Last Updated on October 18, 2020
As a homeowner I will be the first to admit that I would rather change out a 220v circuit breaker during a hurricane while knee deep in vermin filled flood waters than work on plumbing. But as a homeowner it is a required skill as the damage from leaks or broken pipes can be extensive so Megan Nichols shares her expertise with us..
And as a prepper it is a required skill to keep your water supply flowing, both in and out of your home, be it any day or in a hunker-down emergency.
However, when people are talking about prepping, the conversation usually centers on bunkers, food, water, medical supplies and skills and ammunition, but there’s one thing a lot of people leave out: plumbing. Knowing how it works, and how to repair it if it breaks, can be a valuable tool. Why do you need to know basic plumbing as a prepper, and what skills should you focus on?
Why You Should Learn Plumbing
First, it can save you a lot of money in the long run, even if the world doesn’t end. The average cost of calling a plumber can range from $45 to $200 an hour, so if you can fix leaks or repair running toilets yourself, you can save yourself a lot of cash.
If the world does end, you won’t have the option of calling a plumber, so you’ll need to be able to fix problems on your own.
Finally, plumbing is a fantastic skill you can barter for other goods or services. Chances are high that we’ll revert to a barter economy after the world ends, since money won’t mean much, so having applicable skills can ensure your survival in one of these situations.
Now that you know why you need to learn plumbing, what basic skills do you need to know?
Fixing a Leaky Faucet
A leaky faucet can cost you a lot of money if you’re still paying your water bill. If you’re not, it’s still a waste of a valuable resource you could run out of if the infrastructure collapses. First, figure out what type of faucet you have. Faucets come in four varieties — compression, cartridge, ceramic disc and ball. Once you know what kind you have, fixing a leak becomes easier.
Leaky compression faucets usually need new washers, while ball and cartridge models typically need new o-rings to prevent them from leaking. Ceramic disc faucets rely on neoprene seals that need to be removed and cleaned, so you don’t even need to worry about the hassle of finding new parts.
One leaky faucet could cost you upwards of 2,000 gallons of water a year, so fix it quickly.
Stopping Banging Pipes
If you’re in a situation where stealth is paramount, the last thing you want is your pipes banging in the walls every time you turn on a tap or flush the toilet. If the pipes aren’t fastened tightly enough, changes in water pressure can cause them to bang against one another and eventually wear out, causing leaks.
Thankfully, this is an easy fix. All you need to do is secure the pipes to prevent them from moving. If you can’t access them, installing water hammer arrestors can soften the changes in water pressure, preventing the banging.
Stopping a Running Toilet
Running toilets are just as annoying and wasteful as leaky faucets, so it’s important to fix them as quickly as possible. There are two possible leak points: the valve that empties water from the tank into the bowl, and the seal between the two pieces. The first repair is easy — just replace the flap. It should cost you less than $3 from your local hardware store and is something you can do in 10 minutes.
If the seal between the tank and bowl is leaking, you need to remove the two bolts holding the pieces together, then replace it. This is a bit harder, especially if the bolts have never been removed and are rusted in place, but it’s still a fairly simple repair.
Unclogging a Plugged Drain
Plugged drains are problematic and can even create a health hazard if they cause sewage to back up into your home. Clogs come in all shapes and sizes, from hair in the shower to roots growing through your sewage line. The first thing you need to do is figure out where the clog is. Sometimes this is easy — if your sink is backing up in the kitchen but everything else in the house is draining fine, chances are high the clog is somewhere between your sink and the main sewer line.
If everything is backing up, starting with the toilets, the problem is probably in your main drain line.
You’ve got a lot of options here. You might be able to clear small clogs with vinegar and baking soda — just like making a volcano in elementary school science class — or with commercially available drain cleaners. If this doesn’t work, you may have to snake the drain. We recommend including a 25-50-foot drain snake with different head attachments in your survival supplies. You may even have to disassemble it to clear out the blockage.
If you do take the drains apart, make sure you have everything you need to reassemble them once you’ve cleared the clog.
Repairing Water Heaters
Just because the world has ended doesn’t mean anyone wants to take a cold shower. Gas and electric water heaters provide warm water for bathing, washing dishes and doing laundry — but they don’t last forever. Knowing how to repair a water heater could earn you quite a bit in the barter system.
Thermostats and heating elements often fail, and getting new pieces could prove problematic if you don’t have the option to drive to Lowe’s or your local plumbing supply store. Heating elements usually fail because they get coated with a buildup of whatever minerals are in the water. You can restore the water heater by removing the elements, cleaning them off and replacing them. It’s not as good as installing new ones, but it will get the hot water flowing again.
Many problems can be fixed by just flushing the water heater to remove any buildup or sediment in the bottom of the tank.
While we’re not recommending practicing on your own water heater, knowing how to repair one could serve you well if everything falls apart.
How to Learn DIY Plumbing Skills
The easiest way to learn most of these skills is to start practicing. Fix that leaky faucet you’ve been ignoring for weeks, or flush out the water heater if your shower keeps getting cold before you have time to rinse the shampoo out of your hair. If you’re not sure how to do something, consult YouTube — there are tutorials there for nearly every repair you can think of.
Learning plumbing won’t just save you money — it can also be a valuable prepper skill you can trade for goods and services if we end up back on a barter system.