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"My kitchen sink is driving me nuts! How come it's called "stainless steel" if it stains? I have stains all on the bottom of it, how can I properly clean it?"
Submitted by: Sara

Ohhhhhh here we go! Good question, good question!!!

"Stainless Steel" isn't exactly always stainless, unfortunately. I know the name sounds misleading but it can be stainless... if you've spent a small fortune on it. You see, stainless steel comes in different grades of metal; the higher the number, the more chromium present (which is providing the strength factor of the steel). We want a higher NICKEL content (which is the durability factor) which also makes for a more expensive, and more lovely looking, sink. You will see all sorts of confusing numbers that accompany your sink, and when shopping for one you can always ask someone working there what those numbers mean... but I'll also tell you here :)

A number, for example, like 420 grade stainless steel means that it is mostly chromium and has very little nickel present. There will be nothing lovely about this sink except the price. Look for a grade around 302 stainless steel, and you will probably fall in love with it instantly and it will wear in beautifully with time... just get ready for that dollar amount! They might also present the sink with ratio amounts, the first number being chromium percentage and the second number being nickel percentage (as in 18/10 stainless steel, which would be a very good choice). The higher the second number, the more nickel content.

Now that we have the grade sorted out, let's quickly get into the gauge of your sink, which is the one other crucial factor when looking for a new stainless steel sink. Gauge means thickness of the steel. Obviously the thicker the steel, the stronger, heavier, and quieter it will be (and makes up for any lack of strength due to less chromium with all that gorgeous nickel in there). This can be a little confusing, but the smaller the number the thicker the steel. So if you see a number like "18 gauge stainless steel", then this would be an example of a very good sink to go with... as long as it had a high nickel content - we're not looking for thick and less nickel! The price tag for such a fine and elegant piece of sinkery can be in the region of $1800 give or take a few hundred bucks. And that's a couple of years ago prices I'm talking about (since I've been off the tools for 2 years now!). It's a much thinner sink if its gauge is somewhere around 22. Another good tip would be to check for any kind of undercoat to help strengthen the sink and dampen any noises... like the sound of dropping dishes into it when the kids are sleeping. That's usually a noise we like to dampen if possible...

Your existing "stainless steel" sink is already stained and now what can you do about it? Learn to love it? Give it a name and accept it for it's quirky appearance? Not always true, you can go to any store that sells kitchen sinks (I'd advise to go higher end rather than lower in this department) and ask them for a cleaning solution for stainless steel sinks. A couple of manufacturers do have creamy products to treat your sink. Other than that you can try a brillo pad and detergent with elbow grease... just avoid the use of steel wool, you will permanently scratch your finish with swirly patterns that could ultimately rust! Already did it? Learn to love its uniqueness until you drum up the budget for a big, beautiful, higher gauge, better grade kitchen sink!

"Are garbage disposers environmentally friendly? I worry about how much water is being wasted when using it?"
Submitted by: Lorraine Beatty

Aaaaahhhhh a timeless question! You will get different answers depending on who you are asking, Lorraine. Most people who consider themselves proactive environmentalists would say composting is the only way to go. But not everyone has the space or yard available for composting, even when talking about the newer compact composting bins available out there. You also typically do not put meat products in your compost, it's for vegetable matter. I am certainly not a fan of any food waste finding it's way to the landfill (a crisis on its own without adding rotting food to the mix), I don't buy the argument that it aids in the breakdown of other matter. It winds up in the landfill surrounded by its plastic bag and ultimately draws unwanted animals to a reliable food source. Garburators are touted as water wasters, which I completely agree with... however, when used properly they efficiently break down your food matter and send it either to your sewage treatment facility (where solids are collected), or to your septic system (it's a myth that you cannot use your disposer with a septic tank, but you want to take appropriate measures when doing so - ie: use less often, get the tank checked and pumped if needed more often), or in the case of lovely North Vancouver where I live... it practically gets dumped directly into the ocean.

Are garburators environmental? The jury is out on this one, you must weigh what factors are most important to you! If it's saving water, then no they are not environmentally friendly. If it's keeping waste out of our landfills, then the answer is yes. If it's minimizing your overall waste footprint, it totally depends on what kind of system you're on and where you live. If you have a septic system, the footprint can be miniscule - if it's a municipal system you might want to find out what their process is (3-stage is best). Sorry for the confusing answer, it's a big question that many, many people are asking!

A side note: Another pressing question out there is "Is my pain-in-the-butt garburator worth all this hassle?"... there are many people out there attempting to repair their own disposer, and while I would never dampen the spirit of an eager DIY'er I must tell you... garburator's are a pain in the butt to work with for tradesmen who work on them every single day! I would suggest calling a plumber and paying for someone else to swear at it while you kick back with cold one in hand, you'll thank me later...:)

"My garbage disposer isn't working and is starting to smell, do I need a new one installed?"
Submitted by: Philip Lasalle

A: There's a couple of things to check with a garburator when it isn't working:

1. Is there something possibly jammed in there? People get very nervous about sticking their fingers in there (for very good reason!), but if you could pull the rubber portion out and shine a flashlight in there to see, you would be able to determine if this is the problem and then hire a plumber to stick their hand in there! I once had to pull shards of a shotglass out of the blades of one - not the most fun, but I survived unscathed.

2. Is there absolutely no sound whatsoever coming from the disposer when you turn the switch on? It's possible that the breaker tripped on the actual unit. If you can take a peek underneath the garburator, you will see a small red button - push it! This will reset it, and you will know if it's fixed when you turn it on at the switch again.

3. There is an ominous sounding hummmmm coming from the disposer when you turn the switch on... either the blades are really jammed and need un-jamming, or more likely you have a burnt out motor, I'm afraid! Fairly common problem and this does mean replacing the garburator. The good news is that it's not too expensive for a new one and the Insinkerator units that I put in have a 2 year in-house warranty to go with it. I also ensure that the old garburator does not go into the garbage, it is recycled!

"What is your opinion of low flow toilets? I have heard that they do not work so great and you have to flush them more often which defeats their purpose."
Submitted by: T. Malone

A: There has been much debate raging about the functionality of the 6L flush toilet, it seems that a lot of the guys in the industry are not happy with the low flows that were on the market. I am on the other side of the debate, I think they're great. The problem comes into the picture when you USE your low flush toilet like it has double the capacity that it's counterpart has - so no huge wads of TP down the toilet, it will drive you crazy! 13 litres, in my opinion, is way too much water to waste for a single flush. The new toilets from American Standard and Toto are awesome, they've improved the force of the 6L flush tremendously which assists the smaller volume of water to give you a better flushing toilet. To me, this is far better than the brute caveman flush that entirely depends on buckets of water to get the waste through! Not everyone agrees with me, however... :)

"How does one fix a "running" toilet? The sound of trickling water coming from my bathrooms is constant and annoying to say the least!

Submitted by: Jacqueline Walsh

A: A running toilet can come from many sources to do with what's inside of the tank. What you need to do is make simple observations by removing the tank lid and flushing the toilet a couple of times to see what happens. The first thing I would check is whether or not the chain from the flush lever is tangled up - you might only need to straighten it out, work out any kinks and you're back in business. If the chain is fine then we'll move to what's at the end of the chain, the flapper. I find that this is where water can often trickle through, as the flapper gets a little worn out or misaligned after so many flushes. It requires removal of the flapper and replacement with a new one. Now a flapper is very inexpensive, but if the flapper is worn out, chances are the rest of the tank assembly is rather worn too. The next source of the problem could be the overflow tube that the flapper is hinged to. It may need replacing, but this is hard for the inexperienced to detect, as it will appear fine. Other problems would be with the float device or fill valve itself, they may be failing and causing hiss noises. Basically every part of the tank assembly is intended for filling the tank with water for flushing and replacing the water as it's used. I would replace everything in the tank as it's not too pricey and it will breathe brand new life into your water closet! If you're feeling particularly handy, you could certainly attempt this yourself - but a qualified plumber has the know-how and will probably take less than 1/4 of the time to do it as well as spot any other weaknesses in the process. Hiring one could save you some potential frustration...
When you have a running toilet, the water demand is constantly being filled as the valve is topping up what you're losing down the drain. This means that you also have excessive wear and tear on the tank assembly, which is setting you up for the problem to get worse sooner than later. Let's put an end to these running toilets and save some water in the process!

Happy flushing :)

"I have heard that there is a valve you can put into the system to prevent your shower running hot if anyone flushes a toilet in the house. Can you tell me what this is and where in the system it would need to be installed? "
Submitted by: June Spindloe

A: Yes, there are newer shower valves out there that are pressure sensitive. When you flush a toilet, it can “demand” all of the cold water in the system and leaves you with scalding water coming out of your shower. This happens in some homes due to the water lines in the house being undersized, or if the cold water line has been routed to the toilet right before the shower. As the toilet tank finishes its fill after a flush, the cold water becomes available again and the shower temperature evens out. Very frustrating and often dangerous with the scalding temperatures.
The pressure sensitive valve will sense the drop in pressure on the cold side, and will drop the hot pressure to match the cold, so the flow of water may be reduced while it’s adjusting but the goal of avoiding scalding is achieved. This is not a cartridge that you can add into your existing valve. You need to have another shower valve installed, a new pressure/temperature sensitive shower valve, which I consider a minor renovation as it involves cutting into the wall behind the shower as the most ideal and convenient scenario. We are one of the few companies that actually fully repair and finish the wall after the installation! I hope this helps and feel free to write back if you need any further help…

"I have a problem with faucet pipes that "hammer" or rattle. Is it a problem that I can fix myself?"
Submitted by: Michele Robbins

A: There are a couple of different situations which could create the common household problem that you have: 1) the system pressure may be too high, 2) the piping within your ceiling or walls may have too long of a straight run, or 3) the piping may be undersized (1/2" is small, 3/4" should be good).
Checking your system pressure is very easy and requires you to borrow or purchase an inexpensive water pressure guage (75psi*) and an adapter to connect the guage to your outside hose bibb. All you have to do is connect this guage to your outside tap and turn the tap on. This will give you an accurate reading of your household pressure - if it's above 65psi, then you should consider having a plumber install a pressure reducing valve on your system. If you already have a pressure reducing valve, then you can adjust the pressure by turning the screw on top with a wrench: anti-clockwise to lower the pressure, and clockwise to raise it. A typical house should have between 50-60psi, and anything over 75psi is sure to do damage to your system eventually!
If your pressure is fine, then I would next consider the piping as the culprit: when you turn a faucet on, you are calling for water which rushes at you instantly. When you've decided that you have had enough water, a shocking and sudden stop to this flow of water can result in those alarming hammering noises - too long of a straight run, undersized piping, and insufficient hanging of the system can all contribute to the problem. What you need to have installed is a "water hammer arrester" or "air chamber" which is a torpedo shaped, vertical, upright portion of pipe which contains... air! This air acts as a cushion to the blow, it will absorb the shock and eliminate the noises. Normally, air chambers are installed either at the end of a long straight line, or closest to the offending faucet which seems to deliver the loudest bang. Now here's another possibility: you may find out that you already have a water hammer arrester, and it has become water logged. It's supposed to be full of air, not water! This problem has a simple solution, you must turn off your water supply and turn your faucets on and flush the toilets. What we want to do is drain the system of it's water, and allow it to fill itself with air. Once you've allowed this (minimum 30 minutes), then it's time to turn the water back on slowly to refill the system. Turn off your taps and see if it worked! Please email me if these suggestions do not solve your problem, and we'll get to the bottom of it, Michele!

*Note: "psi" is a measurement which means Pounds per Square Inch

"I am researching the safety of jetted bathtubs for use in home waterbirths – do you know if these kind of tubs trap bacteria or whether they are safe in general for this sort of application? "
Submitted by: Karil

A: The risk with a jetted tub is easily imagined when you think about the sensitivity of this situation: you are at home, giving birth to your child in your tub, with your support network aiding in the delivery – I’m sure you do not need the added stress of wondering whether or not you are risking infection to yourself or your new baby due to the fact that you’re in a tub with hidden nooks and crannies which are out of sight! I gather that tub manufacturers do not like the idea very much, which has created a controversial topic out of this question. If you are planning to have your waterbirth in your own jetted tub at home, and would like to take a wise safety measure, here’s what I would personally do: fill your tub up with piping hot water, add mild bleach or other anti-bacterial solution that you trust into the water, and fire those jets up full-bore for about 15 minutes. This will get a rush of anti-bacterial cleansing throughout your system – especially through the piping that is concealed. I would even go as far as to give it a “rinse cycle” without the solution after this cleanse. Do this immediately before you consider entering the tub for your birth, and follow the same routine once the delivery is completed. I, personally, would feel much less concerned about possible infection after this tub cleanse, however I must stress that anyone considering this should engage in their own thorough research before making their decision.

"My toilet is clogged and is about to overflow onto the floor, what should i do!?!"
Submitted by: A. Robinson

A: For starters, stay calm - these situations have a nasty habit of getting worse once you're in a panic to solve it! Start by taking the lid off the tank and placing it somewhere safe where it can't fall or break. Next, plunge your hand into the tank of cold water - this is completely clean, safe water that has not come into contact with any sewage whatsoever - gently pull up on either the ball on the thin arm or the floating device on the vertical arm. When you pull up on this device, you are shutting off the flow of water instantly, the same way as the water rising in the tank would. This should stop any more water from entering the overflowing bowl. Step 2 - while holding the float up in the tank with your right hand, reach down to the bottom left of the toilet with your left hand. There is a small valve there with a supply tube running up to the tank. This is where you can shut off the water to the toilet entirely. Turn that valve gently clockwise until it stops, not too tightly though. When you have finished, it is safe to let go of the float as the water supply is now closed. Call your local plumber if a standard plunger does not work from here. A final note: if the plunger does work, make sure you slowly turn the water valve back on (you do not have to hold the float up any longer). Don't worry about the hissing noise, that's just the water filling your tank again and it will stop when the float rises to the top of the tank.

Please consider performing these steps BEFORE you have to do it under pressure! You'll thank yourself when the time comes!

"My faucet has a steady drip, how can i stop it?"
Submitted by: Barbara Mark

A: A leaky faucet may seem harmless enough, it bothers you when you notice it or can hear it - but the global effects of this problem are far more damaging than it seems it could be. Leaking faucets can waste up to 13,000 litres of fresh, clean water per year for an average household. Multiply this number by average potential leaks throughout our country, and we have a serious problem on our hands. The Pretty Plumbing Company believes that pure water is the most precious commodity on earth, and we need to do everything we can to conserve it. Call your local plumber for dripping faucets or toilets that run, and we thank you for your contribution in water preservation.

"There's a horrible smell coming from my basement/bathroom/utility room, is it the sewer?"
Submitted by: John

A: Is there a sink, shower, or floor drain that hasn't seen water in a while? This is most often the cause of the smell, which in fact IS sewer gases. There is a trap on every fixture which most people mistakenly believe is for catching jewellery and such before it heads down the system. This traps purpose is actually to create a water seal which prohibits the sewer fumes from entering your living space, as air cannot penetrate through the water - when the water evapourates and is not occasionally replenished, it creates a break in the water seal which results in sewer gases seeping into your home. What should you do? Go and pour a cup of water into every sink, shower, and floor drain that may not get used too often - do this once a month. If the smell persists, you have either forgotten about a drain or you have a larger siphoning/venting problem on your hands... contact your local plumber in this case!

Want to avoid shower clogs? Go to any home reno type store and purchase an inexpensive shower strainer to catch small bits of SOAP and all of that HAIR which will otherwise accumulate in the trap. Clear it out after you shower and avoid clogging your drain!

I LOVE THESE GUYS! Feel free to lose yourself completely in the tireless efforts and information provided by the Georgia Strait Alliance. I wouldn't have time for plumbing if organizations like this didn't exist, so thank you GSA...

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