Plumbing-City Water Cut-Off

January 16, 2009

Knowing how to turn the water off here is a valuable tool in your home knowledge arsenal. Being able to turn the water off changes the complexion of your relation with a plumbing emergency as well as the plumber. It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it;  just to say you 100_0178can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off, on the street side of the meter head, may be hard to get to so find the right wrench that will work for you.  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position. Be prepared, when you open the meter lid, you will probably find many bug friends as it is a great place to hang out if you are a cock roach. Give it try.

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Chasing Water Leaks Part II

July 28, 2010

water-leak210% of all homes have some sort of water leak, and can be repaired quite easily. However, hidden leaks are hard to find but can go un-noticed for years and cause significant structural damage.

To continue with the “Chasing Water Leaks” theme for March, Part II of this article is directed at the real hard to find category. By now you should have fixed any leaks associated with faucets, toilets, and any other water delivery devices (dishwashers, ice makers, lawn sprinklers, etc.). If not, make sure and read the posts on Chasing Water Leaks Part I and lawn sprinklers  and resolve those issues first before going any further.  This Part II  inspection will help you discover leaks that may be in the ground, in a wall or very small leaks that can go unnoticed in or around the house. Even if you decide not to do any of the work, isolating the leak for the plumber will save you significant $$’s.

Leak Isolation Group II (main lines and  concealed leaks)

  1. Main water line: Typically houses have a service cut-off immediately before the water service enters the house. Turn off the service cut-off and re-inspect the water meter low flow gauges to see if the meter is still running or not. If the meter still runs, walk the path of the water line looking for dark green grass (in the summer) or wet spots. TIP: Use caution in operating this cut-off if it has not been operated for a year or so, do not force it. You can still walk-out the path without using the cut off. Obviously, if you find something here it will need to be fixed before you can complete the inspection. Finding the leak here may conclude your inspection.  Considered rare, finding a leak here can typically be associated with recent digging.   mold
  2. At this point, the leak you are searching for is probably very small.  You will be looking for traces of water, in the form of moisture or mold. You may just find slight discoloration or the surface may be cold to touch compared to the rest of the surface. Inspect baseboards and walls near or around where water pipes enter the house. Make sure and look on both sides of a wall that may have water pipes in them.  Look for moisture on the walls and floors surrounding all the water fixtures. You may also find distortion on the wall or floor surface as water will cause the building materials to expand. If you find solid evidence, you may have to open the wall to get to it to expose the pipes, but before you do, try to isolate the problem further by following the Foundation methods.  (TIP: Experiencing foundation movement could have been the cause of a leaky pipes in a wall.) If you were unable to locate the leak based on the previous inspection you may eventually require a professional but before you call them try these inspection methods for further isolation.

Pier & Beam Foundations: Houses with pier and beam foundations usually have a crawl space with an access hole. Possibly in a closet or outside around the foundation. If you are claustrophobic, don’t like bugs spiders and crawling things, you want to stop here and call a professional. If you choose to continue, take a good flashlight and crawl in.

  1. Start at the end of the house where the water line enters the house and  crawl the path of the pipes. Look for puddles, wet soil and wet pipes. If you suspect pipes-in-crawl-space1a leak in the wall , look up at the floor boards and all locations where the pipes enter the house above you.  Moisture, dampness, mold is the give away. If it has been leaking for an extended period of time, you may find rotten wood. If the pipe is leaking within the wall, you will probably see water trickling down the pipe to the ground.
  2. If you find water or water damage around the large drain pipes under the toilets, shower, tub or sinks, this will have to be addressed, but is not the cause of water loss through the meter.

Slab Foundations: With slab foundations; walk the perimeter of the house.

  1. Look for damp areas or pools of water
  2. Look for damp conditions or green moss on the concrete and brick. This would not be associated with any gutter downspouts or roof run offs.
  3. At this point, if you  haven’t found it, you may have a leak in an interior wall or under the foundation. If you have had recent foundation movement or foundation repairs, this would increase the chances of this type of leak.
  4. Calling in a professional may be your only choice because it may require  specialized test gear designed to measure for small amounts of water. When you are interviewing a plumber over the phone, insure they are equipped for this type  of diagnostics. Otherwise they will come out and do pretty much the same things you did, then call another plumber (as a sub-contractor) to perform the tests  and charge you for both his time and the other plumber.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Use the  water mter to determine if any water leaks exist.
  2. Inspect in, around, and underneath the house.
  3. Once the leak(s) have been isolated, repair them or call a professional.

Water Heater Inspection

April 13, 2010

About 20 years ago, my hot water heater started leaking the day before we left for a vacation. In a panic, my wife said, what are you going to do. I said, turn it off and go to Disney World. True story!! So needless to say I had a project waiting for me when I returned. 

Water heaters come in many types, shapes and sizes. Natural gas (or LP) or electric tank type are the most common. Like everything else in the house, a little bit of maintenance and periodical inspections can work to get the most life out of a hot water heater. 

The Inspection: If the water heater is new, you can go 3 years before inspecting it. Then every two years, At 7, start inspecting it every year.

  1. How  old is the water heater? If the water heater was there before you were. You need to figure out how old it is. Newer tanks maybe clearly stamped with a date. Sometimes a plumber will also write on the tank the date of installation. If you find none of that, look for the serial number. The first four digits should include a date code. Every manufacturer does it a little different. C-93,  0393, 9303, 9313 (13 is a week number) In this example, all equate to March of 1993. Typically water heaters can last for 10-15 years, but start inspecting them more regularly at about 7 years.
  2. Physical Inspection: With a good flashlight, try to look around all the surface area of the outside structure. Look for any water, water deposits, rust or deformation in the shell of the heater Inspect all the water connections. The tank should be marked with cold input and hot output. WARNING: The hot water output will be HOT. Be careful if you touch them. Look for heavy rust and water streaks on the shell of the heater. Using a paper towel as your inspection tool it will identify water on the back side where you may not be able to see it.
  3. Cold Water Cut-off: Close the valve to make sure you can. In an emergency, you need to know it will close successfully.
  4. Pressure Release Valve: Every water heater has a pressure relief valve. By design, if the water heater gets too hot and the water starts boiling, the relief valve will let the water out. If the water heater was installed correctly, the valve should be connected to a pipe, and the pipe should exit the house.  Open the valve for about 2 seconds, then let it go quickly so it will re-seat. Be aware, it may not re-seat. If it doesn’t re-seat, activate it a couple of times. If it does not re-seat, it will need to be replaced. TIP: When testing this item, be aware, it may not re-seat, so do it when it will be convenient for you to replace it or have it replaced. You want to avoid that weekend call out to a plumber.  If you get stuck, you can turn the cold water off (see #3) and it should  stop leaking until you replace it, granted you will be limited on hot water. Here is the e-How link to replacing a pressure relief valve.
  5. Flue Inspection (Gas fired Water Heaters): You should see a rigid metal duct or flue leaving the top of the water heater. Inspect each joint to ensure it is properly sealed with aluminum type tape. This is very important as a leaky vent can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. This vent needs to be inspected from the top of the water heater to the point of exit out of the house. It should also be secure and supported on its path out of the house.

Routine Maintenance:

  1. Drain the tank of sediment: At the base of the water heater is a spigot. If you can get a bucket underneath  it, drain about a gallon of water. If it is clear, perform it yearly. If it is milky or include noticable particles. Connect a garden hose, with the open end leading outside and drain the entire tank. You must turn the water off (above item 3) and open a hot water faucet in the house so it will drain to be able to get all the water out. Perform this every 2 to 3 years.
  2. Replace the anode (optional): If your water heater does not normally last 10 years,  you may consider this maintenance item. On top of the water heater is a large bolt. Underneath the bolt is a sacrificial anode that is designed to corrode. Once it has dissolved, the tank will take on that role and start corroding.  Because we all have different water quality, the anode will corrode at different rates in different parts of the country. If you have a concern, inspect it at 5 years. It’s best to shut off the water, as well as the heat source (electricity or natural gas).  If the anode has consumed at least 6 inches, the anode should be replaced. After completing this exercise, drain and refill the tank.

Following this method will allow you to get the maximum life out of your water heater.


Chasing Water Leaks Part I

March 27, 2010

Ten percent of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons or more water per day. water-meterParticipate in National Fix-a-Leak Week by fixing a water leak this month.

 

The Silent Thief

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of  one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. If you have a dripping faucet or running toilet, these need to be fixed first and will solve the obvious water leaks. If you need to call a handyman or plumber.. the time is now. If you want to give it the DIY try, visit EHow.com for a straight forward method for fixing common faucet and toilet leaks. However before you start, make sure you have already read my post on Water Supply Cut Off and City Water Cut Off.

 

Even though fixing water leaks is not normally what I would consider as preventative maintenance, fixing a faucet or toilet is something that is hard to miss, if you see it leaking….fix it. However, some water leaks can occur in places you would not normally view. Under the sink, behind the refigerator, and under the house are just some of the places. These type water leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years. These leaks not only waste water but can cause structural damage to wood floors as well as foundations. If you have no leaks, this inspection is about 5 minutes. If you do, plan on a good part of the day.  Good luck .

 

The Inspection

This inspection method is really about finding those hidden leaks.  Insure that nothing will be turned on (dishwasher, toilet, sprinklers, etc.), or activated during this test. Before performing the inspection you must gain access to the meter. This may require a meter key that can be purchased in the plumbing section of any home improvement center. Once you have the meter box open, the meter should be visible. There are at least a dozen different water meters having different dials and gauges. Look for the “Low Flow” gauge in the meter (in the meter pictured here, the low flow indicator is the little red blob to the left of the large sweep hand, between the 7 and 8 on the dial). If you are unsure which gauge it is, turn on a faucet, leave it on and look at the meter. One of the gauges in the meter will be moving faster than any other part of the dial; this is the low flow gauge. Turn off the fixture, return to the water meter and watch the low flow indicator for approximately 3-5 minutes. If the meter progressively moves forward, you have some form of leak, if not no further investigations are required. If you do have a leak,  you can call a professional or try to further isolate the problem. Either way, it may take some time  as some the leak may not be visible.  $TIP$: Isolating the leak before calling the plumber will save you some money as the plumber will charge you by the hour whether he is looking or fixing a leak. 

water-meter-key1Before we start the leak isolation test, turn the water off here (to make sure you can). It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it just to say you 100_0178can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off (on the street side of the meter head may be hard to get to, so find the right wrench that will work for you).  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position. 

 

Leak Isolation Group I (fixtures, faucets and toilets):

If you find a lot of  water or condensation on the fixtures, save the test for a dry or warmer day as this condition will make it difficult to find your problem.

 As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you should have already fixed any obvious dripping faucets. This isolation method is for the hard to find leaks. If the low flow meter stops after any one of the isolation steps, you have found the source of the leak. toilet_water_shutoff_valve

  1. One at a time, turn off each fixture at the wall and return to the meter to watch the low flow gauge. This should include all faucets, toilets, ice makers, water filters, dish washer and water heater (inspect last).   If the meter stops, there is a leak between the cut off and the fixture.
  2. If you find water dripping or puddles, take some unused toilet paper and wipe down the hose, pip, cut-off, fixture and both ends of the connection; everything under the sink.  TRICK: Why use TP you ask? TP is very absorbent, very pliable and you can see any water trace in the paper. Water travels down hill so look at the joints above the first sign of water.
  3. With the water turned on, start your inspection from the highest joint/connection. Look at the TP after wiping down each joint/connection/pipe section/cut-off. If you find any water deposits on the TP, you may have found the leak. Leaks are usually found at joints, couplings and connections. Assuming it can be tightened, do so by hand if possible or with a wrench, or call a plumber. TIP: Most plumbing connection are made with soft plastic, copper or brass, only tighten the joint to the point of not leaking, over tightening can cause it to leak worse.  Many plastic joints ca be tightened by hand. After tightening the joint, dry it completely and perform the TP test again. Perform the test at least twice. If the leak persists, replacing the rubber washer or seal at this joint may be required.
  4. Toilets: Toilets require the TP test as well. Since most residential toilets have a tank, you will have to verify that water is not leaking from the tank to the bowl. Remove the lid from the tank and add some food coloring or colored tank bowl cleaner to the tank water (do not flush). Give it about 5 minutes, then see if any of the color has leaked in the bowl. You may have a leaky flapper valve. 
  5. Check the water meter again. Hopefully you fixed it, but you could still have more leaks.
  6. Perform this series of tests as required for each water fixture in the house. This will include all faucets, toilets  refrigerator mounted ice maker. dishwashers and any other water consuming or delivering device.

Look for articles on Sprinklers Leaks and Plumbing-Chasing Leaks Part II for additional leak detection methods.


Plumbing- Water Supply Cut-Off

January 25, 2009

In most cases all houses should have a service cut off independent of the 100_0172water meter. Even though the  function can be performed at either location it is not uncommon for the service cut-off to be inoperable or impossible to find especially in older  homes.  Deterioration to this service  cut-off is not uncommon. If you can find it and it works, this would be the normal location to turn the water off when you need to turn-off the water.  However, if you cannot operate it with relative ease…. DON’T FORCE IT as it can be broken easily without to much effort. As you can see in this second picture there are several cut-offs and the handles have corroded away. I had to dig out a pail of dirt just to take the picture. If turning the water off at the meter is you choice, see 100_0176 Plumbing-City Water Cut-Off.  If this water cut-off does not work and does not leak and you can still turn the water off at the meter, just leave this one alone.  The day may come when you find it leaking, replacement will be your best option at that time. 

Regardless of where you choose to turn your water off, ensure that it can be performed in one of the two places, and turn the water off at least once to say you did. If you have a plumbing problem typically you need to turn the water off fairly quick.  A leak can put a lot of water on the floor as well as cause an expensive call to a plumber. If you can schedule a plumber based on his schedule, instead of an emergency call out, the cost difference is dramatic.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Locate the water cut-off.
  2. Atempt to turn the water off here, if not,  go to the water meter.

Seasonal Reminder-Extended Winter Vacation

November 8, 2010

On a recent visit to my brother in laws cabin in Michigan, I was reminded of the importance of winterizing a home for extended periods.  If you have a property that you leave for extended periods (greater than 2 weeks), you should have a good documented plan on how to perform  the shutdown of the major components of  the home. I would give my brother-in-law an A+ as he had tags and numbered instructions on what to do and in what order. He even had an emergency generator and the instruction on how to disconnect from the utility as well as the connection steps to bring the electrical circuits back on-line. All these items are of great help, not only for the owner but for friends that might visit on their own.

Winterizing Plumbing: This post is a good general overview of what condition the plumbing should be in, at both your primary and secondary residence. Following this guide will ensure you don’t have any surprises.

Inspection and Testing  Natural Gas Fired Water Heaters and Appliances:

Unless you plan to drain your hot water heater each time you visit, leaving the pilot light on or keeping the system in “vacation mode” will save some water and time. You may choose to do the same with the forced air heating system,  gas stoves or water boilers. With all these appliances, it is important to know the safety switches will operate as designed in the event the pilot goes out or the service in interrupted. This safety feature is intended to automatically turn off the gas (at the appliance) when this happens, known as fail-safe.  As a mater of building  code compliance, appliances designed for residential construction in the last 30  plus years that include pilot lights should be equipped with a “fail safe” type pilot light.  You should test the fail-safe feature at least once a year. Before you start this test, ensure there is no other open flame in the same room. WARNING: This procedure has its risks as unburned natural gas can start a fire, be extremely carefull in the use of this test. If you are inexperienced with dealing with natural gas, contact a plumber to perform this test. 

  1. Inspect the pilot light; it should have a strong blue flame that is washing the thermocoupler with the flame. (Note: In the last 5-10 years, some appliance manufacturers have been using electronic pilots, if that is the case, you will not have a pilot light to test, no need to proceed any further in this inspection.)
  2. Locate the natural gas shut off in the event it has to be turned off.
  3. Blow out the pilot light, you will begin to smell gas. You should also be able to hear the flow of gas at the orifice. Back away from the appliance.
  4. Within 30 seconds to 2 minutes the gas valve should automatically shut down stopping any flow of natural gas. You may hear a click from the appliance.
  5. Air out the room if the smells of gas is apparent. Assuming the gas valve worked properly, you should not hear or smell any gas.
  6. With the gas valve in the same position as in the beginning of the test, use a butane stick lighter to  attempt to relight the flame. It should not light. If the pilot re-lights the gas valve may be bad and should be replaced.
  7. Assuming the valve worked properly and it shut down as expected, follow the manufacturers procedure for relighting the pilot light.

 

System Shutdown Procedure for Extended Vacations: Here are the key items to address as part of your shutdown procedure.

  • Water Heater:
  • HVAC: Depending on the circumstances you may choose to leave heaters active in the house while you are away. There may be exceptions, but overall, if you will not be back for more than two weeks, ts a better decision to shut it all down. The ambient temperatures and the duration of non-occupancy should be included in your decision. If your circumstances make it a better choice to leave the system active, reduce the temperature to somewhere between 50-60F. HomeownerBOB would highly recommend having a full time resident or care taker type person make periodic visits once a week or so just to make sure everything is okay. Unfortunately, if the weather gets real bad, they may not have access to the property either. If the utilities fail and you have left your water on, you may find a terrible mess on your next visit. For this reason, system shut-down is attractive. If you choose to shut the system down and the heater includes a pilot light, turn the system off (at the Thermostat) and leave the pilot light on. 
  • Plumbing: Shut off the water:    The first choice to cut off the water is at the house. If you have a basement, it will probably be there. If you live in the southern portion of the US, look at the Water Cut-off post for greater understanding. If you have to use the meter see City Water Cut-off.  In many cases you may find a drain valve at the cut-off. If you do, open to start draining the system. Now go to all the plumbing fixtures ( kitchen sink, bathroom, showers and tubs), open both the cold and hot valves about one turn. Now go outside and open any exterior faucets. By inducing air in the line any remaining water that may freeze has room to expand and should not cause any harm. Dont be surprised to see water draining out of a faucet that is the lowest in the system. Water follows gravity and will seek the lowest open valve.
  • Toilets: Flush all the toilets, this will open the valves to drain back any water
  • Drains and P-Traps: Pour a cup of RV-AntiFreeze in every drain. DO NOT USE AUTOMOTIVE ANTIFREEZE. This is not mandatory, but HomeownerBOB highly recommends this if you plan to leave for the entire season.
  • Connected Exterior Water Hoses: Disconnect and store any exterior water hoses. If they are covered with snow and ice, they can be a tripping hazard as well as they become frozen they will be prone to breaking.
  • Sprinkler System Shutdown: There should be a master cut-off for the sprinkler system. Shut off the water. If there is a bleed or drain valve at the cut-off, open it up. With the water off, run each section about 3 minutes. This will  allow the (normally) pressurize line to take on air. To avoid damage, it is important to depressurize the system.
  • Electrical Services: No changes, leave the service active, no harm done here. This will keep your clocks correct and if the house is equipped with an electric water heater, it will allow it to run as necessary to keep the water warm. Hopefully you also have some security lighting and possibly a security system that will need to be powered.

If this is a regular routine for you, consider writing up a check off list (or print this post) to ensure you cover everything. This last thing you want to do is to get home and wonder if you really did everything or not. Good Luck.

For those of you who regularly read my post, you have recognized that I have not been writing a lot lately. Here in Texas, the Fall is a great time to get out, vacation, ride motorcycles and do home projects all of which I have been doing. Look for my next series on “Cutting the Cord” Giving up subscription Cable Television.


Celebrate National Fix a Leak Week

March 18, 2012

Ten percent of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons or more water per day. Participate in National Fix-a-Leak Week by fixing a water leak this month.

The Silent Thief

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of  one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. If you have a dripping faucet or running toilet, these need to be fixed first and will solve the obvious water leaks. If you need to call a handyman or plumber.. the time is now. If you want to give it the DIY try, visit EHow.com for a straight forward method for fixing common faucet and toilet leaks. However before you start, make sure you have already read my post on Water Supply Cut Off and City Water Cut Off.

Even though fixing water leaks is not normally what I would consider as preventative maintenance, fixing a faucet or toilet is something that is hard to miss, if you see it leaking….fix it. However, some water leaks can occur in places you would not normally view. Under the sink, behind the refrigerator, and under the house are just some of the places. These type water leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years. These leaks not only waste water but can cause structural damage to wood floors as well as foundations. If you have no leaks, this inspection is about 5 minutes. If you do, plan on a good part of the day.  Good luck .

The Inspection

This inspection method is really about finding those hidden leaks.  Insure that nothing will be turned on (dishwasher, toilet, sprinklers, etc.), or activated during this test. Before performing the inspection you must gain access to the meter. This may require a meter key that can be purchased in the plumbing section of any home improvement center. Once you have the meter box open, the meter should be visible. There are at least a dozen different water meters having different dials and gauges. Look for the “Low Flow” gauge in the meter (in the meter pictured here, the low flow indicator is the little red blob to the left of the large sweep hand, between the 7 and 8 on the dial). If you are unsure which gauge it is, turn on a faucet, leave it on and look at the meter. One of the gauges in the meter will be moving faster than any other part of the dial; this is the low flow gauge. Turn off the fixture, return to the water meter and watch the low flow indicator for approximately 3-5 minutes. If the meter progressively moves forward, you have some form of leak, if not no further investigations are required. If you do have a leak,  you can call a professional or try to further isolate the problem. Either way, it may take some time  as some the leak may not be visible.  $TIP$: Isolating the leak before calling the plumber will save you some money as the plumber will charge you by the hour whether he is looking or fixing a leak.

Before we start the leak isolation test, turn the water off here (to make sure you can). It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it just to say you can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off (on the street side of the meter head may be hard to get to, so find the right wrench that will work for you).  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position.

Leak Isolation Group I (fixtures, faucets and toilets):

If you find a lot of  water or condensation on the fixtures, save the test for a dry or warmer day as this condition will make it difficult to find your problem.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you should have already fixed any obvious dripping faucets. This isolation method is for the hard to find leaks. If the low flow meter stops after any one of the isolation steps, you have found the source of the leak.

  1. One at a time, turn off each fixture at the wall and return to the meter to watch the low flow gauge. This should include all faucets, toilets, ice makers, water filters, dish washer and water heater (inspect last).   If the meter stops, there is a leak between the cut off and the fixture.
  2. If you find water dripping or puddles, take some unused toilet paper and wipe down the hose, pip, cut-off, fixture and both ends of the connection; everything under the sink.  TRICK: Why use TP you ask? TP is very absorbent, very pliable and you can see any water trace in the paper. Water travels down hill so look at the joints above the first sign of water.
  3. With the water turned on, start your inspection from the highest joint/connection. Look at the TP after wiping down each joint/connection/pipe section/cut-off. If you find any water deposits on the TP, you may have found the leak. Leaks are usually found at joints, couplings and connections. Assuming it can be tightened, do so by hand if possible or with a wrench, or call a plumber. TIP: Most plumbing connection are made with soft plastic, copper or brass, only tighten the joint to the point of not leaking, over tightening can cause it to leak worse.  Many plastic joints ca be tightened by hand. After tightening the joint, dry it completely and perform the TP test again. Perform the test at least twice. If the leak persists, replacing the rubber washer or seal at this joint may be required.
  4. Toilets: Toilets require the TP test as well. Since most residential toilets have a tank, you will have to verify that water is not leaking from the tank to the bowl. Remove the lid from the tank and add some colored tank bowl cleaner to the tank water (do not flush). Give it about 5 minutes, then see if any of the color has leaked in the bowl. You may have a leaky flapper valve.
  5. Check the water meter again. Hopefully you fixed it, but you could still have more leaks.
  6. Perform this series of tests as required for each water fixture in the house. This will include all faucets, toilets  refrigerator mounted ice maker, dishwashers and any other water consuming or delivering device.

Just to visually understand the relation to size of hole to amount of water loss, check out this table.

Look for articles on Sprinklers Leaks and Plumbing-Chasing Leaks Part II for additional leak detection methods.


Seasonal Reminder-Winterizing Plumbing

January 21, 2009

 

Uninsulated pipes installed in unconditioned crawl spaces or attics can freeze when the outside ambient temperature  falls to 20F or below.

plumber1I am a little late in the season for this one, but here in the Southwest part of the country, winterizing our plumbing is perceived as not a big deal, but in reality, we  have more frozen pipes in our part of the country than Northern climates. Our building code are more lenient and allow methods that would never be considered in Michigan or Wisconsin.  Several years ago, Southern Louisiana had extreme cold weather over the Christmas holidays. The amount of broken water pipes almost called out the National Guard, due to the extreme loss of water pressure in the city water supply.  If you live in Baton Rouge or Houston, it would not be uncommon to find your main water pipe exposed on the outside wall of the house before it goes in the house.   For that reason, these tips may apply to homeowners that live in zones 8A or greater as  defined by the USADA Hardiness Zone Map.

According to the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, uninsulated pipes installed in unconditioned crawl spaces or attics can freeze when the outside ambient temperature  falls to 20F or below. However, high winds or “wind chill “can augment this number potentially causing frozen pipes at higher temperatures.  Wind chill typically impacts pipes that may be exposed to insulation leaks in the building envelope. For example, a water pipe in an exterior wall without insulation is at risk, add the fact that a crack in the exterior wall near the pipe will allow colder temperatures to increase the opportunity for a frozen pipe. 

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Wrap exposed pipes: Especially outside pipes, but don’t forget pipes under the house in crawl spaces as well as in the attic. All Home Centers sell foam foam-insulationsleeves to cover the pipes. This is cheap insurance as these sleeve are about $2.00 per 8 feet. 
  2. Cover or wrap the exterior faucets. Home Centers have a solution for faucets that protrude from the wall, but you will have to be creative for faucets that surface out of the ground. My grandmother always tied an old hand towel around the outside faucets…. its pretty ugly but it worked.
  3. Caulk the cracks: Check the exterior of the house, especially in relation to faucets or pipes on exterior walls. Ensure the surface is well sealed as not to allow cold air to seep into the wall cavity.
  4. Open cabinet doors: In extreme conditions or extended vacations, open cabinet doors associated with all kitchen and bathroom faucets.
  5. Dripping Faucets:  If it appears you may experience sub 20 degree weather, and you have pipes (especially on the North side) that are at risk, let the hot and cold water run. Granted, this breaks my rule of wasting water, but if possible, try to capture the water in a pan or pail and water your house plants. They are probably drying out since your are running your heater anyway. TIP: If the open faucets stops dripping, leave it open as this will allow the ice formation to expand without damaging the pipes.
  6. Turn off and drain Lawn Sprinkler System: If cold weather conditions are forecasted  for several days, you may consider turning off and draining your sprinkler system. Hopefully you have a cut off and drain. For some of us, watering in the winter is still necessary due to the lack of rain or snow, so you may just turn it off based on the weather forcast. TIP: If you do not have a drain at the sprinkler cut-off, you can activate the sprinkler system for a few seconds to remove presure from the lines.
  7. Disconnect and drain exterior water hoses: A water hose connected to an exterior faucet will telegraph a frozen condition into the faucet potentially causing the faucet to freeze. 
  8. Extended vacation:If you are leaving the house for several months, you may consider turning the water off and draining the pipes. As an alternative to that, leaving your Central Heater on 60F, will alleviate this situation. Look for future posts on “Extended  Winter Vacations” for more details.