Dear Maintenance Men

Refrigerators, Toilets, Christmas Notes

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Dear Maintenance Men:

Our studio units have under-counter refrigerators. One of the fridges does not cool and I believe it has a Freon leak. Can this fridge be repaired? Is it worth repairing? Will it leak again?

Lou

Dear Lou:

Yes the fridge can be repaired, however, you may want to con sider the 50/50 rule. If the repairs reach fifty percent of the replacement cost, it is best to replace the item. If the appliance is a name brand, most likely the replacement parts are available. Common issues related to non-cooling are com pressor failure, refrig eration line breakage or crack due to vibration, and thermostator capacitor problems. The compressor is the most expensive to repair or replace and will most likely go over the 50/50 rule. A leak in the refrigeration line is the hardest to repair properly and has the most likelihood of repeat failure. The thermostat and capacitors are typically easy fixes.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My resident called and stated the toilet is not flushing properly. I have replaced the flush valve and the flapper valve. The toilet is still slow to flush. What have I overlooked?

Phillip

Dear Phillip:

You might have any number of issues at play. First, make sure the flapper valve is letting enough water through. If it flops down too soon, be sure the toilet flush handle is not loose, or that the chain or line connecting to the rubber flapper is tight enough. The chain connecting to the flapper should have about an inch of play. You want the flapper to open wide enough to float a few moments before it falls back down and closes off the flush valve. If the flapper is working properly, check that the holes under the rim are not clogged.

If you live in an area with very hard water, calcium may build up in the drain holes under the bowl rim. A partially clogged rim might not allow enough water through the rim to start the vortex motion and slow the evacuation process. Use a stiff toilet bush and a vinegar solution to help remove the calcium buildup under the rim.

Lastly, is there an item lodged in the toilet trap? The items we find most often are small toys, rags, etc. Use a toilet auger to push your way through the trap and clear or pull back any obstructions. A toilet auger is a special tool that has an offset hand crank, a long sleeve handle and a special auger bit at the end to break through a clog or retrieve an obstruction. The auger bit is connected via a flexible shaft to a crank handle that you control. Its reach is about three feet. The auger can be found at any hardware store.

Dear Apartment Owners, Manager and Maintenance:

Remember, the holiday season has started and the demand on your properties only gets worse. Check each stove and oven for proper operation. Many residents only turn on their ovens at this time of year, and the problem may be as simple as a blown out pilot light. This time of year sees a higher than normal use of the plumbing. It may be a good idea to snake out or hydro-jet your main plumbing lines.

In addition, sending a note to each tenant on the proper use of the garbage disposal will be useful. Note what items they should and should not put down the disposal unit. A few items to include on this list are: banana peels, potato skins, coffee grounds and any stringy food. Also make sure they turn on the water before using the disposer and put down small amounts of food at a time. Instruct your residents to not use the disposal as a trash can and then turn it on when full—it will clog.

Christmas and other holidays also mean more people than usual walking on your property.
Is your property safe? What are some of the liabilities to worry about? Check trip and fall hazards. Do you have sprinkler heads sticking up above the grass or landscape near sidewalks? Use pop-up heads to solve this problem. Look for sidewalks that have been pushed up by tree roots. This can be solved with a concrete grinder or replacement of the section and removal of the tree root. Cut any low hanging tree branches and look for branches that may break in heavy winter rain, wind or snow.

Check your decking for cracks or damage and inspect the exterior stairways for wear and tear. Inspect all your garage door springs as winter wind and rain may make them heavy causing the door to close or fall unexpectedly. Check all property lighting and timers. Remember: Preventive Maintenance is cheaper than Emergency Maintenance!




Maintenance Tip:
If you had a leak or water intrusion last rainy season and did not fix it, it will most likely leak again this season! Just because it stopped raining does not mean the leak went away!

______________________________________________

Note: If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Winterize, Mildew & Grab Bars

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I hear people talking about winterizing their buildings. I grew up on the east coast where that meant something! In Southern California, what “Winterizing” could we possibly be doing?

Jonathon


Dear Jonathon:

In California and many western states, “Winterizing” simply means we switch from light shorts and white T-shirts to dark shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt! When it comes to your building, “Winterizing” California style is simple, and many of these suggestions below will work in both warm and cold winters. Start from the top and go down. Inspect your roof; replace any loose tiles, shingles etc. Caulk all flashings around fireplaces, vent pipes, siding to roof transitions and skylights. Remove any junk on the roof, clean your gutters, and secure any loose gutters. Test your gutters with water to make sure they are pitched correctly and check your gutter downspouts; make sure they direct the water away from the building. If you have any floor drains, clean out and snake them. Caulk any wood seams, window trim, stucco cracks, vents and any area that might get soaked with water during a rainstorm or melt. Check your sprinkler timers and adjust the duration and days watered. Depending on water restrictions in your area, to keep your grass green all winter, fertilize and seed with Rye grass. During windy, rainy weather, trees may touch both the side and roof of your building, so trim any branches that may cause damage. Secure any weak or young trees or bushes that may fall in a storm. These simple winterizing steps will help keep you dry and off of the roof during winter weather.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am running into an issue at my rental property. The bathrooms are constantly developing mildew. I have replaced the vent fans with bigger units and the problem does not go away. How can I solve this problem?

Bill

Dear Bill:

A number of things may be at work here. Unit overcrowding is generally the main reason for moisture and mildew build-up in an apartment unit. Because of the overcrowding, the residents take more showers and baths throughout the day and evening. Often to hide the excess people in the unit, the resident will keep all the window covers closed and the windows shut, effectively keeping the moisture from escaping. Add a windowless bathroom into the mix and the problem is compounded.

Mechanically, we suggest you inspect the vent fans in the bathrooms. Make sure they are not clogged with lint or dust. If the fan is operating properly, check the CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute of air movement. The minimum number should be 50 CFM. If the bathroom is getting more than the average amount of use, you may want to replace the existing fan with one that has a higher CFM rating. We recommend using at least a 120-CFM fan. Even more important, many bathrooms have two wall switches; one for the light and the other for the fan. If this is the case, we recommend combining the two switches into one. That way when the resident switches on the light the fan will come on automatically. We find most residents will not turn on the fan if it has its own switch. Lastly, of course, is to get the resident to open a few windows and let some fresh air in.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am installing safety grab bars in all of my showers and bathtubs and I need some guidance on the installation procedure. What do I need to know to install these bars correctly?

David


Dear David:

The use of handrails and safety bars helps provide stability and extra support required by the elderly and people with limited mobility. Approved ADA grab bars are available in a wide variety of configurations, colors and finishes. The most common is the stainless steel or chrome finish. The grab bars must be able to support a dead weight pull of 250 pounds. The preferred method is to bolt directly into the wall studs. This is not always practical, as the stud might not line up where they are needed. Grab bars can be mounted vertically or at an angle to match wall stud spacing. Horizontal installation can be difficult because stud spacing and bar sizes do not always match. If finding studs becomes a problem, alternate installation methods are available. If your walls are in good condition, you may use large toggle bolts or if you have access to the backside of the shower or bath walls, insert a backer plate or add a new stud for an anchor point. Safety grab bars can be located at any local hardware store. It is advisable that you check ADA requirements with local, state and federal agencies for regulations governing height, distance and angle of the bars.

______________________________________________
Note: If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to: Buffalo This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Feel free to contact Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956- 8371, for maintenance work or consultation; or JLE Property Management, Inc., at 714-778-0480 for management service or consultation. Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988. Frankie Alvarez is the Operations Director of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., and can be reached at 714-956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Websites: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com and www.ContactJLE.com and www.Facebook.com/BuffaloMaintenance.

Preventative Maintenance, Hookups, Sprinklers

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Dear Maintenance Men:
“Preventive Maintenance” is a term I hear a lot and don’t really understand. I do my own maintenance and fix issues as they come up and any “extra” maintenance just sounds like more work and expense! What am I missing?
Bryan

Dear Bryan:

On the surface “preventive maintenance” may sound like unnecessary work done in an already busy schedule. However, that could not be further from the truth. Both on a large or small scale, preventive maintenance or “PM” for short is a huge money saver not only in parts but also in time and labor. An unplanned breakdown is never convenient. The chances are high of a breakdown happening on a Friday or weekend evening after hours. This is the time when the building is under the most pressure as everyone is home. Planning for a breakdown is the first step in avoiding an unplanned breakdown.

Look at your apartment building with a critical eye and list everything that might go wrong at some point in time. This list would include: water heaters, hot and cold water supply lines, faucets, drains, garage door springs, heating and air conditioning, etc. At a minimum you should have repair parts for all the items on your list on hand along with the tools to do the work. If you want to get ahead of a potential breakdown, figure out the estimated lifetime of each item and schedule either a service date for the item or replacement of the item before a potential breakdown. As an example: A 100-gallon water heater without maintenance may last between six and eight years. The same water heater with yearly maintenance of cleaning out the calcium buildup in the tank, inspection of the Zinc rod and burner assembly might last as long as ten to 14 years. Another less extreme example might be cleaning out the main drain lines once a year before the big holiday season. It is much cheaper to have a plumber service your building on a Tuesday morning than on Thursday, Thanksgiving night.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My apartment building has washer and dryer hookups in each unit. One of my residents has installed a new fancy front-loading washing machine and now the pipes are banging. This did not happen with the regular top loading machines. Not only is the noise annoying, but also I am worried this might cause a water line break. The residents love their new machine and I don’t want to tear into the walls, so what can I do to remedy the pipe banging issue?

Victor

Dear Victor:

The reason for the pipe hammering is because of a rapid opening and closing of a water valve. Most washing machines and dishwashers use a fast acting solenoid to control the water valve. The water starts and stops very suddenly causing the pipes to move. The new popular front loading washing machines also use a solenoid to control its water valves, but they open and close many times during the cleaning cycle, so the hammering is more noticeable and damaging. The simplest and least expensive remedy is to install what is called a “Mini-Rester” laundry hammer arrester. The “Mini Rester” is in stalled either at the wash ing machine’s hot and cold valves, or directly to the back of the machine’s inlet nipples. The job can be done in the time it takes to unscrew the hose from the hose bib or machine, and reinstall the hose back onto the machine or hose bib with the Mini Rester in between. These hammer arresters can be found at any hardware store and should be about $20 each. You will need one for the hot water side and one for the cold water side. The “Mini Rester” is designed as a single fixture remedy. If the problem continues, a larger water hammer arrester will need to be installed.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am planning to install a new sprinkler system in the lawn area of my apartment building. How do I estimate the number of heads and how far apart do they need to be?

John

Dear John:
First, get an accurate measurement of the area you want to install the sprinkler system. Transfer the measurements to graph paper. Decide on a scale such as one square of the graph paper equals one foot or maybe if you have a large area, one square equals five or ten feet. Draw the dimensions of the area you are planning to irrigate. Next decide what type of sprinkler head you will be using such as impact sprinkler (Rainbird type), brass heads or pop up, or rotary heads such as Toro offers. The manufacturer will list the water spray radius. If you want the diameter the head will cover, multiply by two. But knowing the radius should be enough for this purpose. The spray coverage should overlap each head between 80 and 100 percent. What this means is: if the sprinkler head has a spray radius of 10 feet, each sprinkler head should be spaced 10 feet apart. That is called head-to-head spacing. If you deviate greater than 80 per cent, you may get dry spots at the times you need the water the most; such as during summer heat and windy conditions. Stated another way, sprinkler “A” should wet sprinkler “B” and so on.

On the graph paper grid the circles should intersect and touch each sprinkler head. Don’t forget the more sprinkler heads you have, the more you will need to pay attention to both gallons per minute (GPM) and water pressure supplying your sprinkler system. The sprinkler manufacturer should have a chart showing how many sprinkler heads can be controlled by one valve depending the GPM at a certain water pressure. Recom mended reading: http://www.irrigationtutorials.com

______________________________________________
Note: If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to: Buffalo This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Feel free to contact Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956- 8371, for maintenance work or consultation; or JLE Property Management, Inc., at 714-778-0480 for management service or consultation. Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988. Frankie Alvarez is the Operations Director of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., and can be reached at 714-956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Websites: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com and www.ContactJLE.com and www.Facebook.com/BuffaloMaintenance.

Counter Tops, Copper Pipes, and Detectors

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Dear Maintenance Men:
The kitchen counter tops in my rental units are old and tired looking. I want to upgrade but I am confused about which counter top material will be best. Can you go over the pros and cons of some of the more popular counter top surfaces available?
John

Dear John,

We are lucky today to have so many choices of countertop materials available. The four most popular materials are plastic laminate, granite, engineered stone and ceramic tile. Plastic laminate, or better known as Formica Brand, is still the most popular choice for apartment counter tops. This is because the choice in colors is almost unlimited and the ease of installation keeps the costs down. With proper care, plastic laminate will last for years; however, it can be easily scratched by knives or scorched by hot pots. Laminate counter tops can be easily installed by the average handy man, DIY person or contractor. Granite counter tops in the apartment industry are very popular and with good reason. The cost of granite has come down to reasonable levels and the upgraded look of a granite countertop is substantial. They are very tough and are resistant to staining, scratching and scorching. Granite counter tops will need to be professionally installed and sealed periodically.

Engineered stone countertops are almost as popular as granite, and are slightly more expensive than granite. Popular brands are DuPont and Silestone. Engineered stone countertops are composed of quartz particles and resins and the surface is smooth, non-porous and scratch resistant. They require less maintenance than granite. Engineered stone countertops are not DIY friendly and will need professionally trained installers.

Ceramic tile countertops have been around almost as long as plastic laminate. They can be installed by the average handyman, DIY person or contractor. They are heat and stain resistant. Ceramic tiles do need to have periodic maintenance to keep the grout lines clean and sanitary. From a management and maintenance perspective, we are finding granite countertops to be the top choice. The price difference between laminate and granite is close enough to warrant upgrading to granite. If you intend to hold onto your investment for a long time, granite will more than pay for itself.

Dear Maintenance Men:
My plumber just informed me that my ten-unit building has “Type M” copper piping. He says Type M has thinner walls than the more robust “Type L” copper pipe. Could this be the reason I am having more water line pinhole leaks?
Dave

Dear Dave:
A number of things can cause copper water line pinhole leaks. Having the thin ner Type M copper pipes may result in your property having pinhole leaks sooner than with the thicker Type L pipe. However, thin Type M pipe is often only a contributing factor when it comes to pinhole leaks. Typically, water chemistry, incoming water pressure, recirculation pumps and poor construction methods are part of the contributing factors in pipe leaks. Check with your city or water distributor in your area to get information on the water chemistry and hardness. Adding a water softener to the incoming water supply will help protect both the pipes and water heater. Reducing the water pressure with a pressure regulator will reduce stress on the pipes. If you have a recirculation pump for the water heater, it will help to install a timer to control the amount of time the pump is active. Moving water produces a lot of friction in the pipes. Set the timer to operate the pump only during high demand hours. Doing these easy fixes may add life to your existing pipes. If poor construction methods are involved, repiping may be your only solution in addition to the above solutions.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I install a new battery powered smoke and CO detector into each unit before a new tenant moves in. The tenants moving into the apartment unit must sign a smoke detector agreement along with the rental agreement. The smoke detector agreement requires the tenant to check the detector for operation and replace the battery once a year. Should I be doing anything else or am I covered?
Bill

Dear Bill:
We are not lawyers and cannot answer as to your possible liability in the matter of smoke and CO detectors. How ever, our guess is the brand new battery you installed at the beginning of your resident’s occupancy is currently operating a remote control toy. Our thoughts on smoke detectors are simple: They are cheap, install more than one and check them yourself regularly. From the property management view, most insurance companies require that you keep a smoke detector log on each unit and that they are checked every six months or at least once a year. The log does not need to be elaborate. Our Smoke Detector Log has the property address at the top, with eight columns. We recommend you keep a similar log for each CO detector you install.

  1. Unit number
  2. Number of Detectors
  3. Check Detector: split column with Good/Bad
  4. Battery Replaced: yes/no
  5. Detector Replaced: yes/no
  6. Initials: the person who did the checking should initials or sign
  7. The Date of Inspection
  8. Comments: such as whether the battery was missing or the detector was damaged, etc.

As an added precaution, we check the smoke and CO detectors every time we enter a rental unit regardless of the reason we are there. We make a note of the impromptu inspection on the Smoke Detector Log. Be sure to include the date and the person who checked the units. It helps us sleep at night.
______________________________________________
Note: If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to: Buffalo This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Feel free to contact Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956- 8371, for maintenance work or consultation; or JLE Property Management, Inc., at 714-778-0480 for management service or consultation. Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988. Frankie Alvarez is the Operations Director of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., and can be reached at 714-956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Websites: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com and www.ContactJLE.com and www.Facebook.com/BuffaloMaintenance.

Disaster Preparedness, Cabinets, Sprinklers

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I am aware of having a disaster preparedness kit for my family; however, what do I do for my apartment building?

Jason

Dear Jason,

A quick list of what should be in your family disaster preparedness kit: flashlight with batteries, canned goods, a gallon of water per person, a knife, meds, and blankets at a minimum. Now this works ok for a family, but may not be appropriate for an apartment building. The residents may very well shelter in place during a disaster and be fine. What may be in danger is your property! Start with a bit of preventive disaster maintenance.

1. Locate the main water shut-off valve and any minor shut-off valves. Make sure the valves are in working order. If they are gate valves, it might be time to upgrade them to ball valves. Old gate valves are notorious for breaking valve stems at the moment you need them to work.
2. Locate and clearly mark the main electrical panel.
3. Locate and mark the main sewer clean-out. Run a mainline snake or hydro jet at least once a year. (A Friday evening main back-up is a disaster.)

4. Locate and mark the main gas or fuel oil shut-off valve.

5. Write down and post this information in a public area of your apartment building, including emergency phone numbers and how to get a hold of management. Alternatively, post this information on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door in each rental unit.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am starting my planning for a major kitchen cabinet remodeling project in my rental units. However, I am having a difficult time making material and design decisions. What recommendations can you give?

Allen

Dear Allen,

When doing a kitchen or bath material selection, cohesive and functional design is important. Kit chen and bath rehabs are some of the most expensive work you can do in an apartment unit and proper planning is a must. In order to appeal to a larger segment of the population, try to keep the interior color scheme to neutral earth tones. Cabinetry quality varies greatly. Don’t let the cabinet fronts fool you. Manufacturers designed their cabinets to look good at first glance. Keep in mind that being in a rental environment, the cabinets also need to hold up to abuse. Look at the actual construction of the cabinet box or frame. Keep in mind you do not need to use custom cabinets to fit your existing layout. The use of prefabricated modular cabinetry can greatly reduce the time and cost to have a finished kitchen or bathroom. Using real wood cabinet fronts with 3/8” plywood sides is essential for durability.

The drawer fronts and sides should be connected with a dovetail or other positive lock construction. Drawers that are held together by nails or cabinets built with par ticle board will not hold up to tenant abuse.

On a side note, if you are gutting the kitchen or bathroom, use this time to relocate and add more electrical outlets and under-cabinet lighting.

Dear Maintenance Men:

The weather is getting warmer and I have just finished rehabbing my building’s landscaping. When is it the best time to have my automatic sprinklers scheduled to turn-on?

David

Dear David:

According to landscape experts, the best time to turn on the sprinklers is between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. This allows the water time to soak in and then allows the sun to dry out the landscape to avoid rot and disease. That being said, we personally like our sprinklers to activate between 2:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. This time period is after the bars close and before the early birds leave for work. Avoiding resident interaction with working sprinklers lessens the chance of sprinkler heads being kicked or damaged. Also, most of the kids are still asleep and we all know how they love to run through your sprinklers, flowers, plants, etc. Adjust your sprinklers to not spray across sidewalks or onto parked cars. It is also a good idea to install your timer in a locked location or very high on an exterior wall.

 

Feel free to contact Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956- 8371, for maintenance work or consultation; or JLE Property Management, Inc., at 714-778-0480 for management service or consultation. Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988. Frankie Alvarez is the Operations Director of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., and can be reached at 714-956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Websites: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com and www.ContactJLE.com and www.Facebook.com/BuffaloMaintenance.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

California Southern Cities
333 W. Broadway St., Suite 101
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 426-8341

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