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Serving Boston and the South Shore

Common Plumbing Questions

We have compiled a list of answers to common plumbing questions but make no guarantee that the answer here will match your specific situation. There are always variables that can indicate a different problem and/or solution. For example, we had a customer call because one of their toilets was leaking from the base. They thought the wax ring had failed and needed to be replaced. Once the plumber removed the toilet, he discovered that a clog in the drain line was the real problem. Thus, while there are simple plumbing tasks that can be completed by an experienced DIYer, we do recommend calling in a licensed professional plumber as individual situations may have a cause other than those described here.

Do you find that running water in the house results in a yelp (or worse!) from someone taking a shower? This typically happens if you currently have a 3-handle shower faucet without a pressure-balance mixing valve, although we have also seen it with single-handle shower faucets, especially when they have been replaced as a DIY project.

There are several issues that could be causing this. Houses are built with vent pipes to allow oxygen into the system to help keep water flowing easily as well as to prevent sewer gas smells from entering the home. At times, the prevailing wind affects the air in the vent pipes and causes changes in water levels. This is a normal occurrence. It could also be that usage in the system has reached its maximum capacity. However, changes in the water levels can also be caused by a blockage in a vent pipe or a crack in the toilet. We recommend calling out a plumber if the problem recurs frequently or when there is more of a breeze than a wind.

It is possible that this is just residual water in the faucet. To find out, put a cup or a bowl under the spout and let it sit overnight. If the bowl is empty in the morning, there probably isn’t any problem. However, if the bowl is full, there might be an issue with the washer, the cartridge in the faucet, or the faucet itself. While it is possible to ignore a dripping faucet, that drip can add up for water usage. It will also likely get worse over time. We’ve seen drips suddenly turn into running water, with nights and weekends a favorite time for this to happen, so we recommend fixing a dripping faucet sooner rather than later.

Despite the fact that manufacturers often promote the lifetime warranties of their products, please understand that those are actually limited warranties. The valves and cartridges inside the faucets aren’t designed to last forever. That said, higher quality faucets often have parts that are replaceable, which means they can be repaired instead of replaced. If you purchase a new faucet, we recommend keeping track of the warranty information and recording the date of purchase. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of the receipt. If the faucet fails within the manufacturer’s warranty period, the company will likely send out a replacement part. The homeowner will, however, need to replace the part themselves or pay a plumber to do the work. With less expensive or lower quality faucets, it is often more cost effective to replace the whole faucet.

First of all, welcome to New England! We always recommend that new homeowners call a licensed plumber and request a walk-through of the plumbing in their homes. The plumber can tell you if there are any potential issues that may come up through our long, cold winters. It is also important to be sure that your heating system is fully functioning and to make sure at least some heat is flowing even to rooms you may not be using. That helps to minimize the risk of pipes freezing.

We recommend that homeowners check with their oil supplier to see if they handle repairs. If they don’t do the work themselves, they can probably recommend someone.

First of all, 90% of the tank-type water heaters in the residential market carry 6-year guarantees. Some will have problems before the warranty expires, some will wait to break until the day or month after the warranty expires, and a few will last upwards of 20 years. So, what’s a homeowner to do?

Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • We encourage homeowners to be proactive. Avoid waiting until the water heater starts to leak. Once they start dripping water, they can create a lot of damage. And like kids and teeth, they often seem to develop issues over weekends and holidays.

  • If the water heater seems to be running fine, we use the 10-year cut-off rule and replace our water heaters when they have been in use for 10 years. Why wait for it to break?

  • If the performance is deteriorating, replace it.

  • If your water quality has changed, replace it.

    Another reason to be proactive is to give you time to consider your replacement options. There are on- demand heaters that may be a good choice for you, or you may want to go with a larger or smaller tank than you have. We know of one homeowner who purchased a home that had a large whirlpool soaking tub. The problem was that it had been a rental unit and the most recent owner had replaced the water heater with a 30-gallon unit that was too small to fill the tub with hot water. Talk about disappointing! A licensed plumber can help you evaluate your current and anticipated needs over the expected lifetime of your water heater to get the size and type that works best for you. This is much easier to do when you aren’t having to replace your water heater on an emergency basis.

We suggest that homeowners follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, which often include an annual inspection of the gas control (if the water is heated by natural gas), or heating element and wiring (if the water is heated by electricity), the relief valve, the venting system, and the anode rod. Note that the anode rod should not be removed if it has not been checked annually since installation.

Moving it after several years of use without annual checks can dislodge the deposits it is meant to attract and cause the water heater to fail within a short period of time.