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Plumbing Tips & Advice

Plumbing Tips & Advice (18)

How Often Should I Flush My Water Heater Tank?

Roanoke Water Heaters

Are you noticing that your water heater isn't heating as well as it should? Once reason could be a build up of sediment at the bottom of the tank. If you have a tank-style gas or electric water heater you can extend the lifespan of the unit by regularly flushing the tank to remove sediment build-up that can reduce heating efficiency and shorten the lifespan of the unit. Sediment is caused by minerals in the water that accumulate at the bottom of the tank. Flushing the tank removed the buildup and helps the burner work more efficiently. It also reduces the likelihood that the bottom of the tank will develop corrosion and leaks.

How often you should flush the tank depends on a number of factors, including the size of the tank, the number of people in the household and how hard your water is. Here is a general guide for how often you should flush your tank.
  • 1 or 2 person household - Inspect the water heater every 6 months and flush the tank every 12 months.
  • 3 or 5 person household - Inspect the water heater every 4 months and drain the tank every 8 months.
  • 6 or more person household: Inspect the water heater every 4 months and drain the tank every 6 months.
Need help maintaining your water heater? Call Ostrom, we can help with all you home pluming maintenance needs.

4 DIY Plumbing Mistakes To Avoid

Performing plumbing projects around the home can be a satisfying way to improve your home and save a little money. However, before tackling those plumbing projects it's important to understand the potential pitfalls to stay safe and avoid damaging your home.

Roanoke Plumbing

1. Chemical Drain Cleaners

When a drain becomes clogged the first thing many homeowners think of are the commercials they have seen for chemical drain cleaning products. While they can be very effective at clearing certain kinds of clogs, they come with important safety warnings.

The same chemicals that quickly dissolve organic matter like hair and grease can cause chemical burns to your skin or even blindness if they come in contact with your eyes. They can also damage metal pipes, plumbing fixtures, and other finishes in the kitchen and bathroom if not used correctly.

A far safer way to clear a clogged drain is with a little elbow grease and a plumbing auger. There are also natural drain cleaning products that use enzymes to break down organic material. Baking soda, vinegar and hot water is another natural method to clean out a drain. These natural methods may take a little longer to do the job, but can just as effective as more caustic drain cleaners.

If none of the above options work for those stubborn clogs, your plumber can solve the toughest clogged drain problems safely and quickly.

2. Not Shutting off the Water Supply

Most plumbing projects require turning off the water. Forget this step and you'll be dealing with gushing pipes and a big mess. If you can't locate the local shut-off valve near a fixture, turn it off at the water main.

3. Not Getting a Permit

You've just had your brand new hot tub delivered and you're all ready to install it in your new sunroom. Before you begin, do you need a permit? Some municipalities allow homeowners to pull their own permits, while others require a contractor. Always check before you begin any remodeling or installation project that you have all the required permits. This will ensure that the project is up to code and installed safely. You'll also avoid the hassle of potential fines or red flags down the road when you try to sell the home.

4. Bad Pipe Connections

In homes with copper pipes, it's important to understand the proper way to connect copper to galvanized pipes. If the two metals are connected directly, they can quickly corrode, leading to water leaks. This type of connection requires a special fitting called a dielectric union, which prevents the two metals from contacting each other.

Ask the Pros at Ostrom!

If you're not sure you have the skills to tackle your next plumbing project, give Ostrom a call. We would be happy to explain what's involved in completing the project. After all, there's no replacement for experience.
Hot water scalds account for 20% of all burns and every year more that 2,000 U.S. children are treated for scalding. Scalding can also lead to secondary injuries such as heart attacks, falls, and broken bones, particularly among the elderly. Most scalding accidents occur in the kitchen and bathroom, and the vast majority are avoidable.

Preventing hot water scalding

Because infants, children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to burns when exposed to overly hot water in the bath, one of the most important ways of preventing scalding is to ensure your water heater temperature is set to a safe temperature. In addition, you should always check the water temperature before placing a child in the bathtub and never leave a child alone or with other young children in the bathtub.

Most water heaters come factory set between 120°F to 140°F - this temperature may be too high for many households. The chart below shows how the scalding risk and time it takes to cause a burn.

Water Heater Thermostat Setting Exposure Time Effects of Exposure to Hot Water at High Temperatures
Water at 100 degF or below - Most water heaters are unlikely to scald an adult
Water at 120 degF 5 minutes 2nd & 3rd degree burns on adult skin
Water at 130 degF 30 seconds 2nd & 3rd degree burns on adult skin
Water at 140 degF 5 seconds 2nd & 3rd degree burns on adult skin
Water at 150 degF 1.5 seconds 2nd & 3rd degree burns on adult skin
Water at 160 degF .5 second 2nd & 3rd degree burns on adult skin

Scald Protection Devices

Scald protection devices are a must in homes with young children, the elderly and physically challenged. In many areas they are required to be installed to meet code requirements. While caution is the first line of defense to scald prevention, scald protection devices can help to maintain safer water temperatures.

Have questions about preventing hot water scalding in your home? Call Ostrom, we can help answer all your plumbing questions.
Preventing Kitchen Drain Clogs

One of the most common plumbing problems we see in homes is a backed up kitchen drain. Most of the clogged drains can be prevented by following a few simple rules when disposing of waste down the disposal.

1. Don't pour grease down drains. Grease and fat are among the worst things you can pour down a drain. You may get away with pouring grease for a while without noticing any problems, but over time grease can cling to pipes and trap other waste,  obstructing the flow of water. A safe way to dispose of oil and grease is to pour it into an empty plastic container that can be sealed and thrown into the trash. Thicker grease can be wiped off pans with a paper towel and thrown into the garbage.

2. Go easy on the disposal. While under sink disposals are a great convenience, it's important to to rely too heavily on the disposal to get rid of all your food waste. Some disposals are more powerful than others, so don't overload the unit. Scrape food waste into the garbage prior to rinsing dishes into the sink. Turn the disposal on and run water rather than piling in waste then turning on the disposal.

3. Avoid putting starchy foods down the drain. Food that become sticky and expand when wet, such as pasta, patatoes, rice, etc, can act like glue inside of pipes, create stubborn clogs. Also avoid putting egg shells and banana peels down the disposal, which can jam a disposal.

4. Maintain your drains
When using your disposal always run plenty of water, and let the water run for 30 seconds after turning off the disposal. You can also keep your drains in good condition by spreading a half a cup of baking soda into the drain followed by a cup of vinegar. After the solution stops fizzing, pour a few cups of boiling water. Natural, biological-based drain products that use natural enzymes to break down waste are also an effective way to keep your drains clean.

If you notice that your drains are emptying slowly, give Ostrom a call, we can help clear the toughest clogs.
Water Heaters and Water Quality
Are you noticing strange odors, taste or color tint to your tap water? While there can be many causes, one of the most overlooked reasons for changes to water quality is water heaters. To find out if the water heater is the cause of the problem, consider the following:

• Does the problem only occur first thing in the morning?
• Does it happen after the water has not been used for a while?
• Does the problem clear up after you run the water for a few minutes?
• Is the problem isolated to the hot rather than cold running faucet?

If any of the above cases is true, it could be caused by your water heater.

Drinking Water Odors

Strange smells, such as a sulphur odors, are sometimes caused by bacteria growing inside the water heater tank. When the water heater goes unused for long periods of time bacteria growth can cause unpleasant odors. A sulphur, or rotten egg odor, is sometimes caused by a corroded anode rod inside the water heater. While the amount of bacteria is usually not enough to cause harm, the cure is to ensure the temperature is high enough to kill the bacteria and that the anode rod is not excessively corroded.

Hard water can also cause sediment to accumulate at the bottom of the tank, causing odors. Flushing the tank regularly or installing a water softener should fix the problem.

Drinking Water Discoloration

Brown, red or yellow tinted water can be caused by rust from a corroded water heater tank, or pipes inside the home. The iron present in most drinking water is not a significant health risk, but it can stain clothing and dishes and leave drinking water with a metallic taste. Your plumber can help track down the cause and determine if the water heater is the source of the problem.

White or tan particles in the water are usually a sign of calcium or magnesium. While not generally harmful to ingest, the minerals can clog pipes and drains over time. A water filtration system or water softener can remove the minerals from the water.

Have concerns about water quality in your home? Give Ostrom a call. We can help identify the cause of the problem and recommend effective solutions for cleaner, better tasting water.

What's the Best Water Heater

When choosing a new water heater for your home there are more choices than ever. Here's a comparison of the most common types of water heater and the advantages and disadvantages of each style.

Electric Tank Water Heater

Heats and stores water using electricity
  • Purchase Cost (less installation): $300 - $1,200
  • Advantages: Lowest upfront cost, Good for small or large households
  • Disadvantages: More expensive to operate

Gas Tank Water Heater

Heats and stores water using natural gas or propane
  • Purchase cost (less installation): $380 to $1,500
  • Advantages: Lowest upfront cost, Good for small or large households
  • Disadvantages: More expensive to operate

Tankless Gas Water Heater

Heats water on demand when its needed.
  • Purchase cost (less installation): $1000+
  • Advantages: Good for smaller households, lower operating cost, small footprint
  • Disadvantages: More expensive to operate

Electric Heat Pump Water Heater

Uses electricity to move heat from one place to another
  • Purchase cost (less installation): $1,000+
  • Advantages: 2-3 times more efficient than conventional tank water heater.
  • Disadvantages: Not a good option for colder climates

Condensing Gas Water Heaters

Heats and stores the water using gas, then uses the combustion gas to further heat the water.
  • Purchase cost (less installation): $1,000+
  • Advantages: Lowest operating cost. Can save a household $100+ a year
  • Disadvantages: Higher up-front cost

Hybrid Tankless Water Heater

Combines the advantages of a small storage tank with a tankless water heater.
  • Purchase cost (less installation): $1,000+
  • Advantages: Lower operating cost. Less standby heat loss than a conventional tank water heater, and no "cold water sandwich" that can occur with tankless water heaters.
  • Disadvantages: Higher up-front cost
Need help choosing the best water heater for your needs? Call Ostrom. We can help with all your plumbing and hot water needs.

Not Enough Water Pressure? Here Are Some Solutions

If your home's water pressure doesn't seem strong enough there are a number of possible causes. First, if the water pressure is only low in a few places, such as a shower head or faucet, it could caused by a clogged shower head or faucet aerator. Mineral deposits can build up over time and reduce the flow of water. Soaking the shower head or faucet aerator in vinegar overnight will dissolve the buildup and get the water flowing again.

Low Water Pressure

If low water pressure is a problem with all plumbing fixtures in the home, inside and outside, it's important to consider the age of the home. If the home was built in the 1960 or 1970s it may have galvanized steel pipes. The galvanization was designed to prevent corrosion of the steel pipes. However, when the galvanization wears away rust can build up over time. The result is gradually reduced water pressure. To fix the problem, the pipes will need to be replaced. If the house was built in the 1980s or later, there is likely another issue with the plumbing. Start by checking that the main water shut-off valve is fully open. If the water was turned off recently for plumbing work, it may not have been reopened completely.

Water Pressure Testing
Water pressure can be tested using a pressure gauge on an outside water spigot. Water pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), and normal water pressure is typically between 30 and 80 PSI. If the reading is less than 40 psi, the city may be delivering water at a low pressure. If the city can't boost the pressure, consider installing a water pressure booster system.

Have questions about water pressure in your home? Give Ostrom a call. We can help with all your plumbing needs.
If you're hearing gurgling sounds after using your sink, shower or toilet, there are several possible causes. The most common cause of slow clearing drains is an obstruction caused by a build-up of grease or waste on the inside of the pipe. A thorough drain cleaning using a drain snake or water jetting can clear the residue from inside the pipe and get the water flowing again.

Vent Stack Obstructions

In order for wastewater to flow out of the home air must be able to fill the vacuum left behind by the escaping water. A vent pipe serves this purpose by extending from drainpipes out through the roof of the house. All plumbing fixtures must be connected to the main vent pipe through a re-vent pipe which that spans across to the main vent stack that exits through the roof. In some cases, usually with basement plumbing, the vent may exit out of a side wall if allowed by local building codes.

If you hear gurgling sounds when you flush a toilet or turn on a faucet the vent pipe may be obstructed and in need of clearing. For example, there could be a birds next obstructing the pipe, or it may have been damaged by a storm. It could also be a sign that the plumbing system is faulty needs a new vent line. Another symptom of an obstructed or insufficient venting is plumbing odors, as vent pipes also allow fumes to exit through the airway behind the draining water. In either case, a plumber should inspect the vent pipes to ensure they are working properly.
Time to replace your old water heater? One of the most important things to consider is how efficiently it will produce hot water. Thankfully, the US Department of Energy has developed a standard for residential water heaters, call the Energy Factor that makes it easier for consumers to compare water heaters and select the most energy efficient model.

Energy Efficient Water Heaters

As with cars and Miles Per Gallon (MPG), the Energy Factor (EF) rates how efficiently a water heater uses its fuel source. When comparing standard products of the same fuel type, a water heater with a higher Energy Factor rating uses less energy, resulting in both energy and cost savings.

The Energy Factor is determined by performing a 24-hour simulated test on residential water heaters. During the test a measured number of gallons of water are drawn from the water heater in six equally spaced draws that begin one hour apart. After the beginning of the last draw a standby period of 18 hours follows.

The result of the test is expressed as a decimal. For example, a gas water heater with an energy factor rating of 0.5 means it's 50% efficient. It will use 50% of the gas to heat the water, while the remaining 50% is heat going out the exhaust flue.

When comparing water heaters it's important to consider the fuel source. While an electric water heater may have a higher EF rating, electricity is typically more expensive than natural gas. Also, be sure to compare the EF for the same type of water heater, the EF rating for tankless and hybrid water heaters is measured differently than it is for conventional tank water heaters.

Have questions about choosing the best water heater for your home? Give us a call. We can help you choose the best water heater for your needs.
Many homeowners only think about their sewer line when there's a major problem. When problems occur, there are many questions to consider. Here are some of the most common questions we receive from homeowners about their sewer lines.

How long will my sewer line last?

How long a sewer will last depends on a number of factors including the pipe material, proximity to trees, etc. If your sewer line is more than 40 years old, it may need replacing.

Even if the home is newer, its plumbing may be connected to an older sewer pipe.

If the sewer line is damaged, who's responsible for fixing it?

In most municipalities, homeowners are responsible for maintaining the sewer line from the home to the sewer main.

Does homeowner's insurance cover sewer line damage and repair?

Most insurance policies exclude repairs to sewer lines caused by gradual wear and tear. Before problems occur, check your homeowner's insurance policy to see if it covers sewer pipe repair or replacement.

Some insurance companies will add a sewer and drain endorsement to your policy to cover losses related to a sewer line backup, to cover damage to your home.

What causes sewer line damage?

The most common problem with older homes built prior to 1980 is damage from tree roots that have invaded the joints of the pipes. Other causes include acts of nature, accidental damage from digging to close to the pipe, and inevitable deterioration to the pipes over time.

How can I prevent damage to my sewer line?

Even if your home is newer, regular video sewer line inspections are good insurance. By inspecting the pipes for bulges, joint failures, cracks and tree root intrusion, you can prevent a costly sewer line backup and extensive repairs.

Have sewer line questions? Call Ostrom Services, we're here to help.
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