New EPA Rule Aims to Get the Lead Out

A proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency would modify the current definition of lead-free plumbing products. Congress passed new legislation that prohibits the use of plumbing products that contain more than 0.25% lead. Lead can still be found in small amounts in piping, fixtures and fitting, but the new legislation further reduces the permissible lead level for plumbing used in drinking water systems.

Unfortunately, the statute also creates exceptions to the lead-free requirements for some plumbing products that are not intended for use in drinking water systems. According to the EPA, these exemptions make it necessary to clearly distinguish between products that are intended for use with drinking water and products that are not intended to carry potable water.

Lead free plumbing parts would be labeled

The EPA’s new regulations would require plumbing manufacturers to positively identify plumbing products that meet or exceed the new regulations, and to certify that their products conform to the regulations. According to the EPA, the purpose of the new required label is to reduce the likelihood that non-conforming plumbing products – those that are exempt from lead content requirements – will be used in drinking water systems.

Currently, there is no mandatory federal requirement for testing to verify that plumbing products are lead-free. Many off-the-shelf products are – in fact – lead-free, but they may or may not be labeled as such. Eight third-party testing firms currently certify plumbing products as being lead-free. Their tests confirm that “lead-free” products are actually lead-free. Each of these testing firms has its own lead-free certification mark. Under the proposed regulations, all certified lead-free plumbing products will use a uniform labeling system to identify lead-free products. Unlabeled products will be assumed to be non-conforming.

The EPA’s public comment period on the proposed new lead-free designation is open until April 17, 2017. If you would like to review the proposed regulations, or make a comment on the changes, you can visit the EPA website.

If you have lead plumbing products in your home, or you’re not sure, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We can inspect and replace plumbing components with certified lead free plumbing products.

Photo Credit: Richard King, via Flickr.com

Win on Game Day With Slow Cooked Chicken Wings!

You can’t possibly get through Game Day without having some chicken wings. The great news is that they’re super easy to make in your slow cooker.

Here’s the basic recipe and sauce combinations to tempt your tastebuds while you enjoy the Big Game! Read on through to check out our wings contest, and enter for a chance to score a container of BioClean enzymatic drain cleaner.

Slow cooker chicken wings

• 1 dozen thawed chicken wings
• Sauce*

1. Arrange the wings in the slow cooker.
2. Cover with the lid.
3. Cook for 2 ½ hours on high.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the sauce ingredients together.
5. Pour over the chicken wings and cook for at least 30 minutes.

*Try one of these sauce ideas:

Buffalo style: Mix 1 12 oz bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, 1 1 oz. packet of powdered ranch dressing mix. Serve with ranch dressing for dipping.

BBQ Ranch: Mix 1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, 1 packet of powdered ranch dressing mix. Serve with ranch dressing for dipping.

Sweet style: Mix Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle Sauce, ½ jar of peach preserves.
OR Mix 1 bottle of Honey BBQ Sauce, ½ jar of orange marmalade

BBQ & Soda: Mix your favorite BBQ sauce, and six ounces of your favorite soda – Coke, Cherry Coke, Dr. Pepper and Root Beer all test well. (Don’t use diet soda!) If you’re feeling adventurous, try a SWEET (not dry) ginger ale and a little chunked or crushed pineapple.

Remember: when you’re cleaning up, don’t throw the cooked sauce down the drain. Fats and oils are especially good at clogging kitchen drains. Instead, transfer the leftover cooking liquid to a sealable plastic container and dispose of it in the trash.

If your drain or disposal can’t keep up with Game Day action, head over to our YouTube Channel to see how to get your clogged drain or disposal moving again.

ENTER OUR WINGS CONTEST!

Take a picture of your Game Day wings no later than February 7th and share it with us. We’ll choose our favorite image. If your photo is chosen, you win can of BioClean enzymatic drain cleaner!

Photo Credit: Stu Spivak, via Flickr.com

Boston DIY Plumbing Workshop

Plumbing and heating are two of your home’s most important systems. When they don’t work correctly, they can jeopardize the comfort and safety of your home. The good news is that homeowners can manage many common problems that can arise with heating and plumbing systems, thanks to an excellent DIY plumbing workshop coming up this weekend.

Plumbing and Heating Workshop


Joseph Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating will be on hand to deliver a great classroom-style DIY plumbing workshop designed just for homeowners who want to know how to maintain and repair issues like plumbing leaks and drain clogs, and perform routine maintenance on heating systems.

In addition to repair and maintenance tips, Joseph will share advice for homeowners who want to reduce their water consumption without sacrificing performance. He will also address questions and concerns about pipes and pipe replacement, heating and cooling system replacement, rebates and incentives for system improvements, and offer preventative maintenance strategies. Joseph will also show attendees how to spot more serious plumbing and heating issues that require professional attention.

The DIY plumbing workshop is also a great opportunity for anyone who’s considering a career in plumbing or heating and cooling. The next decade will see tremendous growth in employment for trained, licensed plumbers and heating and cooling professionals. As an apprentice, you’ll begin working immediately and developing the skills you’ll need to earn your plumbing license.

Joseph has been working in plumbing, heating and cooling for more than 20 years, and owns Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating in Dorchester. Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating has been recognized annually since 2010 with an Angie’s List Super Service Award. Boston Standard has also been recognized by the Better Business Bureau and the Best of Boston for its outstanding service.

The DIY plumbing workshop takes place Saturday, November 5 from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM at Boston Building Resources, 100 Terrace Street in Boston. Please visit the Boston Building Resources website to register for this workshop. The registration cost is $25. We hope to see you there!

Photo Credit: clement127, via Flickr.com

Training and licensure for plumbing

Plumbing is considered a “skilled trade.” To become a skilled trades worker, you must complete a training program that combines classroom learning with on-the-job learning. Plumbers are licensed by the state. Each state manages its own licensing program, but the licensing requirements in all states are similar.

Initially, a plumber in training is known as an apprentice. An apprentice works closely with more experienced plumbers to gain on-the-job experience. Apprentices also receive classroom-based instruction. Currently, Massachusetts state law requires 110 hours of classroom instruction combined with 1,700 hours of on-the-job training per year for five years. Between school and work, that’s about 35 hours per week. Apprenticeships are paid positions, so you get paid while you’re working/learning the ropes. You can be hired as an apprentice without being enrolled in classes, but you’ll need to start your classroom studies within 9 months of hiring.

You can work as a licensed apprentice for 10 years, but if you want to remain in the plumbing trade, you’ll need to earn a journeyman license. To do that, you take a test, after having completed all of the apprenticeship classroom and work requirements.

Journeyman plumbers and master plumbers

Following the completion of the apprentice requirements, a plumber can be licensed as a journeyman. This is a different level of licensure that recognizes your work experience and classroom training. A journeyman plumber will still work closely with a master plumber on more complex plumbing jobs. With a journeyman license, plumbers can gain the additional work and classroom experience required to become a master plumber. You can work as a journeyman plumber indefinitely, as long as you maintain your journeyman license.

You must be licensed as a journeyman plumber for at least one year before you move on to the next step – a Master Plumber’s license. Master plumbers have completed all of the training and education requirements of the job and work without supervision. As a master plumber, you can work for yourself or you can continue to work for someone else. Additionally, master plumbers can supervise and train apprentice and journeyman plumbers. You can also specialize in any number of plumbing-related trades including commercial, industrial and medical plumbing, gas-fitting or steam-fitting.

Periodically, you’ll need to renew your Master Plumber’s license. Most states, including Massachusetts, have continuing education requirements for journeyman and master plumbers. You’ll need to complete these continuing education requirements to maintain your license.

If you’re considering a career in plumbing or HVAC, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your career options and let you know how you can get started in the trade.

Photo Credit: Daniel Oins, via Flickr.com

Is a career in plumbing for you?

When you think of the term “plumber,” you might think of someone who fixes water pipes or unclogs drains. Water is a big part of a plumber’s job, but plumbers do a lot more than fix pipes. In this series, we’re going to explore plumbing as a career, what it takes to become a plumber, and what kind of opportunities are available in plumbing and related trades.

Believe it or not, plumbing is one of the key components of any modern society. Plumbers build and maintain systems that bring fresh water into buildings, and remove wastewater safely. Plumbers also work with pipes that carry gases to and from buildings. As such, plumbers often work in both the plumbing and heating/cooling trades.

Plumbing can be specialized

Plumbers can specialize in commercial or residential work, or they can do both. Specialty plumbers include pipelayers, pipefitters, gas fitters and steamfitters. These plumbers work exclusively in specialized commercial and industrial construction and require additional training.

Plumbers work in people’s homes, and in commercial and industrial spaces. They can work exclusively for one employer, or they can work on multiple job sites on short-term assignments. Plumbers may or may not belong to a union. Many master plumbers are self-employed, and provide plumbing and related services to individuals and businesses in their communities.

Because a plumber’s work can affect people’s health and safety, plumbers require special training and licensing to do their jobs. The state licenses plumbers. Each state manages its own licensing program, but all states have similar licensing requirements. The type of license a plumber has determines the kind of supervision he or she works under. To become a licensed plumber, you must complete a training program that combines classroom learning with on-the-job learning. You must also update your license periodically with additional training and education.

Plumbing involves clean water, dirty water and gas

Plumbers can work on any portion of a water system. On the “clean” side, plumbers may install or replace pipes and fixtures, locate and repair leaks, install water heaters, water filters and repair water pressure problems. They can also install gas service lines. In homes, natural gas (or propane) lines are likely to be the only gas lines you might see. In commercial spaces, plumbers may install fire suppression systems, natural gas lines, lines for compressed air, welding gases, or other gases (like anesthesia or oxygen) in medical facilities.

On the “dirty” side, plumbers work on drains, sewers, plumbing ventilation, septic and sump systems. They may also install dry wells or other catchment systems to manage rainwater runoff and “grey water.”

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems often require plumbing and ventilation, so it is common to find plumbers working in HVAC operations. In addition to installation of furnaces, boilers, chillers and cooling systems, plumbers perform scheduled and emergency HVAC maintenance.

Plumbing can be a 24-hour job

As a profession, plumbing requires some level of physical fitness because the job often involves climbing, crawling, lifting, working with your arms over your head and in small spaces. In addition to the physical demands of the job, plumbers are problem-solvers. The most successful plumbers can diagnose and repair existing systems, and develop creative, individualized solutions for difficult situations.

Some plumbers work exclusively during the day, but most residential plumbing services offer some type of 24-hour service. Plumbing emergencies are just that – emergencies! They must be addressed immediately because plumbing problems can put people’s health and safety at risk. The same is true with heating and cooling problems. Additionally, some commercial work may only be done when the business is closed. As a result, plumbing isn’t considered a traditional “9-to-5” job.

If you’re considering a career in plumbing or HVAC, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your career options and let you know how you can get started in the trade.

Photo Credit: Duncan c, via Flickr.com

Replumbing: Three kinds of pipe to get rid of today

In the last few posts, we’ve looked at some common materials that are used in residential plumbing, and their life expectancy. Today, we’ll look at three kinds of pipe that could have made their way into your plumbing system, and if they’re still there, they’ve outlasted their welcome. They are lead, polybutylene and bituminous fiber pipe.

Replumbing – bag these losers at any cost!

Three kinds of pipe should be removed immediately, regardless of their condition: lead pipes, polybutylene pipes and bituminous fiber pipe. Lead is known to be toxic to human health and was used widely in residential plumbing until the 1930s. Lead can still be found in supply lines linking the municipal water supply to the end user’s premises. It can also be found in plumbing solder joints that were made before 1986. Lead can leach into fresh water standing in supply pipes, and can cause an elevated blood lead level.

Recently, some cities, including Boston, have come under fire for the testing methods they used to identify elevated levels of lead in drinking water. Don’t count on lead pipes to fail, either. Some lead pipes installed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago are still in place. Replumbing lead pipes anywhere in your plumbing system is urgent. You may be able to take advantage of special financing through the BWSC to get rid of lead pipes immediately.

Polybutylene pipe was used extensively in new residential construction between 1978 and 1995. It was used widely in the southern United States, as well as in the Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest. Polybutylene pipe is usually blue, black or gray in color. It reacts with chlorine and chloramines in the water, which can cause the pipes to fail at any time. Polybutylene pipe was the subject of a $1B class action settlement and is no longer on the market. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, immediate replumbing as a precaution should be a high priority.

Unlike the other two kinds of pipe, bituminous fiber pipe (a/k/a Orangeburg pipe) was only used on the drain side of your plumbing. It doesn’t touch your drinking water, but it can be hidden beneath your home, serving pretty incompetently as your sewer pipe. Bituminous fiber is not substantial enough to resist long term exposure to water and tree root invasions. It will fail and it can leave you with a huge mess. If you have it, today would be a good day to get rid of it!

As a general rule-of-thumb, any signs of wear, the appearance of flaking, rust or discoloration on the outside of your pipes, the development of leaks (big or small), unpleasant odors, tastes or changes in the appearance of your tap water are all signs of age-related failures in pipes, regardless of their actual age. If you’re contemplating a whole house replumbing, having your water tested first is a good idea. An independent lab can conduct tests for the presence of toxins, metals and other contaminants. The tests can also identify the pH of your water. More acidic water will cause premature pipe deterioration, but there are steps you can take to reduce the acidity of your water and extend the lifespan of new plumbing components and water-consuming appliances.

In the case of Orangeburg pipe, a video inspection of your sewer line can not only reveal problems, but also identify exactly where leaks and breaks have occurred.

If you’d like to consult with us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating about the current condition of your plumbing, or any potential replumbing in your home, please give us a call anytime at (617) 288-2911. We can identify weakened plumbing components and help you develop a repair/replacement strategy that suits your situation.

Photo Credit: Amphopolis, via Flickr.com

Replacement plumbing for your house

In the last post, we looked at copper, and how copper plumbing works (and deteriorates) in household plumbing systems. Today, we’ll look at three other common materials – galvanized steel, brass and PVC – to see how they may fit into a replacement plumbing plan for your house.

Replacement plumbing options

Galvanized steel isn’t usually used anymore for new residential construction, but it is still used frequently in commercial construction and in fire suppression systems. Galvanized pipe has a rated lifespan of between 30 and 50 years, but like copper, the actual performance of the pipe depends upon the water it’s carrying, the pressure in the system and the environment it’s installed in. As galvanized pipe ages, it loses the zinc coating on the inside of the pipe. Once the coating has been lost, the pipe begins to rust, and you may see rusty water being discharged from the tap initially after you open it.

Galvanized pipe also develops a mineralization layer that decreases the inner diameter of the pipe. Eventually a pipe can become permanently clogged with minerals and must be replaced. Rust is unsightly to be sure, but free iron in the water is less harmful to your health than free copper. At the same time, iron in large quantities can also be toxic, so the best plan is to replace aging galvanized pipe when it shows early signs of failure.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Copper is relatively soft; brass is much harder. It’s also better at resisting corrosion. Chorine, which is often used in municipal water treatment, can cause the zinc to leach out of brass if the zinc content in the brass is too high. At one time, brass was used for piping, but it’s crazy expensive! Brass is still used for saltwater piping system and fittings. You can still find brass pipe, if you truly need (or want) to replace brass with brass. Under the right circumstances, brass pipes can last between 75-100 years, which is good because it will take you about that long to save up for brass replacements. Seriously though, other less expensive replacement plumbing materials can perform just as well as brass and are remarkably less expensive.

PVC is a relative newcomer to the plumbing world. It can be used in new construction, or in replacement plumbing applications. Its anticipated lifespan is somewhere between 50 and 100 or more years. Or one hard winter, depending upon who you talk to! The truth is that PVC lifespan estimates are guesses because we don’t have a really good idea of how long PVC pipes can last, or how they might deteriorate over long periods of time.

Some people worry that PVC pipes release harmful chemicals into fresh water, and tests have shown that water can pick up chemicals from some plastic pipes but to date, no plastic piping has exceeded the standards established by NSF/ANSI Standard 61, which regulates drinking water system components. Scientists have found wide variations in the amount of chemicals leaching from different brands of plastic piping, and consumers sometimes notice that water carried by plastic pipes may have a strange odor. This leads them to conclude that leaching is a by-product of the plastic production process, and regulating the production process more closely could reduce or eliminate most leaching issues in plastic pipe.

PVC buried in the soil can crack if it freezes. It is also vulnerable to damage from UV radiation, so it should not be used (for water) in areas where it will have direct exposure to sunlight. If PVC pipe will be exposed to direct sunlight following installation, it should be painted, insulated or otherwise wrapped. As with other piping materials, overpressure can damage PVC pipes. PVC that is buried directly in the ground can be damaged by physical contact with rocks, roots and other hard objects. It can also be damaged by the movement of the soil. PVC that is buried in the soil is usually placed on a bed of sand to minimize mechanical damage. Poor installation can also cause PVC pipe to fail prematurely.

In the next post, we’ll look at lead, polybutylene and bituminous fiber pipe, three kinds of pipe that could be in your plumbing system today, but shouldn’t be! If you’d like to consult with us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, please give us a call anytime at (617) 288-2911. We can identify weakened plumbing components and help you develop a repair/replacement strategy that suits your situation.

Photo Credit: Jim Miner , via Flickr.com

Lead Testing Results May Be Skewed

A new chapter in the ongoing debate about the safety of lead in plumbing finds Boston in the center of a controversy about the accuracy of lead testing results. At least 33 cities in 17 states are accused of gaming the results of lead tests on regular municipal water samples.

Lead testing not conducted according to guidelines

The cities in question, which include Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit use a questionable strategy for measuring the amount of lead taken from taps in their service areas. The problem is so disturbing that last week, a law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia, alleging that the testing protocols in place in that city serve to obscure the number of sites that test positive for elevated lead levels, and that water department officials conspired to exclude high test results.

In a story published by The Guardian, the newspaper says that the cities in question routinely used lead test protocols that could produce more favorable results, and could underestimate the number of sites with elevated lead levels. Lead tests are required by the Environmental Protection Agency, and cities are required to test the water in a small sample of homes every three years.

The Guardian says that in many cases, the test results are run on water that has been collected by residents, and that residents are typically instructed to “pre-flush” the water line before collecting the water sample. To pre-flush a water line, the tester would simply open the tap and let the water run for a defined period of time prior to collecting the sample. Pre-flushing eliminates the lead that has leached into the water standing in the pipe.

In addition, officials also corrupt the results of the test by removing aerators and filters before the test samples are collected. In some cities, high-risk homes (and homes known or suspected to be contaminated with lead) were simply removed from the testing regimen.

For nearly a decade, the EPA has stated that pre-flushing violates the “intent” of the test and has cautioned municipal systems not to instruct collectors to pre-flush the water lines. For a decade, EPA officials have asked municipalities not to remove faucet-level aerators from the fixture before collecting the water sample. Boston has already said that it plans to change its testing methodologies to conform more closely to EPA guidelines for the city’s next set of EPA tests.

If you’re concerned about lead in your home’s plumbing system, the experts at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We can help you secure more accurate water samples for testing, and we can also perform abatement services to remove lead pipes, lead plumbing solder and old brass fixtures that may contain lead. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Vlad Iorga, via FreeImages.com

PEX plumbing – love it or leave it?

DIY plumbing tasks often call for the use of crosslinked polyethylene, also known as PEX or XLPE. You’ve seen PEX plumbing in hardware and home improvement stores. It’s a flexible supply-line hose that comes in various lengths and diameters. For residential applications, it is often packaged in ready-to-use lengths that have fittings already attached. It also comes in longer lengths and can be used behind walls. In commercial applications, it’s frequently used for “domestic” water services, hydronic heating and cooling, and natural gas transport.

PEX fittings could be defective

PEX is not without controversy. Some swear by it; others swear at it. And a major manufacturer has been the subject of a long-running class action lawsuit that’s accepting claims until 2020. According to the settlement, which covers Zurn’s “F1807” yellow brass fittings manufactured and/or sold between 1996 and 2010, damages caused by the failure, leaking or occlusion of the F1807 fitting are covered. No other Zurn product is included in the suit.

Consumers reported damage from leaks and reduced water flow stemming from the use of defective brass fittings. According to the suit, which was settled by Zurn and the members of the class, compensation is available for persons who “own or have owned real property containing plumbing systems that contain F1807 Fittings… and who have experienced at least one leak in a Zurn F1807 fitting due to corrosion.”

Additionally, the suit offers relief for claimants who can demonstrate a significant decrease in flow (more than 50%) between the hot and cold lines of the system. For its part, Zurn denies that the product is defective, but has set aside funds to pay claims on the product through 2020.

In many cases, the product is installed behind a wall, where it may be difficult to detect a leak until major damage has already been done. Some claimants have reported that they have experienced multiple leaks as a result of the use of PEX in their properties. More troubling to some is the knowledge that a potentially defective product is in use in a property, but has not yet failed.

It’s impossible to know how many claimants could be involved because the F1807 fitting at the center of the suit was used for 14 years. It’s also important to note that Zurn is not the only manufacturer of PEX, and that while Zurn PEX is the subject of the suit, millions of Zurn installations have been trouble-free.

The lawsuit does not cover the cost of replacing affected PEX products that have not yet failed. If you have Zurn PEX in your home (or PEX of any kind) and want it replaced, you’ll have to do so at your own expense. Many claimants have reported spontaneous catastrophic failures, but others have reported flow rate issues in affected lines prior to the development of leaks.

In any case, if you notice a substantial decrease in water flow or a major difference in the flow rate between the hot and cold water lines of a fixture, you may have a PEX line in the early stages of failure. Stop using the affected fixture immediately and inspect the line for leaks or other signs of damage. If you can’t see the line or would prefer to have a plumber evaluate your situation, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 anytime. If you would like more information about the Zurn PEX settlement, please visit www.plumbingfittingsettlement.com.

Photo Credit: Krzysztof Szkurlatowski, via FreeImages.com

Lead in the water has Boston residents on edge

Lead has virtually no redeeming value, but if the current disaster in Flint, MI has an upside, it’s the renewed focus on removing lead from our homes. In most cases, old lead paint poses more danger than lead in the plumbing, but removing lead (properly) is never a bad idea.

Recent reports show that lead levels are elevated in the water at some Boston area schools. The water that comes into Boston homes and schools is tested repeatedly before it leaves the water treatment plant. Further, the City has removed lead pipes and components from its transport network, so the water itself and the water treatment are not sources of lead contamination.

Lead contamination in homes and schools comes from old plumbing solder that’s leaching lead into standing water in the pipes. Old brass plumbing fixtures may also contain lead, and can be a source of lead contamination.

Changes to federal laws in the mid-1970’s eliminated lead from plumbing solder and new plumbing fixtures, but these laws didn’t require lead abatement for existing lead lines, lead solder and lead-containing fixtures.

Lead abatement – the last step in removing lead from plumbing – involves identifying and replacing these components. One of the most surprising things about Flint is that the homes that had the highest levels of lead at the taps did not have lead water supply lines. Deteriorating plumbing fixtures and lead solder in the pipes in Flint homes, businesses and schools produced the highest recorded levels of lead contamination.

If there’s a lesson there, it’s this: do not assume that old pipe solder doesn’t contain enough lead to warrant action.

There is no safe, acceptable level of lead contamination. Lead exposure in any amount is hazardous to human health.

If you’re concerned about the presence of lead in your plumbing, you can purchase inexpensive test kits that allow you to collect a water sample and send it to a lab for analysis. Surface test kits can detect the presence of lead in pipe solder. Under-the-counter and tap filters are also effective in removing incidental lead contamination, but removing the sources of lead should always be your first preference.

If you have concerns about lead solder or lead-containing fixtures in your home, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can help you determine the status of your home’s plumbing, and help you remove sources of lead contamination from your plumbing.

Photo Credit: 3M