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Common Plumbing Repairs

 

The famous Wally Answers from Wally The Plumber


Burying Water Pipes Outside
Claw Foot Tub Faucets
Clogged Vents Stop Up Drains
Copper Water Pipe Vs. Plastic
Cutting Cast Iron and Plastic/Cast Connections
Dishwasher Does Not Completely Drain Itself
Drains Dry Up and Get Rough Inside
Drain Pipes Under The Kitchen Sink And The Garbage Disposal Keeps Coming Loose.
Faucet "Clunks" When Turned On
Faucet Does Not Drip Unless The Toilet is Flushed
Garbage Disposal Repair
High Pressure Makes My Toilet "Run"
Leaking Bathtub Drain Right at the Drain Hole
Low Flush Toilet Problems
Moen Faucet Repair
Natural Gas Corroding Galvanized Pipe
Piping from the Water Meter to the House
Protecting Wells From Freezing
Rattling Pipes
Repairing Hose Bib's
Replacing a Tub
Rust in Dishwasher
Sealing the Toilet Tank to the Bowl
Sizing Water Pipes
Slow Shower Drain
Smells from Shower Stall on Concrete Floor
Smells from Garbage Disposals
Snake Down a Tub Drain
Sweating Bronze Valves and Sweating Techniques
Toilet Leaks at Base
Using Tubing Cutters
 
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Low Flush Toilet Problems

In my experience of selling and using toilets, I have found two of the best models to use are one of Swedish design, The Ifo, and the line of toilets made by the French company, Porcher. These toilets flush well. The Ifo toilets will retail for between $220 and $320 depending on geographic area and whether round front or elongated model. The retail price of the Porcher toilets ranges from $499 to $699. Neither of these lines are pressure assisted toilets. I have tried using pressure assisted toilets. Many of them have "dry bowl". This means that the air directs the water into only parts of the bowl surface leaving solid waste in the bowl if it does not land in the right place. The only way to make it move is to find an implement to move the waste to the right bowl area. Answering the question of "Can you fix the toilet to use more water?" The answer is likely. Your toilet may have a small round Styrofoam piece on the flapper chain, move the piece along the chain until the flapper closes more slowly. Also bend the float arm upward so the ballcock valve allows more water into the tank. There may also be an adjustment screw on the ballcock valve to keep it open a bit longer. The reason that you need to make these adjustments is that the major manufacturers were forced to rush to market using existing molds and technology without time to develop other strategies that make using 1.6 gallons successful. The reason that the Ifo and Porcher models work without being power assisted is that they are European models that had the opportunity to develop the proper technology years ago. The entire toilet: flush valve, ballcock assembly, water tank and bowl are all designed to work together for maximum efficiency.

Drain Pipes Under The Kitchen Sink And The Garbage Disposal Keeps Coming Loose.

Don't mix PVC washers and nuts with metal washers and nuts. Keep them consistent. The plastic washers (ferrals) go with the plastic pipe and washers. The thicker side faces the nut and the thinner side the "cup". The metal pipe uses metal nuts and square cut rubber washers. Also, make sure that all the pipes fit down into the next pipe as deeply as they can go.

 

Moen Faucet Repair

Moen faucets have cartridges that can be replaced. There is a clip (on top) that has to be pulled up and out before the cartridge can be replaced. Often it seems stuck as if it will not come out. Some replacement cartridges provide a plastic square to turn the cartridge in the valve body 1/4 turn. This breaks it free from the valve grease that it is stuck in. If, after replacing the unit, the hot and cold are reversed, re-install with the cartridge turned 180 degrees.

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Faucet "CLUNKS" When Turned On

99% of the time when you hear a clunk in any pipe when you turn a faucet on/off - it's a loose washer in the faucet. When you take it apart, be sure you get the old washer and a screw. If you don't - turn the water back on and flush out the missing part.

 

Faucet Does Not Drip UNLESS The Toilet is Flushed.

Could be a loose washer. The pressure holds it down when no other faucet is running water and the lower pressure let's it rise up a bit when other water is used. This can also occur when some other faucet is turned on.

 

Claw Foot Tub Faucets

These faucets are special to Claw Foot Tubs, they have 2 3/8" centers. Some units have 1/2" and some have 3/4" water connections at the back. The 3/4" needs special Claw Foot Tub supply pipes. Most older faucets are not code and it is still easy to buy non-code faucets. The code is that the faucet spout must have a gap of at least 1" between the top of the tub rim and the bottom of the spout - that's so bath water in the tub cannot siphon back into the drinking water supply.

 

Repairing Hose Bib's

Unless the hose bib is new enough to match the insides with the exact same brand, model etc. - replace the darn thing. You can try, but, I just don't seem to have permanent success when I just repair them. Now to replace them- if they come through the wall under the house then they can be unscrewed or unsoldered from the crawl space. If it is above the floor a "window" has to opened in the wall. Just unscrewing it from outside will often result in a broken pipe in the wall.

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Sweating Bronze Valves and Sweating Techniques

Soldering valves to copper pipe requires more heat to sweat because of the thicker walls. But sweating copper is really all the same ... Scour both the outside of the pipe and the inside of the "cup" of the fitting to be soldered. Flux them both and apply heat all around the cup. I then I put my flame on one spot (usually the bottom) and apply the solder to the opposite side until the solder flows to the heat. The solder always runs to the heat. You can over heat it - so once the solder flows around to the heat - stop - and clean it up with a wet rag.

 

Cutting Cast Iron and Plastic/Cast Connections

You cut the cast iron with a reciprocal saw like a Milwaukee Sawzall. Use heavy metal blades like Lenox 614R type. I start with the six inch blade. It will take several to get through the side of the pipe. Once you have made a cut into the pipe - it will go faster. You'll need the long metal blades to finish the job. At first-it will seem like it will never cut it, but it will. Use Mission or Fernco No Flex couplings- one on each side-to connect the plastic and cast iron. Do not forget the vents!

In most situations I use a Rigid ratchet cast iron cutter on iron waste pipes, but sometimes conditions are too confined to use that tool. Then I use a mini-grinder with a diamond wheel (they're $100 each but one lasts a lifetime) to cut as much as I can reach with that tool and finish the cut with the Sawzall and a grit-edge blade. By the way the grinder with the diamond wheel is terrific for cutting tile, concrete and brick. A little dusty though.

 

Replacing a Tub

It is a JOB. A couple of suggestions... while you're at it replace the waste and overflow and if possible the tub/shower faucet. Second, you can get tub surrounds in two pieces that will fit through doors and Three, American Standard makes an "Americast" tub that has the properties of a cast iron - but without the weight. You can break out the old cast tub with a sledge hammer and cut up a metal tub with a Sawzall.

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Using Tubing Cutters

Hold the cutters square to the pipe and be sure the tubing is in ALL the rollers. I find when I begin to "thread" the copper - it's because I don't have the tubing all the way inside and in all the rollers. Let the cutters do the cutting. Over tightening wears out the cutting wheel and squishes the tubing out of round. For tight spots they make "knuckle" cutters - or use a small triangle saw. Actually - these days I'm using a Makita cordless reciprocating saw to cut most of my "in place" copper.

 

Natural Gas Corroding Galvanized Pipe

Yes after a long, long time. Naturally if it's in the ground it will corrode faster. I always understood that the reason you don't use galvanized pipe for gas is that the galvanization flakes off and gets into the heater venturi.

 

Garbage Disposal Repair

Garbage Disposal problems can be plumbing, electrical or appliance. If the disposal doesn't work at all - no 'hum" or any sound, then push the red (reset) button on the bottom of the disposal. If that doesn't work, check the breaker in the electrical panel. If the unit "hums" but doesn't turn then you can try un-sticking it.. Some units come with a wrench that you can use to turn the cutter flywheel from the bottom. (An allen wrench will work). Or, use a "plumber's friend", broom handle- something with a handle, and stick it in the disposal and try to turn the cutting wheel around. In effect, unstick it. If the unit doesn't respond to the above, it's time for an appliance repair man or replace the unit.

 

Dishwasher Does Not Completely Drain Itself.

Dishwashers are supposed to leave some water in the unit at the end of each cycle. This is to keep the element type heater, used for drying the dishes, from burning up. It's allot like a water heater element. If allot of water stays in the sump - the drain could be clogged. A partially clogged air gap will do the same thing. The air gap is that little chrome dome on the kitchen counter.

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Copper Water Pipe Vs. Plastic

Copper rules! Over time, the plastic will "sag" and will get brittle. If it needs to be repaired or altered in any way, the pipe will have to be glued and you will have no water until it dries. With copper you can solder, turn it on, test it and know that all is well. Any plastic to metal connection is weak, such as where the hot water tank connection is made. Mice and rats love plastic. They chew on it to keep their teeth from growing through their lower jaw.

 

Sizing Water Pipes

If you lived alone, only using one plumbing fixture at a time - correct pipe size wouldn't be a big issue. However when you are in the shower and someone flushes the toilet - it is a big deal. The basic rule is "two fixtures on a 1/2" pipe". You need minimum 3/4" incoming cold pipe for a one bath house. Just running 3/4" to each fixture in the house won't hurt, but there will be no real gain. To size a water distribution system, get a copy of your state code book. It will spell it out in terms of beginning pressure, the furthest fixture from the meter and the number of fixtures in the house. Each fixture is worth "so many units" and you are allowed "so many units" for each size pipe as you get further from the meter.

 

Piping from the Water Meter to the House

If the run from the house to the street is short (under 60 feet) I'd use "Type L " soft copper. It is less likely to break and it has no fittings in the ground except at each end of the pipe. I'd also put pipe (foam) insulation around the copper run. For longer runs my next choice would be schedule 40 PVC pipe. Not a bad choice at all. I would not use flexible plastic - that is black "poly" pipe. It is too soft and the metal clamps and hard plastic (or metal) connectors will break over time. I repair them weekly. My experience with black poly pipe is that it leaks. It is to soft. Hard surfaces (rocks) rub holes in it and where ever there is a transition to another type of pipe or an elbow it will leak there. Schedule 40 PVC or copper is the best way to go with water mains.

 

Burying Water Pipes Outside

Find out what the freeze depth is in your area and bury the pipes below that level. Here it is about 2 feet. Use schedule 40 PVC for cold water and CVPC for hot (if you are running that out also).

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Protecting Wells From Freezing

Most household water systems are enclosed in a well house or a well box. An effective enclosure would be well insulated and have a built-in heat source, such as a heat lamp. Some enclosures are built below ground level with walls below the frost line to keep them from freezing.

But many well enclosures lack insulation or a heat source. Modifications to your system, remodeling, wear and tear from use, wet or missing insulation, torn weather-stripping, or improper design from the outset - any or all of these conditions could put your well at risk.

1. Do nothing. If you don't make any changes to your well house, you may face the prospect of frozen pipes again, but you can always turn on a faucet when temperatures drop. Moving water - a good drip will do - is far less apt to freeze. Turn up the flow at the first sign of a slowing drip rate.

This option is a good "panic" measure, but it's definitely not good water stewardship. You'll be using energy to kick the pump on more often than necessary and wasting water at the same time.

2. Put an incandescent (not fluorescent) light bulb in the well house. Place it near the pump, and leave it on during cold weather. A 100-watt bulb makes a great little space heater. Make sure the light can't get knocked over or set something on fire.

This option provides a fair degree of security, but it's not an energy-efficient alternative. If the light stays on 24 hours a day through the winter months, you'll spend about $3-$5 a month.

3. Inspect your well house or box before the weather turns bad. Make sure there are no drafty holes, broken windows or missing insulation. Put heat tape on the pump and plumbing. (Follow directions on the package.) Heat tape made specifically for this purpose is available at most hardware stores. Plug in the heat tape. Initial costs may be $10-$30, depending on how much exposed pipe you have. Heat tape will be pretty reliable as long as the power stays on.

4. Weatherize the well house. Install new weather-stripping, caulk and repair the roof. Add insulation if you didn't have it before. Put in new insulation, if the existing material has been damaged.

Install a thermostatically controlled space heater. Set it at 45-50 degrees. The heater may or may not use more electricity than the heat tape or light bulb approach, depending on the weather. It will be more reliable.

With any of these options, check the well system during cold snaps. If you are worried about power outages, learn to drain your storage tanks and how to re-prime your water system.

You might also purchase a safe propane or kerosene space heater. Use it on those very cold nights when storm fronts roll through and knock trees across power lines. Just remember it's not a good idea to operate unvented combustion heaters in an inhabited space.

 

Rust in Dishwasher

There is no way to clean rust out of old galvanized pipes. Most dish washing machines have a screen where the water connects to the machine. You access it through the lower front panel. Another solution would be to put a filter on just the hot water pipe to the dish washing machines. If you replace the pipe - use copper - and connect to the old galvanized with a dialectic union.

 

Rattling Pipes

I find several reasons why pipes rattle. The most common is that the washer in the faucet or valve is loose. Another is that the pipe is touching another pipe or hard surface in the wall. And for hot water rattles, the energy saving nipples that screw in the top of the water heater, sometimes make a serious rattling noise when you turn on any hot water tap. They have a ball in them that acts like a check valve. Under a dish washing machines it could be that the soft copper water supply is hitting a hard surface or the machine itself is not tight in the opening and is jumping around.

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Smells from Shower Stall on Concrete Floor

If you can see water in the trap, then the trap is holding water and you know it's working. Even if the trap is undersized (1 1/2" instead of 2") it would work. So the problem is probably a leaking drain pipe, the shower drain itself (the part that is connected to the shower stall) or it's leaking where the two connect. Can't fix the pipe or the drain itself without pulling the shower out. But, if you can see a rubber or lead ring around the pipe as it sticks up into the shower drain - that can be removed and a new one put in. This is a pretty common practice in concrete shower installs.

 

Smells from Garbage Disposals

Put ice cubes in the disposal (about 1/2 way), run the disposal, flush out with cold water. Next put 1/2 a lemon and grind it up.

 

Toilet Leaks at Base in Moved Toilet Location or New Floor Install

Is the top of the flange even (or close to even) with the finished floor? If it to low, then use two wax rings. One regular wax ring on the bottom and one with the plastic horn inserted on top. I have seen a leak like you describe if the glued flange is not really glued in all the way. Take a look at that, if your floor and flange is flush. Sometimes you need to shim the toilet if the floor is uneven or the flange is too high.

 

High Pressure Makes My Toilet "Run" (with new ballcock)

If your water pressure is so high that it leaks past a Fluidmaster 400A or another new ballcock then you NEED a pressure reducing valve. Other water pipes, connectors, clothes washer hoses and your water heater could leak or break.

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Sealing the Toilet Tank to the Bowl

Get the best results by using the large donut gasket of the type that is square cut inside to match the shape of the nut on the bottom of the tank. Sealant will not help. Tighten the bolts down evenly to the point where the tank is snug on the bowl. Over tightening will break the bowl and/or tank.

 

When I Run The Clothes Washers My Toilet Bubbles/Overflows or My Shower Overflows

The washing machine line could be connected to close to the "suds rinse zone", meaning the washer waste ties into the waste or soil line of another fixture to close downsteam from the problem fixture. What is happening is the water is rushing by the suds at a high velocity, pushing ahead of the suds. Because the fixture is the closest place of relief, the suds will come up into the fixture, even a toilet. The code requires that a washing machine, kitchen sink, shower, and dishwasher line be connected at least 5' downstream from any fixture branch. This could be just one of many possibilities for the bubbling and backup.

 

Slow Shower Drain

As a plumber, I see plugged drains when "Liquid Plumber" type products don't work - though these products shouldn't hurt the pipes. Care should be taken when using them around kitchen sink/dishwasher drains. I have seen them backup into the dishwasher. If the chemicals don't work - then try renting a small power snake. This WILL do the job. Those little hand drum snakes at the hardware store just are not up to a 2" shower drain. I've never seen any damaged pipes caused by drain cleaners. Older hands than myself say they don't like drain cleaners because the chemicals make their snakes brittle - that sounds like crystallization - I've just never seen it myself and I'm skeptical. There are a bazillion gallons of that stuff sold and I think that it would be obvious if it was a problem. I just don't think it (drain cleaners) work in most cases.

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Snake Down a Tub Drain

To get a snake in the drain you take off the "overflow plate". That's the chrome thing on the tub wall with two screws. When you pull it out - two sections of the stopper mechanism will come with it. It's hinged so it will bend through the hole. Chances are that hair caught on the end of this mechanism is clogging the drain- you might not even need to snake it. A snake will not go through the drain hole at the bottom of the tub.

 

Unused Drains Dry Up and Get Rough Inside?

Drainpipes do dry out and get real rough. Will it clear up with use? Maybe

 

Leaking Bathtub Drain Right at the Drain Hole

It is replaced from the top, which is sitting in the tub. Hopefully you have "crosshairs" or a couple of little "nibs" inside the drain flange (the chrome part). That's the part that unscrews. The tool is called a "pickle" - it has a fork at one end and crossed slots at the other. Or a "dumbbell", which is tapered and has crossed slots at both ends. Or just use pliers and stick the handle end down into the drain, catch the cross hairs or nibs and unscrew. Clean off the old plumber's putty. Slide a new washer between the underside of the tub and the "shoe" (part with female threads) and put putty around the chrome flange and screw it back in. You can also use an internal pipe wrench for flanges missing the crosshairs.

 

Can Clogged Vents Stop Up Drains?

Yes and no. Only twice in 15 years has the vents been the cause of a drain backup. In one case it was roofers who stuffed the old roofing material down the vents and the other was just a stray piece of wood. In both cases the material made its way down into the drainpipe and had to be removed. No amount of "vent cleaning" would have done any good.

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