Plumbing FAQ's

Get answers to frequently asked questions about plumbing and your plumbing system.
  • Inspection and Permits

    Through the issuance of permits and the requirements of public inspection, a community can assure itself of proper plumbing code enforcement. The permit allows the plumbing inspector to protect the consumer by assuring plumbing installations are done properly. The inspection of such plumbing work ensures that the installation is being completed in accordance with code provisions.

  • It Pays to Take Care of Our Plumbing

    The average household plumbing system represents an investment of about fifteen percent of the value of the house. No part of the house is more important. Nothing in the house is used more often. A smoothly functioning plumbing system is a pin to health and adds to the convenience of modern living.

    This booklet was written with the objective of helping homeowners, as well as renters, keep their plumbing systems in good operating condition. The sale value of a house with sound plumbing is far greater than that of a house where plumbing is in poor repair.

    There are many things that an owner or renter can do; there are many things that should be left to an expert – the plumbing contractor and his staff of journeymen plumbers. Minor repairs should be made promptly. Such annoyances such as a clogged drain, dripping faucet or a leaking flush valve in the toilet, are more than a mere bother – they usually waste money. This booklet suggests remedies for these and many other household plumbing problems.

    Major repairs, replacements, and new plumbing installations should be left to the supervision of a plumbing contractor. His working methods are based on years of experience – and his guarantee is the assurance that all materials and methods are of the highest quality.

    This information will help prolong the useful life of your plumbing system. Your plumber will be glad to give you additional hints that apply specifically to your own home.

  • Fittings

    Fittings (faucets and valves) are used more often than any other part of the plumbing system. They get plenty of use but are built to take it, under normal conditions.

    The best modern fittings are all chrome plated brass and will last a lifetime under everyday use. They clean easily with soap and warm water.

    Caution: The metal chromium is easily dissolved in hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. Muriatic acid has for years been considered a good tile cleaner, but only where there are nickel plated plumbing fittings. Where chrome plating is present, clean bathroom tile with warm oxalic acid never with muriatic or sulfuric acids. Even covering the chromium surfaces with cloths will not prevent the acid fumes from inflicting permanent damage.

    Gaining in popularity are polished brass fittings and trim. These will hold up well, as long as certain precautions are observed. NEVER use any abrasive cleaner on polished brass. This can scratch the protective coating on the brass finish resulting in a deterioration or pitting of the brass plating. Also, avoid the use of solvent-based cleaners because they can be deleterious to the polished brass finish.

    New technologies have brought about the development of improved finishes that can withstand more wear, but check the manufacturer’s warranty regarding it to determine whether or not you have the “new and improved” lifetime warranty finish.

  • Faucets

    Today, most faucets can be categorized as being “washerless (port-type faucets), or of the Compression (washer) type.

  • General Care of Kitchen Sinks

    Today, kitchen sink bowls come in many different materials. Although enameled cast iron remains an attractive and durable product, many people today are choosing bowls made of stainless steel and other solid surface materials for their added durability and stain resistance.

    Bowls are available in Corian, Moonstone, Swanstone, Surrell, and others. The important thing to remember is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the material of which your bowl is constructed. With some of the solid surface materials, scratches can be removed when lightly sanded because the color goes throughout the thickness of the material.

    To prolong the life and appearance of enameled cast iron sinks, clean the bowl immediately after use. Use a non-abrasive cleaner. Constant use of abrasive cleaners can eventually wear the finish down, making it much more porous and susceptible to stains. This can also happen with enameled, cast iron tubs over a long period.

    Don’t allow fruit or vegetable juices or cleaning acids to stand on the surface. An acid-resisting sink will safely resist lemon, orange, and other citrus fruit juices, tomato juice, mayonnaise, and other vinegar preparations if these are not permitted to remain more than a few hours. A regular enamel finish is not impervious to acids.

    Teas and coffee grounds will also stain enameled surfaces if allowed to remain very long. Photographic solutions are even more harmful to enamel, and the amateur photographer should not be allowed to use the sink, because a fixture once damaged in this way can never be corrected. When cleaning the sink, use hot water and soap. Water and soap are not as hard on the enameled finish as strong cleaning solutions like washing soda or a gritty abrasive. If a cleaner is used, it should be one that specifically states that it is non- abrasive.

  • Shower Equipment

    Some Plumbing Codes, require the use of pressure balanced bath/shower valves to prevent scalding in new homes and remodeling. Your plumber can suggest the proper unit for your application.

    There is more potential for the scalding of a person showering if the pressure fluctuates. Most people aren’t aware that young children and older persons can be scalded much sooner than adults. Lowering the water temperature at the water heater will minimize the potential danger at the tub spout or showerhead and is the best preventive action that can be taken to prevent scalding.

    A small child doesn’t have to soak in overly hot tap water to get scalded. Tragically, injury can happen literally in the blinking of an eye. 150-degree water can scald in just 1/2 second, 140 degrees scalds in just I second, but it takes four minutes for water at 120 degrees to scald.

  • Water Heaters

    You can’t get along without hot water. Therefore, take care of the source–the water heater.

    If you have a gas or electric water heater, keep the temperature dial setting at or below the suggested Factory Energy Savings Settings listed on the water heater. Above that mark means excessive wear on the water heater and the potential for scalding.

    The burner of a gas-fired water heater is easily accessible and should be checked by your plumber periodically to keep it clear of dust or sediment. The flame at full fire should be a light to dark blue. If the flame is more orange or yellow, the gas pressure or air flow needs to be adjusted.

    You can keep your water bills low by tempering all hot water as it is used. Letting the hot water faucet run on and on wastes not only water but fuel as well. With all water heaters, plan your hot water needs and you’ll be delighted with the savings you get.

    All domestic water heaters are required to be equipped with a relief valve as a safety feature to prevent damage from excessive pressure and temperature. There is always a danger that this valve may become frozen or corroded from long disuse. For this reason, it is advisable to trip the lever of this valve manually every two or three months to be sure it will operate freely if an emergency arises. Note: The discharge will be hot water that will need to be contained in a pan or bucket or allowed to drain to a floor drain.

  • Leaky Pipes

    If you find a leak in your plumbing system shut off the water supply and call your plumbing contractor at once. Water supply systems are under high pressure. Temporary repairs are only temporary and wrapping the pipe usually fails. Leaks must have immediate attention since they can progress into a serious break in a hurry.

  • Thawing Frozen Pipes

    Frozen plumbing pipes, although inconvenient, do not constitute a calamity. The calamity may come if the pipes are thawed with a blow torch and if the open flame or the torch is allowed to come too close to combustible material, such as insulation, wooden joists or flooring.

    Another danger from the use of a torch arises when both ends of a pipe are clogged with ice and when the heat is applied in the center. The application of the heat of the torch at the center of the pipe is likely to cause the water to flash into steam potentially causing an explosion with disastrous results for the user of the torch.

    It is far better to adopt the slower and more conservative procedure of melting ice by the use of a blow dryer, or heat gun.
    Preventing Frozen Pipes

    Before the cold freezing weather sets in, make sure that all the garden hoses outside your home are disconnected. Failing to do so can cause not only the hose but also the hose bib to which it is connected, to freeze and be damaged.

    This is especially important with anti-freeze hydrants. The hose must be disconnected to make the faucet freeze-proof. Failure to do so will trap water in the faucet body, which they can freeze. If the hose is disconnected, the anti-freeze faucet can properly drain, and this will prevent freezing.

    Water pipes that are exposed to freezing temperatures or drafts should be covered with insulation. Whenever possible it is best to drain systems not being used in severely cold weather. Small water pipes will freeze quicker than will waste or sewer pipes.

    Never leave a garage door open in severely cold weather, if there is plumbing in the garage. The cold and draft can freeze water lines in minutes. Pipes located in unheated basements or garages should be insulated with a commercial covering.

    When pipes are laid underground they should be below the frost line to prevent freezing.

  • Odors in the Plumbing System

    The well-designed and correctly installed plumbing system is odorless. Odors are most likely to arise from leaks in the waste or vent piping or from traps which have lost their water seal. In an incorrectly installed system, there are, of course, many opportunities for odors to result from defects in the system, particularly if it is not properly vented.

    Unusual odors should never be ignored. Such odors are often an indication that sewer gas is present. Sewer gas, while not always deadly, is noxious and capable of causing headaches and other minor illnesses. Sewer gas is foul smelling air and should be prevented from entering the house.

    If it is suspected that sewer gas is entering through a leak in the piping, a plumber will subject the system to a test either by means of smoke, water or oil of peppermint. The test will indicate the location of the leak.

  • Draining Plumbing in a Vacant House

    If your house is to be vacated during cold weather and the heating system turned off, follow this procedure:

    Shut off the water supply at the main shut-off valve at the street. Then beginning with those on the top floor, open all faucets and leave them open. When water stops running from these faucets, open the cap on the main shut off valve in the basement and drain the remaining water into a pail or tub. Remember that this cap must be closed after the faucets have run dry or the house water supply will flow from this valve and flood the basement.

    Remove all water in the traps under sinks, water closets, bathtubs, and lavatories by opening the clean out plugs at the bottom of traps and draining them into a pail. If no plugs are provided, use a force pump or other method to siphon the water out. Sponge all the water out of the water closet bowl. Clean out all water in the flush tank.

  • Where and How to Shut Off Water

    Knowing where and how to shut off water for the entire house or any part of it can be mighty important in an emergency. That’s why it is extremely important for all members of the family to know where the valves are and in which direction they should be turned to shut off the water.

  • Miscellaneous Suggestions

    Sump Pump: If you have a sump pump, be sure that it is always in a good operating condition so that it will be ready to function when it is needed. Oil it carefully in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Make it operate occasionally by tripping the lever after filling the basin particularly with water. Unless you do this every three or four months, there is a danger that corrosion may cause sticking of the shaft when the operation is required.

  • Flammable Vapors

    Vapors from flammable liquids can explode and catch fire, causing death or severe burns. That is why it’s vitally important, that you should NEVER use flammable liquids such as gasoline, adhesive solvents, lighter fluid, mineral spirits, paint thinner and kerosene, around water heaters, furnaces, or any appliance with the potential for flame or sparks.

    Keep flammable products far away from the water heater or furnace, stored in an approved container, tightly closed and out of children’s’ reach. Flammable products, improperly stored or used near an open flame give off invisible vapors that can travel the length of a house and be ignited by any of a dozen or more household sources of flame or spark. A few precautionary measures can prevent a tragedy from taking place.

  • When Calling the Plumber…

    You can help your plumber by telling him, to the best of your knowledge, exactly what’s wrong when you talk to him on the telephone.

    If the water closet is leaking, tell him it’s the water closet. If it’s the lavatory, don’t merely say that “there’s a leak in the bathroom” and expect him to tell you what to do until he gets there.

    There are a thousand and one tools and parts in his plumbing store, and he can’t be expected to carry them all. So, when you ask for his help, give him as much information as you can. When he arrives, tell him everything that has been done to the defective part of the plumbing. It will speed his work and lower your plumbing bill.