It’s a convenience you may take for granted — accessible, clean, hot and cold water readily available in many parts of your home. Taking a bath or shower or getting a drink is easy and done without thought. Machines wash your clothes and dishes by clicking or pushing a few buttons.

Having pipes throughout your house is essential to daily living. You wouldn’t even want to live without it. But when something goes wrong with those pipes — whether delivering or taking water away — your beloved plumbing can go to the dark side and make a mess of your home. It’s important to take care of your pipes, so they will continue to take care of you.

Try these easy tips to avoid an expensive plumbing emergency in your home, which you know will happen somewhere around 2 a.m. on a Sunday while you’re away on vacation, below.

Don’t Strain the Drain

Water comes into the sink and goes down the drain making everything in its path disappear. The truth is it’s just a pipe and pipes can get clogged. Be conscious of what you put down there. Grease can turn into a sticky solid once it hits the water. Over time this fat can bond to your pipes and form an impassable clog. Think of it as pipe cholesterol.

Your garbage disposal saves you the hassle of scraping every plate or endlessly clogging your drain, but it has its limits. Use your garbage disposal to grind up food that ends up in the sink. Don’t overload your disposal or put things in there which may not pass.

Compost melon rinds and other large food items, or throw them in the garbage. Rice, pasta and potato peels are classic clogging foods. Save yourself the trouble and just discard these.

Don’t Stuff the Toilet

If you’ve ever had to unclog a toilet, you know that flushing doesn’t always make everything go away. As your children start going to the bathroom alone, it’s important to teach them that the toilet bowl can only accommodate so much toilet paper. It isn’t just children who forget this. Adults clog toilets, too.

The only things which should go in a toilet are waste and toilet paper.

Feminine hygiene products are made of cotton and won’t break down. They’ll expand and clog your toilet. Paper towels are also made to absorb and should never go into your porcelain throne — and that applies to tissues too, which don’t break down like toilet paper. Avoid flushing “flushable wipes” as they’re known to cause clogs and sewage backups. These items need to go in the garbage.

And dead goldfish? They deserve a more dignified departure.

Don’t Delay the Maintenance

Before something bad happens, look for signs of trouble. You probably don’t spend much time thinking about your plumbing unless you are a plumber. But a little curiosity can help you identify and fix problems before they arise.

If this intimidates you, or you’d just prefer a professional to maintain your plumbing, consider signing up for a plumbing maintenance service plan. Professional plumbers will inspect and repair problems you may not even know about. It’s a preventative step that should eliminate or reduce emergencies.

Homeowners can inspect and potentially repair these common plumbing problems:

  • Dripping Faucets: Drip, drip, drip. You might even hear a leaky faucet some nights when you can’t sleep. It’s a nuisance, and it’s a waste of water. A dripping faucet can waste hundreds of gallons of water and dollars per year. The reason its dripping is probably due to a worn out washer. Over time the rubber or silicone material breaks down or cracks. Replacing these is easy. Turn your water off at the sink beforehand though.
  • Running Toilets: You may notice your toilet takes a long time to fill up, or it never quite stops making that hissing sound. These signs are an indication your flapper valve needs to replaced or that your float is malfunctioning. A tweak with a screwdriver or pair of pliers may fix this. Over time, however, these items wear out and will need to be replaced.
  • Leaking Pipes: Depending on how old your pipes are you shouldn’t experience too many leaks. But they can happen. Sometimes the spot where the pipes were soldered together can crack and cause water to escape. Look under sinks and in your basement. Water is the most obvious sign of a problem. A preventative measure against leaking pipes is to never hang items on them — they’re not designed to bear weight.
  • Deteriorating Washer Hoses:  Check the hoses connected to your washing machine. Those black rubber hoses are known to dry out and crack over time. You don’t want a laundry load’s worth of water rushing through your house. Inspect or just replace them with sturdier stainless steel braided hoses.

Every home is going to have its plumbing issues, and you are going to have to deal with them.

Try your best to avoid problems by limiting what goes in your drains and by maintaining the plumbing in your home. Know where your water main shut off valve is and practice using it. Buy a quality plunger and hope you never have to use it. If you have beautiful long hair, remove the strands you left in the shower before they go down and clog the drain.

Just a little easy effort and observation can keep small problems from turning into Godzilla-sized plumbing emergencies.