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  • Sacramento Plumbing Issues and Solutions

    plumber repairing outdoor spigotCommon Sacramento Plumbing Issues and How to Resolve Them

    Any Sacramento residence is susceptible to plumbing issues, which can vary widely from home to home. Details such as the age of the home, its architecture and its location can influence the likelihood of a particular plumbing issue arising. Fortunately, for every plumbing issue, there’s a solution. Consider these common plumbing issues and solutions:

    Hard water

    Hard water contains high concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium. While it’s usually safe to drink, it can cause issues with plumbing system components and some appliances. For example, mineral deposits from hard water that accumulate on the insides of pipes (a phenomenon known as pipe scaling) can gradually affect a home’s water pressure. Additionally, hard water can stain glassware, leave rings around sinks and bathtubs, and decrease the operating lifespan of appliances like coffee makers.

    As a Sacramento resident, the hardness of your home’s water will depend upon its source. Sacramento gets about 85 percent of its water from the nearby American and Sacramento Rivers, while the other 25 percent is derived from groundwater sources. According to a study performed by California State University, Sacramento, water samples taken from the north side of the American River tended to be harder than those taken on its southern side. Furthermore, the study found that water from groundwater sources tended to be harder than river-sourced water.

    If your home has hard water, you should consider installing a water softening system. Types of water softeners range from salt-based ion exchangers to magnetic descalers. The latter utilize magnets to soften water by breaking down the molecular structure of heavy minerals contained within. Magnetic descalers are easy to install, maintenance-free and environmentally-friendly. Salt-based water softeners also work well, but they add sodium ions to the water, which can result in a salty taste and contribute to pre-existing health issues like high blood pressure and edema. That’s why, if you choose to install a salt-based water softener, you should also consider adding a water filtration system (more on this below).

    Low water pressure

    Many factors can contribute to low water pressure issues, but one of the most common is old, galvanized metal piping. Over time, the piping’s inner zinc coating starts to erode, which allows corrosion to form and build up on the insides of the pipes. In addition to diminishing the home’s water quality, this accumulation of buildup can lead to a reduction in water pressure as the pipe’s pathway becomes smaller. Worse still, a lot of old, galvanized piping was manufactured using lead, which means lead may be leeching into your drinking water—a significant health concern. In any case, if old, galvanized metal pipes are the cause of your low water pressure issues, have a Sacramento plumbing company replace them with modern, corrosion-resistant plastic or copper piping.

    In some cases, what seems like low water pressure might actually be something much simpler, such as a clogged faucet aerator. If one of your faucets seems to have low pressure, simply unscrew it from the faucet and see if there’s any sediment inside—if there is, clean it out with your finger and the pressure should improve.

    Recurrent sewer system issues

    Few plumbing problems are as dreaded as when a sewer line backs up into the home. If this is a recurrent problem in your home, it’s time to find a permanent solution. First, you’ll want to get a full sewer line inspection so your plumber can identify the cause of the problem. Most plumbers have access to in-line camera technology that allows them to get a firsthand view of a sewer line and accurately pinpoint breaches or clogs.

    In addition to remedying existing sewer line problems, it’s wise to protect your home by installing a backflow prevention valve. This type of valve is designed so sewage can only flow out of a home, never into it. A small flap inside the valve allows sewage to exit the home; however, if sewage starts to flow back toward the home, the flap floats upward and closes, sealing the pipe. By protecting your home from unsanitary conditions, a sewer backflow prevention valve is nothing short of cheap insurance against disaster.

    Long wait times for hot water

    If you find yourself waiting a minute or more for hot water to reach your sink or shower, you may wonder what’s behind this continual inconvenience. Wait times for hot water can be caused by a few factors, such as the distance from your water heater to the fixture you’re using and the size of your home (which may increase this distance). Besides wasting your time, these long waits at the faucet and shower waste a lot of water, as all standing water in the pipe must drain out before hot water can reach the fixture.

    Fortunately, there’s a solution for long hot water wait times: an on-demand hot water recirculation pump. Typically button-activated (though motion sensor models are also available), this device reduces hot water wait times from minutes to a few seconds. It does this by sending standing water in the hot water line back to the water heater (which would otherwise be lost down the drain) while at the same time drawing hot water directly from the heater to the fixture in use. What’s more, it saves thousands of gallons each year, which, besides being better for the environment, can significantly decrease your water bill.

    Running out of hot water

    The only thing worse than waiting a long time for hot water is not having enough of it—a common occurrence for large households. If this is the case for your home, consider installing a tankless water heater. Unlike a conventional water heater, which only provides as much hot water as its tank holds, a tankless model heats water to the point of use and can continue doing so as long as necessary. In this way, a tankless water heater provides virtually endless hot water, so you can say goodbye to those dreaded cold showers.

    High water bills

    If your home’s water bill seems immoderately high for your usage, it could mean a couple of things. The simplest explanation is that your home’s water fixtures aren’t very efficient. If you aren’t using low-flow faucet aerators, showerheads and toilets or water-efficient appliances, making the appropriate upgrades should be your first move. However, if your fixtures and appliances are all up-to-date, there may be another issue at play.

    One possibility is that there’s a hidden leak inside or underneath your home. Believe it or not, a single unseen leak can waste anywhere from 100 to 1,000 gallons of water per day, depending on its size and scope. Fortunately, while you may not be able to see a hidden leak, there’s still a way to test for it: checking your water meter.

    To check your water meter, you’ll first need to turn off any water-consuming fixtures and devices in your home. This includes everything from faucets to your refrigerator’s ice maker. Once you’ve done this, go out to your water meter (usually located at the sidewalk) and use a screwdriver or comparable tool to remove the lid. Look inside for the red dial. If all of your water fixtures are off, the dial shouldn’t be moving, so if you see movement, you likely have a leak or other hidden source of water loss.

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  • Info on Water Heaters

    Sacramento plumbing technician services water heater Water Heaters: The Basics

    The water heater is one the home’s most essential plumbing devices, responsible for supplying hot water to faucets, showers, dishwashers and washing machines. Whether you need a new water heater or simply want to maintain your current one, consider the following information:

    Water Heater Options

    When it comes to choosing a water heater, there are multiple options available on today’s market.

    Standard water heaters

    This is the conventional model found in the majority of homes. It has a large tank where water is stored and heated for daily use. While sensibly designed, standard water heaters aren’t very energy-efficient, as they need to heat water throughout the day whether or not it’s needed. Additionally, they can only supply as much hot water as can fit inside their tanks—once the water runs out, they need time to heat up another tank’s worth.

    Tankless water heaters

    Unlike standard models, tankless water heaters don’t store water in a tank. Instead, they heat water directly using a gas or electric burner. Because of this, a tankless water heater is able to provide a virtually endless supply of hot water. Tankless water heaters are also more energy-efficient than standard models, performing at an average efficiency of 98 percent.

    Smart water heaters

    Tankless water heaters are known for their ability to provide endless hot water, but with the advent of smart technology, manufacturers are taking things a step further. For example, Navien now has a tankless water heater that utilizes “intelligent preheating technology” to function in accordance with your daily patterns. Let’s say you get up at 6am every day to take a shower—over time, your water heater will learn this pattern and program the pump to turn on in time to give you instant hot water. If your pattern changes, the water heater will adjust to the new schedule.

    Water Heater Maintenance

    Maintaining a water heater consists of several steps which, if followed, can prevent problems and maximize the lifespan of the unit. Consider the following steps:

    Check for leaks. To preventatively identify leaks and safety risks, you should inspect your water heater regularly—at least every six months. Start at the top of the tank and check connections like the water lines and shut-off valve for signs of moisture or corrosion. Finally, inspect the drip pan beneath the tank, which should be dry. If there’s water in the pan, there may be a leaky drain valve or flex line.

    Clean the air intake screen. A water heater’s pilot light requires oxygen to stay lit, which is why an excess of dust and lint on your unit’s air intake screen could cause it to go out. Avoid this by regularly checking your water heater’s intake screen and cleaning it off as needed.

    Make sure it’s up to code. As per California law, a water heater must be secured with two metal straps (one on the lower third of the tank, one on the upper third) that are anchored to a stud or post in the wall. If located in a garage, the water heater must be stored above the ground to prevent risks caused by auto fluids, paints and other combustible materials. Having your water heater up to code will prevent major water damage and safety issues—not to mention legal complications in the event of a home appraisal or sale.

    Flush it annually. The most basic maintenance step for a standard water heater is to drain and flush the tank every year. By clearing out latent sediment and debris in the tank, you can significantly extend the lifespan of your water heater. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Shut off the water heater. Give the heater’s shut-off valve a quarter-turn to stop water from entering the tank. You should also turn off the cold water supply to the tank.
    1. Drain the tank. Connect a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and open the valve to let the water drain out.
    1. Open the temperature and pressure valve. This valve should be located on the side of the tank. This will create air in the system and help push the water out of the tank.
    1. Refill the tank. Once the water heater is completely drained, close the T&P valve and the drain valve. Turn the water heater back on (don’t forget the cold water supply!) to refill the tank.

    Tankless water heaters need maintenance, too!

    While they don’t have tanks to flush, components such as inlet filter screens can become clogged with sediment over time. To prevent this, it’s important to routinely clean this filter. Here’s how:

    1. Isolate it by shutting off the water supply valve.
    2. Locate the filter. On Takagi models, it’s on the side; on Bosch models, it’s on the bottom.
    3. After locating the filter, remove the screen and clean it until it’s clear of any debris.
    4. Reinstall the filter screen and turn the water supply back on.

    Performing this simple maintenance step on your tankless water heater once or twice a year will help you avoid issues that lead to expensive service calls. Keep in mind that there are other maintenance steps required to keep a tankless water heater functioning properly, so ask your Sacramento plumbing technician to educate you about these.

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  • DIY Plumbing Tips

    Sacramento plumber repairs sinkSacramento Plumbing How-Tos

    Most plumbing maintenance and repairs require the expertise of a professional. However, there are several tasks Sacramento homeowners can perform on their own. Here are a few:

    How to Unjam a Garbage Disposal 

    1. Make sure power is shut off to the device. This can usually be done by simply unplugging its power cord, which is located underneath the sink.
    1. Find an appropriate tool. Most people don’t realize that garbage disposals come with tools specifically designed to unblock jams. Usually, this tool is located in a small compartment beneath the unit. However, if you’ve lost your tool, a simple quarter-inch Allen wrench will serve the same purpose.
    1. Insert the tool into the slot in the center of the unit’s underside. Rotate it back and forth. This motion will turn the disposal’s grinding unit, which will help unjam whatever is caught in the teeth.
    1. Restore power to the device and test the disposal. If your disposal doesn’t turn on, its automatic shut-off may have been triggered, in which case you’ll need to press the reset button (also located on the underside of the unit).

    How to Light a Water Heater Pilot Light

    Note: Every water heater is slightly different, but for the most part, the same technique is used for relighting the pilot light.

    1. Turn the temperature control knob to “Pilot” and hold the button down to let the gas flow out.
    1. While pressing down on the knob, press the water heater’s ignition switch. You may have to do this several times before it ignites. If you have an older water heater, it may not have an ignition switch; in this case, you’ll need to hold a lighter up to the burner (preferably a “wand” style lighter) and light it manually.
    1. Once the pilot light has ignited, do not release the gas valve; hold it for another 30 to 60 seconds. This will ensure the pilot light stays lit after you release the valve.
    1. If the pilot light stays lit, you’re in business. The only thing left is to turn the temperature control knob to your desired setting. The average temperature setting for a household is 120 degrees, but you can set yours for up to 160 degrees, depending on how hot you like your water. However, if you have small children in your home, a lower setting is best to ensure safety.

    Within an hour of relighting the pilot light, you should have a full tank of hot water.

    How to Retrieve a Ring Lost Down the Drain

    If you’ve accidently lost your wedding and/or engagement ring down your sink drain, don’t panic—with a few simple steps, you can retrieve it.

    1. Turn off the water immediately—this will keep your ring from being washed too far down your drain pipe.
    1. Open your under-sink cabinet. Directly beneath the sink basin, you’ll see a curved pipe. This is known as a “p-trap,” and it’s designed to catch debris and keep it from forming deep clogs within your drain pipe. In the case of a lost ring, this p-trap is your saving grace.
    1. Remove the p-trap by unscrewing the rings on either end (you should be able to do this by hand). It’s a good idea to place a small bucket beneath the p-trap as you remove it to catch any water that comes out. Once you’ve removed the p-trap, just tip it over and your ring should come rolling out.
    1. Replace the p-trap to its original position and screw the two rings back on. These only need to be hand-tightened, but make sure they’re good and tight—otherwise, you might have a leak.
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  • Plumbing Maintenance Guidelines

    Sacramento plumbing technician clears a drain

    Plumbing System Care Tips for Sacramento Homeowners

    When it comes to maintaining your Sacramento home’s plumbing system, a combination of routine upkeep and prudent usage habits can go a long way. Here are some tips:

    • Routinely check under sinks and around toilets for moisture or small leaks.
    • Test your toilet for leakage by adding a small amount of red food coloring to the tank and returning in a few hours to check it. If the water is colored red, water is seeping through from the tank, which usually means you need to replace the tank ball.
    • Remove and clean your faucet aerators annually to ensure an even flow of water.
    • Flush wisely. Toilet paper is the only non-waste item you should ever flush down the toilet. Paper towels, sanitary napkins, feminine products and even cotton swabs should be disposed of in a garbage can.
    • To help prevent clogged bathtub drains, fit them with strainers that catch hair and soap chips. Clean these strainers regularly.
    • Don’t rinse fats or cooking oils down your kitchen sink. Liquid fats can solidify in cold pipes and create clogs.
    • To manually clear drains, use a pipe snake or a similar instrument. Chemical cleaning agents should only be used as a last resort. If you have to use them, make sure you follow the directions carefully to avoid potential hazards.
    • Maximize the lifespan of your garbage disposal by using cold water when running it, not overloading it, never disposing of things like bones or corn husks, and not using caustic drain cleaners.
    • Know the location of your home’s water shut-off valve. When one of your water pipes breaks, you can minimize damage by immediately shutting off your home’s water main. While this is easy to do, many people don’t know the location of their water shut-off valve or how to turn it off. To find out where yours is, ask your plumber or city water department. You should also make sure you have the appropriate tool to manually adjust it.
    • Have stainless steel braided hoses installed on your washing machine. The traditional black rubber hoses found on washing machines are notorious for unexpectedly bursting—usually when no one is at home—and causing massive leaks of up to five gallons per minute.
    • Test supply line shut-off valves. Over time, the shut-off valves to sink and toilet supply lines can freeze up due to lack of use, which means they won’t work when you need them. To prevent this, go through your home every few months and test these shut-off valves by turning them off and on again.
    • Inspect exterior hose bibs. Like water shut-off valves, seldom-used exterior hose bibs can freeze up and cease to function. In addition to inspecting a hose bib’s functionality, check to see that the packing nut (the little nut just below the spigot handle) is tight and dry. These nuts can spring leaks, so check for water coming out from beneath the spigot handle and tighten the nut if needed.
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