Frequently Asked Questions

What do LT, CFT, LAV and other abbreviations mean?

They are plumbing shorthand terms for common things we encounter on the job. Here are some of the most used ones:

W/C = Toilet
FD = Floor Drain
LT = Laundry Tray
CWM = Clothes Washing Machine
HWT = Hot Water Heater
DWM = Dish Washing Machine
LAV = Bathroom Sink
CFT = Claw Foot Tub

How do I maintain my water heater?

First off, turn off your electric power or gas. You will damage the heater if the element comes on while the tank is dry. Make sure you turn off the water as well. A time switch is not a safe place to turn off the electricity! Do it from a circuit breaker or pull the fuse. If you are uncertain, call your local plumber and double-check.

Drain the water heater first, then while the hose is still attached, open and close the inlet valve a few times to help flush the sediment out. Do this until the water comes out clean. You may have to dismantle the valve if large chunks of scale are coming loose.

Remove the sacrificial anode, which is a plug-in at the top of the HWT. Inspect it, and it should be almost as long as the water heater. Replace it if any portion is thinner than about a quarter of an inch.

With the anode out, shine a flashlight inside the tank to inspect for rust. If you see a lot of rust, it’s time to replace the heater – BEFORE it fails! Water heaters usually are glass or ceramic lined to prevent corrosion; this is also the purpose of the anode. The heat of the water will hasten corrosion once it starts.

Open up the element access panel and disconnect one wire from each of the elements. With a volt-ohm-meter, check to ensure both elements are still functional. If your meter peaks out with exceptionally high ohms, it’s time to replace the element.

Wrap everything up and turn on the water. Open a hot water faucet to let the air out. When HWT is full, turn on the electricity. Wait a while for all the water to heat up. If you are replacing a water heater, install a special pan underneath designed to catch the water, should it develop a leak (or pop off the pop-off valve). Have it drain to a safe place – either outside or a floor drain.

Why do low flush toilets have issues?

Until the year 2001, in commercial plumbing, there were a lot of consumer complaints with 1.6-gallon toilets. The manufacturers had to design and build them according to government specifications. We all know how that usually goes… Plumbers were blaming congress. Consumers blamed the manufacturer or the plumber.

The problem lies in pipe design. The toilets were tested on modern plumbing, that is, 3-inch plastic piping. However, most structures still use 4 to 6 inch cast iron pipes. I won’t bore you with the details but needless to say, this did not produce good results in actual working environments.

My toilet leaks at the base after moving or install. How do I fix it?

Is the top of the flange level with the finished floor? If it is too low, try two wax rings. One regular on the bottom and one (or more) with the plastic horn insert on top. I have seen leaks if the glued flange is not glued in all the way. Take a look at that – if your floor and flange are flush. Sometimes you will need to shim the toilet if the floor is uneven or if the flange is too high.

High pressure is making my toilet run, even with a new balltap!

If your water pressure is so high that it leaks past a Fluidmaster 400A or another new balltap (aka toilet fill valve) then you need a pressure reducing valve. Other water pipes, connectors, clothes washing machine hoses and your water heater could leak or break. It’s best to get a pressure regulator if your pressure to the house is more than 60 pounds. 80 is code throughout most of the United States.

How do I seal my W/C tank to the bowl?
Get the best results by using the large donut gasket – use the type that is square cut inside to match the shape of the nut on the bottom of the tank. A sealant will not help! Tighten the bolts down evenly to the point where the tank is snug on the bowl. Use caution – over-tightening will break the bowl and/or tank.
Leak Somewhere in the Plumbing in my Shower/Bath?

This happens all the time, and nine times out of 10, it’s the grout or a lousy pan under the shower. The first thing to do is to determine whether the leak is constant or periodic. If it’s constant, then there’s a good chance the leak is in the pressurized water lines. Usually, the leak is intermittent, so you will need to perform a series of tests. Sometimes a quick inspection of the tile will show the grout is going bad, but you should still complete the series of tests to make sure.

First, fill the tub halfway and drain it and watch for leaking. This will tell you if it’s the drain pipe. For a shower, a lead or vinyl pan over the drain will block it so you can fill the base with water. If it leaks, then it’s the pan. Another test is to remove the showerhead and put a half-inch cap on the shower arm then turn on the pressure.

This will tell you if there is a leak between the valve and the shower arm. If you perform all these tests and there is no leak, then it tends to be the water bleeding through the tile due to bad grouting. It could also be that water is escaping the shower and going down through the bathroom floor. You can check this by using a plastic drop cloth inside the shower, taping it up to cover all the tile work, and use the shower normally for a day or two.

If the leak suddenly disappears, then it’s coming through the tile. A few cups of water on the floor will show leaks through bad tiles or a cracked floor base. If none of this works, it’s time to open up the walls. (Which you should not attempt yourself.)

How do I snake my tub drain to remove a clog?
To get a snake in, you take off the overflow plate. That’s the chrome thing on the tub with two screws. When you pull it out, two sections of the stopper mechanism will come with it. It’s hinged so it will bend through the hole. The chances are that hair caught on the end of this mechanism is clogging your drain – you may not even to snake it. Note that a snake will NOT go through the drain hole at the bottom of the tub.
When I use my washing machine, my toilet bubbles/overflows or my shower overflows?
The washing machine line could be connected too closely to the ‘suds rinse zone’ – meaning that the washer waste ties into the waste or soil line of another fixture too close downstream from the problem fixture. What is happening is that the water is rushing by the suds at a high velocity, pushing ahead of them. The fixture is the closest place of relief, so the suds will come up in the fixture – even a toilet. The code requires that a washing machine, sink, shower, and dishwasher line be connected at least 5 feet downstream from any fixture branch. Note that this is only one possibility out of many for the bubbling and backup. This may also occur after a bathroom remodel.
Should I get a on-demand hot water system?

The energy efficiency of these systems depends a lot on other factors – like the amount of heat loss from a more traditional storage system or the length of time hot water is stored before it is used. In reality, they require a lot more energy per volume of heated water than conventional systems, and they usually cannot provide enough hot water for more than one fixture at a time. The traditional storage tank can be quite efficient if the tank and hot water pipes are adequately insulated. Any full-service plumbing company can confirm this for you.

These systems do have their uses in the right situations. They tend to be efficient in locations where hot water is used only occasionally, such as some shops or where a fixture is at a considerable distance from a traditional tank storage system – such as a guest house or pool house. They can also be useful if you are adding hot water to a building where only cold water has been used, and adding a complete hot water piping system will be cost-ineffective.

What is a good height for a Gas Hot Water Heater tank?

It should be at least 18 inches off the floor because combustible fumes are heavier than air and will sink to the ground – and for air intake.