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

MassSave Heating and Cooling Rebates Available for 2019

MassSave is offering new rebates and incentives on residential heating and cooling products and installation. Now is a good time to consider upgrading, replacing or converting your heating and cooling equipment.

New heat pumps, furnaces or boilers can save money on your heating and cooling bills year-round. If your home heating and cooling equipment was installed before 1992, your savings could be even larger. The new rebate programs also allow you to save on conversions from one fuel type to another.

Just a note about the acronyms and abbreviations you’ll find below:
AFUE: Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency
EER: Energy Efficiency Ratio
HSPF: Heating Season Performance Factor
SEER: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

Here is a look at some of the new rebate programs.

Air conditioning

The available air conditioning rebates are based on the size and the efficiency of the air conditioner. If you have an old ducted air conditioning system or you want to install a new one, you can claim a rebate of $50 per ton rebate. This assumes that your new air conditioning system has a SEER ≥ 16 and an EER ≥ 13.

Air Source Heat Pump Rebates

You can claim a rebate of $350 per ton on air source heat pumps that have a SEER ≥ 15 and a HSPF ≥ 9.

If you would like to use an oil or propane system in combination with an air source heat pump, you can also claim a rebate of $1,000 per ton on an air source heat pump with a SEER ≥ 15 and an HSPF ≥ 9 if the replacement system also features integrated controls. Integrated controls manage the selection of either the oil/propane system or the air source heat pump, depending on the outside temperature. You could instead claim a rebate of $1,600 per ton if the selected air source heat pump meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0 and features integrated controls.

You can claim a credit of $150/ton on a ductless air source heat pump, provided the selected system meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0.

If you already use an air source heat pump and an oil/propane system in combination, you can claim a rebate of between $500-$1,500 if you add qualified integrated controls to your system. You can claim one $500 rebate for each zone, up to a maximum of $1,500.

Natural Gas Furnace and Boiler Rebates

If you want to install or replace a warm-air furnace, you can claim a rebate of between $950 and $1,250, depending upon the efficiency of the new system. To qualify for this rebate, the replacement furnace must be at least 95% efficient and must be equipped with an Electronic Commutated Motor (ECM) or an advanced furnace fan system.

If you want to replace a forced hot water boiler, you can claim a rebate of $2,000 on boilers with an AFUE ≥90% and outdoor reset controls. On new boilers with a AFUE ≥95%, the rebate climbs to $2,750, provided the new unit also has an outdoor reset control.

On combination condensing boilers/on-demand water heaters, you can claim a rebate of $2,400, provided that the new boiler has an AFUE ≥ 95% and is a single-unit device.

If you do not want to replace your boiler, but you’d like to make it more efficient, consider adding an outdoor reset control. An ORC can be added to an existing unit to help make your home more comfortable on milder winter days that don’t require maximum output from your boiler. Outdoor reset controls can lower your heating costs between 5% and 30%, depending upon the boiler and temperature conditions. If you have an oil or propane boiler, you can claim a $100 rebate on an after-market ORC. If you have a natural gas boiler, you can claim a rebate of $225.

If you’d like more information about these rebate programs, or would like to know how you can take advantage of them, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to explain your options, make recommendations and start the installation and rebate processes.

Photo Credit: Tekmar

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

Your home’s energy efficiency can affect your health

A new Colorado School of Public Health study says that people living in drafty homes have increased rates of respiratory illness. The study looked at the impact of high air exchange rates on respiratory health among low-income residents. “Air exchange” refers to leaks that allow indoor air to escape and outdoor air to enter a home. Researchers found that drafty homes promoted a higher incidence of chronic coughs, asthma and asthma-like illnesses.

The researchers also found that the rate of air exchange directly correlated to the incidence of respiratory illness. The draftier the home, the more likely its inhabitants were to develop chronic breathing problems. One possible explanation for the results is that poor weatherization in older homes could trap industrial pollutants indoors.

The researchers suggest that weatherization efforts directed toward lower-income homes could produce a double benefit. In addition to lowering heating and cooling costs, air sealing older homes could also reduce healthcare costs in urban areas. Researchers also said that improving energy efficiency in homes near major roads could yield similar results. Improving indoor air quality is important, since Americans spend approximately 21.5 hours per day indoors.

Improving your home’s energy efficiency

One obvious benefit of improving your home’s energy efficiency is lowered heating and cooling costs. By sealing leaks around foundations, windows and doors, you can minimize the exchange of indoor and outdoor air. By keeping your heated or cooled air in place, you can reduce the amount of energy needed to make your home comfortable. You can also help control the moisture content of your home’s air.

Your home does require some ventilation! Without proper ventilation, moisture and “indoor pollutants” like smoke particles can hang around your home. Over time, this can lead to poor air quality, and can promote mold and mildew growth. If you’re serious about sealing your home, it’s best to work with an efficiency professional. One standard test is called a blower-door test. This measures the amount of air your home exchanges with the outside. If your home exchanges too much air, you’re wasting energy on heating and cooling. If your home exchanges too little air, you could experience problems like mold and mildew.

One option to reduce air exchange is to heat and cool with a ductless air-source heat pump. Because these devices don’t rely on a blower motor, they don’t affect the air exchange rate like a furnace can. More heated (or cooled) air stays in your home, making your home more efficient.

If you’d like more information about ductless heating and cooling options, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss energy efficient options for your home.

Photo Credit: Clean Energy Economy For The Region, 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