This week, Artie McGowan, master plumber and owner of Colony Plumbing in Mobile, Ala., joins me to provide solutions to some of the most common plumbing problems, like low water pressure and clogged drains.
He’s a long-time friend of mine who’s also done hundreds of jobs for my construction company.
Low Water Pressure
If a homeowner is experiencing low water pressure, what would be the likely cause?
Artie: Well sometimes, it might just be that ol’ cousin Earl parked his truck over your water meter and squished the line. But more often than not it’s something else.
First, take a look at where the problem is. In the kitchen bathroom sink or lavatory, sometimes debris comes up through the water and gets into the faucet aerator to slow it down or almost clog it.
Some houses are a bit more complicated and have a water pressure-reducing valve that comes right off the meter. When it does, it goes bad over the years. It’s best to let a professional repair this because most of the time it has to be replaced.
If you need to replace a 3/4-inch supply line, is there any advantage to stepping that up to a 1-inch line?
Artie: The best thing to do is to increase it. This will give you a little bit more velocity at the faucet.
When the water’s running through, let’s say if you run it through a small half-inch line, once the fixture starts delivering that water, the pressure drops really quickly.
The larger pipe you have, the more volume of water you have. It’s less likely to drop in pressure, especially if it’s a long run to the house.
What would you say is the right PSI going to a house?
Artie: The optimal water pressure I prefer is 75 PSI on a three-quarter line. Most city water is about that PSI, some of it is in the 60s and 50s, depending on how new the system is.
On wells, most of the time it’s about 45 PSI, but you can increase it. A well has a pressure holding tank, so you can have a little bit lower pressure at the pump, but that tank will keep it up.
We get a lot of questions about how to fix a slow-draining sink or tub. What is the common cause?
Artie: If you run the water and it backs up immediately, the clog is between the top of the sink and the bottom of the trap. It’s more likely hair catching on a trip lever that operates the pop-up valve. Easily fix this by removing the pop-up valve and pulling the hair out with needle-nose pliers.
But, if you run the water and it takes about 30 seconds for it to fill up, the problem is down the line in the drain. It could be five, six, or 10 feet away from where you are. If that’s the case, you use a liquid drain cleaner with high sulfuric acid content. You can easily find this type because it’s packaged double — in a bottle and also in a bag.
Follow the directions, and wear the proper safety equipment, like glasses and gloves. You should let it sit in the drain for about 30 minutes.
If it doesn’t work, then call a professional to route it out with an auger.
Another common question we receive is that their toilet seems to be constantly running. What’s the cause/solution for that?
Artie: This means there’s a problem with the flush valve, the apparatus that holds the flapper.
Most times, you need to replace the flapper, but sometimes it could be a crack in the flush valve and water is finding its way into the bowl.
You can do the food coloring test to check for leaks. Then, you know the problem is in the flush valve and flapper area.
The good thing about plumbing today is that it’s become so user-friendly because of products like Fluidmaster’s. I use their flappers, fill valves and flush valves often because I’ve had so much success with them.
This week, we’re featuring some of the best segments that have aired over the past year on the Today’s Homeowner Radio Show. Listen to hear some of our favorite segments, as well as these Simple Solutions.
How to Condition Leather: Leather shoes, boots and furniture take a beating from moisture so it’s important to treat them with mink oil or leather conditioning cream.
The problem is that these substances are very thick and difficult to absorb into the leather.
The solution is to heat the leather with a blow dryer before rubbing in the conditioner.
The oil/cream liquefies as soon it hits the heated surface, which helps drive it deep into the leather grain.
This week, a poured concrete patio turns a decaying patio into an outdoor living space this homeowner can truly love.
Gretchen Bayley lives alone in her mid-century home, but the house is always full of friends and family. We’re transforming her old, crumbling patio into an outdoor living space to give her more room to entertain.
Prepare for Poured Concrete Patio
A large, poured concrete patio is a project best left to the professionals, but prepping the area and creating the forms can be done yourself.
First, frame the area 12-by-23-foot area with 2-by-4s. Place the boards level with the existing carport concrete slab, then slope slightly downward so water will flow away from the carport.
Use a framing square to ensure each corner is at a 90-degree angle. To keep the form boards in place, screw them to evenly spaced wooden 2-by-4 stakes.
Once the final form board is installed, check the depth across the space to ensure there’s enough depth to use the old patio as a foundation and pour the new slab directly over it.
(Because the pavers are below the top edge of the carport concrete slab, we don’t need to dig them up.)
Finally, lay the reinforcement wire.
Once the forms are complete, a professional concrete finisher pours the slab. As the forms fill up, we tap the outside of them to release the air bubbles trapped in the concrete.
The concrete finisher uses special tools to smooth the top of the slab and create expansion joint lines to prevent cracking.
Once the concrete has cured for a bit, we drag a broom over it to create a textured finish.
Add Picket Fence Panels
Gretchen’s improvised roll fencing serves its purpose of containing her dogs in the backyard, but it’s not pretty. So, we’re adding some prettier (and sturdier) white picket fence panels.
Instead of using a zip tie to keep the fence closed, we’re adding a gate at the corner of the carport to offer easier access to the new patio. To secure the post for the gate, we place it in a post anchor that can be drilled into the concrete.
Create Entertainment Area
Two large, empty shelves are wasting space in Gretchen’s carport. So, we remove the top one to make room for an outdoor TV and use the bottom one for bar seating.
To create even more separation between the carport and the new outdoor entertainment area, Chelsea hangs drop-cloth curtains.
The curtains not only add some extra texture to the space but they also can be closed to hide Gretchen’s car when she’s entertaining.
Even though it was a good size, Gretchen’s patio was decades past its prime. The crumbling pavers were more than unattractive — they were downright dangerous.
The roll fencing added along the edge to contain the dogs wasn’t helping the look of the space either. There was nothing about this outdoor living space that invited you to enjoy the spacious backyard.
But now, the new poured concrete patio that replaced the old patio is both stable and attractive. Its clean edges clearly define the space, while it flows almost seamlessly into the existing covered area.
The new fence suits the yard perfectly and its new location creates the ideal boundary between the carport and the covered patio area.
Chelsea’s curtains help reinforce that line while they soften the edges and add refinement. What was an overbuilt shelf has become a modest bar top and the refurbished patio furniture creates plenty of comfortable seating to enjoy the expansive backyard.
Other Tips From This Episode
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Pouring a concrete slab can be a challenging job. Poor planning and lazy execution will result in a structurally deficient slab that also looks bad.
For a slab that will last for decades, avoid these five common mistakes many make when pouring a concrete slab.
1. Not Sloping the Forms
When you’re planning a concrete slab, it’s important to consider drainage. If it’s exposed to the elements, the slab should have enough slope so water can drain off of it.
For example, in the video above, we want the new concrete patio to be flush with an existing slab, so we slope the forms in the opposite direction by about one or two percent.
2. Pouring the Slab Too Thin
It’s also important that a slab be thick enough to be durable.
The thickness depends on what you’ll be using the slab for. Concrete driveways and patios need to be at least 4 inches thick, whereas concrete countertops only need to be one and a half inches thick.
In the video above, we want this patio to be at least 3-1/2 inches thick because we’re pouring the concrete over old pavers. So, we use a 2-by-4 gauge block to ensure we have that clearance.
3. Forgetting Reinforcement
Concrete slabs are high in compressive strength, which makes them great at resisting compression forces and impact. But when it comes to tensile strength, or the capacity to resist pulling-apart forces, concrete doesn’t fare as well, according to ConcreteNetwork.com.
This is where steel reinforcement wire can help. Steel reinforcement provides additional structural support for concrete slabs. This is especially important if it will be exposed to heavy traffic.
4. Leaving Trapped Air Bubbles
It’s not uncommon for air bubbles to develop inside the slab as the concrete is poured. So, it’s a good idea to tap the exterior of the forms to help release them and improve the slab’s strength.
5. Not Adding Expansion Joints
As the concrete cures, it will shrink some and may crack. To accommodate for this shrinkage, use a concrete groover to add some expansion joints as the slab cures. This way, if the slab expands, it’s more likely to do it inside these shallow grooves, where it mars the finished surface of the slab.