Frequently Asked Questions...

When you invite a service provider into your home or business, it is likely that you will have some preliminary questions before moving forward with the service call.

Here at Staten Island Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning, Sewer and Drain Specialists, we have prepared a list of common questions and answers to help guide you through your project and/or problem.

If at any time you need to contact a representative, you can call 718-839-6577.

General Plumbing FAQ

Q: How often should I inspect my septic tank system?

Q: Why is the airgap for your sink, drain, or garbage disposal important?

Q: What does a vent do for the plumbing system?

Q: What causes the water temperature to change in the shower when someone flushes the toilet or runs another water appliance in the house?

Q: What is a pressure balancing valve and why should I install one on my shower systems?

Q: What would cause water to leak from the vent in the plumbing system?

Q: What could contribute to a high water bill besides leaking faucets and/or pipes?

Q: What makes my plumbing & drain pipes rattle all the time?

Q: What causes my hot water to smell like rotten eggs? My cold water doesn't smell, what is the solution for this problem?

Toilet Problem FAQ

Q: My toilet randomly empties itself of water. What would make the toilet empty itself without anyone flushing it and how can I fix it?

Q: What causes my toilet to fill up with hot water instead of room temperature water? Is it bad for my toilet and does it cost extra money when it fills with hot water?

Q: How do you get water in the toilet tank to stop over flowing?

Q: Is there anything I can do to get the scratches out of my toilet bowl?

Q: My toilet bowl has been "sweating" lately, is there anything I can do to fix it?

Water Heater FAQ

Q: Why does my water heater not work as well as it used to?

Q: Why would a water heater run out of hot water faster than normal?

Q: What causes hot water to be rusty and brown?

Q: When I fill a container with hot water it is milky, but after a few minutes, the water in the container clears up. What causes this?

Air Conditioning FAQ

Q: What are pros and cons of using a heat pump HVAC unit?

Q: How do you add Freon to your central air conditioner unit?

Q: How often should you change the filter on your heating and AC unit?

Q: How cold should the air be that comes out of the house's ducts with the air conditioner on?

Q: What could be wrong if your central air conditioner blows cool but not cold air and seems to be always running?

Q: What is a programmable thermostat?

Q: What causes the AC compressor to continue running and the freon to continue to circulate after the fan inside the house clicks off?


General Plumbing Answers

Q: How often should I inspect my septic tank system?

A: Septic systems should be inspected and pumped a minimum of once every three to four years. You may not be experiencing any problem now, but a full septic tank may allow unwanted solids to flow into the drain field, which is the part of the system that consists of a distribution box, with a series of connected pipes. Each pipe allows water to flow into a bed of stones, which drain into the ground. If paper and other solids flow into the drain field it becomes blocked and ineffective. A blocked drain field is costly to repair or replace. Make sure to get your tank inspected whenever you feel necessary to prevent this costly maintenance.

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Q: Why is the airgap for your sink, drain, or garbage disposal important?

A: Plumbing codes call for a gap between potable water and a drain. This usually looks like the distance between the faucet and the top of the sink or bathtub (one inch or more). Without the "gap", waste water could siphon back into the drinking supply. This "does" happen in situations where a city main is shut off causing a drain-down of the system with plumbing that has been done improperly. Sometimes it is a hose left in a mud puddle, or maybe a hose lying in bleach water. People have died this way. The plumbing code helps protect the general public from these dangers. Current improvements include antisiphon faucets for garden hoses, the air gap for the dishwasher, proper installation of water heater T&P relief drains, and backflow preventers for irrigation systems.

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Q: What does a vent do for the plumbing system?

A: A plumbing system vent is basically used to "vent" the plumbing system in your home or commercial building. If you would like to see a plumbing vent, look on your roof, you will see pipes sticking out of the roof approximately 12" high. For every pipe that goes down, one needs to go up. The obvious reason we have vents is that sewer gases need to be vented outside of the dwelling. Not so obvious is what happens if they are not included in the waste and vent design. When liquid goes down a pipe, air needs to follow it. Without the vent pipe, the draining liquid will try to suck air through the P-traps on the plumbing fixtures,(tub, sink, etc.) glurp, glurp! If it manages to do so, you may know it from the "smell" coming from the now dry seal on the P-trap. 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 dwelling and drain every fixture well.

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Q: What causes the water temperature to change in the shower when someone flushes the toilet or runs another water appliance in the house?

A: At the time of install, it is important to run pipes with enough volume and pressure so that many fixtures can be used at the same time. Running only two fixtures on a 1/2" line; so a standard bathroom would have a 3/4" line for cold until one fixture is taken off. A 1/2" line for the hot is fine. A nice follow guide is the plumbing code in many areas now. Get a pressure balanced tub and shower valve, which is a single handled valve that balances the hot and cold water to try to maintain a temperature range plus or minus 2 degrees.

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Q: What is a pressure balancing valve and why should I install one on my shower systems?

A: Pressure-balancing valves prevent sudden temperature swings!

It's happened to everyone who showers: Elsewhere in the house a toilet is flushed, a faucet is opened, or the washing machine kicks on, and the once-temperate water coming from the shower head is suddenly cold enough to make you jump or so hot you want to scream. A simple device called a pressure-balancing shower valve can help.

By adjusting to pressure changes in water coming through the hot and cold supply lines, a piston in the valve automatically opens or closes small inlet ports to maintain a balance in pressure, which in turn keeps the water flowing at an ambient temperature. It reacts instantaneously.

Pressure-balancing valves are now required in new residential construction in most states, depending on local plumbing codes. In addition to piston valves like the one shown above, some pressure valves use a wheel-like diaphragm to trigger pistons that cover the hot-or cold-water ports. Both are priced at around $70, not including installation, which is a bigger issue with an existing shower. It involves cutting through the wall behind the shower, removing the old valve, and soldering on the new one. One of these valves will really keep you out of hot water. Give us a call today if you would like a plumber to rush out to your residence and install a new pressure balancing valve into your shower systems.

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Q: What would cause water to leak from the vent in the plumbing system?

A: Water should not be leaking from your vent system. The only water that should be in your vent system should be the occasional storm water after a big storm. There should be no way for sewage or sewage water to get into your vents or system. If you have a backup you would know from water coming up from the lower floors that you have a leak. Replacing the vent should usually fix the problem, if it doesn't correct the problem - You know who to call.

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Q: What could contribute to a high water bill besides leaking faucets and/or pipes?

A: Ninety percent of all leaks in residential plumbing systems are found in the toilet tank. Toilet tank leaks typically result from worn parts or improper alignment of some part of the flushing mechanism. It is very important to stop the leak. Stop the leak and stop the expensive water bill from hitting you every month.

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Q: What makes my plumbing & drain pipes rattle all the time?

A: This problem is usually caused by the water lines not being properly isolated. It can be easily fixed but only if your water lines are easily accessible. It means that either in one or many places your water lines come into contact with the wood of your floor joists. All you need to do is get plastic pipe hangers that go between your water lines and your joists. For Help installing them please give us a call. Our plumbers are always in your area and we will do our best to get it fixed as soon as possible.

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Q: What causes my hot water to smell like rotten eggs? My cold water doesn't smell, what is the solution for this problem?

A: The most common cause of “smelly water” is a non-toxic sulfate reducing bacteria, scientifically termed Divibrio Sulfurcans. This bacteria often enters the water system through construction or a break in ground piping. The bacteria creates the energy it needs to survive by converting sulfate (SO4) to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas you smell in the water. Hydrogen sulfide gas is distinctive because of its rotten egg-like stench. Its presence can severely affect the taste as well as the odor of the water.

The simplest treatment available is the shock-chlorination of the system. This is a surface treatment, and often requires repeated trials in heavily infected systems. The chlorination of a system requires that you follow each step explicitly to avoid an un-treated portion of the piping system from reinfecting another part. Longer lasting solutions include chlorination or aeration of the water supply.

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Toilet Problem Answers

Q: My toilet randomly empties itself of water. What would make the toilet empty itself without anyone flushing it and how can I fix it

A: There are a couple answers to this question, but this solution fixes it 99% of the time. Poor venting or no venting of the fixture. Vents allow for air flow to the toilet sewage system. Without the vent, air pockets form in the waste branches witch can cause what is called back-siphonage. The air in the system which, without a vent, can only escape through the sewer. It can pull the water in the trap of the toilet with it.

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Q: What causes my toilet to fill up with hot water instead of room temperature water? Is it bad for my toilet and does it cost extra money when it fills with hot water?

A: The main reason you may have hot water in your toilet is a bad flapper in the toilet tank or a bad fill valve. Either one of these can allow the water to seep into the tank. When you have a mixing valve on your toilet to prevent condensation, some hot water is introduced into the cold water line to warm the water just a little, but when the water just seeps a little at a time the hot water dominates the cold and you get a tank of hot water. It's not bad for your toilet, but it could be hazardous to your wallet. Just like every other utility that uses hot water, the hot water being heating and leaking into the toilet takes gas and/or electricity and will run up your utility bill.

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Q: How do you get water in the toilet tank to stop over flowing?

A: The fill valve in the tank has a leak in it. Also, if the fill valve has been replaced recently it is possible that it has been set too high. If the fill valve is old, it could do you no harm to replace it. Sometimes the shaft or wire that is used to set the level, corrodes off. By replacing it your problem should be fixed.

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Q: Is there anything I can do to get the scratches out of my toilet bowl?

A: Yes, you can have your toilet refinished, which is kind of a pain to do. It requires taking the toilet out and having it out of commission for a while. If you do decide to do this make sure you contact a professional and have a back up restroom available. Another option is to buy some porcelain patch and do it yourself. Just shut off your angle valve and flush the toilet until it is almost empty. If there is still too much water in the bowl to patch the porcelain then dumb about a gallon water in it, the bowl should empty completely. Then read the label and directions on the porcelain patch kit. Make sure to note how long the porcelain takes to dry. DO NOT turn the water back on until the patch is completely dry..

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Q: My toilet bowl has been "sweating" lately, is there anything I can do to fix it?

A: If toilet tank sweating is your problem then here are 4 options we recommend: 1. You could install insulating foam products to isolate the water from the tank sides. Home Depot carries it for a reasonable price. I think they are about $7-$10. Read the directions for complete directions, but you should completely empty the water from the tank, then use a hairdryer to ensure that the sides are absolutely dry. Cut the foam and apply adhesive. Let it sit for 6 - 8 (time approximates) hours and it will be ready to be refilled and useable. This usually works but is not a guarantee. 2. The second option is to install a mixer valve which uses both hot and cold water to "mix" the water and adjust the temperature as you need to or until the condensation or sweating stops. Depending on how far away the hot water heater is, it may take quite awhile for the hot water to get there so in some cases, just running a hot water line is sufficient. This works well but you will most likely need to call us for assistance. ( 1-718-966-7900 ) 3. Lastly and more expensive is to replace the guts of the toilet and replace them with a "pressure assisted" unit, like the Flushmate - 1 gallon per flush. This option is a water saver and works very well - no tank sweating at all. 4. Total toilet replacement - Pressure Assisted Toilet - should you need to replace your old toilet. Might cost $260 on up but well worth it. This toilet has a pressure tank in it inside the water tank. Guaranteed to do the job and you get a great new toilet that works well.

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Water Heater Answers

Q: Why does my water heater not work as well as it used to?

A: This is usually due to a sediment buildup in your tank. As water heaters grow older, they accumulate sediment and lime deposits. If these deposits are not removed periodically, the sediment will create a barrier between the burner and the water, greatly reducing the water heater's performance level. The result is an increase in the amount of fuel required to deliver hot water.

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Q: Why would a water heater run out of hot water faster than normal?

A: If your water heater is running cold easily or frequently then several things could be happening. First check the shower head volume if shower's are too quick. A new shower head puts out about 2.5 gallons a minute. Some older heads put out 5 gallons a minute. Working with the shower head would double shower length in this case. In some cases, the dip tube on the cold water inlet has broken or worn. When this happens, it creates a short loop for the water, water at the bottom half of the tank will not be used, which makes half of your tank useless. Get it fixed as soon as possible. On electric water heaters, they commonly have two heating elements that work in turns. First the top element heats up the top of the tank, then power goes to the lower element. If the lower element is out, only the top of the tank gets heated. If the top element isn't working, there will be no hot water. Sometimes the Reset button needs to be pushed or reset. If this doesn't get the element working, use a continuity tester to determine if the element has shorted out. Replacement of the element may be needed.

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Q: What causes hot water to be rusty and brown?

A: There are a few answers to this common question. First, chemicals can cause rust in the water lines and a change in the water pressure will cause the rust to loosen up and come through the water lines and into the shower, bathtub, or other appliances. Another cause could be a break in the pipe. What you may be seeing is dirt. What happens is when water is flowing and on, and then you suddenly turn it off, it creates a slight low pressure in the line which pulls in dirt around the pipe. When you turn on the flow, that dirt is pushed along until it comes out of the tap or shower-head. After several cycles, you can have a bunch of dirt in the lines, which dissolves and makes the water look brown or rusty. Two other possibilities could be that the glass lining in the water heater may be compromised, allowing the metal jacket to rust. If this is the case, you don't have long until it starts to leak and will need to be replaced. Secondly, if you are on a well, iron bacteria may be growing, and may not be showing up in the cold water because it remains invisible in solution until it is heated, or has more time to react with oxygen in the water heater. In this case, shock chlorination of the well may be in order. A simple test by a water treatment company will tell this, and in many areas, it is free.

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Q: When I fill a container with hot water it is milky, but after a few minutes, the water in the container clears up. What causes this?

A: Complaints of discolored water are commonly blamed on water heaters and storage tanks, but in fact, it is a rare occurrence for today’s high quality glass lined tanks to have a lining failure significant enough to allow water to contact enough bare metal to discolor the contents of even a small tank. The most common cause of “rusty” water is a non-toxic iron reducing bacteria, scientifically termed Crenothrix, Leptothrix, and Gallionella. Water heaters and storage tanks usually require new anode rods as presence of iron bacteria contributes to premature anode failure. The simplest treatment available is shock-chlorination of the system. This is a surface treatment, and often requires repeated trials in heavily infected systems. The chlorination of a system requires that you follow each step explicitly to avoid an un-treated portion of the piping system from reinfecting another part.

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Air Conditioning FAQ

Q: What are pros and cons of using a heat pump HVAC unit?

A: The heat pump by design is far more efficient than any other consumer grade HVAC product. While the heat pumps output decreases in the heating mode, as the outdoor ambient temperature falls, the efficiencies are quite high. A balance point calculation should be made by a technician familiar with the products involved. The current product offerings by major HVAC manufacturers include dual-fuel equipment that through modulation, improve overall efficiencies and comfort levels. In that electricity and electric heat is 100% efficient, the proper approach would be to calculate the costs of fuel types available in your area. Where I live, it costs less to heat my home with electric heat as compared to a high efficiency propane fired boiler. Your utility company can give you rates as they apply. Consider that a 100,000 BTU furnace running 10 hours consumes one million BTU's. Where I live, that 1 million BTU's can cost me from $24 (propane fired 95% furnace or boiler), $21 (electric heat or heaters), or $8 (heat pump w/ elec. backup). I have a heat pump for obvious reasons. Natural gas is the least expensive fossil fuel, with LPG next and oil being the most expensive. Do the math and your choice is easy.

One of the big cons would be that when the outdoor temp goes below 38 degrees, your indoor unit would use more of the supplemental electric heat. A heat pump becomes less effective as the outdoor temp dips below 42 degrees. Since there is little heat left outside, you cannot reach the desired temp on your thermostat. When this occurs, the indoor electric heat automatically comes on to compensate.

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Q: How do you add Freon to your central air conditioner unit?

A: This is not a simple question. Regardless of the fact that you should be a certified technician to purchase R-12 and the other legalities and environmental concerns involved, if your system was properly installed, it should not need additional refrigerant. If the refrigerant level is low, then refrigerant has escaped from the system through a leak that should be repaired before additional refrigerant is added. Leak checking and repair requires specialized equipment and skills as does measuring refrigerant charges, recovering refrigerant, determining the correct charge, and adding the refrigerant. There is the possibility of injury or death from contact with escaping refrigerant or high voltages inside the unit. There is also the large likelihood of damage to your system from over charging the unit. Many people automatically assume that because their system is not cooling to their expectations, it must need more "freon". Believe it or not, the refrigerant charge is usually not the cause of the problem. There are many, many things that can affect the ability of an A/C system to cool properly. These may include the capacity of the system, the cleanliness of the components, the integrity of the duct work, the personal habits of the users of the system, the weather (heat and humidity), the condition of filters, and the proper functioning of the various components of the system. There are many things a layman can do to improve the performance of an A/C system that do not involve adding refrigerant. These are very important first steps that can be completed prior to calling a qualified service technician. This maintenance will often solve cooling problems and will always reduce the cost of a visit from a service tech. There are many resources on the web that will outline how to perform basic maintenance on your A/C unit. If, after performing basic maintenance and cleaning, you still feel that your refrigerant charge is low, then it is time to place a call to the service tech. Choosing a technician is an important step. Many people so not trust service personnel. While there are certainly dishonest people out there, most technicians are competent and honest. The problem is that many service technicians do not do a good job of communicating with the customer before, during, and after servicing the unit. This lack of communication fosters mistrust with the customer. Techs often do not like to answer questions which is poor business practice. Communication will keep customers loyal and increase business. Techs -- learn to appreciate your customer's questions and take the time to answer their concerns in detail -- you will be amazed at the good response you will receive!!! The best advice for cooling problems is: Educate yourself (learn how maintain your unit) Perform regular preventive maintenance (within your capabilities) Locate a competent service person whom you trust and listen to them.

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Q: How often should you change the filter on your heating and AC unit?

A: You should at least look at your filter every 30 days and change if necessary. If clean, check at least every 45 days. A filter costs a couple of dollars but it's the most important thing you can do to save yourself headaches down the road. If you let it go the blower motor works harder shortening its life or your evaporation coil could become your filter, blocking airflow and causing it to start icing up then you will have to pay hundreds. Once a month is standard but if you smoke in your house, have inside pets,or a large amount of traffic in the house, check the filter once a week. Outside environment should be considered as well, dust storms and high pollution areas do affect the filter as well.

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Q: How cold should the air be that comes out of the house's ducts with the air conditioner on?

A: The air coming out of your vent should be about 16 to 20 degrees cooler than the air being sucked into your unit through the return. It is usually safe to set the unit to where it blows out at about 55 to 60 degrees. Any cooler than this means the fan is not blowing fast enough and any warmer, the fan is blowing too fast. This will work on all units if sized right.

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Q: What could be wrong if your central air conditioner blows cool but not cold air and seems to be always running?

A: Your condenser may be dirty and the evaporator coils should be cleaned. There may also be inadequate air flow around the condenser. If there is a leak, your unit may be out of refrigerant or you might have a leak in your duct system. If these aren't the case, then check to see if the breaker for the outside unit has been tripped.

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Q: What is a programmable thermostat?

A: A programmable thermostat senses the room temperature and controls the HVAC system according to a schedule established by the homeowner. This type of thermostat allows different temperature settings to automatically regulate the HVAC system at different preset times.

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Q: What causes the AC compressor to continue running and the freon to continue to circulate after the fan inside the house clicks off?

A: Possibly a stuck contact in the outdoor unit, or your indoor fan is overheating and shutting off. Your best bet is to call a professional over to take a look.

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