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Ask Johnny Podcast 02: Toilets and Hot Water

 |  General Home Care, Plumbing, Podcast, Water Treatment

How do you know if you have a slab leak? What’s the general practice about maintaining your hot water tanks? How do you fix your running toilet? What if your toilet is slow draining? Is that a job for the professionals?

Get the answers to these home service questions and more on The Ask Johnny D Show, episode 2.

And remember, if you have your own home services questions, just click to the Ask Johnny D page and fire away!


Steve: Hi. Welcome to another episode of the Ask Johnny show. I’m your host, Steve Gleave, and I’ll be joined as always by Isley’s very own John Dargavel. Let’s talk about water going out of the house. Let’s talk about toilets, which I’ve always found quite daunting. Can you help me get over this fear of toilets? Are they things that are relatively easy for the average person to maintain, or are they a no-go zone for the average homeowner?

John: Toilets are typically a pretty homeowner-friendly repair that can be taken care of. With a toilet, depending on what the problem is, most of the time, taking off the lid of the toilet and looking at the inside of it, typically you can see where problems are. There’s typically a flapper that’s inside of the toilet that seals the water from going into the toilet. That’s also what is triggered when you flush the toilet. When you push the trip lever, it pulls the flapper up. Then there’s a fill valve inside of the toilet that fills the toilet up. It allows water to go into it when it gets down to a certain level. Toilet repairs are typically pretty simple in most cases. You just want to make sure that you get similar replacement parts when you go to repair those.

Steve: Now that flapper, is that the whole “running toilet syndrome,” when you can always hear the toilet gurgling away? Is that the problem there?

John: Yes. Typically, there are two or three things that would cause a toilet to continually run, one of which is if the flapper is bad, meaning it’s allowing the water to leak by the flapper. You would look inside of the toilet bowl and you would see water continually running. That could be a bad flapper. It could be an adjustment to the flapper, where the flapper is not allowed to go all the way down and seal properly – one of those two things – or the fill valve that we talked about before that allows the water to go into the toilet has failed and it’s continually letting water flow into the toilet and it actually overflows into the bowl. There are usually three things that would cause the water to continually run, and all of them are fairly easy repairs.

Steve: What if my toilet is slow draining. Is that a job for the professionals?

John: If it’s slow flushing – meaning when you go to flush the toilet – there are a couple simple things that you can look at that are inside of the toilet, one of which is is the toilet filling properly, meaning that the tank is filled all the way up to the fill line? If the toilet tank only has half a tank of water in it and you go to flush it, then it’s going to have a poor flush. But if we’re talking about water going down through the toilet and it’s backing up, the first thing I usually recommend to a homeowner is to try a plunger. You can try and plunge it, and sometimes that will clear it. There’s another device that’s called the closet auger, which most homeowners don’t carry but we do carry them on our trucks, that we run down through the toilet. It’s like a snake that’s real flexible that would go through the toilet and clear something that’s inside of that line. A lot of times, if you get into a slow toilet, it may be time to call for professional help.

Steve: Let’s talk about hot water tanks just quickly, because mine is always empty. I have a wife and two daughters, so they pretty much empty it every day.

John: That’s pretty common.

Steve: I always wonder… I read somewhere once I was meant to drain my hot water tank once or twice a year, and I kind of figured I drained it every day. What’s the general practice about maintaining your hot water tanks?

John: Draining the water heater is a thing that is recommended by the manufacturer. What we talked about earlier about water softeners is calcium deposits will build up in the bottom of the water heater. We want to keep the water heater clear of that build up, because you will lose capacity, meaning if the bottom of the tank gets two or three inches of build-up inside of it, then that’s not hot water that’s inside of there. It’s as simple as taking a garden hose, hooking it to the bottom of it, and flushing the water heater out. That’s definitely recommended. Most of the water heaters have instructions on them on what to do and when to do it and how to do it.

Steve: That’s not red-hot water coming out of there, coming out of the hose? It’s not scalding hot water?

John: Yes, definitely, you’re going to have hot water coming out of there. There are a couple of different ways to do it. You can either flush the tank, meaning leaving the water on full blast and turning the valve on at the bottom of the water heater and flushing out that. Then you can also drain the tank, meaning that you would turn the entry water off to the water heater and actually drain the tank. You’d would want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on that if you’re going to do that because if it’s an electric water heater or a gas water heater, you’re going to want to turn the power off, turn the gas off to the tank so that it doesn’t turn on or fire up while the tank is empty. They’re not designed to run without water in them, so we want to make sure that we’re doing that properly.

Steve: You make it all sound quite simple. I’ve been very fearful of this part of the house for the longest time, but it seems like there are some projects you can do as a homeowner and some, of course, where you’d want to call the experts. But none of it is insurmountable. Any recommendations? I could bypass water tanks altogether and get a tankless one. Is that an approach that is proving popular now?

John: It’s definitely gaining popularity. It’s something, depending upon what you have and what your conditions are, that can be a very good option. You had talked about a wife and two daughters. I have a tankless water heater at my house – a gas tankless – and it provides continuous hot water, meaning it will give you hot water continually all day long. With a tanked water heater, you can run out of hot water and it has to catch up. With a tankless, they actually are more efficient when they operate. The longevity of them can be longer. The typical lifespan of a tankless water heater is usually 20 years. There are definitely some advantages on efficiency and also the convenience of how much hot water it puts out.

Steve: What about other problems we tend to get when pipes freeze? Is that something that you ever see happening in Phoenix? Is that a problem we should be worried about? What if I get a slab leak? I know my neighbor had one of those. How do you know if you have a slab leak, and what do you do about things like that?

John: That’s a really good question. There are a lot of different things that you could run into that you would find or determine that you had a slab leak, one of which is a lot of times, people will come and say they got an extremely high water bill. High water bills are an indication that you might have a leak, whether that’s in a toilet or a slab leak – it can come from many different areas. A lot of times, we’ll get customers that say they hear water running in the house, but they don’t have any water on. That could be another sign of a slab leak. Most slab leaks occur on the hot side of the piping system, and a lot of times, we’ll get customers who say they feel the floor is warm inside of the house somewhere. That’s another indication. There can be several things that could occur, and in some cases, it’s something that you don’t really notice until you get a high water bill.

Steve: Interesting. That’s a good way of telling. I always wondered whether you feel the ground giving way under your feet or whatever, but I think the warming of the ground is interesting.

John: In some cases, you’ll get water that surfaces, that comes up through the floor. But normally, that comes up where there’s a penetration through the floor, like where those pipes come up through the floor or the concrete to get up to your faucets or areas where there’s water. If there’s a slight crack in the foundation, sometimes you’ll get water that surfaces. It’s not as common that you get surfacing water, but it definitely does happen. Most cases, you don’t notice it because it is below the slab and it’s something that is occurring below the home.
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