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Misc. Plumbing Q's & A's

Fans | Utility Sink | Garbage Disposal | Septic Tank
Valves | Pipes | Water Softener | Faucets | Well | Other Problems | Pump
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Bathroom Fan

My master bathroom does not have a fan and opening the window only works so well. I want to put in a fan. Where should the vent go?   My other bathroom has the vent going out through the wall (stucco). I can go through the wall or the roof. What is the easiest way of doing this. I do not want to create a leak either way.

The best and easiest way would be to run the vent in the attic to the side of the house and have it discharge down though the eave.   Is that an option?

I am not sure how it would be trapped.. If you point the duct down with a 90 degree bend and vent it through an eave vent it should work fine.

What type of saw should I use to cut a hole in the ceiling to install a bathroom vent fan? Also, can I just vent it into the attic (it is very large) without putting it through the roof?

NOO don't vent it to the attic. All that moisture up there will spell an early doom for you roof. Not to mention rain on your insulation. If you live anywhere, where it will get cold, the moisture will condense in the cold air and rain. Vent it to the side and out an eave vent.

As for cutting the hole, if you have a drywall ceiling, you can cut it with a variety of tools. Sheetrock, (aka drywall, wallboard, gyprock, gypsum board etc,) cuts relatively easy. You can use a saber saw (drill a hole to get it started) or you can even cut it with a utility knife. A sawzall is probably overkill but will work.

One word to through in there, (you probably know) make sure you are mounting it between two joists. Make sure you know where they are, or cut the hole from above.


Bathroom ceiling vent-( fan )stopped working.

What do I do?

Well.. if there is a light with it too.. and that works.. you can rule out the switch, the power etc.
If it is an old fan. It is probably crudded up...
If you can get to it, try cleaning it all up. Spin it by hand.. it should spin real easy and turn for a while after you spin it. If it doesn't spin, if you can, you can oil the bearings... This may give it a little more life. But you may well have to just replace it. If it spins easy, then you will need to look for a reason it is no longer getting electricity.. since if, it can spin, and it used to work fine.. then.. that would be the cause.. is it on a separate breaker.. have you done any other electrical work.. and so on.

Utility Sink

Install utility sink in cold garage?   

I would like to at an utility sink in my garage but with the cold winters it may freeze.   Any suggestions to make a low maintenance sink work without freezing pipes? I will be running these off a heated wall, a washer and dryer are on the other side. My only concern was the drain. I can run that also into the house, but won't that allow cold air to go into the house. If I have one of those water traps outside it would freeze. what would you do?

Keeping as much of that piping inside that wall will help. But you can buy heat tape to wrap around the pipe to keep it from freezing. You plug it in, and it draws very little electricity to keep the pipe from freezing.

If you can run the drain into the house before putting the trap in the line (It doesn't HAVE to go right underneath the sink, but you do need one),it will stay warm and not freeze. The other option would be just a little run of heat tracing tape. Just a little run on the trap.


Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals

Help! My garbage disposal won't run. Is there a reset button? Do I need to take it apart? Any hints or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Where should I start? Can you recommend a good book for me to do-it-myself?

First. Push the reset button on the unit. They are often red.

Second. Turn on power. If all you hear is a hum, or hear the reset button click, you most likely have something jamming the blades.

With the power off, use a broom handle to gentle nudge the blades until they turn. Then use a flashlight and remove the piece of bone, glass or other obstruction...(There is also a slot under the unit where you can turn the blades using an appropriate sized hex key..same results)

Then hit the reset button, turn the unit on, and it should work. If not, check to see if the breaker in the panel box that controls the disposal hasn't also tripped.

If it has, reset this breaker, reset the reset button, and turn it on...

If it does not work after all this, it's probably time for a new disposal.

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Garbage disposal

it humms but it will not do anything the blades move and I can here it but all it will do is make the bottom of it hot then kicks the safety switch?

Either something is stuck in there or a bearing or the brushes in the motor are shot.
On the bottom is a place to put a large hex driver. Find something that fits tightly and turn the blades that way. This is the best way to loosen any jams.

Kitchen aid Garbage Disposal

I just moved into my new home and I can not figure out how to turn my garbage disposal on. The switch that I think is for the garbage disposal is actually for the light above. The power cord coming from the disposal, disappears behind the dish washer and is very difficult to follow. Do you have any suggestions on what I should do?

Some types of disposals have no switch. They are activated by a gizmo you place in the drain to cover the disposer and when you turn it clockwise, the unit turns on.

Septic Tank

Moving a septic tank or pave over it?

My septic tank is setting right where I want to put my driveway. Am I looking at allot of grief if I want to move it? Or should I pave over it and leave a spot to have it pumped out in the middle of my drive?

Well some things to consider is how old is the tank and what sort of driveway you are putting in.

I don't think there is any problem with paving over it, if it is relatively new and likely to last. When you had it pumped last, was there any indication it wouldn't? A cement tanks seems to last forever.. well long enough anyway. So you shouldn't need to break up the driveway to replace it anytime soon.

Yes you DO need to give access to it for pumping it out periodically, as this is a necessity.


Asking for trouble to pave over it if you ask me. First, I don't know what kind of weight an empty tank can bear, but they are not designed with traffic in mind; second, old tanks are known to collapse...

Could just take your driveway and vehicle with it. Simplest thought is to design your drive elsewhere if possible..

Septic Problems

The built house in 1987 in rural area, installed septic system; in 1998 septic tank full - ground above lines black - plumbers advised us to replace lines -told us blackness meant lines collapsed - ground not wet though. Replaced lines - $3,000 (ouch)he used 10 inch wide lines with mesh looking outside cloth, replaced 4 inch lines; about 3 months later sewage again backing up in house; septic guy unavailable (urgh!!!@*); we popped tank top - tank full; another plumber came and we bought some snakes - found blockage of paper/ doo-doo under slab; few weeks later - same scenario - snaked all lines - clear - checked roof vents - clear; ground black again above lines - not wet, though; put t-valve on line between house and tank; the succession of plumbers all told us the ground blackening meant our lines had collapsed again; called guy back who installed - threatened lawsuit - had our lawyer call him and he told the lawyer black ground does not indicate collapsed lines (opposite of what he said when he sold us replacements); he has lawyer convinced problem under house - so, what does blackening mean? who can we believe on line collapse (we just cancelled a second replacement till we get problem resolved in our minds); is there a ''look-see'' type snake we can run through our lines under the slab to find a potential problem spot?; latest guy says we have a small leak in line - and wants to spend time finding it; I'm baffled with expenses!!

Here are some things I believe, but it seems you are getting your share of expert opinion from the folks that have been there.
one.. the septic tank SHOULD be full, so be careful there. The tank fills and solids are broken down in there. The liquid should go out from there through a pipe to a leach field and/or drywell. There the liquids pass into the ground.
I wanted to say that, since you mention that when you pop the top again it is full. Now the lines to your leach field should never have solids in them. They will clog and ruin your leach field.

The line to your house.. since it carries the works.. well, if it leaks, yes the dirt would be black. It could be black due to a leak from a hole or due to a collapse. so both are possible.

If a snake run from your cleanout in the basement runs free to the septic tank... then there isn't a collapsed line. A router service could make sure it is free. If your system is still backing up, then it could be that your leach field has been saturated from solids, and a leak in the lines isn't hurting this.

The only cure for a leach field that is saturated is to put in a new one.. if you need to put it in the same place... then they have to haul out all the bad dirt and put in new gravel.

Septic tanks should be pumped out every couple to 5 years to remove the solids. When they build up enough.. they can carryover to the leach field.

I hope this helps some. Besides the roto router guy,.. a septic system installer may be the best person to come take a look at your situation.


I don't know anything about Alabama codes, but around here you usually run out to a distribution box. It's a small concrete box with multiple knockouts for the perforated pipe(leach field pipe) and there are different configurations you can use. Mine was put in years ago and was made up of 3 different runs about 50 to 75 feet each in a fan pattern. Would have gone farther but ran out of room. Never had a problem, yet. knock knock.
I'd check down line and see what's going on there.

Care & Feeding of a Septic System

We just bought a new house that has a SEPTIC TANK. We are city folk and never had to deal with such a thing. The former owner told us that he was putting some sort of 'additive' in the system once a month. Is this something that should be done? What sort of 'additive' is good?

Additives add about a million extra bacteria to the tank. Only the tank already has several billion of the same things already living and breading. In other words those who sell these things are making a lot of money, but not doing you a favor.
Best thing find the number of your local septic tank pumping guy and post that near the phone. If all the drains start backing up at once you need the tank pumped. Some people recommend having the tank pumped every 3-5 years, others only when you need it. I'm in the latter crowd, but see nothing wrong with preventive maintenance.
BTW get this checked out by an expert NOW! septic tanks are rather expensive to replace, and they do eventually go bad. Your local laws (I think MN state law) may require the tank be replaced if it is less then five years old. In any case, it is best to have an expert check it out now while you can get the previous owners to fix it.

I don't think she was saying there was anything wrong with the system, Henry. She just stated what the previous owner said he did to keep it percolating. Sorry, if you have the stomach for it, you can have someone dig up the cover, remove it and probe the tank. If there appears to be a lot of solids in the bottom, it may not hurt to pump it out.
If all the natural bacteria(from urine, feces, etc)is doing its thing properly, the leach field is working right(drainage) and it's a good sized tank, it should be practically maintenance free for years. Know where the tank is and if someday things don't appear to be working right, call the man with the big smelly truck.


A septic tank breaks down everything digestible by those little bacteria... Some things they can't eat. These are the solids that build up over time.
When the tank's solid levels build up too much they carry UNDER the baffle inside and get carried to the leach field or drywell. There they just start clogging the ground. Eventually the ground will not take the liquid that was processed in the tank. It is for this reason that every so many years you need to have it pumped. Pumping is MUCH cheaper than digging up all the dirt in you leach field and having it replaced.. Or putting a new one in in a new area. The additives do NOTHING. You know what the guy that pumps the tank recommends to get the bacteria started again after a pumping??
Flushing a package or two of yeast down the drain. That's it.



Under-sink valves 

My On/Off valves below kitchen sink are frozen "On". Is there anything to do to free them without breaking the lines? I think our very hard water is doing a job on the valves inside the line. (There is no corrosion apparent on the outside where the knobs connect to the line.)

I will assume you have placed enough force (in the counterclockwise direction) to the valve handwheel and any more may break the line or bend the pipe.

The next thing you can try then, is loosening, just a little, the packing nut, the nut around the valve stem under the handwheel. Then try to turn it again.

If that fails, shut off the water supply, open the taps to relieve the pressure, put a bucket under the valve and unscrew completely the packing nut, that nut around the valve stem. The valve will then be able to be pulled out of the valve body. You can inspect it at this time and perhaps replace it if it is too corroded, or you can clean it up some and try turning the valve. If you get it freed up, reinstall it. It should work again after you have cleaned it up and got it working. (when it is out of the valve body, you can twist on it harder since you don't have to worry about breaking the pipe)

Shut off valve

I cannot find the nearest shut off valve in order to replace the one that leaks. Is there any way to stop the water long enough to put a new valve on?

If you have city water, is your meter in your basement? Even if it isn't, check in the area the pipe comes through the wall. See if there is a shut off in that area. Where my son lives, homeowners are supplied with a T-wrench so they can shut it off at the curb. If you have a well, and there isn't one at least near the tank or pump, shut the pump off, open all the faucets to relieve the pressure, then cut the line near the shutoff you want to replace. I know, that means you may have to buy some pipe. That's OK. because if I were you, I'd run to the hardware store and buy some more shutoffs anyway to isolate as many areas as possible, so I don't run into this problem again.

One good place to check for a shut-off is at the hot water heater many times the main cold shut-off is there plus the hot shut-off will be right after the water comes out of the tank always shut off power to water heater in case the hot water is used but no cold is replaced in the tank in that case you run the risk of further damage to the heater.

Leaky water valve

I'm trying to replace the faucet in my kitchen. The hot water valve shuts off just fine, but when I try to shut off the cold water, the knob leaks water, even sprays. It won't shut off completely. What should I do?

The shutoff valve has a packing nut directly behind the handle. Using a wrench, channelocks, etc. tighten slightly in a clockwise direction until leaking stops. Depending on the age of the valve will determine your success. As for achieving a complete shutdown, sounds to me that the valve may need a new washer. Shut the main valve if you are in a private house, replace the faucet and the valve or call a plumber if you are in an apartment building where you don't have access to a main valve.

More ideas:
You are turning clockwise to shut it off right? (Just checking)...
You are talking about the shut valves underneath the sink right? Well one simple thing.. shut off the houses main water supply until you fix the faucet.

While the whole house is off, you may want to replace the bad cold water shut off valve's seat. Loosen the packing nut.. The one with around the top of the valve.. and take the valve apart. There is a rubber seat screwed into the base...(typical valve anyway).. this may have come loose.. or corroded off... replace that part... for next time...

Leak under lavatory

We noticed at the bottom of the cabinet of the lavatory is a water spot. We put a pan under the area where we thought the water was coming from. We looked in the pan and sure enough, there were droplets of water. We touched the shut-off valves (hot water and cold water) and it is not wet. We turn on the water and can't see anything dripping. Could this possibly be a leak from the faucets above or could it be condensation? Also, this faucet and lavatory counter is brand new. Please help us anybody!

Well, you can't fix it if you can't find it. Close the drain and fill the sink until water is flowing out of the overflow. Then let it all out and check for where the leak could be. If that doesn't prove to show any leak at all.... Fill the sink full with water...but plug the drain so it stays full and see if you get a leak...if this too proves nothing...My next bet would be condensation.



Problem is in our half bathroom off the kitchen. When water is let down the kitchen sink, gurgling sounds come up the drain in the sink in the bathroom. Now the toilet bowl water is vanishing and I checked for leaks.. I found none.
Next thought what about the vent pipes that go up through roof. Could they cause this problem and need to be cleaned out? If so, are they cleaned out by a special water pressure machine or a garden hose as a friend tells me? Also, is there a screen or cover of sort to put on these vents as we have lots of trees and small animals in area?

If this is a new problem to an older house that hasn't had recent plumbing work.. then I would guess too, that it is the vent. The vent pipe could easily be cleaned from on the roof. Someone has to get up there.. and with a snake.. and sure.. a garden hose... make sure it is clear. Usually they don't plug, except in some places in the VERY cold winter, but a screen can certainly be placed over top.

Water Softener

Installing a water softener?

We just bought a new house with hard water and need to get a water softener. Has anyone ever installed one themselves? And are they a do it yourself project or should we get a plumber? We are low on cash and would like to save the installation costs but don't want to get in over our heads, it would be installed in the garage, by the hot water tank.

Yes it can be a DIY project. A couple of things to be aware of.

You do need to know how to work with copper pipes. Its not hard.
You will need electric close by.
You will need a drain close by for the flushing of the softener. When a softener cycles, it flushes the accumulated minerals away. That water needs to go somewhere.
Check to see just what is involved in the install. I only ended up saving less than $100 doing it myself.


Softened water will NOT hurt plants. This comes from an expert landscaper. Softened water has minute traces of salt, but not enough to taste or harm anything. Its just a waste of softened water. We drink softened water all the time - no problems. It will taste different from the mineral-flavored water you are used to drinking.

Water softener

I have been looking at a GE water softener to install in my parents home. I am wondering if anyone has some experience/advise for me. I am obviously not a plumber but I would like to think I am fairly handy. As I understand these systems, they are installed in-line where the water enters the building. Is this in fact true? Also, it seems the brine solution needs to be drained from time to time. Since this would be installed in the basement where there are no drains, laundry sinks, etc, do I need to consider installing some type of drain to handle the discharge of the brine solution. The GE components cost $500-600 at Home Depot and Culligan wants $1600 for the components and installation. Am I drastically under estimating this project?

Just a bit of advice to you if you have not bought the unit doesn't make this-it is sourced from ECODYNE which makes it to their may want to look at ECO, SEARS & NORTHSTAR, which are also coming out of the same factory!

It's easier and cheaper to run the extra copper than add a drain. Locate the softener close to the drains. I'm sure the are some in the basement. The softener doesn't have to be located where the water supply enters the house.

I'm sure there are other companies around. Get an estimate or two from them. I ended up saving about $150 doing it myself. But that wasn't compared to Culligan and I got the softener on sale, with the installation kit thrown in.


Kitchen faucet (wall-mount to deck mount conversion)

I am remodeling the kitchen and I have a wall-mounted faucet. I want to install a deck-mounted faucet. Is there a standard measurement between hot and cold water pipes? I know I'm going to have to get my hands in to the plumbing to bring the water pipes out from under the countertop. I need to know the distance between the hot and cold water pipes before I go out and get a new expensive deck mount faucet.

On average most are eight inchO/S (on center).

Kitchen faucet

Since yesterday there is very little or no water coming out of my kitchen faucet. The same thing happens when I open either the hot or the cold water. There is no problem with the water supply in the bathroom however. I live in the upstairs apt. of a four apt. building. Could you tell me what the problem may be?

They could have a burst pipe just below your kitchen feed pipe. When something like this happens especially in an apartment that you do not own, it is best to inform the owners immediately.


Well Pressure Tank

I just purchased a home and it has a well. The pressure tank in the basement makes a clicking noise repeatedly while water is running. What is the problem and how do I fix it?

How frequently does it click? The click is most likely the pressure switch to turn the pump on and off. If the clicking is too frequent, it means the pressure tank has lost its air charge. It allows the pump to not cycle so much. It could be just a loss of the air charge (unlikely) or a bladder that has leaked by allowing it to become solid...

Other Problems

Discolored water in whirlpool tub

My home is 1 yr. old. We have a whirlpool tub in the master bath. We seldom use it, maybe 6-x total in one yr. The water is always a brownish color, the rest of the taps in the house have clean water. Is this discoloration because we seldom use the tub? Or should one of the supply pipes be cleaned?

I would guess if the water in the rest of the house is clear, it IS because you don't use it much. Try running it for a little while, more often, and see if it clears up. Also, check the date on your post. Compatibility problem?

Water smells bad

On the property where I work, there's a house that wasn't used for a while but the water wasn't shut off. Now when you turn on a faucet the water smells bad, kind of a rotten eggs smell. What is this, and how do you get rid of it?

It's sulphur. Sounds like a good dose, too. Some wells have it from the time they are drilled, others it happens to years later or not at all. It's a natural mineral that a vein of water will break into and in turn will break into a well. My well is over 35 years old. About 20 years ago, I got a little dose for a couple months, then it stopped. Just recently, I've noticed it again just slightly, and only when the hot water has run for a while. Heat seems to bring out the best in sulfur. There are water treatment companies that can take care of it, but it can be quite costly.


Rebuild Grundfos Pump

I have a small Grundfos recirculating pump and it is starting to make noises while in operation. Model UP-15-18SF 1/12 hp. I checked and a new pump is around $150. Can these units be rebuilt? And where!

I've installed many of these circulators and to my knowledge, (17 years in heating business)there is no repair to this particular model. A plumbing supply company should have this one or a good replacement for under $100. Also, look at Taco model 007 or Bell & Gossett SLC-30. Both are good replacements and are same size.

Go to a plumbing supply house. They should be able to get you the parts you need.. at a WHOLE lot less than a new pump.

Click here for our How To Clear Clogged Drains Article
Click here for our Simple Toilet Repairs Article
Click here for our Plumbing Tips Article
Click here for our Custom Built Spa Article
Click here for our Ventilation and Vapor Barriers Article

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