Dear Maintenance Men

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.

Leaks and HVAC


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have noticed the base molding in the living room and leading into the kitchen is starting to come off the wall. The corners are splitting and it is starting to look very rough. What do you think is causing this? I don’t see any water anywhere.


Dear Randy:

We would bet you do have a water problem some where. Chances are it will be traced to the refrigerator. There might be two issues you can look at. First, check that the drain line for the defrost cycle is not clogged. Second, if the refrigerator has an icemaker, check that the line is not leaking. Chances are the icemaker line has a hole or the drain line is leaking and the walls are sucking up the water. That is why you don’t see any standing water.

Look under the fridge or pull out the fridge and look at the water line. It should be a small quarter-inch nylon or polyethylene line; often they are white or translucent in color. If the water line goes through the cabinets to the kitchen sink, follow the line and look for rough spots or kinks in the line. Because these small water lines often leak for a long time before they are discovered, your walls may very well be saturated. The swelling baseboards are an indication they are full of moisture. The repair for this leak goes far beyond repairing the pinhole leak in the icemaker line. You will have to remove the drywall in order to allow the walls to dry properly. Chances are you will also have a major mold issue inside the walls. You should seek professional help for an evaluation of the potential mold issues involved. Please note when replacing icemaker or filter lines, only use tubing specified for that use. Ask for icemaker tubing, it will be marked icemaker compatible.

(Editor’s Note: Be sure to watch for upcoming articles and seminars on moisture and mold issues.)

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a toilet that runs every ten or 20 minutes. I have replaced the fill valve, the flapper valve and I have even scrubbed under the rim! In other words, all the items I can think of that are replaceable in the tank are new. What else should I be looking at?


Dear Sam:

You replaced all the easy ones! When all else fails on a toilet leak issue, it is time to put on your rubber gloves and get an adjustable wrench. Chances are the problem lies with the flush valve seat. The rubber flapper valve seals against the flush valve seat (the big hole at the bottom of the tank) to either keep the water in the tank or let the water out of the tank. The seat may have a burr, crack or calcium deposits that allow a small amount of water to seep past the rubber flush valve. Sanding the seat to remove the burr or calcium deposits is a short-term solution, but rarely solves the problem for long. A permanent solution is to replace the flush valve. Start by turning off the water supply, completely empty the tank and remove the water line. Remove the two or three bolts holding the tank to the toilet bowl. Turn the tank upside down and remove the large nylon or brass nut that holds the flush valve to the tank. Install the new flush valve. Be sure the tank bottom is clean and no debris gets between the new valve’s rubber gasket and the tank. Tighten the large nut on the outside of the tank and you are ready to reassemble the tank and bowl and put the toilet back into action. When reas sembling the tank to the bowl, install new rubber washers and bolts.

Dear Maintenance Men:

Can I get some pointers with preventive maintenance when it comes to heating and air conditioning?


Dear Mike:

Heating and air conditioning or HVAC should be inspected at least twice a year or at the change of the major seasons such as summer and winter. Prior to summer or winter seasons, it is essential to properly inspect and troubleshoot your HVAC (A/C) units whether they are window, wall or central. Most A/C units fail or work improperly due to nonexistent or improper maintenance and not due to age.

Cleaning your A/C is the most inexpensive and critical maintenance procedure you can perform.

Here is our four-point checklist:

1. Turn on the A/C and listen for unusual noises.
2. Inspect/clean or replace filters. Filters should be cleaned or replaced at the be gin ning of each major season, such as before summer and before winter.
3. Clean and repair damaged or bent fins. (They can constrict proper air flow and decrease the cooling capacity of the A/C unit.)
4. Clean out all dust and debris inside of the A/C pan or coils.

On a central HVAC unit, cleaning or replacing the main and return filters, may be the limit on a DIY cleaning. A qualified technician should do any other work on a central heating and air conditioning unit.

Feel free to call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., for maintenance work or consultation or JLE Property Management, Inc., for management service or consultation. For an appointment call Frankie Alvarez at 714-956-8371 or Jerry L’Ecuyer at 714-778-0480. CA contractor lic: #797645, EPA, Real Estate lic. #:01460075; certified renovation company. Websites: and and

Water Heater, Paint, Swimming Pool


Dear Maintenance Men:

I just replaced a water heater and boy are they expensive! What are some tried and true ways to extend the life of a water heater or recommended preventive maintenance tips? Since I’m starting with a new heater, I want to make this one last as long as I can.


Dear Fred:

There are a number of things you can do to extend the life of a water heater, be it gas, electric, new or old. At least once a year, plan on flushing the tank to remove calcium deposits. First, shut off the gas or breaker and let the water cool. Drain the tank and flush with a steady stream of water from the cold water inlet and let the water and debris drain from the drain valve until the water runs clear. If you have a 100-gallon or larger tank, use the clean out port to remove the calcium deposits. Removing the deposits keeps your water heater from working overtime. The more deposits in the tank, the harder the burner needs to work to keep the water hot.

Equally important is checking the “Anode Rod”. The anode rod is a long sacrificial zinc or magnesium rod that protects the metal tank from corrosion. This rod should be checked yearly and replaced every three to five years. The rod can be found at the top of the tank and is held in place by a hex bolt head. To check the rod, turn off the water supply and let the water cool. With a wrench, turn the hex bolt at the top of the tank and lift the rod out. If the rod is smooth and white in color, it is fine and can be reinserted ready to be inspected again in a year’s time.

If the rod is corroded, brown or looks like a rusted nail or missing all together, it is time to replace it. (Actually, it is well past time to replace it.) A new anode rod can be found at any plumbing supply house. If you have a low ceiling above the water tank, ask for a flexible rod to ease the installation. Smear Teflon pipe thread sealant on the threads of the new rod before you install it. Don't use tape, since it can reduce the effectiveness of the rod. Keep in mind that replacing the anode rod on a regular basis (every three to five years) could easily double the life of your water heater.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am getting ready to paint my property and noticed a lot of mold or mildew in the shaded areas. I am worried that scraping these areas when we prep for paint will cause the mold spores to spread. What do you recommend we do as prep for painting?


Dear Marty:

One item on your paint prep work will be finding the cause of the mold or mildew in this part of the building. Check for excess moisture in the ground, walls or even a poorly placed sprinkler head. Trim any bushes or trees that stop air flow or cause too much shade in these areas. The best way to remove the mildew safely is to use a power washer with a soapy solution that contains a mildewcide. Once the building is cleaned properly with the power washer, regular prep work can begin and the property painted.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have just purchased an apartment property with a swimming pool. The pool is in very poor condition and I am debating filling it in and putting in grass over the top. What is the procedure for filling in a pool?


Dear Rena:

In our opinion a filled in apartment swimming pool is a good apartment swimming pool and an excellent use of dirt! First, before filling in a pool, check with your city or county, permits and procedures may differ. Drain all of the water out of the pool and pour concrete into the skimmer, main bottom drain and into any pipes leading into the pool. This will stop any water or creatures from using the pipes as a runway into the pool equipment area. If your pool is surrounded by concrete, try to save the water fill line into the pool, it can be used as a future sprinkler water line.

Using a jackhammer, poke a number of holes in the bottom of the pool to help in drainage. These holes should be at least 12 inches wide and all the way through the pool bottom. Keep in mind the pool bottom can be a foot thick or more. Leave all the jackhammer debris in the bottom of the pool; it will help in future drainage. If your coping around the pool is in good condition, you can leave it, but we recommend that it be removed. The coping can easily be detached by sledge or jackhammer. Just let the coping fall into the pool - it will also help in drainage. One-half to three-quarters of the back fill material should be sand or gravel at the bottom of the pool. The balance of the fill should be clean dirt and topsoil level with the existing grade. Water the dirt as you back fill the pool to help in compressing the soil. The topsoil should be packed down with a tamper. Water the soil regularly for about a week, filling in any low spots. Seed or landscape as you wish after the soil has stabilized. Lastly, contact your insurance company and tell them the good news about your newly filled in pool as your rates might just come down a little.

Feel free to call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., for maintenance work or consultation or JLE Property Management, Inc., for management service or consultation. For an appointment call Frankie Alvarez at 714-956-8371 or Jerry L’Ecuyer at 714-778-0480. CA contractor lic: #797645, EPA, Real Estate lic. #:01460075; certified renovation company. Websites: and and

Landscaping, Graffiti, & Power Snakes


Dear Maintenance Men:

I own a small apartment building with an average amount of landscaping around the property. I have a garden service that comes each week. They cut and edge and do what they are supposed to do, I think, although they don’t spent a lot of time at the property. What should I expect from my landscapers or garden service?


Dear John:

We have a minimum list of items that must be completed at a property. If these items are skipped or ignored, we feel the property will suffer. On a weekly basis, we expect the garden service to provide the following:


  1. Cut the grass.
  2. Edge the grass.
  3. Pull out weeds between the sidewalk cracks, walk around the building, including the alley.
  4. Turn over the dirt in all the flowerbeds each week.
  5. Pick up any trash around the property.
  6. Broom, blow or hose down the walkways.
  7. Turn on the sprinkler lines, check for clogged heads, broken lines, etc.
  8. Check that the timers are set properly.
  9. Cut, trim and thin any shrubs or bushes.
  10. Maintain communication with the owner about problems or improvements.

The above list takes time, half hour minimum at a small property. If your landscape gardener completes the list on a weekly basis, you could very well have the best-looking property on the block! Which means higher rents … if you add color flowers … even higher rents!

Finding a landscape gardener to do the above list consistently is not easy. Ask your local apartment association for recommendations or look in your neighborhood or city for a property with outstanding landscaping and ask who the gardener is. Have him give you a quote according to your “list”. Keep in mind a landscape company or gardener who provides the above service will charge more than a “blow and go” gardener; however, your property will reflect their above average service.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My building gets hit by graffiti on a regular basis. How can I stop this curse?


Dear Jim:

We understand. Our company maintains several properties that attract graffiti like a magnet. There are several solutions that may help.


  1. Painting over graffiti as quickly as possible will help deter future vandalism. We recommend painting over the same day or within 24 hours of the graffiti appearing on your property. Graffiti vandals like to advertise. By removing the graffiti quickly, the less recognition the vandals will receive, thus making your building less attractive to graffiti taggers.
  2. Install lighting in areas prone to graffiti. Motion activated lights also work well to deter vandals. If you have a sense of humor, install motion activated water sprinklers.
  3. Planting vines or bushes along a wall or the side of the building is a good long-term solution. As the landscape grows, it will make it more difficult to graffiti your walls.


Dear Maintenance Men:

I have an opportunity to buy a small power snake for cleaning out kitchen and bathroom drains. At the rate my tenants block their drains, it should pay for itself in no time. Is this a good idea?


Dear Dale:

We understand that almost any excuse is a good reason to buy a power tool. But most bathroom and kitchen drains can be cleared with a three-foot hand snake. The tub or shower will typically have a hair stoppage just past the tub shoe and the bathroom sink will have a toothpaste and hair stoppage in the trap before the wall. The kitchen sink will typically be stopped on the garbage disposal side because of improper usage of the disposal. If both sides of the kitchen sink are blocked, then it may be necessary to use the power snake.

Power snakes can be very dangerous. Most operate with a one-quarter to one-half horse motor, which packs quite a punch, especially if your finger or arm gets caught! If you buy this snake, we highly recommend that you get some training on your machine. Power drain cleaning is very much an “art” when done well. Knowing when you hit the stoppage and when the snake is snagged comes with experience. A broken snake cable in your drain system will be far more expensive than simply calling an experienced plumber when needed. Another thought is that most kitchen stoppages are caused by grease. Your snake will only temporarily clear the stoppage. Getting a company to “Hydro-Jet” your drains every year may help cure your chronic grease stoppages.


Feel free to call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., for maintenance work or consultation or JLE Property Management, Inc., for management service or consultation. For an appointment call Frankie Alvarez at 714-956-8371 or Jerry L’Ecuyer at 714-778-0480. CA contractor lic: #797645, EPA, Real Estate lic. #:01460075; certified renovation company. Websites: and and


Patience is king when trying to catch a rat.


Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I get rid of mice or rats? I have found droppings in the house and I’m not happy and I need a solution.


Dear Annie:

Please come down off that chair! We have written about dealing with mice and rat issues in the past and below is what we recommend if you want to get rid of the rodents yourself. Keep in mind that rats and mice are smart and conservative. They are not risk takers. In the rat or mouse’s mind, a trap out in the middle of the floor is too risky to investigate. Rodents will run along walls, rafters and other low exposure areas. Put the traps along these routes about ten feet apart. A good bait to use is peanut butter. Patience is king when trying to trap a rat. Place all your baited traps, but DO NOT set them for a day or two. Let the rat nibble at the bait danger-free. This last part is the hardest to do. However, patience will win out. If you rush ahead and set the traps and the rat triggers one and is not caught, he will remember! Also, avoid using traps designed for mice; it will only annoy the rat and he will be smarter for it. The same goes for using rat traps to catch mice. The trap is too big and when sprung may miss the mouse.

Using poison is another option. Anticoagulant poison is very popular. This poison causes the rat’s blood to thin. It will make him thirsty and when he drinks water, he will bleed internally. When using this option, be sure to leave a saucer of water near the poison. The poison normally comes in bars that can be broken up into pieces. Remember rodents hoard, so just because the poison is gone, does not mean they ate it. Put more until they stop taking it.

The local hardware store should carry this product, but it is best to go to a farm supply store. They will have the best quality supply. Be careful with placement so other animals do not eat this poison. The hardware store or farm supply store carry approved bait dispensers designed for rats or mice. Again, patience is rewarded. Before using poison bait, use crunchy peanut butter to let the rats get used to the bait station for a few days. Then add the poison bait with a little bit of peanut butter.

Glue traps are also a viable option. It is important to use large rat sized traps. Put the glue trap along a known rat runway or along a ledge or rafter used by the rodents. It is important to nail or fasten the glue trap in place. Place a bit of peanut butter in the middle of the trap as an attractant. Happy hunting!


Dear Maintenance Men:

I doing some long-term preventive maintenance with my building’s individual 30-40 gallon water heaters. Each unit has a water heater and I’m not sure of the age or condition of each unit. How long do most heaters last and what are some signs of imminent failure?


Dear Bryan:

The chances of a number of heaters failing all at once are very slim. The cost of replacement can be spread over a period of time. The average life span of a typical 30- or 40-gallon water heater is about 10 to 12 years; some may last much longer depending on use. A sign the end may be near is: banging noises coming from the heater, short hot water supply and long heater cycle times producing lukewarm water. At this point you should start pricing a new heater. However, if you find water pooling at the base of the heater, replace it immediately, it has FAILED!!


Dear Maintenance Men:

One of my maintenance chores is caulking and sealing shower/tub fixture flanges and shower walls. My problem is getting the caulking to dry before a resident uses the shower. Any Suggestions?


Dear David:

A lot of people will say: “Just tell the resident not to use the shower till the caulking is dry”. Well, it doesn’t work and by the time you are driving away from the building, your resident is already taking a shower and your fresh caulking is washing down the drain. Your caulk should cure at least 24 hours before use. Water-based latex caulking is easy to use, but very susceptible to water until it is cured. Try using a silicone or polyurethane based caulking for doing tubs, showers, toilets, sinks or other wet locations. It tends to set quickly and will repel water during its cure time.

Another solution we have found works well with very busy showers is to remove all the fixtures, including the showerhead and arm, valve handles and tub spout before caulking. (A bit extreme, but effective.) We then plug the showerhead and tub spout with a capped pipe. Then caulk the tub/shower. We come back 24 hours later and reinstall all the fixtures.

One more thought; if you have sliding shower doors for your tub, check the bottom track. If it is loose, do not caulk until the track is removed, cleaned and dried. Reinstall the track with new adhesive caulk to hold it down and caulk the edges to keep the water out.

Feel free to call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., for maintenance work or consultation or JLE Property Management, Inc., for management service or consultation. For an appointment call Frankie Alvarez at 714-956-8371 or Jerry L’Ecuyer at 714-778-0480. CA contractor lic: #797645, EPA, Real Estate lic. #:01460075; certified renovation company. Websites: and and


Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it