6 Summer Plumbing Tips

Many people overlook the importance of plumbing maintenance in the summer because most of their focus is on pipes not freezing in the winter.  But water use is higher in the summer with outdoor activities, increased shower use, watering of plants, etc.  So here’s an important checklist of maintaining your plumbing in the summer months.

1. Fix Leaks – Inspect shower heads and faucets for leaks. A single dripping faucet can waste hundreds of gallons of water in a year. Check toilets for leaks by adding several drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. If the tank is leaking, colored water will appear in the toilet bowl.

2. Test Your Sump Pump – Test the sump pump by pouring a bucket of water into the sump pump pit. The pump should turn on immediately, remove the water, then turn off.

3. Sewer & Drain Maintenance – Check that all drains have strainers to prevent debris clogging the drain lines. Schedule a sewer line inspection. A video sewer line inspection will help to find the small issues before they become a major problem.

4. Make Sure Plumbing Systems Are Regularly Used – Exercising faucets and water valves under sinks and toilets will prevent them from sticking from underuse.

5. Maintain Your Water Heater – Drain a few gallons from the water heater tank to remove sediment, which reduces heating efficiency and can shorten the life of the water heater. Check with your water heater manufacturer’s instructions for your specific make/model.

6. Have Your Sewer Line Inspected – Over time sewer lines are suitable to damage from tree root intrusion and ground movement. A video sewer line inspection can help find the small problems before they result in major damage.

Checking and fixing issues now can save you thousands of dollars in fees and repairs later.

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Tips For Sealing Leaks

Sources of air leaks in your home. Areas that leak air into and out of your home cost you a lot of money. The areas listed in the illustration are the most common sources of air leaks.

Air leaks can waste a lot of your energy dollars. One of the quickest energy– and money-saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weather strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside.

TIPS FOR SEALING AIR LEAKS

  • Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other places where air may leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weatherstripping.
  • Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows that leak air.
  • Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
  • Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
  • Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose and install house flashing if needed.
  • Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may indicate air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists, and caulk them.
  • Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low- emissivity windows. See the Windows section for more information.
  • Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
  • Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.
  • Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire.
  • Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.
  • Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use.
  • Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces, and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or drywall and furnace cement caulk.

Fireplace flues are made from metal, and over time repeated heating and cooling can cause the metal to warp or break, creating a channel for air loss. To seal your flue when not in use, consider an inflatable chimney balloon. Inflatable chimney balloons fit beneath your fireplace flue when not in use, are made from durable plastic, and can be removed easily and reused hundreds of times. If you forget to remove the balloon before making a fire, the balloon will automatically deflate within seconds of coming into contact with heat. A reasonably capable do-it-yourselfer can create an inexpensive, reusable fireplace flue plug by filling a plastic trash bag with fiberglass batt scraps and jamming it into the flue. Attach a durable cord with a tag that hangs down into the fireplace to (1) remind you the flue is blocked and (2) provide an easy plug removal method.

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Detecting Air Leaks – Part 1

You may already know where some air leakage occurs in your home, such as an under-the-door draft, but you’ll need to find the less obvious gaps to properly air seal your home.

For a thorough and accurate measurement of air leakage in your home, hire a qualified technician to conduct an energy assessment, particularly a blower door test. A blower door test, which depressurizes a home, can reveal the location of many leaks. A complete energy assessment will also help determine areas in your home that need more insulation.

Without a blower door test, there are ways to find some air leaks yourself.

VISUAL INSPECTION

On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet, including:

  • All exterior corners
  • Outdoor water faucets
  • Where siding and chimneys meet
  • Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.

Inside your home, inspect around the following areas for any cracks and gaps that could cause air leaks:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Door and window frames
  • Electrical and gas service entrances
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
  • Cable TV and phone lines
  • Where dryer vents pass through walls
  • Vents and fans.

Also look for gaps around pipes and wires, foundation seals, and mail slots. Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weatherstripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken.

You may also wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance ones. If new factory-made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows.

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Detecting Air Leaks – Part 2

BUILDING PRESSURIZATION TEST

If you are having difficulty locating leaks, you may want to conduct a basic building pressurization test to increase infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect:

  1. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters on a cool, very windy day.
  2. Shut all windows, exterior doors, and fireplace flues.
  3. Turn on all exhaust fans that blow air outside, such as your clothes dryer, bathroom fans, or stove vents, or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
  4. Light an incense stick and pass it around the edges of common leak sites. Wherever the smoke wavers or is sucked out of or blown into the room, there’s a draft. You can also use a damp hand to locate leaks; any drafts will feel cool to your hand.

If you don’t want to turn off your furnace, you can just turn on all your exhaust fans to depressurize your home.

Other air-leak detection methods include the following:

  • Shining flashlight at night over all potential gaps while a partner observes the house from outside. Large cracks will show up as rays of light. Not a good way to detect small cracks.

Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull the dollar bill out without it dragging, you’re losing energy.

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Sewer Gas Exposure

What is Sewer Gas?

Sewer gas is a complex mixture of toxic and non-toxic gases that can be present at varying levels depending upon the source.  It is formed during the decay of household and industrial waste. Highly toxic components of sewer gas include hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Sewer gas also contains methane, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides. In addition, chlorine bleaches, industrial solvents, and gasoline are frequently present in municipal and privately owned-sewage treatment systems.

How Exposure Occurs

Sewer gas can enter a home through a floor drain, from a leaking or blocked plumbing roof vent, or (if the gases are in soil adjacent to the house) through cracks in foundations.  Sanitary and farm workers can be exposed to sewer gas during the cleaning and maintenance of municipal sewers, manure storage tanks, and home septic tanks.

Effects of Sewer Gas Exposure

The principal risks and effects associated with exposure are:

  • Hydrogen sulfide poisoning. Exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulfide causes irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. Other symptoms include nervousness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and drowsiness. This gas smells like rotten eggs, even at extremely low concentrations.  Exposure to high concentrations can interfere with the sense of smell, making this warning signal unreliable. At extremely high levels, hydrogen sulfide can cause immediate loss of consciousness and death.
  • Asphyxiation. High concentrations of methane in enclosed areas can lead to suffocation as large amounts of methane will decrease the amount of oxygen in the air. The effects of oxygen deficiency include headache, nausea, dizziness and unconsciousness. At very low oxygen concentrations (<12%), unconsciousness and death may occur very quickly and without warning.  Sewer gas diffuses and mixes with indoor air, and will be most concentrated where it is entering the home. It can accumulate in basements.

  • Explosion and fire. Methane and hydrogen sulfide are flammable and highly explosive.

How To Avoid Being Exposed

  • Flush floor and sink drains with water to prevent the traps in pipes to the sewer from drying out.

  • Occasionally check the roof plumbing vent for blockage from debris such as leaves or bird nests.

  • Never enter a municipal sewer line, manure-storage tank or any other large storage tank without proper training and equipment.

If You Suspect A Problem

First, following the odor, try to locate the point of entry, such as a basement floor drain.  Check for a blocked rooftop plumbing gas vent.  By adding water to the floor drain or removing debris from a roof plumbing stack vent you may be able to prevent sewer gas from entering your home.  In the unlikely event that a leak in gas vent plumbing is behind walls, a plumber may be needed to find and fix it.  Some local public health departments may be able to offer home inspections.

Symptoms of headache, nausea, dizziness, or drowsiness may indicate exposure to an odorless gas like methane or carbon monoxide, or to hydrogen sulfide, which smells of rotten eggs.  Persons experiencing severe symptoms should seek immediate medical care.

If you suspect that high concentrations of sewer gas have accumulated in an enclosed space, you should evacuate the area and contact the fire department for assistance.  Avoid creating an ignition source such a spark from an electrical appliance, match, or cigarette lighter.

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Getting What You Pay For – Part 4

Concluding our 4 part blog on the differences that can attribute to contractors having varying estimates for the same project, we’ll not only focus on the totals for the example job, but also a type of material.  After the complete cleaning of an attic, the final step is encapsulation.  Encapsulating is sealing the surface with a product that inhibits the future growth and spread of mold and mildew on the cured film surface.  This product itself is not a paint or just a primer.  It is a very thick coating with fungicidal based additives and is quite expensive.  A 5 gallon bucket of such material generally costs just under $300 per unit, while a 5 gallon bucket of primer has a general per unit cost of $77.  Many restoration contractors use regular primer when sealing a surface, and some compromise the remediation process by just doing light surface cleaning and then quickly painting.  Aesthetically the project may have the same appearance when completed, but in the long term, the faster and cheaper method won’t last.  Let’s break down the numbers:

Contractor #1  –  Bid:  $5,500   –   Work Days:  5

Labor Cost:  $900   –    Material Cost:  $331 (3 buckets of encapsulate & chemicals)

Profit:  $4,269

Contractor #2  –  Bid:  $8,900   –   Work Days:  5

Labor Cost:  $1,600   –   Material Cost:  $1,067 (3 buckets of higher grade encapsulate & chemicals)

Profit:  $6,233

Now, with Contractor #2 not only charging more but making more, doesn’t this make a case for hiring Contractor #1?  Before you answer remember a few more points.  In Part 2, we discussed that Contractor #2 is a certified firm and the costs that come with holding that type of certification.  When you add those factors coupled with the higher costs of insurance, maintenance and replacement of filters on higher grade equipment, (discussed in Part 3), and several other types of costs like workman’s comp, the profit between the two will be nearly the same.

So, in the end the difference monetarily upfront is drastic and many people may lean towards the cheaper price.  But when weighing all the factors, it’s clear to see that hiring a more established, better educated, more equipped and honest contractor from the start will get you a better job and clearly be money better spent.

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What is a Claims Adjuster?

Someone who investigates insurance claims to determine the extent of the insuring company’s liability. Claims adjusters may handle property claims involving damage to structures, and/or liability claims involving personal injuries or third-person property damage. A claims adjuster reviews each case by speaking with the claimant, interviewing any witnesses, researching records (such as police or medical records) and inspecting any involved property.

Claims adjusters review insurance claims to verify the claim and to determine a fair amount for settlement. For example, if an insured homeowner makes an insurance claim due to a tree falling on the house, a claims adjuster would interview the claimant (homeowner) and any witnesses and inspect the property to determine the extent of the damage, and the costs of repairing the property. The claims adjuster then submits to the insurance company documentation describing the incident and recommendations for the claim amount (how much money the insured will receive from the insurance company to repair the property).

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