As an Airbnb host knows, one of the most dreaded messages to receive from your guests is “Hi – we’ve got a plumbing problem.” Before you even finish the message, the dread sets in, and you try to keep calm. Plumbing problems can ruin the guest experience, be costly to repair, and require some damage control (luckily, we’ve already got you covered on cleaning up the mess!).
We sat down with our friend Max Hicks, owner of Reliant Plumbing here in Austin, to determine how our property owners can avoid plumbing disasters.
The most feared plumbing disaster for any short term rental owner is a gushing flood that damages the home and could even damage guests’ belongings. Is there anything we can do to prevent a flood and get a little more peace of mind?
For the most part, leaks don’t explode out of anywhere. There are usually signs of a leak long before it floods your house. Continual routine maintenance will save you a lot of money in the long run vs. dealing with emergencies when they happen. You should add a regular plumbing check to your calendar. As often as possible, walk through the home and check these things:
● Be sure toilets flush well, aren’t making running noises, and are tightly secured to the floor.
● Check inside & outdoor faucets for drips.
● Open cabinets below sinks to check for drips or signs of water damage.
● Check your water heater for any corrosion at the connectors, the tank for any rust, and look for drips or signs of water damage on the wall and floor.
● Be sure all fixtures & appliances are off, and then look at your water meter. If the meter shows water flowing through to the house, you may leak.
If you see any signs of an issue, call a plumber right away to repair the problem before it gets worse.
Besides maintenance, there are a couple of things I’d recommend for peace of mind. Tank-style water heaters are often the source of damaging leaks since they hold gallons of water. First, check the age of your water heater. If it’s ten years or older, you’ll likely want to go ahead and replace it with a newer model. I also highly recommend installing a drain pan and an auto-shutoff valve on your water heater. The auto-shutoff valve will detect water in the pan and automatically turn off your water heater, so the leak doesn’t worsen. Finally, for the ultimate peace of mind, upgrade your water heater to a tankless style! They are more energy-efficient and don’t need to hold gallons of water that could potentially flood.
One last pro-tip to avoid disaster is to know your pipes well – especially in an older home. You can have a plumber come out to do a camera inspection of the home. This will identify any aging pipes, breaks, bellies, or improper plumbing that needs to be repaired. If you know your pipes are in good condition, you aren’t too likely to have busted pipes flood the house.
Something less severe but much more common for a host is hearing that guests do not have hot water. How can this be avoided?
Well, there are two main causes of no hot water. The most common are issues with the water heater. As I mentioned already, water heaters older than 10 years should be replaced. At that age, they are likely to start having many problems, and it’s usually more cost-effective to replace them instead of making many repairs.
Even if you’ve got a new water heater, it’s essential to maintain it well. It would be best if you had a plumber come out to flush your water heater at least once a year. This will eliminate any built-up sediment or debris inside the tank that could cause corrosion and clogs. While the plumber is there, they can also test your elements and thermostat to ensure everything is functioning.
The other thing that can cause a lack of hot water is a leak on one of your hot water lines. That means your hot water is dumping out somewhere before it reaches the shower or faucet. You should follow the steps I mentioned earlier to check the home for a leak.
Another common issue is toilets and sinks not draining – or the always annoying slow draining tub. What guest wants to stand in dirty water while they shower?! Gross. What can we do to be sure our drains work well?
There’s actually quite a bit you can do to prevent clogged drains! First and foremost, you need healthy drain lines that aren’t obstructed by roots or broken. This is where you should have that camera inspection done to check the general health of your pipes.
Beyond that, most clogged drain situations are the result of human error. You or your guest might put something down a drain that doesn’t belong in your plumbing system. So what does belong? Water, waste, and toilet paper. That’s really it! You can get by with putting some food down the kitchen drain if you have a garbage disposer, but you still shouldn’t try to force down large pieces of food. The #1 culprit we find in AirBnb’s is grease put down the kitchen drain after a guest cooks.
We recommend including instructions about drains in your guest communications, and you may even want to include some signage around the house. Remind guests not to put grease down the kitchen sink drain and remind them not to flush wipes or feminine products down the toilet.
Now, there is one huge mistake a lot of homeowners make. You should never, ever use a liquid drain cleaner to clear your drains! I know it’s tempting because they offer a quick fix, but more often than not, the liquid cleaners leave buildup in your pipes and, over time, make them much, much worse.
Winter is coming – well, a Texas winter. We don’t have to worry about severe freezes too often in Austin, but that can mean that guests don’t think about protecting the home’s plumbing on a cold winter night. Is there anything we should do to get ready for the cold season?
Absolutely! We are lucky not to have to worry about too many freezes, but you’re right; they can sneak up on you. We recommend winterizing your house by the beginning of November. Walk around the house and be sure you know about any outdoor faucets. Be sure to install an insulated faucet cover at every location. You can find those at any hardware store or order from Amazon. It is also important to detach any hoses from the outdoor faucets. Water left in the hose can actually enter the line going into the house, freeze, and cause a pipe to burst. It’s that easy! Other preventative steps should be taken when you think a freeze might becoming.
What about instructions we can give guests while they’re staying during the winter?
This is the most important piece of preventing frozen pipes in your rental. It is imperative for guests to do two things during a potential freeze:
1. Open Cabinets Below Sinks: Your kitchen sink and bathroom cabinets often conceal piping. The guests need to open the doors of any cabinets with the plumbing inside so that heat from the room can permeate through to the pipes and protect them from freezing.
2. Turn Faucets On To keep water flowing through your pipes and make it more difficult to freeze, guests need to turn all faucets on to a slight drizzle and leave them on until temperatures rise above freezing. They must turn both the hot and cold water handles on since these are two separate systems. If you have one handle faucet, they need to be sure the dripping water is slightly warm.
Thanks for all the tips, Max!
If you have more questions about preventive plumbing, drop a comment below or contact Reliant Plumbing.