Archive for the ‘water’ category

Quick Tip #22 – The Rain May Drain, But It’s Really Not a Pain

July 14th, 2014

P017 - Storm, Sanitary Sewer in StreetWhen a rain gutter and downspout send their discharge below grade to a pipe, it may appear that rainwater is draining into a sanitary sewer, but it really isn’t. In municipal areas with sewer systems, gutter (rainwater) discharge is normally routed into a storm sewer. This storm piping routes water to rivers and streams and is separate from the sanitary sewer system.

Municipal systems include a sanitary sewer system that routes toilet, shower and sink water to a sewage treatment plant. The flow of storm and sanitary sewer systems would never be combined unless a really old system is in place or there are problems with the system. In the old days before good sewage treatment, homes had combined sewers – but that is not common today.

When you live out in the country, your gutters may discharge below grade and be directed underground to the side of a hill or a lower spot. Rural areas don’t have storm sewers.

Here is a tip. Look at the curb and gutter in front of your house. If you see grates there, rainwater flows into a storm sewer system below the street.

Quick Tip #18 – A Drip at the Darned Valve – Again

June 19th, 2014

P009 - Globe ValveLet’s say that every time you turn the small globe valve for the outdoor hose bib, you get that drip-drip-drip from the body of the valve. Or maybe your drip occurs at the small needle valve for the icemaker or the humidifier – turn the valve, and the darned thing leaks.

Maybe you wire a coffee can below the valve to catch drips, and the problem is solved – until the can overflows onto the floor.

It’s time to adjust the packing nut. What’s that? Most needle, globe and gate valves have a packing nut that surrounds the valve stem. On these valves you normally turn the handle around and around to control the flow. The valve handle is sealed at the stem with a packing nut and flexible packing below the nut.

The fix? Tighten the hex nut slightly to compress the packing around the valve stem, and the leak will stop. This may make the valve harder to turn, so don’t tighten it too much – just enough to stop the drip. If the drip continues, you may need to dismantle the valve and replace the packing, a job often best left to a plumber.

If you allow a valve to continue dripping, deposits will build up around the valve stem and eventually ruin the valve.

Quick Tip #14 – Thump, Thump…It’s the Water Heater

May 19th, 2014

Gas Water Heater with Thumps, Gurgles, and PopsIt’s annoying when your water heater thumps, pops and whomps whenever you use hot water. What can you do?

The water heater’s thumping is caused by sediment that has built up in the bottom of the metal tank or around the electrical heating elements. The illustration shows a gas water heater with this problem. The sediment interferes with even heat transfer and allows steam bubbles to form. The bubbles float upward and then implode with a muffled thump.

You could try to drain sediment from the bottom of the tank. Attach a hose to the drain valve and route it to a safe plumbing fixture, such as a floor drain. Be careful; the water will be hot. Drain a few gallons; repeat this several times. Often, though, sediment is difficult to remove from the tank.

The thumping does not cause any damage to the water heater, but it certainly is annoying. Consider installing a water softener to eliminate the hard water sediment.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #11 – Inside Info on an Outdoor Fixture

April 28th, 2014

Hose Bibs - Types, DetailsHere’s a bit of fix-it trivia for you: the exterior faucet to which you connect lawn hoses is called a hose bib. You can toss out this technical term to impress friends and neighbors, right? Whatever you call it, keep these tips in mind to help things run smoothly.

For cold climates, locate the interior valve before winter sets in so you can turn the water off. Remove any hose attached to the bib, then open the exterior valve. This allows water to drain from the piping so it can’t freeze and break a pipe.

For both warm and cold climates, some type of vacuum breaker should be connected to the hose bib. It might be a round brass fitting attached to the threaded connection. In newer hose bibs, the vacuum breaker is built in; look for a large cap on the top of the valve.

Why does your hose bib need a vacuum breaker? It prevents dirty water from flowing backward into your drinking water system. If there’s low pressure in your home’s system, water can be drawn indoors from a hose lying in a dog dish or connected to a garden chemical sprayer — yuck! Such low water pressure could occur, for example, when a fire department’s pumper draws water from elsewhere in the municipal system, creating low (negative) pressure all down the line.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

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.

P101

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

Question:

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?

–Kevin

Answer:

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

QUESTION:

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?

–CHRIS

ANSWER:

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.

–MR. FIX-IT

Smell Coming From Sump Pump

April 18th, 2013

QUESTION:

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?

–DAN

ANSWER:

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.

–MR. FIX-IT

Water Leaks by Basement Foundation

October 1st, 2010

QUESTION

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?

ANSWER

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.