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Some do-it-yourself projects are the most fun and rewarding if you simply dive in and learn as you go. And then there's plumbing.

Learning to fix your leaks or replace your toilet can save you money, but DIY plumbing can turn to disaster quickly if you're not careful.

While some problems can be avoided, many nightmares are inevitable, especially if you have old or poorly installed plumbing.

Even so, you can take some steps to either head off problems before they begin or minimize the chaos once it starts to unfold. (Bing: Need to call a professional? Start your search here)

Know where your shutoffs are

Know where your shutoffs are (© david.dames/Flickr)

© david.dames/Flickr

This is a biggie. Before you start any plumbing project, even if it's tightening your toilet seat, you should locate all of your shutoff valves and know what they control. If you have a nice system that was installed with some thought, you might even have shutoffs for each bathroom.

Most of these valves are found in the basement, though some might be hidden behind access panels. If you're unsure what a specific valve controls, just close it off and start turning on your faucets and flushing your toilets.

Most important, always know where the main house shutoff is. It's usually right where the water line enters the house. Keep in the back of your head the fastest route to the shutoff. You may need to sprint there someday.


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Learn to sweat copper pipe

Learn to sweat copper pipe (© Steve Burt/Flickr)

© Steve Burt/Flickr

This skill is the cornerstone of modern plumbing, and once you try it, you'll be amazed at how easy it is. One trip to your local hardware store for solder, flux, a small torch and a few pieces of copper pipe and you're well on your way.

You can read all about it here, but the basics are simple: Clean the copper, add a little flux, heat the joint and then apply the solder. It's like changing your oil — once you do it, the mystery is gone. A first-timer probably won't want to pipe a whole house, but it's a good skill to have in your back pocket for small fixes and adding valves. Although your solder joints won't be as neat as the ones the pros make, they'll be functional. Unless you're a real perfectionist, that should be enough.

Understand your house

Understand your house (© spierzchala/Flickr)

© spierzchala/Flickr

Before starting a plumbing project, even a minor one, it's smart to get a sense of your plumbing system as a whole. Do some research and get a grasp of the basic concepts of plumbing, such as the function of a vent pipe, how big your drain lines should be and how much pitch a waste pipe needs. Then apply that knowledge to your own house and try to map out your plumbing. If you have an unfinished basement, you'll have an easier time of this. Try to figure out which walls have pipes in them and where the main waste line leaves the house.

Read:  How to talk to your plumber

The more information you have, the less intimidating things are going to be — and the easier it will be to troubleshoot any problems.

Start with a complete toolbox

Start with a complete toolbox (© jsparksnj/Flickr)

© jsparksnj/Flickr

"Have more tools than you need," is a good motto for any project. We suggest starting any plumbing project with a complete set of plumbing tools. Nothing is more frustrating than getting halfway through a job and realizing that you have to go to the hardware store to get a hacksaw.

So before you put your work gloves on, make sure you have everything you could possibly need and then some. Check out our suggestion for a starter kit.