Dear Maintenance Men

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!

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.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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