How to Fix Low Water Pressure

A major problem in many homes is having low water pressure, which can be very frustrating when trying to take a shower or wash your hands. Luckily, there are some easy ways to boost the water pressure and attempt to fix it altogether. The first thing that needs to be done in this situation is to determine the type of all the water pipes in and around your house. This is important because the size of the water pipes can determine the amount of water pressure the home will receive.

The next step to fixing the water pressure is to make sure that all the water valves are fully open because if they are only partially open then you are only receiving a portion of the water pressure. This step is key because it is often the main reason why homes have low water pressure. If these valves are not fully open then it is important to open them and check to see if this makes a difference. The next step is to inspect for any clogs or crimps in the water pipes, if it is a new home or if it has been tampered with recently there can often be clogs in the pipes.

Tampering with some of these pipes and other parts of the house can cause serious problems to the home so it is important to be careful. Call a professional if there are any major problems or if the water pressure cannot be fixed by these solutions. It is important to know the extent of your abilities because trying to fix these problems on your own can often result in costly repairs. Calling a professional can save your home from having to undergo costly repairs because of the problems that can arise when trying to fix the problem on your own.

Some minor steps taken to fix water pressure are replacing the shower or faucet piece or increasing pipe sizes. The easiest of these solutions is to replace the showerhead or faucet aerator, this is often what is causing the low water pressure because the piece can be clogged or corroded. Replacing this piece or cleaning it out is a very simple and cost-effective way to fix the water pressure. It is important to call a professional in order to save the home from serious or costly problems that could arise.

Improper Venting can Actually Destroy a Toilet Trap

Most people don’t really understand how their toilet works, and most people don’t really need to understand it. When something starts to go wrong though, it can very helpful to know what’s going on so you can try & fix the issue yourself. We know plumbers are expensive and you shouldn’t call a company like us if you don’t need to or if it’s something you can fix on your own.

Plumbing is all about moving water from location A to location B. The fundamental purpose of plumbing is to direct, deliver and get rid of water. In the process of doing so, there are many chances for air to get involved and to actually disrupt the movement. A pipe is never empty, even if there is no water flowing through it. The pipes in your home are always filled with, you guessed it, air. When we introduce water into a pipe, we are pushing out the air. The air is not going to just disappear so we need to find an easy access for the air to escape while keeping the water in the pipes. And to complicate the issue, we want the air to escape without letting nasty sewer smells into a house.

The Relation of Air and Plumbing Systems

For every drain in your home, an arrangement has to be made so that the air in your waste water pipes doesn’t come into your house. In one of the cleverest inventions in plumbing, the problem is solved by making sure there’s always a barrier of water between the fixture and the waste line. This is accomplished by something called a trap, usually a “U” shaped pipe (but sometimes “P” shaped) right underneath the drain or, in the case of your toilet, inside the base of the fixture that always has a few inches of water trapped in it.

The vent system manages air on the downstream side of the trap which, especially in the case of the waste line from the toilet, does not smell very pleasant. As the water and everything in it rushes from the toilet, the pushed air ahead of it comes to a vertical pipe. Water and waste falls down, and air and smells go up the vent stack through the roof and into the outside air. Air is lighter than water so you will never have a situation where waste water is spouting out of your roof. That would be bad. Once the water has gone by, air is reintroduced from the vent stack preventing the creation of a vacuum. Air goes out and air goes back in. When there’s no water being drained, the vent stack passes smells and sewer gas straight up and out.

Sometimes there’s a problem in the vent system usually because there’s a clog up above the roof, like a bird’s nest or leaves stuck in the vent stack. We have even seen instances where tennis balls and baseballs have been lodged in there.

A quick note, the weirdest things we’ve seen blocking the vent stack are as follows: a Barbie doll, a plastic piggy bank, and a Bart Simpson figurine

When that happens, no air is reintroduced. The resulting vacuum provides enough suction so that all the water is pulled from the trap. Two things can happen here:

  1. Option A: The toilet bowl has all water sucked out of it and the sewer gas easily escapes. The toilet bowl doesn’t fill up with water and the missing water that’s supposed to provide a barrier to sewer gas instead allows the gas to escape through the toilet into your house.
  2. Option B: The trap is pulled down enough to make the toilet gurgle and spit water. The air bubbles that will explode from your toilet will be sewer gas and will smell. An improperly vented pump is usually the cause for the “Option B” scenario.

How Can This Happen

ll of the plumbing in your house needs air. When we flush a toilet and introduce water into the system, the air that is present in the system needs to be displaced and usually does so through the vent stack. If that stack is blocked, the plumbing system still needs to pull air from somewhere and will do it through the first available source, which for the purposes of this post can be a nearby toilet. When you think about it, the toilet line itself is a “vent” coming off of the main sewer pipe. What makes this vent different is that is it covered by a toilet. If there was no toilet, the toilet vent line would function the same as your roof vent and pull air into the system.

Why Is my Toilet Breaking?

The trap in a toilet is basically a flap or seal. There is no fancy engineering there but it is quite a useful device for keeping the water in as a barrier to the bad sewer odor that no one wants. If your vent is not clear and your system keeps trying to pull from your toilet “vent”, then the flap or trap will eventually degrade and allow water to leak out of it. You know there is an issue if your toilet periodically turns on & fills up the reserve tank with water. If that happens, it means there is a leak in the trap. Note that a leaky trap will not always release sewer gas. The toilet plunger in the tank is going down to a level where it thinks it needs to refill itself. If you don’t fix the vent, you can burn through a few toilets a year. Pretty expensive considering toilets average around $300.

I’m Tired of Replacing My Toilets. What Can I Do?

If you notice the symptoms of poor venting (smell of sewer gas and/or toilet bowl completely drained or periodically draining & refilling itself) there’s some chance that you can fix the problem yourself.

Grab a Ladder

Most of your vent stack is inside your walls, but where it comes through the roof you can get access. Get on your roof with a flashlight to see if you can spot anything foreign in there.

Be Careful

Exercising all necessary caution you can climb up on your roof and inspect the top of your vent stack. Make you are doing this with a partner. Never go onto your roof alone.

Locate the Clog

If you notice any blockage or obstruction, remove it. This is not always as easy as it sounds so you may need to get creative. Depending on the age of your house and the purpose of the vent, your vent stack can be small. A sewer vent (soil stack) is usually 3″-4″ in diameter where other vents are usually 1 1/2″. If you have multiple vents on your roof, the largest one is the one you should be fixated on.

Call a Plumber

If there’s no obstruction or the problem’s not solved, it’s probably time to call in a professional. A master plumber will be able to identify the issue and recommend the best course of action. At this point, it could be clogs in the outgoing sewer line itself, an improperly ventilated basic pump, a covered street vent, or cracks in your sewer line.

If we missed something here or of you have an interesting venting experience that took months to pinpoint and solve, we’d love to hear about it.

Picking the Safest Bathroom Floor

Safe Bathroom TileWhen choosing a bathroom floor, there are so many things to consider. Color, price, durability, and the type of flooring are usually the main factors. A decision that is often overlooked is safety. As our parents age (and as we age as well), safety in the bathroom becomes very important. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are a serious problem in the United States. In fact, the leading cause of fatal injury among senior citizens is falling at home with a high percentage of those falls occurring in the bathroom. If the key to safety is prevention, then  picking the safest bathroom floor is vital to making the bathroom one of the safest “rooms” in the house.

When an elderly person slips on a bathroom floor, the results can be serious or even fatal. While there are many safety measures which can be put into place outside of changing the flooring like adding bars and shower chairs, replacing a slippery floor is imperative. If you have the budget and the means, installing the right flooring is a great way to reduce the risk of injuries from falls by reducing the risk of the fall itself. But what floor is the right floor? There are several options for bathroom floors & we will discuss the pros, and more importantly the cons of each.

Ceramic Tile

Tile is probably the most popular flooring material for the bathroom, and for good reason. Ceramic tiles look good, last virtually forever, are easy to clean, and resist scratches and mold. From the very humble to the extremely fancy, the varieties of ceramic floor tile seem infinite.

Since “ceramic tile” is a broad scope of tile classification, some types of ceramic tiled floors are very dangerous and others are quite safe. Many floor tiles can be extremely slippery. Couple that with a wet bathroom and they become a hazard. Highly glazed tiles can be very slippery and large tiles tend to be more slippery than smaller ones. But don’t be altogether scared of using ceramic in your bathroom because a safe ceramic tiled floor is by no means impossible. Slip resistant tiles are quite easy to find and there are even tiles certified to meet ADA standards for slip resistance.

Ceramic tiles can be dangerous or safe since they can be both smooth and glazed to mimic the look of honed marble, and rough to mimic a natural stone tile like travertine. For safety, we recommend the latter.

Another factor for safety is tile size. Smaller tiles mean more grout, and grout is not slippery. If you are going ceramic, consider smaller, slip resistant tiles for a safe tiled floor in addition to a rougher tile surface.

Non-Slip Vinyl

Most vinyl flooring provides excellent traction and is often quite a bit softer than ceramic tile for a little bit of extra safety. If a fall does occur, vinyl tiles usually have an underlayment layer that goes down before the actual tile application making the surface have a little give. Other pros are vinyl flooring can look pretty classy, it’s quite easy to install, and most of it is easy on the budget.

The product is available as tiles and in sheets, but either medium does not add or detract from the safety (when you lay the vinyl in tile form, the ends of the tile are butted against each other & there is no need for grout). Tiles are a little easier to install but over time or if not well installed, the corners may start to come up causing trip hazards. This is especially true in the bathroom because of the humidity factor. The bright side is that because it’s so easy to install, it’s very easy to replace. If the tiles start warping, simply pull them up and replace the shabby tile. That being said, we recommend keeping some of this tile on hand and tucked away in your garage. It’s such a cheap building material that buying a few extra cases is not going to break the bank and it’s great to have on hand.

Cork or Bamboo

Both materials are increasingly popular for floors because they’re attractive, they’re a renewable resource, and they’re comfortable. Depending on the finish, they can be non-slip and quite safe. A high gloss finish will be much more volatile than a rough or “country” type of surface. A good rule of thumb is if it’s not shiny, it’s safe. There are also aftermarket products available to increase the slip resistance like rubs and cleaners. Though we haven’t tried it, people say a solution of vinegar and water rubbed on the wood will create a rough surface.

If you are worried about wood in the bathroom, don’t be. Most of the products are treated to resist mold, mildew, and be anti-microbial, allergen and VOC free. Wood is not going to be the best option for a non slip surface but if the aforementioned aftermarket products are applied, it becomes a pretty safe medium. We forgot to mention only natural wood will work in a bathroom a composite wood (Pergo) will warp when wet.

Carpet

A well installed indoor-outdoor floor can be very safe and also worm and soft on bare feet. We are not talking about Astroturf here. There are some great Berber / high pile carpet types that look great and would work “well” in a bathroom. The reason you don’t see a lot of carpeted bathrooms is that it doesn’t respond very gracefully to getting wet, and whatever’s installed on the bathroom floor is going to get wet. There’s a good chance that a carpeted bathroom floor will give rise to mold and/or mildew problems. There are products that resist mold and mildew from the carpet itself to the batting underneath, however, nothing is going to be 100% mildew proof. Of all the products mentioned this far, carpet is by far the most non slip surface but it’s the most volatile surface because of its affinity for mold and mildew issues when used in the bathrooms.

Rubber Flooring

Whenever rubber flooring is suggested, people imagine institutional settings or big thick restaurant mats. These days though, there’s a lot of very good-looking rubber floors available, and they are never slippery even when wet. Today’s rubber flooring is soft and forgiving if there is a fall. For extra softness it can be installed with an additional layer of padding.

Other Mentionables

There are some other types of flooring we’ll mention here quickly like concrete (can be pretty slippery or non-slip depending on the texture you request) and pebble bath tiles (have a nice Zen bathroom feel but are very slippery).

It’s All About Making the Right Flooring Choice

Given the potentially tragic results of bathroom falls for the elderly, it only makes sense to put safety first. Individuals are going to prioritize the other characteristics differently depending on their tastes, budgets and the look and feel of the rest of the bathroom. The good news is we already did the hard work for you with the lists below which prioritize tile options on safety and then safety while considering tile.

Ranking of Bathroom Flooring  On Safety

Now that we know the options, lets rank these types of floors based on safety:

  1. Carpet: By far the most non slip surface
  2. Rubber Flooring: Next to carpet, this is your best bet
  3. Non-Slip Vinyl: Not too slippery and a step above wood floors on safety
  4. Wood (Cork, Bamboo, Natural): As a base product, it’s quote slippery compared to the others (however with the proper surface augmentations and vintage choice, we’d rank it #3)
  5. Ceramic Tile: Because there are so many choices and some are quite slippery, we had to rank this last

Ranking of Bathroom Floors on Looks + Safety

Even if you are elderly and concerned about safety, it doesn’t mean you need to skimp on style. The following list represents the ranking of floors based on looks first than safety (note we are also considering all after market safety additions & other safety precautions to create a best case safety scenario):

  1. Ceramic Tile: Again, there are soo many options here that you can definitely find a tile with a very rough surface. You can also get some small tiles (4×4) with large grout seams to make the surface even less slippery. Want to go the extra mile, use a thick bathroom rug as well & never step directly onto the tile.
  2. Wood: With the addition of aftermarket products and with a very dull floor (the high gloss ones are the most slippery) a wood floor can be quite safe and look great in a bathroom. We also recommend a thick carpeted / rubber backed floor mat to cover the area outside of the shower, under the sink,  and in front of the toilet.
  3. Vinyl Flooring: Not the most attractive option but not the worst either. Plus it’s pretty middle of the road as far as safety putting it right in the middle of our safety + looks list.
  4. Carpet: Carpet is safe, but no one likes carpet in a bathroom because from a designers perspective, it’s not an attractive look. If you are thinking about style + safety, you are better off with wood or ceramic using bathroom mats (rugs) as accents.
  5. Rubber Flooring: It’s safe but it looks pretty shabby. If you are concerned about looks over safety, then you wouldn’t want the paramedics to pick you up off of a rubber floor making it last on our good looks + safety list.

Did we miss something or do you feel our rankings for either list are wrong? Please share your views below.

External Resources:

  • HomeMods: Resource for the elderly or disabled to increase the availability and access of home modifications.
  • Adult Bathroom Safety: A checklist from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for staying safe in the bathroom. 
  • Improving Safety for Seniors: Some great suggestions for improving safety in the bathroom and other rooms in the house.

Helenski Plumbing and Heating Company Launches Blog

We love blogging. Sometimes even more than plumbing! We hope this blog develops into a useful resource and we hope you like our posts & information. If you have any suggestions for our blog, please let us know. Sometimes we run out of good ideas to write about.

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