Homeowners walk a fine line between maintaining existing plumbing fixtures and knowing when to bite the bullet and replace them. Weighing the cost of replacement with the potential cost of a plumbing mess isn’t easy so here are a few tips to help you assess the situation.
First things first, figure out what kind of pipes you have and how old they are. Supply pipes made of brass, copper or galvanized steel should last 80-100 years. Drain lines made of cast iron should also last this long. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipes generally last 25-40 years, but are traditionally known to break or leak. These figures can vary dramatically depending the quality of your water, the quality of the material used, and how well the systems have been maintained.
If your pipes are on the older side, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be replaced. However, if you have lead or polybutylene pipes they should be replaced regardless. Lead leaches into drinking water and polybutylene is extremely prone to leakage.
Check areas around pipes for discoloration, stains, dimpling, or flaking, which could mean you have a leak. If you see anything out of the ordinary, look for other leaks— chances are there’s more.
Watch the color of your water, especially after vacation when it hasn’t been running. If it’s a yellow or brownish color, you could have rust.
Do you have hard water? If so, you have an above average concentration of minerals like calcium and magnesium, which leaves scale, or a film, behind. This film can accumulate in your pipes and other water-involved fixtures, eroding them.
Fixtures are relatively inexpensive to replace and can save you money in the long run. Newer model faucets, showerheads and hoses generally reduce water usage and are more energy efficient. If you have leaks, it’s best to replace the entire fixture instead of trying to fix it.
Toilets can last a long time, so it’s easy to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but the improved water efficiency justifies the investment; not just for the money savings, but because it’s better for the environment.
Definitely replace the toilet if the porcelain is cracked, if it’s flushing poorly, constantly running, or has a hissing sound which means the float and fill valve may be wearing out. The handle alone can be replaced if it won’t flush, or if the toilet constantly runs.
Traditional water heaters should last 10-15 years, and tankless heaters should be good for 20 years depending, again, on the quality of your water. Replace your conventional heater if the pilot light keeps going out, or if the circuit or breaker keeps tripping in a tankless water heater.
Other indicators it’s on it’s way out are if the burner or heating element is failing, the thermostat breaks, valves are sticking, or if there are leaks and rust around the heater.
Garbage disposals should probably be replaced every 10 years. It’s time for a new one if you constantly get clogs, your food takes a long time to break down, you have to keep resetting the disposal, or if there is a lingering odor that won’t go away.
We know, updating your leaky faucets, high flow toilets and inefficient water heaters is not at the top of your “Wish List,” but making these few small improvements will add up to more than just savings on your water bill, it saves thousands of gallons of water.
Fortunately, knowing the importance of these simple fixes, the federal tax credits for energy efficiency have been renewed for purchases made in 2016 and retroactive purchases of EnergyStar Products in 2015.
There are many rebates, incentives and credits available to help lower the price tag, we’ve outlined a few of them below. Take advantage of them and make your home more efficient. Trust us, it’s worth the effort.
Water heating accounts for about 18% of energy use in your home. The average water heater lasts 10-15 years, and even if it’s still chugging, replacing with an efficient water heater makes financial sense. Not to mention, if the tank should rupture, you could have a real mess on your hands. For more information on selecting a water heater, rebates and other water saving tips check out this infographic from Energy.gov
• Residential Rebate for an Energy Star Heat Pump Water Heater; The Orlando Utilities Commission (OUI) will pay 100% of the cost up to $650.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that toilets are by far the main source of water usage, accounting for almost 30% of an average home’s indoor water consumption. To give you perspective, older, inefficient toilets can use as much as 6 gallons of water per flush, whereas new models can use just 1.28 gallons per flush. This kind of savings could save billions of gallons of water each year.
• Orange County Utilities is accepting applications for $100 vouchers toward replacing high-flow toilets.
• Orlando Utilities Commission is offering a $50 rebate for replacing a toilet with a flow greater than 1.6 gallons per flush, with an ultra-low flow toilet of 1.6 gpf or less.
Faucets and Showerheads:
More than just being flat out annoying, leaky faucets and showerheads are a huge waste. One drip per second wastes 1,661 gallons of water and can cost up to $35 per year. (energy.gov)
Orange County Utilities offers a Showerhead Exchange during the month of April. Orange County Utilities water customers can receive up to three showerheads to replace showerheads that use 2.5 gallons per minute or more.
For more information go to:
When tough clogs happen, (and they will) don’t panic. Unclogging a drain can take as little as 5 minutes (in some cases).
First things first. Don’t use Draino or other liquid drain cleaner. The toxic chemicals are bad for your pipes, especially in old houses where they can’t withstand the acid. Not to mention if it doesn’t work, you’ll have a whole mess of toxicity to deal with. Also, the chemicals can react with the grease and soap in the line and make matters worse.
Which leads us to the snake; a long, flexible steel coil for dislodging stoppages in curved pipes. It costs roughly $25.00 and is worth every cent.
Using the snake is fairly simple. Push the end into the drain opening and turn the handle on the drum containing the coiled up snake. Keep pushing until you feel resistance then rotate it against the blockage until you feel it move freely through the pipe.
However, many times you can dislodge the clog before it gets to this point so before you pull out the coveted plumbing tool, start with a few of the following tips.
Kitchen clogs are most often caused by built up grease and debris such as coffee grounds, so start at the top to search for the clog. It’s important to plunge the sink first to make sure it isn’t just below the drain. Cover the side that isn’t clogged and plunge the other. If this doesn’t work, check the disposal.
- Turn it on and if you hear a low humming sound it’s probably jammed. Unplug or turn off the disposal. Push back the rubber splash guard in the throat of the disposal. Visually inspect the inside of the disposal with a flashlight to make sure there are no broken pieces of glass or other sharp objects that could cut you. With a long screwdriver or broom handle make sure the cutting blades are free-spinning. Manually turn the blades. You can do this by inserting an Allen wrench in the bottom of the disposer and twist.
- If the disposal doesn’t make a sound when you turn it on, an internal breaker has probably tripped. Let it cool off and push the reset button on the disposal.
Still clogged? Move on to checking the “P-Trap,” named for the shape of the drain. This is the trap arm which is curved to trap some water so that sewage smells don’t creep into your house.
Sponge the backed up water from the sink to minimize the amount that will spew out when you open the drain. (Keep a bucket handy to catch the trapped water.) Once you take the drain apart, inspect for a visible obstruction.
Still no luck? Snake.
Ironically, the area we use to wash ourselves can get down–right gross. Start by cleaning out the strainer and stopper of hair and soap scum. The problem is usually a sticky wad of hair collecting on the cross bars just a few inches under stopper, which can sometimes be loosened with a plunger or removed with a pair of needle nose pliers. Fill the tub with a few inches of water and cover the overflow opening with a wet rag held tightly in place. Submerge a plunger and see if you can dislodge it.
If this doesn’t work, bend a stiff wire or coat hanger to form a hook and shove it through the drain. If there is a clump of tightly wound hair, you may have to cut it, and if you still can’t get it…snake.
Tubs are trickier. Instead of simply feeding the snake straight down the drain, you have to go through the overflow plate opening. To do this, put approximately 3’ of the snake down the drain until you feel a resistance. At this point, the snake should either push through or grab the clog. Once you are through the trap, move the cable back and forth while turning; you may may feel the clog. Stay close to the drain to control the snake better and clean it as you pull it back.
Run water to see if the drain is clear. If not, repeat the process. Caution, don’t push too far or you may snag the snake which could require professional help.
The bathroom sink is one of the easier drains to unclog. Remove the pop-up stopper by disconnecting it under the sink, then pull it out from the top and clean.
If that doesn’t work, disconnect the drain trap, (again, keep a bucket handy.) These clogs can be caused by object such as a toothpaste cap or a hairband which can be quickly disposed of. If this isn’t the cause, loosen the trap arm and pull it straight out of wall. If you now see a visible obstruction, remove it. If not, put on the gloves and snake.
Obviously the easiest method to try is plunging. The first plunge should be gentle in order to force the air out and avoid spraying water everywhere (yuck).
Plunge vigorously without breaking the seal. Stick with it, it may take 15-20 plunges. Fortunately, (or not) the most common objects plugging a toilet are toys.
Still not working? Snake.
*For toilets there is a closet auger specially designed to get through the trapway of the bowl. It also has a rubber sleeve to protect the toilet bowl from scrapes.
At this point, if it’s still clogged, call a plumber. The toilet may have to be removed to get the clog out and then reset which can be tricky.
Sewer lines should not be treated lightly. If you notice any of these signs, call a plumber.
- Gurgling noises in the drain or toilet.
- Sewer odor.
- Water back-up or flooding.
- Sewage backup.
- Water backing up out of the basement floor drain.
- Toilet bubbling or gurgling when flushed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Stay on top of your drains and you’ll have better luck keeping them clear.
- Use strainers in every drain and clean them often.
- Don’t drop bits of soap down the drain thinking it will dissolve, it won’t.
- Once a month pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to melt grease or body oil. (Don’t do this with the toilet, it will crack the porcelain.)
- Every 3 months pour 1/2 c of baking soda down drain then slowly add a 1/2 c white vinegar and let it sit. Run hot water afterward to get rid of any last debris. (Bonus: It leaves the drain fresh!)
Chances are, you’ve stood in your kitchen and asked the question, “What is that smell?” Chances are, it’s your garbage disposal. It may seem counterintuitive given the job of a disposal is to get rid of food scraps, but it happens.
Rotating stainless steel blades are mounted on a spinning plate, breaking food scraps down into tiny particles. These particles are shoved washed through little holes and spaces in the plate. Once they are ground, running water flushes them out and into a wastewater pipe. The particles then flow to the sewer or into your septic system. Always use cold water when using the disposal.
The smell comes from food and bacteria that get stuck on the plates causing it to rot and smell. But don’t fret, there are simple fixes that generally don’t require a plumber.
• Water, Ice and Citrus: Turn on the unit and run cold water. While it’s running, drop ice (2-4 trays) and rock salt into the disposal and feed it as quickly as it will take it. This will freeze everything stuck on the plates causing it to chunk off. (Bonus: the ice will help sharpen the impellers and the salt will help disinfect.) Let the water continue to run, then chop a lemon or other citrus into small chunks and drop them in, which will leave a pleasant scent.
• Vinegar and baking soda: Turn on the disposal and pour in 1 cup of dry baking soda with 1 cup distilled white vinegar.
• Bleach: Run a mild or slightly scented bleach and cold water through the disposal.
• Scrubbing: Unplug and disconnect the unit and use a dish brush or wire brush to clean the inside. Be very careful if you use this method and make sure the unit is completely turned off.
• Dishwasher discharge: Have your plumber make sure the the drain hose from your dishwasher is connected to the port on your disposal. This will help keep your disposal clean and odor free.
To keep the smells at bay, here are some preventative measures to keep in mind.
• Don’t do anything that won’t break into tiny pieces or completely dissolve.
• Don’t drop in fibrous items like celery or banana peels that will wrap around the plates. Things like rice, pasta, coffee grounds or potato peels will clump up and stick, clogging the disposal. Never try to grind bones, fruit pits or other food particles that won’t break down.
• Don’t deliberately put grease down the disposal.
• Don’t use hot water for cleaning or in your day to day use. This will cause any grease or oil that did make it to the disposal to loosen up and congeal, clogging your pipes.
Garbage disposals may seem like a luxury, but actually they are environmentally responsible. Diverting food waste from landfills is one of the most important things we can do to affect climate change. Food waste emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas having a warming temperature 21 times that of carbon dioxide. Compost can do the same, but is not always a feasible option. For more information: Diverting and converting food waste.