Althoff Home Services Blog: Posts Tagged ‘Residential Plumbing’

How to Prevent Water Heater Leaks

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Water heater leaks are an inevitable problem for most homeowners, especially with tank water heaters. Like any other appliance, water heaters eventually wear out and need to be replaced. Depending on the brand, use and maintenance, some may last as little as eight years. Other more durable, well-maintained tanks may last 8-12 years.

While there are some factors that are out of your control like water type, manufacturing errors and material quality, there are a steps that you can take to ensure you give your water heater the longest, leak-free life possible.

Prevent water heater leaks before they happen.

As we’ve illustrated, there’s no guaranteed way of preventing your water heater from leaking. As it ages, leaks will become more common as the parts and materials wear down. However, you can take action to make sure you catch minor issues before they turn into major ones:

  • Drain and flush the tank. All water contains minerals. As your tank drains and refills, mineral sediment will start to accumulate, which affects the quality of your hot water and corrodes the bottom of the tank. We recommend draining and flushing sediment from the tank at least once a year.
  • Inspect the anode rod. The anode rod attracts and collects the corrosive mineral sediment that’s present in your water. Eventually, the rod will fill up with sediment, and it won’t be able to remove any more corrosive minerals from your water supply. By inspecting the anode rod and replacing it when it’s completely corroded, you can limit the amount of sediment that settles at the bottom of your water tank.
  • Check pipes and fittings. Make sure the pipes feel sturdy and the fittings are tight. You’d be surprised at how pipes can loosen over time.
  • Identify corrosion and weak spots. Check the tank for any rust, corrosion or other weak spots. This is a warning sign that your water heater is close to failing.

You can make sure these things are done properly and safely by getting a professional water heater tune-up every year.

What causes water heater leaks?

In order to prevent future water heater leaks, you need to understand how leaks occur. Luckily, water heater leaks are pretty easy to spot and diagnose when you can locate the source.

If there’s water everywhere…

Is there water on the walls, ceiling, floor and just about everywhere you look? It might look like your water heater exploded and sprayed water all over the room.

Most likely, it’s not the water heater that’s to blame, but the connection or pipes coming to and from the water heater. Have you ever tried to use a garden hose without screwing on the nozzle all the way? Water sprays everywhere. This is the same concept, just on a larger, messier scale.

Over time, pipe fittings can wear down or loosen. As you continue to use the water heater, the water flowing through will put strain on the pipes, causing the fittings to loosen even further. In some cases, the fittings may have just come loose and need to be tightened. In others, they may need to be replaced completely.

If there’s a huge puddle under the water heater…

Is there a puddle forming at the bottom of your water heater? Is growing worse with every waking minute?water heater leak

This is the most common sign that it’s time to replace your water heater. As your water heater ages, the corrosive properties of the minerals present in your water supply will wear down the lining inside of the tank. You may notice rust or condensation around the base of the water heater tank. That’a surefire way to know that it’s that tank that’s to blame for the mess.

If there’s water gushing from a valve…

Is there water settling more to one side than around the entire base? A loose drain plug might be the culprit. The drain plug is usually located towards the bottom of your water heater tank.

Like the materials that make up the pipes and water heater housing, the drain valve can wear down and fail as the water heater ages.

The pressure release valve can also be the source of a water heater leak. Usually, the pressure release valve is located towards the top of the tank. It looks like a long bent pipe angled towards the floor. There are two telltale signs that the pressure release valve is failing: your water heater is making a high-pitched squealing sound, or there’s water spraying out of the pressure release valve. Depending on the severity of the leak, you may be able to replace the valve, which is relatively inexpensive. In other cases, you may need to replace the whole water heater.

When is the last time you serviced your water heater?

If you can’t remember the last time you serviced your water heater, or if its been over a year, it’s time to give that hard-working appliance some attention.

Althoff Industries has been maintaining and repairing water heaters for over 60 years. With our expertise, you can be sure your water heater is running as efficiently as possible. Give us a call at (815) 455-7000 to schedule your maintenance and inspection today.

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Should I Get a Tank Style or Tankless Water Heater?

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Tankless water heaters are known for being efficient and small in terms of their overall size and for that reason they are quite popular among most homeowners. Tank-style water heaters, on the other hand, will cost you much less than tankless water heaters and are easier to operate. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, but one might suit your home better than the other.

Tank-style or tankless water heaters: Which is right for your home?

Water heaters are a costly investment, and it’s often a decision you will be living with for more than a decade. However, a water heater can have a significant impact on your life without you even noticing which makes the decision even more important.

Whether you need to make sure you have enough hot water for your household or want to keep a low utility bill, choosing the right water heater for your home is extremely important.

We will now dive in and examine all of the pros and cons of tankless and tank-style water heaters so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Benefits of a Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are produced to be high-efficiency, direct-vent units. Because tankless water heaters have no tank, instead of slowly heating the water and keeping it in a tank, tankless water heaters only heat the amount of water that is needed and does so rather quickly.

It doesn’t matter if you take a five minute or a forty-five minute shower, you will never run out of hot water, and it will be available to you instantly. Having no tank also allows tankless water heaters to be smaller and rather than taking up a considerable chunk of your floor space, tankless water heaters are able to be mounted on your wall.

The best arguable benefit of a tankless water heater, though, is the amount of energy it consumes or rather doesn’t consume. Because there is no tank of water constantly needing to be kept hot, tankless water heaters don’t experience the same amount of standby energy losses that tank-style water heaters do.

In fact, the most efficient gas tankless water heater on the market has an energy factor of 1 and uses only 150 therms/year for natural gas. Not only that, but tankless water heaters also have a lifespan of 20 years or more which means you will be able to enjoy the upgrade for many years to come.

Drawbacks to a Tankless Water Heater

The most obvious and understandable drawback to a tankless water heater is the overall cost. For both the unit, as well as the installation, tankless water heaters typically cost about twice as much as traditional, tank-style water heaters, depending on the flow rate.

The average cost of a tankless water heater installation varies depending on the type, brand, your home, and whether you are installing a new water heater or replacing an old one.

As we mentioned earlier, tankless water heaters can be mounted on the wall to save floor space, but they also have special venting requirements and often need larger gas lines because of the higher BTU rating which makes them more difficult to install.

Lastly, though tankless water heaters can deliver an unlimited amount of hot water, there is, however, a limit to how much water is delivered at once. Tankless water heaters heat water as it passes through, so it’s important to make sure that you purchase a large enough tankless water heater to ensure that adequate hot water flow is available.

Benefits of a Tank-Style Water Heater

One of the main advantages of tank-style water heaters is that they are more cost-effective than tankless water heaters.

Tank-style water heaters also operate much simpler than tankless water heaters. Because of this simple operation, there will be less maintenance and less repair for almost identical functionality if you opt for a tank-style heater.

Tank-style water heaters can hook up to the existing gas supply in your home without having to make any changes or alterations in plumbing. Tank-style water heaters are also ready to go with the existing electrical power load in your home so new circuits will not have to be put in during installation.

Tank-style water heaters also have no minimum flow rate, so you never have to worry about how much hot water you need at one time. Because tank-style water heaters have a standby supply of heated water, you won’t have to worry about waiting for the water to reach your taps.

Drawbacks to a Tank-Style Water Heater

As with everything, though, there are some drawbacks to having a tank-style water heater in your home. Tank-style water heaters are relatively large and will take up more space in your home. This can be a bit of a challenge because you will need it to be in an area that is convenient and out of sight.

Also, compared to tankless water heaters, you will notice energy loss, also known as “standby loss,” caused by the energy that is wasted on keeping a full tank of hot water at all times.

It’s also worth noting that if the tank-style water heater is in a cool environment, it needs to work even harder during winter months to produce hot water which will increase gas or electric bills.

As you can see, deciding between a tank-style and tankless water heater depends on you and your home’s specific needs.If you are looking for more information on water heaters, or need a water heater installed in your home, contact one of the licensed Chicago plumbers from Althoff. Contact us at 800-225-2443

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Where are My Water and Gas Shut Off Valves?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

If you need to turn off your home’s gas or water due to a needed repair or a weather issue, first you have to know where the water and gas shut off valves are located. Ideally, you’ll want to locate the main or master shut offs, as well as the supply shut offs, before an emergency happens.

SAFETY NOTE: If you suspect a gas leak, do not try to turn off the gas to your home. Get outside, move away from the house, and then call the gas company.

If you have a water leak, your municipal water supplier may have an emergency number you can call to report it.

How to Find the Main Water Shut Off Valve

There are actually two main water cut off valves – one before the water line reaches the meter and the other on the “house side” of the water meter. These turn off the water supply to the entire home. In colder climates, both the meter and the shut off valves are located inside the house to prevent freezing. In warmer climates, the meter and the valves will either be outside the house or below ground, inside a box.

Turn off your home’s water supply: Turn the main shut off valve that’s on the house side, after the meter.

  • If it’s a lever, turn it so it’s at a right angle, or perpendicular, to the water supply line. To turn the water back on, turn the lever so it’s parallel, or in the same direction as, the supply line.
  • If the main shut off valve is a round handle like the ones on outdoor faucets, simply turn it clockwise to turn off the water (righty-tighty) and counter-clockwise to turn the water back on (lefty-loosey).

Note: You may notice two other valves outside your house, but they are only for use by the city workers. An underground curb stop valve is located between your home’s water meter and the water main in the street. There’s also a “corporation stop”, which is where the house water line and the water main meet.

How to Find the Water Supply Shut Off Valves

It’s not always necessary to shut off the main water supply. If you’re just repairing or replacing one fixture, like a faucet, you can turn off the water only to its individual supply line. Also called a supply stop, this shut off valve is usually a small metal oval or round handle located on the water line running to your toilets, water heater, dishwasher, faucets, washing machine and water softener

In some cases, you may find a t-shaped connector on the water supply line for your furnace humidifier or your refrigerator’s ice maker. Be sure to monitor these, as they’re a common source for leaks. Building codes in many areas require them to be replaced with supply stops to prevent water damage.

How to Find the Main Gas Shut Off Valve

If you have any natural gas appliances in your home, the main gas shut off valve that you’ll want to look for is usually inside, where the gas line enters the house. However, older homes may only have one shut off at the meter itself. In most cases, the meter shut off valve is only for use by the gas company, fire department or a plumbing or HVAC contractor.

When you shut off the main gas supply, keep in mind that you’ll have to relight the pilot lights in your gas appliances, unless they have an electronic ignition system. Relighting instructions can usually be found in the owner’s manual or on the appliance itself, but if you’re unsure or not comfortable with it, you can always call a professional like Althoff Industries to take care of it for you.

Turn off your home’s gas supply: The way to shut off the main gas valve depends on what type of setup your house has.

In newer homes, the gas shut off valve may look like a bright yellow lever on a black iron pipe where the gas supply line enters your house. To turn off the gas, just turn the lever perpendicular to the line, and then turn it parallel to the line to turn the gas back on.

If your home is newer and has a high-pressure gas system, the gas supply line will be a flexible copper pipe. The indoor main shut off valve can usually be found near your home’s furnace or water heater, just before the pressure regulator.

Homes that use propane will have a shut off valve on the tank as well as one on the gas line before the connection to the first appliance.

To turn off the gas in an older home that uses natural gas and doesn’t have an indoor shut off, you’ll have to use the street-side shut off valve outside on the gas meter. The valve typically looks like a small rectangle, but you’ll need a special wrench to open and close it. To turn off the gas, turn the valve perpendicular to the incoming gas line. Turn the valve parallel to the line to turn the gas back on. It may be a good idea to pick up a gas meter shut off wrench at your local home improvement store and then leave it attached to the meter in case you need it.

How to Find the Gas Supply Shut Off Valves

Every gas appliance has an individual shut off valve so you can repair or replace it without turning off the gas to your entire home. It’s typically a lever that you turn perpendicular to the line to shut off the gas; turning it parallel to the line will turn the gas back on.

The service, or supply, shut off valve for gas appliances should be located on the flexible supply line, called an appliance connector, no more than 6 feet from the appliance itself. The line may be visible for furnaces, gas fireplaces and water heaters, but gas dryers and stoves will need to be pulled away from the wall to get access to the shut off valve.

This information is provided as a general guideline. Althoff Industries does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information.

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4 Reasons You Should Replace That Old Toilet

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

Does your toilet require lengthy instructions to guests on how to flush it? Is it worn out to the point where no amount of cleaning can make it presentable, and you hope guests don’t ask to use it in the first place? Why haven’t you replaced that old toilet already?

Many of us have the tendency to stick with things even if we’re not thrilled with them or we know there are better options, simply because change seems like a hassle. That’s true of a lot of things in life, even toilets!

Thing is, replacing your old toilet is easier than you think and offers many benefits. Here are four of them.

1. Better performance

Tired of hitting the flush lever and hoping everything goes down? Do you often have to flush more than once? Many of today’s toilets combine dual flush mechanisms and larger trapways to improve flushing performance. Power-assisted systems use small pumps to increase the pressure of the flush.

2. Improved comfort

Comfort height toilets are around 3 inches taller than older standard toilets. What may seem like a small difference is actually very significant, especially for tall or elderly people, or anyone with bad knees. Elongated toilets are much more comfortable for adults. The shape of the bowl is much better for men, giving them extra space where they need it most.

3. More aesthetically pleasing

An updated toilet can complete the look of the room, while an outdated, faded, or damaged toilet can take away from even the most stylish bathrooms. Even if your updating budget is limited, replacing the toilet offers excellent value for your money, as toilets will last for 15 years or more and are one of the most frequently used appliances in the home.

4. Lower water consumption

Toilets installed before 1992 may use anywhere from 3.5 to 7 gallons every time you flush. Most of today’s toilets use as little as 1.28 gallons per flush. Upgrading your toilet can save you a lot of money on your water bill along with helping the environment.

Replacing your old toilet is quick, easy and affordable with Althoff.

If you’ve been putting off replacing your old toilet because you don’t have the time or don’t want the hassle of installing a new one, let the licensed Chicago plumbers from Althoff take care of it quickly and easily. Not sure which toilet to choose? We can help you select one that fits your room aesthetic, comfort and performance needs. Contact us at 800-225-2443 today.

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Why Does My Heater Make a Screeching Sound?

Monday, May 14th, 2018

“Do you know how old your sump pump is?”

I love to ask people this when I get the chance. Unless they recently had a flooded basement, they don’t remember. Nobody does.

That’s not surprising. There’s a lot to remember these days … passwords, websites, birthdays, anniversaries (especially that last one!). After awhile, it’s hard enough to remember your own age, let alone the age of your sump pump. Plus, it’s down in the basement where you never go if you can help it. Even if you do look at the sump pump, it’s not like there’s a tag on it that clearly tells you the age.

Here’s the thing. Even though forgetting your sump pump’s birthday is understandable, it can lead to problems (and not because you didn’t get it a gift…).

Your sump pump is probably older than you think.

I was recently discussing average sump pump life expectancy with a major manufacturer. They said: “The average life expectancy for a sump pump is five to seven years.”

Wow, I thought. That comes really fast.

I talk to customers all the time who say, “Yeah, I think we had the sump pump replaced a few years ago.” So, I go into the service history, and it was actually 10 years ago! Time flies, right? Some people have been in their homes for over 10 years, and have never replaced the sump pump that came with the house.

That’s a problem, because flood water entering your basement is NOT the time you want to discover that your sump pump is on its last leg.

What are some signs you should replace your sump pump?

  • Old Age: Though the average life expectancy is five to seven years, you may get more or less use depending on how hard and how often the sump pump has to work. Have a professional examine the pump to determine what shape it’s in.
  • Loud and/or Unusual Noises: Goes for all machines, right? Some noise is normal, but if it’s louder than you remember, call in a pro to take a listen. Rattles, thunks, knocking and grinding sounds may mean a motor problem.
  • Cycling On and Off: If your sump pump goes through constant cycles of turning on and off—or doesn’t turn on or off when it should—call in a professional. You may need a new pump, or there may be a problem with the power or float switch.
  • Won’t Stop Running: If your sump pump runs continuously, it may be unable to handle the water load the way it should. It may be time to replace it.

Let the pros at Althoff’s replace your aging sump pump before there’s a problem.

Do yourself a favor: Get your old sump pump replaced. Don’t go through another rainy season hoping you won’t have a problem. Our professional Chicago plumbers can get that squared away for you. Contact us at 800-225-2443 to schedule.

Also, remember that you should have a professional sump pump inspection once a year. That little pump with a big job is too important to ignore.

Plus, when someone asks you if you know how old your sump pump is, you can say “YES!”

Receive a Free WiFi Enabled Control When You Purchase a Battery Backup System for Your New Sump Pump ($350 value )! Call 800-225-2443 now.

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5 Simple Solutions to Common Residential Plumbing Problems

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

There are some common residential plumbing problems that usually most people can resolve on their own. And there are a host of others more serious plumbing issues that are best performed by calling a professional like Althoff Industries. Knowing the difference can save you lots of frustration and potentially some serious repairs. Here are 5 simple solutions to some common residential plumbing problems you can likely handle on your own.

Plumbing Problem, Plumbing Solution

1. Leaking Faucet – As advanced as technology is in some areas of life, one constant has been the common residential plumbing problem of a leaky faucet. Faucet leaks are most often caused by a worn washer which can be easily replaced. In a single handle faucet, you know where the culprit is. If you have a two handle faucet, you can determine which is leaking by simply seeing if the water is hot or cold. If you can’t tell, you might as well just replace the washers in both as it is a simple fix.

a. Turn off the water supply to the faucet you are working on. It will be located under the sink.

b. If there is a decorative cap to the handle it will need to be removed. Unscrew the handle, usually with a Phillips head screwdriver.

c. Remove the valve nut or cover that is retaining the valve, and lift the valve out, exposing a washer underneath.

d. You may be best served by taking both the valve and the washer to a hardware store to ensure you get the proper replacement.

e. After replacing the washer, just reassemble your handle in reverse order.

2. Running or Leaking Toilet

Leaking or running toilets are other very common plumbing problems. First, turn off the water supply to the toilet and remove the tank lid. You may simply have a chain attached to the rubber flapper that is too long or short. If it is too short, it’s not allowing the flapper to close. If it’s too long, it may just be getting in the way of the flapper. If your running toilet is due to the float not rising high enough to stop the water from flowing into the tank, it can often be resolved by just bending the rod downward, Toilet tank repair parts and kits are found in any hardware or home improvement store and are inexpensive. A less common problem could be a leak in the big washer that is between the tank and the seat. That is a bigger job and unless you want to do some heavy lifting you may be better served calling in a pro.

3. Jammed Garbage Disposal

If a garbage disposal is jammed with something like a soda can pop top and had stopped working, you may be able to fix it yourself. That is if you have the right tool. There may be an Allen style wrench attached to the motor unit of the disposal. Make sure the power is off then you can insert the wrench into the bottom of the unit and manually turn the blades of the disposal. Once the item is freed, you should be able to carefully remove the item. Once the item is removed, restore power, turn it on, and it should operate normally. If not, give Althoff Industries a call.

4. Clogged Drains – You may be able to clear a clogged drain through a choice of chemical free solutions. You can get a small, inexpensive metal wire “snake” to slid down your drain to remove the obstruction. You could also try to remove the plug using a plunger. Another all-natural solution would be to pour some baking soda down the drain and add some vinegar. Often, the foaming reaction between the baking soda and vinegar can serve to remove a blockage.

5. Frozen Pipes – Frozen pipes are a common Chicago and Crystal Lake plumbing problem. The best cure for a frozen pipe is to turn faucets on and allow the pipe to warm by opening cabinet doors under sinks to get the pipes exposed to warmer air. Using a hair dryer, electrical heat tape or space heaters may help thaw frozen pipes but NEVER use an exposed flame. You are far better served by insulating potentially troublesome pipes ahead of time. If frigid weather is expected over multiple days, let faucets drip slowly to keep pipes from freezing. If pipes are freezing, any further expansion can lead to them bursting, causing serious problems and damage.

When it Comes to Common Plumbing Problems, Know When to Hold ‘Em and Know When to Fold ‘Em

At Althoff Industries, we are often called to finish a job a do-it-yourselfer has attempted themselves. If your problem is one you are comfortable in resolving, give it a go. If not, feel free to contact Althoff Industries. We are pleased to resolve Chicagoland plumbing problems.

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