Dear Maintenance Men

Dear Maintenance Men | November 6, 2008


Dear Maintenance Men:
Like everyone else in Southern California, I was a bit “shaken up” by the recent earthquake. Beyond flashlights, water and the typical emergency items during a disaster, what else should I consider?

Dear Chris:
We were also a bit shaken by the last earth tremor and discovered a few holes in our emergency toolbox. We found that having the usual emergency procedures, such as having all your tenants’ phone numbers and emergency personal numbers such as Fire and Police was not enough. We were lucky that this past earthquake was not a major disaster. But, it did serve as a major learning tool. As property owners, managers and maintenance professionals, we have greater responsibilities than the average homeowner. Our first and foremost concern during and after a natural or man made disaster should be the ability to communicate with your staff and “key” members of our organization.

For example: after the July 29th 2008 earthquake both land based phones and cell phone voice lines were not working for a short time due to damage or overloading of the circuits. That means that communication between you and your loved ones, your tenants and even emergency personnel was compromised.

Now, not all communication was down. We found that emails were getting through as was “Texting” and our two-way Nextel radios operated normally. This recent earthquake told us we need to update and tighten our emergency procedures.

We are training our staff how to communicate by texting over their cell phones and establishing an e-mail network should the traditional means of communication not be available to us. These procedures should be written down and practiced. Included in your procedures should be a chain of command and chain of communication. Should one person not be available or one means of ommunication be down, move down the list until order and communication is established. Should the need arise; these procedures should be put in an emergency response folder for easy retrieval. It is much easier to follow a written procedure with all the communication links attached than try to remember what you did last time there was a disaster.

Dear Maintenance Men | December 4, 2008


Dear Maintenance Men:

I am trying to repair some damagedstucco at my building, but my repairslook a lot like a child’s mud painting.How can I make my stucco repairs look better?


Dear Janet:
Stucco patching is a true art. Anyone can patch a hole but “blending” is the key to making it look seamless. Let's begin with the proper tools you will need. As with any repair use the proper tools for the job. (Keep the kitchen spatula in the kitchen.)

Tools Needed:
•(5) gallon bucket
•(1) trough
•Shovel (spade)
•9" trowel•Hawk (used to place stucco on, a flatboard with a handle underneath)
•Rubber float
•Sponge float
•Spray bottle or hose with mist nozzle
•4" and 6" drywall knife (for scraping)
•Wire brush

Begin with scraping loose, bubbled, flaking, loose stucco with your drywall knife (you can really have fun with this but remember the more you scrape the more you patch).

Using your wire brush clean the newly scraped surfaces and surrounding areas to clean away dirt, dust, and grit. Mix your stucco finish material using shovel and trough. Mix to a peanut butter consistency(add water a little at a time). Mist the wall patch areas using the garden hose or spray bottle (keep the patch areas damp). Load the hawk with stucco using your trowel, spread stucco at approx. 3/8’’ thickness.(This will allow you to spread the stucco paste thin or heavy depending on area.) Patch all areas. Using the rubber float beg into form the bottom and work your way up(do not be afraid to spread beyond your patch areas, this will help “blend” and create a seamless finish). Once you accomplish an even surface, lightly mist the new stucco areas and lightly push and pull the float into the stucco creating the stippled effect.

Dear Maintenance Men | December 4, 2008


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have just had a catastrophe. A plastic water line under the toilet burst. This flooded the apartment before we could turn off the water. What can I do to prevent this from ever happening again? A $3.00 line has cost me thousands!


Dear Herman:

We feel for you, at least with a slab leak you don’t beat yourself up as much because it is harder to inspect and predict a leak, but with a plastic water line… that is a different story. There are a lot of things that can be done to avoid the damage a major water leak causes. First thing we would recommend is that you look under every toilet, bath sink, kitchen sink and any other water connection that use a flex type water line. If the waterline is constructed of white plastic material, remove it immediately regardless of its condition. The white plastic water lines area flood waiting to happen. Other types of water lines you may find under the sinks or toilet are the rigid hard lines; these are typically very old and should be replaced.If you find a flexible metal water line, these are also typically older and should be replaced. If you find stainless steel braided flex water lines, these are newer and you find a calcium build-up at either end of the line, a kink or the braiding is damaged, the line should be replaced. Once a year all the water lines should be inspected. All flex water lines should be replaced over a period of five years or more. The rubber seals may start to harden and lead to a water leak. To summarize: Use stainless steel braided water lines; check all water lines at least once a year; replace all water lines that are five years old or more.

Dear Maintenance Men | December 4, 2008


Dear Apartment Owners:

We are getting close to the holidays, which means more guests at your apartment buildings, more cooking in your units and an emergency call to you on Thanksgiving Day from one of your residents about a clogged sink or non-working oven with an apartment full of guests waiting for dinner. This scenario can ruin both you 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. This time of year sees a higher than normal use of the plumbing. It may be a good idea to snake out or hydro jetting 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 No No 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. Christmas and other holidays also mean more people than usual walking on your property. Is your property safe? What are some of the liabilities to worry about? Check trip and fall hazards. 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 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 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!

Dear Maintenance Men | January 15, 2009


Dear Maintenance Men: I have just installed a new 40-gallon water heater in my rental unit. The pilot light will not stay on. I assume the problem is the thermocouple, but the new water heaters are sealed units and do not allow me to repair them. What do you think the problem is and how can I solve this issue without returning the water heater or calling in an expensive repair technician? Gary

Dear Gary: In past columns we have addressed the diagnoses and repair of older water heaters that do not have a sealed combustion chamber and have exposed pilot and thermocouple assembles. With the current breed of domestic water heaters referred to as FVIR or Flammable Vapor Ignition Resistant water heater, often the issue is fresh air. Since the combustion chamber is sealed, fresh air is ducted to the pilot flame through a screened vent on the bottom or side of the water heater. If the water heater is installed in an enclosed cabinet, the pilot flame may not get enough fresh air to breathe and the pilot flame goes out. The solution to this problem is to install bigger vents in the cabinet housing the water heater. Another issue is having the water heater in a dirty environment such as in a laundry room. Lint from the clothes dryer may clog the water heater’s fresh air inlet screens. This will also cause the pilot to go out over time. The screens need to be cleaned with a vacuum or a brush to remove any debrisor lint from the air inlet screens. If it is determined that the thermocouple unit has gone bad, the solution is to remove the whole sealed pilot assembly.

This is accomplished by first turning off the gas, then disassemble the gas, pilot and thermocouple pipes from the gas control valve. Remove the security screws that hold the pilot assembly and remove the whole unit from the water heater. The thermocouple can now be serviced. Please note: if your water heater is under warranty, removing of the security screws may void your warranty.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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