Dear Maintenance Men

Slow Draining, Water Heater, Candle Wax on Carpet


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a bathroom sink that is slow draining. I have already snaked the drain and found no stoppage. When I remove the pop-up assembly and have an open drain, water whooshes down with no problem. However, with the pop-up in place, water backs up into the sink and drains very slowly.


Dear Paul:

Most bathroom sinks have an overflow hole near the top edge of the sink. This hole serves two purposes:

1. It acts as a safety drain to keep the sink from overflowing, should the water rise above a certain level in the sink.

2. The overflow hole also serves as an air vent for the sink when the water levels are above the pop-up plug. The overflow hole allows air to escape through the drain and the water to evacuate more efficiently.

What has happened is hair, toothpaste, and grime have built-up and sealed off the overflow drain where it exits just below the pop-up assembly plug. Most snakes are too big to go through the overflow drain. Alternatively, a speedometer cable will work great or even a long zip tie will work. Push the cable or zip tie down through the overflow hole at the top of the sink and push any gunk out into the drain. Use water to help push the debris out the over flow drain. A funnel works great to direct a good flow of water. If you cannot get the overflow to drain, disassemble the main drain assembly to gain access to the over flow drain exit. Once the overflow drain has good airflow, the sink should drain a bit faster. If this does not solve the problem completely, look at restrict ing the water flow coming out of the faucet. Use a restrictive aerator to cut down on the GPM of the faucet.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My property has a 100-gallon gas-fired water heater that serves four units. It is about eight years old. The tenants are complaining of very little hot water. I have checked the tank, and the thermostat is working; the water is hot. Are my residents making up stories? What am I missing?


Dear Thorne:

The water heater may need a bit of maintenance. The first thing to do is clean out the sediment at the bottom of the tank. This will require a shutdown of the heater for a couple of hours and some hands and knees work. Most 100-gallon gas water heaters have a clean-out port at the front of the tank. The port is either round or oval. Be sure to get a new clean-out port gasket before starting this job. Once the water is drained and the port opened, remove all the sediment from the tank. You can expect to haul out one to two buckets of calcium buildup. (Sediment removal should be done once a year.) Removing the sediment will greatly improve the heating efficiency of the water heater. Because of the age of the tank, while you have the port open, check the inlet dip tube and the anode rod inside the tank. If the anode rod is corroded, replace it by pulling it out from the top of the tank and inserting a new one. The anode rod is a sacrificial zinc rod that helps keep the tank from corroding. The second item to check is the cold water inlet dip tube. Cold water entering the heater is routed to the bottom of the tank by the dip tube. If the tube is corroded, broken or missing, the tank will develop hot and cold areas, leading to complaints about short-term hot water. The dip tube is located inside the cold water inlet pipe. Replacements for both the anode rod and dip tube can be found at most plumbing supply houses.

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I remove candle wax or gum from my rental unit’s carpet?


Dear Janet:

The best way to remove candle wax from a carpet is to use a hand-held clothes iron. Put an absorbent paper towel over the wax, and heat the area with a hot iron. The paper towel will absorb the wax as it melts. Be careful not to burn the carpet, as an iron can melt certain carpet fibers and scorch others.

Start on the lowest setting. Remove any leftover stain by blotting the area with a small amount of dry-cleaning solvent. (Dry-cleaning brand names to look for: Guardsman Dry Cleaning fluid, Woolite Dry Cleaning Secret, Dryel or any dry fabric cleaner.) Also, blotting with a mild detergent mixed with warm water may work. Make sure the detergent does not con tain any alkaline or bleaches.

Remove gum by either freezing the gum and removing it by pieces or using peanut butter to loosen the gum’s grip on the carpet. A product known as “Goo-Gone,” found at Home Depot, may be used to remove gum, tar, grease and glue. Use Goo-Gone sparingly; do not soak.

Drains, Termites and The Holidays


Dear Maintenance Men:

I own a 16-unit apartment building built in the late 1960s. The property is in good shape and we try to address maintenance issues as soon as they develop. However, the drain lines are starting to get the best of us. For the past three years I have been experiencing clog after clog and now my main line appears to be blocked once again. Other than the obvious (the pipes are old), what can be contributing to my problem?


Dear Charles:

You are not alone. Plumbing issues and rooter service is the largest line item expense as compared to other trades at any apartment building regardless of age. With plumbing and drains, it is best to be proactive rather than reactive. The difference in approach can save you thousands of dollars a year. In order to begin a proactive approach, we will recommend the following:

Make an appointment with your local plumbing contractor or current service provider and tell them you are interested in having them join you on a thorough inspection of your plumbing, drains and fixtures. A professional plumber may see things you will miss.

On the date of inspection have your smart phone or camera with you to document any items or areas of concern. A flashlight and clipboard with notepad will be essential.

During the inspection take extra care to look for improper drain connections, leaks, possible or future leaks, corrosion, staining and fixtures that can appear be near, or at their life expectancy. Also keep an eye out for water damage, dry rot, fungus, etc. Check the garbage disposal unit under the kitchen sink and if you find a 1/3 HP disposal unit, consider replacing it with a 1/2 horsepower motor disposer. The underpowered 1/3 unit is a large contributor to your kitchen drain line clogs. It is important to also instruct the resident in the proper use of the garbage disposal unit, such as using plenty of water while using the disposer and not stuffing too much scrap food all at once.

Take special note of large trees above the route of the main drain line. The roots may be invading the pipe and causing many of the backups you are experiencing. Have the plumber use a camera snake to inspect the pipe.

If your property does not have proper mainline drain cleanouts, plan on having them installed. We recommend having the pipes hydro-jetted at least once a year to clear grease from the lines.

Dear Maintenance Men:

Three years ago, I had termite repairs done to the back side of my building. Turns out the wood was never painted or protected and now the wood is badly damaged. Would prime and paint have prevented this damage?


Dear George:

It is unfortunate that your contractor did not complete his job by sealing or painting the new wood.

This would have saved you the effort and expense of repairing the wood all over again. We cannot tell you how many buildings we see that had termite or dry rot repairs completed years ago, and they are still not weatherized or painted! It is not the cost of the lumber that is expensive, but the cost of labor. You want to avoid having to perform the same work twice.

When replacing wood at your building you should ensure that the proper type of wood is used for an exterior job and that the wood is sealed with primer and paint. To do the job properly, the wood should be primed before it is installed followed by a second prime and paint.

When using a contractor for this type of work, be sure to read the contract carefully. Make note and question the contractor if you see the terms: “Paint by others” or “Priming and Paint not included”. You can either ask the contractor to include these items or contract with a painting company to complete the job.

Dear Apartment Owners:

We are getting close to the holidays, which means guests, cooking and an emergency call to you from one of your residents on Thanksgiving Day about a clogged sink or non-working oven with an apartment full of guests waiting for dinner. This scenario can ruin both yours and your residents’ holiday. The answer is: Preventive Maintenance. Before the holiday season begins, 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 pilot light being out. Also, check the oven’s temperature calibration with an oven thermometer. Because of heavier than normal use of the plumbing, it may be a good idea to snake out your main plumbing lines. Also, sending a note to each tenant on the proper use of the garbage disposal will be useful.

Note what they should and should not put down the disposal unit. A few items to include on this “Do Not” 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. Do not use the disposer as a trash can and then turn it on when full; it will clog.

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. 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 wind or rain.

Check your decking for cracks or damage and inspect the exterior stairways for wear and tear. Inspect all of your garage door springs. Winter wind and rain may make them heavy causing the door to close or fall unexpectedly. As a precaution, always replace both garage door springs at the same time and throw away any used springs. Never install used garage springs. Check all property lighting and timers. Remember: Preventive Maintenance is cheaper than Emergency Maintenance!

Roof, Winter List and Solar Lights


Dear Maintenance Men:

When is the best time to do an annual roof inspection? Can you give me some pointers as to what to look for when I inspect the roof?


Dear Tom:

The best time is before it rains! However, we find summer and fall to be the most prudent times to inspect and repair the roof. In other words, don’t wait to do roofing work after the first rains of winter. The roofing contractors will be very busy and costs may go up, or you may have to wait in line for the work to get done.

Inspect the roof during the summer and fall and get the roofing work done before it becomes an emergency. During the roof inspection, pay close attention to the flashing. Flashing is used to transition between the roofing material and the building, or a change in roofing direction or angle. Flashing can also be found where pipes or a chimney come up through the roof. The flashing is sealed with roofing tar and water leaks can form when the sealing tar cracks or separates from the building or the flashing material.

Look for curled up roof edges on composition roofs, low spots on flat roofs and bird nests in tile roofs. Check all roof drains and cut away any tree branches that are touching or overhanging the roof. While you are inspecting the roof, check the gutters. Winter storms have a way of loosening gutters and filling them with gunk, thereby causing them to lose their pitch and pool water. Pooling or overflowing gutters can deteriorate fascia boards and siding.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I’m getting my work check-off list started before winter comes. Do you have recommendations of what should be on the checklist?


Dear Lisa:

After checking and repairing any roof damage, we recommend looking at the outside walls of the property. Stucco, wood siding or other vertical surfaces are the building’s skin. Cracks, breaks and other damage to the siding invite “infection” to your building. This “infection” can take the form of wood rot, mold, siding delaminating or separa tion from the subsurface.

Material break down of the stucco will cause discoloration and crumbling. Common siding material found in most buildings is stucco, wood, brick, vinyl or concrete panels, etc. Water intrusion of the siding can find its way through the smallest cracks by capillary action, or more directly from misaligned sprinklers or other water sources.

A little known and often forgotten solution to leaky windows are the clogged weep holes along the bottom of the window frame and track. These weep holes clog with dust and debris and can very easily cause water to enter the building through the window frame or even through small cracks in the stucco or siding at the edges of the window frame.

Dear Maintenance Men:

It won’t be long before we need to change our clocks for winter. I’m a bit concerned about the lights at my apartment building. I have various fixtures, sensors and timers, not one of which turns on the lights at the same time. Some don’t turn off or on at all. Any suggestions?


Dear Brian:

There are two ways to effectively control exterior lighting:

1. A timer clock.
2. A photocell for detecting light and dark.

Both time clocks and photocells have been around forever. We prefer to activate landscape lighting with a photocell as it is virtually maintenance free. A photocell will ensure the property has light only when it is needed and turn off automatically with the approach of day light. Be sure the photo cell is located where it can “see” ambient light and not near an artificial light source.

A time clock needs constant attention in order to keep up with the changing seasons and adjustments for longer or shorter nights. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing the property all lit up at 5pm when it gets dark at 7pm, or even worse, the lights turn on at 7pm when it has been dark since 5pm. Remember: the safety of your residents is at its greatest risk when it is dark and the lights are out.

Do's and Don'ts, Drought and Sticky Door


Dear Maintenance Men:

I am not new to the industry but regret not paying more attention to my rental units. Can you give me a quick Do’s and Don’ts for maintaining the property?


Dear Brian:

Great question, and as you might be aware, could lead to quite a long list! However, here are some of our favorites.

Pest Control

1. Avoid allowing residents to use contact paper on walls, cabinets, shelves or drawers. Roaches love to bed and breed under the contact paper.
2. Contract with a pest control company for a monthly service.
3. Through the pest control company or your local apartment association, educate your residents on how to avoid bed bugs.
4. Recycle using only proper recycling containers. Loose recycling material attracts all sorts of unwanted pests.


1. Educate your residents on how to properly use a garbage disposal unit.
2. Hydro-jet the building’s kitchen and main lines at least once a year. The best time is the month of October just before the heavy cooking holidays in November and December.
3. Do a walkthrough of the property inspecting faucets, supply lines, sink and bath drains. Check the water heater and its straps, gas connections and flue.
4. Locate and mark the main four-inch sewer cleanout.
5. Replace any main water line “GATE” valve with a “BALL” valve.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My rental property is located in a drought prone state. What can I do to make my building water friendly?


Dear Matt:

A few pointers that may help put you on the right track.

Plan and Design:

1. Determine the hot and cold zones (shade and full sun).
2. Select plants and ground cover according to the hot and cold zones.
3. Choose an ir rigation sys tem de signed to minimize evaporation. (Drip irrigation or low volume sprinkler heads.)

Soil Improvement:

1. Turning over plant beds regularly will improve water retention and reduce wasteful runoff.

2. Determine the type of soil you have and mix in mulch and other additives to improve water usage and soil richness.

Appropriate Maintenance:

With an efficient, water-wise landscape you can keep it growing strong by following a few simple steps each week.

1. Mow.
2. Weed control.
3. Test the soil regularly. (Soil testers can be found at any home improvement store.)
4. Fertilize.
5. Prune.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a problem with a sticky bedroom door. If I try to open the door quickly it sticks and if I’m gentle it opens just fine. But as you can imagine, I only remember to open it gently after my hand slips off the knob. Is this an easy fix?


Dear Gary:

This can be an easy fix. Nine out of ten times the hinge is loose on either the jamb or the door. Tighten all the hinge screws, and if a screw spins freely, change it with a bigger screw with more bite. Next try “adjusting” the hinge. Replace a regular hinge screw with a long three-inch screw that will reach through the door jamb and into the rough framing. Gently tighten the screw, pulling the hinge and door jamb tighter against the rough framing and pulling the door with it. Next, if that does not work com pletely, “adjust” the latch side of the jamb by using long screws through the jamb into the rough framing. This should create just enough space to allow the door to swing open without incident.

Countertops, Flat Roof & Fiberglass


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a unit with old laminate counter tops. The counter tops are sound, but are very dull and faded looking. Can the tops be saved? I don’t want to replace them at this time. Do you have any suggestions?


Dear Bill:

It will be impossible to make your counter tops look new again; however, with a little bit of elbow grease, you can give them a new lease on life. First thoroughly clean the counter top with Soft Scrub or a similar product and rinse completely. The laminate rehab products are wax-based sealers found in name brands like Gel Gloss or Minwax. They can be in paste, liquid or spray form; however, do not use auto wax. You may want to apply these products from time to time as the counter tops lose their luster.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I own eight units and enjoy doing minor maintenance around my building. One of my current projects is to repair three persistent leaks on my roof. The property has a flat roof. Can you give me some advice on tracking down these leaks?


Dear Don:

Flat roof leaks can be extremely tricky to trouble shoot. Water intrusions tend to travel, then drop at the lowest point of your roof and ceilings. A careful inspection would include checking the following:

1. Flashing around vent stacks and gravelstop roof edges.
2. Exposed roofing nail heads.
3. Drainage systems on the roof or directly adjacent to the building.
4. Exposed roofing that is devoid of gravel or stone cover.
5. Roof seams or laps.
6. Blisters and water pooling areas on the roof.

Some solutions and preventative maintenance:

1. Caulk all flashings and exposed roof seams with roofing Henry’s 208. It comes in gallon or tube form.
2. Caulk any exposed roofing nails.
3. Score blisters with a utility knife and inject Henry’s 208 with a caulking gun into the blister opening. Apply pressure until cement oozes out of the cut. Install desired size of cap sheet as a patch.
4. Cover any exposed roofing material with gravel or stone. (This keeps the sun from rotting the material.)
5. Secure any loose gutters and clean out drainage systems.
6. Seal any cracks in the stucco as water can wick into these cracks.
7. You may want to consider installing roof drains in the areas that rain water pools the most.
8. To help keep cracks from coming back, use fiberglass webbing with your patch material.

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I get a fiberglass tub clean without scratching the surface?


Dear John:

The nice thing about fiberglass tubs and showers is that no mat ter how dirty they get, they are fairly easy to clean. Be careful not to use any abrasives on the fiberglass, such as scouring pads, steel wool or gritty cleaning solutions. Soft Scrub may be used sparingly on soap scum buildup. Lime- Away may be used for hard water mineral deposits, but read the directions and look for the fiberglass warning or approval statement. If you have very tough stains, moisten a cloth with clean Acetone solvent or nail polish remover. Do not let the Acetone pool as it may soften the fiberglass material. Acetone and many other cleaners have very strong vapors, so it is important to ventilate the area properly. After all the cleaning is done, the fiberglass surface may be dull. Use a fiberglass conditioner and glossing paste to bring the tub or shower back to its original condition. You can use a product called Gel Gloss to bring back the shine.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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