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Water Efficiency: Steps You Can Take

Water efficiency may not be a familiar concept, but it’s one that you’ll be hearing about a lot in the near future. The term “water efficiency” describes a “right-sizing” approach to the amount of water you use for a particular purpose. Using the right amount of water, rather than using less water, is the goal of becoming more water efficient.

Naturally, the biggest consumers of water around your home include the washing machine, the dishwasher, the shower and the toilets. You may also have some “jumbo” consumers if you have a swimming pool or lawn irrigation system. If you’re serious about improving your home’s water efficiency, here are a few steps you can take.

The biggest consumers of water may not be the biggest water wasters. Before you get started on water efficiency, make sure you’re not wasting water needlessly. Dripping faucets, run-on toilets, plumbing leaks and broken shower diverters all send water down the drain before it can fulfill its intended purpose. These sneaky losers do nothing except raise your water bill.

A dripping faucet may need a new washer or gasket, but more often than not, newer fixtures are sealed, making a repair impossible. If that’s the case, plan to replace the fixture. It’s usually a simple matter of “out with the old, in with the new.” This kind of project typically doesn’t take more than a few minutes and common hand tools. In addition to getting a new fixture, you may want to invest in some Teflon tape to discourage leaks along the fixture threads.

Repairing a leaking toilet often involves replacing the flapper valve at the bottom of the toilet tank. Over time, this valve can crack, causing water to enter the bowl. Your bowl won’t overflow; instead, once the water reaches a certain level in the bowl, it will drain on its own. You can get standard replacement parts for toilets at your favorite hardware or home improvement store.

Plumbing leaks should be addressed immediately. A leak may happen at a weak joint, or could be caused by over-pressure or damage to the plumbing. Whether the leak is out in the open or enclosed in a wall, getting the leak repaired is Job Number 1. Leaking water can cause damage to floors and walls, and can promote the growth of mold and mildew.

A diverter is part of your bathtub/shower fixture. When you use it, you close off the tub spout to force the running water through the showerhead instead. A broken diverter can cause a loss of water pressure or weak water flow at the showerhead or throw off the balance of hot and cold water flow to the shower. If it’s not working at all, it will route water out through the tub faucet and straight down the drain. Broken diverters can also be very noisy!

Some shower fixtures use a diverter cartridge, which can be taken out and replaced. Others have a mechanical diverter that’s part of the spout. You can usually find standard cartridge-style replacements at the hardware or home improvement stores, but you may need to order one directly from the manufacturer. If you have a spout-mounted diverter, you can remove the entire spout and replace it. Tub spouts are either mounted with a setscrew or just thread directly on to the pipe. In either case, you’ll notice the difference on your water bill once you address this problem!

In my next post, I’ll talk about some other ways you can right-size your water-using appliances and fixtures. In the mean time, if you have a plumbing leak or problem that you want us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating to address, give us a call anytime at (617) 288-2911. We offer true, 24-hour emergency plumbing service, and we’re happy to lend a hand.

Photo Credit: Zhang Jing, via FreeImages.com

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.

Shutting Off Your Water and Other Boston Plumbing Problems

Whether you own (or rent) a home in Boston, plumbing may not enter your thoughts much until you have a problem. Then, solving it might be the only thing on your mind! Even though plumbing codes have evolved over time to address the most significant concerns, most changes apply to new construction. The plumbing in your home might not reflect code updates. In fact, your pipes might be downright old.

By themselves, old pipes aren’t necessarily bad, but they can be the source of some significant complications when plumbing problems arise. Configurations and materials that may have been allowed under old plumbing codes may still act as a “gotcha” when a problem crops up. Here are a few tips for spotting and minimizing damage in your plumbing system.

First and foremost, know where your main freshwater shutoff is. If you live in a home, you’ll probably find this rather large valve very close to the water meter. Test it periodically to make sure it hasn’t seized up. If you can’t turn this valve easily, call a professional to evaluate it. It’s much better to replace this valve than it is to find that you can’t turn it when you need to.

If you live in a rental unit and you cannot find your water shutoff, ask the landlord where this valve is. If the shutoff for your apartment is in another unit, or in a locked area, ask your landlord to install a shutoff that you can access in an emergency. If he or she turns you down, make sure your renter’s insurance covers water damage to your personal property.

Know where all of the shutoffs are for each water-consuming fixture and test them for proper operation. That will include your sinks, toilets, showers, dishwasher, refrigeration equipment, hot water heater, boiler, laundry equipment, and all outdoor faucets and sprinklers. If you don’t have shutoffs that control these devices individually, you should. These shutoffs could save a lot of damage and time, by helping you isolate problem plumbing without having to shut down the entire system.

In my next entry, I’ll talk about how to deal with and hopefully prevent problems at the other end of your plumbing system – the drains. In the mean time, if you have a plumbing emergency, you can call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating around the clock. We have professional plumbers on call to help with any kind of water or heating and cooling emergency. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 anytime.

3 Signs Your Water Heater Is About To Leak

It’s inevitable- your water heater will someday leak. We receive the call every day from frustrated homeowners in the Boston area that woke up to no hot water and a mess in the basement. What can be done? Look for these 3 signs that your water heater may be on the fritz!

1) Age:
If your water heater is past its warranty, it should be replaced immediately. If your water heater is a tank-type storage tank, it was designed to fail– usually a few days after the warranty in most cases. Water heaters, after manufacturing, are sent to testing facilities where they endure accelerated lifecycles. Engineers can mimic 10 years of regular use in under 1 month- so believe us- they know exactly how long they are supposed to last. Walk into your local home-store and look at the water heaters; they sell a 3 year, 6 year, 9 year & 12 year tank- each with an appropriately-sized “sacrificial anode rod” to resist corrosion and protect the tank.
2) Reduced Output & Discolored Water:
Are you getting less hot water from your tank than you did last week? Your tank will fail rapidly once it reaches the end. Many homeowners mistake this symptom as an indicator to raise the tank temperature. If you find that your water is discolored, smelly or full of sediment or debris, your tank’s inner steel liner is now exposed because the minerals have eaten away the ceramic/glass lining, and tank failure is just around the corner.

3) Visual Inspection:
Take a look at your water heater from time to time, and you may begin to notice unusual conditions. When the base of your tank begins to show “scorching” or soot, your burner is starting to fail. If the “tappings” at the top of your tank, or anywhere along the tank’s jacket show corrosion, your tank is probably close to leaking.

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 us at Boston Standard Plumbing. We can respond to emergencies quickly, diagnose your problem and get your plumbing back in working order.
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.