Archive for the ‘water’ category

Quick Tip #3 – Plugged Drain? Here’s a Quick Fix

January 13th, 2014

Yuck…your tub or bathroom sink is draining slowly … again. Every time you remove the trap or use a plumbing snake, you know you’ll be dealing with a major mess. And, the hair in the trap is disgusting! But, you’re tired of standing in water when taking a shower.

Well, next time you’re at the grocery or hardware store, pick up a drain cleaner: a flexible plastic strip with small hooks along its length. It looks like a very thin Christmas tree.


Without dismantling anything, you push this thin plastic tool down the drain and pull out all that hair and junk. For some drains, it helps if you remove the stopper for better access.

Just be ready for a mess when you pull it out. Have a rag or paper towel ready to catch the junk. You should also wear rubber gloves.

After the junk is removed, run very hot water down the drain for several minutes.

If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store, you could also try this with a length of thin wire bent to form a hook on one end. This tool is not as effective, and it will take more effort to catch the hair and the junk — but it can work.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #2A: Quick – Turn Off the Water! (Cold Climate)

January 6th, 2014

Oh, no! Water is running from somewhere beneath the cabinets and ruining your new kitchen floor. HELP!

P005You can prepare for a crisis like this by knowing how to turn off the water to your home. You should locate the main water valve, know how to operate it, and tag it. Everyone in the household should walk through this drill.

Where is the valve? You don’t know? For us lucky folks in cold climates, supply piping is buried several feet in the ground; the pipe enters the home through the basement or crawl space. Take a look at the illustration. (In warm climates, pipes don’t need to be protected from freezing, and water may enter the house through an exposed valve.)

To find your supply line, look on the street side of your home first. You can also trace the pipe from the water heater to the cold water source. Remember, “right is tight” (off) with older valves. For ball valves: when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe, the water is off. If the valve is rusted or corroded, have a plumber test it and replace it if necessary.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Leaks Coming From the Attic

November 18th, 2013


I have frost in the attic of my five-year old, two-story house. I noticed a small leak coming out of the can light in the bathroom. Do I have enough insulation in my attic? I have 2″ x 4″ ceiling rafters, with ~16 inches of blown-in white insulation. I also have a ridge-vent running along the peak. Could heat be exiting through the attic door, exhaust vents, or can light, then melting the frost?



Most folks who study moisture and home systems would identify your issue as an air-leak problem into the attic. Warm, moist air from the heated space is escaping into the attic, and moisture from that air is condensing on the cold roof deck. This may show as ice in very cold weather, and water in warmer weather. The problem is not insulation.


I025 - Air Leaks - Top of Wall

You need to search for air leaks at can lights, plumbing, electrical penetrations, chimneys, trap doors, etc. Seal up the air leaks, and the problem will be solved. Sounds easy? It’s not. You need an experienced contractor, who knows how to locate and seal the leaks. However, stopping theair leaks will save lots of energy.

I suspect you saw the leak at the can light because the light heat was melting the frost. The plastic vapor barrier is also open at the can light. If you want more information on attic insulation and air sealing, read my article Insulate Your Attic – But Don’t Stop There!

–Mr. Fix-It

Roof Leaks Every Time it Rains

May 21st, 2013


I have a roof leak which has ruined the dry wall in one of the rooms. I had a new roof put on by a local company, and spent thousands of dollars trying to get the leak repaired. The roofing folks have visited many times. However, every time it rains, the leak continues. Can you give me any advice?



First, try to have the roofing company address the issue, and inform their insurance company. Water damage that results from the workmanship of a roofing contractor should be covered by them, or their insurance policy.

You’ll need to solve the problem. Look for any penetration through the roof. Often, the roof does not leak; it’s just the holes in the roof. For example, look at the chimney, chimney flashing, valleys, vents, and plumbing vent flashings. If you have a masonry chimney in the area of the leak, the problem could be the chimney.

If you can’t get the contractor to respond, I would contact a home inspector from the American Society of Home Inspectors, or an independent roofing consultant. You can find an ASHI inspector by using the search tool. Quiz the inspector about his background in roofing and roof inspections.


Smell Coming From Sump Pump

April 18th, 2013


We have urine smell (or worse) coming up from sump pump cover. I was told that we didn’t have to get the septic tank cleaned out until next year. I think air is coming up through the sump pump. Is this natural?



Failure to pump the septic system should not cause a smell. There should be no smell with a typical sump pump system. The sump pump pit collects clear rain water from the drain tile system, and ejects to the outside or an underground septic system. You could flush out the sump crock with lots of clear water if you have a smell problem. At times, there could be a smell from rodents or other debris.


P021 - Sewage Ejector Pump


Since you mentioned a septic system, I suspect the pump and crock you are referring to is a gray water or septic pump. It will look just like a sump pump and crock, but it collects water from the floor drain or basement laundry tub and pumps the water up into the septic tank line. The sewer ejector pump could be an open crock for an older system.

The ejector in all newer systems is sealed with a cover and will have a vent pipe connected. This system with an open crock can develop a smell and again you can flush it out with lots of clear water. If you have an open crock, consider changing to a sealed, vented crock. Finally, air should not enter either type of crock through the sump pump, so I don’t know what is happening there.


Water Leaks by Basement Foundation

October 1st, 2010


My tri-level home is about 35 years old. We have water in our basement coming from the foundation between the lower level and basement common wall, and the front basement wall. The basement wall is under a 6′x23′ cement slab across the front of the house. Whom do I contact to resolve this issue?


Think about the specific symptoms you see when the leak is occurs. If it only leaks when it rains, you may have a problem with surface water, surface drainage, gutters, downspouts, sump-pump discharge, or storm sewer lines. If you have a sump pump, is it running and moving water? Does it run when the leak occurs?

A leak at the floor/wall joint is caused by too much water flow toward the area, and a possible hampered drain tile system. Water leaking higher on the wall is often caused by surface drainage issues.

I suggest you contact an independent basement inspector. In the Milwaukee area, Mike Shadid (414-379-1265) and Chuck Weber (414-536-1300) are good options.

Basement Specialists Inc. is a great basement repair company. However, be careful; some basement repair companies will send their sales folks to evaluate the problem, or say that they provide an “independent” inspector who actually works for the repair company.

Water Heater Turning Off Each Morning

September 22nd, 2010


Recently my hot water heater started turning off each morning. I’ve been hitting the “reset” button, and it goes back on and works just fine. However, this has occurred about three times over the past week. It’s not a particularly old water heater, and we don’t use enough electricity to trip the box. What might be causing this problem?


I assume you are resetting the overload button on an electric water heater. You either have a heating element problem, thermostat problem, overheating, or an overload problem. I suggest you contact a plumber or electrician before you are out of luck and have no hot water. In general, you should not reset an overload more than two times if you don’t know the actual problem causing the trip.

Brown Water – Flushing the Water Heater

September 1st, 2010


Sometimes brown water comes out of the hot-water faucet. There must be sediment in the water heater. How do I drain the water heater and get rid of the brown water?


There could be sediment in the water heater, or maybe your home has older galvanized steel piping that is corroding on the inside. Flushing the water heater may help.

Attach a garden hose to the drain-valve on the lower edge of the water heater. Route the other end to a drain or laundry tub. Open the valve carefully, because the water will be hot. Drain about five gallons, wait a few hours, and then drain again. This procedure will remove any loose particles from the tank.

Since most drain valves are inexpensive and rarely used, you can expect a leak at the valve once you open it. A drip from the valve-stem (a round metal shaft connecting the handle to the valve) can be corrected by tightening the packing nut around the stem. A drip from the threaded spout can be handled with a hose-cap and a rubber washer.

Energy Efficiency Improvements – Where to Start?

August 21st, 2010


I have some funds to do energy efficiency improvements to my old (1950’s) home, but I don’t know where to start. The home is well maintained, but has had no energy improvements. It seems that every contractor has the best product, and there are many claims about huge energy savings. The government rebates and tax credits just seem to complicate the issue. Where do I start?


There is no simple answer. I can outline where to logically start, but I think your home deserves an evaluation and some scientific testing before you start spending.

I suggest you contact Focus on Energy. Their goal is to provide information, resources and financial incentives to help improve energy efficiency in Wisconsin. The state program is well known throughout the country.

I used the Focus on Energy program called “Wisconsin Energy Star Home Program” when I built a new home. They gave advice on construction details, and worked with the builder on energy efficiency. The results were fantastic.

For existing homes like yours, they offer a service to scientifically evaluate your home and the systems in your home at a very reasonable price. Their consultants can test for leaks, review your equipment, and use a computer model to identify the best areas to invest.

Overall, you should look at the easy energy improvements and your old equipment. If you have a furnace that is over 25 years old, put that at the top of the list. If the attic insulation has never been improved over the original three to six inches, that should be high on the list as well. Insulating the top of the basement wall, using low-flow plumbing fixtures, fluorescent lamps, and a set-back thermostat are simple changes with a great payback.

An evaluation by the Focus on Energy is the best first step. They also offer a new interactive website at Ask Focus on Energy. They will answer your questions and refer you to a large database of answers. If you have a unique question, one of the experts can respond.

Leaky Shower

August 5th, 2010


I have a shower stall with sectioned walls that leaks water while in use. The water comes out from the left front corner on the floor and leaves a large puddle. The shower was installed around 12 years ago. If I apply a heavy seal of silicone sealant around the shower drain seam, it seems to stop the leak for a while. Does this sound like the water might be coming from between the drain and under part of the floor? I haven’t found any hairline cracks in the fiberglass floor.


I assume the shower base is one piece and the walls are in sections. If you are applying silicone around the drain and stopping the leak, the leak must be in the connection of the drain line to the base of the shower. If you open the area below the shower base you can check for the source of the leak.

You can repair this by working from above and under the shower. Remove the shower drain and reinstall it with new plumbers putty or bathroom sealant/caulk around the tail piece connection to the shower base.

This is not always easy and it helps if you know what you are doing, so I suggest contacting a plumber. You may find corroded parts that need replacement. Your water leak problem could also be around the shower door or through the sides of the curtain.