How Can You Child- (And Teen-) Proof Your Home's Plumbing?

If you're like many parents, your efforts at child-proofing may have primarily consisted of removing or restricting items your child has recently become able to access -- placing corner guards on furniture after your child's first bump or bruise, putting up baby gates after your child has scooted up the stairs while your back was turned, and installing childproof doorknobs after your child has escaped onto the front porch. However, there are several preventive measures you can put into place now that will help protect your plumbing until your child-rearing years are long behind you. Read on to learn more about the steps you should take to prevent your home's plumbing from damage by a child who knows no better or a teen whose sense of cause and effect isn't well established.

What should you do to protect your plumbing from being damaged by toddlers and young children?

One of the most important ways to protect both your child and your toilet pipes is by installing a simple toilet lock. Because toddlers tend to be top-heavy and are naturally curious about their surroundings, they're particularly vulnerable to tipping into an open toilet and being unable to right themselves before drowning. Locking your toilet lids whenever they're not in use will help you regain some peace of mind, as well as protect your toilet and pipes from damage caused by flushed objects.

While your child is potty-training, you'll want to emphasize proper toilet paper portioning -- and if you have a septic tank rather than a sewer hookup, you may want to instruct your child to throw used toilet paper in the trash can instead of flushing it down the toilet. Doing this can help extend the time between septic tank cleanings, as well as minimize the number of clogged and overflowing toilets you'll need to deal with during your child's early years.

What risks can the teen years pose to your plumbing?

While teenagers have usually gained the wisdom not to experiment with flushing matchbox cars or building blocks down the toilet, the teen years can bring additional plumbing challenges.

If you have a teen daughter who uses tampons, ensure that she knows to never flush used tampons or applicators down the toilet. While individual tampons aren't likely to clog the toilet, they won't decay in a septic tank and can require expensive processing at city wastewater facilities. In addition, tampon strings can catch and tangle around other objects to create a clog that can't be dissolved by most commercial drain cleaners.

If your teen daughter (or son) has long hair, you may also want to install a special filter in your tub or shower drain that will help catch this hair before it slips into your pipes and creates a slimy, bacteria-laden mess. While clogs that are composed primarily of hair can usually be tackled by a drain cleaning solution or wire drain snake, this process isn't something you'll want to tackle frequently when a simple prevention exists.

Many adolescents entering puberty begin taking much longer showers, for a variety of reasons. While you want to ensure your teen is clean and fresh-smelling, a significant increase in your household's water consumption could affect the lifespan of your septic tank if you don't have it cleaned on a more frequent basis. To avoid septic system damage and reduce your water bills, you should be able to install a small timer on your showerhead or bath tap that cuts off the flow of hot water after a certain number of minutes. Once your teen has gotten back into the habit of taking shorter showers, you may be able to extend the programmed time or eliminate the timer altogether. For more advice or for help, contact a plumber in your area.