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Plumbing FAQ

From odors to water temperature, if you have a question
about plumbing, you may find the answer here.

Foul Odors
I have a foul odor coming from my garbage disposer. What can I do to eliminate this odor?

Foul odors occur from a buildup of food debris within the disposer. To eliminate this odor, place ice cubes and lemon or orange peels in the disposer and run for 30 seconds. Next, squirt a little liquid dish detergent into the disposer while it is still running. Finally, run cold water for about 30 seconds to rinse all the debris away.

I am getting a foul odor from a bathroom in the basement. We hardly ever use this bathroom except when we have company. This is embarrassing. What can we do?

Plumbing systems are designed to prevent foul odors from entering the house by means of the trap attached to fixtures. Traps contain water to seal out foul odors; if the water seal evaporates, the odors enter the house. To solve this problem, pour a bucket of water in each trap, sink, shower and floor drain. This will prevent the odors from entering the house.

Root Growth
How do roots grow?

Tree and shrub roots require oxygen and water to grow. Growth rate is variable and is affected by the soil depth, water supply, aeration, mineral supply and temperature.

Root systems are made up of large, permanent roots for support and stabilization, and many small, temporary feeder root and root hairs. These small roots are the primary water and nutrient absorbers. Most roots can be found in the top 6 to 18 inches of soil, where water, nutrients and oxygen are found.

Roots generally extend up to two or three times the height of the tree, but can extend as far as seven times the height of the tree. Large, mature trees may have thousands of feet of root system searching for nutrients. Roots will be less extensive in clay soils than in sandy or well-drained soils.

How does weather impact root growth?

During drought conditions and in the winter, roots will travel long distances in search of moisture. When trees and shrubs get thirsty, they follow the trail of moisture vapors escaping from small cracks, holes, or poorly sealed joints in the water and sewer lines. The roots penetrate the opening to reach the nutrients and moisture inside the pipes.

What happens when roots get inside lines?

If not disturbed, the roots will completely fill the pipe with multiple hair-like root masses at each point of entry. The root masses quickly become clogged with toilet tissue, grease and other debris flowing from homes and businesses to the main sewer, resulting in reduced flow and slowed drains. A complete blockage may occur if the roots are not removed and root growth impeded.

Once roots have entered the pipe, they continue to grow and expand, exerting considerable pressure at the crack or joint. The increased pressure often breaks the pipe and may result in total collapse, which requires repair or replacement.

Some pipe materials are more susceptible to root intrusion than others. Clay tile pipe is easily penetrated and damaged by tree roots. Concrete pipe and PVC pipe may also allow root intrusion, but to a lesser extent than clay pipe. PVC pipe usually has fewer joints and the tightly fitted joints are less likely to leak as a result of settlement around the pipe.

How can I control roots in my pipes?

If roots have entered your pipes, a Plumbing technician can remove the roots using powerful cutting blades. Your technician will recommend the application of Root Eliminator to retard future root growth The Root Eliminator will kill only the roots growing in the pipes and will not affect the rest of your tree’s root system.

Simply pour the recommended dosage into your toilet bowl and flush the product into the line twice each year.

Root Eliminators are available from most Home improvement store such as Home Depot or Lowes.

Septic Tanks
How often should I have my septic system inspected?

Septic systems should be inspected and pumped a minimum of once every three to four years. You may not be experiencing any problem now, but a full septic tank may allow unwanted solids to flow into the drain field, which is the part of the system that consists of a distribution box, with a series of connected pipes. Each pipe allows water to flow into a bed of stone that drains into the ground. If paper and other solids flow into the drain field it becomes blocked and ineffective. A blocked drain field is costly to repair or replace.

Slow Drains & Faucets
My shower head and faucet aerators have a buildup of a white substance around the area where the water comes out. Is there anything I can do other than replace them?

The unsightly buildup is mineral deposits. To remove these deposits from the shower head, take a plastic bag and pour a cup of vinegar in it. Place the bag over the shower head and use a twist tie to hold it in place overnight. In the morning, remove the bag and use an old toothbrush to gently scrub off the deposits. You might be able to remove the aerators from the faucets and allow them to soak in the vinegar overnight. A commercial product such as CLR is recommended also.

Our kitchen drain has taken longer than usual to drain during the past year. Should we have it cleaned?

Before you have the drain cleaned, try using one of the brand drain cleaning products. These products are designed to remove the usual buildup of soap scum, grease and hair. There are also products to inhibit root growth in your main sewer line.

Strange Noises
When I am in the laundry room and the water heater is operating, I hear a rumbling sound coming from the water heater. What could cause this?

Rumbling sounds coming from a water heater are an indication that sediment has built up on the bottom of the water heater. What you are hearing is water that is trapped in the sediment and is boiling. This is an indication that the water heater is not operating efficiently. Sediment will not allow the heat to transfer to the water in the tank, which sends the heat up the flue.

You may try draining a few gallons of water off the bottom of the water heater tank. This is done by attaching a drain hose to the valve at the bottom of the tank. Allow it to drain for about five minutes.


Many newer models of water heaters have a new feature that prohibits the buildup of sediment in the tank. If your heater is an older model, it may be cost effective to replace the water heater if the buildup is severe.

I am hearing a whistle sound that seems to be connected to the plumbing system. It comes and goes at times, but I can’t find the cause of it. What could cause this?

The sound you are describing is usually caused by a toilet fill valve that is slowly leaking. To locate the leaking toilet, remove the lid of each toilet tank and adjust the fill valve mechanism until it stops. Once you have found the toilet causing the problem, repair or replace the fill valve.

Toilet Replacement
We need to replace a toilet in our home. We have heard coworkers and friends complain that the new toilets do not flush properly, and that they require multiple flushes. What is the recommendation for toilet replacement?

When the federal government mandated that new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, manufacturers had to develop a toilet that would achieve this but that would also flush properly (clear the bowl) and carry the waste to the city sewer or septic system. Some of the early models did not do this properly. Since then, the complaints have forced the manufacturers to develop new ways of flushing toilets. One new way is the use of a pressurized toilet tank. This model looks like a regular toilet, but it has a pressure tank inside. When flushed, it works like a commercial toilet. A large surge of water enters the bowl and clears the bowl of any waste. These toilets work well, but are not as quiet as a conventional model.

When considering a new fixture for your home such as a toilet, I recommend that you choose a fixture made by one of the major manufacturers, such as American Standard, Kohler or Eljer.

Water Temperature & Water Bills
The temperature of my hot water seems to be higher than what I think I need. How can I conserve energy, yet also be sure that there is an adequate amount of hot water?

Most people are comfortable with their hot water set at 120°F, which is also the new standard that manufacturers use when pre-setting it at the factory. If you have an older model, set the thermostat at medium. On a gas model, there is a dial on the front of the gas valve. On electric models, the thermostats (there may be two) are concealed behind the two panels on the side of the tank. NOTE: Turn off the electricity before removing the panels. There are exposed wires behind the panels containing HIGH VOLTAGE.

There are four people in our house, two adults and two teens. We are constantly running out of hot water. After a five-minute shower, the water starts to turn cold. This change occurred quite recently. Help!

There are two possibilities. First, the dip tube has broken off. This is a tube that forces incoming water to the bottom of the tank so that hot water will be drawn off of the top. When the dip tube breaks, cold water entering the tank mixes with the hot water and cools it down. This can occur in both gas and electric models.

Second, if your water heater is electric, the lower element that heats the water may not be operating properly, thus only the upper half of the tank will heat up. The cause of this problem could be a bad element or a thermostat malfunction. This type of problem should be evaluated by a qualified technician.

Recently my water bills appear to be rather high. None of the faucets appear to leak. What else could contribute to a high water bill?

You may want to check to see if a toilet is leaking. First, check the water level to ensure that water is not overflowing the tank by way of the overflow pipe. This is the pipe in the middle of the tank. It has small tubing connected to it. If water is running into the overflow, adjust the fill valve to stop the flow approximately one inch below the top of the overflow tube or to the water level mark stamped on the side of the tank.

Second, put a few drops of food coloring into the tank to test the flush valve mechanism. If the water in the bowl changes color within 15 minutes, this is an indication that water is leaking into the toilet bowl and that the ball or flapper needs to be replaced.