Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Plumbing Disasters and How To Avoid Them

Plumbing disasters are horrible no matter how large or small.  They are among the costliest problems a homeowner can experience.  Whether you are a skilled do it yourselfer or use a professional plumber, plumbing catastrophes mean two things: damage and money.  The good news is that there are measures you can take to help protect you and your family.

Let's take a look at two common plumbing disasters, which you or someone you know may have already experienced, and explore some ways to avoid them or, at the least, contain them.

1. Water Heater:

I am sure you know of someone who either woke up one morning or came home from a few days away to find the water heater has failed.  The irreplaceable family possessions stored in the basement are now floating on a lake of water.  Or, even worse, the water heater is on the first floor of their home and they returned home from a week long vacation to find the furniture, carpets and hardwood floors ruined plus their house and everything they own covered in mold.  Is this scenario avoidable?

Well, nothing is ever 100% certain but you can take measures to mitigate the risks.  This is one of the most common causes of interior water damage and the first and easiest way to avoid this plumbing nightmare is to inspect your Water Heater on a regular basis.  If you are not qualified to do that then have a professional plumber do it for you.  The costs are anywhere from $200 to $300 depending on the type of system you have and are pennies when compared to the costs of cleaning up after a such a catastrophe.  In fact, there are many plumbers who will do this as a part of a yearly maintenance contract.  If attempting to do it yourself look for rusty pipes going into the water heater and check for leaking or rust spots on the tank. Call a plumber immediately if you think you have a problem.  Preventative Maintenance is always the best course of action and will save you money over the long haul.

Another way to mitigate the risks of flooding due to water heater failure is a drain pan.  Admittedly, a drain pan may not look effective but when installed correctly it can save you thousands of dollars in clean up costs later.  A drain pan is required to be 24 gauge sheet metal or preformed plastic with a minimum height of 1-1/2" although almost all commercially made pans are 2" or 2-1/2" deep.  They are further required to be fitted with an outlet for a 3/4" drain line.  The drain line is required to drain by means of gravity flow (minimum of 1/4" per foot pitch) to an approved indirect waste receptor (floor drain or sump pit). The lowest portion of the line must be 2" above the flood level rim of the receptor or discharge outside the structure a minimum of 6" but not more than 24" above finished grade.  A leak in the water heater will be no problem for these devices to handle but a complete failure or "burst" may still do damage however, after the initial rush of water, the drain pan should be able to contain the water still flowing to the water heater if the main valve is not shut off immediately.

The best way to avoid a catastrophe when you are away for a weekend or an extended period of time is to simply shut it all down.  You can shut off your water main and turn your water heater to the vacation setting on the control dial if it is a gas system or shut off your electrical breaker if its electric.  This way, if something does happen while you are gone, you will not come home to a flooded house.

2. Pipe Burst:

If a pipe bursts there is not much that can be done to avoid a mess.  However, you can control the mess by knowing one of two critical things: where is your main valve and where is the water meter and meter key.

Of course preventative maintenance is a good idea here.  A professional plumber who does yearly inspections may recognize problem pipes or joints before they become your plumbing nightmare and address them saving you time, money and damage.  However, if you do not currently have a maintenance plan agreement I recommend that you contact your plumber to schedule a thorough inspection.  This may cost a bit more than a yearly contract but it will serve two purposes.  First, the professional plumber will inspect your home and plumbing systems to make you aware of any potential problems.  Second, if you do not know where either your main valve or water meter are, he can show you. 

The plumber will also show you how to turn off these mechanisms.  Let's face it, knowing where they are but not knowing how to operate them is futile at best.  Water meters will need a meter key to operate.  Most meters are turned off by clockwise quarter turns.  If you cannot operate the valve using your key, call whomever provides the water and have them come to repair or replace the valve.  In most cases there will be no cost to you for this service. 

If you do not have access to the meter key or to the water meter than you will have to rely on the main valve of your home.  Access to the main valve is not always easy but in the case of a burst fitting, fixture, joint or pipe you must turn it off immediately.  Your plumber will be able to tell you if it is in good operating condition or if it needs to be replaced.  The worst possible scenario is that you find the valve but cannot close it or even worse it breaks.

I strongly recommend a plumbing maintenance program.  They are affordable at $200 - $300 per year depending on the size of your home and the type of systems you are running.  Considering what could happen and what it could cost you, they are the best dollars you can spend.

The Wizards at Plumb Magic LLC are always here to help you.  You can reach us by calling 540-370-0752 or visit us on the web at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why Keep Your Gutters Clean?

Over the weekend when I was running errands, going to service calls and franticly trying to organize my helpful hints for everyone (there are just so many of them) I was asked by a customer why it was so important to keep their homes gutters clean.  After I explained all I knew to her it hit me…this will be my next tip.

Now you must be thinking, wow a plumber that will also clean my gutters, what a perfect world.  Well, I don’t do gutters (or windows for that matter).  To be perfectly honest, most homeowners don’t think about the maintenance of their gutters.  Let’s face it, when it is raining we tend to rush into the home to keep from getting wet and we are not surveying our gutter drainage system.  When the weather is nice we still do not take notice of our gutters unless someone else notices that home with a garden growing out of their roof.  A gutter that is full of debris will actually cause more harm than good to your family and home.

If the gutter drains are clogged they obviously defeat the purpose of having gutters in the first place.  Water will just overflow and cause damage to your landscaping and to the gutter system itself. The overwhelming amount of water in the gutter will cause it to pull away from the home and eventually fall off.

Plugged or clogged gutter drains can cause wood rot. If the drains are plugged, water could sit in the gutters for weeks and if your home has a wooden fascia, this will rot first.  Wherever your gutters are overflowing, the “splash back” effect will cause doorways, garage doors and porches to rot.

Also, mosquitoes love stagnant water.  If your gutters are clogged they can be an oasis for mosquito larvae to grow and hatch. This can be detrimental to the health and well being of your family and pets, as these pests are known carriers of many diseases.

When should I clean my gutters?
Gutters should be cleaned twice a year.  In the spring (May/June) after all the seedlings fall.  Then again in November/December as winter approaches.  Cleaning the gutters is not how most of us want to spend our weekend now that football season has begun so I suggest waiting until the leaves are about 80% down.  If you wait until the very last leaf falls before you clean your gutter this could lead to trouble if you get a sudden cold snap or snowstorm.  Remember the Blizzard of ’09.

How to clean your gutter can be simple or very dangerous.  If you do not have or are not willing to invest in the proper equipment I strongly recommend that you hire a professional.   You may find that your gutter is only littered with the grit or dust from your roof asphalt shingles.  If this is the case (lucky you) simply use a blower to blow out as much grit as you can.  Removing this sediment is important, as it will build up considerable weight over time.

Once you get to the leader pipes you can be sure it is clean by dropping a stone down the drain and watching to see if it comes out below. If it does not than there is probably a blockage in the elbows at the top or near the bottom of the leader pipe. You will have to use a cordless drill to disassemble the leader pipe to clean it properly.  Keep in mind there is no one part of this maintenance project that is more important then the others.

Now lets get out there and clean those gutters.

P.S.  While you are up there you may as well take a hammer or screwdriver (depending on what type of fasteners are used to hold the gutter system to the fascia) and tighten up as you clean your gutter.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Begin Winterizing Your Home

It is very difficult to start thinking about winterizing your home when temperatures are still well above freezing.  Fall is the season to begin and it is fast approaching.  If you wait until the last minute the damage caused by freezing pipes or unattended leaks will be costly. So, my tip for today is have your home’s plumbing system inspected by a professional.  This is an important step toward preparing your plumbing for the cold weather.  The Wizard’s of Plumb Magic offer winter maintenance inspections, which are done by trained, certified, experienced professional technicians.