Dear Maintenance Men

Asphalt and Plumbing

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Dear Maintenance Men:

We are getting bids for the driveway of an apartment house. Each contractor has his own opinion about the scope of work. It becomes confusing.

Anne

Dear Anne,

“Apples and Oranges” bids are very common and not unique to the asphalt trade. Every contractor has different materials and suppliers which they are not only familiar with, but experienced in the application. As with any profession, a diagnosis, procedure, product and cure may vary. This is why a second opinion is always encouraged or necessary. We too often consider the” three bid” rule as a tool to compare pricing and do not delve deeper into quality, workmanship, application or other specification which can dramatically increase or decrease the costs related to our repairs.

It is best to develop a scope of work, with drawings which identify in detail the following (this will ensure all other contractors are bidding on the same scope):

1. Areas to be covered, replaced, repaired (in square feet) and outlined in site plan.
2. Clearly identified type and quantity of asphalt mix, slurry and sealer. This is very important as most asphalt is recycled and diminishes in quality.
3. Which equipment will be used to address repairs and distribution of materials (compaction and heavy rolling equipment is key).
4. Communicate your long-term or short-term expectations.
5. Ask that the application warrants against “pooling” or “ponding”.
6. Look for proper compacted thickness according to load. (Example: 2.5” of laid asphalt and then compacted 2” by roller.)
7. Monitor all work being performed to ensure the contractor is adhering to the contracted specifications. (Ask that a supervisor is always onsite.)
8. Scrutinize the lowest bid very carefully.
9. Require all other industry standard practices, insurance, and contract language be in the agreement.
10. Visit www.cslb.ca.gov for additional tips on how to protect yourself.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am having a dilemma: one of my downstairs units has a major plumbing problem. According to the plumber, the tub/shower drain beyond the trap is rotted and needs to be replaced. The plumber says the tub must be removed to complete the repairs. I’m afraid to approve the bid due to not only the cost and inconvenience to my resident, but my shower wall tile is in perfect condition. What are some of the steps to make sure this “rotted” pipe is the issue before I give the plumber the OK?

Joan

Dear Joan:

Most likely the tub may be compromised as well as the drain pipe. Most tubs have access behind them for pipe repair. You may want to get a second opinion as this is a major job. The shower tile is most times the “ouch” factor in a tub replace ment. It is hard to see perfectly good tile go to waste. As a matter of fact, removing a tub is always a big job and we don’t blame you for being hesitant.

We recommend doing a rooter service first. If the pipe is rotted or broken, evidence of mud or other debris might stick to the snake. Next, using a camera snake, you might be able to see the break and confirm the plumber’s diagnosis. The snake and camera will give you a good idea of the direction, distance and location of the break. This will come in handy when it comes time to make holes in your concrete. (The less holes, the better!)

Some “telltale” signs your line is broken, corroded or worn through from the bottom:

1. The tip and cable of the “snake” rooter line is clogged with mud (black sludge is normal in older lines).
2. The rooter cable cannot break loose the clog.
(The cable tip may have found the hole in the pipe and is busy digging a tunnel in the dirt.)
3. The clog returns time and time again.
4. Waste water is found at the interior or exterior of the unit.

With regard to your shower wall tile, simply cut the first two tile courses above the tub. You can break the tile along a natural grout line or use a ceramic tile saw to cut through the tile. After the tub is removed and reinstalled, replace any of the drywall behind the tile with “HardieBacker” cement board material and install the missing tile and grout to match.

 

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.

Rehabbing, Redwood and Smokers

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I have just finished rehabbing a rental unit. I replaced counter tops, cabinets, baseboards and so on. Even though the unit is freshly painted with new carpets, the unit still looks unfinished. The base boards don’t always follow the wall contours exactly and the cabinets also have small gaps where they meet the wall. What can I do to make my work look professional?

Julia

Dear Julia:

We are going to let you in on a “professional” secret and it is called painter’s caulk! Painter’s caulk typically comes in a tube and is applied with a caulking gun. Run a small bead of caulk along the baseboard and with your finger push the caulk between the wall and the gap you are trying to fill. Using a damp sponge or rag, wipe up any excess caulk. Painter’s caulk can be used to hide a multitude of installation sins. Almost anywhere two dissimilar materials meet, painter’s caulk can help hide the transition. Painter’s caulk is not limited to just baseboards, use it to make cabinets and door trim look custom installed. Fill nail holes without making a big flat spot on your wall. If you have ever tried to mate two pieces of trim or coving at a 45-degree angle and your cuts are not quite square, use painter’s caulk and no one will know. All gaps will magically disappear.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My building has redwood fencing and patio decks. Both the fencing and decks are in good condition, however, the “red” in the wood has faded with exposure to the weather. The wood looks grey now. How can I bring back the redwood look back without buying new wood?

Josh

Dear Josh:

A redwood deck or fence may be young and fit, but they do tend to grey prematurely. Luckily, the solution is not too hard. There is a chemical called oxalic acid which will help give the wood its youth and vitality back again. Most hardware stores will stock a product called cedar and redwood cleaner/brightener. It may be under the brand name of “Olympic Cedar and Redwood Deck Brightener”. Be sure your deck or fence is clean before treatment by using a TSP and water solution. (TSP is a heavy duty powder cleaning solution available at any hardware store or supermarket.)

After cleaning, be sure to read the deck brightener product’s instructions before use. For safety wear gloves and goggles. Mix the product’s solution with water into a pump up sprayer. Wet the deck or fence with the solution and using a nylon brush or broom, scrub the wood evenly, working harder on stained areas. Let the solution stand for about 30 minutes and rinse off with a strong stream of water. Let dry and the wood should look brighter. It might not look brand new, but it will look much better.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My current vacancy was long occupied by a heavy smoker. Every surface is sticky with brown nicotine and the smell of smoke is overwhelming. How do I get rid of the smell and keep it from coming back?

George

Dear George:

Cigarette smell is very hard to remove even after painting and cleaning the carpets. Chances are if the resident was long term, the carpets, drapes or blinds will need to be replaced. Remove the carpets, pad and tack strips. The tack strips are wood and can absorb and release the smell of smoke, urine, etc. Thoroughly clean the floors with soapy water mixed with bleach. After cleaning the floors, it is not a bad idea to paint or use a primer to coat the flooring. One of the best ways to remove the nicotine residue from the walls is using old fashioned elbow grease! Again, wash the walls with soapy water using a brush or rag. Adding TSP (a powdered cleaning solution available at most hardware stores) or using a degreasing agent will help in the cleaning.

If you have flat ceilings, wash them, too. If you have “acoustical” or “pop-corn” type ceiling, that’s a problem. By its nature, acoustical ceiling material cannot be cleaned. Encapsulating the acoustical ceiling with spray paint may solve the problem.

You will need a primer coat and a minimum of two coats of paint. If the smell is still present, give it another coat of paint and let the unit air as much as possible. Don’t forget to wash the windows and window frames. You will be amazed at how clean the aluminum or vinyl windows will look after a good cleaning.

 

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.

Sidewalk, Fence Posts, Water Conservation

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Dear Maintenance Men:

What is the difference between cement and concrete? I hear people use both terms to describe a sidewalk or building. I understand there is a difference, but don’t know which one means what!

George

Dear George:

Great question! Many people including those in the building industry mix up the two terms. Cement is a binding agent used to hold other materials together. You may have heard the term “Portland cement.” Portland cement is not a brand name but is the generic term for the type of cement used in almost all concrete today. Portland cement is a mixture of ground sintered limestone or calcium, silicon, aluminum and iron all ground into a very fine powder.

Concrete is a mixture of aggregate, gravel, sand and cement. Mixed together with water and you have concrete, a stone like material.

Another way to remember which is which: cement has a soft “c” sound like soft powder; and concrete has a hard “c” sound like a hard sidewalk. Cement and the resulting concrete have been around for a long time. The process goes all the way back to Ancient Macedonia and was used extensively by the Roman Empire to build the aqueducts, the Pantheon and many other Roman structures.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am replacing a number of rotted pressure treated 4x4 fence posts on my property. Why do some posts rot and others do not? I cannot see any rhyme or reason for one post to be good and the other one to be bad. How can I avoid this trouble in the future?

Kent

Dear Kent:

The issue of the rotting posts lies in the Tree Growth Rings and their location. The rotting posts may have centered growth rings. If you look at the 4x4 post end, the growth rings will be either centered or not centered. A centered growth ring is common in a post made from a peeler core. The tight centered growth rings of the peeler core will not accept pressure treatment as well as a post with off-center growth rings. Chances are the fence you are repairing may have a mixture of peeler core posts and off center growth ring posts. A peeler core is the by-product of plywood manufacturing. A log is turned on a lathe to produce plywood veneer and the center that remains is called a peeler-core. When buying pressure-treated posts, look for off center growth rings.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am trying to do my part to conserve water and have found my toilets are the biggest offenders. The toilet constantly fills every five or ten minutes. I have replaced the fill and flapper valves but the problems persist. I’m at my wits end about this! What can I do besides replacing the toilets?

Benjamin

Dear Benjamin:

Leaks at the flush valve are possibly caused by a damaged flush valve seat which may have a hole or the rim is pitted or cracked. The seat is the large drain hole at the bottom of the tank. A temporary repair may be to sand the seat with a steel wool pad or wet/dry sandpaper. This will remove the calcium build-up.

If the seat is damaged, replacing the seat will be the next option. “Fluidmaster, Inc.” makes a Flusher Fixer Kit that can be cemented directly on top of your old worn flush valve seat. This is a quick fix that may not work on all toilets.

If the seat kit does not work, you will need to replace the valve seat. This can be accomplished by removing the tank from the base of the toilet: turn off the water to the fill valve, disconnect the water line and remove any water from the tank. Unscrew the two or three brass bolts under the tank and carefully lift the tank off. Once the tank is removed, turn it upside down. Remove the rubber “spud” washer from the tank. Spin the large nut from the threads and then push the valve seat through the tank. Reverse the procedure when installing the new valve seat. Always install a new “spud” washer and new brass bolts and washers. Be sure your toilet tank is installed level, as this will aid in its operation. The new flush valve will give the rubber flapper a smooth seat for a positive seal.

 

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.

Caulking, Plumbing, Rehab

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I’m attempting to remove old caulking from around a bathtub. Are there any tricks or chemicals to help with this job?

Steve

Dear Steve:

Most bathtub caulking is either silicon or latex based. If originally installed properly, it should stick pretty well. Most household chemicals will not affect the caulking or help in its removal. The best method is to use a razor knife to cut along either side of the bead. Then pull the bead out by hand as you cut. The balance of the material can be removed with a flat razor, either along the old bead or perpendicular to the bead. After all the material is removed, use a damp rag to remove any loose bits. Before installing the new caulk, be sure the area is clean and dry. You can use a wet/dry vacuum to suck up any water left over from your cleaning.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have two units that have back-to-back kitchen plumbing that drain into a single pipe. They are constantly blocking up. We snake them on a regular basis, but to no avail. How can I solve this problem?

Julia

Dear Julia:

Unfortunately with two units draining into one drainpipe, you double the drain’s workload. This means the drain line has twice the grease, twice the soap and twice the food, etc. In this case we will assume that your waste plumbing system consists of galvanized and cast iron piping. The inner lining of these two types of metal drainpipes tends to corrode and become rough and flake. This allows solid waste to form on the rough surface.

A solution to the problem is to instruct your residents on the proper use of the garbage disposal. The water must be running before you turn on the disposal and continue running after the disposal is turned off. This will ensure that the waste has been washed all the way down the pipe. The garbage disposal must run a sufficient amount of time to ensure the proper breakup of the waste. The residents should also be instructed to feed the disposal slower, and not to cram food down the drain.

For persistent drain problems, we highly recommend getting the drain line hydro-jetted and then have the line inspected with a camera. This will determine exactly where and why you have a constant problem with your drain line.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I’m starting a rehab in my unit’s bathroom and thinking of replacing the shower curtain as part of the work. A shower curtain is a fast and easy job. What are the pros and cons of a shower door versus a shower curtain in my rental unit’s bathtub? How do you install a shower door? I don’t want to poke holes in the bathtub.

Bryan

Dear Bryan:

While appearing as a guest on “The Tonight Show” one evening many, many years ago, famed hotelier Conrad Hilton was asked by his host, (Johnny Carson) whether he had a “message” for the American people. With great gravity, Hilton paused momentarily before turning to the camera. “Please,” he pleaded, “put the shower curtain inside the tub!” Keeping with Mr. Hilton’s thoughts, we are big fans of shower doors as opposed to shower curtains, because residents also leave the shower curtain outside the tub. Shower door installations are a great do-it-yourself project, because it is easy to do and the results looks great.

After removing the existing shower curtain, clean the tub and walls to remove any accumulated soap scum. Measure the tub ledge wall to wall and subtract 3/16 of an inch (to leave room for the wall channels) and transfer the measurement to the bottom rail track of the shower enclosure. After measuring twice and cutting once, temporally set the bottom track on the tub ledge and tape it in place. Next, set the wall channels in place, use a level to make sure it is plumb with the wall. Mark the mounting holes of the wall channel with your pencil. Do the same thing for the other side. Remove the channels and before drilling, center punch the hole mark to keep the drill bit centered. If drilling through tile, use a ceramic drill bit. Once you have made your holes, insert wall anchors.

Now you are ready to set the bottom track. Use adhesive caulk and if you feel the track may be abused, also use some Liquid Nails adhesive at several spots under the track. Remove any excess caulk and then use duct tape to temporally hold the track in place. Before fitting the side channels, run a bead of adhesive caulk on the backside of the channel. Install the channel, use the supplied screws and bumper to fasten the channel to the wall, repeat on the other side. Wipe away any excess caulk.

To install the top rail channel, measure from wall to wall at the top of the wall channels. Subtract 1/16 of an inch and cut the top channel to that length. Again, measure twice. The top channel should fit snug between top of the wall channels. Lastly it is time to hang the doors and adjust the fit.

Most doors come with good instructions, read them, as there may be details not included in our explanation.

 

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.

Slab Leaks, Handrails and Stoves

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Dear Maintenance Men:

Slab leaks! They are the bane of my existence! Turns out the problem is the hot water recirculation line. I’m trying to decide if I should fix it again or just abandon the line and remove the circulation pump and be done with it. What harm can it do? Do I really need a hot water return line for my residential units?

John

Dear John:

Unfortunately, dealing with slab leaks is almost a “rite of passage” for property owners or managers.

First, let us demystify what a return line really is. Simply, it is a dedicated hot water line which loops from the water heater to the furthest unit, and back to the cold water heater inlet. Its purpose is to maintain hot water at each tap by assistance from the circulation pump. The circulation pump constantly delivers hot water through the return line or loop.

A slab leak is a water line break under the concrete floor of a building. A water pipe under a concrete floor can leak for a long time before it is noticed or it can bubble up through cracks in the concrete depending on soil conditions. The most reported type of slab leak is on the hot water side of the plumbing and along the return line of the recirculating system. The reason for the return line being the most popular leak point is because the water never stops moving and it wears away and corrodes the pipe.

We do not recommend canceling the return line and removing the pump. This will cause other unintended consequences such as a slow delivery of hot water to many of the units in the building. The lack of a pump will waste water while the residents wait for hot water to come out of the tap which in turn will make the water heater work harder. Not only will this annoy the residents, it will cause the water heating bill to go up.

As for repair of the return line, there are a number of solutions. If the return line has chronic leaks, it is best to run a new line outside the slab. The old return is canceled at the pump and the furthest plumbing fixture in the building and the new line installed and routed back to the water heater.

Another solution after the pipe is repaired is to limit the incoming water pressure with a pressure regulator and put a timer on the recirculation pump to operate only at peak demand times such as morning and evening. Installing a water softener system will also help keep both the hot water heater and water lines from corroding as quickly.

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 help 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 spac ing. 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 found 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.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I was cleaning the kitchen stove in one of my vacant units and noticed the free standing stove tipped forward when I put a bit of weight on the open oven door. It looked a bit dangerous and I was wondering how I can fix this issue

Rick

Dear Rick:

You are very lucky it was you and not one of your resident’s children that found out about the dangers of a tipping oven. First, let us explain what a tipping oven is. Most stoves with an oven are free standing appliances. The stove is placed in the kitchen, gas or electrical lines are installed and it is ready for use, very simple. The issue arises when a resident is using the stove and they or a child opens the oven door and puts weight on the open door. This causes a cantilever effect which may pitch the whole stove forward causing the stove top pots or pans to fly off the stove and onto the person or child in front of the stove. Best case scenario is this causes a mess in the kitchen and worse case is a resident or child is badly burned or disfigured. It is not uncommon to hear about a small child wanting to see what Mommy is cooking by using the oven door as a stepping stool or even more common, removing a turkey, roast or other large item from the oven and placing it on the open door. The extra weight is enough to tip the stove forward.The solution is an “anti-tip bracket” installed behind the stove. An anti-tip bracket is “L” shaped and usually installed on the floor and against the wall (towards the back of the stove) for one of the rear legs to slide into. Replacement parts are available at any hardware or home center store.

However, if it was not originally installed, there is a good chance, it is still in the plastic bag tied to the back of the stove. Shut off the circuit breaker or gas line feeding the stove, carefully slide the stove away from the wall, ensure a bracket isn’t installed (the last time the stove was slid against the wall it may have simply missed the bracket) and if not installed, search around for the original plastic bag. Hopefully, the instructions and template are still in the bag.

Keep in mind installing an anti-tipping bracket is both a resident safety issue as well as an owner liability issue. This is a $10 part and a ten-minute install that will keep both you and your resident out of hot water.

 

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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