5 Plumbing Tips You Need to Know

Last week on the Home Improvement Show, Pat, Sandie and I did a segment on 10 Common Plumbing Tips and we rated them based on how practical, beneficial, and probable people are to actually benefit from these tips.  Here is my list of the 5 essential tips, nothing more:

1) Main Shut off Valve – everyone in the house needs to know where the main shut off valve is just in case something goes wrong.

2) If the toilet is overflowing, immediately remove the cover and push down on the “flapper” to stop the water from flowing into the bowl.

3) The type of plunger you need are the ones shaped like a trumpet mute (i.e. – bell shaped).

4) When you plunge a bathtub or sink, use a standard light duty plunger or a RowPump

5) Change the filters in your home’s various filtration systems (e.g. – refrigerator, drinking water, softener pre-filter, humidifier pads).

If you stick to these basics you’ll be just fine.

TRHIS – Thompson Remodeling Home Improvement Service

For our design/build clients we stand in the middle of very complex projects.  We design, plan, coordinate, manage, and DO.  It is a service that requires professional expertise.  Adding an addition on to a home may have 30 different trades come together on that project, and we direct that process.  But what about the simple stuff – the hassle of maintaining your home?

We are offering a new service to our clients in 2011.  What if I gave you access to my black book of West Michigan’s finest tradespeople & home-related service providers to manage your own, single-trade home maintenance projects?  My house requires various specialty trades to keep it running smoothly and so does yours.  An example – last week I needed a new garage door safety sensor.  I called my garage door company and in a few days it was fixed without even meeting them at my house.  It is so easy because I know who to call.

Here’s How TRHIS Works:

  1. You call me – someone you know & trust.
  2. I  connect you with a fabulous service provider / trade contractor.
  3. They submit a bid that we forward to you electronically.
  4. You digitally approve the work once it meets your needs.
  5. They schedule the work & a payment structure with you.
  6. They do the work to the agreed standard.
  7. We facilitate the payment process so you have single source billing.

What You Get:

  1. Trusted service provider – the right person for your individual need.
  2. Convenience & speed – no more yellow pages, skip multiple meetings.
  3. Guaranteed – I am your advocate & the broker of payment to make sure the job is done right by one of my licensed & insured trade contractors or service providers.
  4. Cost effective – since we don’t manage it, we don’t mark up the work. The vendor pays TRHIS  a small service fee. It’s a big win for you, work for the vendor, and another way Thompson Remodeling can help you Love Where You Live.

If you need a new garage door or something where one trade is involved just give me a call at the office 616-942-1866 or send me an email

Wall Around My Furnace

Listener Q: I don’t want to look at my ugly furnace or water heater.  I want to build a wall around them.  How close can I put it?

A: I agree that furnaces & water heaters are pretty ugly looking.  I have 3 initial considerations for you that all are dependent on each other.  If you miss one it will not work.  This is a conversation where FUNCTION trumps FORM.

Serviceability – Something will go wrong with your furnace and it will need to be serviced or replaced.  Your walls need to give access to the technician.  More importantly you need to be changing your air filter regularly.  A rule of thumb – the depth of unit is a minimum (as long as it is code compliant).  If it sticks out 36″ from the wall you’ll need a minimum of 36″ to fit a filter (some are 1″x15″x26″) in there but that still may not be enough practical room.  Won’t you be mad when your tech puts his foot or backside through your wall?  I’d be frowny if the next time I had to  service/replace my furnace I needed to cut a wall out of the way.

  1. Fire control – Obvious enough – don’t put flammable things near the hottest, flaming things in your home.  Near should be measured in FEET not inches.  On your radar for building materials should be fire-rated 5/8″ drywall & fire-rated air intake baffles if you don’t use louvered doors.  Think of this like wanting to build a cage for a fire breathing dragon.  If you cramp him in there you’ll make him mad.  If he can’t breathe easily, he’ll also be mad.  If you make him mad enough, he’ll burn down your house.
  2. Code compliance – We have building codes so your house doesn’t kill you and we don’t do anything stupid.  Local codes will dictate exact minimums.  Right now our new local code books are being printed.  When our new one comes out I’ll be able to directly answer the minimum’s question, but in the end you owe it to humanity to comply with your local code as a minimum but consider going beyond that.  You don’t want a C (passing grade) on a report card would you?  Example: Code may only require 1/2″ fire rated drywall.  If you spend a few bucks more for 5/8″ fire rated drywall you can have double the theoretical fire rating.  You’d put a little extra security in that cage for a fire breathing dragon wouldn’t you?

Alternative Strategies (maintaining the considerations above):

  1. Louvered Doors – a bank of swing out doors, bifold, or a bypass track for multiple doors can be cool.  The louvers allow in combustion air and heat dissipation.
  2. Room Dividers – inexpensive, maybe the least expensive viable option.
  3. Multi-track doors – Check out this example HERE from Johnson Hardware.

Bad Strategies:

  1. Thinking “it won’t happen to me” – too much is at stake.
  2. Curtains – unless the curtains cannot swing within 3′ of the furnace / water heater please don’t do it.  Imagine someone sets down some boxes against the curtains and pushes those curtains against the appliance.  Yikes.

I want you to have a sweet looking laundry room or mechanical room.  I want you to transform and purpose every square foot of your home so that it supports the lifestyle of your family.  Thank you for the question.

Is an On-Demand Water Heater Right for Me?

For a lot of us it just seems silly to heat water all day long in a big tank to dose it out just at the beginning and end of the day.  On first glance it just makes more sense to use an on-demand water heater.  Here is a brief checklist of some of the hurdles many of our clients have been struggling with over the last 5+ years and honestly it keeps coming back to installed cost and their expectations of  “unending hot water.”  My experience – I have a conventional water heater in my home.   I wish I had an on-demand water heater but it doesn’t quite make sense in my home.  I first stayed in a house using on-demand water heating in Japan a few years ago and loved it!

Hurdles to Consider:

  1. Peak demand – If you have more than 2 people showering at a time you may hit peak demand issues.  If you live in a busy (4+ person) household with everyone trying to get out of the house at the same time there is a lot of hot water being consumed in a short period.  If you’re okay with staggering just one or two activities you are all set.  Where this hurdle came from is the unrealistic expectation that one will never run out of hot water again.  The starting water temperature has a huge impact here.  My well water is coming into my house at <45 degrees right now (not taking into account water having a chance to warm up inside the pressure tank in my house).  Adding 70 degrees to it in a matter of seconds is very hard.  If it comes in the house at 55 degrees more water can be heated faster.
  2. Water Quality – If you’re on a well (like I am) there is a greater chance of premature wear of expensive parts that one should expect to reduce the total service life of the water heater.
  3. Installed cost – 2 to 4 times the installed cost of a conventional water heater.  More realistically it is a closer gap of 1.5 to 2.0 times the cost of a direct venting tank water heater.  A 3/4″ gas line is required by most units and we run into a majority of conventional water heaters being currently fed with 1/2″ gas supply line.  The closer to an outside wall the better (prefered is to actually install on an exterior wall) but also consider that the intake & exhaust will need to be multiple feet away from your furnace intake & exhaust or bath fans, etc.  The installed location for an on-demand water heater in my house would not be in my current mechanical room but rather on the other side of the basement closer to the (2) bathrooms stacked on top of each other and a 1 1/2″ (HUGE) gas line near there from when our house had a heated swimming pool.  These are just positives that our house has going for it, not necessary for others.  As you have already read, I do not have an on-demand water heater for other reasons.

Benefits Once You’ve Overcome Hurdles:

  1. Safety – all sealed combustion [high efficiency water heaters and high efficiency furnaces] units exhaust carbon monoxide directly to the outdoors.  A side note for safety, if your home does not have anti-scald shower valves we need to talk about that too.
  2. Energy Efficiency – logically, it makes sense to use just what you need.
  3. Ever Lasting Hot Water at a Calculated Rate – never a cold shower again…never live at home without it. *See Peak demand discussion
  4. Immediate Recovery – IF you do exceed peak demand all someone has to do is change one thing.  One person has to wrap up a shower and everyone else will be happy.  The dishwasher can be put on delay so it runs just after everyone leaves for the day.  The laundry can be done on the way out the door or in the early evening.
  5. Adding a bathroom – If you add a bathroom far away from the existing water heater it could be a fabulous circumstance to add an on-demand water heater to service just that bathroom.
  6. Space savings – by hanging an on demand water heater on a wall you free up a few feet of floor space.

Two Client Profiles:

  1. No kids, city water, budget not the primary driver, natural gas – On-demand is for you!
  2. 4 kids, well, or budget enters the discussion – Stick with a convention tank water heater.

On-demand water heating is the way the world is headed.  I love having this conversation with clients, analyzing their current household and providing them with information relative to their unique home so they can make the decision that is right for them.  I predict that adoption rate of on-demand water heating will continue to increase year after year.

Why Pipes Gurgle Q&A

Q: Good Morning Ben,   My son had a house built in Savannah Georgia and sent me this question. Thank you,   John

What makes a toilet keep bubbling, when the shower is used, or water is going out of tub?  I have a video file of what is occurring, but I think it is too big to send to you.

A: Hi John,

Very common question and I’m so glad you asked.  I talked to my “gurgle expert” Don Somderdyke, Peter Somerdyke Plumbing, in Grand Rapids, MI 616-977-3377 and Don has this insight.

It probably is some sort of partial obstruction in the main drain line servicing the bathroom.  The assumption we’re making is that along with the gurgles/bubbles that the drain also slow drains.  Otherwise it could be a sag in the line that’s holding water.  In either case what could be happening is the drain water fills up the entire drain line and the air that’s in the line needs to find an escape route so it bubbles it’s way back up from whence the water came.  It also can create a siphon in the toilet causing it to bubble.

Next Step: Remove the toilet and snake/clear the drain line of any accumulated debris.  Sags in the line can only be fixed when the pipe is exposed.  In other words tearing up the floor or ceiling below and may not be necessary.

If you don’t do anything…at least you have a good idea of what’s happening now.  Take care John and thanks for the note.


Ben Thompson