Dear Maintenance Men

Sidewalk, Fence Posts, Water Conservation


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!


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?


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?


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: and and

Caulking, Plumbing, Rehab


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?


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?


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.


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: and and

Slab Leaks, Handrails and Stoves


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?


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?


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


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: and and

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!

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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