cost of basic plumbing projects that don’t require expensive equipment and supplies – often by 50% or more. Why pay a well-compensated pro when you can do the job just as well on your own at a fraction of the cost?
Even if your project does call for specialized tools or equipment, don’t assume it’s beyond your capabilities – or that you’ll have to buy the requisite tools new. Renting equipment from a local hardware store costs far less; borrowing it from a handy friend or community tool-lending library may literally cost nothing.
Of course, no DIY home improvement project is totally free. Before you begin, determine how you’ll pay for your supplies and equipment: perhaps a low APR credit card with a 0% APR introductory promotion or an unsecured personal loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender.
If you have sufficient equity in your home, a home equity line of credit or cash-out refinance loan might work too.
With rented or borrowed equipment, your own DIY spirit, and repeated how-to video viewings, you can tackle these home plumbing repair and replacement projects on your own.
What You’ll Need: Your bare hands
What It’ll Cost: $0
What You Could Save: N/A
How Long It’ll Take: 5 minutes
How to Do It: If this sounds like a straightforward task to you, that’s because it usually is. However, since it’s a prerequisite for many of the projects on this list, it’s essential that you know how to get it done.
Every modern home has a main water shut-off valve somewhere on the property. The valve’s location depends on where the main water line enters the home:
Your valve should have an obvious flow handle. If the water is on, this handle will be parallel to the pipe. Turn the water off by rotating the handle 90 degrees, so that it’s perpendicular to the pipe. Reverse to turn the water back on.
Further Viewing: Check out this detailed overview from Mr. Rooter.
What You’ll Need: A new shower head, a wrench or pair of pliers, Teflon tape, rust/lime remover or mineral spirits
What You Could Save: $45 to well over $100 (per Angie’s List)
How Long It’ll Take: 15 to 30 minutes
How to Do It: Shower heads can be fixed, handheld, or both. None is particularly difficult or time-consuming to install, though attention to detail is important in all three cases.
The basic procedure for replacing a shower head is:
To install a hybrid shower head with fixed and handheld components, you’ll need to screw in an extra piece – the diverter that controls water flow between the two heads. The process is slightly more time-consuming, and you’ll need to refer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions to ensure that you’re connecting the diverter properly, but it’s not an order of magnitude more complicated.
Further Viewing: Check out this quick overview from For Mere Mortals.
What You’ll Need: Your new faucet assembly, plumber’s putty or silicone, a basin wrench (optional), mineral spirits, hex wrench (probably included in the faucet assembly)
What You Could Save: $60 to more than $500 (per HomeAdvisor)
How Long It’ll Take: 60 to 90 minutes
How to Do It: Replacing a faucet isn’t as hard as it sounds. This explainer assumes you’re not replacing the entire sink, just the actual faucet assembly. It’s adapted from this Lowe’s how-to:
Your new faucet should come with installation instructions. (How detailed they’ll be is another matter.) Where these instructions conflict with those provided by the manufacturer, refer to the latter.
Further Viewing: This video from DoitBest is a crash course in DIY faucet replacement.
Caution: Faucets come in all different shapes and sizes. If possible, have your old faucet assembly handy when you shop for your new faucet. Buying the right replacement in the first place will save you time and aggravation.
What You’ll Need: A new aerator, a wrench or socket wrench (optional)
What It’ll Cost: $1 to $10, depending on features
What You Could Save: 30% water flow reduction on previously un-aerated faucets
How Long It’ll Take: 5 to 10 minutes
How to Do It: Installing an aerator is super easy. It’s also one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce your home’s water usage and bring down your water bills.
Further Viewing: This Old House outlines the process in two minutes flat. If you’re interested in other DIY fixes that could pay for themselves over time, check out our roundup of home improvement projects that help reduce home ownership costs.
What You’ll Need: A new drain stopper and flange (optional), a new drain shoe gasket (optional), mineral spirits, plumber’s putty or silicone, a drain removal tool, an adjustable wrench (optional), a flathead screwdriver (optional)
What You Could Save: $200 or more (per HomeWyse)
How Long It’ll Take: 30 to 60 minutes
How to Do It: This how-to covers only the drain flange (basket) and stopper. It doesn’t address the drain shoe, nor the piping that connects your drain to your main sewer line. Replacing these items may require moving your tub, putting a hole through your bathroom wall, or tearing up your shower tile.
I’ve adapted these steps from PlumbingSupply.com’s tutorial on removing and replacing a drain flange.
Further Viewing: Ottawa Design and Build Renovations goes through the motions quickly but effectively.
Caution: Be sure to apply a liberal amount of silicone or plumber’s putty to your replacement flange. Inadequate coverage means leaks, which can wreak havoc on your bathroom floors – not to mention the ceilings and walls below. My dining room walls and ceilings sustained hundreds of dollars in entirely preventable water damage because the previous owner (or a contractor he hired) skimped on plumber’s putty in the upstairs tub.
What You’ll Need: A tube of caulk, plastic razor, mineral spirits, fine-threaded rag, painter’s tape, Magic Eraser or similar cleaning pad, scissors
What It’ll Cost: $5 to more than $30, depending on the size of the job and which supplies you need to buy new
What You Could Save: Upwards of $100, depending on the size of the job
How Long It’ll Take: 60 to 90 minutes
How to Do It: This job is even easier than replacing a drain flange. It’s the first real bathroom repair project I ever tackled, long before I had an ounce of self-confidence in my DIY plumbing skills. I guarantee you can do it too – all you need is a steady hand and some patience.
Here’s how to do it, adapted from This Old House:
Further Viewing: See Jane Drill goes into exhaustive detail about this relatively simple exercise.
What You’ll Need: Pliers, adjustable wrench, wire cutters, new flapper (optional), new float (optional), new fill valve (optional), vinegar or mineral spirits, toothbrush
What It’ll Cost: Up to $25, depending on the equipment and supplies needed
What You Could Save: Upwards of $100, depending on the nature of the job
How Long It’ll Take: 10 to 60+ minutes
How to Do It: If you’re lucky, fixing your running toilet will cost nothing and take just a few minutes of your time. If you’re not so lucky, you could be in for an hours-long process of trial and error punctuated by successive trips to the hardware store.
Here’s how to address three common issues that can cause your toilet to run, adapted from WikiHow:
Further Viewing: Watch this primer by Home Repair Tutor.
What You’ll Need: Your new dishwasher, a Philips head screwdriver, an adjustable wrench or pliers, electrical tape, appropriately sized screws, nuts, the dishwasher 90 assembly (see your dishwasher’s instructions for specific requirements)
What It’ll Cost: $200 for a basic, entry-level dishwasher to more than $1,000 for a high-end model
What You Could Save: $100 to more than $500, depending on the job’s complexity and what your plumber charges
How Long It’ll Take: 90 to 120 minutes
How to Do It: Installing a dishwasher is surprisingly simple. There are just two catches that trip would-be DIYers up: the dishwasher’s weight and the prospect of working with electrical wiring.
If you’re game, here’s what you need to do (adapted from DIY Network’s tutorial):
Further Viewing: Hometown Handyman has a good primer, but your manufacturer’s instructions should always take precendence.
Caution: This project requires some light electrical work. If the thought of manipulating wiring makes you uneasy, even with your home’s power off, save this one for the pros.
What You’ll Need: A socket wrench, adjustable wrench, or pliers (optional), a handheld auger or snake
What It’ll Cost: $30 to more than $100, depending on the type and quality of equipment used
What You Could Save: $200 to more than $5,000, depending on the type and extensiveness of work forestalled
How Long It’ll Take: 15 to 30 minutes (may require repetition)
How to Do It: Slow or stopped drain lines can strike anywhere, but they’re especially common in older homes dogged by years or decades of poor plumbing maintenance.
Unclogging a slow or stopped drain line requires patience and elbow grease. Here’s what you need to do:
Further Viewing: Check out this basic tutorial from FIX IT Home Improvement Channel. Your experience will vary based on your choice of equipment.
Caution: Your ability to manually unclog a slow or stopped drain line has limits. For instance, root intrusion is common in homes with mature trees and older drain lines. While it’s possible to temporarily clear root-clogged drain lines, it’s a losing battle – the roots act like drain catches, trapping debris and forming clogs over time.
For a solution that lasts months or years, rather than weeks, you’ll need to call in a clog-removal specialist. They use heavy-duty blades and suction equipment to cut and remove roots and associated detritus. Depending on the extent of the problem, you’re looking at a $300 to $600 bill for this work, but it’s better than shelling out $10,000 or more on a new drain line or liner.
Your personal safety always takes precedence over your personal budget. Don’t ever put yourself in a hazardous situation simply to save a few bucks on your plumbing repair project – your finances will eventually recover. I studiously avoid mixing plumbing and electrical repair, and I humbly suggest you do the same. There’s simply too much that can go wrong.
Your home’s integrity is a close second. If you’re not confident that you can successfully execute a DIY plumbing repair project without making a mess or putting a hole through the floor, stop and call a professional.
And if you are confident that you can complete your project with minimal collateral damage? Then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to it. Just remember to savor your accomplishment when you’re done – few things are more satisfying than professional results without the professional price tag.
Are you comfortable handling any of these DIY plumbing projects yourself? And are you willing to spend more to get the job done right?
Brian Martucci writes about frugal living, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas. When he’s not interviewing small business owners or investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, he’s probably out exploring a new trail or sampling a novel cuisine. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.
9 DIY Home Plumbing Projects – Ideas, Instructions & Tips to Save
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