A Pro Plumber Addresses the Trickiest Plumbing Problems
Learn how a pro plumber grows his business by not just fixing the obvious problem but by taking the extra steps to determine the root cause. Les from Zell Plumbing and Heating in St. Paul, Minnesota shares his tips.
I always try to approach every service call as a cause and effect problem. Anyone can replace a kitchen sink faucet or unplug a p-trap, but why did it fail or get plugged in the first place? If you can solve that problem, your appreciative customers will recommend you to their friends, families and neighbors.
Les is owner and operator of Zell Plumbing and Heating, St. Paul, MN.
Look for Plugged Vents
I get a ton of gas appliance heat-out calls in the fall. Before I dive into in-depth diagnostics on the controls and mechanics of the unit, I like to check the gas and air supply first. It’s common to find wasp nests, tree seeds and leaves blocking the airflow. Some customers are a little sheepish and upset for not checking the vents themselves, but most are just happy that they don’t have to spring for a new furnace or water heater.
Check the Seal on the Top Edge of the Sink
Many kitchen sink leaks are simple enough to locate and fix, but finding the cause of puddles that only show up once in a while is not so simple. On this job the cabinet was packed with stuff and I guessed that the pipes were getting shimmied around when they moved their stuff in and out. But I was not 100% sure. I didn’t want to assume the pipes were the problem, replace a few parts, and leave the job with my fingers crossed.
It’s pretty rare, but it’s possible for water to find it’s way between the under-mounted sink basin and the countertop. I checked this by filling the sink to the top with water, and sure enough, it leaked. It turned out the homeowner would thoroughly spray out the sink with the hand sprayer, including the area where the sink met the counter. The fix was simple: a little caulk on the seam.
Too Much Water Pressure
I was recently on a service call to assist a water softener installer. It was a warranty job. He was replacing a fairly new softener because the first one ruptured and filled the pipes with little zeolite beads.
He didn’t seem too worried about why the first one failed, but I did a little investigating. A water pressure test gave a reading of over 110 lbs. The culprit was the 20-year-old pressure-reducing valve, which is required in some municipalities. I installed a new, lead-free valve which brought the pressure down to about 75 lbs.
High water pressure can harm pipes and connections, damage appliances, create water hammer and wastes massive amounts of water. Checking for high water pressure is an often-overlooked diagnostic, and one that’s easy enough to perform.
New Water Heaters Have New Problems
Water heaters are much more energy efficient now days, but they also may require more maintenance than they’re older cousins did. Some, like the sealed-combustion style water heaters, breathe through the grille around the bottom.
This water heater was located in a laundry utility area and picked up a bunch of pet hair and lint on the screen, which starved the unit of the air needed for proper combustion and venting. Sometimes, before I schedule the service call, I tell the homeowner to clean the grille and call me back if it doesn’t solve the problem. Sure, I don’t make any money that way, but I have plenty of work from customers who appreciate that I once saved them money.
Check Vents and Flashing
I always try to investigate as many potential problem sources as I can before leaving a job, even when there might be an obvious culprit. Most often, a wet, swollen bathroom floor right under a toilet is caused by a leak or failing seal. But that’s not always the case.
On this job, it wasn’t obvious from the street that the cap was missing on the plumbing stack flashing. Only upon closer inspection did the real reason for the wet floor reveal itself. Nobody likes crawling around on a roof, but old, damaged, or poorly installed roof flashing is the reason for many of my house calls. This homeowner was thrilled that I didn’t just slap on a new wax ring and hit the road.