Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Plumbing Tips

The holidays are upon us! With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner kitchens in Charlotte are abuzz with activity, and for us plumbers, that means just one thing; drain clogs.

Often, homeowners rely on a caustic (acidic) drain opener to get them flowing again. These materials can be very hazardous to your health and the health of your loved ones (just read the warning labels). They can also take a toll on your pipes. When a caustic drain opener goes into a pipe and hits organic material (squishy drain gunk) it begins a chemical reaction that produces excess heat and pressure inside the pipe. Not good for plastic piping! If you have an older home with steel or cast iron drains, this acid can (and does) eat through the metal over time until eventually the bottom of the pipe is gone. The acid of chemical drain openers can also eat away at the finish of your sink connections taking the chrome, brass or oil rubbed bronze finish off and leave the metal with a flat looking, dull finish (not to mention without its protective coating).

So what is a homeowner to do?

Well, if your clog is just below the surface of the drain opening such as in the bathroom lavatory or tub drain you can try to clean it with a simple plastic device like this one . 

These little devices are cheap, safe and if the clog is near the surface, effective.

Another good method is to keep your drains treated with a good enzymatic drain cleaner. These won't open clogged drains, but rather if applied regularly when the drain is open, will eat away at the sludge before it builds up and develops a clog. Bio Clean is a good product and many reputable plumbers carry and sell it.

If you do come across a clogged drain this holiday season it really is best to let the pros handle it. A licensed plumber should have all the tools necessary to open a clogged drain in your home without using any materials which are caustic and dangerous to your family and your piping. A rotary cable machine is the tool of choice for most plumbers because it is safe, effective and, unlike chemical drain cleaners which can only poke a small hole through the gunk it gets the pipe clean all the way around the inner circumference of the pipe, so the drain stays open longer.

Jetting is also a good option that a licensed plumber can offer. This tool uses pressured water to safely blast away the gunk on the inside of a pipe; especially handy for greasy drains!

Also, a good plumber will inspect your piping in the crawl space or basement and under the sink to see that they are plumbed with the appropriate amount of downward pitch. A wide open pipe won’t drain well if it is running uphill.

Often times as an older home settles the walls and foundation shift causing the pipes to level off or even start running uphill. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of to see homes built like this from day one either. A shoddy plumbing subcontractor can (and often does) bring a lot of trouble to a home even years after he finished plumbing it.

If you need us, Pathmaker Plumbing can help get your drains open this holiday season. Whether you would like for us to come out and do a preventative cleaning or you're already in full holiday swing, you can trust us to get you flowing again.
Learn more about plumbing and plumbing tip at Pathmaker Plumbing in Charlotte, NC.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why Don’t Water Heaters Last as Long as They Used to?

A cursory search of Google will tell you that the average lifespan of a water heater is 8-11 years. While one shouldn't believe everything that’s stated on the internet there is some truth to this statement. But only some.
When I first started my plumbing career in the 90’s I remember removing water heaters that were installed in the 1950 and 60's. Some of those were still heating water the day I removed them. I don’t see water heaters that are still working 30 or 40 years later anymore. Very rarely will I find one that is still kicking after 20 years. But that doesn't have to be the case.
Much to the chagrin of conventional wisdom water heater manufacturers haven't cheapened the quality of the units produced these days.They really do still “make ‘em like they used to”.
With the constant threat of lawsuits these days they may even be making them better. But the problem doesn't lie in how modern water heaters are made. The problem lies with how they are installed and maintained, or more appropriately, how they aren't installed and maintained.
There are five layers of protection water heaters have against failure and leakage. The first  two are provided from the manufacturer.
First, is the anode rod. The anode rod is a  long piece of metal which runs almost the full length of the water heater and its job is to disintegrate from the reactive materials and electric current in the water BEFORE your tank does. In most areas and for many water conditions they last about five years before they are completely depleted. If you read the manual that comes with your water heater you will see the manufacturer recommend that the anode be inspected at least annually for deterioration.

Second is the glass lining. Just imagine the inside of your water heater tank being glazed like a piece of pottery. This is a similar process for  protecting the steel of your tank. Once the anode rod deteriorates, this glass lining is the only thing preventing the tank from rusting out. On its  own, this lining doesn't last very long.
The other layers of protection are provided by the installer of the water heater and mandated by most plumbing codes. The primary one is from proper piping connection. Dielectric unions provide a buffer zone between the steel of the water heater tank and the copper piping which connects the tank to the rest of the plumbing system. When steel and copper are connected and water run through them they begin to share electrons at a rapid rate. We refer to this sharing of electronic bonds as corrosion. Dielectric unions/connections are often overlooked or ignored by installers to the detriment of the water heaters longevity.

The fourth layer of protection is also provided by your water heater installer. In many scenarios a water heater is required to have a thermal expansion tank. If  you have a pressure reducing valve, or a back check valve at your meter (most municipalities do) you are required by code to have a thermal expansion tank. This device gives a safe place for the extra volume created by heating water to go. Without this device, every time the water heater turns on to reheat the stored water, it will produce excess pressure/volume which is a stress on the water heater, water piping, and fixtures attached to it (toilets, washing machine hoses, ice maker,  etc.).
The fifth layer of protection is provided by you, the operator of the heater. Again, referring to that handy manual which the manufacturer provided you will find all water heaters should be flushed out and drained to remove build up and sediment at least annually. Some manufacturers recommend this every six months! This not only keeps the water heater at full heating capacity, it also prevents minerals and deposits from attaching to the inside of the tank and solidifying causing future damage.
Unfortunately most of the water heaters I see these days are improperly installed. BIg box stores and do it yourselfers just don't have the know how of a licensed professional. As a result a water heater that should be running for 15 to 20 years is dead and gone in only ten. Just because its heating water and not leaking does NOT ensure a plumbing fixture is installed correctly, especially a water heater. The manufacturer recommendations and the municipal codes are there to not only keep people safe but also to ensure they get the full benefit of a properly installed unit.

Learn more about water heaters and water heater replacement at Pathmaker Plumbing.