Range boilers or hot water storage tanks are made of either galvanized steel or copper. Galvanized steel is subject to internal rusting in time and must be replaced when the condition becomes serious. Copper, on the other hand, while more expensive than galvanized steel, will last almost indefinitely.
The tank must be large enough to hold, an adequate hot water supply. If the tank is too large for the amount of hot water required, move the cold water pipe from the tank to heater higher on the tank to reduce the quantity of water heated and prevent excessive consumption of fuel.
The storage tanks used for automatic gas and electric heaters are provided with a safety valve in addition to the mechanism controlling the heating element. Other types of heaters may or may not have a safety valve, but it is a good idea to have one installed, regardless of the type of heater.
These valves are placed at the top of the tank and connected to a length of pipe running to the floor. If the tank overheats and steam is blown off, it will run down the pipe into a pail or onto the floor of the basement and not splash over walls and ceiling, or possibly a person.
In a home where the hot water system has not been installed correctly, the hot water, on reaching a certain temperature, will occasionally back up into the cold water line. This condition can be remedied by having a valve installed on the tank.
Dirty hot water
Nearly all water, regardless of the source and treatment by purification plants, will contain some sediment which will eventually settle at the bottom of the hot water tank. Combined with this sediment will be rust from the pipes and tank—should they be made of galvanized steel. Note that on a well-designed hot water system, the cold pipe from the tank to the heater is connected several inches above the bottom of the tank.
This positioning of the pipe allows the sediment in the water to settle at the bottom of the tank, where it is only slightly disturbed by the circulation of the water. The sediment will accumulate in the tank until it flows through the cold pipe into the heater and thence into the hot water pipes throughout the house. Most tanks are equipped with a drain valve at the bottom of the tank, and opening this will remove a large part of the sediment.
Do not use any hot water for several hours, to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom of the tank. Open the drain valve and allow the water containing the sediment to flow out of the tank into a pail or some other container. It is not necessary to drain all the water in the tank—drain until the water runs clear. If the water in your community contains much sediment, drain the tank at regular intervals to ensure clean hot water.
If the cold pipe is connected to the bottom of the tank, there will always be some sediment circulating through the hot water system, as there is no place in the tank for it to settle. Placing the cold pipe higher on the tank will correct this situation.
The coils of a heater will collect sediment, and this can be flushed out by disconnecting the pipes and attaching a garden hose to the coils. The sediment will be forced out by the pressure of the water.
In attempting to clear a stopped-up line, use a device called the “plumber’s friend.” This is a piece of equipment that no home mechanic should be without. It consists of a rubber, bell-shaped cup on the end of a long wood handle. To use this plunger, partially fill the fixture with water and place the rubber cup over the drain opening.
Work the plunger up and down, and the resulting alternate compression and suction will generally dislodge any object caught in the drain. If there is no water in the fixture, the plunger will not work, because water must be present to make an airtight seal around the drain.
Be sure to give the ” plumber ‘s friend” a fair chance before you resort to some other method of trying to clear a drain. Once the drain is clean, flush hot water through it to clear it completely.
If the drain cannot be cleared with the rubber plunger, it may be possible to get rid of the obstruction by removing the clean-out plug at the bottom of the trap and using a piece of wire to push the obstruction out or pull it back through the opening. Place a pail under the trap to prevent the water that is in the trap from splashing the floor.
Once the plug is out, try to dislodge the obstruction in the pipe with a piece of stiff wire. If this method fails to do any good, you can remove the entire trap by unscrewing the slip nuts located at the top and bottom connections of the trap.
When these two nuts have been loosened and moved out of the way, take off the trap and push out the obstructions. While the trap is off, clean it thoroughly inside with a stiff brush and hot water.
Clearing beyond rap
If the object blocking the pipe is beyond the trap, use a steel spring auger. This resembles a snake in that it is flexible and can be inserted in the pipe.
The auger can be rotated, and this action will either break up whatever is clogging the pipes, or the auger bit will pierce the obstacle so that it can be pulled out of the pipe.
Before replacing the clean-out plug of the trap, examine the washer to be sure it has not been damaged. Any leakage around this plug will cause the trap to run dry.
Chemical drain cleaners can be used to clear a pipe when it is impossible to get at the obstruction with a plunger or a steel spring auger. The best chemical for this work is caustic potash, but it is very strong and should be used with a great deal of caution.
Remove as much water as possible from the fixture and the drain so that the chemical will not be diluted-Mix the caustic potash, according to the directions on the container, with hot water. Be very careful not to let any of this solution touch any part of the body, particularly the eyes. To avoid damaging metal fixtures, pour the solution into the drain through a funnel. Do not expect any immediate effect from a chemical drain cleaner.
The chemical must burn through whatever has clogged up the pipe, and this action may require several hours at least. Do not pour any water down the drain until the chemical has had ample time to work. After sufficient time has elapsed, say overnight, flush the drain with boiling water.
When caustic potash comes in contact with grease, it converts the grease into a substance soluble in water. Some types of drain cleaners contain caustic soda, but this chemical turns grease into hard matter that cannot be easily removed. Chemical cleaners should be used only in the drainage system—never in any fresh water supply lines. Gasoline and coffee grounds should not be used as drain cleaners. They will not do any good, and gasoline in a drain may cause an explosion if the fumes are accidentally ignited.
Clogged toilet traps
The construction of the modern toilet bowl makes it very difficult to remove any object caught in the trap, particularly since the object is .usually large or made of metal.
To clean the trap, try first the “plumber’s friend.” If this fails, work a piece of stiff wire into the trap and attempt to dislodge the obstruction so that it can be pulled or pushed through. A steel spring auger is a very effective means of clearing toilet traps, particularly when there are two persons present, one to turn the auger while the other guides it down into the trap.
Floor drains such as are used in basements and garages to drain off water very often become clogged up with various refuse which is almost bound to get past the strainer over the pipe opening. These drains should be kept as clean as possible because once they are blocked up and the water floods the floor, cleaning them out is a messy proposition.
In most cases the strainer over the drain opening is attached to the drain flange with screws, but in many cases these screws or the edge of the strainer may be covered with cement from the surrounding floor. This cement will have to be chipped away with a cold chisel or an old screwdriver before the strainer can be taken off.
Once the strainer is out of the way, the drain can usually be partially cleaned with the aid of a long handled ladle or large cooking spoon. Dig out as much of the dirt and refuse as possible with the spoon and then use a steel auger or a piece of heavy wire to clear any obstructions in the pipe.
Floor drains connected into the house sewer system will be provided with some sort of trap. Once the drain is open, use hot water to flush it clean, probing with the wire to loosen up any dirt that might be sticking to the sides of the pipe. Soften grease with caustic potash.
If the strainer over the drain has rather large openings, it might be worth while to cover it with a piece of wire netting before it is replaced in order to prevent large particles of dirt and other matter getting through.
Clogged Sewer Pipes
Occasionally, the sewer pipe from the house to the cesspool or sewer will become clogged so that the waste water cannot flow out of the system. More often than not, this stoppage is due to some bulky object forced down a fixture drain.
The pipe must be cleared as soon as possible, because a stopped-up sewer pipe will put the entire drainage system out of order. Do not allow any water to go down a drain until the pipe is cleared, or the waste will very likely back up in the pipes and come through the drains at low points in the system.
Most home sewer systems are equipped with a special clean-out plug for just such stoppages. The clean-out plug is usually located in the basement at a point where the sewer line runs through the wall.
A brass clean-out plug can be removed with a stilson or a monkey wrench. If the plug is made of iron, it may be necessary to use a cold chisel to start it. If the plug is damaged in this process, you can replace it with a special tapered plug.
Once the plug is out, a “snake” is inserted into the pipe to remove the obstruction. The “snake” is a long, thin, steel band with a heavy point at one end. The steel band is very flexible and can be worked around bends until the point comes in contact with the obstruction in the pipe.
Needless to say, cleaning a sewer pipe is an unpleasant task at best, and if the system continues to clog for no apparent reason, it should be dug up and put down properly.
Underground sewer pipes are subject to attack by tree roots. The small roots work their way through the pipe connections and, if given sufficient time, they will effectively clog the system.
Copper sulphate, poured down the fixture drains, will kill the roots but not necessarily remove them completely. A plumber’s snake can be used to clear the roots out of the pipe, but this requires considerable effort, especially when the roots are large and densely packed in the pipe.
Plumbers use a powered rotor with a flexible shaft inserted into the pipe, and this will clear the pipe effectively. These are temporary measures, however, for the roots will come back into the pipe. Special sewer pipes are available, which are so constructed that roots cannot penetrate the pipe joints. When a sewer line is repeatedly attacked by tree roots, the only lasting remedy is to dig it up and have this type of pipe installed.
Caustic soda is often used to clean fixture drains. This is not a good practice, for the chemical will cause the grease inside the pipes to harden. After a period of years, the sewer line will be so coated with this hard grease that it cannot handle the volume of water required. Removing hard grease with a snake is a very difficult undertaking.
Outside sewer pipes will fail to operate properly if there is too much or too little pitch to the pipes. While the complete drainage of a pipe depends upon a full charge of water to carry the solid matter through, too much pitch will cause an accumulation of solids at the pipe joints, eventually forming a blockage. To rectify this condition, the pipes should be removed and put down at the right pitch.
Clogged Water Pipes
Water pipes will become clogged by the accumulation of minerals found in most water. Given sufficient time, this mineral deposit will reduce the flow of water to such a degree as to impair the efficiency of the entire plumbing system.
Galvanized steel pipe is especially vulnerable to this condition because the rough interior of the pipe provides a surface to which the minerals cling. A galvanized pipe that is lined with minerals must be replaced, for there is no effective way to remove the deposit.
Brass pipe is less affected by these minerals, due to its smooth interior. When brass pipe does become lined, the sections of pipe can be taken apart and the minerals reamed out, if the lining is not too thick.
To do this, remove the coil or water back from the fire box of the furnace or stove. This will require a stilson wrench. Some of the mineral deposit can be removed by tapping along the surface of the heating element with a hammer and flushing with water. After this has been done, pour a solution of 1 part muriatic acid to 8 parts water into the water back or through the coil, and use a funnel to avoid spilling the liquid.
Plug the bottom of the coil before pouring in this solution. Take care not to splash the hands, face, or clothes with it. Muriatic acid is strong as well as poisonous. If possible, heat the element with the acid solution inside, as this will quicken the action of the acid on the mineral deposits. If this cannot be done, let the solution remain in the coil or water back for an hour or more, then pour it out. Several treatments may be necessary if the deposit is very heavy.
After removing as much of the deposit as is possible, flush the inside of the heating element with fresh water several times, to remove all traces of the acid. Brass pipe can be cleaned in a similar manner, or the deposits can be reamed out. Galvanized pipe, due to its rough interior, does not clean readily and can be replaced at moderate cost.
Draining Plumbing for Winter
One of the most important steps in closing a house during the winter, if only for a short period, is draining the plumbing system. The entire system must be drained and prepared to preclude any possibility of a pipe’s freezing and breaking, with consequent damage to decorations and furniture. Many owners of summer homes have returned after the winter months to find extensive damage caused by water from a cracked pipe. Plumbing should also be drained immediately if there is any breakdown of the home heating system during freezing weather.
Drain the plumbing system thoroughly. If one pipe is left undrained, it can cause great damage ; consequently, it is recommended that a check list be used when draining the system. This list should include each branch line and plumbing fixture of the system. By checking off each portion of the system as it is drained, the home mechanic can be sure that he has completely emptied the system. Use the list, as well, for reference when putting the system back into service.
Close water supply
The first step in draining the system is to shut off the water supply to the house. If this supply is furnished by a city water main, there is a valve located on the service line between the house and the water main. This valve is underground, below the frost line. A concrete curb box, fitted with a removable top, covers the valve. Remove the top of the curb box and use a long rod with a key at the end to turn off the valve. This key can be obtained from a plumber or from the local water authorities.
After the curb valve has been closed, close the main shut-off valve inside the house. This valve should be fitted with a small drain cock to drain the valve and connecting pipe. Do not open this drain cock until the rest of the system has been emptied, or all the water remaining in the system will flow through the opening.
Hot water system
Open all faucets after you have shut off the water supply at the curb valve and main shut-off valve. This will drain the water out of the pipes to the level of the lowest. fixture. With the faucets open, drain the hot water tank. Be sure that the hot water heater is out.
Faucets must be kept open when draining the tank, or a partial vacuum will form inside the tank and prevent complete drainage. Drain the hot water tank by means of the valve located at the bottom of the tank. You will have to dispose of the water issuing from the tank, and you can do so by connecting a length of garden hose to the valve so that the water flows out of the basement or by having a few pails on hand. Remove all the water from the coils of the water heater. It may be necessary to remove a section of pipe and use air pressure to blow the water completely out of the coils.
Steam and hot water heating systems must be drained if the house is to be closed during the winter, or if, for any reason, the heating system must be shut down during freezing weather.
The fire in the furnace must be out before the system is drained. Close the main shut-off valve and open the drain valve located at the bottom of the boiler. If possible, connect a length of hose to the drain to carry the water to a floor drain or out-of-doors. If this cannot be done, have buckets on hand. Open the water supply valve to drain this line to the boiler.
Open all the valves on the radiators in order to drain them and their connecting lines. This must also be done on a steam system, as there will be some moisture in the radiators from the condensed steam.
Cold water supply
With the hot water system completely drained, move on to the cold water supply. If the shut-off valve inside the house is provided with a drain cock, the system is easily drained. With all faucets opened, open the drain cock and allow the water to flow into buckets. If there is no drain cock, it will be necessary to disconnect a section of pipe at the lowest point in the system. You will need a stilson wrench for this. Have the faucets on the line closed while the pipes are being disconnected, to prevent a minor flood. After the pipes are apart, place a bucket under the break and open the faucets.
Make a careful check of any horizontal sections of pipe to be sure that there is sufficient pitch to the pipe for drainage. If water remains in a horizontal section, you will have to disconnect a section of pipe and force the water out of the line with air pressure.
It is not necessary to drain the plumbing system when closing a house for the summer, but the main shut-off valve should be closed to prevent any loss of water through leaky faucets.
If the house is supplied with water by means of a pump and pressure tank, great care should be taken to remove all the water from pump, tank, and connecting lines. There is a special valve at the end of the pipe running from the pump to the well or spring. This valve prevents water from draining out of the pipe into the well and must be forced open to empty this section of pipe.
Turning on water
When the time comes to turn on the water, refer to the check list made when draining the system.
Check the entire plumbing carefully to be sure that everything has been connected and that all the pipes are sound. Close all the branch valves and open the main valve and curb valve. If the system appears to be in good condition, open one branch valve at a time.
Make certain that each branch line is in good working order before opening another valve. Do this carefully and there should be no difficulty. Do not open valves until you are sure that the system is performing satisfactory.