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Filtering by Tag: plumbing


Emily Oster

information provided by  What's A Homeowner To Do?  by Stephen Fanuka & Edward Lewine

information provided by What's A Homeowner To Do? by Stephen Fanuka & Edward Lewine

Now that we have gone over how water gets in your house, it circulates throughout, and is warmed, its time to discuss how it leaves your home. This will be the last weekly recurring post of this series, however, I will continue to do posts about other plumbing related issues such as how to fix a toilet that constantly is running or how to unclog a sink. 

What leaves your home is referred to as waste or the waste system and it has two parts: the pipes that take the fluids away from your house and the vent system that removes the associated odors as well as provides air flow that enables the pipes to function properly. Every plumbing fixture in your home has a drain. These drains are attached to a stack, which is a pipe that carries the used water down to the basement, and a vent that allows air to flow up and out through the roof. Once fluid is used, say from a shower, it travels down the stack to the basement and out the main sewer line. The main sewer line runs at a pitch towards the street where it meets the municipal sewer line or a private septic system. The slope of the main sewer line is very important as you want dirty liquid to travel away from your house rather than towards it (roughly a 1/4 slope down for every foot of sewer line). Somewhere before the main sewer line hits the municipal line, there exists a trap, which is a U-shaped pipe. It is often a good idea to install a check valve on your house's side of the trap. This check valve stops a clog and subsequent back up in the municipal line from entering into your main sewer line/basement. 

To properly maintain your waste system, once a month pour a cup of regular bleach down each sink and tub drain. This will break down much of the built up debris. Also run your dishwasher once a month empty. The hot water will flush out the pipes both within the dishwasher and those that lead from the dishwasher to the stack. Finally, if you are really hard on your pipes (flush things that shouldn't be flushed, clog sinks regularly, put grease down the disposable etc.) you can have your waste pipes water jetted. Essentially, a company will come and insert a pipe into your waste line and flush the system with high pressure water.  

I hope you have enjoyed this first Know How series! 

Hot Water Heaters

Emily Oster


Two weeks ago, I discussed in my post water pressure about how water moves throughout the home - cold and hot. This week, I wanted to focus on the means by which water goes from cold to hot which is, of course, made possible by water heaters. Operating water heaters besides being essential to any home are also, on average,  the second largest expense in a home, accounting for 14-18% of utility bills or roughly $400 - $600 a year. The average home uses approximately 64 gallons of water a day with much of this being hot water heated by a conventional storage water heater. While a storage water heater is the most common there are four other types of water heaters that can be suitable for residential use. Each type offers its own pros and cons and it is a good idea to review your options and be aware of your personal selection criteria. When comparing water heaters a few key things to consider are:
- Fuel type, availability and cost
- Size
- Energy efficiency
- Costs
It is also important to realize that most water heaters last on average 10-15 years and for many of us this means we will soon be in need of a new one (according to roughly 27 million households in the U.S. have a water heater that is more than 10 years old). 

Below is a brief break down of the five major types of water heater:

Conventional Storage Water Heater: As its name indicates a conventional storage water heater "stores" hot water. Most residential heaters of this type store between 20 to 80 gallons of water while commercial grade heaters store up to hundreds of gallons. The heater can be fueled by natural gas, propane, fuel oil and electricity. The most common fuel source is natural gas followed by electricity. A natural gas sourced, storage water heater essential works like this - a gas burner heats the tank from below - controlled by a thermostat, the gas valve closes and opens as the water temperature rises and falls around its setpoint. The main issue with this type of heater is standby heat loss meaning energy can be wasted even when the hot water tap isn't in operation. However, this can be reduced by having a heavily insulated tank which will also in turn lowers operating costs. Costs can also be lowered by performing simple upkeep measures such as flushing a quart of water from the tank every three months and checking the temperature and pressure valve every six months. 

Tankless or On Demand Water Heater:   An on demand water heater provides hot water as needed. When a hot water tap is turned on cold water travels through a pipe into the heater where it is warmed by either a gas burner or electric element. This form of water heating is consider more energy efficient as standby heat loss is not an issue, there are lower operating and energy costs, and they have a longer life expectancy of more than 20 years. The trade off, however, is flow rate and cost. With no reserve or tank, an on demand water heater is limited in its flow rate (typical rate is 2-5 gallons per minute). This means that several units may be required for simultaneous, multiple uses of hot water. To resolve this problem you can have two or more tankless water heater, connected for simultaneous demands or you can install separate tankless water heaters for specific appliances or fixtures. This type of unit can also be cost prohibitive depending on how many you would need although their long term performance might make up for this upfront cost.

Heat Pump Water Heater: Heat pump water heaters are geographically specific in that they will only work for locations that remain in the 40-90 degree fahrenheit range year round so probably not St.Louis. Most commonly heat pumps are used to heat and cool homes however they can be used to heat water as either part of a conditioning system or as an independent water heating solution. Heat pumps work by moving heat from one place to another rather than producing heat on demand for a specific function. Essentially, they pull surrounding hot air into the heater to warm the water while expelling cold air into the adjacent space. This is why heat pump water heaters must be installed with at least 1,000 cubic feet of air space around them. Without going into too much more detail, it is useful to know that heat pump water heaters are roughly 2-3 times more energy efficient than a storage water heater, performance is very dependent on location both geographic and where it is installed within a home and the life expectancy of is 10-15 years.

Solar Water Heater: Again another location specific system that usually requires some form of a back up heater. Solar water heaters involve a storage tank or tanks and solar collectors. The storage tank can be a conventional water storage tank, however, a larger much more insulated tank would be more effective. There are three types of solar collectors used in water heating systems: flat-plate collectors, integral collector-storage systems and evacuated tube solar collectors. There are also two types of solar water heating systems: active and passive. Active and passive systems are further broken down which you can read more about here if you are interested. Solar is considered the most expensive in terms of equipment required however its fuel source, the sun, is free.   It is also 50 percent more energy efficient than gas or electric.

Tankless coil and indirect water heaters: Lastly, this form of heating water uses your home's space heating system to warm water. Together, they are part of what is termed an integrated or combined water and space heating system. This combined system is most commonly used in colder climates as it can be inefficient in warmer places where a boiler or furnace is not needed for a large majority of the year. In tankless coil heating systems, water is heated on demand by sending cold water through a heating coil or heat exchanger in a main furnace or boiler. In indirect water heaters (usually a more efficient choice), the furnace or broiler heats a fluid that is passed through a heat exchanger in the water storage tank. When used with a high-efficiency boiler and a well-insulated tank this can be the least expensive form of heating water out of all the types available. 

Ok that was a lot...all my information was taken from the websites where even more facts and tips can be found (including a great infographic). 


water pressure

Emily Oster

In last week's post Water Supply, I explained where your water comes from and how it is gets into your home. This week, I want to talk about what happens to it once it enters your home. Whether your water is from a public or private supply, it must be delivered at a correct quantity, specific flow rate, pressure and temperature in order for it to perform the duties you require of it - washing, bathing, heating etc. The pressure of the water is of particular importance as this is what allows for your water to be carried throughout your home. As Building Construction Illustrated (my current favorite home resource book) states "The service pressure of a water supply system must be great enough to absorb pressure losses due to vertical travel and friction as the water flows through pipes and fittings, and still satisfy the pressure requirement of each plumbing fixture". This appropriate service pressure is generally 40 psi (pound per square inch) in public systems which is the approximate upper limit for most private systems. 

Flowing at the right pressure, the first stop for your water is the  water heater. This is essential as it ensures that adequate water pressure be available to your whole hot water supply system. Its is also where your supply splits - cold and hot. Cold water supply lines run to every toilet, sink, tub, shower and water using appliance in the home while hot water supply lines only run to sinks, tubs, showers and hot water using appliances in the home. These respective pipes are termed risers or rather the set of risers (hot and cold).  

Each destination of your water supply (toilet, sink etc.) should be equipped with a shut off valve. This allows for maintenance to be performed without having to shut off water to the entire home - it should also go without saying that you should access to set valves i.e. don't close them behind a wall.  

As your set of risers branch to reach each fixture in your home, the diameter of the supply line changes to accomodate the specified pressure needs. Standard home fixtures typically require an operating pressure range of 5 psi to 30 psi and thus the pipe is adjusted accordingly. 

A note on repairs - if you are having water pressure issues in just one of your fixtures but not others than you know it is a problem with a specific supply line and the problem is probably easily fixable. If you are having an issue in one section of your home then the problem most likely lies within that specific branch of supply - a bigger issue that will require a professional. And finally if you are having water pressure issues throughout your home it is most likely a problem with your supply pipe from the municipal main. In this case, it could be a greater problem to say your neighborhood or your home in particular. Either way, you will need to call the water department. 

Look for next week's post where I will talk about different types of hot water heaters.

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!