How to fix common plumbing problems

Keeping a few basic repair materials in your tool kit and knowing what to do in an emergency will prevent most situations from getting out of hand.

Turning off your power and water

If you do suffer a burst pipe, leaking cistern or flooding of any kind, the first thing to do is turn off the electricity supply at the consumer unit (fuse box) straight away. When the leak has been repaired and the water mopped up, examine all your sockets, switches, ceiling roses and electrical equipment in the area to make sure they're still dry. If water has got into them, don't turn the power back on again until they've dried out.

These situations are precisely when knowledge of your plumbing system is vital. So make sure you know where all your valves are - particularly the main stop valve, which lets you turn off the supply in an emergency or for essential work. It's also worth checking your valves every few months to make sure you can open and close them easily. Applying a few drops of penetrating oil to a valve shaft will help you free it. But never leave a valve completely open, as this makes it more likely to seize up - which will stop you from closing it when you really need to. Better to close it by a quarter- to a half-turn.

How to clear a blocked sink

If your sink, basin or bath becomes slow to drain (or stops draining completely) there's probably a blockage somewhere in your waste pipe. Common causes are grease in the trap, or fibres caught below the grid on the plug-hole. If the water doesn't drain away at all, you've got a complete blockage - which means there must be an obstruction in the waste pipe. You can try a range of methods to sort this out.

Step 1: If your sink is completely blocked, partially fill it with water and place the cup of a sink plunger over the plug-hole. Stuff a damp cloth into the overflow to prevent any loss of pressure. Then pump the plunger up and down vigorously. Take the plunger away and see if the water now drains. You may need to do this a couple of times.

Step 2: If that fails, try using a chemical drain cleaning product. Put on some protective gloves and goggles, and make sure you follow the instructions carefully as the cleaner is very toxic. Don't use it around other chemicals such as bleach, as this could release dangerous gases. It's also a good idea to spread some petroleum jelly around the rim of the plug-hole to protect it from damage.

Step 3: If the blockage still hasn't cleared, you'll have to remove the waste trap. Put a bucket under it to catch any spillage, then unscrew the trap and empty the contents into the bucket. Put the trap back together, making sure you replace any washers or O-rings. But don't over-tighten it, as it'll be difficult to undo in the future. If there wasn't anything blocking the waste trap, use a drain auger to probe into the waste pipe.

How to clear a blocked toilet

When you've got a blocked toilet pan, the water rises almost to the rim when you flush, and then drains away very slowly. If the blockage isn't in the pan outlet, there could be a problem in the main drainage system.

Step 1: Try pouring a bucket of warm water into the pan from a height. This often clears a minor blockage.

Step 2: Place a large toilet plunger over the pan outlet and pump the handle up and down.

Step 3: If that doesn't shift it, use an auger designed for a toilet. Its probe extends around the U-bend and rotates as you turn the handle, removing the blockage. But make sure you put on protective gloves and read the manufacturer's instructions before you do this.

How to fix a dripping tap

Watch this step-by-step video showing how to fix a dripping tap, with expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence.

How to identify why no water is coming from a tap

It's very frustrating if you turn on a tap and nothing happens. Here's what you can do to get your water running again.

Step 1: Turn on the cold tap in your kitchen - or any other cold tap on a direct system. If there's no flow, make sure your main stop valve is open.

Step 2: Check with neighbours or Southern Water to find out if there is a burst water main in your area. If this isn’t the case and you still have no water, report this repair to us.

How to fix a frozen pipe

All the pipes in your loft, under your ground floor, in your garage or any other areas where they're exposed to very low temperatures should be lagged to protect them against freezing. However, lagging will only delay the onset of freezing. If the temperature is low enough for long enough, ice may still develop and stop the flow of water to your taps and other outlets. At worst, the ice may actually split your pipe or force apart a joint.

For this reason, it's wise to take some precautions if you go away for a substantial amount of time in winter. Set your heating thermostat at the lowest setting, or use the 'frost setting' if you have one - this makes your heating come on automatically if temperatures drop near to freezing point. Alternatively, you can turn off the main stop valve and drain your system completely.

To thaw a frozen pipe, warm it with a hair dryer - gradually working along its length from the tap or valve until the water starts to flow again. Another solution is to drape a hot water bottle over the pipe, or you could soak hand towels in hot water, wring them out and wrap them around it. But whatever you do, don't use a blowtorch as an open flame in a home can present a serious fire hazard. Also, excessive heat from a blowtorch applied to a frozen pipe can cause the water inside the pipe to boil and possibly explode.

How to fix a leaking pipe joint

Fixing a leaking soldered pipe joint takes some skill. It's much easier to use repair putty, which stops the leak permanently. Then, when the putty's hard, you can sand it smooth and paint it.

Step 1: First, you'll need to shut the water supply off to the affected section of pipe, and drain it down. Dry the pipe, then go over the area you're repairing with a wire brush.

Step 2: Press the repair putty around the joint, making sure you force it into the gap between the pipe and the fitting. Try to work quickly, though, as the putty dries fast.

How to remove and replace sealant

Follow the steps to discover how to remove and replace old and mouldy sealant to revitalise the look of your tiling.

Step 1: Apply sealant remover to the existing sealant by following the product instructions

Step 2: Use a sealant remover tool to remove the existing sealant. The tool has a pointed tip to pierce the sealant and scrape it away.

Step 3: If the sealant was mouldy, clean the surface with mould remover. Leave the mould remover on for as long as directed on the product instructions.

Step 4: Rinse off the mould remover, as directed by the product manufacturer.

Step 5: Let the area dry thoroughly.

Step 6: Re-apply anti-mould waterproof sealant using the cartridge gun, applying as directed on the product instructions. Work from one end of the tiled wall to the other. Try to keep a steady pressure and speed when you're doing this.

Watch a step-by-step video showing how to seal a bath, with expert advice and top tips to help you complete the job with confidence.

If you have burst pipes causing flooding or a leak that can't be contained and is causing damage to the surrounding area, please call us.

Some repairs such as blockages and cracked basins and sinks may be charged because they are not caused by general wear and tear. Once you have reported the repair, an advisor will confirm if this is the case. If the damage was called by criminal damage and you have a crime reference number, you can provide this for the charge to be waived. Find out more on charges for repairs.

Some are repairs such as damaged sealants and replacing bath plugs are your responsibility. Find out more about your responsibilities as a tenant.

If you would still like to report a repair to us, the easiest and quickest way is to do this online.

Copyright © B&Q plc.

B&Q has kindly given Southampton City Council permission to use these DIY tutorial videos to provide advice and guidance for council tenants. In using these videos, Southampton City Council is neither endorsing nor recommending B&Q products or methods. Other DIY self-help tutorials are available online. Simple repairs of this nature should only be undertaken if you are fit and healthy to do so and have the necessary tools and safety equipment. These repairs are undertaken at your risk and Southampton City Council accepts no responsibility for any damage or injury as a result of DIY repairs relating to these videos