When Should You Call A Plumber?

When Should You Call A Plumber?

Indoor plumbing is possibly the most influential invention of the modern world, and most of the time, it just works. But your plumbing does require maintenance at times. Many people don’t recognize the signs of a developing plumbing problem and get caught off guard by an unexpected repair. Here are a few trouble signs to look for.

Three reasons to call a plumber

Low water pressure. Low water pressure is a sign that something’s wrong with your water supply. Usually, “city water” arrives at your home under a lot of pressure. Municipal systems need higher pressure to ensure that the water get all the way to everyone’s taps. This means – if anything – that your water pressure should be on the high side.

When your water pressure is low, that’s a sign of trouble. If a nearby municipal supply line breaks, it will affect your water pressure. Contact your local water authority for further directions. The utility may instruct you to turn off your home’s main water valve while they’re repairing the break. Additionally, they may instruct you to boil drinking water to kill any harmful organisms that may have invaded the system. They may also ask you to open all of your taps once they’ve resolved the break to flush the lines.

If the municipal supply lines aren’t broken, then the trouble is in your pipes. Mineralization and corrosion inside your pipes and plumbing fixtures can reduce the overall flow of water to your taps. This is usually a condition that develops over a long period of time. Initially, you might not notice pressure or flow problems at all. If pressure problems affect only one particular tap, simply replace the affected fixture with a new one.

If all taps exhibit low pressure, you could have a major leak or your pipes could be corroding inside. Corrosion and mineral buildup reduce the diameter of the pipe and restrict water flow. These conditions can eventually completely seal a pipe. Mineral deposits can be dissolved, but corrosion is permanent damage, so you should replace the affected pipe.

Drain problems

Drains are a critical part of your plumbing system. A malfunctioning drain can pose a serious health and safety risk. Drains can clog for a number of reasons. Bacteria and organic films grow in your drains. As they accumulate, they can catch hair and other debris. Add a steady flow of soap residue, and you have the makings of a great clog. Chemical drain cleaners may dissolve a clog, but they can also damage your pipes. You can mechanically snake out the drain to remove the clog, or you can use enzymatic drain cleaners. Enzymatic drain cleaners literally eat the clog and clear the drain. You could also perform periodic drain maintenance by dumping a cup of baking soda down your drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. This combination will kill the organic growth in the drain and help keep it flowing freely.

Clogs aren’t the only problem you can encounter with a drain. Leaks (which are always bad), mineralization and corrosion can also slow or stop drains. In addition, chemicals you dispose of down the drain can damage them, and drains can also freeze. Breaks in your main drain can also cause sewage backups and spills, which are never pleasant. Powdered detergents can also reconstitute in drains, causing partial or complete blockages.

Most homeowners are well equipped to deal with a run-of-the-mill clog. Larger drain problems – like leaks, breaks, and non-organic blockages may require more tools and expertise to address!

Wet spots, peeling paint, buckling floors=plumbing leak

Plumbing leaks can occur anywhere, but they’re not always easy to find. Often the first sign of a leak is a water spot that appears on a wall, floor or ceiling. Leaks can be slow and steady, or they can cause floods. Leaking toilets can damage the surrounding floor. You may not notice this until the tile or floor covering gives way. Leaking fixtures in the shower or behind the wall can also cause a steady stream of water to escape. Over time, this water can promote mold growth and rot on walls and floors. Addressing the leak is Job #1. Once you’ve identified the leak and repaired it, cleaning up the damage comes next.

Leaks can be DIY repairs, depending on what’s actually leaking. If you have copper plumbing but you have no experience with soldering, you may want to call a plumber. The fire danger here is very real. The National Fire Prevention Association says that plumbing torches are one of the top ten causes of residential fires every year. In fact, nearly 30% of residential fires between 2010 and 2014 in the United States involved torches. About half of those fires started in the bathroom! Licensed plumbers are trained to solder in tight spaces. We also carry insurance that will protect you and your home from unnecessary risks.

If you’re experiencing any plumbing problems, we’re here to help. Call us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to diagnose and repair your plumbing problems!

Photo Credit: IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful, via Flickr

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

Last week, we provided some insight into polybutylene plumbing, and why it’s a good idea to part company with it. Today, we’ll look at aging plumbing in general, and what you can expect as your plumbing gets older.

Plumbing is one of those things you take for granted until something goes wrong. Some common challenges emerge for property owners as a plumbing system ages. Here’s a look at what you might run up against, and how to deal with it.

Even plumbing gets old

No matter what your plumbing is made from, it gets old, just like everything else. Plumbing systems are under pressure (literally) every day. Sooner or later, that constant pressure will cause your plumbing to leak, break or stop performing as designed. Other conditions can also deteriorate your plumbing.

The water crisis in Flint, MI showed that municipal water systems can be vulnerable to changes in water treatment. Anti-corrosives, disinfectants and other chemicals added to the water can contribute to the deterioration of your pipes. Unfortunately, this happens from the inside out. You may not know you have a problem until you’re mopping up a lot of water!

Copper, galvanized steel, brass and plastic all get old. One good way to protect your home from unexpected damage is to know how old your plumbing is. Brass and galvanized pipe have a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Copper will last 70-80 years. PVC will last 50-70 years. These are all ideals, of course. Conditions in your home, or the characteristics of your municipal water supply can radically change the life expectancy of your plumbing. (Usually not for the better.) If you live in an old home and you know your plumbing is old, a plumbing inspection can help determine the condition of your system. If your plumbing is already giving signs of its age – corrosion on the outside of the pipe, rusty water, poor water pressure, bad smells or tastes – you could be due for some major plumbing repairs.

If your plumbing is in reasonably good shape, it’s worth the effort to have your incoming pressure measured and adjusted. Municipal water is delivered at a higher PSI than your pipes can manage. Regulating the supply pressure can save on “normal” wear and tear.

When your sewer isn’t happy, nobody’s happy

No one wants to think about the sewer. Having been there, we can say that it’s not a nice place. It is, however, a necessary place, so it makes sense to take good care of your sewer. Having your sewer professionally inspected is probably the nicest thing you can do for your sewer and for your home. Sewer breaks announce themselves by back-flowing raw sewage into your home. In places you don’t want raw sewage. Like your kitchen. (It’s even hard for us to think about, but it happens.)

A video inspection of your sewer line can reveal breaks, tree root invasions and other problems that will not go away or take care of themselves. Clay sewer pipes last about 50 years. Cast iron sewer laterals can last 50-75 years. PVC and cement sewer pipes last about 100 years. Again, all of these lifespans are ideals. Your sewer pipe will be affected by the actual conditions in and around your home. It’s also important to remember that some materials (like cast iron) mineralize and corrode over time. This corrosion reduces the diameter of the pipe, which at some point, is going to cause problems! That’s why it’s important to watch your sewer pipe closely. Having it video inspected every five years or so will give you plenty of advance notice of an impending failure.

Repairs aren’t always all that

Some homeowners are pretty handy. Others – not so much. But that doesn’t always stop the dyed-in-the-wool DIY’er from performing repairs. “Temporary” repairs often end up being permanent, which can invite trouble down the road. Over time, these repairs may need to be redone. If your plumbing is a patchwork of original work and repairs, or a mix of materials, you could experience an increased rate of plumbing failure. If this describes your home, having a professional plumber evaluate your system can actually save you money in the long run. By performing more comprehensive repairs, you can eliminate temporary solutions and ongoing battles with low-quality patches.

If you’d like us to evaluate the condition of your plumbing, or help you avoid major plumbing problems, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an assessment.

Photo Credit: Nate Vack, via Flickr

Signs Of Plumbing Trouble You Shouldn't Ignore

A home’s plumbing system isn’t meant to last forever, and even materials that are incredibly durable do deteriorate over time. Your home, especially if it is older, may have a mixture of materials in the plumbing system ranging from copper to galvanized iron, steel, PVC and flexible plastic tubing called PEX. For homeowners in Boston, plumbing deterioration can lead to serious health issues within the home, and should be corrected sooner rather than later.

Outside of having a pipe burst, some homeowners don’t recognize the signs of damage or wear in their plumbing systems. Regular inspection of your plumbing system can help spot wear and deterioration before it leaves a very nasty mark on your home.

Here are some signs of plumbing trouble that you shouldn’t ignore.
Smell: If you notice a consistent odor when you open a tap, you should have your plumbing checked for leaks, corrosion or deterioration. Damaged pipes and aging hot water tanks can be a source of unpleasant odors associated with your water system.

Debris: If you notice debris coming out of your tap – the bathtub is a great place to spot these problems – your plumbing may be deteriorating. The debris is deteriorated piping material that your pipes are shedding. The debris may be brittle or rust-colored – especially if you have galvanized pipes carrying your fresh water to your fixtures. Also check the aerators on your taps for signs of mineralization and small bits of trapped debris. If you notice debris in only one location, you may simply have a deteriorating fixture.

Staining: Galvanized plumbing is notorious for creating rust-colored staining in your sink, tub and toilet fixtures. The staining doesn’t affect the performance of the fixture but it looks bad. It’s also a sign that your fresh water is being contaminated by a deteriorating pipe.

Sometimes, an electrical problem can cause staining and deterioration in your plumbing system! Electrolysis, which is a special kind of interaction between your electrical system and your plumbing, can cause unusual deterioration, wear and seemingly random damage to your plumbing fixtures. Corrosion and decay can occur at joints in your plumbing system where dissimilar metals may be in use. Electrolysis can also cause pipes to become pitted or even develop holes. Electrolysis occurs when the electrical system is improperly grounded to the home’s plumbing.

Leaks: Never ignore a leak in your plumbing, whether it’s a fresh water leak or a drain leak. Leaking water can promote the growth of bacteria and mold, cause significant water damage and can even cause structural damage if left unaddressed.

If you have questions about your plumbing, or notice strange odors, noises or leaks, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We’re happy to inspect your home’s plumbing system and can correct serious potential problems.

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What's In Your Water Glass?

What do cows in Chicago have to do with water in Boston? As it turns out, cows in Chicago are behind the reason we chlorinate municipal water. Slightly more than 100 years ago, the cows in the Chicago Union stockyards weren’t gaining weight. In fact, the only time the cows would gain weight was when they drank Chicago city water.

The cows were watered from a source known as Bubbly Creek, so named because the water bubbled from the methane and hydrogen sulfide in the water. The creek was also polluted from meat waste from the slaughterhouses. Even though the water was filtered, the cows – which arrived in Chicago from all over the Midwest – couldn’t gain weight. At the time, the City of Chicago wasn’t willing to supply the stockyards with municipal water, so the stockyard operators had to do something.

The stockyards contracted a New York firm to test the water in Bubbly Creek. Although the freshly filtered water was of acceptable quality and was treated with copper to inhibit the growth of algae, the firm noted that the bacteria count in the samples exploded within a short time of being drawn. The firm began experimenting with sanitizers to reduce the bacteria count in the Bubbly Creek water. After testing with a powdered chlorine compound known as “chloride of lime,” the Bubbly Creek water cleared to such quality that it was actually cleaner than the Chicago municipal water supply!

Other major cities, including Boston, began to chlorinate their municipal water supplies in an effort to fight typhoid fever and other water-borne illnesses. The sanitization of municipal water was so successful at fighting certain diseases that chlorination has become a standard mechanism to treat both municipal water and water where organic or biological contamination is suspected.

Pathogens still account for notable contamination in 25%-50% of rivers, streams, creeks and costal areas, but thanks to simple water treatments, most otherwise harmful contaminants are neutralized before they hit our taps. If you don’t like the chlorine taste in municipal water, you can buy inexpensive water filtration systems that attach to your tap and will successfully remove the chlorine and other chemicals prior to drinking.

If you would like more information on chlorine filtration systems for your kitchen tap, whole house water filtration systems or reverse osmosis water filters, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. Don’t forget to friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!

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!

Basement Flooding Can Cause Big Boiler Problems

Flooding is among homeowners’ worst nightmares. The damage occurs fast – it’s often unstoppable – and water does a very good job of ruining a lot of things! It’s easy to see how carpeting, furniture, walls and wood can be damaged by water. Other items that might be in the basement – like laundry equipment, power tools and refrigerators or freezers – are also prime targets for water damage. Here’s something that homeowners don’t immediately think about: boilers and furnaces can also sustain critical damage during a flood.

If floodwaters make contact with your boiler, furnace or water heater, you’ll want to have these appliances replaced. Even if the unit isn’t completely submerged, replacement is warranted because water, dirt and condensation associated with flooding can accumulate in valves, gauges and controls for these devices. In addition, exposure to water can promote or accelerate the accumulation of rust and compromise the integrity of the equipment.

Do not attempt to restart a boiler or furnace that has been flooded or even partially submerged. Instead, contact a licensed HVAC contractor for an inspection. The contractor can identify the components that must be replaced, or will advise you on a complete system replacement.

Here’s something else to think about: a “manmade flood” – such as what might happen when a pipe bursts or a hot water tank gives out – can also cause significant damage. Generally, a home water heater holds 40-50 gallons of water, and tanks are often situated near furnaces or boilers. That volume of water is not enough to completely flood the basement, but it may cause significant damage to a nearby furnace or boiler.

To avoid this kind of problem, have your water tank inspected periodically for signs of rust or aging. Maintain the sacrificial anode on your hot water tank by changing it out according to manufacturer recommendations and inspect the check valve on the tank regularly. If your hot water tank sits in close proximity to your furnace, consider having it moved to a location that offers better protection to your furnace or boiler.

As a final step, verify that your homeowners’ insurance covers both “dirty” and “clean” flooding. Dirty floods are those created by natural events like rainstorms and snowmelts, where water seeps or pours into the foundation from outside. Broken or open pipes and damaged hot water tanks cause most clean flooding. You may require special additional homeowners insurance to cover both hazards, and to ensure that your HVAC equipment is completely protected against this kind of loss.

As always, if you have any issues with flooding, or with your boiler, furnace or water heater, please give Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating a call at (617) 288-2911. We offer around-the-clock service and complete furnace and boiler service in Boston. Don’t forget to friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!

Copper in Boston Plumbing Still A Target Of Thieves

Copper theft is on the rise and Boston has seen a rash of thefts involving copper plumbing. Boston Housing Authority employees are facing a Civil Service Hearing related to accusations that they illegally removed copper plumbing from a public housing complex in Roslindale.

Last month, two men were arrested in New Hampshire in connection with the theft of copper from National Grid in North Andover in two separate incidents. Police estimate that the National Grid copper was worth more than $30,000. Later in the month, National Grid also reported the theft of about $6,000 worth of copper from a power plant in Whitman.

Copper theft isn’t limited to commercial properties, though. Last month, a New Hampshire man was arrested after attempting to steal copper plumbing from a home for sale in Manchester. In that theft, the combined damage total from the copper theft and leaking water was estimated at $3,000.

Scrap copper is worth about $2.50-$3.00 per pound, and the cost of copper is rising slightly. That puts homeowners with copper plumbing at an increased risk of copper theft. Exposed copper connections on central air conditioning units are also becoming a favorite target of thieves.
What can you do to protect yourself? We recommend that you sheathe any exposed (outdoor) copper pipe with flexible conduit to shield the copper from view. That’s not going to stop a determined thief, but out-of-sight, out-of-mind sometimes works.

Empty residential buildings are at the greatest risk of theft. Removing copper does take a bit of time, so thieves will be looking for opportunities to work undisturbed. Motion alarms, burglar alarms and observant neighbors may deter some thieves, but few things will dissuade a determined thief from getting in.

One approach to consider when a home is empty is turning off the water at the main and draining the plumbing system. That won’t prevent copper theft, but it can prevent resulting water damage to your unoccupied home. Maintain your insurance coverage on the structure, and your loss will be limited to the value of your deductible.

Draining the plumbing in an empty home isn’t a bad strategy, even if copper theft isn’t on your mind. When your pipes are empty and the water is turned off, you avoid pipe damage that might occur during an extended power loss. If you know you’ll be gone for an extended period of time and you would like help draining your plumbing or your boiler, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to drain your pipes and winterize your boiler. Upon your return, we’ll repressurize the systems, and bleed residual air from radiators and plumbing lines.

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Earthquakes In Boston? Could (And Did!) Happen!

Last week, there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on as an earthquake centered in Virginia rattled much of the East Coast, including Boston. No significant damage to buildings was reported here, but infrequently, earthquakes can and do happen along the East Coast. When they do occur, it’s a good idea to have plumbing and sewer connections inspected, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a chimney inspection as well.

Although a 5.8 magnitude earthquake isn’t enough to bring down modern buildings, East Coast earthquakes tend to produce more violent shaking than West Coast quakes do. The reason for this is the layers of cool, hard rock that exist underneath the East Coast, which transmit tectonic vibrations much more easily than the ground below the West Coast does.

Could Boston ever be in the epicenter of an earthquake similar to the one that occurred last week? Let’s just say, “Been there, done that.” The Cape Ann/Boston area was the epicenter of a major earthquake in the mid-1700’s. Seismologists today estimate that event, which occurred in 1755, would have been classified as a 6.0 magnitude quake and is considered one of the largest East Coast quakes in modern times.

At that time, the area was populated with brick buildings and homes with brick chimneys. The 1755 quake caused some wall collapses and more than 1,600 chimney collapses. Today, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Boston would likely cause some damage to buildings, like chimneys, windows and walls. It might be harder to see, but earthquakes can also cause hidden damage to both fresh and wastewater plumbing systems.

The moral here? It’s probably not a bad idea to schedule chimney and furnace inspections before turning on your furnace in Boston this year. The chimney inspection can detect hidden damage to bricks and mortar that may allow carbon monoxide to leak into your living space. Chimneys do deteriorate over time, too and many people skip the chimney inspections. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can also conduct plumbing inspections to confirm that underground water and sewer lines are still intact.

Give Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating a call at (617) -288-2911 anytime and we’ll be happy to give your furnace a pre-season tune up!

Test The Pressure Relief Valve On Your Water Heater

Last week, I gave you a procedure to use for draining your hot water tank. You should perform water heater maintenance annually to ensure that it operates safely and efficiently, and does not accumulate sediment that can cause your water tank to fail prematurely.

As part of your annual water heater maintenance routine, you can also test the pressure relief valve on your water heater. The pressure relief valve is a safety device that prevents the dangerous buildup of pressure in a hot water tank. If the pressure increases significantly in the tank, the relief valve is designed to let water (and pressure) escape safely. The pressure relief valve will be on or near the top of the tank and will operate in a closed position.

The pressure relief valve has a hinged handle or stem that normally sits in a flush position against the valve cover. To test the valve, lift the handle upward (or outward) to a 90° position and allow a little water to escape. The water in the tank will be pressurized and hot, so make sure everyone (and everything) is clear of the valve before you open it.

If your pressure valve normally leaks a little water, or shows signs of leaking when the valve is closed, this could indicate a problem with pressure build-up in your hot water tank. If the valve shows signs of mineralization or cannot be opened for testing or does not close properly after testing, this could indicate that the pressure-relief valve is malfunctioning. In either case, you should consult with a licensed plumber to determine the nature of the problem.

A plumber can correct either an over-pressure situation or a bad valve easily, but since the pressure relief valve is a safety device, any problems should be corrected immediately to keep your home, family and plumbing system safe! If you have a problem with the pressure relief valve on your water heater, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We’ll be happy to examine your system for problems and make repairs if needed.

Plan Ahead To Control Boston Home Flooding

It’s hard to think about flooding during the driest part of a Boston summer, but this is actually a great time to protect your home against water damage. Water damage from flooding can occur with little warning, and can be the result of severe storms or plumbing problems within your home. Regardless of the water source, you can take steps to avoid home flooding.

If you have a sump pump in your home, proper maintenance can help ensure that your sump works when you need it to. Sumps come in a variety of designs. Some are designed to sit submerged in a sump well, while others sit on a pedestal above the water line, or to the side of the sump well. Submersible sumps are more expensive, but they’re sealed so they require less maintenance and may even last longer.

Regardless of your pump design, check the inlet valve to make sure that no debris has accumulated at the bottom of the well. Get rid of any debris (dirt, pet hair, lint, etc) that could reduce the flow of water into the pump. If your sump pump has a float-arm actuator, check it to ensure that it turns on properly. Do this by lifting the float arm until the pump turns on. Don’t do this with your bare hands. Use a stick or a scrap piece of wood to lift the float-arm. You can adjust the sensitivity of the sump pump by adjusting the float arm.

Consider installing a water alarm that will sound when the water level in the sump well gets too high. You can also use water alarms to detect leaks in other parts of your plumbing system, or in hidden water lines that feed appliances. These alarms can let you know of a problem immediately so you can limit the damage to walls, floors, cabinets and your personal possessions.

Keep in mind that your main sump pump probably runs on electricity, and won’t work when your power goes out. In other words, a severe storm could leave you without your sump pump just when you need it the most. If your home is susceptible to flooding, consider installing a backup sump pump. Backup systems operate when the primary pump fails and may operate on battery power.

Another popular “unpowered” design uses pressurized clean, flowing water from your municipal supply to create a strong suction in the sump well. The suction draws water up from the well and into a drain. When the water level in the sump well drops sufficiently, a special valve turns the supply line off and breaks the suction.

If you need assistance with installing or maintaining a sump pump, or you would like to install a backup sump pump or water alarms, we’re happy to lend a hand. Contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to schedule a visit.