Dear Maintenance Men

Slab Leak, Driveway, New Washer-Dryer

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I have just repaired another slab leak. Turns out the problem was the hot water recirculation line. I’m trying to decide if I should 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?

John

Dear John:


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 is 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:

We are getting bids for the driveway of an apartment house. Each contractor has his own opinion about the scope of work. It becomes confusing and difficult deciding which bid is the best.

Anne

Dear Anne:


“Apples and Oranges” bids are very common and not unique to the asphalt trade.

Every contractor has different materials and suppliers which they are not only familiar with, but experienced in the application. As with any profession, a diagnosis, procedure, product and cure may vary. This is why a second opinion is always encouraged or necessary. We too often consider the “three bid” rule as a tool to compare pricing and do not delve deeper into quality, workmanship, application or other specification which can dramatically increase or decrease the costs related to our repairs.

It is best to develop a scope of work, with drawings which identify in detail the following (this will ensure all other contractors are bidding on the same scope).

  1. Areas to be covered, replaced, repaired in square feet and outlined in site plan.
  2. Clearly identified type and quantity of asphalt mix, slurry, sealer. This is very important as most asphalt is recycled and diminishes in quality.
  3. Which equipment will be used to address repairs and distribution of materials (compaction and heavy rolling equipment is key).
  4. Communicate your long-term or short-term expectations.
  5. Ask that the application warrants against “pooling or “ponding.”
  6. Look for proper compacted thickness according to load. (Example: 2.5” of laid asphalt and then compacted 2” by roller.)
  7. Monitor all work being performed to ensure the contractor is adhering to the contracted specifications. (Ask that a supervisor is always onsite.)
  8. Scrutinize the lowest bid very carefully.
  9. Require all other industry standard practices, insurance and contract language be in the agreement.
  10. Visit the www.cslb.ca.gov website for additional tips on how to protect yourself.


Dear Maintenance Men:

My multi-unit property has washer and dryer hookups in each unit. One of my residents has installed a new fancy front-loading washing machine and now the pipes are banging. This did not happen with the regular top loading machines. Not only is the noise annoying, but also I am worried this might cause a water line break. The residents love their new machine and I don’t want to tear into the walls, so what can I do to remedy the pipe banging issue?

Victor

Dear Victor:


The reason for the pipe hammering is because of a rapid opening and closing of a water valve. Most washing machines and dishwashers use a fast acting solenoid to control the water valve. The water starts and stops very suddenly causing the pipes to move. The new popular front loading washing machines also use a solenoid to control its water valves, but they open and close many times during the cleaning cycle, so the hammering is more noticeable and damaging. The simplest and least expensive remedy is to install what is called a “Mini-Rester” laundry hammer arrester. The “Mini-Rester” is installed either at the washing machine’s hot and cold valves or directly to the back of the machine’s inlet nipples. The job can be done in the time it takes to unscrew the hose from the hose bib or machine and reinstall the hose back onto the machine or hose bib with the Mini-Rester in between. These hammer arresters can be found at any hardware store and should be about $20 each. You will need one for the hot water side and one for the cold water side. The “Mini-Rester” is designed as a single fixture remedy. If the problem continues, a larger water hammer arrester will need to be installed.

______________________________________________

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the "Dear Maintenance Men" column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Power Snakes, Water Heaters and Fiberglass Tub

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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?

Dale

Dear Dale:

We understand that almost any excuse is a good reason to buy a power tool. However, 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 disposer. 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 3/4 to 1/2 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: 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.

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.

Fred

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:

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

John

Dear John:

The nice thing about fiberglass tubs and showers is that no matter how dirty they get, they are fairly easy to clean up. 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.

______________________________________________

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the "Dear Maintenance Men" column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Sewage, Mirror, Make-Ready

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Dear Maintenance Men:

I own a small apartment complex that I manage myself. The property is starting to experience repetitive sewage backups.

I’ve called the plumber several times and the problem is never resolved. The plumber is recommending the installation of a 4-inch main line cleanout, running a camera down the line and few other things. It is all starting to sound expensive and I don’t know what to do. Why can’t the plumber just do the job right the first time?

Bryan

Dear Bryan:


Your plumber is giving you good advice. Using the camera will determine exactly what the problem is and will help you decide the best course of action to solve your plumbing problem. We highly recommend adding an exterior mainline cleanout. In the long run, a 4-inch cleanout will save you money by making the plumber’s job easier to do. The plumber can run a larger snake without going on the roof or removing a toilet or disturbing the residents.
The 4-inch cleanout is key to help keep your drains clear on a preventive maintenance basis.
We would follow the advice of your plumber and get bids on:

1. Running a camera down the line to determine the actual cause of your problem, i.e., roots, sewer line break, corroded pipe or cracks, etc.

2. Install a 4-inch main line cleanout with street sweep and repair the sewer line as needed.

3. On a preventive maintenance basis, hydro-jet annually to clean your main line.

This work may not be cheap, but in the long run you will benefit from lower plumbing bills, late night emergency calls and happier residents.

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I safely remove a large mirror from a bathroom wall without shredding myself or my helper in the process?

Tom

Dear Tom:


Removing a large piece of glass or mirror can be spooky. Safety first: be sure you are wearing eye protection, gloves and a long sleeve shirt or jacket. Next, use duct tape diagonally in both directions on the face of the mirror. This will help keep the mirror whole if it cracks or breaks. If the mirror is glued to the wall, cover the glass with a blanket or tarp and tape it to the top edge of the mirror. Be sure to cover the entire mirror top to bottom. You are now ready to remove the mirror and should it shatter, the blanket will contain the shards, protecting you and making the clean-up much easier.

Dear Maintenance Men:

What is the normal time frame for a one- or two bedroom make-ready? I have always heard the three-day rule to get an apartment ready to rent. My units seem to be on the three-week rule! How can I tighten up the process and turn my units faster?

Martin

Dear Martin:


The “Three-Day Rule” is a nice goal to strive for and can be done. But, most units are not in rent-ready condition when we get them back from our departing residents. Here’s a useful time table and work schedule for a one- or two-bedroom apartment requiring complete paint, carpet, flooring, minor repairs, window coverings and cleaning.

Day 1 & 2: Paint prep, take trash out, minor repairs, removal of blinds, drapes, switch outlet plates, etc.

Day 3: Paint

Day 4: Carpet/Flooring

Day 5: Installation of window coverings, doorstops, switch/outlet plates, fixtures, accessories, toilet seat, etc. Touch up paint if needed.

Day 6: Cleaning – General cleaning including windows and final inspection.

If you have done a pre-inspection of the unit before the resident moves out, you can plan what needs to be done before the unit is vacant. Organize the maintenance techs and contractors ahead of time.

Have all the repair and replacement parts ready to go. The key is to plan each day and try to stick to the plan.

______________________________________________

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the "Dear Maintenance Men" column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Toilet Running, Window Tracks, Powder

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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?

Sam

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 deposit is a short-term solution and 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 reassembling the tank to the bowl, install new rubber washers and bolts.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a number of buildings that have old sliding windows and glass doors where the track is ground down to the point where the slider drops and barely maintains its position in the frame. Is there an insert or rollers that attach to the slider that elevates it and maybe even makes it easier to open and close? With the age of these buildings, I'm
finding this is becoming a common problem.

Craig

Dear Craig:

The best solution would be to replace the window as- j sembly, but that can be costly. What we do is install a nylon or vinyl track insert or rail cap (brand name: EZ-Slide) and replace the wheels to match the new insert. The inserts can be found at local hardware stores or at Prime-Line Products (www.primeline.net) or Blaine Window Hardware Inc. (www.blainewindow.com). These companies carry replacement parts for most windows. It might be best to call the company and tell them what brand windows you have and they might be able to get you exactly what you need.

Dear Maintenance Men:

While walking around my building, I found white powdery stuff growing on the surface of the building's concrete foundation. What is this and do I need to worry about it?

Fred

Dear Fred: The effect is called efflorescence and it is a natural occurring condition on wall or floor material such as concrete, brick and stucco. These porous materials absorb water and when the water evaporates, it leaves behind an alkaline salt. The efflorescence appears as a white, crystalline powder. Water is always the culprit. The first thing to check would be the sprinkler locations and if the spray hits the wall, relocate or adjust the sprinkler.

Another problem is moisture wicking up into the stucco from the ground. Older buildings built before 1974 probably do not have a "weep screed" at the bottom of the wall. A weep screed is a metal flashing designed to act as a vapor barrier and transition between the concrete slab or stem wall and wood framing. Installing a weep screed after the fact is not feasible. A solution would be to locate the transition between the slab or stem wall and the wood framing. Saw cut through the stucco to the base plate. Now fill the saw cut with a bead of silicone sealant. The silicone will act as a vapor barrier, effectively stopping the moisture from wicking up into the stucco. Refinish your stucco and paint to suit.

______________________________________________

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the "Dear Maintenance Men" column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Caulk, Graffiti, Garbage Disposal

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Dear Maintenance Men:

One of the maintenance chores I do 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?

David

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.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My building gets hit by graffiti on a regular basis.

How can I stop this curse?

Jim

Dear Jim:


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

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. 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.)

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.

Use an anti-graffiti paint. The graffiti will easily wash or wipe off making repainting a thing of the past.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a resident who is complaining that the garbage disposal smells. I have tried running lemon slices and ice cubes to clean the disposal unit. It works for a short time, but the smell comes back. What steps do you recommend for resolving this problem?

Barbra

Dear Barbra:


The smell may come from a number of places.

1. The first and easiest to check is the rubber splash guard that keeps things from falling into the disposal. Remove the rubber splash guard and turn it inside out. Clean out the debris that have collected and wash with soap and water.

2. Use a small toilet type brush with soap and scrub the inside of the garbage disposal. This will remove any slime build-up. (For safety reasons, shut the garbage disposal off at the breaker or pull the plug.)

3. Remove the drain trap and clean out any sludge. Many times the horizontal pipe between the trap and the wall may have hard deposits coating the inside of the pipe. The deposits will collect food and debris that may slow the drains considerably.

4. If you have a dishwasher, check the drain line leading from the air-gap or dishwasher to the garbage disposal. It may be full of sludge that will cause a smell to come through the airgap located next to the faucet. Clean or replace any pipes with deposits or sludge. Check both drain lines for the above problems.

5. Now if you wish, run the garbage disposal with a few slices of lemon and it should smell good and stay that way. Once in a while, throw some ice cubes in the garbage disposal unit to help scrape away any debris.

______________________________________________

Note: If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men:” column, please send in your questions to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at (714) 956-8371.

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer, educational instructor and Co-Chair of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County as well as being Chairman of the Product Service Counsel. Frank can be reached at (714)956-8371 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information please go to: www.BuffaloMaintenance.com


Jerry L’Ecuyer is a licensed contractor and real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Past President and past Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

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

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