There are many risks to performing unlicensed plumbing work in the home. It can put your health and safety at risk, compromise the quality of your water mains and pipes, and leave you liable for hefty fines.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to void DIY plumbing mistakes. But first, you need to know what kind of plumbing work you can legally do.
Know the Rules:
In Australia, every state and territory must comply with the guidelines set out in the Plumbing Code of Australia (Australian Standard AS3500 and 5601)[i]. This Code sets out the requirements for the design, construction, installation, replacement, repair, and alteration of plumbing and drainage and installations.
The purpose of the Code is to protect you from potential harm or injury, preserve the structural integrity of the mains plumbing infrastructure, and ensure all plumbing works is carried out in a safe and legal manner.
While there are slight variations between each state and territory as to what an unlicensed or unregistered person can work on, below is a general guideline as to the kind of DIY plumbing you can do yourself:
- Change to a water-efficient showerhead (whether or not the individual is the owner of the dwelling
- Repair or replace tap washers and carry out other minor tap repairs
- Install or maintain an irrigation or lawn watering system
- Ensure the water meter is easily accessible to be read and repaired
- If necessary, turn off your gas meter from the isolating valve
- Use untreated grey water (non-toilet household wastewater) in a safe and controlled manner that does not pose an immediate risk to public health or the environment.
Outside of these tasks, it is illegal for an unlicensed or unregistered person to carry out any other kind of plumbing work.
While the fines for unlicensed plumbing work vary between each state and territory, penalties for individuals have been known to reach $10,000 and above.[ii]
Top 5 DIY Plumbing Mistakes:
Unlike painting your house or putting a new shelf up on the wall, maintaining your home plumbing requires more in-depth knowledge, experience, and tools in order to do the job properly. One wrong move and you risk paying more in damages than if you had just called a plumber in the first place.
Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most common DIY plumbing mistakes, and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Using Too Much Drain Cleaner:
When most people experience a blockage in their basin or shower, they immediately reach for the drain cleaner.
Drain cleaner is available in both liquid and crystal form. Typically, they are made up of active ingredients such as sodium hydroxide, nitrate, chloride, and aluminium chips, which – when combined with water – causes a powerful chemical reaction designed to dissolve organic substances (i.e. hair, grease, and food) that are causing the blockage.
Modern drain cleaner products from reputable brands are safe to use on all pipes, including plastic PVC pipes. However, if you do not follow the instructions (i.e. one common mistake is to pour hot water on the crystals) or you use the product on older, weak metal pipes, there is a chance the chemical reaction will damage the pipes.
This becomes a problem if you find yourself constantly using drain cleaner. If you are experiencing frequent blockages, or the drain cleaner fails to unclog a blockage the first time, seek advice from a licensed plumber.
2. Over tightening Connections:
While it’s a good idea to ensure that your plumbing connections are tight, there is such a thing as over tightening. When this happens, it can increase the risk of breaking the rubber seal or plastic washer. It can also strip the pipe threats or crack the plastic fittings.
The trick is to make sure the connection is nice and snug, but to not try force it more beyond that point. Even if over tightening does not cause immediate damage, doing this will make it a challenge for the next poor soul who has to replace or repair the fitting later on.
3. Forgetting to Turn Off the Water:
Most DIY plumbing jobs require you to turn off the water before you start. Unfortunately, some people forget this crucial step. Or, they only shut off the water supply for a section of the house (i.e. the valve under the kitchen stink), and then start to work under the false impression they have shut off the mains water supply.
You know what happens next. When you go to repair or replace your tap, showerhead or irrigation system, you can expect to be hit with a sudden rush of water.
To switch off the mains water supply, you have to locate the water meter, which is often outside the front of the property near the garden tap. Depending on the age of your meter there will either be a knob or nut for turning. Simply turn it clockwise, or to your right, to turn the water off.
4. DIY Roof Leak Repairs:
If your roof is leaking then you may think it is easy to grab a ladder and locate the source of damage.
This is a bad idea for many reasons. For starters, climbing on to the roof without a safety harness for support is dangerous.
Secondly, even if you do have a safety harness, certain sections of a tiled and metal roof are not designed to handle the weight of a person walking across it. If you don’t know how to safely walk across a roof, then you could seriously damage the surface.
Finally, even if you do locate the source of the leak, you may not have the necessary tools and materials to fix the problem yourself. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have the leak inspected by a licensed plumber.
5. Not Having the Right Tools:
When it comes to DIY plumbing, it is easy to underestimate the kind of tools you need.
Sure, you may be able to get some work done with a wrench, hand auger, or a plumber’s wrench. But there are certain tools and equipment on the market that, although you can legally purchase them, only a licensed plumber has the legal right to operate them.
For this reason, you should leave the tricky stuff to the experts. Not only does a licensed plumber have the skills and qualifications to use specialist tools, they know when to use them and how to operate each tool safely. As a result, they are far more likely to get the job done right the first time.
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