Category Archives: Plumbing Tips

All about sink overflow holes!

Stinky sink? Many times my clients complain of a constant, persistent foul odor in their bathroom that’s reminiscent of a “wadded up wet towel left in the bottom of the hamper for a week or two!” Oh, no…

Most all lavatory sinks have what’s called an “overflow” hole. By design it allows water to flow down the drain – in the event the sink were to fill too high – and not over the top & onto the floor. Unless of course, the drain is plugged or slow draining – but that’s an entirely different story. The image below is a common bathroom sink with the overflow in the back of the sink. Some sinks have the overflow hole in the front of the sink – same thing, just different design. Often this overflow area can collect foul mildew smelling bacteria. Simply flood the overflow hole with plain white vinegar to kill the bacteria. Use a funnel, or perhaps simply cup your hand as to divert the Vinegar into the hole or just let it glug out of the bottle into the hole. Nothing fancy – remember plain white vinegar is cheap and it’s hard to use too much.  Repeat as needed!

Ti Sutherland, Master Plumber – Sutherland Plumbing, LLCSink Overflow Hole

 

How to shut-off the main water supply to your home!

“Do you know how, or more importantly where to shut-off the main water supply to your home?”

After 20 years it still surprises me that many (in fact most) clients don’t know how to go about turning-off the main water supply to their homes!

Every home should have a readily accessible, functional main water shut-off valve. The fact is, many times the valve is concealed, not easily accessible, non-functional, all of the above or missing altogether!  Regardless, here’s a pretty sure-fire way and backup plan to get your water shut-off quickly in the event of an emergency:

1) Locate and know where your water meter is located, typically you can find it near the curb or sidewalk in front of your house.Shut-off valve closed2) Open the lid to look inside.  Not all lids are the same.  Sometimes it’s necessary to remove the entire cover to see the meter or to access the shut off valve inside.Shut-off valve open3) There are a couple of ways to turn the valve.  Ultimately you’re trying to line up the two circles, about a 1/2 turn clockwise. There’s a tool made that goes by a few different names, the most common of which is “Meter Key” sold at just about every home center and hardware store.  Expect to pay somewhere between $10.00 – $30.00Meter Key4) You might have some hand tools laying around that may work in a pinch.  Namely a crescent wrench and something long, narrow & ridged like a screwdriver. See the illustration below on how to use these common hand tools to do the job in place of a “Meter Key.”Hand ToolsIt would do you well to familiarize yourself with the “how to” described here.

I can usually tell if a client has lived through a plumbing emergency or catastrophe by their knowledge of where & how to turn-off the main water supply.  One family I met recently had a bright red meter key conspicuously hanging on two nails in the garage.  My client told me about a nightmare experience they had in the past, wherein a toilet supply line had ruptured and nobody knew the first thing about getting the water shut-off!  The water line leaked several hundred, maybe thousands of gallons of water into the house before the water was shut-off by a responding emergency plumber.  Besides the expense of the emergency service call, they now faced not only the repair of the broken toilet line (the least of their worries), but thousands of dollars in restoration repairs and a hefty insurance claim.  The client went on to say that now everyone who lives in the house (including their 7 year-old) knows what the meter key is and how & when to use it!

Ti Sutherland – Master Plumber, Sutherland Plumbing.

Ti’s Tips Reminder – Oh no, Clogged Drains!

Hi Everyone!

I’m Ti Sutherland, Co-Owner & Master Plumber for Sutherland Plumbing in Portland, Oregon.  Here at Sutherland Plumbing, we strive to be the Portland Metro area’s #1 family-owned plumbing service.  But that’s not all – at Sutherland Plumbing we understand the importance for our customers to keep their plumbing systems running smoothly and efficiently all year-round.

So it’s in the spirit of “shared knowledge” that I present a reminder from my column, “Ti’s Tips” :

Ti’s Tips Reminder – Oh no, Clogged Drains!

The use of so-called “liquid drain cleaners” or openers is discouraged! There is NO marvel of design in these products. Most are made of highly caustic acids that only serve to dissolve, eat and destroy anything in their path including your plumbing pipes. Some even go as far as to claim “safe for all pipes” even if the results from using these products are temporary at best. You be the judge.

Drains clog for the most part as a result of grease, fats, oils and other matter accumulating inside the pipe.  In order to CLEAN the drain one must scour the inside with proper equipment and knowledge.  This is commonly referred to as snaking or “rootering” the drain.  There is a big difference between “CLEANING” the drain as opposed to “OPENING” the drain.  Baking soda and vinegar?  Use at your own risk.  Those items work best when baking or cooking food and are wasted when poured down the drain!  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!Image

Summer Reminder – How to check your water pressure!

To all of our valued customers: Don’t get us wrong, we love all the work you’re giving us, but if you want to do something proactive to avoid unexpected & costly plumbing breakdowns – check & know what the water pressure in your home is.

Per the plumbing code (not to mention good practice) anything that’s at 80 PSI (pounds per square inch) or higher is excessive and MUST be regulated.

Excessive water pressure is analogous to high blood pressure. The devastating effects & havoc are caused over time. Irreversible damage can (and will) take its toll! High water pressure is one of the most common core problems discovered by plumbers day after day, service call after service call.

I’ll make this as easy as possible: Check the link below. It will take you to Amazon to purchase the very same tool we purchase as professionals to check your water pressure. It’s literally as easy as hooking up a garden hose!

Click here to check-out the “Rain Bird P2A – Pressure Gauge.”

Plumbing FAQ – Strange sounds inside your walls?

Question: I often hear a sound like dripping water, clicking or tapping inside my walls when the water is on but I never see anything wet or evidence that there’s a leak. Should I be concerned about these noises – is there something that should be done?

Answer: These sounds are more common than you might think!  It’s likely what you’re hearing are the water pipes expanding & contracting as the water flowing through them fluctuates in temperature. These sounds are most prevalent when a water pipe is rapidly heated.

When you turn on a hot water faucet, the hot water travels from the water heater, via pipes to the faucet that was just turned on. The rapidly heated pipe expands.  That pipe is routed through a series of holes drilled in the wood framing and rubs or “scoots” by these wall studs & floor joists etc., as the pipes expand.  Generally speaking, the lower temperatures cause matter to constrict or shrink in size, while higher temperatures result in the opposite effect.

Here’s the good news & the bad news: The good news is that these sounds are more of an annoyance than a serious problem. The bad news is that fixing it permanently can be tricky, labor intensive & expensive. We could get lucky and find the exact place where it’s happening but that probably means tearing out sections of drywall, searching for the culprit and strapping, anchoring, and/or isolating sections of pipe. An unlucky scenario would be that we keep tearing more & more drywall out until we find the exact location of the problem.

I feel it’s worth mentioning as well, there’s a practice used by plumbers when installing water pipes that prevents this from happening.  It’s called “isolating,” wherein a hole is drilled for a pipe to route through and then isolated from the wood and/or other material used for framing. The part used is suitably named a “pipe isolator” (see image below).  This way, when the pipe expands & contracts it’s never touching the framing or structure, resulting in a much quieter system all together!

Pipe Isolator

Water pipes can generate sound and vibrations just by the water rushing through them as well. These sounds can reverberate through the framing and wallboards.

Unfortunately, these days it’s more & more common for high production expected at lower price points to force plumbing systems to be installed with speed & low-cost, over quality plumbing work. It’s kind of disappointing when you figure it would take around two hours and $50 extra to ensure that all of the water pipes are installed with pipe isolators, in a typical residential new construction home build.

If we wanted to – Sutherland Plumbing could comprise on a very long list of our own installation standards that far exceed today’s “minimum code” requirements. The difference you ask?  Quite simply, we don’t like coming back to say sorry!  Once again – that’s the Sutherland Plumbing “difference!”

Ti’s Tips – All about washing machines & mold!

Question: “I have a HE (high-efficiency) front-load clothes washing machine. Lately it seems our clothes come out smelling terrible like moldy mildew or something! Is there something a plumber can do to help this?”

Answer: What’s worse than a mountain of dirty laundry? A mountain of laundry you’ve just cleaned that smells of mildew. Especially towels!

If you have a front-load, HE washer, this scenario is far more common than you might realize. While the technology in HE washers is wonderful (they use much less water than traditional top loaders & their spin cycle is truly awesome) over time, humid conditions can lead to mold in two zones: the gasket (that rubber seal on the inside of the door) and the drum.

The Causes of HE Washer Mold:
Let’s start with the gasket, which is the most common culprit when it comes to washer mold. The reason is simple: the gasket doesn’t get much of a rinse. During a typical wash cycle, only a small amount of water is splashed past the seal, and over time, detergent and gunk accumulate in the folds as the water evaporates. Combine that with the fact that humidity stays trapped in the folds and you’ve got a recipe for the stinky stuff! If you notice a strong moldy odor when you open the door to the washer, pull back the rubber gasket examine the folds for black mold.

The second area in which mold residue forms is the inside of the drum. The main cause here is humidity combined with residue from laundry detergents & fabric softeners that cling to the inside of the washer.

How to clean your washer to keep it smelling fresh:
If you do have mold in your washer, there’s no need to panic. Getting rid of it is very straightforward and the preventative measure you can take to keep it from coming back is one & the same.  I can attest to the ease of dealing with this problem first-hand, as in the past, our washer had a bad mold problem.

Pour plain white vinegar in the bleach reservoir to the very top with each load. Not only does it kill the bacteria causing odor, it softens your clothes as well. I was skeptical of this at first thinking I would replace the moldy smell for a sharp vinegar stench. NOT the case, everything comes out smelling like laundry mom used to do!

Are you & your family having any issues with your washing machine? If so, call Sutherland Plumbing at (503) 719-4015. Don’t delay, schedule today!

Don’t throw that down the garbage disposal!

The handy kitchen garbage disposal is useful for getting rid of a variety of food scraps & waste that might otherwise create unpleasant smells in the kitchen. However, many foods can actually damage your disposal or render it useless. These tips can help keep your garbage disposal running smoothly: 

1. Avoid putting fibrous foods or tough-skinned vegetables into the disposal. 

The strings of celery, artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, corn husks, carrots, onion skins and potato peels can wrap around the blades, preventing proper operation of the motor. If you feel you must put fibrous foods into your disposal, do so in very small quantities and run the cold water while you operate the unit.

2. Don’t put extremely hard foods into the garbage disposal. 

Items such as bones and fruit pits can dull and even break the unit’s blades! In a worst-case scenario, hard foods will jam the disposal, preventing blades from turning and causing the motor to burn out.

3. Keep grease and greasy foods out of the disposal. 

Greasy foods will distribute a film over the blades, diminishing their effectiveness. Eventually, the grease will begin to decay, causing an unpleasant odor in the kitchen. Pouring grease into a garbage disposal can result in clogged drains when the grease solidifies.

4. Contrary to popular belief, egg shells have no place in the garbage disposal. 

Some people claim that egg shells sharpen the blades of the unit, but this is not true. The shell’s stringy membrane layer can wrap around the shredder ring and the shell itself will be ground to a sand-like consistency capable of clogging pipes.

5. Avoid putting “expandable” foods such as pasta and rice into the garbage disposal. 

Even small particles of these foods can swell with water and eventually clog the trap.

6. Exercise common sense, and don’t put non-food items into the garbage disposal. 

Avoid the example of homeowners who have placed rubber bands, twist ties, cigarette butts, pull tabs, fabric, sponges and plant clippings into their disposal units! These items cannot break down enough to wash down the drain.

7. Two methods to help tame stubborn garbage disposal odors:

*The first is to freeze white vinegar in ice-cube trays. Put the frozen cubes down the garbage disposal and turn it on. The texture of the hard ice will aid in the removal of odor-causing sludge & grime.

*The second method is “Borax.” This stuff is time-tested and proven to be an effective and inexpensive cleaner & deodorizer. Simply pour a few scoops into the disposal while running the water. I prefer to put the scoops of Borax in the sink and wash it into the disposal with running water.

In order to maximize results, do either of these when you plan on not using the unit for a few hours, like the last thing before bed. This way these products have the best fighting chance to eliminate and neutralize odor!

The garbage disposal is a sturdy kitchen appliance; however, even the best model cannot handle unsuitable items. If you run into any problems with your unit, you should seek the help of Sutherland Plumbing, LLC

Garbage Disposal

Garbage Disposal problems? Call (503) 719-4015 & speak with the pros at Sutherland Plumbing. Call today!!

Facts & Myths about Water Heaters!

Facts & Myths about Water Heaters:

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve already learned some of the basics about water heaters. Now let’s take a look at some of the facts & myths that are circulating about water heaters:

Myth: A new water heater offers significant savings
The Reality: New water heaters only offer marginal savings, and even replacing a 15 year-old water heater will only save about $6.30 a month in energy costs. These savings don’t take into account the additional cost of the new water heater. What may matter more is how you choose to use hot water in your home.

Myth: Older water heaters = dirty water
The Reality: Water heaters are designed to work for years without accumulating rust buildup.  If you do notice a rust-colored tinge to your hot water or feel it’s taking longer than normal to heat the water, call your local service provider.

Myth: Proactive maintenance improves efficiency
The Reality: Proactive maintenance will improve efficiency only under the most severe conditions of sediment or lime accumulation. Maintenance is best done when homeowners notice a problem, like insufficient hot water or a rust-colored tinge to the hot water.

Myth: Older water heaters do not meet safety standards
The reality: As long as the initial installation was completed by a licensed, qualified professional, water heaters are installed according to code at the time of installation.

Myth: Tankless water heaters are right for everyone
The Reality: Tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient than a storage water heater, which could translate into savings of up to $5 per month. (Depending on the age of the water heater being replaced). Because tankless water heaters work differently than consumers may be used to, they should walk through a needs assessment with a reputable provider before investing in a tankless system.

Have questions about replacing or maintaining your water heater? Go to our main website at: www.sutherlandplumbing.com and click on the "Ask the Plumber a Question" link at the top of the page!

Have questions about replacing or maintaining your water heater? Call (503) 719-4015 or go to our main website at: http://www.sutherlandplumbing.com and click on the “Ask the Plumber a Question” link at the top of the page!

 

Increased Water Usage Notice – Now What?

See the picture below. If you came home to find a notice like this on your door you’ve got questions and understandably some concerns.

Water Usage Notice

If you receive one of these notices at your home and are not sure why – Call (503) 719-4015 and schedule an appointment with the experts at Sutherland Plumbing, LLC.

Relax, this is routine and quite simply the water company attempting to notify you that compared to your average usage, it’s gone up exponentially. Although there are many reasons that can factor into this, we’ll share with you here the top three reasons that most likely exist (Based on 20+ years of field experience). 

1) Your main underground water service pipe leading from the water meter to the home has sprung a leak and is leaking into the earth. Your options are to repair or replace. There are pros & cons to both options and the solution will vary depending on your budget & expectations. Generally speaking: repairs can end up as expensive temporary band aids while a proper replacement will ensure decades of trouble-free service. Contributing factors include, but are not limited to: the age & material of the existing pipe and the location & depth of the leak. 

2) The irrigation (sprinkler) system is leaking. If connected properly, your sprinkler system “T’s” into or off of your main underground water service pipe. The sprinkler system then runs through an approved back-flow preventer and then goes off to serve the various zones or sprinkler heads. 

3) A malfunctioning or “running” toilet is draining excessive amounts of water down the main sewer drain. Second to this is a faucet that is continuously dripping or leaking. This cause of excessive water usage is the least likely prompting a notice of increased water usage. (Again, this based on our experience.)  It’s our contention that if a faucet was dripping and/or a toilet was running enough to prompt the notice – you’d probably know about it! Generally when a faucet or toilet is broken to that extent, people are aware & set-out to get it fixed before a whole billing cycle comes and goes!

You have options and choices either way. Dozens of times we have visited a homeowner expecting to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars only to find that simply turning off the sprinkler system will stop the leak and buy some time to get control of the situation rather than the situation being in control of you!

If you receive one of these notices at your home and are not sure why, Call (503) 719-4015 and schedule an appointment with the experts at Sutherland Plumbing, LLC.

Anatomy of a Toilet – (How a Toilet Works!)

“My toilet is clogged or has a weak flush, it doesn’t always empty the bowl when I flush it….”

The above quote is a very common symptom reported by many clients. Would it surprise you to know that about half of the time the toilet isn’t clogged at all! Take a look at the picture below:
Notice the spot marked “trap,” this is the place where water & waste travels on its way to the sewer drain pipe. Technically the toilet is only “clogged” when an obstruction exists inside the trap, preventing passage. Note the hollow area around the bowl. When a toilet is flushed, water sitting in the tank rushes into and around these hollow chambers and then enters the bowl via water jets. The main water jet (aka “siphon jet”) is usually at the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Anatomy of toilet

An older, poorly performing toilet can have clogged jets and/or obstructed jets preventing the water from entering the bowl as needed. This causes weak flushing toilets & toilet bowls that don’t empty all the way. Additionally, if the water level inside the tank is too low this results in an inadequate amount of water for a proper flush.
An old plumbing trick called “the bucket test” can narrow the possibilities.  Simply fill a 5 gallon bucket of water and pour it into the toilet bowl expeditiously. If the toilet bowl revives the water with no problem or back up – it’s more than likely your toilet is in need of repair or replacement.
If this is the case, call (503) 719-4015 and speak with the pros at Sutherland PlumbingWe carry as regular stock: premium, high-efficiency 1.28 gallons per flush toilets on our trucks!