Archive for the ‘plumbing’ category

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

Tree Roots in the Drain Line

May 6th, 2013

QUESTION:

Our basement floor drain backs up. We had a plumber clean out the drain, and they found tree roots. What can we do?

–JOE

ANSWER:

The typical problem with a sewer drain line from a house to the street sewer is tree roots. The symptom will be water backing up into the lowest drain in your home. The tree roots are looking for moisture and can enter any little gap in the sewer drain line. Once the roots find the moisture and the gap in the line, they grow inside the pipe.

Your only realistic solution is to periodically have the line cleaned with a sewer machine by a professional. You could also consider cutting down the offending tree in the area. A final option is to have the sewer line checked with a camera, potentially replace it, or line it with a custom sewer re-lining system. The actual repair will depend on the condition and age of the line.

–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 Heater Turning Off Each Morning

September 22nd, 2010

QUESTION

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?

ANSWER

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

QUESTION

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?

ANSWER

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

QUESTION

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?

ANSWER

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.

Brown Water – Flushing the Water Heater

July 8th, 2010

QUESTION

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?

ANSWER

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 is hot. Drain about five gallons, wait a few hours, 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.

Sewer Smell in the Shower

April 15th, 2010

In my master shower, I get a sewer smell. If I pour some bleach down the drain it disappears for a while, but comes back within one to two weeks. Is there a plumbing issue I should be concerned about? Is there some way to get rid of this?

Answer:

One way to have a sewer smell in the shower is to lose the water seal in the trap. The “trap” is actually a bend in the pipe that holds or traps water. When there is water in the trap, no sewer smell can move out of the piping into your home. If the shower is not used for a few weeks, water could evaporate from the trap and result in a smell as air and sewer gas moves up through the trap. In this case, you just need to add water to the trap every week or so.

If the shower is used routinely, you may have a drainage, waste and venting problem that is allowing water to be drawn from the trap and down the drain system. This can happen when there is heavy drain water flow creating a vacuum in the piping. For this to happen, you may have a blocked vent or a vent installation problem.

Finally, you may just have bunch of “yuck” in the trap; hair, debris and growth. Snake the trap and flush it with very hot water to give it a good cleaning.

New Disposal Backing Up

March 27th, 2010

I have a new garbage disposal. When it runs, water comes up in the other sink. I have looked at your websites and read your book, but have not found the answer.

Answer:

Installation could be an issue here. Ideally, the disposal and the other sink basin will have a separate trap that is connected with a “Y” into the drain line in the wall.

In some cases, a disposal will be installed with a “T” to the tail piece of the adjacent sink (see illustration). With this installation, water can be pushed up into the adjacent sink.  You can buy a special “T” for this connection to direct the water down, but it’s still a questionable installation.

Sump Pump

March 9th, 2010

How long should a sump pump last? Mine runs quite frequently, and is about 13 years old. I have a backup, but I think I should replace the main pump before it breaks down. The crock is 24 inches across and about 5 feet deep. I can’t get any info off the pump to see what brand it is. I would like to replace it with the same one or a better one. Any hints on a good pump and where to get one?

Answer:

A typical sump pump is designed to operate for 100,000 cycles. The other wear issue is corrosion and the age of electrical parts. At 13 years, I would be looking for a replacement. Jim Murray makes a great line of pumps with high quality construction, and they’re in the Milwaukee area. You will find Jim Murray brand pedestal and submersible pumps at many local outlets.

How long should your pump last? If it runs every 30 minutes, it will operate twice per hour or 48 times per day. In a year, it will operate for 17,520 cycles. So running every 30 minutes, it should last about 5.8 years. Do you think yours is on borrowed time?