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Down the Drain

By Mark Bush

Picture this: you have a dozen guests over to watch the Super Bowl. Everyone is having a good time as they cheer their team on to victory! Lots of food, cold drinks, and good company. By halftime, people "gotta go," if you know what I mean. Suddenly, your "bowl" isn’t looking so "super" anymore because a mysterious clog puts a stink – I mean, kink – in the festivities. The toilet has backed up and is now unusable. Smelly? Yes. Embarrassing? Absolutely! Fortunately, embarrassing scenarios like these can be avoided with routine plumbing maintenance.

Gain some peace of mind with these simple plumbing tips to keep things flowing smoothly in your building. Remember, when it comes to plumbing, it is all about preventive maintenance.


When was the last time you thought about the main sewer drain line at your property? Let’s face it: you probably never think of it, right? Unfortunately, this is true for most of us.

Flush after flush, whether we’re washing dishes, taking a shower, or brushing our teeth, all that used water has to go somewhere. Of course, it all goes down a drain, but where does it go from there?

Through a series of twists and turns, with venting pipes along the way, everything that goes down our drains deposits into a main sewer line and then out to the city’s main sewage system. With all those ups and downs, it’s easy for debris to get caught and cause a back-up. When you are experiencing an annoying clogged drain, you will have to eventually call a company that specializes in drain cleaning.

Most of us are familiar with the "snake" drain cleaning option. However, we’re not all savvy enough to know when it’s necessary to have a main sewage drain unclogged. Hydro-jetting may be the best solution to clear a main line completely. This is done by using a continuous blast of high-pressure water through a hose, which is pushed down a drain line. Water is forced out at up to 4,000 pounds per square inch (PSI). While there are alternatives, such as snaking out a clog, hydro-jetting does a more thorough job because it cleans the entire inside perimeter of the pipe. Snaking methods merely punch a hole in the blockage, leaving debris that will cause another back-up. Hydro-jetting eliminates debris, such as grease, sludge, and tree roots.

Hydro-jetting should be done on a regular basis, especially in a multi-unit building. By keeping the main sewer line free and clear, other drains feeding into it will flow more efficiently.


There are some things you can do to ensure your pipes stay cleaner for longer. Take a look at the following clog prevention tips:

  • Make sure that no food or grease goes down the drain. Property owners and tenants can take preventive measures into their own hands with simple devices like drain strainers, or by pouring grease into heat-resistant, grease-safe containers (an empty soup can, for example).
  • Install hair screens on your drains. Strainers can block hair from entering bathroom sink, bathtub, and shower drains, preventing major clogs. Strainers can also prevent food debris from stopping-up kitchen sinks. Strainers can be bought at your local hardware store and are easy to install and remove for cleaning.
  • Weekly (or, let’s be honest, at least monthly!), fill up your sinks and/or bathtubs with hot water and drain them at the same time. Done regularly, you can break through minor clogs that, if left untreated, can become major problems later on.
  • Invest in annual professional drain cleaning.
  • To prevent flooding, inspect perimeter drains, floor drains, and roof drains on a regular basis to ensure no debris is obstructing the flow of water, especially during the rainy season.
  • Finally, advise your tenants to never, ever flush wipes of any kind down a toilet. The packaging on our favorite fresh-scented, ever-so-soft, "cleans my tush so well", wipes may claim they are "flushable," but they will wreak havoc on your pipes. Yes, they will actually flush – but so will Johnny’s favorite toy truck. Believe it or not, we’ve seen things like shoes and full tubes of toothpaste that flushed! But those so-called "flushable" wipes don’t break down. Instead, they cling to the walls of pipes the same way trans-fats stick to the walls of our arteries. And after you are presented with the bill to clear these out, you may just have a heart attack. Wipes are one of the most common drain-cloggers we see, and it’s so preventable!


The kitchen is the center of your home; and it’s important that your kitchen plumbing components are working properly at all times. One of the most common problems in the kitchen (besides not knowing how to cook) are garbage disposal issues.

Some common problems we see when repairing a garbage disposal are:

  • Jamming – Bones, shells, or other items overloading the system.
  • No power – If your garbage disposal will not turn on, it’s best to call a professional right away to diagnose the problem.
  • Leaking – A broken O-ring, valve, or gasket can cause the unit to leak; and a leaking unit can cause more serious structural damage to your kitchen.

Some easy tips to keep your garbage disposal running smoothly include:

  • Put only soft, organic material in the disposal. This means no eggshells and – this is important enough to repeat – never put oil or grease in the garbage disposal. Oh, and did I say no eggshells?
  • If you have a lot of material to dispose of, only put in small portions at a time so you don’t overload or overheat the disposal.
  • Run hot water through the unit after using it to clean the blades and ensure that any hard items that accidentally found their way into the disposal get rinsed out.
  • Add some dish soap, such as Dawn (a very good de-greaser), with the hot water and keep the disposal running until you see suds. This helps eliminate any residue build-up and unpleasant odors.


Of all the plumbing advancements in our modern age, the water heater is one of the most useful. Can you imagine having to boil dozens of gallons of water over a fire every day just to bathe, wash your dishes, and clean your clothes? A water heater truly helps us lead more efficient lives; but if you ignore the maintenance on this time-saving appliance, you can get into an entirely different kind of "hot water" with costly repairs or replacement!

Most water heaters last between eight and twelve years, but only if they are maintained properly. Maintain your water heater’s efficiency, extend its life, and keep bathing worry-free with a simple "mini-flush" and temperature setting change.

What does a "mini-flush" do? It prevents rust and corrosion by removing sediment from the bottom of the water heater tank. This also improves the energy efficiency of the unit. A complete flush is always best; however those require shutting down the water heater. A "mini-flush" is still effective; but it takes a fraction of the time and can be done while the water heater is running.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Place a large bucket under the drain valve found near the bottom of the water heater tank. (Warning: The water will be VERY hot, so take care to avoid getting burned.)
  • Slowly turn the valve counterclockwise and release one to two gallons of water into the bucket. (Some drain valves will have a handle, but others will have a short stem with a slot for a flathead screwdriver.)
  • After you have drained about one to two gallons of water, close the valve by turning it clockwise. If a valve won’t open, don’t hesitate to call a plumber to perform the maintenance.

What does dialing down the temperature do? Water heaters are typically installed at a preset temperature of 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit (F). But, the U.S. Department of Energy has found that setting the water heater at 120° F can save most households more than 5 percent in energy costs.

A lower temperature can also reduce the risk of someone scalding themselves; and it will slow the mineral deposit build-up in your water heater tank.

To lower the water temperature on a gas water heater, simply turn the temperature dial on the heater’s gas valve to 120° F.


No one likes to deal with water leaks, especially when they only seem to happen at the most inconvenient times. There are a couple of things to keep in mind to prevent those leaks from springing up:

  • Insulate any pipes that might be exposed to cold temperatures. Extreme temperature exposure can accelerate corrosion and breakdown of your pipes.
  • Don’t use your pipes for anything except to move water. Don’t use them to do pull-ups or as industrial-chic laundry drying racks.
  • Inspect your pipes often and repair small leaks immediately.
  • Check under sinks and inside kitchen or bathroom cabinets for leaks. Over time, pipes can simply loosen and need a quick tightening to keep working well. (Clogs can aggravate those time-loosened pipes, as well, causing small leaks.)


It’s amazing how simply being aware of our plumbing can prevent major problems down the road. The sooner you spot and treat a problem, the easier it is to take care of – both financially and mentally. Just pay attention and use prevention – this will ease everyone’s tension!

For a copy of "A Preventive Maintenance Resource and Solutions Guide to Common Plumbing Issues," by Saul Zelaya, which contains useful information about plumbing, just email us at: [email protected].

Mark Bush is the general manager at R&L Plumbing, Inc. 



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