Plumbing Advice From Judaline Cassidy of Tools & Tiaras

“I still wake up every single day and love my job,” says Judaline Cassidy, the self-described feminist plumber and founder of Tools & Tiaras, a New York City–based nonprofit that helps girls and women get a start in the construction industry. “I love meeting people and fixing their problems, but I also love empowering them to do certain things themselves.”

With a quarter century of success in a male-dominated field, Cassidy is a well-known and respected trailblazer—but she won’t clog a conversation by fishing for compliments. Instead, she’s eager to share her wisdom so that the pipes in your home seem less intimidating. “Plumbing is like solving a puzzle,” she says. We brought readers’ most pressing plumbing questions to Cassidy for her insights, and here’s what she had to say:

Reader: Are there any basic plumbing upgrades I could handle on my own in a weekend?

Cassidy: If you have a four-way screwdriver and a basin wrench, you can definitely change your faucet to something new after watching a few tutorials.

When would I know it’s time to upgrade my plumbing?

One scenario is if you just bought an older house, including one built in the 1980s or ’90s. Otherwise, anytime there’s a leak, you’ll need to remedy that. A good way to start is by identifying the brand name of the leaking fixture and going to the store and asking for guidance with that brand. They’ll help you get the right parts, which aren’t interchangeable, even though you might see some things that say they are universal. Also, you don’t always need a problem to upgrade. Maybe you just want to live the high life! It can be nice to have a motion-sensor faucet or a multispray shower.

What are the simplest ways I can make my plumbing more “green”?

Investing in a high-efficiency, dual-flush toilet is probably the best way. You could also put an aerator on a faucet to conserve water. And if you have a dishwasher, using it consumes less water than cleaning dishes by hand.

Are the “flushable” bathroom wipes actually safe to flush?

I’m going to say this on behalf of all plumbers everywhere: There is no such thing as a flushable wipe. I know wipes make life easier, but they won’t ever completely dissolve. A lot of companies are making bidet attachments these days, and maybe America will become like the rest of the world and use them more often. I will say this: If you love your plumber and want to put money in their pocket, keep flushing those wipes. They wreak havoc on pipes!

What should you ask about and look for in the plumbing before buying a house?

Ask when the house was built, because that will give you an idea of how old the plumbing system is. If pipes are exposed in a basement space, check to see what kind they are. If they are galvanized steel, you’ll want to update with either copper or PEX pipe. If you live in a cold area, you’ll also want to make sure your pipes are insulated.

What’s the most common preventable plumbing emergency?

A lot of problems can be traced to whether the kitchen/bathroom sink or tub is backed up. I recommend getting drain protectors to catch hair and food. Toss your scraps and collect grease in a jar—don’t just let these things go down the drain.

Do expensive faucets, fixtures, and toilets really work much better than cheaper models?

If you spend a little more money, you are going to get a better product. I recommend going to a plumbing specialty store because that’s where you’ll find better items. The ones at big-box stores are usually made of plastic. I’m not naming names, but better materials are going to last longer.

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