Watering Your Foundation – A Permanent Solution

July 4, 2018

Several months back I wrote a post about Watering Your Foundation, after that I wrote  Watering Your Foundation – Getting Ready for Summer and in that post I promised a final follow-up on creating a permanent solution to creating a low maintenance solution that removes most of the problems associated with earlier solutions. Granted, this one is a bit more work and on a DIY scale of 1-10 10 being the hardest, I would give this a 7-8 (depending on what you may or may not already have. Since you have already read the last two, no need to go through the why and what for, but to just pick it up from the last post. Since the summer has set in, this might not be a good project to complete with the weather as hot as it is, but you can at least you can start plotting out the plan.

The biggest advantages to this solution vs. the last one is, convenience, and integration into a lawn sprinkler system.

Things you will need to for this to work with the least amount of inconvenience and disruption. This solution is based on having all three of the listed conditions. However, any of these items can be added, but it can dramatically impact the cost to provide it.

  1. Preexisting  lawn sprinkler system in good working order and a timer/controller
  2. The timer/controller will need to have at least one extra or vacant station assignment. If you have more station numbers than active stations you probably have an extra one.
  3. You will need to determine if you have a spare controller wire (in the controller) and you will have to locate that same wire outside.

The next step is to create a new zone or station on your lawn sprinkler system.  I will cover the basic process but if you have never really cut into your system, this might be the time to get some knowledgeable help or hire a sprinkler contractor to build you a new zone.

Create a New Sprinkler Zone

  1. Find a sprinkler zone  that has its control valve close to the house.
  2. Dig up the dirt around the control valve enough to expose the control valve and the associated water pipe that feeds the valve. Figure out which side of the valve has pressure on it (all the time).
  3. Determine that the spare wire you located in the timer/controller shows up here too! Us a volt ohm meter as a continuity tester to confirm.
  4. The pipe feeding the valve is under pressure, so you will need to turn the water off at the source before you do it.
  5. To determine which is the pressure side, there should be an arrow, or water flow indicator on the valve body.
  6. .Cut the pipe, Tee in a joint  to install a new valve.
  7. Install a drip zone flow control valve equipped with a filter assembly. This valve will keep the flow in spec as well as keep the emitter from getting stopped up.
  8. Extend a wire from the existing valve to the new valve including a common (usually white) and a new wire that you are picking up from the controller timer.
  9. Make sure the new valve is closed and turn the water back on and check for leaks.
  10. If you want to test it at this point, go right ahead, but realize if you did this correctly, it’s gonna get real muddy real quick.

Parts Needed for the Drip Emitter Foundation Watering System

  1. 1/2 poly hose to use for areas that do not need the emmiters
  2. 1/2 Emitter tube, used to circle the house
  3. Various connector/fittings. You will need some fitting to go around tight corners since the pipe does not make sharp corners as well as connecting to the valve.
  4. Landscape anchor staples; use to pin the tubing down in place while you are installing it.

Install the  System

  1. Dig a ditch from the new valve to about 12-16 inches from the foundation to conceal the feeder pipe so it will not be exposed to damage in the yard.
  2. Depth of new emitter hose is kind of “it depends”, so in other words, it can be on the surface or 3-12 inches below the surface. Either way, realize that when gardening or digging around the flower beds, if you hit the emitter pipe, you can easily cut it. So regardless of the depth, after gardening, run the section to identify any leaks.
  3.  Since you are probably 10 or more feet from the house, you may want to use 1/2 poly hose from the valve to the house foundation (unless the valve is already at the foundation, then you can just start with emitter hose). You can buy shorter lengths of this from the big box store, but depending on your house arrangement, you may want to use this pipe in places you do not need to water
  4. Connect the emitter tube and route through the landscape staying about 12″ from the edge of the foundation. This tubing is sort of stiff, so use a connector to make a sharp bend. Use the landscape staples to keep it in its place.
  5. There are no rules to stop you from installing a Tee and going both ways around the house, and if you have to branch out, that is fine too. 100 feet is the limitation of the emitter tube from the valve, but you can tee it in to two 100 ft lengths.
  6. Make the electrical connection at the sprinkler controller and program in the new zone. You can have a summer and winter time schedule, but its good to water this zone all year long, again to keep the soil close to a constant moisture level.

 

 


Seasonal Reminder – Lawn Sprinker Tuneup

April 5, 2016

If you are a follower of this blog, lawn sprinklers seems to be a regular topic. I get more hits on this one subject than all the rest. After reviewing  the current articles I found that I lacked a straight up, “seasonal tune up” article. So, for this weeks post I am going to walk through a methodical process of checking your sprinkler system. Generally speaking this is about a system that is designed correctly and  working properly.  I typically do this at the beginning of the watering season then again in mid-summer.

Material/Tools Needed:

  1. Spare sprinkler bodies: You should normally keep some extra sprinkler bodies that resemble the product that was installed with your system. Having identical sprinkler bodies will keep replacement and repairs simple.
  2. A handful of various sprinkler nozzles: Even though there may be several types of sprinkler heads (pop up, rotary or impact), it is important to have extra copies of the same nozzle that are being used in the various zones. Even though many home centers prefer to sell you the sprinkler body with the nozzle, having them as separate items will save you time and money.
  3.  Sharpshooter Shovel:  This particular shovel works well when working on sprinklers as you can dig around a sprinkler without disturbing too much dirt. Dirt and dirty water  is the enemy when it comes to working on sprinkler systems.
  4.  Sprinkler flags: You will probably have to buy these in a pack of 100, but it will be less than $10. You will use these to mark sprinkler heads that require attention.
  5. Screwdrivers: 1 small screw driver, 1 medium screw driver (flat and Phillips head style). These will be used to disassemble nozzles and some heads.
  6. Dental tool: Something like this link will work; these can also be found at the Orange Box store. It is very common for sprinkler nozzles to capture small pebbles that will lodge in the nozzle disrupting the sprinkler spray pattern. You will want to pick out the debris without damaging the plastic.
  7. 1 pair of medium-sized Channel Lock pliers: These can be used to adjust, tighten and loosen the body of the sprinkler head especially if your hands are wet.
  8. 1 pair of medium-sized vise grips: Used as a way to extract nozzles from pop-up heads by lightly holding the nozzle riser exposed. Never use a lot of pressure as you can easily damage the sprinkler head.
  9. WD 40 Lubricant Spray: Used to lubricate various parts that are supposed to move or react to the water pressure. WD40 is a fish oil based product and should not damage the grass.

SPRINKLER TESTING PROCEDURE:

  1. Activate the test sequence in the Sprinkler Controller: Most controllers have a test function that allows you to run the system in short intervals. If you can choose the time limit, set it to two minutes. If your controller does not have this function, you can have a friend turn the sections on one by one. TIP: If you have to do this manually, find some walkie-talkies to communicate with your partner. Its also worth noting that many new controller that connect to your phone via an app, is a great upgrade as you can start and stop without having to run back to the controller.
  2. Find the first zone that is running:  Carrying your sprinkler flags, walk around and through the zone that is running, looking for the six items mentioned below. Use the flag to identify problems. However, try to realign the heads in this first sequence while the zone is running. Use the Channel Lock to grab the body to make adjustments.
  3. Repeat #2 for all the zones: I find the sprinkler flags really help, cause you can go directly back to each problem once you have made it through the entire system.
  4. Repair, replace  or adjust the heads as required: One of the most  important elements of sprinkler repair is to avoid introducing dirty water into the system. The dirt will make its way to all the downstream head and clog them up. If you find a broken head or pipe within your inspection, you may have to clean all the nozzles (see #2 below) in that zone.
  5. Run the test sequence again: As a final step, run the system one last time to ensure that everything is operating to your expectations.

Common Problems and Solutions:

  1. Misaligned Heads: Heads that are used around the perimeter of a property typically use patterns less than “full circle”. These heads will require occasional realignment to keep them from spraying on a sidewalk, fence or house. You can  adjust  either the nozzle, neck or sprinkler body. Try adjusting to the right (righty tighty, lefty loosie). If you have to turn it to the left, try not to turn it more than a 1/4 or 1/2 turn. Turning the head too much to the left may cause the nozzle or head to disconnect itself (while under pressure), this may cause a guiser of water and will get you real wet.
  2. Dirty Nozzles:  If the pattern seems uneven or broken up. The nozzle is dirty. With the water off, grab the sprinkler stem and raise it as if it were spraying water. Use your vise grips to LIGHTLY hold the stem up. Remove the nozzle and pull the filter (with the dental tool or your finger tip). Blow through the filter and nozzle. If this doesn’t remove all the debris, use the dental tools or water to clean further. You may have to disassemble the nozzle completely to get the dirt out. If the filter was completely stopped up, turn the sprinkler zone on/off very quickly to flush the line at this point (with the vice grips in place). Reassemble the nozzle to the head and release the vise grips to let the stem return to the body. NOTE: The purpose of keeping the stem extended through this process is to avoid the opportunity for dirty water to enter the system.  
  3. Broken/Damaged  head: Besides the nozzle mentioned above, the sprinkler body can leak as well. This could be out the bottom, side or top. Sometime the heads can be rebuilt, but at this stage its best to just swap out the head with an identical body and nozzle. If it’s not muddy around the head, attempt to unscrew the complete body out of the ground. Without disturbing the dirt, re-insert the replacement head. If you have to dig it up, use the sharp shooter shovel to expose the  head down to where it connects to the next pipe. It’s best to dig the hole a bit deeper than the head. If water comes out, you do not want the dirty water to reenter the system as mentioned above.  Replace the head and the surrounding dirt.  This sprinkler repair  link has a video included that might be of help.
  4. Sprinkler heads do not recess into the ground after spraying: This is a very common occurrence caused by small dirt particles surrounding the elevated riser at the wiper seal of the sprinkler head after the water is turned off. Grab the head by the tip and spray WD-40 on the riser. Work the shaft until it moves freely. If that doesn’t clear it, replace the head  and rebuild the old one in the sink to get all the dirt out of it.
  5.  Heavy Running or Pooling Water: This could be associated with #3 or it could be a damaged pipe.  With your shovel, LIGHTLY remove the wet dirt, you do not want to cause anymore damage. Dig below the pipe or area to be repaired. Use a coffee can to remove as much of the water and dirt as possible. Make the repair as necessary.
  6. Weeping heads:  Occurs when system is off. Typically you will notice this on days the sprinklers are not running, or you find constant moist spots. Typically, you must disassemble the sprinkler valve and clean it.  Rebuilding the valve may be required as well.
  7. Draining sprinkler head: similar to #6, but usually happens with a head that is located lower that other heads in the zone. This is fairly normal and can be left alone. If it happens in a bad spot and you really don’t like it, you can add a lateral line drain to disperse the water.

 For more detailed information, take a look at these other articles I have written on the subject: Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part II, Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part I ,  Searching for Lawn Sprinkler Valves, Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks; Finding Sprinkler Valves and Common Problems,Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II,  .



Watering your Foundation – Its a Texas Thing Part III

March 23, 2016

Texas-Drought-2011As mentioned in my last post on watering your foundation; Here in North Texas it is essential.  Since this is not a one time event but a regular requirement, you might as well look at a relative permanent approach to the solution. I identified several ways to do this in my last posts on the subject but I wanted to share a bit more permanent method. The concept is the same, but its a bit more work, and you may want to hire an irrigation specialist to do it.

The biggest difference in this solution is capitalizing on the fact that you may already have a permanent in-ground sprinkler system. With this system, you operate it as any other section to your irrigation system profile and its no longer a separate system to take care of.

Criteria of existing lawn sprinkler system: For this to work, you need an automatic lawn sprinkler system and a couple more conditions to make it work.

  1. sprinkler controllerElectronic Irrigation controller: The irrigation controller will be the source of the schedule to water the foundation.
    1. Spare Zone: Most controllers come in 4, 6, 8, 12 (and so on) zones. You will need at least one vacant zone position for this to work. You can query the controller by stepping through the zones. When you select the zone with the controller, look for statements in the readout that could say things like; vacant, not-wired, turned off, etc. It that doesn’t work, open the back half of the controller and look at the incoming wiring. Each position that has a number on it represents a zone. If you find a number with no wire, you should have a vacant zone. If you don’t have any vacant zones, your forward path from this point would be to replace the controller with more zones. This may exceed your budgetary limitations
    2. Spare Wire: In many cases during the initial installation, the cable with the zone wires in it, may exceed the number of connected zones. So look for some coiled up wires in the base of the controller.  If that is the case, you are in luck and can use one of the spare wires. If you have no spare wires but a spare zone on the controller, you would have to add a pair for the new zone. (a colored wire and a common (white) wire).
  2. sprinkler-valveAdding a New Valve: At this point, you have a 1)zone position in the controller, 2) a spare wire for the new zone. Now, locate all the existing valves in the yard. Specifically ones that are close to the house.
    1. In that valve box, look for the same color wire you identified in the controller, if it is not there, check the other valves. Worst case, you may have to bring a new wire to your chosen location.
    2. Dig up around the existing valve and identify which pipe is under pressure all the time. Once identified, turn the main water supply off that feeds the sprinkler system (probably near the water meter), you will cut into the pipe and add a new valve. You may have to run a short piece of wire from the existing valve to the new one to hook it up. The connection will be one colored wire and one “Common”.
    3. When you buy the new valve, make sure it has (low) flow control, and or is designed to work with zones that don’t use a lot of water pressure. The drip lines you use have a low GPM (gallon per minute) rating as well as low pressure.
  3.  Polypipe: Depending on where you locate the new valve, you may need a section of polypipe to get you to the foundation.  You can cut the hose to length and use the polypipe fittings to make up the ends. Make sure the polypipe and fittings are the same dimensions. Since all these connections are on the low pressure side of the system, these fittings are just simple resistance (chinese finger) snap in connectors.
  4. Drip Lines:  From the poly pipe, use the same fitting to transition to the Drip Line. These hoses are designed with drip emitters in the hose every 12 inches.  Run it around the house keeping it about 6 inches from the foundation.  You can bury them a couple of inches or hide them with mulch. Staking them with landscape stakes will help keep them in place as this product does not like to lay flat to the ground. You can purchase the hose in bulk from the Orange Box store of Sprinkler Warehouse. You will need to also purchase inter-hose connectors as well as a way to connect to your water. If you have to make a sharp turn it is better to use a fitting than bending the pipe. You do not want to crimp the hose. Splitting the line with a Tee is totally acceptable, and it will also allow a little better flow control if the go half way around the house with one feed and half with the other.

 

So here is what it looks like in dollars. Admittedly, you can probably do this a little cheaper, but I used high quality components, so this should last for years to come.

DripSys for house

Related articles:https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/watering-your-foundation-its-a-texas-thing/

https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/watering-your-foundation-getting-ready-for-the-summer/

 


Washing Machine Inspection – Cheap Insurance

January 1, 2015

The Insurance Industry reports over $200 million in water damages a year related to washing machines each year.

Most of us never think that one event caused by the washing machine can quickly create serious damage to our house in less than a few hours. In fact, if one of the water hoses connected the washer were to break, it will release approximately 600 gallons of water in an hour.

The cheapest insurance to protect against a bursting water hose in the house  is to turn the water off at the wall after each use.. Congratulations if you have the conviction and memory to do this on a daily basis…. I don’t.

Most washers are equipped with standard light duty water hoses rated for 3-5 years of service. At the least, a yearly inspection can reduce the risk, but it still not a guarantee that it will protect you from an inevitable flood.

Yearly Inspection: At the least, performing this inspection will further reduce the probability of having a flood associated with the washing machine.

  1. Clearance: The washer should maintain a 4-5 inch gap between the back of the washer and wall. Ensure the hoses are not crimped or kinked.
  2. Hoses: With the water on, grab the hoses and move them around to ensure they are still very pliable.   Granted, they will be a little stiff since they are under pressure. Run your hands over the entire surface area of both the hot and cold hoses looking for any abnormalities, such as bubbles (like in the picture)  or surface cracks. Move the hoses in a circular motion specifically around the collar terminations at the washer and at the wall.  Typically this is where the hose will break. Be ready, this inspection may cause the  hose to leak or  break. If so, be ready to turn the water off. TIP: As with all plumbing work, make sure you can successfully turn the water off before starting the inspection. ANY amount of water detected is enough to warrant replacement of the hoses, unless the leak is at the threaded connections.
  3. Connections: Make sure the threaded connectors are tight at both the wall and the washer.
  4. Hose Inspection Part II: Turn the washer on to warm, as the washer is filling up, turn the water off (H&C) at the wall. Turn the washer off allowing the hoses to drain a bit into the washer.  Inspect the rubber hoses again for pliability.
  5. Final Inspection: When finished with #4, turn the water back on and reset the washer; re inspect the hoses and connectors  for leaks.

Upgrade Solution:

For those of you that have experienced a flood of this type, or like me, prefer, to fix it before it breaks you have a couple other options to consider. Most of you know, I am kind of a techno-nerd. So at this point, it would be easy for me to jump off into a solution with electric solenoids, wifi based alerting sensors and such, but this one only requires the KISS  approach (keep it simple stupid). If you look at my article on “How Long Will They Last“, you will see a clothes washer should last you about 13 years.  Lets look at the  choices for hoses:

  • Standard Replacement Rubber Hoses: With a life expectancy of the 3-5 years and a cost of ***  and an hour of labor to do it. If you have to use a professional, add another $75 bucks, it’s about $100 every 3 to 5 years or $300 over the lifetime of the washer. TIP: This is a fairly simple exercise similar to changing a garden hose, but you will have to move the washer around to get to the hoses.
  • Metal Braided PVC Hoses: Considered an upgrade,  easily acquired at the big box store and priced at approximately $30 for the pair. With a life expectancy of 5 years (at best). These hoses give the appearance of sustainable life, but in reality the stainless steel braiding serves to protect a standard type PVC hose from the natural elements, otherwise it would  not be anymore  durable than the standard rubber hose.  It can break easily at or near the connectors as well.
  • High Grade Rubber Hoses: If you have been around much construction equipment, you are well aware of the use of rubber hoses used in hydraulics. These hoses are under constant high pressure at the tune of about 1400 lbs. Our last recommeded supplier of high quality hoses went out of business. HomeownerBOB will investigate another solution and update this post accordingly.

Ok, so this solution wasnt good enough for you, here are some items  that are belts and suspenders. However, for me, the upgraded hoses are more than adequate. I say this because the solenoids will stop the water in the even of a flood, they also induce new failure points that are not worth it in my book.

  • Electric Solenoids: Floodstop will detect water on the floor and tell the water to shut off at the washer connection.
  • Water Alarm Detector: This device works in conjunction with your burglar alarm activating an alarm condition that would report to you or the burglar alarm monitoring company. NOTE: Unfortunately, by the time you get home, the damage is done.
  • Whole House Flood Detector: This is the premium solution as it allows sensors any where and everywhere. If you house is over 10,000 sq. feet, you might consider this, otherwise its pretty expensive.

Seasonal Reminder Winter 2014

January 9, 2014

Winter StormWinter got  here with an attitude for 2014, aka Polar Vortex (for what ever that means). Many of us are seeing record low temperatures and for those of us that have been living with mild winters, you should realize you will see some changes you may not have seen for quite some times. Furthermore, the longer it stays below zero, the more impact it can make.

  1. Plant material that has previously lived through the winters may die, so hopefully you have already covered them up.
  2. Outdoor faucets may freeze up. Either cover them up with some form of insulation material or turn the faucet off below ground
  3. Its also a good time to look at the trees that may be near the electrical service drop. Look for limbs that have drooped too close to the service wire. This is not the time to trim them safelty, but you should take not and trim them in early spring. If they are putting excessive stress on the service line you should call a professional.
  4. Also look at my article on extended vacations.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here are the regular winter items to look at. Take care and stay warm.

Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.

  • Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  • Attic Inspection:  Making a general inspection of your attic  is important. Look for rodent tracks, damaged electrical  wires and importantly vents and stacks.
  • HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  • Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  • Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.
  • Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  • Caulking and Sealing Windows and Doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring).
  • Tile Grout and Caulk: Take a look in your bathrooms for separation in the tile grout and around the tub and shower. Winter heat will cause those materials to shrink. This is a great time to reapply caulk or grout in those areas.
  • Gutters and Downspout: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely. This is as much a fall issue for the colder climates, but in the warmer states we are still seeing leaves fall. Look for a new article on this one next year. As you may know, I hate gutters, but I found a new product that may reduce my dislike. I will order some of the product and install them on another house that has lots of tree to see if they work.
  • Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  • Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  • Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks II

July 31, 2013

lawn20edge20pop20up2011My wife complained the water bill had gone to the moon (again) last month. Even HomeownerBOB has sprinkler leaks!! In this post I hope to show another way to identifiy water leaks in automatic lawn sprinklers. After doing the basics, it was obvious, it would take a little more effort.

At this point, I still had no idea where the leak was other than I was confident it was past the valve as the meter was not moving otherwise.

Most sections should use near the same amount of water except where it might be a very small section or (in my case) I have 3 sections using emitter tube for drip irrigation, but even in this case there should be some relative similarities.

  1. Access the water meter for the property, clean the meter face or get to where you can watch the meter move.
  2. Make sure all other water devices are turned off or wont come on during this test
  3. If you have a controller that has a test sequence, set it to 1 minute. If not, have some one manually operate it at one minute per section.
  4. Have a friend turn it on while you are positioned to watch the meter
  5. Once it starts, watch the meter (this is not real scientific, but you are looking for a difference in the trend.
  6. You should beable to recognize when the watering changes from one zone to the next as the water meter will stop (very briefly) then start again.
  7. In most cases the meter will briefly run very fast, then (noticeably) slow down.
  8. Compare the speed and gallons used by each section. (your comparison should be like for like, in other words, pop-up sections to pop-up sections and so on.
  9. If you find a section that does not trend the same way (i.e. does not slow down after the initial turn up), it is likely that this is your problem zone. In my case, I had two that looked funny.
  10. Stop the test and run just the sections that appeared perculiar. Walk the entire section, head by head to find larger quantities of water.

100_0203In my case, the problem was in the emitter section. It is not unusual to spring a leak in these sections either due to driving a shovel (my wife) through one, or one of the ends coming open. It ended up being neither, but was caused by an inline filter I installed (below ground under this cover) to keep the emitters clean. This has happened to me before on a different section as I used these fancy filters that self clean them selves, unfortuntly they tend to stick open, and they have to be replaced. I replaced them with a non-self cleaning type. I have one more that could go bad, so its only a mater of time.

Make sure and click on the Lawn Sprinkler tab to see all my articles on lawn sprinklers.


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-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.


Things to Know Before Installing an Automatic Sprinkler System

August 28, 2010

It takes approximately  27,154 gallons of water to apply one inch of water to one acre of land.

After writing so many articles on lawn sprinklers, repair and maintenance, I was approached to write an article on things to know or consider before installing a new sprinkler system. This is not a ” How To” install a sprinkler system but what questions to ask yourself and a contractor prior to having a system installed.

It can be very difficult to judge one design/bid against another as no one irrigator will design a system exactly the same as another. You can limit the difference by requesting certain components or brands, but this may add to the difficulty as many companies will play off any differences between them. You might find it more beneficial to define performance and expectation over specific components.

  1. Watering Concrete: As a cost cutting method, some contractors may elect to spray water across a narrow walkway or sidewalk in lieu of boring under the concrete to set a head. If this is important to you, make this point clear: No or minimal watering side walks or driveways. Ask for examples for better understanding.
  2. Zones Designed Specific to the Needs: All lawns have micro climates where more or less water is needed. The contractor can use different heads and design methods to provide more or less water. Basically, you would not want a sprinkler head that is in the deep shade on the same zone as one that is watering in the full-sun; as the full sun area will require more cycle time than the shaded area. Additionally flower beds have different watering needs over turf. Segregating flower beds into their own zones will allow you to manage your water better. TIP: In the extreme heat of the summer, it can be difficult (and costly) to keep the turf green. For me, I go into survival mode, by reducing the watering time to just keep the turf alive. On the otherhand, since my flower beds are covered with drip emitters, I increase their duration.  It may save you a bit of water.
  3. Drip Line Emitters: Consider using drip or emitter lines for flower beds. This style of watering will bring the water to the plant roots without wasting water through the air. I installed drip line emitter style  in both the flower beds and parkways  over 3 years ago and have been very pleased with the results. TIP: They can be damaged easily, so you have to be careful when digging around them.
  4. Name Brand Components: If the contractor can not provide you with material literature, ask them to provide the name and model numbers of the major material to be used. Specifically: Backflow preventer, valves, sprinkler heads/nozzles, the controller and any additional ancillary equipment you may request.  Do some research on the internet regarding the models, performance and any customer complaint issues.
  5. Efficient water nozzles: If you have read any of my sprinkler articles you know that stream heads over spray heads do not atomize the water as much, putting more water on the ground and less in the air. Low Arc heads also increase efficiency. See Lawn Sprinkler Nozzles.

Irrigation Controllers Are a Subject Within Itself. Unless you request specific features, most contractors will provide you a “builders grade” controller. This is also the grade of controller you will find at the orange box store.  If you have read any of my articles, I am an advocate of the Sprinkler Warehouse as they provide multiple types, styles, models and brands of all sprinkler supplies. Look at the site for a controller you like or features that you find necessary.

  1. Basic Controller: Basic controllers will provide a minimum number of stations to support the number of sprinkler zones installed. Additionally they will include timed events, day of week, time of day type stuff. Most basic controllers can accept an  external rain gauge. The controller should include a 9V battery backup to ensure the clock remains current.
  2. External Sensors: Even basic controllers will support external sensors and typically they do not have to be the same brand. So if you find a sensor you like, it will usually state it will work with any basic controller. The most popular sensors are rain, wind and freeze.  In some municipalities, rain/freeze sensors are required by code and you can receive a citation for the system being active during those times. Additionally, time of day has become an issue, but that can be easily controlled by the clock settings on the basic controller. If your municipality requires a rain/freeze sensor, have it included in the contractor bid.
  3. Intuitive controller:  To go to the next step, you may consider a controller that uses weather data to determine watering cycles. Some Wifi connected controllers simply use the collected data to just turn the unit off in anticipation of rain or freeze. However, some can be more intelligent and actively manage the water distribution to the point of deciding when and when not to water. There are a lot of new Wifi enabled devices out there and at this point I dont have a specific recommendation, so you will just have to read the feature set as described by the manufacturer. So far, I am a fan of the moisture sensor over the weather feature as I see the sensor measurement as being real-time over the weather report still being a bit of a speculation. Many times equipment manufacturers add features to controllers with more zones. You may have to consider a controller with a greater number of stations than required to get some of the feature sets. Ask the contractor if they have any form of reasonably priced moisture content sensors as part of their package.
  4. Test Function: May not be found in the very basic controllers but it is a valuable tool. It is basically an additional run program that is based on very short watering sessions. Setting the Controller to “TEST” will allow you to walk the yard while the sprinklers are running through all the zones. This allows you to visit each head to identify any problems that need correcting.  An enhanced feature is “Remote Control”. Using a hand-held transmitter, the user can turn on/off sections without returning to the controller. You may find this desirable if you have a very large lot, otherwise the test feature will probably work fine. This is one of the big selling features of the the Wifi enabled controllers as you can use your phone to activate the system.
  5. Water Usage: How ever you spin it, your water usage will dramatically increase. Even with a good efficient system, you will be watering more thoroughly than in the past. Managing your system electronically will ensure the most efficient use of water.

Here are some things you need to know or ask yourself before you start the process.

  1. Water Usage: It takes approximately  27,154 gallons of water to apply one inch of water to one acre of land. No mater how you cut it; using an automatic lawn sprinkler system will increase your water bills. Using the number listed above as the basis;  that works out to about .623 gallons of water per square foot. So; take your property lot size (ex. 50×100=5000) minus the square footage covered by the house, driveway, sidewalk and garage (ex. 1500H + 800D + 200S + 400G = 2900 sq ft.) Property size minus non-landscape surfaces  equals area to be watered. (ex. 5000-2900=2100 sq.ft.). Multiply .623 times the remaining square footage (ex. 2100 x .623= 1308 gallons of water to achieve 1″ per watering cycle). Climate and rainfall will impact the amount of watering but if you figure watering 3 times per week, it would work out to 15,699 gallons per month figured at 100% efficiency. Most typical sprinkler systems are 50-80% efficient (adjusted to 23,548 to 28,258 gallons per month). It all adds up.
  2. Existing Water Meter: Most of the time, sprinkler systems are installed using the existing water meter as the cost of a new meter can cost over $500 to have the city install one.
  3. New Water Meter: Because of the initial cost, most people will use the existing meter, but consider these facts as part of your decision: 1)Many cities calculate the sewage charges in your water bill  based on water used, even though they may provide a summer time allowance, it may only be for 3 months. Here where I live, it is not uncommon to use the sprinklers 9 months of the year. 2) Older homes with 3/4 in meter may not provide your system adequate water pressure, 3) Using a larger meter with higher pressure may actually reduce the amount of equipment required for the system. Additionally,  pressure and volume will impact the amount of zones and heads needed to water the property. In the initial evaluation, the irrigator will validate the meter and the water pressure. If it is border line, they will normally recommend an upgrade or an additional meter. You may also ask if upgrading the meter to the next larger size will impact the bid in a way to reduce his cost. This may come into play especially with large properties vs. small lots.
  4. Sprinkler Head Styles: If you have a small residential city lot, expect the  bid to include pop-up style of heads. If your property is over 1/3 of an acre expect to see a mixture of pop-up and rotary or oscillating heads. Typically, properties with open landscape (large turf areas) will be designed with head that can throw water further than 15 feet. This saves water and material. TIP: It is acceptable to have different type heads in a system but not acceptable to have different type heads in the same zone.
  5. Warranty: Ask for at least a year, but two is better. Most any problem will surface in the first two years.
  6. Spare parts: Honestly; sprinklers require a lot of maintenance to retain peak performance. Damage from lawn mowing  is the biggest culprit. Using the exact same heads and nozzles will ensure  peak performance. Most contractors will be using a different grade of sprinkler head than found at the orange box store. Ask the contractor to provide extra sprinkler heads, nozzles and risers (ask for minimum of 1 of each or 10% in heads/nozzles/risers used in the system). Some where around 10-20% extra sprinkler bodies and 2-3 each of the different nozzles. Also ask for at least one extra sprinkler valve for every 10. Whether you do the maintenance yourself, hire the same contractor or someone else, this will guarantee that you retain the integrity of the original design.

Assuming you are dealing with a reputable licenced irrigator they will appreciate your preparation and gained knowledge.. However, some of the questions and requirements provided may not set well with others. That alone, will help in weeding out the undesirables.

If you are looking for more information or greater detail, take a look at this site as it does a great job of explaining Efficient Irrigation.


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.