Underground Disaster - When Your Sewer Line Pipe Bursts

Discovering buried treasure would be a dream come true but finding out your buried sewer pipe has burst can be your worst nightmare.

Do you have a sewer pipe issue?

What if your yard or the foundation of your house could get a life-threatening disease? Unfortunately, that's how a burst in your sewer line can seem.

Just like many diseases, a sewer pipe burst is usually unexpected - and it is unlikely you will see a geyser of sewer water shooting up in your lawn or hear a thunderous boom under your house. Sewer line bursts are usually silent but deadly – deadly to your bank account that is.

Since these sewer line disruptions are not something you look for on a regular basis nor are they something home inspection companies go out of their way to detect, you should be aware of the telltale warning signs. Here are a few out-of-the-ordinary things that indicate you might have a damaged or broken sewer line.

Backups in Your Home’s Water Flow

If you experience water backing up in your toilets or sinks, you could have a damaged sewer line. Using a plumbing snake or chemical drain cleaner is usually the first line of defense. If you’re lucky and it turns out to be a simple clogged pipe, that will do the trick. But if the source of the problem is a cracked or broken pipe, it’s a mere band-aid. 

Slow Drainage

Less severe than an all-out backup, a sink, bathtub, or toilet that is suddenly draining slower than it used to can be a similar trouble sign. Again, a plumbing snake or chemical drain cleaner is the first defense. If that works only temporarily or not at all, chances are good that the root of the blockage problem is a damaged sewer line.

Sewer Gas Odor

If your sewer lines are in good shape, sewer gas odors should not be present because the sewer system in your home should be pretty much airtight. Any crack or unwanted opening in the sewer line means the system is no longer airtight and odors can permeate the home’s interior.  

Cracks in the Foundation

If there is a break or even a crack in your sewer line, water can escape and saturate your concrete foundation. This influx of moisture will eventually cause the cement to crack or even deteriorate. Don’t expect to notice this right after a break because like many diseases that attack the human body, foundation cracks happen gradually. But once you do see some foundation cracking, immediate action is required because repair bills will mount rapidly the longer you wait. Having to go to the emergency room gets expensive.

Formation of Mold

Just like cracks in a foundation, the appearance of mold does not happen overnight. It comes on gradually with no advanced warning signs. If you see or smell mold in your bathroom, basement or anywhere near your plumbing fixtures, sewer line damage may well be the culprit. Cracked pipes in the floor or inside a wall will cause humidity, which will almost always lead to the growth of mold inside your home.

Discoloration of Lawn

If you suddenly see patches of grass in your lawn that are a richer green than the surrounding grass, it can spell big trouble. Sewage actually fertilizes your lawn in a way you don’t want it to. Leaks in the sewer line under your lawn will fertilize patches of grass and these patches will appear more lush than the rest of the yard. Don’t mistake this lush greenery as a blessing, it’s a curse that may cost you a bunch of money.

Fast Action is Required

If you notice any of the above warning signs, it’s best not to hesitate and hope they’ll go away. Try the obvious solutions first, like a plumbing snake if you suspect a clogged line. Then keep a close eye to see if these remedies are only temporary.

In most cases, it’s best to get a complete sewer inspection done as quickly as possible by a qualified professional. If you do have a sewer line problem, the longer you delay, the higher the repair costs are likely to be. Contact your local professional plumbers to have your sewer line inspected today.

Summer Solutions to Common Home & Business Plumbing Problems

summer plumbing tips

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is dedicated to helping residents and businesses of the Greater Reno, NV and Tahoe areas maintain high standards of plumbing, sewer and water convenience. With summer here and hitting hard, problems with plumbing can be all the worse...especially when they interrupt showers, create backed up drains or create toilet problems. Here are a few of the most common plumbing problems for summer and basic maintenance ideas to help prevent them.

  1. Clogged sinks are a common plumbing problem in many facilities, especially restaurants. Sink drains can become backed up by washing items such as large pieces of food, paper waste and toothpicks. Add in soda, coffee and grease, which can all build up along the side of the piping, and you create a gunky mess that prevents water flow. Be sure to place a trash can near the sink to discard unwanted items before they make it into the drain. It is also a good idea to install a strainer or screen to stop waste from entering your drains.
  2. Backed-Up Drains can be a real issue - especially in large facility buildings and warehouses where there is a lot of potential debris. Between dirt and other garbage that gets swept into the drain, floor drains can back up quickly if not taken care of properly. It is important to install a basket to stop trash before it enters pipes as well as general education on proper procedures for clean-up.
  3. Plumbing leaks are caused by all kinds of things. Rapid changes in temperature can cause pipes to expand and contract. Storing items near pipes, such as under a kitchen sink, can lead to constant bumps and shifts that can create leaks. Rust, corrosion and broken seals are also common. The best way to remove the risk of leaky plumbing is to have a proper preventative maintenance plan. This is especially important during summer months, when water usage generally tends to increase.
  4. A clogged toilet can hurt your business and significantly affect home comfort. Most often, toilets become clogged when individuals flush items that should be thrown away. To reduce the possibility of unwanted flushes, have trash receptacles plainly visible for use and use water filtration systems filter sand and debris from incoming water. Businesses should try installing air dryers instead of using paper towels.
  5. The most common problems with water heaters are thermostats, thermal-expansion tanks, shut-off valves and pipe leaks. To prevent issues with your system, a strong preventative maintenance plan is important. Every six months (for businesses) to a year (residential homes) flush out the water heater to remove sediment, which can burn out the heater elements. This is especially helpful if you are in an area with hard water.

For professional plumbing advice and assistance, contact your local plumbers at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing!

Getting Your Home Prepared for Vacation

Summer time is the vacation time - and days away from home. While you may be ready for some travel time, is your home? Here are a few tips to prepare your home for vacation.

  1. Turn off water main valve – The number one cause of damage to homes while out of town is from water. A small leak can cause extensive damage to a home if it leaks for more than one day. The best thing to do to prevent these occurrences is to turn water off at the main valve.
  2. Turn Air Conditioning up – Air conditioning systems use a significant amount of energy to keep the home cool in the summer months. It is important to set the thermostat up 10 degrees warmer than normal before leaving the home vacant to save money on the energy bill.
  3. Flush garbage disposal – To prevent returning home to odors, run a ½ cup of vinegar and warm water down the disposal while it is running. This will clean out any excess residue and ensure there are no unpleasant odors when homeowners return.
  4. Set water heater to vacation mode – Water heaters continue to keep working and maintain the hot water inside the unit, even when the homeowners are not home. Many water heaters have vacation mode setting that you can adjust the system. If the unit does not have vacation mode, turn the temperature of the water down, so it will save energy while the homeowner is away.
  5. Notify the alarm company – If the home is equipped with an alarm system, it is recommended to alert the alarm company that the residence will be vacant. If the alarm system is triggered, the security company will dispatch officers immediately instead of calling the home first.

For more safety tips or to talk to a professional plumber, contact your local Benjamin Franklin team!

Removing and Preventing Limescale

removing and preventing limescale

Do your plumbing fixtures seem like they need cleaning all too often? If the source of all that extra work is a white or green chalky coating on your faucets and shower heads, you may have a problem with limescale -- mineral-rich deposits that look unsightly and wreak havoc on your pipes and fixtures from the inside out.

Causes of Limescale

The limescale you see in and on your household plumbing fixtures is a natural byproduct of clean water with an above-average concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron. This is commonly known as hard water.

Hard water is safe to drink and wash with, but there are a number of reasons you might not want to. The mineral deposits tend to give the water an unpleasant taste, and hard water makes it more difficult to lather and rinse away soap. That means your skin may get dry and itchy from bathing in it, your clothes may be dingy and scratchy after going through the laundry and your dishes may have water spots.

And that’s not to mention the hard-to-clean buildup on your faucets, showerheads and around pipe joints. Left unchecked, this buildup can cause stubborn clogs. 

Dissolving Your Problem

The mineral content in this buildup makes it resilient, and you’ll have a hard time scrubbing it away with just a wet rag. The preferred way to clean limescale is to weaken and dissolve it using a mild acidic solution.

Common household vinegar is extremely effective for this task. If you can remove your affected showerheads, faucets and other fixtures, submerge them in a bucket of vinegar for at least an hour. When you pull them out, any remaining limescale should flake right off after a vigorous scrubbing with an old toothbrush. This is the ideal method because it allows you to dissolve limescale inside and out.

When removal of your fixtures is difficult or impossible, you may need to get creative to let the vinegar do its work. Try pouring some vinegar in a plastic bag and wrapping it around your faucets or showerheads, securing it at the top with rubber bands or a zip-tie. For exposed pipes with limescale around its joints, wrap a vinegar-soaked rag around the affected area and secure it with string.

If vinegar isn’t getting the job done, you can always step up to a chemical cleaning solution -- just be sure to look for one formulated specifically for calcium, lime and rust. Keep in mind that these solutions aren’t as gentle as household vinegar, so you’ll want to avoid exposure to your skin and use caution when using it to clean fixtures that have metallic or delicate finishes.

An Ounce of Prevention

If limescale is a consistent problem in your home, it’s time to consider a water softening system. These systems mix sodium-based solutions into your incoming water supply to counteract the damaging effects of mineral buildup. That’s not just good news for your pipes and appliances, it also means healthier skin and cleaner clothes and dishes.

For professional hard water testing or to discuss the different types of water softening systems, reach out to your licensed, local plumbers.

Five Plumbing Problems You Want to Avoid This Spring

  1. Check the bathrooms – Check the toilet for leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If the water in the toilet bowl changes colors after 30 minutes, that is a sign that there is an issue with the components in the reservoir.  It is wise to call a licensed plumber to diagnose the problem and repair it correctly.

Your Toilet Is Overflowing - What Now?

dealing with toilet overflow

Toilet overflow is a not uncommon plumbing issue. When this happens, preventing raw sewage from spilling over onto your bathroom floor is a first priority. Solving the problem that is causing the overflow is an immediate second.

Here are some important steps to follow should you run into a toilet overflow:

  1. Locate the water shut off valve near the base of the toilet. Turn the valve until the water shuts off. This should prevent additional overflow. If your toilet does not have a local shut off valve, open the tank and rig the float to stay in its position - preventing water from refilling the tank.
  2. Clean up water spill. For small amounts of overflow water, a few towels should be able to soak up the mess. Otherwise, a shop-vac can help with larger spills, especially where carpet or other fabrics are involved. Be sure to wash and disinfect all surfaces that were dampened by the toilet water.
  3. Determine the cause of the overflow. For foreign objects, you can put on some rubber gloves and try to remove it. For a clog, a toilet plunger will typically do the trick.

Should these steps not resolve the overflow problem, call a professional plumber for assistance.

IS YOUR WATER HEATER TELLING YOU IT’S TIME FOR REPLACEMENT?

does your water heater need to be replaced?

For most of us, on-demand access to hot water isn’t optional -- we count on our water heaters to get us through every shower and sinkful of dishes. But even top-of-the-line water heaters aren’t built to last forever, so unless we want to see our hot water access disrupted, we must preempt water heater failure by replacing units that are nearing the ends of their lives.

Predicting water heater failure isn’t always easy, but these occurrences are most common when a water heater is reaching the end of its useful life.

WATER HEATER AGE

After years of service, lots of things can begin to go wrong with a hot water heater. Parts wear out. Corrosion develops. Tanks crack. For most tank heaters, ten years is a full life.

Knowing the age of your water heater is key to proactive replacement. If you can’t recall when yours was installed or you recently purchased your home, you can verify the date by checking the serial number label. Manufacturers note the month and year each unit is produced within the serial number, but this is often an alphanumeric code. Refer to your water heater manufacturer’s website to learn how to interpret your model’s code and confirm its age.

COMPROMISED HOT WATER SUPPLY

When things aren’t going right with your hot water heater, the first symptom is often one you can feel. The hot water coming from your shower and taps can be either cooler than usual or it may run out noticeably faster than before. 

This could be due to a failing heating element, which a licensed plumber can diagnose and repair. But it could also mean that mineral sediment has coated and hardened on the bottom of your tank, including on the heating element. This tends to happen around or after the ten-year mark, and should be interpreted as a serious indicator of imminent failure.

RUSTY WATER

You’ll get a full life out of your water heater if you routinely check the anode rod and replace it when necessary. This sacrificial rod attracts corrosive elements suspended in your water, gradually rusting away so your water heater tank doesn’t have to. But if you don’t replace this rod before it’s used up, those corrosive agents will begin attacking the entire unit.

Tank corrosion may present itself in the form of rusty water coming from your taps. You can confirm the problem is in your water heater and not your pipe system by flushing your water heater tank, another routine maintenance task, and checking to see if the drained water is rust-colored. If your water heater is rusted out, the time to replace it is now -- before it springs a leak.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

Whether due to rust, manufacturing flaws, damage or other causes, tank water heaters will spring a leak on a long enough timeline. The most effective way to address this is usually to check your water heater for leaks regularly and take action at the earliest sign of unexpected dripping or moisture.

KEEP IT DOWN

Even if none of these symptoms are present, you may get the heads-up that your water heater is on the skids if there’s a loud banging sound whenever it’s heating a tank of water. As the aforementioned sediment settles and hardens, it forces your water heater to work harder, and that can lead to rapid expansion of the tank itself. If you hear constant clanking coming from your tank, it’s time to get a new one.

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, call your licensed, local plumbers today for a thorough inspection and no-obligation consultation on replacement options.

Solving Water Safety Challenges with Whole House Filtration

how safe is your water?

Water is treated at the municipal level before it is sent to your home. This processing is reflected in your utility bill – including costs for chemical treatments and generic testing. However, municipal water is treated with chlorine to kill harmful micro-organisms and aluminum to clump together particles. The chlorine and aluminum used to treat the water is not stripped before delivery into the water system – despite studies showing overconsumption of chlorine and exposure to aluminum can be harmful.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water in the U.S., but while there are legal limits on many of the contaminants permitted in municipal water supplies, more than half of the 300+ chemicals detected in U.S. drinking water are not regulated at all.  In addition to the added chlorine and aluminum, current treatment does not eliminate common toxins including chloride, lead, iron, arsenic, copper and hydrogen sulfide.

According to Paul Pestano, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some of the legal limits may also be too lenient for safety. Water utilities spend 19 times more on water treatment chemicals every year than the federal government invests in protecting lakes and rivers from pollution.

For several years, the EWG has argued that the federal government needs to perform a nationwide assessment of drinking water quality, and invest more to protect against water pollution, establish new safety standards and tell consumers about the full range of pollutants in their water.

As the government has not taken action on these initiatives, the EWG has created its own drinking water quality database, covering 48,000 communities in the U.S. Among the top rated water utilities are Arlington, Texas, Providence, Rhode Island, and Forth Worth, Texas. At the bottom of the list are Pensacola, Florida, Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

How Whole House Water Filtration Works

Whole house filtration systems work in several stages – using a series of filters, filtration media and water conditioners to pull damaging chemicals, minerals and toxins from the water as it enters your home water systems. One example is the HALO 5 system.

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) provides general removal of chlorine, chloramines, gases, dyes, fules, heavy metals, man-made pollutants, disinfectants, pesticides and sodium hypochlorite. This first stage also removes undesirable tastes and odors as well as organic contaminants.

High Activity Carbon (HAC) is designed specifically for the removal of chlorine. This stage captures any chlorine particles that escaped the GAC.

Filter-AG Plus® & High Density Garnet Filter Media is an all-natural, environmentally safe media designed to reduce suspended matter. These stages will eliminate any remaining contaminants down to 10-20 microns in size.

The HALO ION Inline Water Conditioner uses multi-reversing polarity to alter the molecular structure of dissolved calcium and magnesium. The change in charge causes hard water minerals that typically cause lime scale to stay suspended in the water rather than attaching to pipes and appliances.

Safe Water

Whole house filtration systems are designed to pull out damaging pollutants and chemicals before they hit your plumbing – while maintaining the minerals and overall health benefits you require. There are many ways to ensure the water you consume is safe, including bottled water, filter pitchers and under sink solutions. But only a whole house system will protect your plumbing and keep damaging pollutants and chemicals from leaving residue on dishes or soaking into your skin.

Find out more about the safety of your municipality water through the EWG site by clicking here.