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Last week we attended our state mandated plumbing code update course.  Every three years the State of Michigan undergoes a new "code cycle" whereas the current code is reviewed and adjusted as necessary.  All licensed plumbers are required to take a one day code update class to learn all of the new changes to the current plumbing code.  The attendance at this particular class was pretty typical, but the average age was anything but ordinary.  Out of the 288 licensed journeyman and master plumbers attending, only about 20 of us were under the age of 40.  Even more shocking were the FOUR attendees under the age of 30! This small sampling is a fairly accurate barometer of a very serious problem that is plaguing our industry.  The skilled trades, plumbing in particular, is becoming a dying profession.  While it is true that the recession had taken a very drastic toll on the number of skilled labor positions, there is a much deeper cultural effect at work. 

The trend these days is for an all-in, all-or-nothing collegiate push.  "They" tell us there is no way you will ever earn a decent living without the outrageously expensive college degree.  This advice has ever so slowly built a top heavy educated work force that appears to be tipping.  We are obsessed with lending billions of dollars we don't have, to kids who will struggle for years or even decades to pay it back, for jobs that will not be so easy to come by.  As Mike Rowe from the TV show "Dirty Jobs" points out, "work smart not hard" may be the worst advice ever given.  He has even gone so far as to alter the phrase to "work smart AND hard."   

The job opportunities are opening up in blue collar fields at an astonishing rate.  Employers are struggling to find good motivated workers.  While this is ultimately going to benefit those of us IN these professions, it is not good for the professions themselves.  Good plumbers, electricians and carpenters are going to be very difficult to come by in the coming years.  The potential for a great career and income has never been higher.  While many jobs are being phased out, outsourced and eliminated, on-site construction and repair is one thing that will never go away.  

It seems we are not doing enough to educate the coming generations on the benefits, the challenge and the incredible career potential that the skilled trades have to offer.  Working with your hands and looking back on what you have actually accomplished at the end of the day is very rewarding in and of itself.  While it is true that many of the skilled trades are very physically demanding, shouldn't we be THANKFUL for that?  Sitting on an office chair for 8 hours may sound more appealing at first, but given the choice, I will always choose to be moving, and yes, maybe even sweating.  

If you know of anyone that may be looking for a career choice or change, I would urge them to take a long hard look into a trade.  As for myself, I would not change a thing!

 
 
Unsurprisingly, another year has passed and we are on the brink of 2014.  Hopefully the new year will be filled with new adventures, happy times and will create some wonderful memories for you and your family. Unfortunately, it will also be filled with a new hidden tax that will be passed on to you, the consumer, by way of more expensive plumbing supplies and fixtures.  In the government's never ending quest to protect us all from ever dying, we will be faced with yet another regulation.  This time the enemy is lead.  This is by no means intended to be a political post, or even a medical one, as I am ill suited to properly explain either.  What I am intending to do, is simply pass along this new regulation that we as plumbers will be forced to follow by law (and maybe point out some of the silly aspects of it).  While I am obviously not opposed to making things safer, I am opposed to laws that have many foolish facets and do not seem to be properly thought out.  

Beginning January 4 2014, any product that comes in contact with the potable (drinking) water system must not have a lead content exceeding .25%.  All plumbing materials and fixtures must be NSF 372 certified in order to be code compliant for potable water systems.  This is mainly going to effect brass.  The lead in brass will now need to be substituted with a different allow, and all of these new alloys will be more expensive than the lead.  This means the cost of anything plumbing related that contained brass will be going up.  In most cases the cost increase will be anywhere from 15-30%.  Some faucet manufacturers have simply decided to abandon almost all brass in favor of plastic.  This is the reason most new faucets appear to be very cheap and flimsy, because they are!  Some manufacturers have opted to retool their factories and stick with brass, but rest assured, that cost will be passed on.  

While most of this appears to make sense, it is a blanket law covering all plumbing materials. Exceptions have not been made for specific items that would not ever leach lead into waters that a person would drink.  A few of these items that will be covered by the law are irrigation backwater valves which serve ONLY your sprinklers.  A hot water vacuum breaker, or temperature and pressure relief valve.  The last time I checked, most people did not drink hot water, and even if they did, these two items barely have any surface area that even make contact with the potable water system.    

The law may get even more silly when the inspector mandates that the new valves on your bathroom remodel be NSF 372 certified, but he fails to mention that your water MAIN coming into your house is a LEAD PIPE!  Of course, this only applies if you live in an old home, most likely downtown.  

Merry Christmas everyone!  Your new year MAY be blessed with a .000025% less likely chance that you will develop lead poisoning, while your plumbing WILL be going up by about 25%.  

 
 
PictureApplying thread paste (pipe dope)
There are many different products available for use in the plumbing trade.  These products can range from harmful, to questionable to necessary.  There is also a lot of confusion about which product to use, when to use it, and where to use it. 

Below is a list of the most common products, with a short explanation of each one.  



1. Thread paste.  Also called "pipe dope", thread paste is probably the most used product on a plumber's truck.  The main function of pipe dope is to seal threaded connections by filling in the tiny voids.  Applying the paste will also act as a lubricant and help to tighten the connection a little better.  There are many different kinds of thread paste on the market, and some contain different chemicals.  You should always be sure that the paste you are using is ok for the material you are using it on.  Some pastes should not be used on plastic threads.  There are a few other situations that plumbers like to apply the paste, such as on the mating surfaces of certain kinds of unions, inside compression fittings, inside flared connections, or on the bottom of certain types of gaskets.  

2. PTFE Tape.  PTFE (polytetraflouroethylene) tape, or thread tape, is commonly (and mistakenly) called Teflon tape.  Since Teflon is a trademarked brand of the DuPont corporation, this product should not be called "Teflon tape."  On threaded connections, PTFE tape can be used in place of, or along with pipe dope.  I don't really have a preference either way.  If it is a connection that I most definitely do not want to have to fix, I will usually use both.  There are also certain devices that will call for tape specifically because it can be harmful if paste is introduced into them when the water is turned on.  It is important to not "overwrap" the threads with the tape, as this could possibly result in putting too much stress on the female fitting and crack it.  

3. Plumber's putty.  This is probably the most widely misused plumbing item there is.  There are many times that I come across putty being used in place of paste or tape, and that is always a sure fire leak.  Putty should only be used on the underside of something that will be tightened or compressed down, such as the underside of sink drains, shower drains, and bathtub drains.  Some plumbers will use it underneath stainless steel sinks to seal them to the countertop as well. In the old days, it was used to seal toilets to the toilet flange at times.  

4. Latex caulk and silicone caulk.  Caulks and silicones should never be used to seal any piping.  They should only be used to seal fixtures down, or seal around areas that should not allow water in.  Examples includes, caulking down sinks, tub spouts, outside penetrations, maybe even faucets.  Some plumbers like to use silicone on the underside of sink, shower and bathtub drains in lieu of plumber's putty.  I do not recommend this for two reasons: 1. It is very messy, and 2. If you ever have to remove it, good luck. 

5. Plumbers grease.  Any time you take a faucet apart, grease up everything!  This includes O-rings, threads and any moving parts. 

6. Flux.  Flux is what you put on copper or brass pipe to prepare it to be soldered.  It cleans the pipe and allows the solder to "flow" into the fitting. 

7. Draino.  Don't use it, ever.
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Not Marijuana dope!
 
 
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Sometimes in the plumbing profession, things go smoothly, and according to plan.  Other times, or rather, MOST of the time, things always seem to go a little sideways.  We recently got an email from one of our most frequent and best customers explaining a few minor plumbing jobs that needed to be done on a newly purchased property.  On these older homes, it is always a good idea to take a look at them to see what we would be getting in to.  The list seemed simple enough- new toilet seat, disconnect gas line to stove and add a shutoff valve, replace kitchen sink and faucet, and replace the bathtub faucet. All of these items were pretty simple on their own, and I had explained that it should be possible to stay within his budget.  The next day I started the work and it wasn't until I headed downstairs that things got interesting.  I noticed a few additional problems pretty quickly, such as a rusted-away tub drain and a few water lines that had been split.  Even these few problems that were visible where not enough to cause too much concern.  I promptly made my way through all of the problems that were noticeable.  All of these issues are pretty common with older homes, especially with the old galvanized steel water lines and cast iron drains.  When everything APPEARED ok, I slowly started to turn the water on, and this is when the fun began.  Within seconds, a slow drip developed, right next to my head.  The galvanized pipe was split on the seem on the top of the pipe.  Water off, repair made- #1.  When that was fixed, it was now time to try again.  I slowly turned the water on, and a little bit further down the line, I see water pouring onto the floor.  This time there was a crack in the threaded portion of the pipe.  Water off, repair made- #2.  This pattern continued for no less than 6 repairs before I eventually had to call it a day and plan on a round 2 the next day.  By the time I was able to get the water on, 75% of the house had been replaced with pex water lines.  On day number two I eventually decided to cut my (his) losses and simply start cutting most of the old water lines out.  There were a few lines that remained in the walls that were copper, so those remained in tact, even though a few of the fittings had blown apart.  What appears to have happened in this house is that it never got properly winterized and literally EVERYTHING froze, EVERYWHERE.  Now that the water was on, I had a slight bit of optimism that I was almost going to be able to get out of there.  Of course this was not the case because we are dealing with old plumbing.  The toilet would not fill at all due to a completely corroded galvanized line serving it.  I had to turn the water back off, and run a new line with a new shutoff valve to the toilet.  After the toilet was working, I turned the water on at the dual lavatories and the faucets both worked great, to my surprise!  What I was not surprised by though was the fact that the water did not go down the drain AT ALL.  After pulling the p traps off both lavs and snaking the main drain serving them, I got all of the water to go where it was supposed to.  I was even lucky enough to find a handful of hair ties, straws, toothbrushes, and toys along the way.  If you are ever considering purchasing an older home for yourself, to flip or to rent out, keep your plumbing budget plenty high in case of unforeseen problems, which are almost always going to be there.   Allow a professional plumber to take care of it for you, and save yourself days, weeks or even a lifetime of plumbing headaches.  

 
 
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    You know you're the wife of a plumber if:


    ... every year you rush through opening the Christmas presents, hoping to finish before the first clogged toilet or over-loaded disposal call comes in.
    ... you don't get jealous when he says he is going out for some nipples.
    ... you run your hand down his back, and his spine feels like a relief map of the Rocky Mountains. The wife of a plumber has a husband with a compromised back.
    ... a broken anything is never cause for worry, because he can fix anything. Even if he says he can't, what he really means is that he doesn't want to. Because he really can fix anything.
    ... you've allowed your newborn to go on a service call in a Snuglie.
    ... he knows deep, dark secrets about everyone in town - from the mayor to the movie star. After all, he's been in their basement.
    ... he never tells.
    ... you leave him alone for an hour, and return to find a 2-ton boiler fully installed and mounted from the ceiling. When you ask how he did it, he responds, "You can learn a lot from the Egyptians."
    ... he wasn't the slightest bit grossed out at the worst of your kids' diapers.
    ... he has never been to a family function without being asked to 1) look at the furnace; 2) look down the drain; or 3) smell the smell coming from the shower.
    ... the hostess at the neighborhood open house hugs your husband long and hard. With tears in her eyes, she thanks him for his help. You see, last week her husband was recovering from surgery. It snowed and snowed and she was trapped in her house. And your husband took a few passes with the snowplow and made sure the wood furnace was stocked up with wood. And you never knew about it until the open house
    ... he travels with his own showerhead and a crescent wrench.
    ... you've pretended not to be insulted when he is presented with yet another plunger-wielding-butt-crack-showing-plumber-on-a-birthday card from a well-meaning friend
    ... he always knows where the bathrooms are in any building because he noticed the placement of the vent stacks on the way in.
    ... you've seen your child sporting duct tape where a bandage should be.
    ...you've ever been awarded a free nights stay in a hotel room because he fixed the toilet
    ... at least once a week, he gets a call from Mrs. Fernwicky. She is old, and cares for her disabled son all by herself. And there is nothing really wrong with her boiler, but she calls once a week to report some symptom or another. You know she's just lonely. But your husband always takes the call, and sometimes stops by to make her feel better. And this has been going on for years.
    ... you've learned that few mistakes are as serious as improperly uncoiling a roll of PEX pipe.
    ... it hurts when someone complains about what your husband charges for his services. You know it's a bargain because you know how much it costs to know what he knows and be able to do what he does.
    ... you know you're going to get lucky if he's been welding.
    ... you've watched him dismantle a perfectly good toaster because it wasn't working as well as he thought it should.
    ... he put the toaster back together again, only now it's activated by a tekmar outdoor reset control.
    ...he has ever replaced a perfectly good water heater in your home because he "sensed" it was about to go.  Of course he also cut it in half to see if he was right. 
    ...he has ever made enormous "mouse-trap" games out of pvc and marbles
    ...your sons favorite presents are pretend tools
    ...you have a hot spigot on the outside of your house.............all four sides
    ...you are not allowed to use your own garbage disposal
    ...Cheap import fixtures are as repulsive to him as a hooker with a handgun

      -Taken from Plumbing and Mechanical Magazine by Ellen Rohr October 1 2002

 
 
Yesterday we received a phone call from a homeowner that had multiple plumbing tasks that he needed done.  His list included removing his shower valve and stubbing the hot and cold water line out of the wall to install his shower "tower" that he purchased at Costco.  It also included installing a specialty toilet that needs to be mounted flush against the back wall.  Since the toilet sits flush against the back wall, the water line must be moved over and the baseboard will also need to be cut (which apparently we are doing).  I was told that "everything was very simple to do, and it won't take long at all."  After listening to his list of "simple" plumbing projects that he wanted done, I explained to him our hourly rates, and gave him an estimate based on how long I thought it MAY take me.  Keep in mind, plumbing is vastly different from tiling a floor, or painting a wall; there are NUMEROUS variables that present themselves on EVERY job.  The homeowner did not like the fact that we were going to bill him on an hourly basis, and requested a "fixed" quote.  I told him that we do not bill our smaller jobs this way, and that I could only give him an estimate.  This still was not sufficient for him, and he insisted that it was a very simple job and that I should be able to give him a price.  I kindly explained to him that IF it was as easy as he says, he will be happy because it will fall on the lower end of my estimate.  Not good enough, he still wanted a flat rate.  By this point, I realized we were not making any progress so I obliged.  I gave him a flat rate that was 75% higher than the high end of my estimate.  Of course, this was no good either, and he was becoming upset.  I told him this was most likely what the "flat rate" companies would charge him, and that is what I needed to charge him as well to cover myself in case of unforeseen problems.  We ultimately could not agree on the terms, and I thanked him for his call and asked that if he change his mind, please call us back.  

The point to the story is that we are not a flat rate plumbing company as most companies in the area are.  While we do have fixed rates on the most common items, such as water heaters and garbage disposals, the majority of our service work is on an hourly basis.   We still believe that charging for our time is the most fair and beneficial business practice to our customers as well as ourselves.  We do not feel it is necessary to charge for the "worst case scenario" on every job, as the flat rate companies do.  While it is true that in theory, we could take our time and "milk" out each job, this is never the case, and does not benefit us even if we did.  The reason is that we charge for the first half hour at a higher rate.  This is what pays us to come to your house.  This means that we would be much further ahead by completing multiple jobs in a day that took LESS time as opposed to one job that took longer.   Besides, as all of our very loyal and repeat customers will, and have attested to, that is simply not how we operate.  We are, and always will be, thorough, efficient, honest, and neat.  9 times out of 10, we will be MUCH less expensive than the flat rate guys.   See what others have said for yourself: All Area Plumbing reviews on Kudzu.com

Flat rate company motto:  We just need to get into every house once.  

Our Motto:  We would like to build a trusting relationship with customers for life.  


 
 
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Ground water in homes is one of the most aggravating and destructive problems many home owners will have to deal with at some time or another.  If your home has been built in the clay, and not in the sand, it may have a solid foundation, but chances are, it is also going to be wet.  If you have ever worried about your sump pump failing, or the power going out in the middle of the night or the middle of a vacation, there is hope!  While there are a few different options available to help protect your basement, we strongly encourage the municipal water powered backup sump pump option.  The other option would be a backup sump pump attached to a battery.  What we don't like about the battery option is that it will require regular checking to ensure adequate power, and there really is no telling how long it will run your pump for.  There is also a larger threat of an electrical malfunction.  We have installed dozens of water driven backup sump pumps and we truly believe they are the better choice to prevent a basement catastrophe.  These units have their own float, just as your main sump pump does, except it will be situated slightly higher than the main pump.  If the main pump does not activate, the float switch on the backup unit will engage, opening the water valve inside.  As the incoming water pressure spins the impeller, it discharges water at approximately a 2:1 ratio.  This means for every 1 gallon of incoming water used, it will pump out 2 gallons.  The advantages are that it requires very little maintenance, and it will be able to run continuously for as long as necessary (as long as you have paid your water bill of course).  

A proper installation should always include a potable water back-flow preventer, a shut off valve, and a discharge check valve.  Call your local plumbing professional for more information. 



 
 
PictureSloan pressure assist toilet kit
Every now and then we are asked about installing a pressure assisted toilet.  After explaining the benefits of a pressure assisted flush, we explain to the customer what we used to think was the ONLY downside, which was the noise.  A pressure assisted toilet will flush AND sound like a commercial toilet you will find when you are out at a restaurant or the store.  This is usually enough of a deterant to steer most people away from installing one of these units.  Now, we have found out there is another reason you most definitely will NOT  want something like this in your house, IT MAY EXPLODE!  To know why this happens, you must first understand how these devises work.  Unlike a normal toilet, where the water simply fills up the tank and then is released by gravity to the bowl upon the flush, a pressure assisted unit becomes pressurized with the incoming water.  The water fills up the black holding tank you see in the photo, and at the same time, compresses and pressurizes the available "free air" inside.  When the toilet is flushed, it now has a great deal of stored energy to be released.  The problem  is that the tank has now been known to rupture in over  300 units, releasing all of the stored energy and actually blowing the lid off the tank.  This has lead to injuries to at least 14 people the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced last week.   More than 2.3 million units have recently been recalled.  

This gives new meaning to the phrase- "you don't want to go in there!"  

If you have one of these units installed in your home, check the attached link to see if your's is included in the recall and to receive repair parts.  http://flushmate.com/recall/ 

If you would like to remove the unit from your toilet, have your toilet replaced or have the new parts installed, you should contact a licensed plumber.  



 
 
Many times on a remodel, there comes a point where old piping must be cut out and removed, in order to install the new.  Sometimes this old piping is not very valuable, such as galvanized steel, cpvc, or pex.  Other times, the cut out sections of pipe hold more scrap value, such as copper or brass.  Typically, when a plumber is hired to do a job, such as a remodel for instance, everything is cleaned up and left in a tidy manner.  This includes the cut out and removed brass and copper water and drain lines.  Most of the time, this happens with no issue at all.  Other times, we are confronted about the "scrap" metal and asked to leave it behind.  Since we are always more concerned with leaving behind a happy customer, we almost always oblige, although we do not necessarily agree.  The way we see it, if we cut it out as part of our scope of work, we have the right to salvage the precious metals in the same regard that we have the obligation to clean up our mess. It should be understood, if any homeowner would like to keep the cut out copper or brass, they should probably do the demo and remove it themselves, or clearly define their intentions before the work begins.   

Does it really make much sense to put in the time and effort for a few dollars worth of scrap metal when gas is hovering around $4/gallon anyway?    Save yourself the hassle and just figure it into the cost of the job.  


Best Wishes!
 
 
Waking up in the morning to a nice hot shower is a luxury most of us really appreciate.  If you have an older water heater, it may not always be as hot as you'd like, and at other times may be scalding.  If you are like most people, you probably just assume the water heater is shot, and it's time for a new one.  The good news is, that this is not always the case.  The bad news is, you will have to assume a certain level of risk to correct the problem.  There are two things that can contribute to the temperature and amount of hot water you have, and they both show different symptoms.  If you have hot water, but it only lasts for a few minutes, the problem is with you dip tube.  As the cold water comes in, it travels down a tube to the bottom of the heater.  This way, the cold incoming water goes straight to the burner, and the hot water comes off the top.  Sometimes the dip tube will completely disintegrate, and this will cause the incoming cold water to stay at the top, and go right back out of the hot water outlet.  While the tank is full of hot water, none (or not much) of it is being used because of the incoming cold water mixing with it right away.     The other problem that you may have is a fluctuation of hot water temperatures.  The water will usually be much cooler after long periods of non-use.  This is do to a heavily mineral and scale coated thermostat probe.  On the gas valve of the water heater is a probe that protrudes into the tank.  This probe is what senses the temperature changes and when the water cools down far enough, it will activate the gas valve to kick on.  When this probe gets a heavy coating of mineral and scale buildup on it, it does not detect the temperature changes as quickly and accurately.   When the water heater is sitting idle, the water slowly cools but the probe does not detect this soon enough and usually the first shower of the morning is luke warm.  The same can be true after being away from the house all day.  When the hot water is turned on, cold water is sent straight to the bottom, and is enough to trigger the probe to call for heat.  This is why the first shower is never good, but the problem is corrected with the second shower.   That is only the annoying half of this problem.  Once the tank calls for heat, the probe does not pick up the heat increase fast enough and the water can become excessively hot and scalding.  Sometimes the T&P valve will open and dispense some water to prevent excessive pressure in the tank.  If you are experiencing fluctuating water temps, do NOT turn the water heater up higher.  This will only compound the problem and make it more dangerous.  You should call a licensed plumber.  The fix for this would be to change the gas valve.  The problem is, depending on the age of your water heater, you would be taking a risk as to how much life is left on the tank.  It would be unfortunate if you paid to have the gas valve replaced and the tank failed shortly after.  If the tank is old enough, it may be worthwhile to just replace the whole thing.  Since you know it is going to go at some point, you might as well do it before it gives you an indoor swimming pool!