General Plumbing Q and A #1 General Plumbing Q and A #1

Q. What causes a washing machine to overflow, but only moderately and not consistently, and how do you fix it?

A. It may be a defect in water inlet valve or water level switch. Water inlet valves can be replaced. Water level switches can also be replaced. Sometimes the water inlet tube that detects amount of water in the tub gets clogged. Unclogging the tube and/or replacing the switch may resolve problem.

Q. The water pressure has seriously decreased, and when the water is turned on, lots of sediments come out of all faucets in the house. I called the water department, and they sent out the inspector. His observation is that the "filter" inside my water softener is probably clogged. He recommends bypassing the softener, removing the filter and replacing it. I'm not too familiar with the water softener system. How can I do this?

A. By "filter," he probably meant the media (little plastic beads) in the smaller tank (not the brine tank where the salt goes). You can get replacement media at water softener companies. Bypass the system, disconnect the tank, dump and flush out the old media, and pour in the new. A softener control head also has little screened ports that can get clogged up. Check those, too. (Unplug or turn off power first.) The float valve in the brine tank (inside plastic pipe) also can get clogged up with salt residue. If that appears to be a problem, disconnect it, and soak the salt clog out (around the bottom float ball) in a tub of water. You're also probably going to have to clean all of your sink faucet aerators.

Q. I'm reinstalling a Kohler tub spout that slips onto the copper pipe and has a hex screw to tighten. When I removed it I scored the pipe, making a pretty deep groove by twisting the faucet trying to get it off. Also, when it came off, the white washer and black o-ring came off. Have I broken it? Water leaks at the wall.

A. The setscrew holds the spout on the pipe and the o-ring seals the water. If you can't get it to stop leaking, you may have to just replace the spout. A groove in the pipe may also hinder sealing the spout. If the groove has sharp or raised edges you may have to lightly sand them to keep from cutting the "O-ring" or keeping it from sealing. You may also need to fill in the groove to stop the leak if it is too deep.

Q. My young daughter poured melted wax (potpourri) down my kitchen sink and it is now clogged. Can someone please tell me how I go about clearing it out of my pipes? I tried snaking it and using Draino to no avail.

A. Put a bucket or pans under the trap and disconnect it to see if that's where it is clogged. Hopefully, the trap will be where most of it solidified. Be careful using a caustic drain cleaner. Those are for total clogs, and will generally run right past a partial clog and do no good. About the only way that you can flush wax out of a drain line would be with a big pot of boiling water and then running the hot water only until the line runs clear. You may have to do the boiling water pot more than once.

Q. My faucet (garden hose) outside leaks only when I turn it on. It seems to come out behind the on/off valve and drains back along the pipe and into my wall (brick). My house is still under warranty, but it is only for things inside my house, and then there is a $50 fee for each trip they come out. Does this sound like an easy fix that I am better off doing myself?

A. It sounds like you have "frost free faucets." The washer that seals the faucet shut when turned off is inside your house. If you are in a cold winter area, and the faucets are not plumbed at an angle downward towards the outside, or if you left a hose connected all winter, it is likely it froze and broke inside the wall. It is an inexpensive fix (less than $50.00, and closer to $10.00). You will have to turn off the water supply to the faucet. Unscrew it from the supply line, and buy another one the same length (they come in different lengths). Put PTFE tape in a clockwise direction as you are looking at the threads and screw it in.

It's too late to just fix a washer. The pipe that supplies the faucet is split. Try looking at the cold water supply lines under your bathroom sink. The outside faucet may tee directly into it. If you see a line going through the wall on the backside of the water supply, that's probably it. If not, shut off the water supply at the water meter (there should be a valve there) and then go outside with a pipe wrench or large channel locks and turn the faucet counterclockwise to unscrew it. Pull it out of the wall and take it with you to your plumbing supply store or hardware store and get the same length faucet. Wrap PTFE tape around the threads in a clockwise direction (as you are looking at the threads) and push it through the wall and screw it in (clockwise direction) until it is tight and spout is looking downward. Turn the water supply back on and you should be fine.

Q. I have a combo tub/shower in my upstairs bath. When I use the shower, I hear a whistling noise from the showerhead. Is this air in the line and if so how do I stop it?

A. First of all, remove the showerhead and turn it on and see if the whistle is still there. If so, it is probably sediment in the shower diverter valve. If removing the head stops it, then soak the head in CLR or other lime and rust remover.

Q. I am in the initial stages of buying an old home in the Catskills (NY). The home was supposedly built in 1830. The home has been empty for the past 1-2 years. I had the home inspection two days ago, and the water report came back today with evidence of e. choli and chlorophorm. The previous owner is 97 and mentally "out of it," so there is no way of finding out it this problem is recent or chronic. He bought the house in the 1930s. What's the chance that this could permanently be taken care of? Is it a better idea to just gracefully back out of the deal before it's too late?

A. You should be able to "permanently" take care of bacteria contamination by "shocking" the system with bleach, unless it is from too near a septic system (within 100 feet of any part of it). A home that old may have that problem, or it may just be from setting up (most likely). Open the top of the wellhead and pour in 2-3 gallons of household bleach. Hook it back up, and then run the water in the house until you have bleach water flowing out of all hot and cold spigots. Let it sit at least overnight, and then run the water until it flushes out the bleach odor. That will kill any and all bacteria in the pipes, water heater, fixtures, etc. Make sure that the refrigerator ice and water maker if it has one is flushed out, too. Never let any measly bacteria stop you from getting a place that you like.

Q. The water pressure to my house was so greatly reduced coming up the hill, the original owner installed a pressure pump and tank. It works well to boost the pressure; however, since I moved in, the water has had a strong sulfur smell. The system was shock-chlorinated and that took care of the sulfur smell for now. Now, however, I have a strong chemical or metallic taste and smell coming from the pump or tank. I can bypass the pump and tank, and the water tastes and smells OK coming directly from the city (but has less than 20 psi). What has happened in my pump or tank to cause this chemical/metallic taste and smell? Did the chlorine damage the bladder, pump, or pipes? Do pumps, bladder tanks, and associated plumbing ever impart a strange taste due to the materials used? Should I replace anything?

A. You possibly have IRB (iron reducing bacteria). If there is a slimy buildup on the walls of the toilet tank under the water line, you do. The bladder in the pressure tank (if any) may be broken, allowing stagnant water above the bladder. You can check that by draining the tank and seeing if it is top heavy. If not, flush the tank and see if you get black, rusty, red-brown water with any oily film on it out of it. If so, that's IRB and/or sulfate reducing bacteria. Call in a water treatment dealer to make sure, and propose equipment to fix the problem.

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