Archive for the ‘water’ category

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.

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.

Leaky Shower

August 5th, 2010

QUESTION

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.

ANSWER

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.

Black Discoloration on Wood Windows

July 13th, 2010

QUESTION:

We have a black discoloration occurring on the wood part of the windows in our house. Do you know what it is and how to get rid of it? The windows are double-hung and the house was built in 1995. I assumed it was mold and moisture-related because I noticed it first in the bathroom, but now I have found it in small patches on other windows. I have tried many cleaning solutions including TSP and a bleach-water mix, but none seem to work. It occurs both in winter and summer, with windows open or closed.

ANSWER:

If the stains are a dark discoloration that cannot be removed from the surface, you have water damage in the wood. If the TSP removes the stain it may be dirt or mold. Once the surface finish is damaged by water, the water will discolor the wood. If the finish is gone and you have a dark stain, you have water-damaged wood.

The fix is to refinish the wood by sanding, bleaching, and more sanding. Then stain and varnish back to the original finish. It’s not an easy job. Don’t get too worried about the “mold” word. Issues related to mold have been greatly exaggerated by many folks in recent years. Go to the State of Wisconsin or university websites for accurate information about mold in a home – not testers or contractors who make money on mold.

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.

Light Blue Stains in the Toilet

June 16th, 2010

QUESTION:

We have a 7-year-old toilet that has begun showing a light blue color. When I try to scrub the blue stain with a toilet brush it doesn’t come off. We’ve never used those blue tank canisters; we just use liquid bowl cleaner. Do you know why the toilet bowl is stained light blue? I checked the water (in the bowl and the tank) and it is not blue.

I also noticed a lot of black mold inside the toilet tank when I took the lid off. Is it a good idea to use bleach to clean the mold off the inside of the tank and underneath the lid? There is a rubber-type 5-inch ball in the tank. Can I use bleach to clean that rubber since it too has mold on it?

ANSWER:

The light blue stain is a strange one. Do you have a private well? If the water is slightly corrosive, I suppose you could get a blue stain from copper or brass in touch with the water. Perhaps it is from a cleaning chemical? I would try to clean the bowl with an acid-based cleaner. Look for the acid cleaner in a plumbing supply or hardware store.

You certainly can clean the toilet tank with any chemicals you wish. Most toilet tanks will have deposits. If you do use bleach, don’t let it sit on the rubber parts because it can damage the rubber. You can remove mold with just detergent and water.

Water on the Garage Floor

February 25th, 2010

I have a 1954 ranch with an attached garage. Water from melting snow (and rain the rest of the year) accumulates in the center of the garage floor. By late winter, I have a small lake in the garage. Short of putting in a dock, is there anything I can do?

Answer:

First, attempt to eliminate any water that may be caused by poor surface drainage. The soil outside the garage should be at least 6 inches below the foundation of the garage. The soil should direct surface water away from the slab and footing. Make sure the gutters and downspouts are directing water away.

If the real problem is snow and ice from the car, the best bet is to sweep and shovel it whenever it accumulates, and before it melts. Technically, the garage floor slab should have a pretty good pitch or slope to the garage door, and water should just flow out the door.

If you have a low spot that collects water, consider drilling a 1/2-inch hole through the slab at the low spot. You will need a hammer drill and a special masonry bit. Plan on a little bit of work, noise and dust. The hole will drain away most water into the gravel under the floor slab. Since the hole is small, you will need to clear it periodically.