Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sep 22

What Plumbing Brands Should You Buy?

By expertplumbing | Featured , Tips

So you want a new faucet or water heater or sump pump or toilet? But which one? You can go on line to look up brand ratings and get so many mixed reviews you feel more confused than when you started.

First, there are many exceptionally made product that I don’t use.  Not because I don’t like them but because of demographics.

 

Faucets

My 24/7 shop is in Naperville Il.  And in Naperville Il. I only use 2 faucet products, Moen and Kohler.

I use them because of reliability.

Moen creates faucet design around 1 repair cartridge.  Easy to fix, easy to find and 90% of the time the repair is the same.

Kohler has style and though their parts list is massive, 70% of the time they will send them, to you, for free.

These are product I can sell with reasonable promise of function. These are products I can get parts for at any hardware or big box store. I don’t need angry calls in the middle of the night. I also don’t want to tell people they have to wait 2 weeks for parts.

But there are other good product I never use like American Standard.  They have style and reliability but, in Illinois, good luck finding parts.  At the time I’m writing this they list Lowes and one of my competitors and the only place to get parts in my area.  And I have looked, they don’t have much.

Price Pfister makes a great economic product but, every year they change styles.  Five years later, good luck finding the repair parts you need.  Almost everyone I know just buys another Price Pfister faucet.  Maybe that’s what they count on?

Pumps

For pumps I use Metropolitan and Pro Series.  There are many good pump products but sadly the bad ones outnumber the good 3 to 1.  Metropolitan and Pro Series are local.  I can drive to their warehouse to get my pumps.  I have used Zoeller, Hydromatic, Little Giant and many others but one day some corporate genius comes along with a way to save 3 cents a pump and the float switch stops working or the impeller is out of round.  Basically they become, without warning, unreliable.  Your basement floods because the casing shield is now made of plastic instead of rubber.

When I go to the local brand they tell me instantly when something has changed so I can keep an eye on it.

Water Heaters

For Water Heaters I currently use Bradford White.  For many years I would not because of their unreliability.  Right now they are ranked number one in my book.  But things change, often overnight.

For 40 years we used A.O. Smith water heaters.  I visited their factory in Tennessee.  Took their trainings and seminars.  Then they started buying up other small manufactures and became 2 to 3 times larger.  Shortly after this jump we started having issues with their gas valves.  Customers were calling buy the dozens.  Many of these heaters were only months out of warranty.  And I understand the warrantee length.  1% to 2% is acceptable but,  20% to 30% is unacceptable.  People get mad at me when a product, I recommended, fails just after warrantee.

Toilets

For toilets I always recommend Kohler.  But only the Kohler Cimmeron or the Wellworth.  Before these Kohler models came out and you could not count on a clean flush takeaway if you get my “drift”.

Toilets, like sump pumps, have more unreliable brands than reliable.  American Standard had a recall on their champion.  Really?  The homeowner should bring in their toilet?  Again, I don’t sell American Standard because I can’t get parts when I need them.  I also recommend Gerber Products.  In my opinion they are simply made and always reliable.  However, Gerber, is not as attractive, in my opinion, as Kohler.

 

The bottom line of this article?  Tour local professional, who is not selling you the product,  knows exactly which products you should buy today.

 

Sep 13

Famous Toilets: NASA’s $19 Million Dollar Space Toilet

By expertplumbing | History , Trivia

Expensive, hard to use, and seemingly incapable of avoiding the pun “out of this world”, NASA’s Waste Collection System is known all over the world, at least in passing. Here’s the real story behind space toilets:


The easiest way to explain the Space Toilet is to not start with the toilet at all, but rather the wet shop-vac, which is much closer to the space toilet than an actual toilet is. You see, without gravity pulling everything down, anything will just tend to pool up, attached to whatever it last was. This problem, in NASA technical jargon as it relates to human waste, is called “lack of separation”, and the space toilet’s function is mostly to facilitate separation. And so, the space toilet is both the fanciest toilet in the world, but also the most advanced shop-vac, since their solution was to narrow the opening for waste and create meaningful suction.

1. Pooping in space is hard to do.

As far as using one is concerned, it’s conceptually as simple as literally vacuuming human waste into the system. Flip a switch, and fans start up and create a vacuum. Number 1 is pretty strait forward, and with a handy flexible tube attachment, it is nearly impossible to mess up aiming for guys (sorry ladies). Number 2 is entirely different, and in reality, usually requires hours and hours of practice for astronauts to get right. Astronauts actually have scheduled space pooping training sessions on the ground, because failure in space is a much worse mess to deal with, and nobody wants to be famous for defecating on multi-million dollar equipment and having bits float about the place (NASA’s term for these are “escapees”). Talk about potential for being a bad roommate.

2. There is no water or sewer system to tap into. Also, no atmosphere to rely on.

This is why space toilets are so complicated and expensive, like so many other things in space. This isn’t just a toilet, it’s a whole municipal water treatment system in miniature, that runs with minimal water, and can’t get oxygen or anything else from the atmosphere, and has to contain it’s smells perfectly. Really, zero gravity is probably the simplest problem for the engineers to solve with the device, and the only advantage being in space give you for this is all the free “cold” you could want.

3. Even though the Space Toilet is awkward to use, it beats the Apollo and Gemini systems.

Before the Space Toilet, there was the “Fecal Containment System” and “Urine Containment Device”.

Number 1:

The urine containment device is basically a disposable condom that attaches to a bag for collection, and ultimately then the urine is to be ejected into space.

apollo-urine-bag

The secret to Kevin Bacon making the “Constellation Ur-ine!” before things got crazy on Apollo 13.

Since engineers needed the connection to be snug, so to speak, they handed out the different sizes – Small, Medium, and Large and surveyed astronauts about which condom size fit the best. Naturally every one said Large every time, and eventually they actually had to start labeling them Large, Gigantic, and Humongous. Simply so astronauts wouldn’t end up with wet spacesuits out of stubborn pride. At least back then you could watch it spray out into space, which was apparently one of the more unexpectedly pretty things you could see in space.

Number 2:

An inverted hat shaped doggy-doo bag.

An inverted hat shaped doggy-doo bag, but for people. Classy.

The all the elegance of a plastic bag, with finger bags (called finger cots in the tech specs) for manipulation. Bonus: Since there is live bacteria that will swell and rupture the bag over a period of many hours, you have the dubious honor of getting to massage some germicidal gel into the bag when you are done. Well, at least you are an astronaut at a time when ticker-tape parades were a thing, so you got that to look forward to. Also, these things probably cost a fair bit of taxpayer money, so it’s sort of decadent for the user in a way. So it’s all in the frame of mind.

 

As you can see, what amounts to a multi-million dollar shop-vac is a step up, and thus the Space toilet is the ISS preferred choice.

Sep 08

Why Do Plumbers Cost So Much?

By expertplumbing | Featured , Tips

Why do some plumbers seem to cost so much, while cost much less? We explore the difference in plumbing pricing.

It’s not some great mystery. Usually the difference is training, actually carrying insurance, the overhead of having a place of business to store parts, employing back office staff, and park trucks, both so customers in their hour of need aren’t waiting and get their problems resolved correctly and promptly the first time.

Plumbers, real plumbers, cost. But just because you’re paying doesn’t mean you’re getting what you paid for. Experienced professionals are vanishing because people don’t want to pay for them. So many jobs I go to where I’m the 2nd or 3rd guy because we cost more. And when the cheaper guy can’t figure it out you end up paying both of us.
Jay Leno had a plumber on his show who had pulled a kitten from a sewer line. As Jay closed the show he asked, “Why do plumbers cost so much?”
Without missing a beat the plumber replied, “If you don’t like it Jay try fixing it yourself.”

As a 24/7 shop I see it all. Cell phones in urinals, army men in garbage disposals, toilets overflowing through ceiling fans, dead squirrels, swollen, and blocking drain lines. Once, many years ago in Chicago, we brought back a newborn on our sewer rod. I have rescued kittens, diamond rings, a Rolex, M-16 cartridges and chased out just about everything that walks or crawls in our state.

But I am a dying breed. For every ten plumbers who retire 1 takes their place. The older I get the more valuable I appear. Not just to myself but to the younger and inexperienced. The new generation of Plumber has rarely if ever worked with lead, though the word Plumber is from the Latin meaning “worker with lead”. They don’t know galvanized pipe, suds pressure zones, black malleable or all the little nuances that come with age. My guess is that I lost most of you with that last statement as well.

“The two smartest times in a tradesman’s life are as he walks out of school and as he retires.”

One day we were called out for a water main break. After hours of excavation we reached the water main. My plumbers were shocked to see a perfectly round hole about 3 inches across in the iron pipe. As if something cut by a laser. My guys were completely at a loss, and I have some really sharp plumbers in my employ. The two smartest times in a tradesman’s life are as he walks out of school and as he retires.

I took one look and turned to the building tenants, “Was your building struck by lightning last night?”

“Yes.” they replied.

That’s what you’re paying for with a good plumber. I have solved hundreds of plumbing mysteries and loved every one of them.

A dentist office called and said their main sewer was clogged. We rodded over 100 feet twice before a secretary came up and said, “So your having the same trouble as the last guy.”
“The last guy?” I said questioning. “How many plumbers have been here?”
“You’re the third.” She smiled. “I hope you can solve this.”
“I just did.” I smiled at her.

I told the dentist we needed to get on the roof. He was more than skeptical of this step. I tried to explain the physics of plumbing but he wasn’t getting it. He actually tried to argue my logic. So I said, “Look. If this doesn’t work you don’t have to pay the bill.” Ten minutes later my plumber pulled a dead squirrel from the plumbing vent on the roof and all the drains began the flow at once.

My point isn’t that I’m smarter. Any real plumber would have done what I did. My point is he paid two companies for plumbers but didn’t get one. And then he paid me on top of that. Just from a financial standpoint, going with the cheapest options are largely a gamble, while a long term relationship with a real plumber is the best bet long term.

 

Sep 07

Plan for disaster, I count on it.

By expertplumbing | Featured , How To , Tips

What is your plumber’s phone number?  Your electrician’s?  Your heating and air guys number?  If you don’t have it can you honestly tell me right now who you would trust?  Would you let a stranger in your home at 2 a.m.?  Yes, you will, if your heat turns off or your sewer backs up.  And you’ll do it when you are the most vulnerable, the most in need.  You are at the mercy of your best guess.

Fire, police, and doctor: these are the numbers you give the babysitter.  What about the plumber, the HVAC guy, the electrician.  Thinking ahead can save you from being robbed.

Many of us have been ripped off in some way, shape or form.  But, very few will ever admit it.

Ex 1: You’re at a banquet in your honor.  Ten minutes before your speech the sitter calls and says: “The basement has water in it.”

You might go to your phone or computer and ask for 24 hour plumbing near your home.  The first thing that pops up is Mr. Pooper the Sewer Scooper.  Mr. Pooper says no charge to come out and no overtime! You call and they assure you a technician is on his way.  Not a plumber, he may not have even done this before but he is on his way.  You tell the sitter to let him in when he arrives. Hopefully, 40 minutes later or so the sitter calls.  The guy is here and wants to talk to you.  

Technician: “Good evening sir. I have assessed the situation and can do the repair for $5500.00 dollars.”

“What!” You say, “$5500.00 dollars.  What is that for?”

Technician: “Well, first we need to pump out the basement.  Then we can open the sewer and rod the line.  That will include a video inspection of the line.  Additionally it looks as though you sump pump isn’t working and I’ll have to replace it with our Geargrinder 1500 all cast iron pump.  Best pump in the industry sir.  But I need a credit card number to even start the work.”

You: “5500.00.  Wow.  You know what? I’ll have to wait till I get home to see what’s going on.  Is there anything you can do temporarily?”

Technician: “I understand sir.  But it’s a health issue.  The longer you wait the greater the chance of bacterial infection.”

You pause, a long pause…

Technician: “There is human waste in the basement sir.”

You: “O.K. Do what you have to do.”

When you arrive home the sitter hands you the invoice.  “How long was he here?”

Sitter: “About an hour.”

“An hour.” You say shocked.

You go down in the basement and try and see what he did.  Sitting next to the sump pump pit is your old pump.  You plug it in and it runs just fine.  The pump in your pit looks much smaller than your old one.  You look up Geargrinder pumps on the internet and MR. Pooper shows up again but no pump company by that name.  You look at your sewer but, you can’t tell if he did anything at all.  The thing you do notice is that Mr. Pooper’s stickers are on everything in your basement.

The sitter adds:” The guy said you should call him because there’s another issue with your sewer.” You ignore this.

One year goes by.  You haven’t told anyone what happened.  You’re too embarrassed. You were going to go in to Mr. Poopers shop but he’s over an hour away.  Not so local.  But you have found a really local plumber who sponsors you son’s swim team.  The owner is also the local cub master.  You’re almost brand new, all cast iron, Geargrinder 1500 pump, stops pumping.  You call the actually local guy.  He charges $49.95 just to come out.  He comes out with a cast iron Zollar or maybe a Hydromatic sump pump and explains this is a brand he trusts.  Cost, about $549.00 installed.  You tell him to go ahead and install it.  He pulls out the all cast iron Geargrinder 1500, “Best in the industry” and lifts it with one finger.  “Wow, looks like someone was trying to get rid of this piece of plastic crap.”

Undaunted you ask: “Do you think I should have my sewer rodded?  We had trouble last year.”

The plumber looks at the clean out (opening where the rod goes into the sewer pipe) and asks: “Do you have a clean out outside?”

You: “Not that I know of.  Why do you ask?”

Plumber: “Because this hasn’t been opened in years.  It has a lead seal.  Been illegal for years.  I could open it but I’d have to replace the clean out fitting to get it to close properly again.  It would cost at least $200.00 dollars just for that.  That’s an hour and a half without even rodding.  But the City has a program were they’ll come out for free and replace lead fittings.  They’ll also camera your sewer and let you know if it needs rodding.”

You slowly begin to realize you paid $5500.00 for a new sump pump and nothing more.

My point?  Would you go to work on a Sunday for free?  Honest companies pay their plumbers by the hour.  The fee to come out is to pay for the plumbers wages to go to your house. The guy who’s free to come out must make a sale to get paid.  The more he money takes the more money he makes.  Guys paid by commission are primarily salesmen.  Guys paid by the hour are usually real mechanics.  Local guys can help you with just the information they have.  If I don’t tell my customers about free city programs or assistance I will be open to direct accountability.  Why use a Chicago realtor to sell a Pittsburg home?

Ex 2: The worst case I have ever heard happened just this year.  A customer of mine had a next door neighbor with a backed up sewer.  He suggested my company.  But the neighbor called a large chain that would come out on Sunday for free. What a savings.  $28,000.00 and 5 days later his sewer was fixed.  That’s not a type-o, twenty eight thousand dollars.  This is my area and I can tell you we have never charged more than $5000.00 (five) for the worst case scenario.  Our average is $3200.00.   And we have never spent more than 2 days on any repair.  His company did not replace the sewer line and they did not explain the cities free program to make sure there was a break.  All they did was repair an alleged ten foot piece of pipe. And worst of all the homeowner never got a second opinion.

Admittedly, I make most of my living off of your disasters.  No heat, no A.C. (God forbid), no hot water, poop coming up in your bath tub, light sockets/fixtures smoking.  You people are paranoid and openly skeptical of anything I say you need done. But this is your own fault for never bothering to do their homework.  Never bothering to prepare for this emergency.  And now, at 2 a.m., with a house full of poop water and maybe I have other customers waiting, you want me to explain every little detail of where you money is going?  

My best customers are the ones who have been ripped off and then took a few hours to find an actually local contractor.  The people who drop their house keys off at my shop.  They say things like, “Do whatever it takes.” And “My neighbor has some questions.  Wants to know if you have a few minutes to stop by.”  I do free estimates but, only me, the owner.  If I have to pay someone to go to your house, it’s not free. But then the free guy wasn’t free either was he?

Sep 07

To permit or not to permit? That is the question.

By expertplumbing | Featured , Tips

Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of building code fortune or to take arms against a sea of code requirements and by opposing end them…

When I put the addition on my home, 9 out of the ten inspections went very well.  The inspectors were thorough and reasonable.  After all, they knew I was my own builder and was not about to under build my own home.

But the 10th inspector, the structural code guy, was an SOB.  He spent 2 hours scoping every inch of my work.  He kicked, pulled, pushed and shook every inch of materials.  He was well known as the guy who refused to pass anyone on their first inspection.  At the end of it all he insisted we needed to add Tornado rods.

What the heck is a tornado rod?  Ready? It’s a piece of 3/8th threaded run from the bottom plate (2×4) of your foundation to the top ceiling plate.  This is supposed to stop a tornado.  Really?  This added 6 weeks of B.S. to our already 11 month’s discomfort.

Inspectors can demand anything in the book, no matter how outdated or ridicules.  They have you by the shorts and they know it.

Building codes are like traffic laws, if you look long enough, and hard enough, you’ll find one that applies.

Too many Inspectors are egomaniacs.  They become obsessed with their tiny notch of control and wield it like a witch hunter.  Others are just trying to do their jobs and keep you protected from rip offs and scams.

So do you pull a permit and risk being bullied into compliance?  Or do you not, and risk being endangered or robbed?

Yes, pull a permit, if you want to make sure everything is done correctly.  Lots of things can run beautifully for the first year and end up failing down the road simply because they were not inspected.  These things can cost you thousands of dollars.

Ex 1: A couple of times a month I get calls for sewer line “sheers”.  This is where the sewer is cut off at your foundation wall.  It’s caused most of the time, by lines installed without the required gravel base below the piping.  Gravel is about $25.00 dollars of material.  The weight of the earth above the sewer line slowly settles on the pipe until one day, “Snap”.  Without the gravel to displace the settling ground weight above the pipe this condition is inevitable.  A good inspector should catch this at installation.  

In this example a permit is a great idea, especially when your pipe is being repaired.  You don’t want to pay someone to put things back to their original, improper, installation.

Ex 2: You buy a water heater without pulling a permit.  Yes, you are required to pull a permit to install your new water heater.  Almost no contractors do this because; the guy installing your heater is not always a licensed plumber.  Yes, you are required to have a licensed plumber install your water heater.  But let’s say yours is installed and the installer used (illegal) flexible supplies to the water and gas.  Down the road your son is playing rugby in the basement and snaps one of the water lines, or worse, the gas line.  A flood and /or fire break out causing thousands in damage.  The fire marshal puts the illegal installation as cause.  And, guess what?  Now the insurance company doesn’t have to pay you.

Once an inspector comes into your home he or she can site things in your home that you’re not even working on or aware of and require you fix them.  This is never pleasant.  On the other hand, a contractor can list code things you need to address, and pay for, that are bald face lies.

Ex: One of my clients (neighbors) had us replace one of her 2 water heaters.  We quoted her a flat fee and recommended she do both at the same time.  We did only one at her insistence.  About 4 weeks later she called me and asked how much it would be to change the 2nd one?  I said puzzled, “The same as the first.”

“Are you sure?” she said. “Aren’t there any code issues?”

This gave me pause. “If I remember your home correctly, I’m sure.  Would you like me to stop by and confirm?” It’s important to mention that I am a licensed plumbing inspector for my state.

I arrived to find exactly what I remembered. I assured her of our price, installed and complete.  Then she told me what had happened.  She had gone to one of the big box stores.  They quoted her a price, installed, almost$150.00 dollars less than ours.

When the installer arrived he immediately started a list of code violations and items that were not included in the term “installed”.  This was basically anything within 5 feet of the water heater.  He refused to install the new heater or even give her his list of alleged code violations unless she signed for the $700.00 dollars in extras. She kicked him out.  But most people don’t.

My best advice is, as an inspector, use a contractor you trust beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Use someone local that you’ll run in to at the grocery store.  Use someone whose reputation means something to them.  And if you can’t find one, pull a permit.

The Expert Plumbing Guy.

Chat with us
Chat with us
Questions, doubts, issues? We're here to help you!
Connecting...
None of our operators are available at the moment. Please, try again later.
Our operators are busy. Please try again later
:
:
:
Have you got question? Write to us!
:
:
This chat session has ended
Was this conversation useful? Vote this chat session.
Good Bad