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.

Spotting Hidden Water Damage, Part 1

Few home disasters are worse than water in areas of the home that are supposed to be dry. Leaking roofs, windows and doors, leaking pipes, faulty appliances and condensation are all sources of water in the home. There are some water problems plumbers can’t take care of, but this post will discuss hidden water damage related to plumbing problems.

Being able to identify plumbing problems is critical to protecting your home from water damage. Quickly finding leaking plumbing joints, worn out fixtures and sources of condensation can mean the difference between a small repair and thousands of dollars worth of plumbing damage, wood rot and mold remediation.

A leaking faucet is easy to spot. If you’re lucky, the leaking water drips down into the sink and goes down the drain. If you’re not so lucky, a leaking faucet may allow water to drip down the walls or underneath the sink. Sometimes, you may find leaking water near the faucet handles or near the neck of the fixture.

If you suspect a leak, look for pooled water under the sink, seeping water around the faucet handles or neck, or signs of damage along the wall or in the sink base if your sink has one. Signs of water damage can include peeling or bubbled paint, warped or rotten wood, water stains on the walls, soft bulging plaster or drywall, mold growth, buckling floor tiles or mineral build-up around the base of the faucet.

Sometimes, replacing a washer or gasket can repair a leaking faucet. Many newer faucets are “washerless” so a $0.10 washer won’t do the trick. Some inexpensive faucets have plastic bodies that either crack with time, simple wear, over-tightening at the connections or manufacturing defects. In these cases, faucet replacement is in order.

Replacing a faucet isn’t hard, provided you have the right materials. Most faucets have standard threaded supply and drain connectors, so you may only need Teflon tape or pipe dope and a few hand tools to complete the repair. Despite the fact that federal laws require faucets and other plumbing materials to meet certain health and safety standards, plenty of low-quality parts still make it to store shelves. Choose a faucet that is made from quality material, guaranteed to be free of heavy metals and designed to work with your sink.

If your sink doesn’t have independent shut-off valves, now is a good time to add them in line with the water supply. If your sink does have shut-off valves, now is a good time to test them and verify that they’re still working! If they’re hard to move, sticky or leaky, replace those, too!

In most cases, a faucet replacement is “out with the old, in with the new.” Other leaks, such as those hidden behind walls or underneath the floors can be messy, difficult and time-consuming to locate and fix. If you’re not confident that you can complete this kind of repair, or you simply want professional assistance, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll replace your leaking sink faucet, test your shutoff valves and install valves (or replacements) if needed. We can also replace pipes hidden in the walls and test them for additional signs of wear or damage.