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Long-Term Financing Available For Boston Home Heating and Cooling Improvements

In my last post, I wrote about the Mass Save program. This excellent program can help homeowners lower the cost of Boston home heating and cooling improvements. In many cases, substantial rebates are available for homeowners who want to make improvements to their home’s heating and cooling equipment, or who want to reduce their home’s energy consumption.

These rebates can really reduce the cost of making these improvements. Once the improvements are made, homeowners can count on reduced home heating and cooling costs – another excellent benefit of the program. In this post, I want to discuss some of the incentives that are available for substantial renovations that you may be considering.

Extensive home remodeling or building an addition can easily reach into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This kind of project provides an excellent opportunity to rethink the way you heat and cool your home. In many cases, a large addition will prove to be too taxing for the existing heating and cooling plant. Relying on additions to the existing system may leave the new space too cold or too hot.
Homeowners in this situation are typically faced with two choices: an expensive re-design of the home’s entire heating and cooling system, or the addition of a second, separate heating and cooling plant that serves the added space. With the Mass Save program, homeowners may be able to afford to choose the more efficient option – a single, redesigned heating and cooling system that can heat all areas of the home.

Low interest loans are available through the Major Renovations program that can help defray the cost of completely redesigning the heating and cooling system. In the long run, this approach saves money because it enables the homeowner to maintain a single heating or cooling plant. It also saves energy because the homeowner can rely on a single, high-efficiency system, rather than two systems, which may not be equally efficient.

The Major Renovations program is administered through the local electric utilities. NSTAR Electric, National Grid, Cape Light Compact and the Western Massachusetts Electric Company are all participating in the major renovations program. Whether or not you’re considering a major renovation, Boston Standard Plumbing can assist you with all of your Boston home heating and cooling needs. Please contact us at (617) 288-2911 for more information about the Mass Save programs and how you may be able to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on energy-efficient upgrades to your home.

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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.

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What Is The Life Expectancy Of Various Kinds of Home Heating Systems?

If you’re heating a Boston home, you may wonder what the life expectancy of your heating and cooling equipment is. Different systems have different life expectancies. Preventative and regular maintenance have a lot to do with what you can expect out of your equipment.

High efficiency gas furnaces don’t have a very long life expectancy. Normally, depending upon the brand and quality of your equipment, you can expect to replace your furnace within 5-15 years. The big components to watch/maintain are the heat exchanger and the inlet/exhaust pipes. Annual inspections and monthly filter changes are recommended. You may also need to replace belts if you have a belt-driven motor in your setup.

Oil furnaces have a 12-25 year life expectancy. With oil furnaces, it’s very important to have the integrity of any underground storage tanks checked/inspected annually for leaks or damage. It’s also important to remedy any damage to the tank immediately to prevent long-term environmental damage.

Boilers have a similar life expectancy. A gas boiler, with a life expectancy of 10-15 years, will probably outlast an electrical boiler, which only has a life expectancy of 8-10 years. Corrosion and excessive pressure are the two main boiler killers. Regular inspection and maintenance with anti-corrosives can help extend the life of your boiler.

Heat pumps can last 5-20 years, depending upon their design and the maintenance they receive. Heat pumps are more common in colder climates. The major failure mechanism is the compressor. Proper annual maintenance can help extend the life of the heat pump and compressor.

Whole-house air conditioners can last 8-20 years with proper maintenance. Proper maintenance includes regular cleaning and inspection, drain and refrigerant maintenance. Room air conditioners can last 5-15 seasons, depending upon their handling and storage, operational cycles, mounting, and whether or not they’re properly sized for the room they’re cooling.

Boston Standard Plumbing can assist you with all of your heating and cooling needs. Whether you need annual inspections, maintenance, repair or replacement, Boston Standard Plumbing can help. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 today.

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Running Toilet? Fix it!

One of the most common plumbing problems in Boston homes is a running toilet. Running toilets are not hard to fix, but may require a trip to the local home improvement or hardware store. Evidence suggests that flush toilets have been around since about the 26th century BC, but they didn’t much resemble the modern toilet. Strong evidence suggests that flush toilets were used in homes during the Roman Empire but were lost when the empire collapsed.

Flush toilets of one kind or another were also found in a few Colonial homes, but the modern toilet we recognize today came into vogue around the time of the Civil War and the first china toilet was made in 1885. Since that time, homeowners have had to deal with the aggravation of a running toilet!

If you’ve never watched a toilet in action, remove the top of the toilet tank and flush a few times. Chances are good that you’ll see a full or nearly full tank of water before the flush, and a “flapper” valve that opens when you depress the flush handle. The flapper valve is attached to the flush handle by way of a chain, cord or similar connector. The open flapper valve allows clean water from the tank to fill the bowl and drain the bowl’s contents into the waste pipes below the toilet. For the most part, it’s a gravity-based system.

When the water level in the tank drops below a certain level, an inlet valve is triggered and the tank begins to fill again. The weight of the accumulating fresh water is supposed to close the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. The float – a large balloon-shaped device attached to a lever, rises with the water level in the tank. The water lifts the float lever to a certain point and shuts off the flow of water from the inlet valve when the level has reached a certain point.

So.. naturally there are a few things that can go wrong. The chain that attaches the flush handle to the flapper valve can become disconnected. If this happens, the toilet won’t flush at all and the flush handle will remain in the down position all the time. Simply reconnect the chain to the flush handle or the flapper valve and you’re good to go. If the ring that holds the chain on either end has broken, you’ll need to replace the broken piece with a new one. Easy peasy.

The float could be adjusted too high, meaning that the tank fills with more water than necessary. The extra water is shunted off through an overflow valve right into the drain and produces a running water sound. To repair this, adjust the float lever so that it shuts off the inlet valve sooner. The new fresh water level in the tank should fall below the top of the overflow valve.
The flapper valve at the base of the tank can also leak, allowing the water level in the tank to drop, which will eventually trigger the inlet valve and producing the “classic” running toilet. The flapper valve can have any number of designs (or design flaws) that can cause the valve to stick or misalign with the tank opening. Likewise, the flapper valve itself can deteriorate over time and become unable to form a good strong seal. If you can’t tell why the flapper valve isn’t closing properly after watching it in action a few times, the easiest repair is to replace the valve. Home improvement and hardware stores sell a toilet tank replacement kit. The kit parts are designed to replace the entire mechanical structure of your toilet tank and should repair all water flow issues associated with the operation of your toilet.

If you haven’t ever worked on a toilet, or would like expert assistance with repairing a running or leaking toilet, contact Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911.

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Fixing a Leaking Sink Faucet

If you have plumbing, chances are good that some day, you’re going to encounter a leaking faucet in your Boston home. Faucets leak for a variety of reasons, but fixing them can be a relatively simple task. Faucets can leak due to faulty gaskets or o-rings, dirty or corroded valve seats, or threads that have not been properly sealed. You’ll need to replace a leaking faucet outright if part of the faucet housing is cracked or broken (as might be the case with a plastic fixture) but often, a simple repair will do the trick.

You’ll want to have a bucket and some old towels or rags on hand; flat and Phillip’s head screwdrivers; a pair of vice grips, or an adjustable wrench; a flashlight, steel wool and Teflon tape at the very least. You may need additional tools and supplies, depending upon the type of leak you find. If you have to replace the faucet assembly, you’ll also want to have some plumber’s putty on hand.

Turn off the water at the faucet by turning the fixture’s individual cutoff valves to the closed position. If your sink doesn’t have individual cutoff valves for the hot and cold water, you’ll need to turn the water off at another cutoff or the main shutoff for the house. Open the faucet handles to drain the remaining water.

When the faucet is drained, you’ll need to disconnect the faucet from the supply lines. Typically, these are threaded connections located under the sink. Over time, mineralization and corrosion may have built up at the connectors but a good twist with the adjustable wrench should loosen the threaded connections. Place the ends of the disconnected supply lines in the bucket to catch any additional water that may be present in the lines. If you’re working with a bathroom sink, you may also have to disconnect the sink stopper control before you can remove the faucet. The sink stopper control is often held into the faucet assembly with a clip that attaches to a lever. Simply disconnect the clip, and then remove the faucet fixture.

Check the neck and the body of the faucet fixture for obvious cracks, bends, breaks or other non-repairable failures. If you find a major problem like these, you’ll need to replace the entire faucet assembly.
Assuming you find nothing serious, you may have to disassemble the faucet handles to get a good look at moving parts of the faucet. Usually the faucet handles are held on with a hidden screw, or the handles themselves are threaded into the fixture. If you’re working with a hidden screw, you can usually pop the caps off with a screwdriver blade or other flat edge, then unscrew the faucet handle.

Check for deteriorated gaskets, corrosion or other build-up that will prevent the faucet from sealing properly. Carefully remove the old gasket(s) and clean the entire area where the gaskets are seated. Check also the gaskets that may remain seated in the supply lines. Inspect the threaded connections for debris, corrosion or other problems that might prevent a good seal. Remove old bits of rubber gasket, corrosion or mineral build-up with steel wool. Regular white vinegar will also dissolve mineralization.

You may need to take the old gasket to the store to find an exact replacement. Gaskets of all sizes are common and they’re easy to find at a home-improvement store. It’s important to use the correct gasket to ensure a good fit.

Once you have replaced the gaskets, you’ll need to wrap all threaded connections in Teflon tape. A good Teflon seal can help prevent leaks. Replace the faucet assembly and reattach the handles. Connect all threaded connectors and be sure to tighten them correctly. Don’t over-tighten threaded connectors because this can cause a poor fit and – you guessed it – leaks.

Turn the water supply to the faucet back on and check for leaks. If you can’t find the source of the leak or your repair attempts don’t work, you can call Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 and we can locate and eliminate the source of your faucet leaks.

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Hot Water Heater Maintenance Can Make Your Tank Last Longer

If you’ve grown accustomed to replacing your hot water heater every 10 years, chances are good that you’re not doing much water heater maintenance on your tank. A hot water heater that’s properly maintained can last for decades, but those that go without maintenance can break down and become inefficient within a few years of installation. If you’re having difficulty with your hot water heater, Boston Standard Plumbing offers Boston-area hot water heater repair and maintenance services.

Since most hot water heaters are made of metal, rust and corrosion are the two big worries for most tank setups. If metal and water are a naturally bad combination, then metal and hot water are decidedly worse! Left to themselves, they’ll promote corrosion quickly though a natural phenomenon known as a galvanic reaction. Hot water heaters, therefore, are designed with a sacrificial anode that takes the galvanic hit in place of the tank itself. When the sacrificial anode is used up, however, the corrosion process will start to affect the tank, weakening it and shortening its lifespan. This sets up the disastrous hot water heater tank failure that dumps 40 or 50 gallons of hot water on your basement floor, foundation or utility closet.

Step one, therefore, with hot water heater maintenance is knowing what your sacrificial anode is made of and what its expected lifetime is. For many tanks, the sacrificial anode threads into the tank like a screw, however most tanks don’t have enough overhead clearance to get the spent rod out. In this case, the hot water tank may need to be disconnected and moved to a different location to withdraw the spent anode(s) and reinsert a fresh one. Laying the tank on its side when removing the spent anode isn’t recommended, since the weakened anode may be more likely to break inside the tank, leaving sediment and bits of broken rod behind. Also note that some long-life tanks are designed with two anodes instead of one. If your tank has a two-anode setup, be prepared to replace both anodes.

Sediment from the water and from the deterioration of the anode can collect at the base of the tank. Over time, this sediment can harden and reduce the heating efficiency of the tank. Some tanks are built with a drain at the base to help clear out sediment. Other tanks have a rotary mechanism that helps keep the sediment from hardening. Check the manual for your tank, if you have one. Set up a monthly maintenance schedule to drain a small amount of water from the base of the tank. By removing the sediment buildup, you can monitor the health of your hot water tank and help keep its heating efficiency high.

Homeowners often complain of low water pressure, but high water pressure can be very hard on water appliances, including hot water heaters. If your water pressure is above about 80 psi, your appliances and valves can be damaged. A pressure gauge inserted inline can determine your water pressure. If your water pressure is too high, a special valve that lowers the water pressure may be needed to protect your plumbed appliances.

If you need assistance with the maintenance on your hot water heater, or want help troubleshooting hot water problems in your home, Boston Standard Plumbing is here to help. Call us at (617) 288-2911 and schedule an appointment today. We can service virtually all makes and models of hot water heaters, and can provide you with instructions on how to properly maintain your hot water heater.

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Winterizing The Plumbing In Your Boston Home, Part II

Last week we covered the first part of winterizing your Boston pipes. We’ll finish up the job today.

Sometimes, gravity alone won’t completely drain the plumbing. In this case, you’ll want to use compressed air to “blow” the remaining water out of the pipes.

For appliances that are connected to the plumbing via hoses, you’ll need to detach the hoses and drain them manually. This will include your dishwasher and your washing machine. It may also include any flexible hoses that are used under sinks or in tight spaces.

Visually inspect the toilet tank(s). Don’t be surprised if you find a substantial amount of water in the tank. Flush the toilet again and hold down the flush handle until the water drains from the tank. You may be left with a small amount of standing water. Remove this with towels or sponges. Plunge the bowl to drain any remaining water here.

Finally, check the water meter pipes to see if you need to drain any water from your side of the meter. Your meter may include a bleeder valve to help drain water from the meter. If so, open this valve to drain any residual water in the meter. You may need to use a pipe wrench to open a connector if no bleeder valve is present.

Once all of the pipes have been drained, you’ll need to add antifreeze to each drain in the home. RV antifreeze works well. Add a small amount of antifreeze to each toilet tank, and to the bowl. You’ll want to cover the drain completely to prevent sewer gas from entering the home.

Fill every sink and tub trap. You can do this with about 1-2 cups of antifreeze. You’ll also want to add antifreeze to the dishwasher drain. Start the dishwasher and run it until the pump turns on.

Add a quart of antifreeze to the washing machine. Set the control to spin and run it until it stops draining. You can also remove the drain hose from the utility tub and empty any residual water into a bucket. Don’t forget to put antifreeze into the drain for the utility tub.

If the furnace has a humidifier attached to it, drain the humidifier, but don’t add antifreeze to this appliance. High-efficiency furnaces may also have a condensate pump. You may need to put antifreeze into the condensate pump. Doing so is not harmful. This pump usually drains water to a floor drain or to a higher spot in the plumbing if no floor drain is available.

If your home has a hot water or steam heat system, you’ll need to drain this as well. If you need assistance with draining a steam heat or hot water heating system, or if draining your plumbing seems like an overwhelming task, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We can drain and secure your home’s plumbing system in preparation for your extended absence.

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Winterizing The Plumbing In Your Boston Home, Part I

If you plan to vacate your home during the winter for any length of time, you should consider winterizing the plumbing system. If you plan to turn the heat off, this is a must-do! Winterizing the plumbing in your Boston home will protect the plumbing from significant damage that can occur in an unheated structure.

In elementary school, we’re taught that water expands when it freezes. This same expansion occurs to water that freezes while it is trapped in pipes in an unheated home. The expansion can do incredible damage to the pipes; most vulnerable are joints and valves in the pipes. When the frozen water thaws, it will leak from damaged areas of the pipe, causing additional water damage to the structure. It will also promote the growth of mold and mildew in the home.

Does this mean you shouldn’t turn the heat down in your home if you’re planning to go away for a lengthy period of time? You can still turn your heat down (or even off altogether) as long as you take steps to protect the plumbing while you’re away.

If you plan to be gone only a week or two, turn your thermostat down to about 50°F. Insulating water pipes can also help protect them from the cold. Pay special attention to pipes in unheated spaces like basements, crawl spaces and around garages. Turn off the water to any outside plumbing (like outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems) and drain these fixtures completely.

If you plan to be gone for a substantial length of time or you’re vacating the home and don’t plan to return, you should drain your plumbing system altogether. To do this, turn off your main water shutoff valve, located near your water meter. Open all taps to allow them to drain. Leave at least one tap open at the highest point in the plumbing system. This will speed the process of draining the pipes by allowing air to enter the system easily.

Don’t’ forget to open any taps you may have in the basement of your home. Flush all toilets to empty them. Drain any standing water you may find in the base of your dishwasher. Turn on all showers. Turn off the icemaker in your freezer, if you have one and drain the water out of the supply line. Turn off the gas or electricity to the hot water heater and drain the tank. Most hot water heaters have a cleaning valve that you can use to drain the tank.

Sometimes, these cleaning valves are threaded to accept a garden hose. You can use this to drain the tank into a sump well or floor drain. Otherwise, you’ll need to drain the tank into a bucket or other container and “bail” the tank until it’s empty. Draining a hot water tank this way can take upwards of an hour, depending upon the size of the tank.

A note: before you repressurize the system, consider performing maintenance on your hot water heater’s sacrificial anode. Since the hot water tank is already empty, this is the ideal time to consider maintenance of this type. Boston Standard Plumbing can help with replacing your hot water heater’s sacrificial anode(s).

Check back next week for the rest of our advice on winterizing your plumbing.

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Top 5 Things To Do In A Plumbing Emergency

No one likes plumbing problems. They always come up when you least expect them, and often homeowners aren’t prepared to handle them. Here are a few tips to help you deal with plumbing emergencies that may arise in your Boston home.

1. Don’t Panic. Few, if any, emergency situations are improved by panicking. If you can’t think clearly, your chances of making a bad or slow decision increase. It’s also more likely that the damage will be more severe. You’ll need to act decisively and carefully and you can’t do that if you’re panicked.
2. Stop the water. Stop any flowing water as soon as humanly possible. When you’re dealing with a clogged drain, a broken valve, a broken pipe, a split hose, a blocked toilet or something similar, you’ll need to get the water to stop moving first. That may mean plunging a toilet or sink, shutting off a faucet, stopping an appliance, closing the main water shutoff or a secondary valve. Do what it takes to stop the water. If you skipped Step #1 and are panicking, you can always call the Fire Department to assist in a water shutdown.
A note: water and electricity never mix. If you have a standing water problem, or water that is dripping on or near an outlet, electrical appliance, your breaker box or fuse box, cut the electricity to the affected circuits, or pull the main breaker- but only if you know it is safe to do so.
3. Examine the problem area carefully. Take a good look at what’s happened and try to figure out what’s causing the emergency. Sometimes, the problem will be obvious. Clogged drains and broken pipes aren’t hard to spot. In other cases, the problem may be evident, but you may not have the tools you need to clear the problem. You may have no idea what’s gone wrong or even where the problem is. If you cannot find the problem, or you know what the problem is but lack the tools or expertise to repair it, contact Boston Standard Company. We can respond to emergencies quickly, diagnose your problem and get your plumbing back in working order.

Learn more about our 24 hr Emergency Plumbing Repair Service in Boston, MA.

4. Identify and correct the problem. Identify the problem and fix it permanently. Don’t settle for a “temporary” repair without having a plan in place for a permanent fix.
5. Remediate the damage. Plumbing emergencies almost always do damage to your home. The damage could be environmental, cosmetic or structural. Environmental damage is easiest to clean up if you act quickly and may involve nothing more than drying or cleaning the wet area. Wastewater spills deserve special treatment with disinfectants because wastewater is a health hazard.

Dry up any standing water. Dry out carpets, walls, and wood that may have gotten wet. Use fans to circulate the air. Space heaters, used according to manufacturer’s instructions, can also help evaporate moisture. Replace drywall, carpeting, tile, flooring, and insulation that have gotten soaked.

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