Archive for the 'DIY' Category

Fix a Faucet Yourself

Sep. 3rd 2013

There are many things around the house that are just not that hard to fix. A leaky faucet is usually one of them. If you are willing to invest a bit of time, you can save your household a service and parts call to a plumber. If you search the Internet, you will see long and involved articles about fixing a faucet. The truth is it takes a lot of words to describe a fairly obvious procedure. So here, only the most important steps and tips will be mentioned.  It is assumed that you will be able to “see” a lot without being explicitly told.

  • Most household faucets are delicate: This is really important. So often people grab at the bolts and screws like they are in a fight for their lives. But the fact is, these components are not made of the strongest stuff, and they are very easy to strip. Once these components are striped, your life has just become a lot harder. So, use gentle pressure and a tool that is appropriate.
  • It’s all about the right kit: Before you can even do a thing, you have to have gone to the hardware store and purchased the right faucet repair kit. But you cannot do this until you have opened up your faucet’s insides to see what kind of faucet it is (unless you already know). There are two basic categories Washer and Washer less. Faucets with a washer are kind of old-school these days, and not too many new faucets are made this way. But if your fixtures are old, you may have one with a rubber washer at the bottom of the valve. Now, the class of Waterless faucets has three main members: ball, disc, and cartridge.
  • Unpacking the insides: In order to know what you are dealing with, you will first have to open up the faucet (do not forget to shut off all water and turn on the faucet to get the remaining water out). Faucets are not rocket science, so you will either see a screw to loosen or a decorative cap to gently pry off with a flat head screwdriver. From there, you will likely see a bolt that you can (gently) loosen. This should grant you access to the main insides. Loosen screws as needed to take completely apart.Often the parts are small, so it is recommended that you lay them out on a tray or towel in an orderly fashion so you can visually see how they all connect. Taking a photo of this array is great in case the cat or dog tips over the tray!
  • Assess: With all the components exposed, you will be able to take these (or a photo of them) to the hardware store and match with the correct repair kit. Once you get the repair kit home, you can compare the components from your faucet to the new ones in the kit. Again, this is not brain surgery. Look and see. What part looks the most worn or tired or dirty? This is the one that most likely is the culprit. If you want, you can replace just the one faulty part, or more. It is up to you. Then, reassemble, reattach and turn the water back on. If you need to see some good pictures of different faucet types click here.

These are the key steps to fixing a leaky faucet in your home. Don’t forget that you can always search YouTube for videos that discuss your exact faucet and problem. But the most important thing to know is that you can do this.

 

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Leaks | No Comments »

Fixing a Leaky Pipe

May. 9th 2013

Just about every home owner has experienced issues with the pipes in their home. It seems like it is just a fact of home ownership. Sooner or later a problem will arise concerning pipes. Home owners usually recognize that there is a problem when they receive a water bill that seems rather high. The first thought is that there must be a leak in the house or someone is taking too many showers. Fixing a leaking pipe begins with making sure that there is a leaking pipe in the home. Let’s take a closer look at the issue.

First, go through the house and turn off all the sources that use water. Make sure all the faucets are off. Turn off the ice maker in the fridge. Next, go to the water meter and take a close look at the dials or digits. Moving digits or a dial that continues to move probably points to a leak in the pipes. Finding the source of the leak might take a bit more time. It is time to put on your detectives’ hat and do some research. Often, it is easy to find the leak by listening to the pipes and following the sound.

Once you’ve discovered the source of the leak it is time to get to work fixing the leaking pipe. Often, it is easy to fix the leak with a few items that you might already have around the house. Homeowners should understand that it is important to tackle that leak as soon as possible. A leaking pipe could cause really serious water damage to the house and surrounding furnishings.

Once you’ve discovered the source of the leak turn off the water supply to stop any further damage. For example, if the leak is in the pipe leading to the tub, turn off the water supply valve on the tub. Perhaps, the leak is to a kitchen sink. Turn off the valve that supplies water to the kitchen sink. The valve should be under the sink. Turn off the main water supply vale if you cannot find the other valves.

There are a number of ways to temporarily fix a leaking pipe. First, let’s tackle the simplest way to fix leaking pipes. Take a length of electrical tape and wrap it securely around the leaking pipe. Make sure that the leak area is fully covered. Wrap a few inches beyond the leak for extra security. Now, the next way to fix a leaking pipe is a bit more complicated and requires a few more items for the repair. This repair will require a piece of rubber gasket that is slightly larger than the leak in the pipes. The repair also requires a worm drive screw clamp. Open up the clamp and slowly slip it over the leak on the pipe. Center the strap on the clamp over the rubber gasket patch which is placed on top of the leak. Next, screw the clamp device tight. This repair should last much longer than the previous repair. Still, it is wise to consult with a plumber about a permanent repair on the pipe.

Of course, there are also leaking pipe repair products on the market that are very good at fixing a minor leak in a pipe system. Many of the products are very reasonably priced. Make sure that you read and follow the instructions very carefully.

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Pipes | No Comments »

Plumbing Vents

Dec. 17th 2012

Plumbing vents are another name for drain-waste-vent systems. These systems help to eliminate waste and a substance known as greywater, or water that is used in household activities such as bathing, washing dishes, or laundry, from a residence. These vents connect to household appliances via internal pipes, and lead outside, sometimes to the roof of the home. The material that travels through these vents can cause illnesses if not properly disposed of, and plumbing vents help to ensure that these materials are removed. These materials include gases and fumes from the sewer, which can be seriously toxic if they manage to seep inside of a residence.

Plumbing vents also help to maintain air pressure in these pipes, which enables the contents to flow much more easily. Because of this regulated air pressure, gravity is able to work on these waste contents and carry it out of the home. These vents must be installed and positioned properly in order for them to be effective. Plumbing vents are important for other reasons, as well, because it is through these systems that oxygen is able to get to the waste inside the pipes. When sewage and wastewater make contact with oxygen, the oxygen helps to break down the waste because the components of these substances are aerobic in nature and rapidly deteriorate in its presence. These types of vents also can help prevent sewage gases from making their way inside the home by maintaining the seals that keep unwanted vapors and substances out of the main area of the residence.

When the air pressure is not maintained by these plumbing vents, it can compress the air in the pipe. This can create suction on the waste that leaves the air with nowhere to go. When this takes place, gases can easily leak into the home, creating a dangerous and toxic situation. In order for these pipes to properly work, each fixture must have a vent close by, within five feet of its placement in the room. These fixtures include sinks, tubs, and toilets. These requirements are often set up by local building codes, and should be maintained and reinforced during installation of plumbing vents.

It is also important for installation and maintenance purposes to remember that these pipes can at times become frozen or clogged. There are various things that can cause this to happen, and they include ice blocking the pipe or dead leaves collecting inside. Anytime homeowners are having trouble getting their sinks or tubs to drain, this is one of the first signs to look for to indicate that somewhere a pipe is clogged. It may also be possible that as a result of this clogging gases will contaminate the indoor air of the home, so calling a plumber if this happens would be the best course of action.

It is vital that every homeowner have plumbing vents properly installed to manage the sewage and wastewater and gases that homeowners are at risk of exposure to just going about their daily lives. Installation can be done as a do-it-yourself project, but for those who are unsure about how to best install these systems, calling a qualified plumber to do the job is a necessary step.

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Pipes | No Comments »

Plumbing Emergencies

Nov. 11th 2012

Dealing With Plumbing Emergencies At Home

Plumbing emergencies are, from one perspective, neglect of your plumbing that has bloomed into a serious consequence. The underlying causes of most problems which reach emergency status are problems that should have been given attention long before they erupted into emergencies.

A “plumbing emergency” usually translates to a flood, or water running where it doesn’t belong, although it can include some other problems. In the majority of cases, the first consideration is to stop the flow of water. If you had to shut the water off to the entire house right now, would you be able to walk right to the main supply valve? Part of emergency preparedness is to know, above all, where the main valve is on the supply line leading into the house.

If you are on a municipal water distribution branch, your water enters your house from the street side, and a water meter is connected to it just inside the wall. If you have your own well, the supply line likely enters the house from the direction of the well. Locate the valve on this line. Closing this will turn off the water supply to the home.

A proper plumbing setup will include other valves, as well. At the very least, each individual fixture – refrigerator with ice maker, sink, washer, etc., should have its own cutoff valve. There may also be cutoff valves on entire branches of the supply pipe (i.e.: the lines leading to a second floor lavatory, or the lines leading to the master bedroom lavatory, or the wet bar). With multiple cutoffs, the location of the leak can give you choices as to which valves to close.

The cutoff for a sink will be directly underneath the sink. The toilet cutoff is behind the tank at the end of the supply pipe, which may approach from the floor or from within the wall. If the individual fixture is the source of the problem, closing its valve can minimize the inconvenience while the repair is being made.

If the main water supply must be shut off for more than a few minutes, turn off the heating supply to the water heater as well, either by switching the gas valve to “OFF”, or by tripping the circuit breaker for the appliance. This will keep the water heater from continuously heating the same water, and eliminate the possibility of it overheating.

Sometimes a fixture will appear to be leaking when the only trouble is a clogged drain. Clear the drain and the symptoms (wet floor, dripping) should disappear.

A frozen pipe is another common plumbing emergency. If a pipe freezes, it may also crack. Steel and copper pipes can tolerate precious little expansion, while PVC is much more forgiving. If the pipe has not split, and it is metal, thawing it will not take much time. Heat it slowly, by tying a hot water bag to it and warming the bag occasionally. Alternately, shine a bulb on the coldest part of the pipe. This method may take up to a couple of hours, but heating it slowly will minimize the chance that it will rupture. Never apply a flame to a pipe which has frozen. The combination of ice and rapidly expanding, heating water can stress the metal and weaken it. If the water is brought to the boiling point in the midst of ice, the pressure could burst the pipe.

If the frozen pipe has cracked, make sure the water supply has been turned off, then cut out the offending portion and replace it. Wrap insulating tape around the repaired pipe to prevent it from refreezing. As a general principle, never leave your home unheated in cold weather. If you must leave it empty and cannot supply a heat source, drain the entire system of water.

If hot water becomes scalding, or produces steam, not only can closing the faucet cause burns, but the pressure in the hot water supply line can increase to dangerous levels. Leave the faucet running and remove the heat source to the water heater. Only close the faucet again when the running hot water has cooled to the touch. Call a plumber to diagnose and repair the problem with the water heater.

At times, a water heater will drip and get the floor wet. It is possible that the tank is sweating. On very hot days, and when a considerable amount of hot water has been used, the large volume of incoming cold water can produce enough condensation to drip down to the floor. This does not constitute an emergency. If, however, the volume of water coming from the heater is too great for condensation, or if it is constant and not dependent on usage and weather conditions, it is likely that the inner tank has cracked, which is not a serviceable problem. Once the water heater tank is cracked, it is time to install a new one. It is a good idea to keep important keepsakes far enough away from any water heater, or on a higher plane, on the chance that a leaking water heater goes undiscovered for any length of time.

Careful attention should be paid to the operation of all your plumbing appliances. If you remain aware of conditions affecting all aspects of your home’s plumbing any of these emergency problems can be avoided. The important thing to keep in the back of your mind, while maintaining your home’s plumbing systems, is what to do if any of these situations does occur.

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Plumbers | No Comments »

Common Plumbing Tools

Oct. 25th 2012

Plumbing Tools You’ll Want for DIY Plumbing Repairs

The Do-it-yourselfer is the adventurous sort, who always wants to take a crack at a problem before having to call in the pros. Well, that’s a great spirit; why not try to find out if the issue is manageable and save what might be a hefty fee? You can gain a ton of knowledge in the process to equip you for the future. Among other things, one thing you often learn is that you’d be better able to handle the problem if you only had the tool you needed!

Since there is a wide variety of materials in use, depending mainly on when your home was built, and also on the care that has been put into the home over the years, whether you’ve owned it from the start or purchased a used home.

The materials used in your home (and the specific tools designed for use with each) will vary depending on a few factors. What is the climate? Is it a mobile home? Is there a basement level? If so, does it rest on a foundation, or on soil shelves? All of these questions play a part in determining what you are up against when you tackle the problems that will arise in your plumbing system.

Let’s run down the most common tools you will find yourself needing over the course of many of the projects you undertake, and maybe a few of the “would be nice” ones, as well:

Screwdrivers, both cross-tip and straight. Most faucets and drains are held on with a screw. Fixing a leaky faucet will require removing the handle. Some handles, however, may be held on with a small set screw, which may require a small straight screwdriver, or perhaps a hex wrench (commonly referred to as an Allen Wrench). All of these are staples of the home owner’s tool box.

An adjustable wrench will come in handy for nearly every plumbing project you get involved in. In fact, it is good to have 2 sizes – a 6-inch and a 12-inch wrench will be a complete set. These are better known in the vernacular, as “Crescent” wrenches.

And before we get too far away from the basics, let’s talk about the plumber’s helper – the plunger. There are two different types of plungers that will be the most helpful for clearing clogs in drains. The “sink” type plunger is a shallow rubber cup, which forms a seal around the sink or tub drain. If plunging a sink, seal the overflow hole with a piece of duct tape first, in order to enable the creation of a vacuum. A toilet, however, requires a differently shaped plunger, A shallow cup, suitable for a flat sink, could not seal as well on a toilet. This requires a ball type plunger with a flange, that can fit into the drain hole in the toilet.

Looking under the sink and tub brings to mind the next commonly used tools. To easily reach the nuts which hold the water hoses to the underside of the faucet, a basin wrench is an essential. This is a long handle with a set of jaws sticking out to the side such that they will only turn in one direction. To turn the other direction, simply flip the jaws over to the other side of the handle.

A drain snake is a very handy tool for unclogging a drain. A 2-foot snake can reach all the most common clog areas once the drain is uncovered. One of these costs just a few dollars. It might be nice to have a longer one for snaking some areas; a 25-foot snake is fairly inexpensive as well.

Moving into the basement, or the crawl space, whichever applies, we see the supply pipes that will lead upstairs. If your pipes are primarily galvanized steel, you will need a pair of pipe wrenches to deal with them properly. These are a little pricey, so keep an eye out at rummage sales and flea markets if your budget is tight. Probably a pair of 10-inch wrenches would serve well enough, but they come in various sizes. On a really tough joint, slip a steel pipe over the handle to greatly increase your force.

You may find copper pipes in your home, or, more commonly, PVC plastic, both of which are far easier to work with than steel. These must be cut and spliced together again to fix them when they leak. A hacksaw is useful for cutting these pipes. When it comes time to put them back together, though, all that is needed for the PVC is a can of PVC cement and a couple of fittings. For the copper, however, in addition to the coupling fittings, the “glue” that is necessary is solder, (pronounced “sodder”), along with flux. Both of these, when kissed by a propane torch, will form a water-tight seal.

You will discover as you embark on do-it-yourself plumbing projects, that the tools you will need will present themselves, and you may have, from time to time, to go and get one in order to proceed. But stocking up on these basics in advance will equip you – and embolden you – to begin many repairs that you might not have thought yourself capable of before.

Posted by plumber | in Clogs, DIY, Leaks, Pipes, Tools | No Comments »

Troubleshooting a Hot Water Heater

Sep. 14th 2012

The hot water heater is a very important component of your home’s plumbing system. Not only is it one of the most expensive components, but it is the first to be missed when it malfunctions. These are a few of the most common problems that can occur and some tips for preventing them by performing scheduled maintenance.

The most troublesome issue experienced when you have any water heater is when the water comes out cold. On a gas heater, the pilot may have blown out. If it is an electric heater, its circuit breaker may have tripped. Once you reignite the pilot or reset the breaker, look into the reason before assuming the issue is resolved.
If your water heater takes too long to heat up, it may be that deposits have formed in the tank. Sediments in the tank will insulate it from the flame. Drain and flush the tank occasionally to remove sedimentary deposits.

Reduce the rate of sediment buildup by lowering the water temperature and by softening household water. Set thermostat to 125°F. Temperatures below 120°F can allow the growth of unhealthy bacteria within the tank. Also, if sediment becomes too thick on the bottom of the tank, the tank bottom may overheat in a gas heater, causing the water at the bottom to boil. This may produce a funny popping or rumbling sound. Draining and flushing the tank occasionally will eliminate this issue.

If your tank is not big enough to provide enough hot water on demand, stagger showers throughout the day, or get a tank big enough to store 15 gallons for every member of the household. My 40-gallon tank only runs cold on the rare occasions when all four of us take baths or showers one after the other.

When an electric water heater supplies too little hot water, or water that is too hot, check the thermostat, heating elements and limit switches. Replace them if they are damaged or encrusted with sediment. The limits of a do-it-yourselfer in regard to electric heater components are to inspect them for loose or disconnected wires, and to tighten and reattach them. Never attempt to work on an electric water heater until you are sure the power has been disconnected at the panel.

If water from a gas heater smells rotten, replace the anode rod. The location of this rod is detailed in the owner’s manual. This rod, made of magnesium or aluminum, is in place because of the electrochemical reaction created when water is heated. The reaction will corrode the rod over time, so that the tank itself remains unaffected by it. For this reason the rod should be replaced periodically (every 2 to 5 years). Pull it out after 2 years (or if the heater is more than two years old and you never have before) and inspect it for wear. Charts are available to show how much service life remains in an anode rod.

If your heater is gas-fired, have the burners cleaned once a year. Take this opportunity to inspect flues and vents, or use a carbon monoxide detector to ensure no dangerous exhaust is escaping into the house.

The T&P valve (temperature and pressure relief valve) should be tested once per year. Test this by lifting the handle until pressurized water escapes through the drain tube attached to the valve. Release the handle, and the flow should stop completely. If it drips, there may be sediment which has lodged in the valve seat. Release a little more water a few times, until it stops completely. If you find water pooled under the heater, and it is not coming from the T&P valve, look above the tank nearby, to see if there is a drip from any of the other pipes in the area. If not, inspect the bottom of the tank, above the burner, for excess corrosion and wetness. If you find it is leaking through the tank, the heater will need to be replaced.
Water heaters are routinely ignored as long as hot water is delivered on demand. But setting a maintenance schedule and inspecting the tank on a periodic basis will prolong its trouble-free operation and performing these simple maintenance tasks will extend its life beyond the expected 10-15 years.

Septic Tank Maintenance

Aug. 26th 2012

Homes which are not served by Municipal water and sewage utilities most often are equipped with a septic system, a means for collecting, treating and disposing of household waste water.

The primary factor in reliable functioning of a septic system is its location. Site selection is paramount, with care and attention given to the topography of the area and the soil characteristics. Proper placement of the system components is also key. Let us take for granted, for the purposes of this article, that the system has been properly installed and the soil is well suited for use with your septic system. If, on the other hand, you have inherited a poorly constructed system, the cure lies outside the scope of this article.

A septic system consists of a collection tank (the septic tank), which receives all the waste water from the home or business, and a drain field (or lateral field), through which liquid portions of the waste are delivered to the surrounding soil, to be filtered by the soil and returned to the groundwater. Inside the tank, bacteria goes to work on the waste to break it down and liquefy the solids. The size of the septic tank is dependent on the expected amount of waste, so a very old system may be too small for a modern home, because of the addition of a washing machine and the growth of family size, both of which dramatically increase waste water.

The typical septic system is designed to treat approximately 50 gallons of waste water per family member, per day. Although a typical washer load of clothes alone can exceed this amount, with careful attention, laundry can be done. If more than one load of clothes is needed per day, they should be spaced out throughout the day, and not done one after the other. Another solution to laundry waste is to install a separate tank to collect laundry waste. Though this involves some cost, it will save maintenance costs over time.

There are other precautions that may be taken that will minimize maintenance costs. A lint trap may be installed in the washer drain pipe, which serves to keep hard-to-treat solid wastes to a minimum. Keeping paper products out of the system will reduce the workload as well. Just as in homes connected to municipal systems, avoid allowing oil and grease to enter the septic tank at all costs. These will build up and cause clogs and system backups. Likewise, the use of garbage disposals can double the amount of solid waste and overwhelm the system.

The most important maintenance that can be performed on the septic system is a periodic pumping of the solids from the collection tank. This should be performed by a licensed professional, as there are strict regulations concerning methods and proper disposal of the tank solids. Although the recommendation is that tanks should be pumped every 3 to 5 years, because of your personal habits and situation, it is a good idea to consult a professional to determine the ideal timetable for getting your tank pumped.

The most effective actions for saving maintenance costs are those which lengthen the time period between pumping. Low-flow toilets and shower heads can dramatically reduce water consumption, fixing any leaky plumbing fixtures right away is important, as is minimizing the number of toilet flushes.

Other considerations need to be borne in mind when you use a septic system, and they focus on minimizing damage to the system. You should be aware of where the components of the system are, in order to avoid damaging the underground pipes accidentally. Avoid driving heavy vehicles over the tank and the pipes that make up the lateral field. Also, watch the drain field area to make sure there is no pooling of water on the ground. If there is, some landscaping will be necessary to keep surface water away from the drain field. Make sure gutters are directed away from the drain field, as well. If the area is too wet, filtering of waste water will not be effective, and bacteria and pollutants will enter the groundwater, possibly contaminating the water supply and any nearby waterways.

With proper care, a septic system can be expected to last for many years. Keeping a close eye on what goes down the drain and pumping the septic tank when needed can keep the system operating at peak efficiency.

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Septic Tanks | No Comments »

Solving Low Water Pressure

Aug. 13th 2012

If your home suffers from low water pressure, the most obvious result will be seen in the shower. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, you’ll remember that shower every time you step in under the trickle in your own shower. Perhaps you are frustrated that your hose does not reach as far as you feel it should, or have enough pressure to clean off your sidewalk without the help of a broom. These issues can be addressed, and the pressure to your fixtures improved, but you must start by determining the likely cause of the low pressure.

Common Causes of Low Water Pressure

Pressure regulators

Your home may be equipped with a pressure regulator, designed to reduce the pressure to safe and manageable levels, if unregulated pressure is too high. While the output pressure of these devices are set by the manufacturer, and is just right for your home when the regulator is working properly, problems arise when the device fails. If it fails, it can restrict water flow enough to reduce water pressure to some or all of your plumbing fixtures.
The best recourse for this problem is to call a professional to repair or replace it. Check with your utility company; it may be that it is owned by the city, and they are responsible for its repair.

Elevation

Where your house is in relation to the water supply tower effects the pressure to your home. If you have a private water well and storage tank, you may be able to raise its elevation to improve water flow and get higher pressure to the home. If the drop in pressure is sudden, call your utility company during dry spells, to find out if low water supply is the problem, or if there is a broken supply pipe nearby. If your supplied pressure is too low for your needs, it is possible to install a pressure booster in your home.

Home valves

Check that all valves in the home are fully open. If a valve is inadvertently turned – even just a little – it will restrict the flow of water to your fixtures. If your home uses galvanized steel pipes, which are notorious for clogging with minerals over time, the only effective cure is to replace them with a more modern material. Copper is excellent, but is the most expensive commonly used material by far. PVC is very inexpensive, but serves very well, and does not tend to accumulate sediment. PEX is slightly more expensive than PVC, because of the cost of its fittings, but is a new favorite among plumbers and do-it-yourselfers alike, because of its flexibility and the ease with which it is installed.

Leaky PEX joints can be disassembled and reassembled, making it a good choice for the do-it-yourselfer.

Water leaks

Leaky pipes or fixtures diminish the water that is available to other fixtures. Cracked pipes – to include those outside your house owned by the utility company – will reduce home water pressure. A test that you can perform to make sure there is no water being used in the home for a period of two or three hours. Note the reading on the water meter at the start of the test, and see if it has changed at the end of the test period. If it has, water is being used, which means you probably have a leak which, in turn, is reducing your available pressure. Try to isolate the location of the leak using existing valves throughout your plumbing system.

Mineral deposit build-up

Over time, minerals may build up in your plumbing system. Remove your shower head to see if there is a buildup of sediment. Shower heads may be soaked in white vinegar to completely clean them of sediment safely. Faucet aerators can be cleaned the same way. Brush them with a soft brush afterwards and run them under water to wash off what remains.
If pressure from the fixture has improved after cleaning the parts, your next step should be to address the problem of sediment build-up in your plumbing system.
Peak usage periods

In a municipal utility district, you share the water supply with all of your neighbors. There are periods throughout the day when many homes are using the shower, or the washer, or the garden hose, etc.. During these times, pressure will be reduced for everyone in the neighborhood. If your average pressure is marginal, it will be too low during peak times, and some or all of your plumbing fixtures will be noticeably lacking in pressure.

If you have added fixtures, such as an additional lavatory or any fixture that uses water, it may be that your water requirement now exceeds the supply. In this case, it will be necessary to increase the size of the supply line coming from the water main to your home. Alternately, installing a pressure booster can raise the pressure again.

Once you determine the likely cause of the low pressure in your home, maybe with the help of a professional, you can better determine the course needed to correct it.

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Pipes, Sinks | No Comments »

Repair or Replace?

Aug. 1st 2012

Should you service your existing plumbing fixtures or replace them?

The world of a do-it-yourselfer is full of surprises, and full of decisions. The typical homeowner decides which plumber to hire, which heating and air conditioning contractor to hire, and other, similar decisions. The do-it-yourselfer has more complex decisions to make. Can I gain control of this situation in a time of crisis? Am I able to solve the problem and return things to normal using only my own ingenuity and resources? Can I save some of my hard-earned money by eliminating the labor costs of a professional?

A properly functioning plumbing system is a sensitive balance, containing many various and individual parts, all playing their roles to provide modern convenience to your home. But each component, as it performs its task, is wearing out, or being deposited with sediment, or otherwise approaching the point at which it will fail. Some components show warning signs that failure is imminent, but some simply fail, without any indication of trouble.

Many components have a “life expectancy”, which aids the homeowner in deciding whether repairs will be worth their cost, or if they will amount to throwing money and energy at a losing proposal. This article will help you to ask the questions that are part of the decision whether to replace a failed appliance or fixture, or whether to replace a component of it in order to make a repair and put it back into operation.

An important factor in determining your course of action is the cost of repair as compared with the cost of replacement. For instance, if a part for your thermostatic shower control is half the cost of replacing the entire valve, and you’ve used the valve for ten years already, perhaps it would be wise to replace the entire valve while you have it opened up. If you do, you can reasonably expect to have about ten more years of trouble-free operation. If you spend only the amount necessary to change the part, you may not be confident that no other part will need replacement before long. It could be that repairing part after part will lead to a higher cost than total replacement.

A water heater is an expensive plumbing fixture that can be found in nearly every home – every occupied building of all types, in fact. When problems with the water heater arise, they can be caused by many different things. If your pilot light stays on, but no fire ignites, it may need a new thermocouple, a part that costs between $5 and $10 and takes about ten minutes to change. In this case, it is probably worth the expense, even if you have owned the water heater for 12 years, the typical life expectancy of a gas heater.

But suppose there is no gas supplying the pilot light, and a faulty gas valve is the culprit. If you’ve had the heater for ten years or more, it may not be wise to spend nearly $200 just to keep it working for an expected 2 more years. Average out the total cost of ownership over ten years of use, without the added expense of a gas valve, and you will find you have gotten your money’s worth. Spending the extra money on a new appliance will add years of trouble-free operation – and it comes with the expensive part included in the price!

Of course, the decision about whether to patch up an ailing appliance rather than replace it will depend largely on the available budget of the homeowner. Sometimes a homeowner will have little choice but to spend as little as possible to get things working again, but from another perspective, spending as little as possible to restore the plumbing system is a recipe for overwhelming future problems.

Cost, however, is not always the dominant factor in such a decision. The market value of your home is affected by maintenance decisions you make. Aesthetic value is another factor. A cracked lid on your toilet tank is an eyesore, but you will likely need to replace the entire toilet to resolve the issue. While replacing your toilet in such an instance is perhaps wasted money to some, from another perspective it provides a satisfaction that cannot be measured in dollars.

It may not always be the best course of action to defer your judgment to a professional plumber at times when such a decision is needed. Plumbers, while in business to serve the needs of their customers, are also in the business of making sales. If a fixture is serviceable after repairing it, it may be substandard in the eyes of a professional who is in constant contact with new, and sometimes innovative plumbing fixtures and appliances.

But it is not necessary for a functioning system that it be new. The test for the homeowner is whether the system is functioning as it was designed to do, and whether costs and efforts are contained within reasonable limits, allowing for the homeowner’s time and money to be devoted to other needs.

The decision, then, to replace or repair any durable plumbing fixture – toilets, garbage disposals, water heaters, etc. – will depend on how much repair you’ve had to perform on the item previously, and how much repair cost can be eliminated by the installation of a new one. It is rarely an easy decision, but with due diligence and thoughtful consideration of all the factors, your decision can be easier to make.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Jun. 2nd 2012

When, in the dead of winter, water freezes within a pipe, it expands, slowly but surely, until it causes the pipe to burst. When this occurs, you’re in for serious trouble, especially if it’s your heating system that has just bitten the dust. if you have young children in your home who depend on heat to keep them healthy, the dimensions of the disaster are magnified even further.

It may be of interest to some readers to note that that the formation of ice within a pipe is not what normally causes the rupture. Most people will be inclined to think that the expansion of ice within the pipe is what does the damage. But, in fact, when ice forms within the pipe and completely blocks it, the water pressure trapped within that pipe will increase and begin to move downward, trending toward the closed faucet at the end of that pipe.

When the water pressure built up against the closed faucet increases to such a point that the faucet can no longer hold up against that pressure, the pipe will burst, with flooding and freezing as the natural result. The pipe will usually tend to burst precisely at the point where no or very little ice has actually formed – a fact which can puzzle even the most seasoned of winter veterans. The true culprit of pipe rupture and breakage is inadequate insulation, whether within the building the pipes are part of, or within the pipe itself.

The best way to keep pipes in your home from freezing is simply not to expose them to frigid winter temperatures in the first place. If it is at all possible to place them only in spaces which are adequately heated or thickly insulated, by all means do so. Keep your pipes out of your attics and off of your outside walls. If it is possible to reroute or replace altogether older pipes which have served through many past winter seasons, you should do so. The longer a set of pipes has been in service in an area which is vulnerable to freezing temperatures, the more likely they will be to finally give out under the pressure of age and fatigue.

Seal up all the holes and cracks in your walls and foundations and, likewise, plaster up all the holes in your inside walls and window ledges and crevices as well. The less freezing outside air you let into your home, the better. And this goes double for the areas where your water pipes are. If you can install or reroute pipes into kitchen or bathroom cabinets, this will keep frigid winter air from affecting them there. Insulate the insides of your kitchen or bathroom cabinets with a bit of fiberglass coating, to insure that no cold air reaches these precious pipes. The more preventative measures you take before winter comes, the more chance your pipes have to survive the coming ordeal.

If it comes to the worst, and a rupture does occur, the following actions are recommended. The first course of action you should take should be to close off your pipe’s supply line valve (where the water first enters the pipe), and then open the faucet, which you will find at the end of the pipe. This faucet may, in fact, already have been forced open by the water escaping during the breakage. At any rate, you should then examine closely the entire length of the ruptured pipe.

Check carefully for any tell tale cracks, symmetrical breakages, or holes which may have been forced open in the pipe by the escaping water. The best place to look for a broken pipe will most likely be outside of your home, somewhere on the outside walls, or in crawl spaces adjoining your cellar or garage. Upstairs in the attic might be the next logical place to check, as pipes placed in that area tend to get forgotten about, and thus neglected through the years, until such a breakage finally occurs.

Next, you’ll want to thaw out the ruptured pipe. Shut off the supply line valve before you do so, so that as little water as possible can escape out of the pipe once it begins flowing again! Once you’ve managed to positively identify the source of the breakage, and exactly where it took place, grab a hair dryer and use it to thaw out the area that surrounds the ruptured area. This is in order to ascertain whether or not you can manage to get water flowing again through the pipe. If you can get the water flowing, then it’s time to patch up the hole to prevent water leakage from damaging the floor.

Once you have successfully managed to thaw out the ruptured pipe, you can begin to repair it. You’ll need a pipe cutter, or perhaps a hack saw. Regardless of which of these instruments you choose, you’ll also need to have some basic welding skills if you are to perform this task by yourself. If you lack these skills, it might be best to call in a professional who can perform the job, so as to minimize the risk of botching it.

If you do possess these skills, then you will need to use the pipe cutter or hacksaw to remove the section of pipe that has been compromised. Once you’ve done so, you’ll then proceed to replace the damaged section with a new bit of pipe. To do so properly, you’ll need a propane welding torch, as well as the proper soldering gear, to weld the new section of pipe into the existing sections. Once this is done, switch the supply line valve back on, and test the pipe to see if any fresh leakage occurs.

If the join was successful, no further action should be necessary. However, keep in mind that even the best welding patch job is a temporary solution. You will have to replace the entire pipe as soon as possible, in order to ensure that no further breakages occur. Still, this patch up job should hold you and your family through the night, until morning comes and you can venture out to the nearest store to purchase the new pipe. Good luck!

Posted by plumber | in DIY, Leaks, Pipes, Winter | No Comments »

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