Plumbing: A Nobel Profession

thinking peopleDeath, taxes and…plumbing! These three things everyone will experience in their lifetime. It’s hard to realize that plumbing plays such an important part in your life, but think:  without proper plumbing, you could not have the convenience of fresh water at your fingertips; could not flush your toilet, could not have a warm bath or shower, could not water your garden or lawn; and so on.

Most people do not realize the value of plumbing until they have to live without it, even for a day! We take for granted the plastic (PEX), copper and iron pipes and don’t give them another thought when we are going through our daily routines.

One of today’s endangered species is the experienced, licensed plumber. While today’s youth seem to be attracted to technology, they don’t see the rewards the plumbing service industry offers.

Think about it: if you have ever had something go wrong where you live or work, you want the problem fixed quickly! Imagine your toilet is clogged; you can’t flush, or it overflows onto the floor with debris. Yuck! Your kitchen faucet continually drips or under the sink you discover a puddle – what a mess! Have you tried to take a warm shower when you were shocked with nothing but cold water? You don’t want to wait too long to get it fixed. When a plumber comes to the rescue, you quickly find out how much you appreciate them!

Plumbing 101

plumbing license guideAs in almost all trades, there is an apprenticeship program that requires plenty of classroom time (144-216 hours a year) as well as on-the-job training with a licensed professional plumber. This program can take several years to complete. Counselors with the program will be with each candidate every step of the way, from entry level through license testing. Plumbing has historically been looked at as a man’s profession, but there are much more women entering the trade every year!

While age-old plumbing practices are still used in many instances today, there is plenty of advancement in plumbing equipment and fixtures that require knowledge of computer programs and intricate platforms to install those new plumbing features and systems.

The State of Oregon has information regarding requirements to become a licensed plumber. Classes begin in the fall. You can find out more here: http://www.oregon.gov/boli/ATD/pages/a_ctrades_plumber.aspx

If you know someone who is looking for an exciting profession – plumbing may be the right fit! Feel free to contact us at 541-382-7710 with questions about becoming a plumber.

Who Thought Up the Concept of Toilet Paper?

toilet paper 1In researching this subject; we found a lot of very graphic descriptions of things and procedures used before what we now know as toilet paper was invented. We will try to be gentle in our description!

The earliest description of a paper used for cleaning your nether regions was in China in the 6th century. Those inventive Chinese pounded bamboo to a pulp & mixed it with rags soaked in water and then dried it to form paper sheets. In the 14th century, mass toilet paper production was documented in the Zhejiang province. The sheets were about 2’ x 3’ (yes, that’s right- feet). The thought of toilet paper being that large today puts a chill down any plumbers’ spine.

In other parts of the world, people used such items as hemp, rags, leaves, lace (if you were well-heeled), corn cobs, grass, stones, seashells, moss, hay, fruit or animal skins, etc.; the list goes on. Nothing seemed to be out of the running. One of the most widely used was: the hand, along with some water. It’s still used in some cultures today.

Many people believe it is the only way to do a meticulous job when needed; the hand is shake handsthoroughly washed with soap after use. Most designate the left hand for the job, and this is why shaking right hands is the way of greeting or sealing a deal in many cultures.

The bidet was invented in the late 17th century in France. Its purpose was to be used after toilet paper did the initial job. Europeans quickly gravitated to this new invention and it’s found in most bathrooms outside of the U.S. today.

Around 1850, Joseph Gayetty introduced “Medicated Paper” for your toilette; it came in a medicated tpbook form. When Sears began sending out its mammoth catalog, outhouses all over were kept in constant supply of wiping material.

In the U.S., toilet paper began as a standard 4 ½” x 4 ½” single ply. Demands for greater comfort changed how toilet paper is produced; currently the paper has multiple plies and is manufactured with lotions or aloes to provide greater comfort. Also, the length of wood threads that make the paper are shortened to provide more softness (the wood pulp is finer).

In the 1960’s American toilet paper manufacturers began producing colored toilet paper, to keep up with consumer demands for paper to compliment the color palette in their bathrooms. That trend fizzled out by about 2004.

Americans have a love affair with their toilet paper, so much so that it’s the cause of most toilet clogs. Too much of a good thing!

Detecting a Gas Leak

A gas leak is nothing to wait on; it’s a dangerous situation and needs immediate attention!stinky

If you suspect a leak (you can smell it – like rotten eggs), call a professional plumber to come and “sniff” (yes, that is a professionally used term) for the source of the leak & repair it. You may have to shut off the gas until the leak is repaired.

Leaking gas could cause an explosion if exposed to a flame or spark.  Carbon monoxide is also a product of gas fumes. You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide, but it is deadly or could cause brain damage or worse. There are several products on the market that you can install in your home, garage, or out-building to help identify if you have a carbon monoxide leak.

Gas pipes can be made out of a variety of materials, depending on the location of the gas line. The gas pipe from the meter to the yard is made out of specially coated iron. A plastic composite pipe is used to connect from the meter to the pipe.

Iron pipe or corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) is generally used for gas pipes inside gas-piping-1the house. Iron pipe is usually placed up and over the home through the attic with one large main trunk that runs the length of the house. Tees come off of the main line to feed different appliances in the home. With CSST, it will go up from the main line to one central manifold where it feeds an individual line to each appliance in a radial type formation (picture bicycle spokes).

A leak could occur anywhere. At the meter, underground, in the attic or near a stove or fireplace. It’s smart to know that your pipes have the proper protection (wrapped with special gas piping tape). Many times, underground pipes aren’t protected. They should be double wrapped where the riser comes through the ground. A gas leak typically occurs where the connection isn’t wrapped with the special black tape six inches in both directions.

Some typical gas leak problems:

  • Connections at the manifold and shut-off valves that have not been properly installed
  • Improper installation of flex lines, and gas lines in older homes, that have had pipes run with copper tubing
  • Natural gas eats right through copper, especially at connections where the copper has been flared

roof-repairThings to watch for: A gas line can leak when it has been improperly installed right next to the roof decking. Most of the time roofers don’t look to see what’s under the roof before nailing new roofing down. It’s common for gas pipes, especially corrugated stainless steel tubing, to be punctured by roofing nails.

  • Always look for a crisp blue flame, rather than an orange or yellow flame.
  • Likewise, look out for a pilot light that always seems to blow out.
  • On the outside of the appliance watch out for soot or any black or brown scorched areas around your appliances.
  • Watch out for excessive condensation on the windows, or a musty smell in the air.
  • If you are feeling light headed and/or dizzy for no apparent reason, it’s possible that there is some kind of gas or carbon monoxide leak in your house; it’s important that you get outside to fresh air and call either 9-1-1 or the gas company to identify the source of the leak.
  • If you do suspect a gas leak, do not operate any electrical switches inside the home, as there could be a spark when you flip the switch that could cause an explosion.

 

                               Being safe is in your own hands -Don’t learn safety by accident

Home Heating – How to Find More Money in Your Budget

Winter has a nasty reputation for devouring your home heating budget; but there are some things you can do (cheaply) that can cut that heating budget down to a comfortable size.

  • The simplest and most obvious thing is: replacing old, worn weather stripping. A ton weather-stripping1
    of heat escapes from your home though those seemingly small cracks or gaps. Weather stripping is surprisingly easy to install. Instead of turning up the heat, shut out the cold!

Some weather stripping needs to be replaced every few years
because of wear.

  • Check the bottom of your door (the threshold). If you see daylight, it is worn or out of whack and cold air is streaming into your home. If the threshold has leveling screws, adjust them to tighten up the gap. Make sure it is not rubbing against the weather stripping or it will get worn out.
  • Drafty electrical outlets. Especially if the outlet is in an exterior wall, it probably electric-outlet-coverdoesn’t have the insulation it needs to keep drafts out. To stop the leaks, remove the cover plates and fill small gaps around the boxes with acrylic latex caulk. If the gap is large, use foam sealant. Then place a foam gasket over the outlet or switch and replace the cover plate. The gaskets are very inexpensive & readily found at hardware stores.
  • Plug holes in exterior walls. Sometimes when contractors build homes or remodel the hole for pipes, cables and other lines may not be sealed up properly to prevent warm (or cool) air from leaking out. An expanding foam will seal up any opening, and will help keep critters out as well.
  • You may wish to invest in a portable heater. This gives you the option to turn the heat down in rooms you are not using, concentrating the heat in the rooms where you are. Did you know you can save 3% of your heating costs for every degree below 70°F? We can hear the pennies piling up now!
  • Fact: 25% of heat is lost through your windows. By covering the sliders and windows with plastic film, you can slow down that loss. The film is inexpensive & simple to put on your windows. It is easily removed.
  • If you’ve got a fireplace, the chimney may be robbing you of heat. They are beautiful and a must for Santa, but when there is no fire & even when the flue is closed, it’s easy access for heat to escape. You can buy something called a “chimney balloon” that blocks out a lot of the rising warm air. Follow the manufacturers’ directions.
  • Has your furnace had a once over lately? How about a visit from a chimney sweep?chimney-sweep Change that furnace filter at least twice a year. If you have a gas fireplace, cleaning the gas hearth will give you a much larger & warmer flame. There will be a little up-front cost to make sure everything is clean & ship-shape, but your energy bill will reflect the savings over time. An upside to preventative maintenance is; carbon monoxide problems can be identified & fixed.
  • Take a trip down to the basement or up to the attic to check the ductwork. Frequently, the ducts develop cracks or seam splits, allowing up to 30% of warm air to escape. Putting a mastic sealant or metal tape over the leaks will help.
  • Sunshine is free! If your windows face the sun, especially during the “heat” of the day- let the sunshine in to provide natural heat! Then close the curtains when that sunshine moves on to keep the heat inside. Why not let Mother Nature give you some heat instead of a power company?
  • Make sure nothing is blocking your heat registers. Give that warm air wide berth to spread the love!
  • Have you ever noticed that when you lock a door or window, the seal around it becomes even tighter? That means even less heat will escape – so lock ‘em up!
  • It might not have anything to do with heating, but here’s something that eats up your energy budget: your electronics. TV, cell phones, computers, etc. all have plug-ins of some sort either for usage or recharging. When they are not actively being used, they are still sucking up energy, even on standby. If you can “unplug when not in use” please do. You will see a savings!

***Warning: DO NOT use a BBQ grill or camp stove for indoor heat. They are designed to be used only outdoors and can produce carbon monoxide, an odorless and deadly gas. They could also be a fire hazard.

save-heat1

Copper or PEX Pipes? What to choose when re-piping a water line.

copper-pipe    pex-pipe

 

If you suffer a water line leak in your home and you find you will have to re-pipe, you will be faced with two options: Copper or PEX (or polyethylene).

Here’s some information that will help you decide:

Copper Pipe

The traditional method of piping uses copper.  Copper requires a professional with expertise and knowledge to install it and secure copper piping properly, as it requires sweating (soldering) pipes and fittings together.

Copper is a natural substance that prohibits growth of bacteria and some other substances. It’s best for using outdoors, as it is not affected by ultraviolet rays and resists corrosion unless you live where pH levels are low.

The downside?  Expense.  Copper is considered a precious metal and is about three times the cost of PEX tubing.  Cold weather could cause the pipes to freeze & burst.

PEX

It used to be that PEX was only used for radiant floor heating, but someone cleverly realized that PEX was much more durable and began using it for re-piping waterlines and plumbing repairs. It has been around since about 1980 and it did not take long for PEX to become the darling of the plumbing world.

The upside of PEX: the cost is substantially less than copper; it’s got flexibility, unlike copper. A big advantage is its resistance to scale and chlorine. Installation goes much quicker, as it requires fewer connections and fittings. And energy efficient: PEX holds the heated water much better than copper. The downside: PEX is not designed to be used for outside piping, although it is somewhat freeze resistant & will not burst as quickly.

The use of PEX piping is identified by colors: Hot water piping should be red, blue for cold and white is for any water piping.

Installing PEX requires only a few cinching or clamping tools as opposed to sweating copper, which can be toxic.

We hope this information is helpful to you, should you need to replace your water pipes.

 

7 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Plumbing Contractor

plumber-2Plumbing problems are more common than you think, especially when it comes to older homes. Whether the issue is as simple as a leaky faucet or a clogged drain, or something more complex like installing a sink or replacing a water or sewer line or a renovation; they’re all capable of throwing a wrench into your everyday plans. While many of the small problems can be resolved by homeowners themselves, you should contact a professional as the complex ones will need the attention of a skilled plumber.

Before you hire a plumber or a plumbing contractor, however, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. We’ll try to touch those bases here.

Is the plumber licensed?

The plumber you hire should be licensed, bonded and insured. A plumbing license insures he is qualified, passed state testing and is a genuine plumber. This will give you peace of mind that your home & property is protected in case something goes wrong with your plumbing job. Be sure to hire a reputable plumbing contractor, as they will most likely provide emergency service if you need it.

What kind of experience does the plumbing contractor have?

Just because the contractor has a plumbing license, it doesn’t mean they have a lot of experience. Don’t hire the first name you come across without checking out their history. Experience matters. The more experience, probably the better skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for a reference or read online testimonials from reputable sites. With more experience, you may have higher cost, but in the long run, it will be worth it for their speed, knowledge, accuracy and experience.

$$$-What are we looking at?

For big jobs, a professional plumber will want to arrange for a site visit to prepare an estimate. You should be clear as to what the estimate will include and exclude. Most likely this will include labor, materials and possibly sub-contracting some elements of the job. Also a contingency plan should something go wrong. Of course it is upon you to read the estimate and agree to all or parts of it. A professional plumber should be open to discussion on each aspect of the estimate.

Don’t be afraid to ask what the hourly rate is for plumbing services, and with large job, if there is a flat rate. Also it wouldn’t hurt to ask what their billing /payment policy is.

Is the work guaranteed or have a warranty?

Ask about work guarantees or fixture/equipment warranties. Professional plumbing contractors will guarantee their work for a specific amount of time; fixture or plumbing equipment manufacturers warranties will vary. The plumber should leave you with Operation Manuals for each new piece of equipment, appliance or new fixture and those assurances are spelled out in the manuals.

Does the Contractor have insurance?

All plumbing contractors should carry liability insurance to cover the cost of any repairs and damage to your home caused by the plumber. Without the liability insurance, you, as the homeowner could be on the hook for the costs,

Also make sure the plumbing contractor has worker’s compensation and liability insurance in case of a worker’s injury. Without worker’s comp, the homeowner could be liable for medical bills and related costs.

What is the response time?

When calling for a plumbing job the scheduler / dispatcher will offer available times for you to choose from and will ask you what day/time fits in your schedule. For emergencies, be sure to ask for a small window of time (1-2 hours) for the plumber to arrive. If they have to travel long distances, or the weather is inclement (icy, snowy roads) you must take that extra time into consideration.

Who is responsible for obtaining permits and parts for the job?

All plumbing companies stock their vans & trucks with quality parts. If your job requires a unique part or fixture, they may have to order it or go to a hardware store or plumbing supply warehouse to get the part. In some cases, if the part needs to be ordered, an additional appointment will have to be scheduled for its installation.

If your job requires city/county permits, you need to establish before the job begins, who will obtain the permits. If you opt to do that leg work, make sure it’s understood by all involved so you are not charged with the cost of getting the permit.

In the end:

If you have never had a plumbing emergency or issue- good for you!  But those who have will be quick to tell you what they went through. We hope these common sense points will help you have the best experience in a difficult situation; or a great outcome with your renovation. It’s all about peace of mind, fairness of expense and respect for you, the homeowner.

 

Is It Time to Consider a New Boiler?

A sturdy boiler can provide many years of effective heating for your commercial building. However, even the most reliable boiler system will eventually start to fail. When properly maintained, commercial boilers can last for 15 years or more – many have been known to last much longer than that. Here is an introduction to boilers and some factors to consider when deciding if it’s time start preparing for a boiler replacement.

Boilers: the Basics

Boilers use combustible fuels such as natural gas or oil to heat water and produce steam that provides hydronic heat for a commercial building. Boilers also provide hot water for bathrooms, kitchens and industrial operations. Boiler and hydronic equipment can work at low or high pressures, depending on the type of system, but hot water will always be present. Safety precautions should always be taken when working with commercial-grade boilers.

Evaluation Factors

  • Age – Age is often a prime consideration when thinking about replacing a boiler, but it’s not the only factor. A properly maintained boiler will most likely last longer than one not maintained. Boilers that are 15 years or older may be coming to the point where age is likely to become an issue.
  • Performance – Over time, a boiler may start losing efficiency and heating performance.  When this happens it’s a sign that your boiler may be a good candidate for replacement.  Preventative maintenance and professional repairs will keep your equipment working longer, but eventually an aging boiler will need to be upgraded or replaced.
  • Condition – A boiler that is still in good condition will probably last a few more years. In considering and evaluating the condition of your boiler, there are many factors to consider; the metal condition, any rust present, leaks, the function of burners and burner controls, the condition of the doors, even the brickwork in the combustion area.

Things to Consider Before you Replace your Boiler

  • Size – Your replacement boiler must be the proper size to provide sufficient amounts of hot water or steam for your facility. When talking about your boiler, size refers to the system’s functional capacity to produce heat, not its actual physical dimensions. The HVAC professionals at Oregon Cascade Plumbing & Heating can conduct a load calculation on your building to determine how much heating you need. With this information and professional guidance, it is relatively easy to select a boiler that will meet your needs.
  • Efficiency – Older boilers typically offer lower efficiency than newer models. This means they use more fuel to produce the same amount of heat. New boilers offer higher operational efficiency, giving you more heating at a lower cost, by using less fuel. Commercial boilers are rated using an AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating. Boilers with an AFUE of 80 or above are considered high efficiency and can earn government Energy Star program certification.
  • Installation – Proper installation is essential when your boiler is replaced.  Pressure produced by hot water and steam can pose a danger in an improperly installed boiler.  Dangerous gasses, water leaks or even explosions can result from an improperly installed boiler.  Make sure only qualified professionals install and service your building’s boiler.
  • Ventilation – Boilers burn combustible fuel, and as a result they produce gases and fumes.  The most common and most dangerous of these gasses is carbon monoxide, a highly poisonous gas can’t be seen smelled or tasted. A properly ventilated boiler system ensures combustion gases are safely and effectively routed out of your building, keeping everyone inside safe.

 

The professionals at Oregon Cascade Plumbing and Heating can maintain your boiler to prevent problems and extend the lifespan of your system.  When the time comes to replace your boiler, we can make sure you have the right system, professionally installed, with an ongoing preventative maintenance program to keep it in tip top shape. Call us today to schedule an assessment of your buildings boiler or plumbing system.  503-588-0355