All posts tagged plumbing

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

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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.