Dear Maintenance Men

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.

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.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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