Changing your habits can save money on energy bills*

*Your mileage may vary.

A recent study by researchers at the Australian National University showed that behavior has the potential to save 10%-25% on residential energy costs. Saving 10%-25% on energy costs sounds good, especially since the average Massachusetts household spends more than $2,500 on energy costs each year. That means optimizing your energy consumption could reduce your energy bills by $250-$625 per year.

Now, for the bad news. Another equally relevant Israeli study showed that providing people with a lot of personalized energy consumption data had no positive effect on their behavior.

At all.

In fact, study participants who had been given very detailed information about their energy consumption actually used more energy than those who just received general tips on how to reduce their utility bills. Those with the most information about their specific energy habits could have easily spotted costly consumption behaviors. Yet, the exact opposite outcome occurred, even after adjusting for external factors like weather changes and weather extremes.

It’s easy to focus on the “save money on energy bills” part of the headline here (especially when $625 is at stake), but it is harder to succeed at the “changing your habits” stuff. So, if knowledge can’t help you when it comes to changing your energy consumption patterns, is there a strategy that can work?

How to lower your energy bills

“Automating” energy-saving habits is one way to change your actual energy consumption. That would include using a programmable thermostat- which won’t forget to turn the heat or A/C down. Motion-sensing light switches and timers also ensure that the lights get turned off when they’re not in use. Today, lighting won’t account for much of your home’s electric bill, as long as you have switched to LED bulbs. (If you haven’t, switch!)

Another major behavior change involves your buying habits. When you have to replace an appliance, look for EnergyStar-compliant models. Likewise, using WaterSense-compliant faucets, showerheads and appliances can reduce your water consumption significantly. These appliances and fixtures will cost more up-front, but they will quickly repay you in the form of lowered operating costs. You may also need to reconsider replacing appliances that still work well, but consume a lot of energy. This situation can happen easily with freezers and refrigerators. By replacing energy-hogging major appliances even though they may still work, you can reduce your utility bill significantly.

Take the time to seal the drafts and gaps in your home’s “thermal envelope.” Improperly insulated and sealed gaps can leak a lot of air into (and out of) your home. Closing these gaps will reduce your winter heating bill and your summer cooling bill.

Consider using fans to cool your home at night. Typically, the temperature drops after the sun sets. Bringing naturally cooled air into your home with fans can reduce the temperature and save money. But there’s a big caveat here. The humidity is a major factor. If the humidity is high, you’re better off leaving cool-but-wet air outside. You’ll ultimately spend less to cool the drier air that’s already in your home.

Your heating and cooling equipment consume most of your energy

Finally, take the time to understand how much your heating and cooling systems actually cost to operate. It’s very tempting to let an older, less efficient system run. A new, high efficiency replacement could pay for itself in just a few years through sharply reduced operating costs. A newer, high-efficiency system can help you lock in savings, while your older less efficient model locks in your expenses.

If you’d like more information about reducing your heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can take advantage of rebates and tax incentives to lower your energy consumption affordably.

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero, via Flickr

Eliminating water hammer

If you’ve never heard of water hammer, you’ve probably never heard water hammer. Water hammer is your plumbing’s reaction to valves in your system opening and closing quickly. The sound – which can be loud and sometimes scary – is a result of fast-moving water hitting a suddenly closed valve. It’s essentially a type of shock inside your pipes.

Water hammer can be more than an annoyance. It can also cause damage to your pipes and appliances. When a valve is open in your plumbing system, the water – which is still under pressure – is flowing. Some fixtures need to control water flow quickly and precisely. That would include your washing machine, dishwasher, and toilets; you definitely don’t want these devices overflowing! Standard faucets can also trigger water hammer, but because you manually control their shut-off, they’re less likely to cause it.

Water travels in one direction in your plumbing. When a valve closes quickly, the water stops exiting the system instantly – but it’s still being pushed by the municipal supply. When the flowing water hits a closed valve, it does so with a lot of force. The shock of impact transfers to the rest of your system (and all of the attached fixtures), as the system tries to absorb this blow. That’s when you hear the pounding and banging associated with water hammer. This noise may not be a one-time event. It may take the system a few tries to distribute the shock force effectively.

The effects of water hammer

As you might imagine, over time, this kind of abuse takes its toll on your plumbing. Water hammer can damage faucets and fixtures to the point of leaking. It can also damage appliances over time. Finally, if the pressure from the municipal supply is very high, water hammer can cause pipe damage! In short, water hammer is a situation you will have to address, one way or another.

In some plumbing systems, water hammer is all but guaranteed. The longer your supply line from the municipal system, the more likely you are to experience water hammer. Since you’re unlikely to be able to shorten your supply line, you can modify your plumbing to accommodate the shock.

Another component of water hammer is how the offending valve is being closed. Usually, appliances like washing machines and dishwashers have automatic valves. These valves open and close suddenly and precisely because the appliance mechanically controls them. This is another situation that you probably can’t change, but it can cause water hammer.

Also, municipal systems operate under higher pressures because they have to deliver a lot of water to a lot of customers. It’s entirely likely that the pressure from your municipal supply is too high for your plumbing. This also causes water hammer.

Correcting water hammer

Water pressure is actually one element of water hammer you can control. You can place a regulator on your system just after the meter to reduce the incoming water pressure. If you have a serious problem with water hammer, or chronically leaking fixtures, you might want to have your incoming pressure measured and regulated.

The other, more common way to address water hammer is to install air chambers near the offending valves. An air chamber is a closed, vertical add-on to your plumbing system that normally stays empty. When an appliance valve shuts off, the extra pressure compresses the air in the chamber, giving the shock wave somewhere to go.

If you’re experiencing water hammer and you already have air cushions in your system, it’s possible that they’ve just filled with water. To correct this, you can turn off the shut-off valve(s) to that part of your plumbing system, open the closest tap and let the water drain out. This will empty the air cushion(s). Open the shut-off valves again, and the system should operate quietly. You may have to repeat this periodically if your system is prone to water hammer.

If you don’t have air cushions, a plumber can install them. This will reduce the wear and tear on your plumbing and your appliances. It’s a good solution to counteract the causes of water hammer that you can’t control. It will also save you money by eliminating the need for repairs for your fixtures, appliances and plumbing.

If you’re experiencing water hammer and you would like to correct it, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help you eliminate water hammer in your home.

Photo Credit: Bill Smith, via Flickr

Why you should fix your leaking faucet

We’ll be the first to admit that in the grand scheme of things, a drop of water isn’t a lot of water. But the water that leaks from a drippy faucet can add up over time. The average drop of water is a mere 0.25 of a milliliter. In other words, it would take more than 15,000 drops added together to come up with a gallon of water.

But before you dismiss your leaking faucet as some other day’s problem, consider this. If your faucet drips once every five seconds, that’s twelve drops per minute. It’s also 720 drops every hour, and 17,280 drops per day. Which adds up to 6,307,200 drops per year. In the bigger picture, that’s more than 400 gallons of water that goes through your meter and right down your drain. If your faucet drips faster than that or you have multiple drippy faucets, you’re losing even more water.

To be fair, a “drop” of water isn’t uniform, so the precise amount of water your leaky faucet is releasing will vary. The US Geological Survey offers a drip calculator to estimate the cost of a broken faucet. Their calculator is also based on assumptions about the size of a drop of water, and the rate of the leak.

In the United States today, leaky plumbing accounts for about one-sixth of our water consumption. You read that correctly; one out of every six ounces of treated water goes down the drain, never having been used. While water is a “renewable” resource – every trip it makes through your meter costs money! A lost drop here or there isn’t enough to impact your water bill, but 400+ gallons per year certainly is.

Replacing a leaking faucet is easy

There is no way to overstate the importance of clean water. As our population grows and our infrastructure ages, it becomes more expensive to treat and deliver healthy, safe and clean drinking water. By repairing or replacing dripping faucets, you can not only reduce your water consumption (and your water bill), but also ease the burden of treating and delivering clean water in our area.

If you have a lot of dripping faucets in your home, you may be experiencing an over-pressure issue. The municipal water supply operates at a certain pressure to ensure that everyone always gets all of the water they need. That pressure is generally too high for residential plumbing. Over time, this high-pressure condition can deteriorate the water valves in your system. As the valves deteriorate, leaks develop. It is possible to reduce the pressure inside your home by adding a special regulator to your pipes. The regulator will throttle back the municipal water pressure to better match the capabilities of your plumbing fixtures. Over time, this can reduce the wear on your plumbing fixtures and delay or eliminate the development of leaks.

If you’d like help with fixing a leaking faucet or reducing the water pressure in your home, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to set up an appointment.

Photo Credit: Denise Rowlands, via Flickr

Barrier free plumbing can enhance your home

Most people don’t consider barrier free homes until they need to. Generally, homes aren’t initially constructed with accessibility in mind. Modifying a home to eliminate barriers for wheelchair-dependent individuals can represent fundamental changes to a home’s layout.

Beyond modifying entryways and doorways, barrier free designs must take the home’s plumbing into account. Older homes may require extensive interior remodeling to widen spaces, reduce fixture heights and eliminate barriers to toileting and showering. The same is true of newer homes that feature traditional room designs and fixtures.

The good news is that once a home has been redesigned to support accessibility, the value of the home rises significantly. What exactly is involved in barrier free plumbing?

Barrier free plumbing: toilets

Barrier free toilets often mount directly to the wall, rather than the floor. Floor—mounted barrier free toilets are generally taller than a standard toilet. This better accommodates transfers from a wheelchair to the toilet and back. The alternative is to mount the toilet directly to a wall. Installing a wall mounted toilet offers some flexibility with regard to height. You can determine the best height for your particular needs. Wall mounted toilets also require the soil pipe to be moved into the wall. In addition, the tank and the plumbing needed to flush and fill the toilet are also hidden in the wall.

Wall mounted toilets can also offer options for homeowners with very small bathrooms, or those with non-standard soil pipe rough-ins. By removing the soil pipe altogether from the floor, a wall mounted toilet makes the most of a small space. Their design also can increase the available floor space by as much as 10 inches over a standard toilet.

Wall-mounted toilets are built to withstand loads in excess of 800 pounds, so there’s no danger of the toilet collapsing from the user’s weight. These toilets can also offer amenities like hands-free flushing, pushbutton flushing and remote flushing. In addition, removable panels allow easy access to the interior fixtures for maintenance and repair. As an added bonus, wall mounted toilets are also easier to clean.

Toilets aren’t the only wall-hung fixtures you can install. You can also find wall mounted bidets and urinals that offer similar benefits. Although you might think of these fixtures as “commercial” options, you can find several designed for residential use.

Barrier-free sinks

An accessible bathroom will also require a barrier free sink. Many ADA-compliant sinks feature an off-set drain. This enables the sink to meet ADA compliance regulations, which have minimum height and depth requirements. The key to a barrier free sink is the amount of open space under the fixture to accommodate wheelchairs. ADA regulations don’t require the sink plumbing to be in the wall. Many people find this approach to be an easy way to meet ADA space regulations, however.

Barrier free showers

Well done barrier free shower designs can enhance the utility, appearance and value of your home. Many people are moving to barrier free designs, even when accessibility isn’t necessary. The most important things to remember about barrier free shower designs is that they’re very individual to the home. You can create an accessible full bathroom using a relatively small amount of space. Rain heads can help limit water spray by dropping water from the ceiling, instead of spraying from a showerhead. Special drains can also help capture and drain water. Many people who opt for barrier free showers are opting for “one-level” wet rooms that have a single level floor. These rooms are equipped to manage water, regardless of where it makes contact with the walls or floors.

If you’d like more information about accessible plumbing for your home, please give us a call at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you your options.

Photo Credit: Francie’s photos, via Flickr

Use a licensed contractor for plumbing repairs

When your home needs plumbing repairs that you can’t (or don’t want to) tackle yourself, you normally hire professional help. Anytime you hire a professional to do repair work, it will cost you more than it would if you did the work yourself. That’s a given. But you should verify the qualifications of your plumbing repair professional before you let them in your door.

Recently, a property owner in Connecticut contacted a home warranty company to perform covered repairs on a leaking water valve. The company provided a contractor, who came to the property and performed the repair.

Unfortunately, the contractor wasn’t licensed to perform plumbing repairs, and his work resulted in a small house fire. Molten solder ignited some debris under the home’s boiler, which was next to the washing machine with the faulty valve.

The home didn’t burn down, and no one was injured, but the home required significant repairs as a result of the fire. Fire officials investigating the blaze determined that the contractor had no current licenses. Further, they found that the state had revoked his previous licenses in 2006.

Checking up on your contractor

Massachusetts requires any person performing plumbing repairs for compensation to have a current license and insurance. Professional plumbers must undergo extensive training that includes both classroom education and on-the-job training before they can be licensed. Plumbers in training must work under the license and supervision of a master plumber. In addition, they must carry special insurance to provide plumbing services.

Massachusetts makes it easy to check the credentials of any person who provides plumbing services. If you have a plumbing problem and want to hire a plumber, please take the time to verify the person’s professional license status.

This tool enables you to select the type of professional license you want to verify. In the case of plumbers, we are certified by the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters. (Second from the bottom on the pull-down list.) Enter the contractor’s name and the system will verify that the professional is currently licensed. You can select the licensed professional from the list and see the status of the person’s license. In addition, in the Public Documents section below the individual’s record, you can check for any negative actions.

The price of a repair shouldn’t be your only consideration. To protect the safety and well-being of your home and family, check a contractor’s credentials!

If you need help with a plumbing or heating and cooling repair in your home, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’re licensed, bonded and insured and we’re happy to help!

Thawing frozen pipes

Like just about everything else, there’s a right way and a wrong way to thaw frozen pipes. Here are a few tips to keep your pipes from freezing in the first place. We also have some advice for thawing a pipe that’s already frozen.

Keep your pipes from freezing

The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to avoid them altogether. Heating your home can be expensive, and it’s tempting to “dial down” at night and when you’re not around. When the air temperature is super-cold (below freezing), your pipes can be at risk.

Pipes break when the water inside them freezes. Most plumbing is rigid, so the pipes are full of standing water when the taps are closed. This is good because a pipe that’s full of water doesn’t have any air. Air in the system could allow bacteria to thrive, and it could also change the water pressure.

Unfortunately, water expands when it freezes. In an open container, the freezing water has “head space” – room to expand. In a water pipe, there is no room for expansion. An ice blockage forms somewhere in your pipe and begins to exert enormous pressure – as high as 2,000 PSI – on the unfrozen water between the blockage and the tap. Traditional plumbing does not have enough material strength to hold back this unrelenting pressure. As the blockage grows, the pressure increases. Because the pipe is rigid, it cannot expand enough, and it will deform and split somewhere to relieve the pressure.

The first thing you can do to avoid frozen pipes is to keep your pipes warm! Insulate them to prevent cold air intrusions from affecting your pipes. Open sink cabinet and vanity doors to allow warmer air to circulate around your pipes. Open heat registers in the basement (if your pipes are below-grade) to let more warm air circulate around them.

Don’t turn the heat down when it’s super-cold outside. Yes, your utility bill will go up, but a higher heating bill beats flooding, water damage and mold.

Managing a frozen pipe

If a pipe freezes and it’s accessible, open the tap immediately to drain any water from the pipe. This may relieve some of the pressure, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Start warming the pipe from the tap and work your way toward the blockage. A good safe heat source is an incandescent light bulb. A hair dryer may also help loosen up a frozen pipe. Be especially careful if you use “heat tape.” Used incorrectly, it can cause a fire!

DO NOT USE AN OPEN FLAME TO THAW A FROZEN PIPE! That includes welding and soldering torches, cigarette lighters, charcoal lighters, tiki torches, candles or anything else fiery. Open flames caused 30% of house fires in 2017. It’s just not a good idea!

You may not initially know that a pipe has frozen, but lack of water should set off alarm bells! If you get no water from a tap, or a water appliance stops working, If you open a tap and get just a trickle of water – your pipe is in the process of freezing. Act fast to relieve the pressure and correct the problem.

On the other hand, you may know your pipe has frozen because it has already split and there’s water everywhere! In this case, turn off the water to that segment of pipe and begin the process of thawing. Start drying out anything that’s gotten wet. You may have to remove drywall, plaster, carpeting or flooring. You won’t be able to turn the water back on until the pipe is repaired, but at least you can limit the water damage.

Following up on a frozen pipe

Maybe you were able to get your pipe thawed out before it split. That’s a lucky break, but your pipe is probably still damaged. The pressure can weaken and deform your pipe – and maybe not in the place(s) you’d expect. Remember, 2,000 PSI is about 20 times the pressure your pipes are designed to handle.

Inspect your pipes for deformed joints, bulges, discolorations, little drips or anything generally weird-looking. Formerly frozen pipes that “burst” usually have a little slit someplace, often somewhere other than where the blockage formed. It will look like someone took a box cutter and made a slice in the pipe. (You’ll be able to find these more easily, because water will be spraying all over the place!)

Don’t forget to check any PEX hoses that supply water to toilets, sinks and appliances. These can freeze too! PEX resists freezing, but the fittings can get damaged. If you find a frozen PEX hose, take comfort in the fact that they’re cheap to replace.

If you’ve experienced a frozen pipe, or need help repairing freeze-damaged plumbing, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: Cynthia Closkey, via Flickr

What you should know about plastic plumbing products

Plumbing is meant to last a long time. Traditional metal plumbing products – brass, copper, galvanized steel – all offer decades of service life. Once installed, these materials can deliver trouble-free operation for 70-100 years. More recently, plumbing manufacturers have turned to <plastic plumbing products to address cost and performance issues in traditional metal plumbing. But what should the consumer know about plastic plumbing products, and is it safe to install in your home?

Three most common kinds of plastic plumbing products

Before we launch here, one kind of plastic plumbing product deserves a special mention. Polybutylene plumbing (PB) is a plastic that was used commonly in the 1970s. It is flexible, freeze-resistant and inexpensive – until it breaks. (Then it can get very expensive.)

There’s no nice way to say this: it’s junk. Dangerous and unreliable junk.

If you have it in your home, make plans to retire it sooner rather than later. The original PB products are no longer sold, but plenty of PB pipe remains in service. Currently, there is no known way for homeowners to recover the cost of replacement, and your insurance company likely will not cover damage caused by its failure. Homes with PB plumbing are likely to be worth less on the market than homes without it. In other words, replacing PB plumbing will be a very good investment.

On to the better stuff…

PVC pipe

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is a rigid, white plastic pipe. People think of it as “new”, but it was actually discovered in 1872. The original formulation was very brittle, and it wasn’t until 1926 that chemists discovered additives that would correct this characteristic.

You can use PVC for both potable and drain/waste/vent applications. It has an expected lifespan of 100 years. PVC is also durable and inexpensive, which makes it a natural choice for new installations and plumbing repairs. PVC pipe doesn’t use the same sizing system that copper tubing uses. If you’re using PVC to replace copper, you need to be aware of this when selecting the appropriate materials and fittings for your projects.

Metal piping relies on solder and fittings to create joints and turns or bends. PVC is rigid, like metal, so it also requires joints to connect pipes or change directions. Unlike metal pipes, PVC uses special cements to join pipes and fittings together. The cement softens the plastic, then hardens it again to create a solid, leak-proof connection.

PVC isn’t recommended for hot water applications that exceed 140°F. That’s hotter than most “default” water heater settings, but your water heater is fully capable of exceeding this temperature. (It’s not recommended. Most codes require special fittings if your water heater normally exceeds 140°F and you can be scalded in a second or two at this temperature.) If your control thermostat gets bumped or creeps around from vibrations, hotter water is going to have a bad impact on PVC plumbing. PVC is also very susceptible to UV damage, and it will freeze. Having said that, PVC is a good choice for cold water systems, vents and drains.

CPVC

CPVC is PVC’s suaver and more attractive brother. Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) is every good thing that PVC is and a little more. Unlike PVC, it can handle hotter temperatures – up to 200°F. It’s more flexible than PVC, more colorful than PVC and stronger than PVC. It still freezes, though. In addition, some codes place height limitations on PVC and CPVC applications.

CPVC is available in both Nominal Pipe Size (NPS) and copper tubing size (CTS) standards. It does not use the same cement that PVC uses. CPVC is also good for both potable and drain/waste/vent applications, and it can handle hotter water.

Most CPVC products are also vulnerable to UV light. UV light is used in the manufacture of PVC and CPVC, so it can also “undo” PVC and CPVC materials. Direct exposure to sunlight can eventually cause the materials to break down.

Now for the bad part – CPVC is a lot more expensive than PVC. (Five to six times more expensive, to be exact.) Despite the increased expense, CPVC is recommended for hot water systems and some relatively low-temperature exhaust applications.

Some homeowners prefer plastic piping because it is quieter than traditional metal plumbing. You’ll still hear some noises, but you’re not likely to hear the same kind of banging and knocking that you can get from metal plumbing products. It’s not good to mix PVC and CPVC in one run, largely because the cements for each material differ. The performance characteristics also differ; it’s best to stick with one type or the other.

PEX

PEX is a soft, flexible plastic pipe. The PEX designation stands for cross-linked polyethylene. This product – which is about 50 years old – can be used for plumbing, heating and cooling. When used in plumbing, it can withstand temperatures to 180°F.

You may already have some PEX in your home. It’s often used to connect water supplies to sinks, toilets and appliances.

When used in plumbing, PEX does have some distinct advantages. Because it’s flexible, it can be used in places where traditional materials could prove problematic. It’s a lower-cost option in many cases. It also resists bursting and freezing. It doesn’t require joints the same way that rigid systems do, so it’s easier to install. PEX is also very quiet compared to rigid pipe. (No “water hammer” from appliance valves.) You can join PEX lines with tools and fittings, as opposed to soldering or cementing pieces together.

PEX plumbing often provides options for remodeling and addition construction, where it may be difficult to add rigid plumbing.

PEX applications can be used in low-rise buildings (under 3 stories), but it’s only used on the clean side of a plumbing system. You’ll still need to use PVC or traditional drain materials on the “dirty” side of your system. Certain specialty PEX formulations can also be used in heating and cooling applications.

Plastic plumbing continues to evolve, and as a homeowner, you’ll likely be seeing more plastic plumbing as time goes on. Using the correct products for your plumbing applications will go a long way to ensuring that you have good results.

If you’d like more information about plastic plumbing products, or are thinking about replacing your traditional plumbing with a plastic alternative, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation.

Photo Credit: mel0808johnson, via Flickr

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

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

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your house

Most people don’t think about their plumbing until they have a plumbing problem. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, you have a plumbing problem! Polybutylene pipe (PB) is a plastic plumbing product that was commonly used between the early 1970’s and the mid-1990’s. PB was an attractive plumbing option because it was resistant to freezing. It could be used for either interior or exterior applications. It was flexible, and it was inexpensive.

The problem with PB plumbing is that the plastic deteriorates over time. Every material deteriorates over time, but PB plumbing breaks down much faster than it was supposed to. Materials engineers also discovered that the pipe deteriorated randomly when it came into contact with some water treatments. Over time, small fractures caused by water additives can grow. Eventually, these fractures compromise the pipe. That leaves homeowners with PB plumbing vulnerable to sudden bursts, leaks and the resulting damage.

You might think that PB plumbing sounds ripe for a lawsuit. And it was. Lawyers in Tennessee filed Cox v. Shell Oil Co., in 1995. In that class action case, the courts awarded a settlement of $950 million, which allowed affected homeowners to replace their PB plumbing with something else. Homeowners who had PB plumbing installed between 1978 and 1995 were eligible to collect.

So far, so good – except that many homeowners with affected plumbing did not file claims under Cox. To complicate matters, new home buyers may have purchased homes with PB plumbing, not knowing that their properties contained faulty plumbing. Home inspectors may not have recognized PB plumbing for what it was, but insurance companies did not make that mistake. In other words, insurance companies will not pay to replace PB plumbing today because it is known to be defective.

Homeowners currently pay for polybutylene plumbing replacement

This “perfect storm” left unsuspecting homeowners with PB plumbing on the hook for major plumbing repairs, simply because they did not know that their homes had faulty plumbing, or that any potential claims they – or a previous owner – could have filed under Cox were already barred.

In late 2017, lawyers in Arkansas filed a second lawsuit on behalf of homeowners who had PB plumbing, but had been excluded for one reason or another from filing a claim under the Coxsettlement. Unfortunately, the court threw out that suit in such a way that it cannot be resurrected. In short, homeowners who still have PB plumbing in their homes are on the hook for the repairs.

So, how do you know that you have PB pipe? PB pipe is a plastic gray, blue, white, silver or black pipe. It’s stamped with “PB2110” and it was available in sizes between ½” and 1″. It is not rigid, like conventional copper, galvanized steel or even PVC piping. You might see copper or other metallic fittings on the ends or near joints in the pipe. PB pipes were used only on the “clean” side of a plumbing system, so they would be attached to the meter, sinks, showers, exterior hoses, pool plumbing and laundry equipment. It wasn’t used on the “dirty” side of a plumbing system, so you will not find it attached to drains or toilets. It was also not used on vent stacks.

Should you opt for polybutylene plumbing replacement?

You may have purchased a home with PB pipe unknowingly. No laws require home inspectors to identify PB plumbing, and there’s no good way to test the integrity of the pipe. If you have PB plumbing in your home, getting it replaced is a good way to protect yourself from unexpected water damage that won’t be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. The cost of replacing your plumbing won’t be cheap, but it will cost less than repairing the damage from an unexpected plumbing leak out-of-pocket.

If you think (or know) you have PB pipe in your home and would like an estimate on replacement costs, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy recommend high quality replacement options.

Photo Credit: ilovebutter, via Flickr