Archive for June, 2012

Choosing The Right Toilet

Jun. 29th 2012

Toilets are toilets, right? Everybody needs to use one about every day, so as long as they do what they were designed for, what is all the fuss about choosing one over another? A toilet by any other name would smell – the same, wouldn’t it?

How often do people get to choose their toilets, anyway? Generally, we buy a house, and it’s got a toilet in one of the rooms, or maybe more. But there do arise times when you may want to renovate a bathroom, and you consider the possibility of replacing the fixtures, include the toilet. You may even be building your dream house, and though it has been designed to include a toilet or two, there is a great opportunity to have a say concerning which toilet is installed. And of course, it is possible that you have cracked your toilet, or your elderly mother has moved into your home, or your family has gotten too big for one little toilet.

OK, so maybe the need to choose a new toilet is not so rare an occurrence. And if you have that choice before you today, there is a good bit to know before venturing out to your neighborhood home improvement center.

It might seem to you that even though there are differences in appearance between different toilets, they all seem pretty much the same. Are there important differences that don’t meet the casual observer’s eye? Is it fine simply to pick the one that you think best matches the decor of your bathroom? It may be, but it’s wise to narrow the list down a little before letting the decision rest on that factor alone. So, what are all the considerations that should be made in forming an educated opinion?

For most people, price is an important factor. Many assume that as the price of an item increases, its quality improves. In the world of toilets, this is far from certain. Low price toilets can potentially perform as well as some very expensive ones. And the features we will look into here will show you how.

The first distinction to be made is on the basis of the three major types of toilets. Numerous examples can be found of each of these types that function comparably:

Gravity-fed toilets – these are those with a tank mounted above the bowl (one-piece or two), and when the handle is pressed, the water rushes in from the rim or the siphon-jet (the small hole under the water in front of the drain), or both. This rush of water “pushes” the bowl contents into the drain.

Vacuum toilets – these suck the air from behind the trap, creating a vacuum which the bowl’s contents rushes to fill. This “pulls” the waste into the drain. Vacuum-assisted models combines the two methods, for a simultaneous “push” and “pull”.

Gravity toilets have a smaller water surface deeper in the bowl. This can mean that they get dirtier than the vacuum type.

Pressure-assisted toilets – these are quite distinct in appearance and in sound. Pressurized water is released from a sealed mechanism located in the tank to overwhelm the bowl’s contents and send it scurrying into the drain. The process is rather loud, and the mechanism requires a larger tank. These require a minimum household water pressure, so if you are considering one of these, check with the manufacturer or sales representative. Additionally, there are no user-serviceable parts in this toilet, so if that is an issue, scratch this one off your list.

Another clear distinction between toilets is their shape. The so-called “standard” shape is fairly round, while the other common shape is an elongated circle. This distinction is primarily according to taste, but there are some who maintain that the round bowl is suited to a better “vortex” for flushing –the swirling action of the water within the bowl that helps accomplish a more complete flush.

But the characteristics of the toilet which make a measurable difference are the diameter of the flush valve (the hole through which water leaves the tank) and the trap size (diameter of the trap, through which water leaves the bowl) A larger flush valve delivers water faster and more forcefully, and a larger trap can move a greater amount of waste without clogging. These numbers are not mutually exclusive – you can look for a toilet with large diameters of both of these openings. This is a more important consideration for homes built during or before the 1950′s, because the commonly used 4-inch cast iron waste pipe has a rough inner surface and requires either a large amount of water or fast-moving water to wash the waste completely out of the soil pipe.

Some might long for the days when we could flush 5 gallons of water into our toilets and walk away knowing that whatever we just put in there is long gone. Some recall the bad and inefficient products that hit the market when the current 1.6 gallon per flush standard first became Federal law. But what has not made much press is that innovation has stepped into the void and confusion, and the products we have today are as efficient and successful with 1.6 gallons (and some with even less) as our old ones were with 5 gallons.

You can buy toilets with concealed mechanisms (located behind a wall), toilets which hang from the wall, or floor-standing models, all using any of the three flushing methods. All manufacturers offer models which provide greater accessibility for handicapped persons as well. The major consideration which may limit any of your options is the space you have available for installation. Make sure you know the square footage of usable space and, especially, the rough-in measurement. This is the distance from the wall (ignoring the baseboard) to the center of the drain.

Lastly, the color of your toilet can add substantially to its cost. A typical manufacturer adds 60% – 70% to the cost of a white toilet to produce a colored toilet.

When you have narrowed your list considerably and are ready to go out shopping, be sure to check with Consumer Reports. They have an excellent buying guide that is worth your review.

Posted by plumber | in Plumbers, Toilets, Water Savers | No Comments »

Green Plumbing Ideas

Jun. 20th 2012

There is great interest these days in environmental conservation, and applying ‘green’ concepts to household plumbing designs is a smart idea which can lead to substantial savings of water and of money. Even if water consumption is not regulated in your local area, many steps can be taken which not only reduce your dependency on public water supplies, but also reduce your negative impact on the environment.

 

One step which will have a huge impact will be the use of rainwater to supply toilets and washing machines, even sinks and showers. This can be done by means of a cistern. Many older homes in the rural United States were equipped with cisterns – usually concrete tanks buried near the house into which rainfall was harvested by means of the gutter system. Homes can be retrofitted for a cistern, using an underground tank or one that sits on the surface, but during new construction or renovation are the most cost-effective opportunities for the installation of such tanks, as retrofitting costs may be prohibitive.

 

Another important water-saving feature that can be added to a home is a treatment system for gray water. Waste water from sinks, showers and washing machines, while not clean, is known as gray water, as opposed to black water, which is the waste from toilets and food disposals. Gray water may be collected into a septic tank, to be treated and sent to a collection tank. From there it can be used for watering lawns and plants, a supply that costs nothing, and that has been redeemed from what may have been freely gathered rainwater to begin with.

 

Fixtures may be added to the plumbing system which serve to reduce water flow. Low-flow toilets, water-efficient shower heads and pressure reducers can add up to mean a great reduction in water usage. Even timely repair of leaky faucets and shower valves are very important water-saving measures.

 

In addition to the many undertakings that lead to a reduction in water usage, there is an increasing interest in more economical means of heating water for the home. Heating water for sinks and showers is a costly expense of a plumbing system. The costs of electricity and fuel – whether natural gas or Liquid Petroleum ‘gas’ – are unpredictable, except that they are sure to rise. The typical, traditional water heater is a tank in the home that takes in cold water and heats it to a predetermined temperature, letting it out into the pipes when the hot water faucet is opened. This is a rather inefficient system, since a tankful of hot water, when not being used, will cool down, and require continual reheating.

 

Recent innovations have allowed homeowners to move away from the water heater tank system though, and can provide significant savings because water will only be heated when it is needed, and only in the amount that is needed.

 

There is a still more efficient method than either of these, and it is to use the energy from the Sun to heat your water. Solar energy collection is a mature industry, and one of the best developed implementations of renewable energy technologies on the market. A solar collector sits atop the roof and the fluid within transfers heat to the water supply, which is stored in a tank, ready for delivery to the plumbing fixtures.

 

While this system depends at its foundation upon sunshine, it is well known that there is no place where the Sun always shines. There may be several days – or, in some locations – even weeks, when sunshine is scarce. There is also Winter, when the energy from the Sun is decreased. For this reason, a solar heating system includes a booster, which keeps the temperature of the water at the desired level. If your home is in an area which receives a great deal of sunshine during most of the year, however, it is likely that the booster will not have to be engaged for weeks at a time, or longer.

 

Consumers are always looking for cheaper ways to supply their needs. While some of the ideas spoken of can be expensive to implement, the overall costs of operating with these environmentally friendly methods are far less over the course of time, and including these aspects of environmental stewardship at construction time will give you a far more efficient and more affordable option.

 

Solar Water Heaters

Jun. 12th 2012

Energy conservation and alternate sources of energy have become burning issues at the forefront of the world’s attention. With the Middle Eastern energy crisis dragging on for decades in an interminable stalemate which seems to be broken only by periodic eruptions of war, the rest of the world is searching more determinedly than ever for new sources of energy which could break the stranglehold that the oil barons of the world have established for themselves.

Especially in Israel and other hot nations with hot climates, such as Indonesia, India, and others, a new form of water heating is increasingly gaining ground. Solar water heaters are exactly what their name implies. A solar water heating system is a unit which comprises a storage tank for water, as well a solar device which collects solar energy to heat the water in the accompanying storage tank. There are currently two basic types of solar water heaters. Active solar water heaters utilize specially designed pumps and controls to keep the water circulating once it has been heated. Passive solar water heaters do not incorporate any active controls in their mechanism, but instead allow the water, once heated, to remain stationary.

Most currently existing models of solar water heaters will require a well maintained and fully insulated storage tank. These solar storage tanks will typically incorporate an additional outlet and inlet, which are, in turn, connected to and from the water collection unit. In a typical double tank solar water heater, water is preheated before it enters the actual heating unit itself. This is accomplished by direct absorption of sunlight reflected onto it by the cells of the solar energy collection unit. In a single tank system, the function of the secondary water heater is combined with that of the solar energy collection unit into one multi-tasking tank unit.

The benefits which accrue from solar water heaters ought to be obvious to even the most jaded and casual reader of this article. For one thing, the energy savings alone is enormous, Since solar energy is the single source of energy which is presumably limitless, at least for the next few billion years until the sun goes nova, it follows that it is also the cheapest. It’s all but impossible to “waste” solar energy, since it is simply renewed with the sun rising the very next morning. So one can hardly experience a chronic shortage of solar power. Neither can the sun’s energy be bottled and sold – or rationed for political gain. Solar energy, once properly harnessed and made available to the masses, would short circuit the fondest dreams of many a dictator, politician, and oil baron.

There are currently two basic specimens of solar water heaters which use the active principle, as discussed above. The first, and best known, of these two is the direct circulation system. This type of solar water heater uses a pump which works to circulate water, as filtered through the solar collectors, and directly into your home. This type of solar water heater, because it relies directly on a circulation system which is typically exposed to the elements, will function best in southern or equatorial climates where temperatures rarely, if ever, reach the freezing point.

The second type of solar water heater which uses this active principle is the indirect circulation system. This type of solar water heater incorporates a basic design in which pumps work to circulate a specially formulated, freeze resistant, heat-transfer fluid through its collectors. This special heat-transfer fluid is then filtered through a heat exchanging mechanism, which superheats the collected water and pumps it into the home. This type of solar water heater is chiefly found in climates where winter temperatures routinely fall below the freezing point.

Likewise, there are two main types of passive solar water heaters which are currently available on the modern international market place. These passive systems are markedly less expensive than the typical start up and running cost of a comparable, directly active, solar water heating system. However, the trade off is that the passive systems are normally less efficient in gathering solar energy and heating one’s home than their direct action counterparts. In their favor, however, is the frequent discovery, by those who have owned both types of systems, that passive solar water heating systems tend to be longer lasting and more reliable overall. As with direct systems, there are two basic types.

Integral collector systems will work best in regions where temperatures rarely reach the point of falling below freezing. Integral collectors will work best in households which have a significant need for hot water in the day time and evening. Mornings are more or less ruled out for hot water, as the solar collection time of an integral collector system is quite long.

Thermosyphon systems are passive solar water heaters in which water flows through the system, rising to the surface as a layer of cooler water sinks to the bottom of the storage tank. In order to function correctly, the collection unit will need to be installed below the water storage tank. This will insure that warmer water will rise to the surface, and overflow into the tank. Thermosyphon systems are generally reliable and long serving. However, they are normally much more expensive than integral collector units, because of their more complex design. Thermosyphon systems tend to work best in regions where winter temperatures are prone to reach the point of freezing.

Regardless of which type of solar water heater one chooses to utilize in one’s home, the essential point is that such devices are viable, rapidly evolving, alternatives to the outdated, ridiculously expensive, and wasteful, sources of energy which the Western world is currently glutting itself to death with. It is, indeed, very significant that solar water heaters are receiving their most significant exposure and development in countries such as India and Vietnam, which are well outside the sphere of traditional Western culture. It remains to be seen whether solar energy is truly to be the ultimate solution. However, solar water heaters are an excellent indicator of the many innovations which may yet promise mankind a safer, more ecologically friendly, existence. Energy conservation and alternate sources of energy have become burning issues at the forefront of the world’s attention. With the Middle Eastern energy crisis dragging on for decades in an interminable stalemate which seems to be broken only by periodic eruptions of war, the rest of the world is searching more determinedly than ever for new sources of energy which could break the stranglehold that the oil barons of the world have established for themselves.

Especially in Israel and other hot nations with hot climates, such as Indonesia, India, and others, a new form of water heating is increasingly gaining ground. Solar water heaters are exactly what their name implies. A solar water heating system is a unit which comprises a storage tank for water, as well a solar device which collects solar energy to heat the water in the accompanying storage tank. There are currently two basic types of solar water heaters. Active solar water heaters utilize specially designed pumps and controls to keep the water circulating once it has been heated. Passive solar water heaters do not incorporate any active controls in their mechanism, but instead allow the water, once heated, to remain stationary.

Most currently existing models of solar water heaters will require a well maintained and fully insulated storage tank. These solar storage tanks will typically incorporate an additional outlet and inlet, which are, in turn, connected to and from the water collection unit. In a typical double tank solar water heater, water is preheated before it enters the actual heating unit itself. This is accomplished by direct absorption of sunlight reflected onto it by the cells of the solar energy collection unit. In a single tank system, the function of the secondary water heater is combined with that of the solar energy collection unit into one multi-tasking tank unit.

The benefits which accrue from solar water heaters ought to be obvious to even the most jaded and casual reader of this article. For one thing, the energy savings alone is enormous, Since solar energy is the single source of energy which is presumably limitless, at least for the next few billion years until the sun goes nova, it follows that it is also the cheapest. It’s all but impossible to “waste” solar energy, since it is simply renewed with the sun rising the very next morning. So one can hardly experience a chronic shortage of solar power. Neither can the sun’s energy be bottled and sold – or rationed for political gain. Solar energy, once properly harnessed and made available to the masses, would short circuit the fondest dreams of many a dictator, politician, and oil baron.

There are currently two basic specimens of solar water heaters which use the active principle, as discussed above. The first, and best known, of these two is the direct circulation system. This type of solar water heater uses a pump which works to circulate water, as filtered through the solar collectors, and directly into your home. This type of solar water heater, because it relies directly on a circulation system which is typically exposed to the elements, will function best in southern or equatorial climates where temperatures rarely, if ever, reach the freezing point.

The second type of solar water heater which uses this active principle is the indirect circulation system. This type of solar water heater incorporates a basic design in which pumps work to circulate a specially formulated, freeze resistant, heat-transfer fluid through its collectors. This special heat-transfer fluid is then filtered through a heat exchanging mechanism, which superheats the collected water and pumps it into the home. This type of solar water heater is chiefly found in climates where winter temperatures routinely fall below the freezing point.

Likewise, there are two main types of passive solar water heaters which are currently available on the modern international market place. These passive systems are markedly less expensive than the typical start up and running cost of a comparable, directly active, solar water heating system. However, the trade off is that the passive systems are normally less efficient in gathering solar energy and heating one’s home than their direct action counterparts. In their favor, however, is the frequent discovery, by those who have owned both types of systems, that passive solar water heating systems tend to be longer lasting and more reliable overall. As with direct systems, there are two basic types.

Integral collector systems will work best in regions where temperatures rarely reach the point of falling below freezing. Integral collectors will work best in households which have a significant need for hot water in the day time and evening. Mornings are more or less ruled out for hot water, as the solar collection time of an integral collector system is quite long.

Thermosyphon systems are passive solar water heaters in which water flows through the system, rising to the surface as a layer of cooler water sinks to the bottom of the storage tank. In order to function correctly, the collection unit will need to be installed below the water storage tank. This will insure that warmer water will rise to the surface, and overflow into the tank. Thermosyphon systems are generally reliable and long serving. However, they are normally much more expensive than integral collector units, because of their more complex design. Thermosyphon systems tend to work best in regions where winter temperatures are prone to reach the point of freezing.

Regardless of which type of solar water heater one chooses to utilize in one’s home, the essential point is that such devices are viable, rapidly evolving, alternatives to the outdated, ridiculously expensive, and wasteful, sources of energy which the Western world is currently glutting itself to death with. It is, indeed, very significant that solar water heaters are receiving their most significant exposure and development in countries such as India and Vietnam, which are well outside the sphere of traditional Western culture. It remains to be seen whether solar energy is truly to be the ultimate solution. However, solar water heaters are an excellent indicator of the many innovations which may yet promise mankind a safer, more ecologically friendly, existence.

Posted by plumber | in Energy Savers, Water Heaters | No Comments »

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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