Ask the Expert

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You’ve got questions and the experts at Mark Lindsay & Son Plumbing & Heating Inc have the answers. Below you’ll find a collection of previous questions and the expert answers.

 

What is the average life expectancy of equipment?

Most systems have a lifetime of 10 to 20 years. As your equipment gets older, it’s efficiency can decrease dramatically. You may notice that it gets noisier and needs repairs more often. When a unit begins to show it’s age, you have two choices. You can overhaul the system or replace it. Because heating and cooling technologies improve over time, a new system designed with newer, more energy-efficient equipment makes sense, especially if your system is 10 or more years old. We can estimate the cost of a new system as well as a payback schedule that will show you how newer technology will pay you back in lower energy usage.
How often should I change my air filter?
At the risk of telling you something you’re tired of hearing, replace the air filter in your furnace on a regular basis. Dirty air filters reduce the amount of air flowing through a system and make the furnace work harder to maintain the temperature. How often you change the filter depends on the type of filter you use, if you have pets, and the size of your equipment. Please give us a call and we can give you proper guidance.

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Should I have my furnace and air conditioner serviced every year?

Yes. Keeping your system properly maintained will lower energy and repair costs, prevent breakdowns, and prolong the life of your equipment. Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases.

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What does SEER, AFUE, and HSPF ratings mean to me?

SEER, AFUE and HSPF are all measures of energy efficiency. Air conditioners may look similar, but their Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) can vary widely. Higher SEER numbers save more money spent on electricity. A 13 SEER air conditioner, the EPA “current minimum standard”, uses 23% less energy than a 10 SEER unit (EPA standard up until Jan. 2006). Even though 13 SEER is the minimum efficiency available, we currently offer a line of air conditioners that start at 13 SEER and go all the way up to a 21 SEER . Depending on your average usage, higher SEER air conditioners can significantly reduce your electric bill.

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What is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps are a great solution for your home comfort system because they work to provide both heating and cooling.  Heat pumps have SEER ratings like air conditioners and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) ratings for measuring heating efficiency. Higher SEER and HSPF ratings mean greater energy savings.
Heat pumps are a very efficient alternative to electric heat. A heat pump works the same as an air conditioner in the summer, but it runs in reverse in the winter to heat your home. The system will be matched with a backup heating source, most often electric heat for those extremely cold days of winter.

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At what temperature should I set my thermostat?

Normal cooling settings are 75 degrees – 80 degrees. Normal heating settings are 68 degrees – 72 degrees. You should always set your thermostat to the highest possible setting that is comfortable for you in the summer, and the lowest comfortable setting in the winter. Setting your thermostat in this way will maximize your energy savings. On average, every 1 degree of temperature change is equal to about 1% energy savings. For example, changing your thermostat setting from 75 degrees to 76 degrees in the summer could result in savings on your cooling costs.

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Is Freon as a refrigerant being discontinued?

Yes. As of January 2010 the refrigerant R-22 (what consumers call Freon®) is no longer allowed to be used in the manufacturing of new equipment. R-22 has been used as the “standard” refrigerant for many years but has been found to be harmful to our planet by our government.  All new air conditioners and heat pumps use R-410A, the more “environmentally sound” refrigerant.
R-22 is still the most commonly used refrigerant in existing air conditioning equipment in residential homes today. However, per the Montreal Protocol, caps have been established to eliminate the production of R-22. In 2004, there was a 35% reduction; in 2010 there was a 65% reduction; in 2015 a 90% reduction; and finally in 2020 a 99.5% reduction in the production of R-22. This means that during the time of these reductions with high demand, the price of each pound of R-22 refrigerant could potentially skyrocket.
If you are considering replacing your existing air conditioning equipment, most higher efficiency products have already made the switch to R-410A, the more “environmentally sound” refrigerant.

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Can carbon monoxide build up in my home?

Yes. Each year, carbon monoxide kills more than 200 Americans and sends nearly 5,000 more to emergency rooms for treatment, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Where does it come from? When carbon-based fuels such as gas, oil, kerosene or wood burn, they produce gases. When fuel combustion or burning isn’t complete, carbon monoxide enters the air. The CPSC advises that carbon monoxide detectors are the only way to alert yourself to the presence of toxic gas in your home. If you wake in the night with a headache — and especially if another member of the family complains of a headache or is difficult to arouse — get out of the house fast and seek medical help. We recommend carbon monoxide detectors be installed in your home!

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What if I smell gas?

Propane (LP) gas:  You have this type if your gas comes from a tank located outside close to your house.  Propane is stored as a liquid under pressure in tanks and cylinders. In most residential applications, propane is used as a vapor. When liquid propane changes into a gas vapor, it expands in volume. This means that even a small leak of liquid propane can result in a much larger quantity of propane vapor, which can be especially dangerous in a confined space. A chemical odorant has been added to propane to give it a distinct smell. Learn to identify this odor. Propane gas is heavier than air, so it will sink to the floor and spread.  To check for the presence of propane, carefully smell all over a room, especially in low spots.

If you smell propane (LP) gas:
Exit your home immediately.
Propane gas can ignite easily.  Do not light a match, start an engine, use a cell phone, or do anything that may create a spark.
From a safe area, contact your propane supplier and call 911.
If you are able, shut the propane gas supply off at the tank.
Stay away from your home until you’ve been told that it is safe to return.

Natural gas:  You have this type if you have a gas meter and pay a natural gas supplier or utility.  A chemical odorant has been added to natural gas to give it a distinct smell. Learn to identify this odor.

If you smell natural gas:
Exit your home immediately.
Do not light a match, start an engine, use a cell phone, or do anything that may create a spark.
From a safe area, contact your gas company or call 911.
If you are able, turn the gas off at the meter.
Stay away from your home until you’ve been told that it is safe to return.

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How do you fix a toilet that is constantly running?

More often than not the flapper in the bottom of the tank is the cause of the problem, which you can simply replace. Also the chain can be too long and get caught under the flapper. The chain should be long enough to reach from the lever arm to the top of the flapper without pulling on it.

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Why does a plumbing system need a vent?

A plumbing system vent does just that: it “vents” the plumbing system in your home. A vent will look like pipes sticking out of your roof and are about 12″ high. This vent allows sewer gases to be vented outside the home. Another function of the vent is that when a liquid goes down a pipe air must follow it. Without vents, draining one fixture may cause another fixture in the house to back up. A waste and vent system should keep sewer gas out of the home and drain every fixture well.

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What factors contribute to a high water bill other than leaking faucets and/or pipes?

Most leaks in residential plumbing systems are found in the toilet tank. These leaks typically result from worn parts or improper alignment of some part of the flushing mechanism. It is important to find and stop these leaks because they will cause an increase in your monthly water bill.

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How would I know if my toilet leaks? If it is, what should I do?

Toilet leaks occur in two ways and very often are difficult to detect. First, the most common toilet leak and often hardest to detect is caused by a deteriorated or defected flush valve (flapper) or “tank” ball at the bottom of the toilet tank. If the flapper or ball valve does not seat properly and form a water-tight seal, water will leak around it into the toilet bowl. Often, this leak will occur without being heard. Here is an easy way to check for flush valve leaks and in just minutes, you can find out if a toilet is wasting thousands of gallons due to an undiscovered water leak. Remove the tank lid, then flush. After the flapper/tank ball drops and the tank refills, add several drops of dark food coloring) or a Fluidmaster leak detector tablet. Wait at least 20 minutes. If any trace of color appears in the toilet bowl, there is a leak.
The second most-common type of leak is caused by improperly adjusted or broken fill valve. If the float is set too high or the shut-off valve fails to close completely, water will continue to enter the tank and flow into the overflow tube. This type of leak can be seen simply by taking the tank top off and observing if water is flowing into the overflow tube once the tank is full. Excess water pressure can also have a negative effect on the operating system in your toilet.
If you are experiencing either of these types of leaks and need service to fix them, contact our office.

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What should I do if I have a major leak in my home?

In the event of an emergency, turn off your water.
If the leak is inside your home or you have a burst pipe you should first turn off your water supply at your main shutoff valve. If you do not have a main shutoff valve, or don’t know where it is located, you may turn off your water at your meter in an emergency situation. It is advisable to contact a plumber during such emergencies. If any damage has occurred it is also advisable to contact your insurance company. Do not touch any wet electrical fittings – call an electrician.
What causes plumbing and drainpipes to rattle all the time?
The rattle you hear is usually caused by the water lines not being properly secured. This can be fixed easily but only if your water lines are easily accessible. It means that there are one or more places your water lines come in contact with the wood of your floor joists. You will need to get plastic pipe hangers that go between your water lines and your joists. A defective pressure reducing valve can also cause some very strange noises. Contact a plumber for help.

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Why does my hot water smell like rotten eggs?

The combination of hydrogen, sulfur, and bacteria in the plumbing cause foul smelling water. The magnesium anode rod installed in the tank protects the tank surface but generates enough hydrogen to create an odor when it interacts with sulfur in the water or bacteria in the tank. Replacing the magnesium anode rod with an aluminum anode may minimize the problem. The most efficient method of eliminating the hydrogen sulfide odor is to control the bacteria. As a rule, chlorination of public water supplies kills the bacteria, but some private well systems may need to be purified by the use of chlorine injectors or ultraviolet light. This will destroy the bacteria. If you are concerned by the smell, please call our office for professional help.

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Why does my toilet “sweat” and what can I do?

This condensation on the outside of the tank is caused by cold water filling the tank and humid air in the bathroom. There are a few of things you can do. You can insulate the inside of your tank. They sell kits for this and they work fairly well. The tank covers you can put on the outside help somewhat as well. You can also get a mixing valve. This is put on your cold water supply. It will add just enough hot water to the cold to warm it up. When the tank is filled with water at room temperature it won’t sweat.

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Why won’t water enter the bowl when I try to flush my toilet?

First, make sure the water supply is turned on. If it is, remove the lid to the toilet tank and check to see if the chain or strap to the flapper is broken or come loose. You could also have a blockage in the toilet “jets” just under the rim of the toilet.

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How do I get my toilet tank to stop over flowing?

Most often the cause is the fill valve in the tank has a leak in it. If the fill valve is old, you should replace it. Sometimes the shaft or wire that is used to set the level corrodes off. If the shaft or wire seems to be your problem then replacing it should fix your problem. Another possibility, if the fill valve has been replaced recently, is that it could be set too high.

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If my drain is clogged, should I use a chemical drain cleaner before I call a plumber?

There are several reasons we do not recommend this course of action; most drain chemicals are very toxic in nature and not a good thing to keep around the home if you have children or pets. If they do make it down the drain, the chemicals are contributing to global pollution. In addition, over time these chemicals may deteriorate your pipes from the inside out. When this happens, the drain line(s) will have to be replaced and creates a huge expense.
Do not confuse toxic drain cleaners with the various drain maintenance products that are on the market. These products contain “friendly” bacteria and enzymes. They work great to keep any drain sludge and grease from building up in the pipes.

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What does the Energy Factor (EF) on my water heater mean?

The water heater Energy Factor (EF) is a measure of the overall efficiency of the water heater. This is determined by comparing the energy in the heated water used daily to the total daily energy consumption of the water heater. The EF can be used to compare the energy efficiency of water heaters. Water heaters with higher EFs will have lower annual operating costs than comparable models with lower EFs. A higher EF signifies a more efficient model. Water heaters with high EF ratings may cost more initially, but save energy and money in the long run. Eventually, they will pay for themselves through a lifetime of energy savings.

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Where is the “anode rod” and what does it do?

For most water heaters, the anode rod is attached to the hot water outlet of the water heater. If you are facing the front of the water heater (where the labels are), the hot water outlet is on the left hand side. The anode rod is often referred to as a “sacrificial rod”.
Most water is rarely “pure”. It can contain oxygen, magnesium, fluoride, chlorine and suspended particles. These components, in the concentrations in your water, are usually not bad for you. However, they do contribute to the taste and smell of the water. They also impart a slight conductivity to the water. Through an electrical process called electrolysis, this conductivity will eventually (over a long period of time) cause most metal to rust or corrode. When the water is heated, this electrical process can be accelerated.
Most water heaters are made of a steel tank with a porcelain enamel (glass) lining. However, due to production and assembly methods, it is not always possible to completely cover the inside of the tank. Therefore it is important to provide metal that can be consumed by the electrical process. This is where the sacrificial anode rod comes in. By acting as a lightning rod for the corrosion process, the anode rod draws the harmful electrolytic process away from the water heater tank and focuses the corrosion on the anode rod. Water heaters need this sacrificial anode rod to ensure that the electrolysis does not affect the tanks.

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Why doesn’t my old water heater make as much hot water as it used to?

The answer may be that you have sediment buildup in your tank. As water heaters age, they tend to accumulate sediment and lime deposits. If the heaters are not cleaned periodically, the sediment may rise to a level that will act as a barrier between the burner and the water, making it harder to heat. An article published in a national ASPE plumbing journal states: for every half inch of sediment on the bottom of a gas fired water heater, it requires 70% more fuel to heat the water.

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If my water heater was in a flood, do I need to replace it?

Yes. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) recommends that any flood-damaged heating and cooling equipment be replaced, not repaired. From the AHRI website, as it pertains to water heaters:
“Whether your water heater is gas-fired, oil-fired or electric, if it was exposed to flood water, the unit should be replaced.In a gas unit, valves and controls will likely corrode. In an electric unit, the thermostat and controls will likely corrode. In both types, the insulation surrounding the unit will be contaminated and will be nearly impossible to disinfect. Additionally, the insulation would take a long time to dry, leading to corrosion of the tank from the outside.Even if water heater components have been cleaned and the unit seems to operate properly, parts may corrode in the future. Both gas and electric water heaters have a pressure relief valve that can corrode and stick after being exposed to flood water. Therefore, be sure to replace this valve as well.”
(Taken from www.ahrinet.org)

At the suggestion of AHRI, be sure to have your inspection and replacement work performed by a qualified professional.

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Can I use my water heater with a solar heating system?

With the increasing costs of energy and a desire for environmental friendliness, some customers are turning to the sun as a way to heat their domestic water. Bradford White manufactures a solar water heating storage tank for use with solar systems. This tank takes the heated water from the solar panels and uses it as a heat source instead of conventional gas, oil or electric heat sources unlike other tanks, this water heater has an electric heating element for back up on cloudy days, and when the solar system is not providing enough heat. However, it is important that you use only POTABLE (or domestic use) water in this tank.

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Is a drain pan necessary?

A water heater should be placed in an area that will prevent damage to floors, ceilings, and furniture if the heater leaks. When this is not possible, a drain pan must be installed under the water heater. Since a typical drain pan doesn’t hold that much water, it must have a pipe to a drain or other outlet for the water. When installed properly, a drain pan and pipe will keep any leakage under control and protect your belongings from water damage.

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What type of maintenance should I do on my water heater?

We recommend that you contact a plumbing professional to perform any maintenance or repairs to your water heater – from periodic checks on the anode rod to ensuring that all connections are secure. Recommendations for maintenance are in your water heater’s owner manual. However, there are a few things that you can do:
Ensure that there are no sources of flammable vapors in the same area as your water heater (this includes gasoline, heating oils, lighter fluid, propane, etc.).
Keep the top of the water heater clean. If you notice water dripping on the water heater from any piping, contact a plumbing professional to have the leak repaired.
Keep the space around your water heater clean and free of dirt, boxes, paint cans, aerosol cans, household cleaners and trash. It is important to keep the heater accessible for proper operation and easy maintenance.

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