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Hidden Water Damage, Part 2: Drains

Faucets aren’t the only possible leak points. Drains leak, resulting in just as much damage. Drains also carry dirty, unsanitary water, so they’re generally messier and more unpleasant to repair than a leaking faucet. A leaking drain can produce a flood of dirty water and will start to smell bad in short order. If you come home one day and are confronted with a rotten sewer-like odor that you can’t quite pinpoint, check your drains for leaks!

Before you get too far into diagnostics and repair, verify that your drains are free-flowing. Clogs can cause backups and leaks around joints, so working with a clean drain is essential. If your drain is clogged or partly clogged, try using BioClean to clear the drain. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating sells BioClean, a non-hazardous enzymatic drain cleaner that won’t harm your plumbing and is safe to handle. We use it and recommend it.

Once you’ve determined that the drain is clear, the most likely place to find leaks will be at the joints, or connections in the drain pipe. The hardware that actually joins two pipes together is called a fitting. Turn the water on and let it drain. If you spot leaks, make sure the drain fittings are tight.

Before you take any action, look for other telltale signs of trouble around your drain joints. If they show signs of deterioration, rust, mineralization or other corrosive damage, merely tightening the fitting isn’t going to help, and might actually make things worse. Corroded metal is permanently damaged and should really be replaced. Applying torque (force) to a damaged or weak fitting may break or crush the fitting and you’ll have to replace it anyway.

Most often, drains either use compression fittings or threaded fittings. Compression fittings are often found around sinks, faucets, and valves, and as their name implies, use a compressive force applied to an inner metal ring to make a tight seal. If a compression fitting is loose or damaged, a leak in the joint may occur. If you have a compression fitting that’s leaking, you can try to remove it, clean it and reapply it. If the fitting still leaks or the compression band appears to be damaged, replace it instead.

If you have compression fittings, it’s not a good idea to use Teflon tape or pipe dope to make a seal. These sealers are designed mostly for use with threaded fittings and may actually prevent a compression fitting from making a good seal.

Threaded fittings work just like a cap on a container. If you have threaded fittings, your drainpipe will also have threads to receive the connector. Replacing drain couplings is an uncomplicated and inexpensive repair. As long as you know the diameter of your drainpipe, you can find the right parts for the job at your local hardware store. If you have threaded fittings, clean off the pipe threads before applying the new fitting and use Teflon tape or pipe dope to seal the threads.

If you’re uncertain how to replace a drain, have problems with the main drain for your home, or need additional assistance with a plumbing repair of any kind, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to lend a hand. We can check your drains for clogs and leaks, and repair potential drain problems before they cause real damage.

Clearing A Clogged Bathroom Drain

If you have indoor plumbing in your Boston home, chances are excellent that at some point, you’ll also have a clogged bathroom sink drain. Having cleared hundreds of them, I can say that there’s nothing particularly interesting about a clogged drain. Occasionally, an object makes its way down the drain and gets stuck, usually in the trap, but most clogs that stop a bathroom sink are a mixture of hair, soap and biological materials that accumulate in the drain pipes.

Drains slowly close over time, but a little drain maintenance will go a long way toward eliminating the buildup of materials that will eventually close your drain pipe.

First, make sure your sink stopper is in working condition. The sink stopper will prevent objects from being washed down the drain. Stoppers are standard equipment, and replacements can be purchased at any home hardware store.

Bathroom sinks actually take a lot of abuse. Because of their proximity to the mirror, a household member may shave or trim facial hair in or near the sink, and most family members will comb their hair while looking in the bathroom mirror. These actions give plenty of opportunity for hair (a primary component of drain clogs) to accumulate in the sink. When the sink is dry, try removing any hair in the bowl or on the counter with a dry cloth. If you have the vacuum handy and the sink is dry, you can also vacuum hair out of your sink or tub. (This trick won’t work when the sink is wet.)

Soap residue also accumulates in the drainpipes, adding the second major component of bathroom drain clogs. Soap tends to reconstitute in drains, so limiting the amount of soap, using liquid soaps and flushing the drain after washing your hands will help reduce soap build-up in your pipes.

The third major component of drain clogs in the bathroom sink is the mass (mess?) that is produced when biological agents grow within the drain. These agents may include bacterias and molds that can thrive in the drain. The waste products from these agents create mess and unpleasant odors as they foul the drain. Over time, their growth rate increases and a clog quickly ensues.

How do you get rid of a clog? Our first recommendation is that you attempt to clear the clog manually. A small drain snake may clear the obstruction, but you also run the risk of simply moving the clog farther into the drain. If you can’t (or don’t want to) manually clear the clog, you can use additives that will break up the clog and clear the drain. Unfortunately, most drain cleaners are quite hard on the plumbing and worse, they’re not very effective on the clogs.

Chemicals that will break up clogs have the unfortunate tendency to corrode metal pipes. They also create a lot of heat while they work, and the build-up of gases related to these chemical processes can cause caustic drain cleaners to shoot back up out of the drain and into the sink. The potential for acidic splash injuries is real here, so we don’t recommend using caustic drain cleaning agents like lye.

So how can you get rid of a clog if manual clearing isn’t an option? We recommend Bio-Clean, a natural, enzymatic drain cleaning product that eats away at the blockage. The enzymes in Bio-Clean are safe and won’t irritate your skin if it makes contact. They’ll clear out the biological material that has accumulated in the drain without reacting with the metal in your plumbing system. Better still, Bio-Clean is non-hazardous in water so it won’t contaminate wastewater or pose a long-term human health hazard like caustic drain cleaners can. It’s also safe for use in kitchen sinks, RV drains and septic tanks.

Boston Standard Plumbing uses and recommends BioClean for safe, sanitary and environmentally friendly drain cleaning. If you would like to try BioClean in your household drains, contact Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911.

Using A Plunger

Plungers don’t come with an owner’s manual, so using them should be intuitive, right? Maybe, but even the most useful tool can be misused to the point of complete ineffectiveness. Plungers are designed to push an obstruction forward through the pipe using air trapped in the plunger. They’re not, contrary to popular belief, designed to bring the obstruction back out of the drain. If you have a sink or drain clog in your Boston home, here are a few tips on choosing and using a plunger.

There are two main designs for plungers; one is classic, the other is modern. Both can clear clogs. The classic plunger design consists of a thick rubber “bell” attached to a wooden handle. The plunger bell is usually coarsely threaded onto the wooden handle. If you select this kind of plunger, make sure the handle and bell connect solidly. The last thing you want is the bell separating from the handle when you need it most!

Look for good quality rubber, too. The bell should have no cracks or stress marks on it, and the handle should be relatively straight and smooth. Buy one plunger for each toilet in your home, and buy a sink plunger (a miniature version of The Classic) and use this only for sinks and tubs.
The modern plunger has a bulb shape to it with a tapered opening toward the bottom of the bell. This kind of plunger is designed to work with modern toilets and has a series of collapsible rings that, when used properly, can supply more force than the classic plunger can.

When your toilet drain becomes partially blocked, and flushing doesn’t cause the bowl to overflow, it’s tempting to flush the toilet again to see if you can dislodge the blockage. Don’t! If the bowl isn’t draining properly, you’re likely to cause a sewage overflow, and then you’ll have a much larger problem to deal with.

To plunge a toilet, place the plunger completely over the drain, making sure that the outside edge of the bell makes a complete seal against the toilet fixture. Push down slowly and pull up quickly several times. You may feel or hear the clog release. Remove the plunger and let the rest of the water in the bowl drain. Once the bowl is empty, flush the toilet again to make sure the drain is completely clear.

To plunge a sink, you may need to remove a built-in stopper. Plunging a bathtub drain usually doesn’t require this step. Depending upon the design of your sink drain, you may be able to release the stopper with a quick twist, or you may need to dismantle the stopper assembly from beneath the sink.

Sinks and bathtubs often have built-in emergency overflow drains. These drains are built into the sink itself at the top of the bowl. In bathtubs, the overflow drains are normally found underneath the lever that controls the bathtub drain. In both cases, these drains feed water directly into the drainpipe. These emergency drains will not allow you to form the good seal you’ll need to plunge a sink drain effectively. To create good suction in a sink or tub, you’ll need to block these drains. A wet towel or washcloth held over the emergency drains often does the trick.

As with a toilet, you’ll want to push the plunger down slowly and pull up quickly. Repeat this motion until the clog releases. You may need to take a break; plunging can be hard work!
Try to clear a clog using a plunger first. Do not attempt to plunge a drain once you’ve added a drain cleaning product to the clog. Drain cleaners, especially those that contain lye, can be highly reactive. These cleaners cause a chemical reaction that generates heat and can spew caustic lye upward and out of the drain. Once you’ve added a drain cleaner, stop plunging until the cleaner breaks through the clog.

Boston Standard Plumbing recommends Bio-Clean for clearing clogged drains. Bio-Clean is a bacterial-enzymatic cleaner that clears a variety of drain clogs. Bio-Clean is 100-percent safe for your plumbing and will not harm your skin if it comes in contact with you.
If you would like more information about Boston Standard Plumbing’s drain cleaning and sewer services, or you would like to try Bio-Clean drain cleaner, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing at 617-288-2911.

Boston Drain Cleaning

Clogged drains in Boston are nothing new. For the most part, drains become obstructed for just a few reasons, so provided that you know why the drain is clogged, clearing it out can be a relatively easy job. What you put down the drain will most likely determine the kind of clog you have, and will dictate how you treat the problem.

Kitchen drains handle a lot of organic material – mainly food scraps and grease – that promote the buildup of organic matter in the drainpipe; joins, bends and traps are most vulnerable to these kinds of obstructions. Eventually, the mass of organic matter may partially or completely obstruct the flow of water through the drain. Even the largest household drainpipes are only a few inches in diameter, so it doesn’t take much to clog a drain once organic matter starts to accumulate.

Bathroom sink and shower drains handle a lot of soap and hair, so clogs in these drains are most likely to be made up of a combination of hair, soap and organic material that can thrive in this environment. Toilets can become clogged with waste material, toilet paper or other items that are flushed down the toilet. Plumbers recommend that only waste material and toilet paper be flushed down the toilet. Other items, like soiled diapers and tampons should be disposed of in the household garbage.

Utility tub drains tend to collect a lot of lint and pet hair. Clogs here are more similar to bathroom drain clogs. One note: over time, powdered soap flakes can sometimes reconstitute in the utility tub drain or in the home’s main drain. Reconstituted soap flakes form a very hard ball that can eventually occlude the entire drain. If you use powdered soap flakes in your washing machine and/or dishwasher, do not over-soap your laundry or dishes. Liquid soaps do not reconstitute in the way that powdered soaps do.

Main drains – the connection between your home and the municipal sewer system (or your septic tank) – can get clogged for any number of reasons, including organic buildups, tree roots, and major damage to the main waste pipe. A clogged main drain is a plumbing emergency and a health hazard that must be cleared or repaired immediately. Generally, a problem in the home’s main drain requires special equipment to diagnose and correct the problem. If you suspect a problem in your main drain – indicated by sewage backflows into the home – call your municipality first. They will help you determine where the problem is located and who is responsible for fixing it.

If the problem in your main drain is on your side of the line, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing. We can assist with backflow testing, sewer cleaning, installation of new plumbing and fixtures, leak repairs and clog removal.

Depending upon the material your drainpipes are made from, a drain can also become clogged from a buildup of minerals in the pipe. This buildup normally takes years to occur. Pipes can also become corroded, and debris from corrosion can also clog the drain. You may be able to clear mineralization from pipes, but corroded pipes cannot be cleaned or repaired and must be replaced.

Finally, drains can become clogged if an object is dropped into the drain. If you have small children in your home, they may entertain themselves by flushing small toys or other objects down the toilet, or throwing things down the drain. Irregularly shaped objects can become caught in the drain or trap and can catch other materials that are later disposed of. Removing an object from a drain or toilet may require you to dismantle a sink, shower or toilet drain.

For most clogs that occur as the result of organic material buildup, Boston Standard Plumbing recommends the use of Bio-Clean, an enzymatic drain cleaner that is non-toxic, environmentally friendly and highly effective at removing organically based clogs.

Bio-Clean contains no harsh chemicals that can damage your pipes or potentially contaminate your drains. Bio-Clean will not harm your skin should you come in contact with it. Bio-Clean is a combination of bacterial and enzymatic agents that literally eat the clog, eliminating it outright. The bacteria are all-natural and are not harmful to humans or pets. The bacterial and enzymatic agents in Bio-Clean eat food particles, hair, grease, soap film and organic materials that contribute to drain clogs.
The enzymes in Bio-Clean break down your clog into components the bacteria can digest. The bacteria, once active, can eat their own weight every minute, and the bacterial population doubles about every 30 minutes under the right conditions. Activating the bacteria in Bio-Clean takes nothing more than mixing it with warm water, and we recommend that the Bio-Clean have at least six to eight hours to work. Cleaning your drain with Bio-Clean is the perfect overnight activity.

Bio-Clean is safe for drainpipes made of all materials, and is absolutely safe for septic tanks. In fact, Bio-Clean outperforms most strains of coliform bacteria in septic tanks. Bio-Clean can also be used to eliminate foul odors that may come from drains or garbage disposals, and is safe for use in RVs and boats.

If you would like more information about Bio-Clean, or would like to try Bio-Clean in your drains, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911.