Category archive - Plumbing

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

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Let us now say a prayer for forced air heating systems. They were good for awhile and kept many Westchester homes warm through the years, but let’s now leave these noisy relics in the dust and embrace the wonders of hot water heating systems. To say nothing about the ease of control, hot water heating offers a more evenly held heat and a more palpable heat, seeing as it is based on moisture rather than dry air. Hot water heating makes any home more comforting and welcoming during winter.

The furnaces used in hot water heating can be powered by gas, oil, coal, wood, or electric coil. Typically gravity fed or pumped, the heated water in the boiler travels up to the radiators, and as they disperse the heat, the cooler water travels down to the boiler to be reheated. More expensive systems even have hot water tubing under the floorboards, which provides uniform heat.

The radiators, however, are the key component and there are three basic types. First, there’re cast iron radiators, which are actually still very efficient despite their basicness. Radiators fitted with metal covering are similar but often include tubing covered with fins that provide additional convection heat. These fins increase the surface area of the heated parts, and boost energy efficiency. Lastly, there are baseboard heaters, which are more prominent in modern homes and actually provide the most efficient heating on the market. Along with the fins, the placement ensures whole room is heated from the bottom up, which is far more economical.

The issue is that hot water heating systems eventually get air in them and most don’t offer vents. As such, Westchester homeowners must “bleed” their hot water heating systems occasionally to ensure efficient use of heat. System valves are easily opened with a key wrench and all you have to do is put a cup, can or bucket under the valve, and open it up. Eventually, water will start running out of the valve, hence the bucket. In multi-story buildings or houses, it’s best to start on the top floor and make your way down, continuing until all floors have been taken care of.

There’s really only one more thing you have to do, and that is to drain out all the water in the system yearly. Begin by turning off the water supply valve, allowing the water cool completely down before moving ahead. Next, find the release valve on the boiler and attach a hose to it. Run the hose outside and completely drain the system, unless you can’t run a hose outside, in which case use drain the system via filling and emptying buckets. This process gets rid of the built-up minerals and rust in the system. Afterwards, open a bleeder valve on the highest radiator and refill the system. This way, your Westchester home will remain cozy and you won’t be nervous about the energy you’re using unduly jacking your energy bill up.


Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

For Westchester homeowners, replacing a shower washer is one of the simplest and quickest plumbing repairs you can undertake and it is usually the source of many leaks one finds in regards to showerheads. While performing the repair, you’re also able to clean and maintain basic parts of the shower and de-scale the showerhead to ensure that you won’t have to fix or replace the washer again for a while.

To begin, turn off the water to the area where you will be working. This may involve turning off the water at the main supply. Let the shower run until no more water comes through and turn it off, and then remove the showerhead, either by using a wrench to loosen it from the shower pipe or screwing it off. You can use the same wrench to loosen the nut from the faucet and then remove the tube. When you loosen the showerhead and remove it from the hose, you might find a build-up of lime or scale, which can be cleaned easily enough in the process.

If you want to be diligent Westchester homeowner and keep these situations from happening again, you should clean the showerhead and washers once a year. To do this, fill a large bowl with vinegar and submerge the showerhead in the vinegar for an hour. When it’s done soaking, empty the bowl and clean the showerhead with water. Once it’s free of lime, you should be able to take apart the showerhead easily. First, however, take out the old shower washer to a hardware store to find an exact replacement. Upon returning, take apart the showerhead and secure the replacement before screwing the showerhead back together. You can use Teflon tape on the shower-arm thread to ensure no leaks. When screwing the showerhead back onto the arm, be careful not to screw it on too tightly, as this can lead to further showerhead issues.

Many Westchester homeowners have hand-held showerheads. For a hand-held shower, you should replace both washers. Its not particularly necessary, but it is better to be cautious. In this case, use the Teflon tape on the threads of the hose where the showerhead screws on, and also on the threads of the faucet where the hose attaches. In either case, when you’re finished, turn the water back on and run the shower for a minute or two and then turn it off to ensure the leak has been fixed. If there is an issue, tighten the connections a little more but otherwise, you should be able to use your shower without any subsequent drips.


Looking for Leaks

Looking for Leaks

Water is a tricky substance, which is why diagnosing a leak is often such a hassle. There is the all too familiar sound of a drip-drip, or the sight of warped wood, but the ugliest, most immediate sign of water damage is the sight of damp discoloration on the ceiling of the room below your bathroom. In most Westchester homes, this is a clear sign that there’s something wrong with your upstairs bathroom or kitchen’s plumbing but this is not 100% true. Water knows how to travel, and the water damage could just as well be from piping leading from your attic or roof or other second-story plumbing.

Lets look at showers and baths in any Westchester home as an example for pinpointing and differentiating between various leak sources. Leaks from baths and showers are as common as those from faucets or toilets, so its worth knowing how to zero in on the trouble spots. The most common origin spot is the grout around the tiles, which can shrink and allow water in behind the tiles.

Other popular spots are the tub’s filler, which may have a worn-out washer or an improperly sealed valve threads, and the tub itself, which might similarly suffer from improper sealing or cracks that are (usually) easily identifiable. Less likely but possible culprits include a problem with the overflow pipe (worn-out or shoddily installed overflow washer) or the drain (clogged outlet pipe).

For the drain, a simple way to test is to run a length of tubing (black rubber will do) from your vanity faucet fixture to your drain and send water down the drain for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. If the leak doesn’t show up, you know the drain and the attached plumbing is secure. And unless the leak is constant throughout the day, the hot and cold-water valves are not the culprits.

The next suspects are the tub and the tub filler. The latter is easy enough to check: Just fill your tub and look for a leak from the filler (the tub faucet). This usually denotes broken piping, usually on a copper elbow. As for the tub overflow, close your tub drain and fill the tub to the overflow and look for your leak; if this ends up being your trouble, it likely will require the replacing of the sealing or the washer on your overflow.

The most complex check for Westchester homeowners is the plumbing behind the showerhead. You’ll need to take off the showerhead and cap the stem with a threaded cap before running the water. After 10 to 15 minutes, check the leak area. If this turns out to be the problem, you will need a plumber to look at the rest of the stem and the piping behind and below the showerhead.

The very last check is the most common: The grout. The DIY check requires you to run water over each wall of your shower individually for ten minutes, either using the showerhead or a hose from another water source. A plumber will likely be needed, regardless, but the more information you have to give him makes the job quicker and the price, in most scenarios, at least minutely less expensive.


Wiping Out Weak Water Pressure

Wiping Out Weak Water Pressure

A common yet often ignored problem, low water pressure in a kitchen faucet is caused by a myriad of issues. On occasion, low water pressure will need the experience of a professional, but even in those cases, identifying the problem will help greatly in getting the repair finished quickly.

There are several ways to determine why your kitchen faucet has low water pressure. First, if you have recently remodeled or done any construction that has included new water fixtures, the issue is likely low delivery and can be fixed by upgrading your main pipe. In the case of a single clogged spout, you can simply unscrew the spout on the troublesome faucet and check the aerator for build-up. On the other hand, if you’re having pressure issues throughout the house, consider adding a supplemental booster pump to the main line. These are all moderately easy fixes.

In the case that the low pressure is only occurring in the kitchen, the problem is equally easy to work on. You’ll likely find a screen at the end of the faucet spout where the water comes out. Unscrew the spout by hand and check for any build-up; this is much like dealing with a clog. Remove apparent blockage is a no-brainer but you might also find sediment, which takes a bit more time. You must first unscrew the aerator, take it apart, and soak all the individual parts in a mixture of warm water and vinegar. If the crud won’t budge, get thee to a hardware or department store and get a commercial calcium remover and soak the parts in that. In either case, after the build-up is removed, dry the spout, reassemble and reattach the aerator to the faucet before testing.

Here’s where things get interesting. Sometimes, the faucet’s cartridge, which allows water to pass through the spout, can malfunction and cause low pressure. If this is the case, you must remove the faucet head, find and unscrew the screw under the faucet spout, and lift off the faucet head. You should see the cartridge right there and it should be open. If not, remove the housing and clean everything of debris or calcium build-up. Replace the thin housing and faucet head before testing the solution.

The worst-case scenario is build-up in the faucet piping. With galvanized piping, the issue is likely build-up from age and sediment. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can diagnose this by unscrewing the riser from the basement and then back up the fitting in the basement to ensure the attached pipe or fitting does not break. Put a bucket below it and have a friend or family member turn the water on to check the flow and pressure of the removed pipe. If it’s not good, you’ll want to look into getting your entire home re-piped (sorry!), as this is an issue far beyond cleaners. If everything seems good, you likely just need one of the prior fixes. Thank your lucky stars.


Preparing Your Pipes for Winter

Preparing Your Pipes for Winter

At first, frozen pipes seem like a homeowner’s smallest worry. That is until one breaks. Suddenly, your walls, ceilings, floors and personal possessions, stored away in the basement or any crawl space, are utterly ruined. Even if you have home insurance and the damages are covered, you’re home will be invaded by a small crew until the mess gets repaired. Best to ensure it never happens in the first place.

Before you get the winter jackets out, shut off the valves supplying your outside water lines. Individual outdoor supply lines will usually have a shut off valve on the inside, around where the outdoor supply starts. Open the tap to allow any small deposits of water left in the line to freeze and expand without damage. Leave it that way until it finishes draining.

The real trouble comes from pipes that aren’t used often. When cold and unused pipes warm up suddenly, water flows out of the broken pipes into the walls and down through ceilings. To prevent this from happening, go further and shut off both your hot water tank and the water supply to your entire home before opening the taps and draining the water. So, even if your furnace does stop working while you’re away, there isn’t any water to freeze.

Any water pipes that run close to outside or in unheated nooks should be checked as well. Fiberglass insulation should be installed between any outdoor pipes and closest walls to help keep them warm. Pipe sleeve insulation is a bit expensive but the best choice for pipes in unheated nooks, and be sure to insulate both hot and cold water pipes.

If a cold spell hits before you have time to take such precautions, a quick short-term solution can be to leave a tap running at extremely low flow. It might cost you a little extra when your water bill arrives but its guaranteed to be less expensive and a lot less annoying than fixing a frozen and/or ruptured pipe.


Keeping Clogs in Check

Keeping Clogs in Check

For several reasons that I don’t care to go through right now, there is no clear history of clogs in the United States, nor in any other country. This is a problem I thought the Internet would have solved, but as it turns out, the Internet has slacked off big time. I asked a NYC plumber that I routinely work with about it and all he could give me is remembrances of jobs he went on with his father to dormitories and military bases, where clogs were a weekly ordeal. But there was no talk about what must have been epic clogs in the 19th century—just look at the facial hair from that day and age and tell me the constant trimmings didn’t cause some doozies.

I’ve been dealing with a rash of clogs in both my bathroom and my kitchen recently, the result, I suspect, of a not all that wise attempt to grow my hair and beard out a bit.  Most of them were fixed with chemicals, but Monday night, I found myself struggling with what I would politely call a ravenous beast of a clog in my shower. I called up a NYC plumber friend (my aforementioned colleague, in fact) and he talked me through the process, beginning with a homemade version of a clog dissolvent with baking powder and white vinegar, that ended up not working.

So, taking my friends advice, I popped open the drain with a screwdriver, straightened a metal hanger and got a plunger. I plunged the drain for what had to be ten minutes (my arms still hurt!) and lo and behold, when I took the plunger off, I could clearly see the clog some three feet or so down the drain. I then made a hook with the wire hanger, snaked it down the drain and with only a little bit of maneuvering was able to get the culprit, a wet wad of mess that I will spare detailed definition of, for your benefit.

This was the end of my nightmare but my friend was quick to point out that this is a 50/50 fix, meaning that the other half the time you will have to hire an actual NYC plumber and get a professional snaking job done, or at least get them to inspect the clog firsthand. Still, it’s a relief to have these moments when you can just ask a friend for some advice and put your own elbow into it. That’s old news but the feeling rarely feels old or tired.


Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Kitchen renovations are expensive, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that one’s kitchen has to remain a dull workspace for home cooking. A very popular way to give a kick of color and personality to a kitchen is installing a new kitchen backsplash with some personally chosen tiles. And whether you currently have a backsplash or merely painted drywall in your kitchen, the job is, as it turns out, relatively easy from a DIY standpoint, though removing old backsplash can get a bit messy to say the least.

In the case of painted drywall, you can start by sanding the area to rough up the surface for installation. If you already have a tile backsplash, however, you need to get rid of it completely, which tends to involve cutting out and getting rid of both the drywall and the attached tiles before putting the new backer board onto the studs; cement backer is best but green drywall is ultimately almost as good.

Now, its measuring time! You’ll need to get the length of the backsplash and measure the distance from the top of your counter to the bottom of your top cabinets to calculate what will be your tiled area. Now, this is where you begin to have fun. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline to see how you’ll want to set-up your tile pattern. 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles tend to be the favored types but using 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh has become just as popular over the years. Calculate your tile quantities from there but be sure to tack on 10-15% for cutting and wastage and be sure that you’re using glazed tiles.

So, when you get back from the Home Depot or local hardware store, it’s time to install. First, remove the stove or range hood, outlet or switch cover plates, and anything else that will be in the way of a precise tiling job. (Also, be sure to turn of the electricity to that particular area!) If you need to, install the backer board first by using galvanized drywall screws. A 1/8″ gap between the edges is a solid distance when installing the boards. Use mesh wire and filler to cover. In case of any gaps (ex. the range area), use a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold your tiles in place. Find, mark and draw a visible startling line with a level at the central focal point of your design. This is to line up your tiles vertically in the correct way.

It’s best to lay your tiles out somewhere open, just to have the design set in your head, and then get ready to place the tiles. From the center, begin with the bottom row. You will need tile mastic or thin-set mortar to set the tiles. Add a little of either to a small section of the wall using a trowel, preferably grooved. Put the edge of the first tile on the starting line you made and remember to leave a 1/8″ gap on the bottom for caulking. Press the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer vertically and continue on like this.

At one point, you will likely have to cut a tile to fit certain areas and for this, you will need a scoring cutter, which can be rented or purchased. Mark on the tile where you will need to cut before putting the tile in the tool and scoring said mark on the surface. Used properly, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line. In the case of an electrical outlet, you may be need to cut two tiles and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet. After the tiles are in place, apply a mixed sandless grout with a rubber float. Make sure to push it down into the gaps between the tiles and remove any excess grout. Then, just let it set for about an hour or so.

Use and regularly rinse wet sponges for the cleanup and it doesn’t hurt to employ a clean dry cloth to give the tiles a good buff and shine. 
Your electrical outlets will likely need box extenders before you place the cover plates back on and then, finally, apply caulk, preferably the same color as your chosen grout, all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop. With this, your kitchen should not only be a workspace but will emanate the feeling of a distinct place for friends and family to take a moment and share a story or take a peak at what you’re preparing.


Dollars dripping down the drain

Dollars dripping down the drain

There are many things around the house that are fairly easy to ignore. Cobwebs accumulating on top of a cupboard, a hall closet stuffed with old shoes and moldering umbrellas, a basement filled with old magazines and unused sports equipment, hedges in the back yard in need of a trim. All of these things need to be addressed eventually, as they can have a negative effect on your quality of life, the value of your property, and even, eventually, your health. However, none of these problems is costing you money in the short term. Not all issues in your house can be put off with no financial consequences, however. For homeowners in Westchester, leaky faucet repair is something that you can’t afford to put off.

Have you ever heard the incessant “drip drip” of a leaky faucet, but ignored it? Many homeowners reason that a leaky faucet is no big deal, and can repaired whenever the mood strikes them. Unless you want to pay much more than you should on your water bills, however, leaky faucets should be fixed immediately. Although it may seem like only a small amount of water is being lost through a dripping faucet, the truth is that it can quickly add up. If you don’t want to see the water bills skyrocket at your home in Westchester, leaky faucet repair should be done as soon as you notice a problem.

Although it may seem like something you can easily do yourself in the course of an afternoon, repairing a leaky faucet actually requires specialized knowledge and tools. Getting the job done right the first time can give you great peace of mind, and save you money and headaches down the road. If you want to save money and keep the faucets in good working order in your home in Westchester, leaky faucet repair should always be entrusted to a licensed professional plumber.


Avoid leaks, take control

Avoid leaks, take control

There’s a reason people sing in the shower; for one thing, most showers have great acoustics, allowing you to experience the full potential of your voice. For another, the shower is one of the few places that you can really be alone, without the pressures and demands of the outside world, or the judgment of other people, to worry about. Finally, the shower allows you to feel supremely relaxed, optimistic and carefree. Something about being surrounded by hot water and steam, lathering yourself with fragrant bubbles, and taking the time to lavish some attention on yourself can be extremely freeing. If you want to make sure that you have the best shower experience possible in your home in Westchester, shower control valves are an important part of the equation.

For homeowners in Westchester, shower control valves may seemingly have nothing to do with your enjoyment of your daily cleansing rituals. However, the often overlooked shower control valve performs an essential function. Shower control valves give you the ability to regulate the temperature and flow of water from the shower head, allowing you to insure that your water is neither too hot nor too cold, too weak nor too strong. Without a shower control valve to make sure that your water is warm enough, it would be very difficult to enjoy your showers!

For homeowners in Westchester, shower control valves are also an important way of preventing leaks. A shower control valve that is old, worn out, or improperly installed can become leaky, leading to wasted water and higher bills. If you want to conserve water and avoid expensive leaks down the road, having a new shower control valve professionally installed can save you lots of hassle – and insure that you’ll always be relaxed enough to sing in the shower!


Faulty toilet or faulty installation

Faulty toilet or faulty installation

Few things are more frustrating for homeowners than plumbing problems. Leaky or poorly functioning fixtures can lead to water damage and costly repairs, not to mention major headaches. Rather than waiting until something goes wrong, it’s much better to make sure that plumbing issues are less likely to come up in the first place. For homeowners in Westchester, toilet installation should always be done by a qualified professional in order to forestall problems and make sure that your new toilet works well for years to come.

Unfortunately, many plumbing problems go undetected until it’s too late. By the time you notice that your toilet is leaking, water damage may already be far advanced. When water damage is caught early, you may have nothing more to worry about than cleaning up a water spot and maybe replacing some flooring material. However, if left long enough, water damage can harm the sub-floors, walls and ceilings, and lead to the growth of mold and mildew. If you want to avoid these problems in your home in Westchester, toilet installation should be professionally done.

For homeowners in Westchester, toilet installation isn’t as simple as you may think. Although the proliferation of DIY websites and TV shows encourages enthusiastic homeowners to try their hand at everything from roofing to floor sanding, there are many things that can potentially go wrong during the installation of a toilet. An improper seal at the base, as well as improperly fitted pipes and many other problems, can go unnoticed until it’s too late. It may cost a little more to have your toilet professionally installed; however, it’ much less expensive that repairing water damage, not to mention having your faulty installation job fixed! If you want to make sure you have a properly functioning toilet, and avoid costly repairs down the road, toilet installation should always be done by a professional plumber.