Monthly Archives: November 2016

Tips to Choosing a Flood Prevention System

 When you think about floods, what comes to mind? Torrential rains? Levees breaking? Sandbags? What about washing machine hoses? A failed pump? Sewer backups? We tend to underestimate the potential for disaster that exists in our homes, and those not living in a flood zone may think themselves fairly safe from the massive damage that just a few inches of water can produce. This is not even true when it comes to natural floods (they can happen anywhere), and such a mind set leaves a homeowner unprepared and vulnerable.

Every home is plumbed with a network of pipes that connect to a water supply, and any one of the fittings, tubes, fixtures, or appliances found within it or connected to it are susceptible to damage or failure. If they do fail, that water has nowhere to go but out of the damaged area and throughout your home – damaging almost everything in its path, including floors, furniture, and belongings, some of which may be irreplaceable or of significant sentimental or monetary value. There’s little that can be done to prevent these types of accidents – man-made machines fail and leaks happen – but there are plenty of relatively inexpensive ways to prevent or mitigate the damage unchecked water flow can cause when these incidents occur.

Natural Floods

If natural flooding is a major concern or frequent occurrence in your area (i.e., you live in a flood zone), we strongly recommend as much preventative maintenance as possible. For example, performing regular gutter cleaning, installing backwater valves on your sewer lines and floor drains in your basement or low-lying areas, keeping appliances like washers and water heaters above the base flood elevation, and making sure you have a good sump pump system installed and regularly maintain it.

To prevent sewage flowing back into your home through the over-worked or clogged municipal sewer lines during rainy seasons, you can easily and economically install backwater valves on your drainage pipes. When reversal of flow occurs, the backwater valve closes and cuts off the flow so that wastewater and raw sewage cannot get into your home.

Having floor drains is a good way to mitigate water damage from flooding caused by burst pipes or faulty appliances, but these drains are susceptible to backing up during a natural flood and allowing sewage or other wastewater into your home. To help prevent this, we suggest installing a Flood-Guard™ on all basement or low-lying floor drains. Flood-Guards™ use check valve technology to seal off the drain opening. If sewer water begins to backup, it will push up the float inside the Flood-Guard™ until the float seals off the opening. Once the sewage begins to flow back down the drain again, the float will lower and the drain will operate effectively again.

It is important to note, however, that Flood-Guards™ can become blocked by debris, which could allow wastewater to back up into your home. Additionally, water may not drain as quickly through a drain with a Flood-Guard™ installed and (although it is unlikely) could be a problem for homeowners whose primarily flooding concern is from above rather than below.

Appliance Specific Systems

While natural floods are the most common cause of home water damage, washing machines and water heaters aren’t far behind. It makes sense, if you think about it, as the sheer volume of water these appliances use on a regular basis is enough to cause plenty of damage in just minutes. We have a number of appliance specific flood prevention devices that are very effective in protecting your home from renegade machines.

Washing Machines

Our favorite flood prevention device for washing machines is the FloodStop. Installed directly between your washer shut-off valves and supply lines, it turns the water off whenever a leak is detected and sounds an audible alarm. The feature that gives the FloodStop an edge, however, is that it can be connected to an auto-dialer, home automation system, or home alarm system to contact you (or someone else if you are out of town) if a leak occurs. The primary downside to the FloodStop for washing machines is that it won’t turn the electricity to the machine off – which is somewhat mitigated by the automatic alert system since once you’re notified of the leak, you could come turn the machine off.

Similar to the FloodStop, the IntelliFlow™ automatic washing machine shut-off valve is designed to turn the water flow to the machine on or off whenever it senses the machine has been turned on or off. This keeps leaks related to burst supply lines or faulty valves from damaging your home when the machine is turned off. When the machine is on, the IntelliFlow™ will also sense leaks during the wash cycle and turn the water off. This won’t turn the electricity to the machine off either, however.

If you’re looking for something that will turn your washing machine off to help prevent flooding, the WasherWatcher is an excellent solution. The WasherWatcher is plugged into your grounded electrical socket, then the washing machine is plugged into the WasherWatcher. The attached sensor is placed in your laundry tub, standpipe, or wall box. When water levels get too high, the WasherWatcher automatically cuts power to the washing machine so that no more water is pumped into or out of the machine. Once the water level goes down, the WasherWatcher automatically turns the washing machine back on. When used in conjunction with a FloodStop or the IntelliFlow™, you have comprehensive flood protection from washing machine leaks.

Water Heaters

While we do offer FloodStops for both residential and commercial water heaters, we feel the FloodSafe™ Water Detector Shutoff is an excellent option for water heater specific flood prevention. FloodStops will turn off the water supply to your water heater when a leak is detected and notify you of the problem. However, it will not turn the power off to the unit.

The FloodSafe™, on the other hand, will turn off both the water supply and the power source if a leak is detected, then generate an alarm so you know it’s been activated. Different types are offered for gas and electric water heaters, and the leak sensor can detect as little as 1/16th of an inch of standing water. This system also comes with a special “water dam” that surrounds the ground below the water heater to help prevent leaks from spreading.

Other Appliances & Fixtures

For other appliances or plumbing fixtures, there are a variety of FloodStop systems available. They work just like the FloodStops for washing machines and water heaters, and are great for under sink areas, refrigerator water filters/icemakers, dishwashers, and toilets. A multi-purpose FloodStop is available for unique appliances where there is the potential for leaks.

Alternatively, you could choose a Leak Controller system. With a choice of two different connection sizes, these systems work almost the exact same way FloodStops do and are general use – making them great for all kinds of home appliances.

For the ultimate flood prevention with home appliances, we suggest using a WaterWatcher in conjunction with a FloodStop or Leak Controller. While the other systems will turn off the water supply (making them ideal for faucets and toilets), the WaterWatcher turns off the power to the device. Simply plug the WaterWatcher into the electrical outlet, place the sensor, and plug your appliance into the WaterWatcher – so easy almost anyone can do it.

Alarms

Sometimes you don’t want or need some type of shut-off system – you just need a way to know when there is water where it shouldn’t be. For example, some outdoor places like ponds, barns, sheds, or patios don’t have anything to shut off, but you may still want to know if water is getting into these areas after a storm. An alarm is usually the best solution for these types of applications.

We offer a variety of high water and low water alarms, perfect for ponds, water tanks, and many other outdoor applications. If you need an alarm inside to fit behind your refrigerator, in the bathroom, by the attic swamp cooler, or near the fish tank, our portable water detection alarms are battery operated, loud enough to get your attention, and small enough to fit almost anywhere without being in the way.

We hope you never have to deal with the high costs, headache, and sometimes heartache that can accompany severe water damage, however, now that you have read this article, you have the information needed to choose the right flood prevention device or system for your home. Always remember to regularly check and maintain your home’s plumbing system and any flood prevention device or system you have in place to ensure they work properly and help keep your home flood free.

Preventing Water Damage in the Bathroom

 Pretty much everything in the bathroom uses water, so it’s no surprise that around 75% of household water use takes place there. All that water is meant to be confined to specific places, though: in the sink, in the tub/shower, in the toilet. Beyond these fixtures, a bathroom is, on the whole, just another room. Apart from the sealant around those fixtures, and waterproofing materials in the floor/walls of a shower, there’s not a whole lot else to stop rogue water from doing damage. Except you!

At the end of the day, it’s the vigilance of the homeowner that keeps mold and rot at bay. Knowing the signs of water damage, where it’s most likely to occur, and how it happens is just as important as a properly-installed shower pan. A keen eye, paired with the information below, can help you avoid the heartbreak and high costs of water damage repair and mold remediation.

Helpful Tips:

  • Leaks can be deceitful: just because evidence of a leak appears in a certain spot doesn’t mean the leak originates there. Take time to track down the actual source before planning out or attempting a repair.
  • Discoloration on walls or floors? Musty smell? Are any areas softer than others? These could point to a leak, mold, or bacteria. If you have access underneath/behind the suspicious area, you may be able to address it. Otherwise, you’re best off calling a professional.
  • If drywall has become warped or bubbly, it’s gotten wet. Poke a hole to allow any moisture a way out. If the drywall isn’t saturated and feels nearly dry, you may be okay. If it’s soft, it should be replaced. If the source of the water isn’t obvious, there may be a leak in the wall.
  • Regularly test the shut-off/stop valves on fixtures, and replace as necessary. Keep an eye out for any wetness or staining around them that could indicate a leak. These valves are hugely important: should a fixture overflow, they’re the quickest way to shut the water off. If you have flexible supply lines connected to them, make sure they’re tightly secured to both valve and fixture.
  • If your bathroom doesn’t have an exhaust fan, it needs one. While you can get away with a good window, nothing beats a properly-installed bathroom vent fan in taking moisture (and odors) out.
  • Always check around your shower after taking one. Curtains can get torn and seals on doors can deteriorate, allowing water to escape, collect, sit, or find its way to cracks and openings elsewhere.
  • Kids love to play with water. It’s super cute, but it’s best kept outside. Try to minimize the splashing of little ones in the tub, and wipe up any water that does make it to the floor/walls as soon as possible. A good bath mat goes a long way!
  • Drain the tub as soon as you’re done with it: standing water can find its way into all sorts of hairline cracks and spaces in compromised drains.
  • Cracked, broken, or missing tiles allow water to seep in behind walls and under floors – repair or replace them immediately! The same goes with decaying or cracked grout. If things have been that way for a while, it’s recommended that you have a professional check for any hidden damage – mold could be growing out of sight.
  • Shower pans can crack or be punctured, potentially leading to serious damage. Test your shower pan annually to catch any leaks before they have a chance to destroy your subfloor.
  • Toilets will leak, but most of the time it’s a “contained” leak between the tank and the bowl – something that definitely needs to be fixed, but probably won’t ruin anything else in the room. If the floor around the toilet is wet, has any give at all/is spongy, or you notice significant staining around the base, there’s a problem. If you don’t have experience with toilets, call a plumber – there could be a problem with the tank-to-bowl connection, the floor flange, or the gasket. Note: The wax ring under a toilet only seals air and gases from entering through the closet flange connection. It is not designed to seal against water.
  • If your toilet does not appear to be leaking, be sure that the base is sufficiently sealed with silicone caulk or a similar product. This keeps water and other liquids (think mopping and “bad aim”) from making their way underneath. Keep an open gap at the rear so that any future leaks can make themselves known, otherwise that water will be completely sealed in (and you won’t know until it’s too late!)
  • Keep in mind that the toilet is usually the lowest point in a bathroom, and it’s not uncommon for water to collect there from other sources (kids splashing, an open shower curtain, a leaking supply line or shut-off valve). For instance: a small leak from a supply line could travel along pipes to the floor, remaining unnoticeable until enough of it accumulates where gravity directs it: the base of the toilet. Assuming there’s a leak in or around the toilet, unnecessary repairs could be made while the real problem keeps dripping away.
  • Regularly check inside and under vanities, where leaks from supply lines and poorly-caulked sinks can be hidden.
  • Also check sinks for cracked or deteriorating caulking, and repair as needed. Keep the faucet and the area around the sink dry (don’t let water collect and sit).
  • If you’re going on vacation, or just leaving the house for the weekend, it’s a good idea to shut off the water supply to the entire house. A burst pipe or similar emergency when no one’s home can be catastrophic.

Creating a Water & Energy Efficient Bathroom

 Remodeling an existing bathroom or putting together a brand new one can be a fun and exciting challenge. Among all of the things to consider, something like water or energy efficiency can easily fall by the wayside as finishes and design take center stage. Luckily, it’s not hard to create an efficient bathroom these days, thanks to various regulations and popular certifications. Still, it helps to have some familiarity with the options available to you… and it’s even better to go in with a plan. The following tips – for new construction and remodels – will help you get started.

Toilets

Any discussion about water efficiency in the bathroom has to start with the toilet: flushing accounts for over a quarter of total indoor water use! Older houses that haven’t had a new toilet since before 1994 are using 3.5 gallons or more per flush – an entirely unnecessary amount. New toilets use 1.6 gpf or less, generating significant water savings. Some models go even further, providing two separate flush options for liquid and solid waste: usually 0.8-1.1 gpf and 1.6 gpf, respectively.

If you already have a 1.6 gpf or lower gpf model that you don’t want to part with, make sure it’s working at maximum efficiency by doing a quick toilet checkup and replacing any parts that could be leaking.

Bathtubs

Bathtubs get a bad rap when it comes to water savings. This is understandable when you consider that the average tub holds anywhere from 30-50 gallons of water – if you fill it up. If you fill it only halfway, you’re using considerably less water. Before you ditch your tub, keep in mind that the time spent in your bath doesn’t mean more water is used (unless you’re letting some out and re-heating!), whereas the longer you shower, the more water you’re using. Additionally, most people don’t take a bath every single day, they primarily shower and mix a bath in occasionally.

There are plenty of reasons to keep your tub. Bathtubs make bathing young children easier, it can be expensive to replace a bathtub with a shower only, and there’s a certain relaxing quality you can get from a good soak that a shower just can’t mimic. However, if you are truly concerned about the water savings, you’re trying to make your home more accessible, or you’re just not a bather, a well-designed shower can still offer plenty of relaxation and significant water conservation. When switching to a shower-only design, you may also want to consider adding a steam shower. Many people find that 15-20 minutes in the steam shower offers exceptional relaxation, physical health benefits, and overall improved well-being – for about 3 gallons of water. Remember though, that a steam generator will still use some energy, just less than the average tank-style water heater.

 Shower Heads

The other major water-guzzler in the bathroom is the shower. Pre-1994 shower heads can use up to 8 (!) gpm, while new shower heads are currently capped at 2.5 gpm (in California, this will be further reduced to 2.0 gpm in July 2016, and to 1.8 gpm in 2018). As with the earliest low-flow toilets, low-flow shower heads were often disappointing, and are still treated with suspicion. Fortunately, manufacturers have come up with all kinds of designs to ensure a powerful, effective shower using very little water. And because less water is used, less energy is required to heat it!

 Faucets

Faucets are one of the easiest and cheapest things to make water-efficient with the addition of a simple aerator. By adding air to the faucets water stream, a steady and stable flow is produced that feels like more water than it is. Some of these handy little devices can go lower than a gallon per minute, saving a lot of water in the long run. And don’t forget that a slow drip can still waste hundreds of gallons per year, so make sure to attend to needed repairs quickly.

Note: If you have a tankless water heater, be aware of the minimum flow rate required to activate it. Be sure that the aerator you select will give you the hot water you need.

If you’re wanting a new faucet, choose one that already has a lower flow rate, preferably a WaterSense® certified model. Manufacturers have risen to the challenge of providing fixtures that work well, look great, AND save water, so you have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to lavatory faucets. And for the forgetful (and germophobic) among us, touchless faucets are a godsend.

 Water Heating

The bathroombiggest energy user isnt even in the same room! Water heating accounts for up to 30% of a homes total energy use, and with a standard tank heater, anywhere from 10-20% of that energy is wasted as water sits and loses its heat to the environment (prompting endless heating cycles). You can reduce the water temperature to save some energy, but keep in mind that below 140 degrees, bacteria like legionella can still reproduce.

If its time for a new water heater, consider going tankless. Although standard tank heaters are more efficient than ever, tankless units heat water only when theres demand, eliminating standby heat loss and cutting down on energy use. To save even more energy, a solar water heater can be used to preheat the water going into a heater, be it standard or tankless.

Note: Converting to tankless can involve more than a quick swap-out. Because theyre on-demand, tankless heaters require a lot of energy at once. Depending on the electrical setup in your home, upgrades might be necessary to power the unit. The same is true of some gas units.

Another method of efficiently pre-heating water for the water heater is called drain water heat recovery. In most systems, incoming cold water is directed through copper pipe coiled around a drain pipe. As hot water flows down the drain (from a shower or dishwasher, say), its heat is transferred to the cold water, which goes on to supply the water heater. Check with local authorities for code-compliance before purchasing or building, though.

Recirculating pump systems are a more advanced option for water (and sometimes energy) savings. These setups reduce the time it takes for hot water to reach fixtures, resulting in less water waste – just think about how long you let the shower run before getting in. You can choose a setup that will run throughout your home (with or without a timer), or go with an on-demand option that helps to save even more energy.

 Ventilation

Bathrooms get wet. And smelly. Neither of these things are good. A good ventilation fan takes care of both, but dont go thinking you need an industrial-strength unit to get the job done. Highly efficient, Energy Star certified bathroom fans can clear a room of moisture and noxious fumes quickly and quietly. Take a look at our buying guide to get an idea of what your bathroom might need.

Did you know that windows can be Energy Star certified? Utilizing a variety of designs and materials, manufacturers have been able to create windows that do an excellent job of keeping the outside out. If you rely upon windows for bathroom ventilation and are unable to install a fan, invest in quality and efficiency. Dont throw money out the window!

Lighting

Messing with the lights in any room can be contentious, and the bathroom can be particularly troublesome. Between makeup application and mood-setting for relaxing baths, theres little room for error. Fortunately, many of the latest LED and CFL bulbs are indistinguishable from their incandescent forerunners, allowing even the most discerning to find the right glow.

Even if you don’t replace your bulbs right away, there are other ways to save lighting energy. Timers are a good idea in any bathroom, especially so with children and forgetful adults – hook one up to control lights and fans. Some even operate by touchless sensor, turning on when someone enters the room, and shutting off when activity is no longer detected. Dimmers can also help save a bit of energy when lights are regularly dimmed for baths, toilet visits, and other times when full brightness isnt a necessity.

Cant quite get the lighting right for makeup or shaving? Think about investing in a lighted mirror: these will provide a bright, dedicated light for exacting tasks. In addition to having many magnifying options, we also offer mirrors with multiple color temperatures for different settings.

Ultimate Plumbing Maintenance Guide

 We all forget about things: let them go for a few weeks… then months… then years. At that point, they generally fall away (which is great since they’ll never get taken care of). And usually, if something can go unaddressed for that long, it probably wasn’t that important to begin with. Plumbing maintenance is an entirely different and particularly vicious beast. While just as easily forgotten, put off, or ignored, plumbing never lets you off the hook. With the patience of a saint – and the malice of a demon – plumbing problems can take their time developing, smoldering, until that once-tiny leak turns menace, threatening the very structure of the home.

Fortunately, routine maintenance and observation can forestall or eliminate most of those problems. The key is to be comprehensive – and to actually devote a few hours to getting to know your house (as off-putting as “doing maintenance” might sound, it is an opportunity to do just that). To aid in this learning/bonding experience, we offer the following checklist, hitting up the most vulnerable and troublesome spots in the home.

Plumbing Maintenance Checklist

  •  Perform an in-depth leak check throughout your home. For help, take a look at our guide to finding leaks.
  •  When you visit each fixture, look for a shut-off valve on the water supply lines. Test them out to have some assurance they’ll work when you need to perform repairs, or prevent a flood!
  •  Check any visible pipes and joints (you really should go into the basement or crawlspace) for signs of corrosion: bluish-green deposits on brass and copper, rust on iron and steel. While there may be no problems as of yet, leaks will eventually develop. Consult with a plumber to determine the best course of action.
  •  Look and listen to the drains in your sinks, tubs, and showers. Are they draining quickly and smoothly? Is there any gurgling? A slow drain is an obvious indicator of a clog; gurgling could mean the same, or a blockage in the drain vent. While some blockages can be dealt with by the amateur, if you can’t solve the problem by manually clearing the drain or using vinegar and baking soda, it could mean the issue is further down the line, requiring professional attention. Learn more about clog prevention and drain maintenance.
  •  Even if your sink drains seem fine, you know what they say about prevention and cure. Cleaning out the p-traps under your sinks will help protect against future clogs, and you may even find that earring that went missing last Thanksgiving!
  •  While you’re under the sink, take a good look around for leaks, or signs thereof: stains, mildew, warping, or peeling. Not every leak is constant, and a seemingly dry area may be hiding damage below.
  •  Garbage disposal? There’s likely regular maintenance recommended by the manufacturer; consult your owner’s manual or our tips on garbage disposer care. At the very least, give it a quick cleaning using ice cubes made of white vinegar.
  •  If your refrigerator has an ice maker, take a look at the water supply tubing and connection to ensure no leaks are present. Leaks from ice makers can become big problems, and are often overlooked.
  •  Check faucet aerators and shower heads: each can become clogged with minerals and debris, compromising performance. Aerators can usually be cleaned with a toothbrush and soapy water, or vinegar. Shower heads should be submerged in vinegar for 30 minutes (or overnight, depending) – for more help, check out how to clean a shower head.
  •  Examine the caulking around the tub/shower, shower doors, toilet bases, and sinks (including the kitchen). If any spots are dried out, missing, or otherwise iffy, thoroughly remove the old caulk and replace with some fresh silicone.
  •  Without using too much force, try to move or rock your toilets. If there’s movement, check the mounting bolts at the base. If these are tight, the flange may need to be replaced and the toilet reinstalled.
  •  Remove the tank lids off your toilets and peek inside. Check for any obvious signs of wear or damage. Reach in and feel the flapper: these and other rubbery parts have a habit of rapidly deteriorating in highly-chlorinated water, and with the use of cleaning additives (the blue stuff, which should never be used). Beware! Deteriorated flappers can leave a serious mess on your hands (literally). If you want to make sure your toilet is in top-notch working order, check out how to improve toilet performance.
  • Note: Be extremely careful when taking off tank lids! They can be heavy, and break oh-so-easily. Place them on a flat, steady surface to avoid damage. And if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well that information would have been useful to me yesterday…” – we have a HUGE selection of replacement tank lids.
  •  If you have a running toilet – and the flapper is in good shape, forming an even seal – perform some troubleshooting to help figure out what the problem may be. Many times this is a quick and easy fix.
  •  Any rarely used toilets in the house? Give them a flush to make sure things are as they should be. Your future guests will appreciate it.
  •  Another oft-overlooked leak source is the washing machine: in particular, the water supply lines. Examine these hoses for cracks or brittleness, ensure the connections are secure, and that the surrounding walls and floor are dry.
  •  While low water pressure is pretty easy to notice, high pressure can be a bit trickier. Even if you have a pressure regulator installed, check the actual pressure regularly using a test gauge. An ideal pressure is somewhere between 40-65 psi. High pressure can mess with valves and fixtures, and can even cause blowouts in supply lines. Regulators and pumps can help keep things proper.
  •  If you haven’t done so in the past year (or ever), flush your water heater and replace the anode rod, if necessary.
  •  The Temperature and Pressure Relief valve on your water heater should be checked every few years for proper operation. If it’s been a while, be sure you have a receptacle for the hot water that will stream out (be careful – it can be VERY HOT water), and flip that switch! Sometimes if they’re too worn, these won’t re-seal after testing them out, so be prepared to replace this vital mechanism.
  •  Be sure to know the locations of the main water shut-off, as well as your sewage cleanouts.