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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

World Plumbing Day: A Time To Think

World Plumbing Day – March 11 – is just about a month away, and although it may seem like an odd celebration, it offers us an opportunity to think about something we don’t usually spend a lot of time on: clean water and sanitation. In Boston, plumbing is something we take for granted. Every house has it; every commercial building has it. But there are a lot of places in the world where clean water and sanitation aren’t readily available.

More than 3 million people each year die as the result of preventable diseases and conditions related to inferior water quality and poor sanitation. The majority of deaths occur in children under five years of age. By itself, that’s a lot to think about – especially when you consider that you can go to just about any tap that’s connected to a municipal water supply, and get safe, clean, drinkable water from it 24/7/365, year after year in this country.

Despite our access to clean water and sanitation, water-borne illnesses can still affect us. Relatively recent outbreaks of the SARS virus and Legionnaires’ Disease come to mind as proof that improper plumbing and air-handling can serve as a breeding ground for major threats to public health.

Aside from thinking about the role of clean water and sanitation, it’s also good to think about the role that plumbers play in modern society. Plumbing may not seem like a glamorous job, and it’s not. But according to the World Health Organization, competent plumbers are responsible for a lot:

  • Installing and maintaining safe water distribution and sanitation systems
  • Managing the risks associated with plumbing and sanitation systems
  • Water conservation
  • Plumbing is a trade, but it’s one that evolves over time. In some cases, modern plumbing codes are responses to changes in the way people live, the applications of new technologies and materials, and our impact on the areas in which we live. In other cases, plumbing codes are the products of the knowledge and experience plumbers gain when they handle both clean and dirty water. In still other cases, our plumbing reflects what we’ve learned about diseases, and how they spread in urban areas.

    So, as World Plumbing Day approaches, spend some time thinking about the role of clean water and sanitation, and how much of a difference it makes in the lives of the 7 billion people we share our planet with.

    If you have any questions or concerns about your plumbing, heating or cooling systems, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We’re always available to help! Friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook and don’t forget to celebrate World Plumbing Day on March 11.

    Replacing The Wax Ring On Your Toilet (Buy Two)

    Removing and replacing the toilet sounds easy enough, but homeowners often have difficulty getting the wax ring properly seated. A bad seal is a disaster, so this part of the repair has to be right!

    Toilets can be very heavy and difficult to maneuver. You won’t be able to see the soil pipe while you’re moving the toilet and may not know exactly where to put the toilet down. In short, it doesn’t take much to goof up the wax ring when you’re trying to reseat the stool. That being said, my great DIY tip for replacing the wax ring is “buy two.” If the flange bolts on your toilet were rusty or you had to cut them to get the toilet away from the floor, buy a new set when you buy the wax ring(s). (They’re standard and they’re inexpensive.)

    The wax ring goes on the toilet. (Don’t try to seat the wax ring in the soil pipe and then set the toilet on top of it.) Press the wax ring in place with the neoprene funnel pointing toward you.

    Put the new flange bolts in place. You’ll find slots in the flange where the bolt heads should slip in. Use the plastic “washers” that come with the bolts to hold them in place while you position the toilet.

    The base of the toilet is heavy (50 pounds or more) and it helps to have a second person around to guide you while you position the toilet on top of the new bolts. If you don’t have a helper, use some kind of indicator on the floor to help you see the flange bolts. The indicators could be string, screwdrivers, chalk marks, pencils … just something to point the way. Line your markets up exactly where the flange bolts exit the flange, but far enough away from the flange to stay out of the way. If you’ve capped the soil pipe with a rag or other cover, remove it at this point.

    Maneuver the toilet into place. Do not set the toilet down anywhere but on the flange bolts. The wax on the ring is exceptionally soft. If you set the toilet down for any reason or you miss your mark, you’ll goof up the wax ring and you’ll need to start over. (Remember: “buy two.”)

    Once you have the toilet in place and on the flange bolts, carefully sit on the toilet. Your body weight will press the wax ring around the flange. Shift your weight carefully to ensure a good wax seal around the flange.

    Tighten the nuts around the flange bolts slowly and carefully. Work on both sides of the toilet by tightening one nut gently on one side, then shifting to the other side to tighten the other nut a little bit. Alternate sides until the fixture is securely bolted to the floor on both sides. There’s no need for power here so take your time and tighten the nuts gently.

    Flange bolts are much longer than they need to be. Use your hacksaw to cut off the unneeded length of the bolt. You may need to check the nuts after you’ve sawn through the bolts to verify that they’re still tight. Put the plastic bolt caps back on.

    Reconnect the tank and the water supply, check for leaks and fill the tank. Flush the toilet and check again for leaks around the floor. If you have none, you’re done!

    You can apply bathroom caulk around the base of the toilet, but don’t completely seal the base. Leave a little discreet opening somewhere. This will allow any leaking water to escape and reveal itself before significant damage occurs.