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.


Seasonal Reminder – Spring 2010

March 20, 2010

Today is the first day of spring and I believe we may see snow tonight… In Texas!!  So this post may be a bit early to start working on that Spring To-Do List, but give it a look so you can take care of things in the next couple of weeks.  It’s time to fix all those items that broke during the winter months, repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house. This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.100_0206
  11. 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 and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

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


Caulking and Sealing

January 11, 2010

 The colder months make it easy to find problems associated with door and window seals. I spent the day caulking window casings and sills today (inside the house). With the temperature hovering around 25F, it was easy to find the bad spots. Lucky for me, my house is in pretty good shape. I haven’t done any window maintenance in about 4 years.

It’s  not uncommon to see shrinkage (not the George Costanza type) in building materials such as caulk, grout, wood trim and spackling (all water based products).  This is usually the time of the year you will see more cracks around your shower, bathtub, kitchen as well as windows and doors. This is a great time to do interior caulking  in all of these places. If you own a new house that is less than 5 years old, you will probably notice significant amounts of cracks related to this type of contraction. It’s is important to understand; caulking is not a one time event. The material will continue to move and you may have to continue to re-caulk over the years.

PURPOSE OF CAULK: Caulk or sealant is used to bridge the gap between two material. Typically corners, seams and edges, especially where two dis-similar material meet. Caulk is used to create a barrier for air, water, grunge and 4 legged creatures from entering the house as well as keeping  untreated materials from being exposed to those elements. Universally, caulk is used as an exterior and interior sealant to protect both you and your home. 

CAULKING AND SEALS

Window Caulking: Assuming you have functional windows, the caulking should be limited to the where the two opposing surfaces contact each other. (i.e. window frame and wall). If there are gaps and cracks, clean them and fill with a thin coat of water based acrylic latex caulk. Painting after you finish may be required, but that is your call. My trim is off white and it blends well enough to be left as is. If you find no cracks or gaps leave it alone, no need to add layers of caulk just because. I took these before and after pictures of one of my windows. Hopefully you can see this is a very thin seasonal dryout crack that I filled with caulk.

Tub and Shower Caulking: Similar to windows. Look where the tile or wall surface touches the tub it self. This is where most of the problems are. Keeping a good water tight seal at this location is critical  in keeping water from getting behind the tub; and same goes with the shower. These surfaces will require more regular inspection and recaulkng to keep them up to snuff. If you live in an older home you may find lots of caulk gunked up here. If you continue to see mold in this location even after caulking, it would be a good idea to spend the time and remove all the old caulk, let it dry and replace all the caulk. This is a very laborious job but once its done right you will not have to caulk near as often.  Inspect for recaulking every 6 months.

Caulking “Part Art Part Function“: Caulking appears to be an easy task, however it’s also very easy to make a mess of it. One of the reasons I use a latex based product as often as possible is because its very easy to start over if you mess up.  TIP: After applying the bead of caulk, moisten your finger and smooth the caulk into the corner, if you have too much caulk it will spread outside your finger, wipe it off and keep going. Use a wet rag to carefully clean it up. If needed, use your finger again. Continue to work it until you like the way it looks.  Even though most instructions will not include this tip, I learned this from a wise old painter and  it really makes a difference.

It’s estimated that up to 11 percent of the air leaks in a building are around the doors.

Door and Window Trim: This is related to the trim or molding around the windows and doors. Typically this is done prior to painting. Look for small dryout cracks at the joints and edges.  Try to force the caulk in the crack it self and wipe clean the surface. Look at these before and after pictures of this interior door trim.

Door Seals: All exterior doors should have some form of seal. It could be rubber, plastic, foam or even metal strips (usually copper).  This seal creates a barrier to keep the outside temperatures outside, and the inside temperatures inside. Inspecting this on a windy day can reveal leaks. Look at the seal(s), ensure they are in tack, and form a complete seal around the door frame. Look at the door threshold in the same way. In some cases there may be a wiper (thin rubber strip on the bottom of the door) to make contact with the threshold when the door closes. If you find problems, you may be able to fix them but most likely the complete seal may have to be replaced.  The local hardware store usually has many styles to choose from. When replacing a door seal, it is important to find the right one. Using one that is too think will make the door difficult to open and close.  Look at this site on weather-stripping for a detailed description of the various styles.

Attic Entrance: Either a hatch or attic stairs. If it’s a hatch seal it the same way as a crawl space hatch. If you have a hinged stairway you can seal the door much like the crawl space, however adding insulation over the hatch will provide additional value. Here are some examples of tents and hoods that will work. If you have room, you can make one out of insulated fiber board.

Crawl Space Entrance: If you have a basement or the house is built on a slab, this will not apply to you. Many houses with a crawl space will have a hatch in the floor. Use a small strip of  foam based weather-stripping attached to the contact surface between the hatch and floor, this will help keep the winter drafts down. TIP: It doesn’t hurt to have a patch of fiberglass insulation to fill the void in the hatch hole, it would be removed  when you need access.

For more detailed methods of caulking and sealing see the attached DOE article covers the subject of caulking, sealing weather-stripping.  Weatherizing your Home.


Seasonal Reminders – Winter Wrapup

December 31, 2009

Winter can have lots of different definitions so depending on where you are geographically located, some of these items may not be possible due to the weather conditions. For those of us in the Southwestern United States, having a nice 70 degree day can be fairly easy to find.  Normally the winter seasonal reminders are more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the winter months more than anything.  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter as you enter the heavy heating months.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  5. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.  
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  7. 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)
  8. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  9. 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.
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. 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


Inspecting & Cleaning Clothes Dryer Vents

December 27, 2009

 In 1998 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission associated 15,600 household fires to clothes dryers. Many of these fires can be related to lint build up in the dryer exhaust duct. This number may not appear to be significant, but the potential loss for anyone would be.

A full load of clothes contain about 1/2 gallon of water. Lint is created as a by-product of removing the water from the clothes. Even though many would believe the lint filter in the dryer takes care of most  lint concerns, they would be wrong. Pulling out your dryer from the wall after about a month of use will reveal lint that did not get caught by the dryer nor did it make it through the vent duct but escaped outside the duct system.

REASONS TO INSPECT THE DRYER AND VENT SYSTEM:

  1. Excessively long drying times
  2. Clothes are very hot at the end of their cycle
  3. Clothes are still damp after completion of their cycle
  4. Dryer has become noisier than usual
  5. Premature dryer failure associated with heating element, motor or bearings
  6. Existing dryer is more than 5 years old
  7. High usage applications (every day use)
  8. Recent dryer replacement

 

 

Besides the items mentioned above, you may have installation or design issues that may be causing your dryer not to operate properly.  Take a look at these items for a more in-depth inspection.

  1. Excessive Duct Length: The International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913 defines a maximum length of 25 ft. For each 45 degree turn, reduce that number by 2.5 ft. and 5 ft. for each 90 degree turn. If your dryer is not on an outside wall and the dryer duct is routed through the attic or under the house you probably have two 90 degree turns.  If you include the vertical distance (attic or basement) with two 90 degree turns, you have an approximate budget of 9-13 ft. from the rear of the dryer to the outside wall (this is not very far). Excessive distance may cause buildup to occur more rapidly. The diameter of the pipe should be 4 inches. If you can’t change the distance, inspect and clean the duct more regularly or consider adding a booster fan.
  2. Excessive Vertical Distance: Pushing this air up has its limitation. (see the Whirlpool document listed below for back pressure requirements). If your system exceeds the vertical hight of one story (8 ft.) you may need to measure the back pressure with a manometer and consider a booster fan for adequate dryer ventilation.
  3. System Integrity: Visibly walk (or crawl) the entire duct where it is exposed (attic, crawl space, basement, etc.) to ensure all fittings are tight, secure, straight and clear not crimped or bent up. TIP: Performing this function while the dryer is running will help find problems quicker.
  4. PVC Piping: The use of PVC (plastic) pipe should be avoided completely as excessive heat can melt the plastic (PVC will melt at 140 F).  Besides the temperature issue, PVC has a tendency to create static electricity that can contribute to the build up. If PVC is used, consider having it replaced with ridged metal duct work. 
  5. Plastic or Thin Flexible Connection Duct: This would be the “transition” ducting to connect the dryer to the wall outlet.  A ridged solution is the best but many times a flexible duct is required due to the lack of space. There are dozens of choices even though the big orange box may only have two. You may have to use the internet to find the best product for your requirement. Check out Fixitnow.com as a great source to review your duct options. Avoid the plastic or thin foil slinky type at all costs. If you need one that is flexible, find a simi-flexible non-kinking type. If you find the plastic or thin foil type in your system, replacement is recommended. Try to find one with a UL listing on the packaging.
  6. Kinks, Tight Bends & Rough Interior Surfaces: A smooth free flow path with minimal bends and turns is the most ideal installation.
  7. The entire duct system should be metal: Otherwise you may have excessive static electricty.  Make sure there is continuity from end to end from the dryer to the outside vent, 3) Ensure the dryer is correctly grounded, 3) Check the grounding of the AC Breaker panel, 4)Make sure there are no plastic fittings or section in the system. By having a properly grounded dryer and the metal vent is connected to the dryer, the static electricty will have a good path to ground.

In 1999 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported of the 15,000 house fires studied, electric dryers were over 2.5 times more likely the cause of the fire over a gas dryer and that the most frequent locations were the dryer vent and lint trap.

INSPECTING & SERVICING DRYER AND DRYER DUCTING

  1. Clean lint screen/ filter before each use: This is mandatory, running the dryer with a clogged filter screen will force the dryer to push the air and lint into other places, such as in the interior of the dryer as well as the laundry closet area.
  2. Clean under and around the dryer: Pull the dryer away from the wall or out of the it space and clean the floor and walls and underneath the dryer. Perform this yearly.
  3. Dryer interior space: You will have to make this call regarding your experience to perform this item. With the dryer disconnected from the wall (electric plug and duct), remove the inspection plate on the rear of the dryer. Inspect for excessive lint and remove with a vacuum cleaner. Inspect as often as yearly, but every three years may be sufficient.
  4. Remove and clean the transition duct: If you can remove this, take it outside and use a vacuum cleaner, compressed air or water hose to throughly clean this out. NOTE: if you use water, get it good and dry before you replace it.  Normally once a year should work. 
  5. Clean the dryer duct (in-wall):  There are a dozen ways to do this, but I like the “Chimney Sweep” type product. Using a portable drill attached to the device,  you can run this through the pipe and it will scrub out all the lint. I like to do it from the outside with the dryer running (yes it makes a mess) but it does a great job. If you don’t want to invest in the tool, consider hiring a professional. The worst thing you could do is getting something stuck in it, which would put you out of business and make matters worse.  Inspect this once a year and clean it as required. I use the LintEater  and found it to be an excellent product with great instructions and a hand full of accessories for the everyday homeowner. Its about $35.

Specific codes that define the use of dryers and the installation of  venting duct work include but not limited to: International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913, UL 2158 par. 7.3,  ANSI Z21.5.1 Gas Dryers as well as local codes and ordinances.  This Whirlpool link provides a nice detailed vent specification as well as pressure measurements if you are building a new dryer vent system and need to provide a contractor the specifics.

 

  

 


Finding a Lost Sprinkler Head

July 18, 2009

Lawn Sprinkler4Finding a lost sprinkler head can be a challenge, simple in concept but difficult if you don’t have a plan.  Sprinkler heads can fail to rise to the occasion when under pressure. The longer they fail to operate the harder they may be to find. 

Perform these items first:

  1. If available, look at the drawing used during the installation system, it may work as a road map in identify the general location.
  2. Look for an obvious brown/dry spot. Run the sprinkler, it may pop up but be clogged. If so, disassemble it, clean it, reassemble it, install it and you are done. If not, go to #3.
  3. If the entire zone appears to be weak, you may find water pooling. This could actually be a broken head or pipe as in this condition you are consuming way more water than the design.
  4. With the sprinklers running, look for mushy ground  and water pooling. The head may be working, but it is too covered up to rise above the grass. Use a shovel to work the dirt (carefully). It may pop up once the dirt around it has been loosened up.

Missing SprinklerOkay, that was the easy stuff, now it gets hard. Go to the Orange Box store and purchase some sprinkler flags. Place a flag at each known head. Measure the distances between the heads as shown in the drawing.  You should find an area that does not measure (in relative terms) like the other ones. Start poking around with a shovel (carefully) in an attempt to expose the head 

Still no luck? Using the same method described in Finding Leaks in Sprinkler Zones and Common Leaks. You will need to turn off all the heads in that zone. Let the water run, hopefully,  it will show up since you are concentrating all the pressure to the missing head. Check your meter and look for moderate movement in the meter. If you have no movement in the meter the sprinkler head could be capped or not there at all.

Still didn’t find it?  You may not have a head there at all and the design just did not cover it well. So you may consider adding a head if the zone can accommodate the additional water use.

You may also take a look at one of my other articles for help in the Lawn Sprinkler catagory.


Lawn Sprinkler Nozzles, Can Changing Them Make a Difference?

July 12, 2009

sprinklers-01   

Heavy misting of the sprinkler heads can result in as much as a 25% loss in water.    

New sprinkler heads and nozzles coming on the market are claiming sizable water savings, but how much water can you really save (if any)?  Stream sprayers are normally found only in orbital or rotary heads and are typically found in larger landscaped areas and can be spaced 20′ to 30′ apart. With an open landscape, these heads can water more ground with less water. Up until now, there have been few options for smaller residential properties other than traditional pop-up heads using spray type nozzles. Spray nozzles are designed for spacing limitation from 8′ to 15′ and as with any type water sprayer, there is a correlation between distance and trajectory or arc necessary to obtain the distance. The greater the distance, the greater the height of the arc to obtain the distance. Greater distance = greater misting.    

But trajectory alone is not the only culprit to misting. High winds, high pressure, evaporation and excessive overspray all contribute to the water loss factor associated with misting. This misting can account for a loss of 10-25%. It’s this misting factor (more characteristic of spray nozzles over stream nozzles) that contributes to a lower efficiency found with the spray nozzle.  And its the low misting factor found with the stream sprayer that makes for an attractive alternative.     

In an attempt to make automatic sprinkler systems more efficient, some manufacturers have created a stream type nozzle designed as a direct replacements for the standard spray nozzle (aka pop-up sprayer). If you have read my earlier posts on lawn sprinklers you know that pop-up type spray heads can lose 10% or more of their water spray to the wind and evaporation.   Before we look at the differences between spray nozzles and stream nozzles, lets consider the ways to reduce sprinkler misting. Some of these items can be readily addressed, some are design considerations.    

Standard Spray Nozzles: Standard spray nozzles atomize the water to equally spray or spread the water out in an even flow throughout their spray pattern. They are great choice for small residential properties as they provide good water distribution in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally they have many different nozzles to fit the various application requirements.   

012106_lwn_sprinkler02_dt   

  1. To much pressure: Optimally pop-up sprayers work best at 30 psi. High pressure can cause excessive misting.  TIP: To test the zone water pressure, you have to remove a head, replace it with a riser and thread on a water pressure gauge, then run the zone and check the pressure while the zone is spraying water.
  2. Don’t water during high winds:   This can be managed manually or you can add a wind anemometer to your sprinkler controller that will shut down the system at certain wind speeds. Even though we typically water in the night-time hours (to avoid excessive evaporation), windy conditions are as common during the night-time as during the day.
  3. Keep water spray output close to the ground: This can be achieved by designing a system where the heads are closer (such as 10′ apart compared to 15′ apart)  Spray nozzles with shorter patterns use lower trajectories, will atomize the water less and have less distance to fall to the ground.  This item has to be addressed during the initial design as shortening patterns in an existing system could be considered a “do over”. I designed and installed my current system prior to stream sprayers, I took this approach by using 10′ radii heads. The water stays very close to the ground when the system is running. Granted, it caused me to use a lot more heads and zones. If I were to tackle it today, the stream sprayers would not only impact my water  usage, but cut back on material and zones installed. 
  4. Deliver the water in streams not in a spray or mist: The more you atomize the water, the lighter it becomes, allowing the wind to cause the water to drift away and evaporate before it has time to absorb into the ground or plant material.
  5. Deliver water directly to the roots through drip irrigation.  Flower beds can be easily converted (assuming your sprinkler system has specific zones for flower beds). For grass and turf this is a bit more involved but plausible.  In my current system I created specific zones for the parkway and driveway. Using direct bury drip lines, I am able to keep the turf green with virtually no run off. This is another condition that would need to be addressed in the original design.
  6. Refer to the  Alliance of Water Efficiency, for additional water saving tips. 

Water Use and Abuse   

There is a fine line between efficient water delivery and adequate water coverage. Many irrigators will “over cover” an installation to ensure all the grounds receive adequate water. The Irrigator wants to over-saturate the turf to avoid brown spots or low coverage areas, as making a re-trip to install additional heads can be costly. Creating a system that uses excessive water will cause them less problems in the long run. But in doing so, there may be a high degree of waste associated with the design. Don’t get me wrong, the lawn sprinkler business is very competitive and most people won’t spend the money to get a system with high-efficiency. Since water is still cheap and fairly plentiful this methodology will be with us for a while. However, the purpose of this article is to attempt to make your existing system more efficient and if you have a decent design, you can make some reasonable changes that will not terribly affect the performance of the system.   

Lawn%20edge%20pop%20up%201Stream Sprayers: Stream spray nozzles provides multiple streams from the nozzle in the defined pattern (90, 180, 360 degree pattern). To provide adequate coverage, the streams spray in a rotation throughout the pattern.  The beauty of the stream type nozzle over the spray nozzle is it will project water similar distances without high levels of misting. However, based on their delivery you may actually have to run the systems longer to get similar watering results, but since they are more efficient, it will not negatively impact the system performance.  With the move toward greater efficiency, the stream principle has been introduced to traditional pop-up sprayer. Some manufacturers provide them as replacement nozzles, where others require you to change out the complete head. TIP: Look at one of your spray heads to determine the brand, go online to see if the manufacturer makes a replacement nozzle, don’t be surprised if your local orange box store does not carry them. I have used Sprinkler Warehouse for many of my sprinkler parts and speciality items.   

The Test Case: I created a model zone with 4 heads, 2-180 degree heads and 2-360 degree heads.  I used the Toro 570 model body as it can be equipped with either the spray nozzle  or retrofitted with the stream nozzle. Optimally, the comparison is based on a 30 psi rating at the head.    

In converting the system from spray to stream we need to match the pattern as close as possible. Since spray heads are a mature product, many patterns and styles are available, but with the stream nozzles, the available styles are still limited. With the Toro brand, the new stream nozzles are not a direct comparison in spray distances and the stream nozzles may have to be tuned to reduce the pattern to avoid excessive over-spray onto the sidewalk. But they were pretty close.   

Stream Spray Matrix

Spray Nozzles De-rated by 10%

   

Sprinkler Table2

Spray Nozzles De-rated by 25%%

   

 From a cost comparison, it is beneficial to be able to re-use your existing spray heads if at all possible,  as having to buy new heads as well as the nozzles will add up quickly. When you look at the water saved vs. the cost of the change, it did not prove out (for me) since water is still very cheap. However many municipalities tack on additional charges based on water usage, so it could make a difference for you. If you are interested in seeing how much difference it makes, take the water saved (listed in the table and calculate it against your dollar per gallon charges found on your water bill.   

Based on the results of the chart, here is my observations using the 10% de-ration chart.   

  1. It requires 86.72 minutes using the stream spray nozzles to provide the same precipitation value as the spray nozzle provides in 60 minutes.
  2. Even though it requires 26.72 minutes more, the stream sprayers use 393 less gallons
  3. Factoring in a 10% misting factor, the stream sprayers use 5.77% less water or 471.63 gallons of water per month.

At a 25% deration the numbers are a bit more dramatic as you could save over 1700 gallons of water per month.   

Conclusion:    

  • Consider using the stream sprayers in a new design as you can use less heads, less zones, less pipe, less fittings as well as less water. 
  • Convert existing sprinkler zones to stream sprays where high wind is normal or misting is excessive.

Recommendation: If you choose to replace your existing nozzles/heads, change one zone at a time. Let it run through part of the season, compare the results by looking at your turf . For proper watering don’t mix spray nozzles with the stream nozzles in the same zone. To obtain an adequate amount of water similar to the spray nozzles zones, the watering time may have to be increased on the stream nozzle section.   

To see the entire series of lawn sprinkler articles go to Lawn Sprinkler tab on the HomeownerBOB web page.   

Good Luck   


Seasonal Reminder – Summer Household To Do List

July 5, 2009

100_0497Summer is Here!!!  Its been close to 100 degrees most of the week, and it could be that hot till Labor Day. This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so.  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out. 
  2. HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and bushes can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Lawn Sprinklers: If you read my weekly posts, you may notice I have been writing a lot on lawn sprinklers. This subject has been getting the most hits and questions so I have responded by writing more articles on the subject. Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection and repairs in more detail.
  5. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water.
  6. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  7. Appliances: Use a hand held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from the vent at the bottom the unit. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  8. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.100_0206
  9. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines. 
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

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


Lawn Sprinkler Maintenance Can Increase Water Efficiency

April 20, 2009

sprinklers-01In-ground lawn sprinklers are about 50% efficient. Evaporation, poor maintenance and bad design  are the largest impact to that figure.

The spring season has many of us looking to use automatic lawn sprinklers to do our watering.   Hopefully you have read my post on Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks.  This is a good start, but it just barely touches the subject of efficiency. Besides fixing leaks, there are numerous items that can be performed to make your system more efficient without sacrificing performance. Today, the dollar cost of water is still very reasonable, however water conservantion is really about using less and the long-term benefit.  Even though this article will address issues specifically related to systems designed with pop-up type heads, many of the suggestions will work with other types as well.

General Design Considerations:  Understanding how an irrigation system is engineered will help you understand how to make one work more efficiently. If you have a “blueprint” of your system you have a head start, if not, we will perform some hands-on analysis to obtain performance information. 

  • Elements of Design: All systems are designed based on water usage  and gallons of water (GPM) per minutes used by each head. Typically the small pop-up heads use more water per head per square foot watered. Because they apply more water per square foot than other types, they work well for small and medium-sized residential properties. They can also be easily tuned to fit odd spaces with a host of nozzle choices. 
  • Zones or Sections: All sprinkler systems are broken down into zones or sections. The Irrigator calculates the zone size by using available water pressure, pipe size and maximum GPM per zone. Besides these items, zone adjustments may also include special watering needs such as side yards, gardens, flower beds or odd-shaped areas. Since additional zones require more material, labor and money many Irrigators will keep the costs down by limiting the number of zones installed, this is good for him and maybe not so good for you. As you analyze your system and you see one head out all by itself in the middle of another zone, the Irrigator needed a head in that location but did not have enough water budget left in the prevailing zone. This is all very common but can be problematic if you are attempting to manage your water usage at a higher degree than normal homeowners.
  • Sprinkler Heads & Nozzles: There are a half a dozen types of sprinkler heads, but the pop-up style is still the most popular because they can meet varying needs. Pop-ups can be purchased in different levels of spray coverage and are promoted as providing better coverage because they are typically spaced closer together. Typical systems use heads designed with 10′, 12′ and 15′ radius spray patterns as well as strip sprays and bubblers.  Larger properties can use Impulse or Rotary style heads to conserve water as they can be placed very far apart. Because they distribute water in more of a stream vs. spray found with a pop-up style, they do not waste quite as much water per square foot.  Impulse and Rotary heads work well with wide open lots, but don’t work well when there are obstructions such as building structures, trees, and property lines.
  • Mixing Head Types: No matter the sprinkler head style, it is perfectly normal to find a mix of spray pattern nozzles within each zone, and a mixtures of head types in a system,  but NOT a mixture of head type (Pop-up, Rotary, Orbital) in the same zone. Mixing head type can make it difficult to properly manage coverage and watering levels.
  • Optimal Design: The best designed systems account for the water required based on the environment. In other words, shrubs and flowers should be watered at a different rate than turf. Shaded turf may be watered less than turf placed in full sun. Grass type is also influential. Unfortunately, not all sprinkler systems are designed with these considerations as it can be more costly to engineer a system with greater efficiency. TIP: If you don’t currently have a sprinkler system, and are looking to purchase one, beware of the very low bids as some Irrigation Contractors will take short cuts on the items mentioned in an effort to win the business.

EFFICIENCY STRATEGY

Stage I: Gain the most efficiency out of your existing system without impacting the design.  All of Stage I is covered in detail in the “Sprinkler Leak” post. But here are the high points.

  1. Check for leaks in the pressure side of the system. Use your water meter to isolate the leaks in the sprinkler zones.
  2. Check for leaks in each zone. Most leaks are at the heads; repair and replace the heads and risers as necessary. Make sure you use the same style head and similar nozzle sizes as the one you are replacing.  TIP: All the major manufacturers make pop-up heads, its okay to mix brands but if you stick with the same brand, you can always move and change nozzles between existing heads when needed because nozzles are not universal between manufacturers.
  3. Ensure all sprinkler heads are clean and providing the proper water pattern.
  4. Adjust the watering duration and times to match the season.
  5. If your watering durations continue to allow excessive water run off, try changing the watering times to a series of short cycles. For instance, change a single 15 minute cycle  to 3 back-to-back 4 or 5 minute cycles. This can allow the water to saturate before the second and third cycle occurs. Typically, I don’t like the short cycle watering strategy, but if you perform it back-to-back, its okay.
  6. Consider using your system in manual mode only. Watering when only necessary will reduce your water usage substantially. 

lawn-sprinklers3Stage II: Plan to get wet.  This stage requires a bit more effort and the gains achieved may be small, but the intent is to make gradual changes that will increase efficiency without negatively effecting performance.  This stage is intended to optimize the system by fine tuning the existing sprinkler heads. 

  1. Look for excessive water  accumulation. Not all landscapes require the same amount of water. Unfortunately, when irrigation systems are designed, this fact may not be included in the design. Read the system performance by looking for items such as excessive water, green moss or over saturated ground and plants.
  2. Fine tune  individual sprinkler nozzles. Each sprinkler nozzle has a fine tuning screw on the top of the nozzle allowing you to change the water output. However, when you reduce the flow, you reduce the pattern spray coverage. In some cases, you may completely turn the water off at the nozzle. This is sort of a trial and error exercise, so you may need to make the adjustment and keep an eye on the area for proper coverage. Newer style nozzles may include a water saver disk found under the nozzle to equalize pressure and reduce water usage. Adding or removing this disk will also change the amount of water delivered.
  3. Parkway Watering: I mention this because this strip of grass found with many older homes is a large source of water waste with automatic lawn sprinklers. Run the zone that waters this area to determine how much waste is occurring. Adjust it as much as you can. If you still have excessive water run off you may consider adjusting the fine tune screw to the off position and either hand water it or let it go brown and just let the rain keep it green By completing Stage I & II, you should be reducing you water waste. You may be able to reduce your watering duration by the fact that you are wasting less water. Before you move to the next step, let the system run for several weeks/months. Monitor the performance and make further adjustments as necessary to the nozzles and watering duration.

After completing Stage I and II let the system run for a couple of months. Monitor the performance and the water usage, make adjustments as necessary.  However, if you want to go further, I still have Stage III and IV recommendations. Look for my post next week on  “Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II“.  

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Roofing-Looking for Leaks

March 4, 2009

roof0006

Contrary to common belief, roof leaks can be found when it is not raining.

While installing a chimney cap last week, I figured it was time to perform the annual roof inspection. My roof is less than 3 years old so you wouldn’t expect to find much of anything. Unfortunately that is never the case. Your roof takes a lot of abuse and you need to keep an eye on it.

Catching roof leaks before you actually notice them can save lots of dollars as roof leaks easily damage walls and ceiling finishes, besides the structure behind the walls. Even though a manufacturer may rate a shingle for up to 30 years of life, different climate conditions may impact the realistic life expectations to more like 17 years. Additionally breaches created by vents, chimneys  and other protrusions typically are the source of the failures.

Assuming your roof was installed correctly, most of your problems will be associated with just normal wear. Contrary to common belief, it does not have to be leaking to find it. Most roof problems can be identified on a nice day, it doesn’t have to be raining or leaking to find the problem. In fact, it’s easier to find a leak on a nice day and the repair process will go more smoothly. If you have a roof leak and call a roof repairman in a panic, don’t be surprised he won’t show up until after it quits raining. Standing on the roof when it is wet or during a storm is not recommended and should be avoided. Most of my discussion on the subject will relate to asphalt/fiberglass type shingles which is about  95% of the market. However, most issues are generic and can apply to other roof products as well.

Some of these items can be viewed from the ground, but if you plan to do any of the minor repair, you will need to get on the roof anyway. Most people don’t call a roofer until they have a leak. For a minimal charge, a roofer can perform an inspection and  correct most problems in a single visit. Here are the most common roof problems to look for. 

  1. Tree Limbs on the Roof. If you find tree limbs hanging within about 5 feet of your roof, you may consider cutting them back. When the tree adds leaves in the spring or ice over in the winter, they can cause damage. If you find a limb that has been rubbing the shingles you may need to apply some roofing caulk to seal any potential leaks. Shingle replacement or using an asphalt based roof caulk can solve the problem.
  2. Debris on the Roof. Leaves and limbs can accumulate around the chimney, roof valleys and corners.  Leaving this material in-place can breakdown, cause bugs to accumulate and accelerate deterioration of the roof material.
  3. 100_0124Bathroom and Kitchen Drain Pipes. (a.k.a.)  Vent stacks. Look around the top edge where the lead sleeve is molded into the top of the pipe coming from the vent. Looking at this picture, you can see that squirrels have really abused this vent stack. They can easily chew holes in the stack causing rain water to drip down the side of the pipe inside the house. Most roofers will just replace the lead vent stack.  If they are as damaged as this one, that may be your best choice, however, you can add acrylic caulk (grey or clear) around the edges to fill this holes.  Also look for exposed nails that are used to secure the flange of the lead vent stack. Add a dab of the same caulk over these nails.
  4. Water Heater and HVAC Vents. These vents are typically aluminum, tin or stainless steel and will not have the squirrel problem but look for the nail holes and if there is a vent cap, ensure there is a good seal. Use foil tape (HVAC type tape used on ducting) to seal the two if necessary. TIP: Exercise caution around these vents as they can be hot due to exhaust heat from devices they are venting.
  5. Nails: Normally, most nails are intended to be concealed by other shingles. However there are some places where it is just unavoidable for them to be exposed. Where you find them, make sure there is a good dab of caulk covering them.
  6. Chimney’s. The chimney should have some form of cap or top to reduce the opportunity for water to drain down the inside of the chimney leaving water on the floor (like my house). Inspect the cap for a proper seal to the top of the chimney. If you don’t have one at all, contact a roofer or sheet metal shop. TIP: If you just need the cap, and plan to install it yourself, take the measurements and   find a sheet metal shop.  If you contact a roofer, they will typically use a sheet metal shop to construct the cap, charge you 10-20% mark up, plus installation.
  7. Skylights. Skylights can be a big source for water leaks. Having them installed at the same time as the roof seems to reduce the opportunity for leaks. Roofs are installed as a system, adding protrusions (skylights, vent’s, etc), after the fact creates a breach in the system and becomes a potential location for water to find its way into the house.
  8. Wall/Roof Joints: Look for good flashing (metal edge) where these two opposing surfaces meet. This would typically be where the roof edge butts against a second story wall.
  9. Wall/Chimney Locations. Much like #7, these two opposing surfaces provide an opportunity for water to force itself into the house. Look for a good seal here. TIP: Do not remove or pull back the shingles for inspection unless it is the location of a known leak. Roof systems can be fragile especially as they age. It’s not hard to cause additional damage.
  10. Roof Valleys: Another location where opposing surfaces meet, allowing water to converge. Much like #8, if you do not see anything obvious and you have no known leaks.. let it be.

If you do not know how old your roof is, here are a few additional items to look for that are signs of age and the roof may be near the end of life. If it’s not leaking, just keep a good eye on the items you can address.

  1. Loss of Asphalt Granules. By nature asphalt shingles will lose some of their exterior surface. The granules provide color and protection. You may see a  loss of granules in the valleys and near the edges or areas where there is regular water flow.
  2. Curling of the Shingle Tabs.This is an indication of age due to the roofing material drying out and losing its pliability.
  3. Chipped, Broken and Missing Shingles.  This is wear and tear that has occurred over 20 plus years. As the material becomes brittle, it is easy for it to chip and break.
  4. Raised Nails.  If you find nails surfacing, or popping up through the face of the shingle from underneath, this is a sign your roof  may be approaching its life expectancy.

Overall, avoid spending too much time walking around. Make your inspections and repairs and get off. Excessive activity can  cause problems as well.