The leaves are falling off the trees, school is back in session, and the days are getting shorter. All of that can mean only one thing:
Summer is almost over.
The end of summer is a busy time for everyone, but there are a few things you should advise your customers to take care of to mitigate larger issues down the road. A simple fix now can save your customer thousands of dollars in repair bills later.
Below is a list of the top five most important plumbing “to-dos” before the summer ends:
- Water Heater Maintenance
- Check For Appliance Leaks
- Unclog and Clean All Drains
- Clean Gutters to Prepare for Leaves, Rain, and Snow
- Check Your AC Drain Pan and Drain Pipe
1. Water Heater Maintenance
Most customers don’t understand the importance of yearly water heater maintenance, only calling you when it explodes or breaks down completely. Since water heaters only have an 8-12 year lifespan (although it’s double for a tankless water heater), most homeowners can add years to its life by scheduling a quick service visit.
First, remind them that water heaters should be flushed regularly. Sediment buildup at the bottom of the water heater can cause the heat source to burn up, since it acts as a natural barrier between the heating element and the water that it is trying to warm. This build-up will cause your customers’ utility bills to skyrocket, and their water won’t be as hot as it could be.
To flush it, simply turn off the power and water supply, open the pressure relief valve, and then allow the water to drain naturally through a hose into a bucket (or on the ground outside). Reopen the water supply, rotating between open and close, allowing water to flush into the tank and then out through the hose. Do this several times to get all the sediment out of the tank. Once that’s finished, detach the hose, close the drain valve, and turn the power and water back on.
While you’re there, it’s a good idea to check a few items as well. Pull out the anode rod to make sure that it’s not rusted, replacing it if necessary and suggest your customer insulate any pipes that are exposed, especially the ones that are outside. If you can, insulate the water heater as well.
2. Check for Appliance Leaks
Chances are, a homeowner will call you with evidence of a water leak from their appliance long before you find it on a routine service call. With that in mind, remind them to keep an eye open for the five main sources of possible appliance leaks: refrigerator, water disposal, washing machine, dishwasher, and air conditioners. If they see water coming out of any of these appliances, it needs immediate attention.
The biggest culprit for water leaks is the connection point between the appliance and the water source, so check the seal or any water supply lines that could be compromised that could be cracked. Because of the exposure to water, these will naturally erode over the years, so it’s only a matter of time before there is some kind of leak. Left unchecked, mold can develop, which can be expensive – and painful – to fix.
3. Unclog and Clean All Drains
Having clogged drains obviously presents a problem for the homeowner, but not addressing it before the winter hits and those pipes freeze makes it even worse. The constant temperature change can cause water to contract and expand, causing cracks and leaks where they may not have otherwise existed.
Make sure that you address this with the customer, asking them questions about low water pressure, standing water, or a constant dripping in certain pipes. If so, that’s a telltale sign that there’s a clog somewhere.
If you determine they have a clog, the first thing to do is figure out whether it’s isolated or if it is spread throughout the entire house. If they have water backing up in one toilet only, then it is more than likely a localized blockage, however, if multiple toilets and sinks are backing up throughout the home, then there is more than likely a blockage in the main sewer line.
Cleaning out the P-trap should be your first step; once that’s done, run hot water through the drain to see if it dislodges the remainder. If the pipe is still clogged, try a snake to manually punch through the clog. If water starts to trickle, then you’ve isolated the problem, but it’s a good idea to scrub the inside of the drain too, making sure that the edges are cleaned as well.
Although the homeowner will most likely want to perform some of these fixes themselves, you should advise them of a few more intense solutions that require specialized skills, if necessary. Trenchless drain repair is a professional service, for example, and even though it is intense, it involves a lot less intrusion (and cost) than replacing the entire drainpipe. In addition, hydro jetting has proven to be very effective, but buying the equipment can be time-consuming and costly. It’s much more efficient for you to do it for them.
4. Clean Gutters to Prepare for Leaves, Rain, and Snow
No one ever thinks about gutters until they’re clogged. Unfortunately, by that point, the damage can be significant. Encourage your customers to do a biannual inspection of their gutters to ensure that no clogs exist, otherwise, it can create standing water on the edges of your house that will slowly eat away at the roofline.
Gutters are often taken care of by professionals because of the danger posed by standing on ladders and operating heavy equipment. Even something as small as a pinwheel on the end of a power drill — commonly used to clean gutters — can cause someone to become unsteady and fall. Every year, over 150,000 injuries and 300 deaths are reported simply from falls from ladders.
Another option to make sure that your gutters are clean is prevention. Installing a mesh guard over the top of their gutters can ensure that the leaves and debris stay out, while the water flows through the gutter and off the house. This is another job that should be installed by a professional since failure to properly install them can lead to the mesh cover being ineffective.
5. Check Your AC Drain Pan and Drain Pipe
Although customers won’t need to utilize their Air Conditioner very often during the winter, it’s important to maintain it properly through the colder months to ensure that it fires up as soon as the temperatures start to increase again.
While you’re finishing up your checks of all the appliances and gutters around your customers’ house, stop for a second and check out the drain pan next to the air conditioner. This little bowl is designed to catch all the condensation and water that comes from the air conditioner so that it doesn’t damage the air conditioning unit itself.
If you notice that the drain pan is full, it may mean that your customer has a leak or that their air conditioning unit is working too hard. Turn off the unit and open the gate to see if there’s a buildup on the condenser lines; if so, use a rag to wipe it off. If there is nothing on the lines, check the fan blades and make sure the refrigerant is filled.
Conversely, if the drain pan isn’t filled at all — and indeed, shows no signs of having any water in it whatsoever — then check the drain pipe to see if there’s a clog. Oftentimes, a piece of debris, such as a rock or grass clippings, can get lodged inside the drain pipe and cause a stoppage.
This is a big deal since water that is not allowed to escape the air conditioner will inevitably get inside and short-circuit the unit. At the very least, it will create increased wear and tear on the components, causing them to malfunction prematurely and possibly require a full replacement.
Although a lot of people focus on wrapping pipes and putting covers on their faucets to prepare their house for winter, the above are a few items that also need to be taken care of before the summer comes to a close. Not only will it protect your customers’ homes through the cold winter months, but it will also allow them to enjoy their home once the temperatures start to rise again.
Taking care of these tasks during the transition between summer and fall, while the temperatures are mild, is much nicer than doing it in the middle of a blizzard. The end of summer is a great time to take care of those last-minute plumbing projects, and your customers will appreciate it.