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How well do you know your kitchen sink?

How well do you know your kitchen sink?

You probably spend more time at your kitchen sink than you spend thinking about your kitchen sink. The kitchen sink is a hub of activity and a vital part of any household. It can also be a hub of unpleasant activity that can cause problems in your happy home. Today, we’re going to take a few minutes to look at your kitchen sink and how to care for it.

Your kitchen sink is most likely mounted to a countertop. Most kitchen sinks are made from stainless steel, porcelain-coated cast iron, resins, acrylic, copper or some kind of stone (or stone composites) like quartz, granite, or marble. The durability of the material is important because sinks can be bacterial reservoirs. The less durable the material, the more often you’ll need to replace your sink to avoid problems that bacterial growth can cause.

Underneath your sink is the sink drain. A sink drain consists of the pipe that run from the drain hole that’s visible in the sink to the main drain in the house. Directly under the sink, you’ll also see a p-trap – a curved piece of pipe. The p-trap is an essential element of any drain. The p-trap retains a bit of water, which forms a seal. This seal prevents gases from further down the drain from escaping into the house. The plumbing code requires p-traps in drain lines. If your sink doesn’t have a p-trap, or your p-trap is damaged, you’re going to encounter some really unpleasant smells.

Many kitchen sinks also feature a garbage disposal. A dishwasher may also be integrated into the garbage disposal or sink drain. No one disputes the utility of either a garbage disposal or a dishwasher, but they can also be a source of problems for your kitchen sink and drain.

Kitchen sink do’s

Do clean your sink regularly. Cleaning the sink surface can help reduce bacteria and odors, remove food particles and prevent staining. If you stack dirty dishes in the sink, clean the sink after washing the dishes. Also clean the sink if unprepared foods – raw meat, eggs, etc., come into contact with it. Sanitize the surface with bleach to kill bacteria and remove stains.

Do use the right cleaning products on your sink. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for caring for your sink, based on the materials it’s made from. Surface scratches can eventually lead to a breakdown of the sink surface. This can promote rust and surface cracks, or encourage staining.

Do look for leaks. Your faucet can leak, sending a stream of clean water into the sink. Your drain can also leak. Unlike the faucet, the drain leaks dirty, potentially hazardous water. Drain leaks can be sneaky, so periodically check the drain for leaks. Signs include scale build-up, obvious water accumulations or water stains, and mold or mildew growth under the sink. Drains can leak if the sink mounting flange is not set well, or the plumber’s putty underneath it is deteriorating. Couplings around the drain stem and p-trap can also deteriorate or loosen.

Periodically, check the drain couplings. Especially if you have a dishwasher or garbage disposal, make sure your drain couplings are tight. Vibrations from these machines can loosen the joints in your drains and cause leaks – or worse – a cruddy flood.

Do check the water shut-off valves periodically. Local shut-off valves are notoriously cheap. Check your valves periodically to make sure they can still shut off the water. If the valve shut-off spins continuously, replace it.

Do use cold water in the disposal. Hot water just allows grease to congeal farther down the drainpipe.

Kitchen sink don’ts

Don’t put grease down the drain.

Grease hardens when it cools and it makes a pretty effective stopper. Unfortunately, a grease plug usually doesn’t form in a convenient, easy-to-reach place. And unless you throw a bunch of grease down the drain at once, a grease plug forms slowly over time. To dispose of grease, pour it into a tin can and freeze or refrigerate it until it hardens. Then toss it out. You could also pour the grease into a plastic bottle or jar with a lid and trash it.

Choose what you dispose of carefully. If you have a garbage disposal, don’t put coffee grounds down the drain. Coffee grounds combine with other things in your drain (like grease), and turn into an impossibly hard substance. Also on the no-fly list: eggshells. Same problem; same result. In fact, avoid putting fats, oils, stringy vegetables, potato peels, pasta, rice, beans and non-food items down the disposal. Pasta, rice and beans all swell in water, so they take up a lot more room in the drain. If they collect in a place that’s normally wet, (even in their ground-up state), the diameter of your drain pipe will shrink.

Don’t use chemical drain cleaners in the kitchen sink. Chemical drain cleaners are really hard on your pipes. They’re also dangerous to you! To keep your drain clean and clear, you can put a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain. Let it sit for a few minutes and then wash it down the drain with hot water. You can also use an enzymatic drain cleaner to clear out the kitchen drain.

Don’t ignore drips and leaks. Even a small leak can do a lot of water damage.

If you have a household plumbing problem you’d like us to take care of for you, contact us at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to return your sinks and drains to good working order!

Photo Credit: espensorvik, via Flickr

Thanksgiving Can Put A Strain On Your Plumbing

While most Americans associate turkey, food and family with the Thanksgiving holiday, a large number of households will add “plumbing emergency” to that list. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is, on average, the busiest weekend for plumbing-related emergencies, and it’s all rooted in our beloved national holiday.

Thanksgiving creates the perfect storm for plumbing problems. An increased amount of disposal waste, large amounts of cooking grease, and stringy foods like pumpkin and squash combine to form the perfect recipe for an unwelcome holiday drain clog. Combine that with your houseguests, and the holiday may just overwhelm your household plumbing.

Cooking grease from poultry makes a pretty good plug, because it congeals in the drainpipe into a gelatinous substance that makes a form-fitting, waterproof seal. Your turkey isn’t the only table item that’s working against you. Pumpkin strings and rinds dry into a hard, glue-like substance once they escape the disposer. Combined with other food scraps, your kitchen drain doesn’t stand a chance.

Your bathroom might not fare much better. Additional showers from houseguests may put too much pressure on an already slow drain. Guests may also try to flush items like disposable wipes, diapers, tampons and paper towels. And a convenient powder room may be pressed into service when the kitchen sink is too crowded.
Here are a few tips to help your drains survive the holiday.

• Do not throw turkey grease, drippings or gravy down the drain. Instead, drain the grease into an empty milk jug or other similar container, replace the lid and dispose of the grease in the trash. You could also reserve the drippings in a container in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, skim off the fat, and convert the remainder to stock for use in turkey soup or turkey pot pie.

• If you plan to use your garbage disposal to eliminate non-greasy food scraps, run the water in the disposal for 30 seconds after the disposer has cleared the wastes to ensure that the scraps make it out of the house!

• Do not put pumpkin shells, pumpkin guts, or squash guts down the drain. Always dispose of them in the trash.

• Provide extra (or larger) waste containers in the bathroom for added sanitary waste.

• Keep a plunger handy in all bathrooms.

• Clear slow drains before your guests arrive!

If you find yourself in the middle of a plumbing emergency, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers true 24/7 emergency plumbing services year-round. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime!

Avoiding or Managing A Frozen Pipe

This item is based on a post that originally appeared on this blog on January 15, 2010. These tips are worth keeping in mind as you deal with the snow and cold in Boston this weekend!

All Boston homeowners worry about the possibility of frozen pipes in the winter and with good reason. Frozen pipes can lead to expensive plumbing repairs, property damage, and other disasters like mold growth. Ice in a residential plumbing pipe can exert more than 2,000 psi of pressure. Your pipes aren’t designed to handle this kind of force, and they will burst. There are a few things you can do to keep your pipes in good shape in the winter, no matter how low the outside temperature may go!

First, keeping pipes thawed relies on heat. If you plan to leave your home for any length of time (even during the day while you work) do not set your thermostat lower than 62°F. Your home’s plumbing is often found encased in walls, unheated crawl spaces or in the basement of your home. Some of the heat from the living spaces and duct work in your home will help to keep these areas warm, but this type of heat will only go so far. The warmer your living space is, the warmer the unheated areas of your home will stay and the less likely you are to experience a frozen or burst pipe.

2014 Tip: In exceptional cold, don’t turn your thermostat down at all. If you can stand keeping your home heated to 68°F or 70°F, do it! Being frugal with the heat in these temperatures is false economy! Also, open the doors to any sink base cabinets in your home to allow heated air to circulate around the source pipes for your sinks.

Insulate the pipes in your home. This will help keep the pipes warmer and will also help prevent radiant heat loss along your hot water pipes. Pipes in and near outside walls and crawlspaces are the most likely candidates for freezing so be sure to keep these as warm as possible.

2014 Tip: Open the taps on any faucet or fixture whose pipes are contained in your home’s outside walls. Create a stream about the size of a #2 pencil. Pipes on outside walls are at a much higher risk of freezing than the pipes on the inside walls of your home.

If a pipe in your home has frozen but has not yet burst, you can thaw it out. Do not use any type of open flame (such as a torch) to melt the ice. This creates a high risk of fire, as well as a high risk of personal injury. Open the tap and locate the frozen area. This area may be frosted over on the outside due to condensation. The pipe may also be deformed in the critical spot. Heat the pipe from the tap back toward the frozen spot. You want to clear out the pipe, and if you start from the frozen point, the newly melted water may have nowhere to go.

2014 Tip: Hot water pipes freeze faster than cold water pipes do. Your hot water tank removes minerals from the water, which softens it and allows it to freeze more quickly. If you’ve got a hot water pipe on or near an outside wall, drip it when the temperature drops!

You can heat exposed pipes using a hair dryer, an incandescent or infrared light, or a space heater. Use foil, a cookie sheet or rolled aluminum behind the pipe to reflect heat evenly around the pipe. You can also use “heat tape” to help warm up the pipes. If your frozen piping is below a sink, open the doors to the base cabinet and circulate warmer air around the pipes.

If your pipe is unexposed, you may need to remove drywall or plaster to expose the pipe. If you don’t want to do that, turn up the heat in the home and wait or use an infrared heat source to help warm the hidden pipes. If the pipe bursts while you’re trying to thaw it (a real possibility), turn off the water at the main shutoff immediately. At this point, you will have to expose the pipe to repair the damage and dry up the water.

If you think you may have frozen pipes or your pipes are in danger of freezing, you can call Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We offer emergency plumbing services and can help you assess the condition of your plumbing, turn off the water, thaw pipes and make any needed repairs.

Get Ready For Holiday Plumbing Emergencies

According to Angie’s List, plumbers are the most searched-for service providers on Thanksgiving. There’s no hard evidence to prove it, but the number of increased visitors often put stress on plumbing systems, and can lead to a Boston plumbing emergency just when you need it least – during a holiday! Here are a few tips to help you avoid plumbing problems during the holiday season.

Drains: If you plan to have a large holiday gathering at your home, make sure your drains are running clearly before your guests arrive. Clogged drains can lead to sink overflows and unpleasant odors at a time when you need your plumbing to be in tip-top shape. Most drain clogs are made from organic matter – either food particles in kitchen drains or hair and soap buildup in the bathroom drains. Drain cleaners you buy in the stores contain lye and other harsh chemicals that can burn skin on contact. We recommend using a drain cleaning product called Bio-Clean. Bio-Clean is an enzymatic drain cleaner that doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, but can clear organic matter in your drains. Add Bio-Clean to your drains the night before your guests arrive and your drains will run clear during your big event. We carry Bio-Clean. Please contact us for more information on this product.

Toilets: Toilet clogs usually don’t happen for the same reason that drain clogs do. Toilet clogs are usually the result of too much paper and material in the bowl. Inefficient siphoning can also result in clogs. You can’t really control what your guest do, but you can make sure that your toilet is in good working order before your company arrives. Check the operation of the flapper valve in your toilet and make sure your tank fills completely when you flush it. If you’re concerned about the volume of toilet paper in your bowl, or if your toilet typically doesn’t manage a lot of toilet paper well, consider replacing your premium toilet paper with paper that isn’t as thick to help ensure a proper flush.

Faucets: Faucets can start leaking, and leaks can get worse with increased use. If you have a leaking faucet, address it before your guests arrive. Some leaks can be fixed simply by tightening the connections or sealing joints with Teflon tape, but overtightening connections can actually break the fixture. If your fixture is leaking because it’s broken or cracked, replace it.

In the interest of prevention, check the local shut-off valves for each fixture. If the shutoff doesn’t work, or can’t be turned easily, replace it. Also check your dishwasher connections, including the drain hose to be sure water can enter and exit the appliance freely. As a final precaution, you should know how to shut off the main water valve in your home, and keep the number of your local plumber handy, just in case! In Boston, Boston Standard Plumbing offers 24-hour emergency service, including holiday service. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 anytime, and have a happy holiday season. Friend us on Facebook!

Common Toilet Problems, Part 2

Last week, I talked about a common plumbing problem Boston homeowners may face, the venerable clog. Most clogs are caused by attempting to flush too much material through the trapway. These kinds of clogs can be relieved with plunging. In other cases, an object becomes lodged in the trapway and can cause problems with slow flushing and clogging.

Today, I’ll talk about another common problem that can cause poor flushing performance: mineralization. If you’ve ever looked at the inside of a toilet (and most people haven’t) you’d see small openings around the top rim, along with one larger opening near the front of the bowl. This opening is also under the rim and isn’t very visible if you simply look in the toilet while standing over it.
These outlet ports, along with the larger rim hole allow the fresh water from the tank to drain into the bowl during the flush cycle. The ports are small to ensure that fresh water flows all the way around the toilet bowl throughout the flush cycle.

Normally, the ports are pretty effective, but mineralization, a build-up of naturally occurring calcium and lime in the water, can clog them. The result is a slow, ineffective flush. Regular cleaning under the rim can prevent the outlet ports from becoming clogged, but occasionally the ports will clog no matter what you do.

Cleaning the rim hole and outlet ports will often restore the quality of the flush. You can do this mechanically with a stiff brush. Mineralization build-up is hard so you may need to work at it a bit to dislodge it. You can use a wire brush, but be careful, since the wire can damage the porcelain.

Other “home” remedies can also remove mineralization but they don’t tend to work well in the toilet. You can make a thick paste using baking soda and a little water. Apply the paste under the rim to the outlet ports and let it sit for a few minutes. Flush to clear the outlet ports. You can also rescrub the outlet ports to see if the mineral build-up has softened at all. Vinegar is also good at dissolving mineral build-up, but it takes longer to work (15-30 minutes) and holding vinegar in the rim for that long is an unlikely proposition.

Some people suggest using muriatic acid to clear the ports, but this isn’t a safe prospect. Muriatic acid is very strong, it can burn your skin and the vapors are harmful to your lungs. You’d need a significant amount of protective gear, including clothing and hand protection, safety goggles and a respirator mask to work with this solution in a small space. You’re better off scrubbing.

If you’re having problems with a toilet and can’t seem to get to the bottom of it, contact us as Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating anytime at (617) 288-2911.

In my next post, I’ll talk about piping materials that you may find around your home.

Insulating Boston Plumbing Can Save You Money

If you’re looking for an easy way to save money and improve the performance of your Boston plumbing system, consider insulating your pipes. Insulation is highly cost-effective, easy-to-do and can help your hot water stay hotter and your cold water stay colder. Insulting your pipes also doesn’t take any special equipment or tools and the task can be completed in just a few minutes.

In terms of energy efficiency, a significant portion – as much as 30% – of energy loss occurs in pipe and duct runs. The amount of loss is proportional to the length of the run. To combat energy loss, add specially formed pipe insulation, which can be found at your local home improvement or hardware store. Pipe insulation is pre-formed and should have an R-rating of 3 or more. Using better insulation is especially important if your pipes reside in or near your home’s exterior walls.

You can also use regular fiberglass “batt” insulation (with an R-value of 7 or higher) to wrap around pipes, but you’ll need to use protective equipment for your hands, face, clothing and eyes if you go this route. The preformed pipe insulation is the preferred solution if you have a choice.

To apply pre-formed insulation, simply open the insulation tube along the pre-cut split that runs the length of the tube and wrap it around the pipe, like a cuff. You’ll need to break the insulation around joints and valves. If you’re using the batt type insulation, you’ll need to cut the insulation to length, wrap the pipe and secure the insulation with tape or some other binding.

Any pipe – hot or cold – that runs in or near an exterior wall should be insulated. This includes any pipes that feed outdoor spigots and sprinkler systems. After those pipes are done, the next prime candidates are your hot water pipes. You can reduce energy consumption by insulating these, but you can also realize other benefits by insulating your cold water pipes, too.

When there is a significant difference in temperature between the cold water in the pipe and the surrounding air temperature, your cold water pipes will act like a condenser; it will naturally remove moisture from the air. This phenomenon is known as “sweating” and may cause your cold water pipes to drip this condensed moisture along the horizontal runs.

By insulating your cold water pipes, you can control the condensing action, and keep the standing water in the pipe colder – and more refreshing on a hot day!
If you need plumbing, heating or cooling assistance in your home, call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating anytime at (617) 288-2911. We provide licensed plumbers and high quality service around the clock!

Water Pressure Problems In Boston Homes

For most people in Boston, water pressure inside the home isn’t a big concern, unless of course something’s wrong with the water pressure! Water pressure is the force with which water is moved through the water supply system. In municipalities, water pressure needs to be relatively high – perhaps 200 psi – in order to move large quantities of water, meet the needs of commercial and industrial buildings, and provide municipal fire departments with enough pressure to operate hoses and put out fires.

Homeowners don’t need that much water pressure. In fact, most building codes recommend a water pressure of about 55 psi for residential plumbing systems. There’s a big difference between what’s delivered and what’s needed!
High water pressure can cause damage to your pipes, valves and water-using appliances. Most residential plumbing systems are robust enough to tolerate high water pressure, but over time, consistent high pressure can also weaken the joints in your plumbing system and cause premature aging of the components and result in catastrophic system failures. Overpressure can also mask other problems that should be corrected, like calcification in faucet fixtures and supply lines.

How do you correct water pressure problems? If your pressure is very high, you can install a water pressure regulator on your main supply line. A water pressure regulator is adjustable, so if you find that a pressure of about 55 psi is not sufficient, you can adjust the pressure as needed.

If you don’t know what your water pressure is, but suspect it’s too high, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We’ll measure the water pressure in your system and recommend a pressure regulator if the system pressure is high enough to cause damage, or shorten the life of your water-supplied appliances.
If you’re having problems with low water pressure in a single fixture or section of your plumbing, we can also diagnose and correct that as well. Call us anytime at (617) 288-2911.

Will A Tankless Water Heater Fit In Your Boston Home? (Part 3)

For the last two weeks, I’ve examined the perspective of cost and operational efficiency of tankless hot water systems. Boston homeowners may not find the savings they were looking for from tankless hot water, but there are benefits other than those you can measure in out-of-pocket terms.

Tankless hot water systems are more efficient than conventional hot water heaters. American homeowners could aggregately reduce carbon emissions by more than 90 million tons annually, just by using tankless hot water systems. If reducing your carbon footprint is important to you, and the cost of a hot water system is the same over 15 years whether you go tank or tankless, this might be enough of an incentive to make the switch.

Tankless hot water systems take up less space in your home. If your basement or utility space is already crowded, a tankless system may help you reclaim some valuable real estate. In the process, you may be able to reduce the risk of water damage to nearby personal property if a water tank fails. Most homeowners insurance doesn’t cover “clean water” damage – that is, damage that’s caused by plumbing failures in the home. A tankless hot water system eliminates the danger of having a 40- 50-gallon instant spill.

Hot water tanks can’t be recycled effectively, so they tend to end up in landfills. By reducing the number of tanks that are discarded each year, Americans could significantly reduce the amount of landfill space required to dispose of their trash. Like reducing your carbon footprint, if reducing your waste stream is important, going tankless may help you do your part.

No matter what you decide, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We do hot water heating system installations of all kinds, and we’re always ready to help. Whether you need emergency assistance, routine maintenance or a new installation, call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime!

Will A Tankless Water Heater Fit In Your Boston Home? (Part 1)

Many homeowners are looking for ways to conserve energy and reduce their “carbon footprint.” One idea that has been gaining traction is the tankless water heater. Boston homeowners who are considering the move to a tankless hot water system should consider the move carefully before they make the decision to throw out the old hot water tank.

The first question most homeowners have about tankless systems is the cost. A tankless system does cost more than a conventional hot water heater, but the tradeoff is that the system lasts longer. A conventional residential hot water heating system will last between 6 and 12 years. Tankless hot water systems last about twice as long. Even so, the up-front cost of a tankless water heating system may leave you with a case of sticker shock! Generally, the system (with installation) will run between about $2,000 and $5,000, depending upon the system you choose.

If you have natural gas or propane in your home already, you’re in good shape for a tankless water heating system. If you need to bring gas or propane in, you’ll need to factor this additional cost into your calculations.

You can find electric tankless water heating systems. They’re generally less expensive to purchase and install, and their efficiency is higher, too. The problem is one of cost. Natural gas costs less per BTU than electricity does. In areas where both energy sources are readily available, you’ll spend 10%-15% less on a gas-fired tankless water system.

Here’s another consideration for electric tankless water systems; your house will likely require a 200-amp, 220V electrical service. Some electric tankless systems operate on smaller services, but you may incur additional expense if you have to upgrade your household electrical system to accommodate a tankless electric water heater.

With a conventional system, you’ll pay your equipment costs over time, in the form of tank replacement and tank maintenance, whereas with a tankless system, you’ll pay all system costs up front. The big question for most homeowners is (and will continue to be): “Can I recover the cost of the system?” Depending upon your hot water usage, you may not be able to recover the cost through normal operation, but your house may command a better price on the market if you have a tankless system installed.

Don’t fall for the myth that the tankless hot water system provides an infinite supply of hot water. Depending upon the size of the system you buy, a tankless system may be able to handle 1-2 showers simultaneously or a combination of a shower and a hot-water appliance, like a dishwasher or washing machine. Also, don’t plan on having “instant” hot water. The system will still require a little time to heat the water and deliver it to your tap.

Finally, if you use a significant amount of hot water (in other words, you have a 60-80 gallon tank), you may come out ahead on a tankless water heating system. I’ll show you why next week. If you get by just fine with a 40- or 50-gallon tank, I’ll show you why going the tankless route may come down to a coin toss.

If you have questions about water heaters, Boston Standard Plumbing has the answers. We offer 24-hour emergency service for all plumbing, heating and cooling systems. Contact us at (617) 288-2911.

Dealing With Boston Plumbing Emergencies

Last week, I talked about dealing with fresh-water Boston plumbing emergencies. This week, I’ll talk about “dirty” emergencies that can happen when something bad happens to a drain pipe.

Fresh water is only one source of potential problems with plumbing in your home. Your drains – which don’t have shutoffs – can create some nasty messes. For regular drain maintenance, use a product like Bio-Clean. This will remove the naturally occurring bacterial growth and by-products that accumulate in your drain and cause clogs and slowdowns. Keeping your drains clean can prolong their useful lives.

Inspect your drainpipes regularly. Look for signs of corrosion and leaking. Corrosion might look like rust depending upon what the pipe is made of. It might also look like a mineralized build-up around joints or couplings. Check the floors and walls around your sinks, tubs, toilets and other fixtures for signs of water damage. Look for discolorations, water stains, softness in flooring or walls, bad odors, standing water, calcification, mold or mildew accumulation, changing colors around pipes and joints and other signs that something may be amiss. If you have a slow drain and treatment does not seem to help, this is also a sign that the interior of the drainpipe may be compromised by corrosion.

If you find corrosion somewhere in your pipes or drains, respond immediately. Pipes rarely wait for a convenient time to break down, so you can avoid more serious repairs by replacing portions of the system that are corroded or fatigued. How you handle a plumbing emergency at the time you discover it really controls the kind of damage that is done and the repairs that may be needed to correct the problem. When you call in a professional plumber, repairs must be “done to code” and the fear of added expense may be why homeowners (and landlords) are reluctant to seek professional assistance.

If the job seems bigger than you thought or you don’t know how to proceed, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to evaluate your situation, help you avoid a disaster, or rebuild a pipe that has gone bad.