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Antifreeze for Plumbing Systems

Is it safe to use antifreeze in home water or sewer systems?

The common type of antifreeze used in automobile cooling systems is Ethylene Glycol. This is not safe to use in any part of a home water system. The other type Propylene Glycol is used in the waste water systems of recreational vehicles and is generally safe for waste water systems, toilets, drain lines and hot water heating systems of buildings that are left unheated during extended periods of sub-freezing temperatures. Propylene Glycol is not harmful if swallowed in small amounts but it is still not recommended for use in water supply systems. Use antifreeze in waste water or hot water heating systems only if it is not practical to maintain heat in the home, insulate the vulnerable pipes or keep water trickling through the syThe common type of antifreeze used in automobile cooling systems is Ethylene Glycol. This is not safe to use in any part of a home water system. The other type Propylene Glycol is used in the waste water systems of recreational vehicles and is generally safe for waste water systems, toilets, drain lines and hot water heating systems of buildings that are left unheated during extended periods of sub-freezing temperatures. Propylene Glycol is not harmful if swallowed in small amounts but it is still not recommended for use in water supply systems. Use antifreeze in waste water or hot water heating systems only if it is not practical to maintain heat in the home, insulate the vulnerable pipes or keep water trickling through the system. For more information on prevention and repair of frozen water pipes see “Preventing Pipe Freezing” below. 

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Biological Drain Cleaners

Are biological drain cleaners safe and effective?

These products have been available for many years, though they have been more heavily marketed recently. They use microorganisms to digest grease and soap scum that coat drains and can bind with hair to cause blockages. Tests by “Consumer Reports,” found the cleaners it tested effective in dissolving grease and soap scum in most cases. Once the bacteria are established in the drain, they should provide continuous cleaning of soap scum and grease. However, they are not the treatment of choice for a completely blocked drain. While they are non-corrosive, package labels usually caution against swallowing and, in some cases, skin contact.

Caring for Septic Systems

How can I check to be sure my septic system is working properly?

Your system should have one or more cast iron or plastic pipes sticking up as observation and/or vent pipes. If the water standing in these pipes is rising that is a sign to take action immediately. Other signs of problems include the grass growing much more luxuriantly over the drain field, soggy soil above parts of the drain fields or settling soil near the septic tank. The latter can mean a break in the tankOther signs of problems can be observed from inside the house. For example, slow drains in sinks and bathtubs. If several drains, particularly those lowest in the house are slow then it may be a sign that your septic system is backing up. If drains start gurgling in a way you haven’t noticed before or you smell sewage gas in the house, these are also danger signs.

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Faulty Water Heater Dip Tubes

There is eggshell-like debris in my hot water lines, what could it be?

Many hot water heaters manufactured between 1991 and 1996 used a type of plastic dip tube which can disintegrate on the tank, leaving debris that circulates through the hot water system. The plastic debris, which looks like pieces of egg shell, can block water flow in appliances that use hot water. There is no evidence that the debris is harmful if swallowed. Service persons unaware of the problem have, in some cases recommended that consumers replace the appliance when what was needed was to clean the water filter, possibly flush the system and replace or repair the water heater. The dip tube is a pipe that carries the incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank so that it can be heated. The problem can occur with gas or electric water heaters manufactured by most companies, including Rheem Manufacturing, American Water Heaters, A.O Smith, Bradford White and State Industries. They all used dip tubes supplied by Perfection Industries. Reports vary on the years during which these problematic dip tubs were used. Most sources say water heaters manufactured between 1993 and 1996 are involved. However, others suggest that the problem may go back to 1991. If you suspect such a problem contact the manufacturer of your water heater for advise.

Preventing Pipe Freezing

How can freezing of water pipes be prevented?

Most of us never have to worry about a frozen water pipe. Our plumbing pipes are on interior walls and are insulated well enough that water does not freeze in them. If you have water pipes that run through unheated crawl spaces, floors over garages or in outside walls, frozen pipes may be a concern. The long-term solution is to provide better insulation or more heat to the pipes. Electric heating tape can be wrapped around the pipes and can be energized when sub-zero weather is predicted, if there isn’t a less expensive way to warm up pipes. You also can leave the faucets connected to these exposed pipes trickling when low temperatures are in the forecast. If the pipes are under an enclosed sink, open the door and use a fan to blow air from the room into the area under the sink.If pipes do freeze, shut off the water supply to those pipes, then heat them with a heat lamp or portable heater. Apply only moderate heat and expect to wait for several hours. Open affected faucets to relieve pressure. If pipes burst, immediately turn off the water to those pipes and find the leak. This will help the plumber locate the areas that need repair.

Preventing Spots on Stainless Steel Sink

What is the best way to keep spots from forming on a stainless steel sink?

Elkay, a major supplier of stainless steel sinks, recommends against relying on liquid soaps to clean the sink. They recommend rinsing with water after each use and cleaning with scouring powder once a week. Unlike porcelain enamel surfaces the stainless steel surface is not harmed by the abrasive cleaning. If this doesn’t get rid of the spots and you use softened water you might want to have your water softener checked. If your softener isn’t working the spots may be mineral deposits. If this is the case you should be noticing white residues on bath tubs and other sinks as well.

Removing Rust and Lime from Toilet Bowl

How can rust stains be removed from the inside of a toilet bowl?

A number of products are available specifically to remove iron stains from porcelain fixtures. One of the most effective chemicals seems to be sodium metabisulfite. The products containing this compound usually have a name that says something about iron removal. Follow the directions carefully. You may want to empty the water out of the bowl before attempting to remove stains. This keeps the cleaner in a concentrated form. You can remove the water by turning the water to the toilet off, then flushing it. Or, use a plunger and force the water over the trap in the toilet.

What is the best way to remove a persistent lime ring around a toilet bowl?

First use a plunger to remove the water from the toilet bowl then apply a lime remover liberally, let stand and then scrub. Using the product in concentrated form should make a big difference in its effectiveness. If this doesn’t work visit a plumbing supply store and ask for one of the products sold to plumbers for removing mineral deposits.

Repairing a Scratch in a Bathtub

How can scratches in a bathtub be repaired?

There is no way to successfully touch up a bathtub the way you would the paint on a car. You can have the entire surface refinished. The contractor will use a chemical to etch the surface and assure that it is thoroughly clean. A special type of enamel is then applied to the surface. The surface will be durable but not as durable as the original porcelain enamel. As you can imagine the process is expensive but it may be cheaper than replacing the tub in an existing bathroom. Check references for any refinishing company you plan to hire; workmanship is extremely important to a successful job.

If there are only a few scratches you can help the appearance of the tub by rubbing the area with an automotive rubbing compound to remove the rust and smooth the surface and then applying a high quality automotive polish. The polish will have to be renewed every few months.

Septic System Additives

Do I need to add chemicals to my septic system to keep it working?

There is no need to add products that claim to add bacteria and enzymes to your system either to start it working or to keep it working. The waste that goes into the system is usually more than sufficient to keep digestion going. The bacteria are strong enough to survive small amounts of bleach that are part of laundry as well as small amounts of other things normally toxic to bacteria. In fact, if you think that adding an additive will prolong times between servicing the tank, this could endanger your system.

Sluggish Bathroom Drains

Why would bathroom drains become sluggish in the winter?

It is possible that the vent stack for the house drains is frozen over. The vent stack vents gas from the waste water drain system in your home. When it is blocked air pressure may slow the system. The air escaping through the vent is usually warm enough to keep the pipe from freezing. But with heavy snow, a vent pipe in an area of roof protected from wind may become covered with snow and then freeze. Removing snow from the top of the vent pipe and the area around it should stop frozen vents.It is also possible that the opening is too small. Rather than the 3 or 4 inch pipe that leads up from the house the roof vent should be 6 inches in diameter.

Tankless Hotwater Heaters

How well do tankless hot water heaters work?

Tankless water heaters aren’t all that different from conventional water heaters; instead of having a large tank and a small heater, they have a very small tank and a very large heater. They heat the water as needed so that the unit doesn’t lose heat while the hot water is waiting around to be used. An energy efficient conventional hot water heater has an energy factor of around .7. Manufacturers of tankless hot water heaters report efficiencies of .93.Tankless units provide hot water to the tap as rapidly as a conventional water heater. On the other hand, tankless heaters can only put out so much water per minute. Running the dishwasher and taking a shower at the same time can be a problem if the heater is not large enough to meet the demand of both uses at once. The output also depends on the temperature of the water coming into the heater. The colder the input water, the less output of hot water.

There are a couple of other issues to consider with tankless hot water heaters. The first is that these heaters are more sensitive to hard water than conventional heaters. Hard water can cause corrosion of the coils and shorten life expectancy. This means that in areas with hard water it is essential to run the water through a water softener first.

The second consideration is that plumbers aren’t always familiar with them. It is important to find an installer who is comfortable with tankless heaters and is ready to service the unit if anything does go wrong.

Tankless water heaters are substantially more expensive than conventional hot water heaters, and installing a gas tankless heater can be a tricky remodeling job. Electric tankless heaters are simple to install, but much more costly to operate than a gas tankless heater. They also need very heavy wiring to accommodate their large electrical load.

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Water Softeners

Can water filters remove hardness thereby eliminating the need for a water softener?

Unfortunately, calcium the major chemical removed by water softening is not easy to filter out. To begin with it is dissolved so that it will pass through most paper type filters that are meant to remove particles. Carbon filters aren’t very effective at removing water soluble substances.

A side problem with carbon filters is that if they become too saturated with contaminants, then they will release contaminants if something more “attractive” comes into the filter. So, one could get a concentration of a contaminant in their glass of water that’s higher than the concentration in the raw water, if the filter isn’t maintained properly.

For more information on water treatment devices follow the link below.

Do magnetic Water Treatment Devices Work?

Despite claims by marketers, a fact sheet from Pennsylvania State University indicates that there is no scientific evidence that magnetic water treatment devices work. In fact, the Canadian Water Quality association and the Minnesota Better Business Bureau are two organizations that have issued consumer alerts against these devices. See http://resources.cas.psu.edu/WaterResources/pdfs/magnetic.pdf for more details. 

Is there an option for softening water besides sodium chloride?

The typical water softening process uses sodium chloride which is the same chemical as table salt. During the softening process sodium the level of sodium in the water increases. A rule of thumb is that sodium will be about 1/2 the hardness of your untreated water, in milligrams per liter (mg/L).One solution is to have only the hot water lined softened, and use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Another solution is to use potassium chloride as a substitute for sodium chloride. It is about twice as expensive but according to experts has no other draw backs. In fact, the National Small Flows Clearinghouse (NFSC) commends potassium as having several benefits. It is an important nutritional element for humans and an essential element for plant growth so there is no danger of damaging septic systems. For more information, visit NFSC’s website.

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