Archive for August, 2012

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.

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