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Difference Between Storm Drains and Sewers

Without storm drains, streets and parking lots would easily flood even during a light rain. But where does all that rainwater go? When you think "drain," you might automatically think "sewer." But not all drains lead to the water treatment plant!

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The sanitary sewer is what you most likely think of when you hear the word "sewer." Your shower, toilet, kitchen sink, laundry tub, etc. all drain to the sanitary sewer, which takes the wastewater to a water treatment plant. There, the water is thoroughly treated and purified before being discharged to the nearest stream or body of water.

The storm system, completely separate from the sanitary sewer, is there to prevent flooding and is meant for rainwater and groundwater only. The drains you see on streets and parking lots are connected to the storm sewer system, which drains directly to the nearest stream or body of water. This water is not treated, so it's very important to never pour paint, solvent, oil, or anything else into storm drains, or else you risk poisoning fish, birds, and other wildlife.

These 2 systems are separate in order to avoid sewer overflows. The sanitary sewer system is not designed to handle the large amount of water that comes through the storm system during a big rainstorm - if all storm drains and sump pumps led to the sanitary sewer, the water treatment plant would easily become overwhelmed and cause a nasty backup. By keeping these systems separate, street flooding is minimized during storms, and sanitary sewers don't back up every time it rains. (For this reason, it is important that your sump pump discharges into the storm system and NOT the sanitary sewer.)

If you have drainage problems around your home, or if your sump pump is hooked up to the sanitary sewer, get it fixed before winter! Call Universal Plumbing at 586-459-0040. We can help!

History of the Toilet

What do you think about when you use a toilet? You might scroll through your phone or read something, or you might just think about what you're gonna eat for lunch later; your thoughts probably aren't dwelling on the toilet itself. We can thank the modern toilet for making it easy and convenient to do our business. Even as recent as a century ago, people didn't have it so easy!

Ruins of ancient Roman public toilets. Concrete replica on the left.

Ruins of ancient Roman public toilets. Concrete replica on the left.

Though simple toilets can be found throughout ancient history, the first notable example can be found in the Roman Empire. The Romans had open public toilet rooms with a channel of water running under the seats to carry away waste. These toilets were made possible by the Roman Empire's impressive system of aqueducts which carried water around the city, similar to modern-day water mains and sewers.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, however, the world returned to the "lavatorial dark ages." Chamber pots, made of metal or ceramic, were widely used; they were emptied into street gutters, where the waste would be washed away by rain. For the wealthy, garderobes were built high up in the walls of a castle or Manor house. These consisted of a seat with a hole in it that would let waste drop directly down the side of the outer wall, and it was the responsibility of gong farmers to collect the waste in a bucket and carry it away by hand. What a nasty job!

In the 16th century, the growing populations in Europe were too much for the street gutters to handle, so cesspits and cesspools were dug into the ground near houses. These large underground holding tanks were made of brick or stone. Tradesmen would empty them during the night as to not disturb the public with the smell. Outhouses were also used, and many of them had more than one seat. People often went to the outhouse together, especially in the dark of night.

In 1858, so much sewage built up in the River Thames in London that it created an overwhelming stench, which was only made worse by the summer's heat wave. This event came to be known as "The Great Stink of 1858," and it finally pushed lawmakers to take sanitation seriously. Public health experts and officials began studying and debating sanitation, and the construction of an underground network of pipes began.

Alexander Cummings' design for a flush toilet. Notice the S-trap underneath.

Alexander Cummings' design for a flush toilet. Notice the S-trap underneath.

The first-ever patent for a flush toilet (or "water closet") was taken out by Alexander Cummings in 1795. It included an S-trap underneath the toilet to keep sewer gases from getting out. The design was improved by Joseph Bramah in 1778, and it was so well-received that "Bramah" became English slang for something really good. These toilets came to widespread use in wealthier homes by the late 19th century, just in time for the dramatic growth of sewer systems around that same time.

A fully-functional Bramah water closet, located in Osbourne House on Isle of Wight

A fully-functional Bramah water closet, located in Osbourne House on Isle of Wight

Over the next few decades, many improvements were made to the design, and eventually a toilet was invented that included the S-trap in the pedestal beneath the bowl. This made it much cheaper to produce, and therefore much more affordable and accessible to the working classes. In America, chain-pull toilets came to wealthy homes and hotels in the 1890s, and in 1906, William Sloan invented the Flushometer, which used water supply pressure rather than gravity to flush the toilet.

Interestingly, Thomas Crapper, who is thought by many to be the inventor of the modern toilet, actually did not have any part in the invention of toilets. He was simply a plumber, business owner, and great marketer. As other people invented better and better toilets, he sold them and heavily promoted their importance while making sure his name was on it all. And while many people believe the word "crap" came from Crapper's name, it actually is of Middle English origin and most likely came from a combination of the Dutch krappen (to pluck off, cut off, or separate) and the Old French crappe (siftings, waste, or rejected matter).

A modern Japanese toilet

A modern Japanese toilet

Today, toilet technology continues to improve. They are made to use much less water than they did years ago, efficiently saving gallons of water with every flush. Some even have self-cleaning capabilities and special anti-microbial glazes. In parts of Asia, toilets have many high-tech capabilities such as seat warmers, speaker systems with a variety of sounds to choose from (even chirping birds), water jets, and more. Bare minimum, modern toilets help stop the spread of disease and ensure that our cities and water sources stay clean.

Next time you use a toilet, take a moment to think about what your life would be like without it. It's definitely something to be thankful for!

Your toilet is one of the most important things in your house, so don't be stuck in the "dark ages!" If your toilet isn't working quite right, or if it's old and you'd like to reduce your water bills by getting a new one, give Universal Plumbing a call at 586-459-0040.

Why You Should Get a Tankless Water Heater This Fall

A sudden, unexpected cold shower is never fun, and it's even worse in the freezing cold winter months. Just imagine stepping out of that freezing water, getting dressed, and then going out into the freezing cold snow to go to work - it would not be pleasant! A reliable water heater is incredibly important during this time of year. Most regular water heaters last around 10 years before they start leaking or otherwise malfunctioning, so it's a good idea to be proactive and replace an old tank.

If you've got an old water heater and you're thinking about replacing it this fall, consider getting a tankless water heater. These natural gas- or propane-powered heaters heat water as it passes through them, instead of holding heated water in a large tank, and they can do so much more for your family than a regular water heater can.

Here's a list of reasons why we love these water heaters:

Heats water on demand, which saves energy. Instead of keeping a tank full of water hot at all times even when it's not being used, a tankless water heater is designed to only turn on when a hot water tap is opened. This can save you hundreds of dollars in energy bills annually, depending on your family's water usage.

Unlimited hot water. A tankless water heater works by heating water as it passes through, so you won't run out of hot water even during/after a long shower. It's also great for filling a hot tub; the water won't get cold halfway through. The only downside is that it is much easier to take longer showers, thus using up more water. 

Fits into compact spaces. Unlike the bulky tank of a regular water heater, a tankless water heater is a wall-mounted unit that can easily fit into smaller spaces. Need more closet space? Get a tankless!

Longer life span. A regular water heater lasts only about 8-10 years on average, but a good tankless water heater can last up to 20 years if maintained properly.

Tankless water heaters are incredibly useful and efficient. They are an excellent option for any size house, especially if you have a hot tub or whirlpool to fill. You will save on your energy bills, so the unit will end up paying for itself over the years.

If you need a new water heater this fall, Universal Plumbing can help you find the perfect water heater for your family's unique preferences and needs. We supply only top-of-the-line water heaters, both regular and tankless, so you can rest assured your new water heater will do its job well. Schedule an appointment with one of our expert technicians, and we will help you decide what kind of water heater is best for your home! 586-459-0040

5 Habits to Keep Your Family Healthy This School Year

It's time for another school year! While this can be an exciting time for kids to make new friends and learn new things, it can also be a time when it's easy to catch a cold or the flu. When you put a bunch of kids in a room together for a few hours, it's pretty much guaranteed that all kinds of germs will be spread. Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do to strengthen your kids' immune systems. Below are 5 habits that you can start implementing into your family's daily routines that will lead to healthier and happier kids this school year.

1. The first, and most obvious, is good hygiene. Make sure even young kids know how to properly wash their hands (warm water and soap), and teach them to do it after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coming in from outside. In addition, tell them to always keep their fingers away from their noses and mouths.

2. Make sure your kids get enough sleep. Sleep is the body's time to rejuvenate and repair itself, a dedicated time for the immune system to do its work. Elementary kids should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers should be getting 9-10 hours (which becomes difficult due to early school start times and busy schedules, so do the best you can).

3. Make healthy breakfasts and lunches. These two meals not only serve as fuel for the day, they provide nutrition to feed the immune system. If your kids aren't getting enough protein, vitamins, and minerals in their breakfasts and lunches, their bodies won't have the fuel necessary to fight off the bacteria and viruses they come into contact with. Studies also show that eating sugar suppresses the immune response for up to 5 hours by reducing the amount of white blood cells in the body. A bowl of sugary cereal in the morning does much more harm than good!

4. Get some exercise! This is an often-overlooked way to strengthen the immune system. It also improves mood and shakes off stress, and high levels of stress can compromise a child's growing brain. Your kids spend the majority of the school day sitting down, so it's important to make sure they get some exercise after school. Try going for walks or bike rides, play on a local playground, or when it gets snowy outside, have a snowball fight!

5. Teach your kids to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water every day is absolutely necessary for a healthy immune system. Proper hydration also fights against headaches, poor concentration, and cracked lips, to name a few. Pack a water bottle for your child when they go to school or leave the house, and remind them often of how important it is to drink water.

 

If you make these habits a part of your kids' daily lives, they will get sick less often, and when they do get sick it will be much less severe. Remember to lead by example; kids are much more likely to stay hydrated, exercise, etc. if they see you doing the same. Here's to a great, healthy, successful school year!

4 Things You Can Do to Get Your Home Ready for Fall

It's almost that time of year: cozy sweaters, colorful trees, and pumpkin-flavored everything. Fall is a favorite time of year for many, and for others it's a sad end to the warm summer. But regardless of how you feel about the season, it means that winter is fast approaching, and now is the time to get things ready for the colder months. Preparing your home for fall is inexpensive and will save you from many potential plumbing problems down the road.

1. Keep Gutters Clean

Gutters are there to catch water and carry it away from your roof and your foundation. If they get clogged with leaves, your home is at risk of flooding and water damage. It's important to clean out your gutters regularly during the fall season, especially if you have large trees on your property.

2. Insulate Pipes

Once the temperature drops below 32 degrees, frozen pipes are a real possibility for any building and can cause extensive damage. Now is the time to insulate them. Buy some foam pipe insulation from your local hardware store, or talk to your plumber about other pipe insulation options.

3. Unhook Outdoor Hoses

Keeping your garden hose hooked up to the spigot will lead to frozen pipes and damaged plumbing as soon as it gets cold outside. It's extremely important to unhook outdoor hoses and store them until the warmer spring months.

4. Check Water Heater

When was the last time you replaced your water heater or had it serviced? The colder months are the worst time to have your water heater fail or start leaking, so get any maintenance out of the way before the temperatures drop. If the water heater is more than 10 years old, it may be worth replacing it altogether as older water heaters are much more prone to leaks and malfunctions.

We can help you make sure that your plumbing is completely fall-ready! Give Universal Plumbing & Sewer a call at 586-459-0040 for quality service you can trust.

This is Why Plumbers Charge So Much

We've talked about this before: Doing your own plumbing is never a good idea, and the best solution to any plumbing problem is to hire a professional. But we understand; the professionals are expensive. Many plumbers have hourly rates that can quickly add up, and flat-rate companies can charge hundreds to install a fixture that you can find in the hardware store for a fraction of that cost. Have you ever wondered if these companies are just ripping you off? Maybe they're taking advantage of you?

Of course there are some plumbers out there who will try to rip you off, and you must always do your research and read reviews before hiring a company. But with even the most honest of plumbing companies, the truth is that plumbing is an expensive business to run. The following is a breakdown of some of the reasons why plumbing companies charge so much more than just the price of materials, and why the high price is necessary.

1. Education and Demand

Becoming a licensed plumber requires years of schooling and training. After receiving a high school diploma or GED, a student must attend a plumbing vocational school and pay tuition. Once they graduate, they must become an apprentice, receiving on-the-job training from licensed and experienced plumbers. Once the student has been an apprentice for at least 4 years, they must pass an exam before they can get their license. And that is just the beginning for a plumber; for example, if they wish to become a Master Plumber, more training and exams must be paid for and completed. Skilled plumbers are in high demand, so plumbing companies must offer competitive pay in order to employ a licensed & highly skilled staff.

2. Travel Expenses

As you know, purchasing and insuring a vehicle is not cheap. When you call a plumber, they come to you in their insured & fully-stocked truck. And when they complete the job, they drive that truck to the next customer's house, and so on. A technician can easily drive almost 100 miles in total on a busy day, so gas gets used up quickly. Regular maintenance to the trucks, such as oil changes and minor repairs, must be taken into account as well. Between the purchasing, fueling, and maintaining of these trucks, plumbers pour thousands of dollars into transportation costs alone.

3. Office Staff

Running a plumbing company is more than just fixing pipes and installing faucets. Without full-time employees working in the office, the company would be messy and unreliable at best. Here at Universal Plumbing, our awesome office staff answers every phone call (at all hours), arranges the job schedule, keeps track of all accounting and bookkeeping, updates our website and advertising, maintains the detailed database of customer records, ensures all the technicians are fully prepared for the day's jobs, and more. All the things you love about us, like same-day appointments, 24-hour emergency service, and great communication would not be possible if it weren't for our office staff.

4. Dangers

Plumbing is not an easy job, and it can even be scary at times. Plumbers come into contact with many different harmful materials on a regular basis, including mold, sewage, bacteria, toxic chemicals, and more. They must take extra precautions so they don't become sick or endanger others. Additionally, some tasks can be physically dangerous, like excavating and installing underground plumbing. Every day, a plumber has no way of knowing exactly what dangers they will face while on the job, but they must jump in and get the job done anyway.

5. Tools and Equipment

While you can pick up a variety of plumbing tools at your local hardware store, those tools are generally made with cheaper parts and a one-size-fits-all approach. Many plumbing problems require specialized tools, which can only be bought from a professional plumbing supplier, in order to be fixed properly. Many plumbers also have high-tech equipment that requires special training to use and costs thousands of dollars to purchase and operate, such as full-color sewer cameras, a high-pressure sewer jetter, and backflow testing equipment.

When a plumber completes the work you hired them to do, and you pay the bill, your payment is contributing to much more than just the plumber's wallet. It gives the plumber the ability to drive to your house. It ensures that there will always be a friendly voice answering the phone when you call the company, even in the middle of the night on a weekend when your basement is flooding. It provides the equipment needed to fix even the most complicated or severe plumbing problems. It gives the company the ability to provide continuous training for its employees, so you receive the best service and workmanship possible.

For these reasons, when you hire a plumber based solely on the fact that they're inexpensive, unfortunately you often get what you pay for.

We understand that it can be financially difficult to hire Universal Plumbing & Sewer, so we do what we can to help. We offer financing for qualifying applicants, so you can pay off the bigger jobs in smaller installments. And feel free to print out a coupon to use the next time you hire us! (click here to see our coupons.) Above all, we work hard to make sure you get your money's worth, by striving for excellence in every area and doing our best to provide you with the best service possible.

Have You Thanked Your Plumbing Lately?

Ah, plumbing. It's one of those things in life that no one really thinks about, and normally the only time it does come to mind is when something goes wrong with it. Yet, it is literally all around us and it gives us the quality of life we enjoy every day. Some may think they could go a day or two without plumbing, but the fact is that the average American uses around 80-100 gallons of water per day. Running water is so ingrained in our daily lives and habits that it's easy to forget about.

Have you ever taken a moment to think about all the good things your plumbing provides?

  • Your sump pump works hard at all hours to keep your basement/crawlspace dry at all times.

  • I don't think we even need to go into the benefits of having a working toilet. Just imagine what your everyday life would be like without one.

  • Water filter systems and ice makers make it so much easier to stay hydrated and healthy.

  • Sinks/faucets with clean water coming out of the tap make it possible to prepare food safely, wash your hands, wash dishes, and more. Imagine how the health of your home would be affected if you didn't have sinks!

  • Speaking of running water, it'd be impossible to make coffee without it. We're very thankful for coffee around here.

  • Hot showers. There is nothing more relaxing than a hot shower. You can thank your water heater and shower faucets for that.

  • The underground sewer system is responsible for taking all the waste water away from your home. If the sewer system didn't exist, where would all that nasty water go?

  • How would you water your lawn or garden, fill up a pool, or wash your car without an outdoor faucet and hose?

  • The way drains are plumbed ensures that sewer gases don't escape into your house. We're all familiar with that awful smell; aren't you glad it's not all over your own home?

Take a moment today to appreciate your plumbing. It may not cross your mind often, but it is responsible for making your home a healthy and comfortable place to live every day, and that is definitely a good reason to be thankful!

How Much Water Does a Dripping Faucet Waste?

We're always telling you that leaks waste water, and you shouldn't ignore them. But if a faucet only has a slow drip, is it really worth worrying about? In this post, we're gonna get into the numbers to find out exactly how much that slow drip adds up to.

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To figure this out, we first need to time out how often the faucet drips. Let's say you have one faucet in your home that drips once every second. That's 60 drips per minute, 3,600 drips per hour, which adds up to 86,400 drips per day and a whopping 31,536,000 drips per year.

Then, we must figure out the volume that all those drips add up to. There is no precise definite volume of a faucet drip (the exact volume of each drip can vary), so we are going to estimate that each drip's volume is 1/4 milliliter (ml). One gallon contains roughly 3,785 ml, so that's 15,140 drips per gallon, which means our 1-second-dripping faucet wastes over 5 gallons of water per day and just under 2,083 gallons per year. The numbers only get higher if your faucet drips more quickly, or if you have more than one drippy faucet in your home.

It goes without saying: all that wasted water makes quite an impact on your water bill. Wouldn't you rather use those 5 gallons that you're paying for every day? Imagine all the coffee you could make with that! (That was a joke, please don't actually drink 5 gallons of coffee.)

So, you may think this isn't much and may still be tempted to leave your leaky faucet alone. But wasted water aside, a leak will almost always get worse over time if you leave it alone and can even cause the faucet to corrode or leak under the sink, leading to water damage and mold growth. Don't wait! Call us at 586-459-0040 and we'll quickly fix it up.

Looking to Buy a House? Don't Make This One Mistake!

Imagine this: You finally find a house that you love. It passes inspections. You buy it, and you excitedly move into it with your family. A week later, your drains are running slow and there’s sewage backing up into your new basement. You call a plumber, and they tell you your new home’s sewer line is in bad shape and needs to be replaced, which will cost thousands of dollars. And you, the new homeowner, are responsible for paying for it.

Sounds like a nightmare, right? Unfortunately, it can happen easily; a typical home inspector only checks visible systems in the house, and the inspection does not include the house’s underground sewer line. Not only that, the seller may not disclose any known sewer issues to you. It is imperative to ensure a house’s sewer line is in good shape; the sewer is a vital part of the house that affects the entire plumbing system. One sewer problem can lead to a backup of sewage all over the home, making it a dangerous place to live.

If you’re in the market for a house, you can easily avoid this! 

Simply get a sewer camera inspection done before buying the house. This inspection allows you to literally see inside the house’s main sewer line, so any existing or potential problems can be found. It is important to get this done professionally; a tiny crack in the sewer line may go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but a highly trained and experienced plumbing technician knows exactly what they’re seeing. Even the tiniest cracks, offsets, and tree roots can lead to BIG problems down the road.

Buying a home is a huge investment, so it’s important to do everything you can to ensure it’s a good investment. The cost of a professional sewer camera inspection is minuscule compared to the cost of a sewer excavation and repair, and the complete peace of mind you will feel once you buy the house will be well worth the small cost.

When it comes to camera inspections, it’s important to hire someone you can trust. Universal Plumbing & Sewer is a family-owned company with a Master Plumber on staff, and we specialize in drains and sewers. Call us at 586-459-0040 to schedule your appointment now.

What's the Deal with the Detroit Zoo Water Tower?

A couple days ago we shared an article on our social media pages about old water towers that were converted into really cool houses (I seriously recommend checking it out. Click here to see the article) and it got me thinking. Water towers are one of those things that you see once in awhile as you’re driving, but you never think much of them. I drove past the Detroit Zoo water tower earlier this week for the hundredth time, but this time I couldn't help but wonder, why is that thing there? What does it do? So, naturally, I went on a curiosity-fueled research spree.

When you turn on a faucet, the water pressure in the system is what pushes the water out of the faucet. Low water pressure is one of the most irritating plumbing problems; the simplest tasks like showering or washing dishes can become incredibly time-consuming. So, how does a city ensure that there’s always enough water pressure for everyone, even in periods of high water usage?

The answer to that question is water towers. Unlike electric-powered water pumps, a water tower uses the power of gravity to create water pressure in the system, which is incredibly cost-effective. Potable water that’s stored up in the tank is released throughout the day, and then the tank is refilled by a pump during the night when water usage is low.

Water towers ensure the reliability of the water system in case of emergencies, too. Their tanks are usually sized to hold a day’s worth of water for the community it serves; in case an emergency causes the municipal pumps to shut down, the water tower ensures that the community will still have running water for 24 hours. They can also be built specifically for other uses, such as emergency fire protection or industrial use in factories.

So next time you turn on the water as you get ready for your day, you might have a nearby water tower to thank!

 

Fun fact: As it turns out, the Detroit Zoo water tower is currently non-functional. It used to hold 1.5 million gallons of water and served the north Woodward area’s water system up until 1984, when it was shut down due to a defective valve. Instead of demolishing it, however, the mayor at the time argued that it had become a landmark associated with the Zoo, and it was decided that the water tower would stay. Ever since, the tower has served as a unique billboard for the Detroit Zoo, and now it even serves as a home for a family of endangered falcons.

 

If you ever find yourself with low water pressure, it's probably not a water tower's fault. Certain issues in your home's plumbing system can cause changes in water pressure. Call us at (586) 459-0040 and we'll fix it up!

Here's What Happens When You Drink 64 Ounces of Water for 31 Days

Today's post is a little different than our usual blogs. Instead of giving you general information about plumbing, I'm going to introduce myself (Hi, I'm Alanah!) and share a personal experience!

We've all been told a thousand times that drinking enough water is important, but studies show that 75% of Americans are dehydrated. After realizing that I was definitely part of that 75% and my water habits were truly TERRIBLE, I decided to take on a water challenge. For the full 31 days of May, I had to drink 64 ounces (the recommended daily amount) of water by 6:00 PM every day. It wasn't so much difficult as it was annoying, having to lug around a big 32-ounce water bottle everywhere I went, and not to mention having to use the bathroom so much more than I used to. (Is that TMI? Sorry.) But for the most part, I successfully made it to the full 64 oz every day.

Even after just a few days, I noticed all kinds of improvements in how I felt, and it only got better as the month went on. Here are some of the specific things I experienced: 

1. Working out was easier.

I felt more energy and was able to do more reps in my workouts. It's no wonder; drinking water helps blood circulate through the body more easily, which brings oxygen to muscles.

2. No more bad breath.

Before this challenge, I carried gum with me constantly because my mouth was always dry and I had a gross taste in my mouth. But when I was well-hydrated, I noticed the bad taste was completely gone and I didn't need the gum anymore.

3. DRASTIC improvement in my anxiety.

Water is necessary in the production of certain hormones in the brain, including serotonin and others that regulate mood and emotions, and I definitely experienced that to be true. In situations that would normally cause my heart to start racing with anxiety, I felt in general much more calm.

4. No more crackly joints.

Sometimes when I would run up stairs, my ankles would make cracking noises with each step. Joints are supposed to be surrounded by a layer of water that protects and lubricates the joint, and after being hydrated for a month, I haven't heard my ankles or knees crack since April.

5. No more dizziness.

It's probably embarrassing for me to admit that I'd get a little light-headed every time I got up from the couch, but that's just how dehydrated I used to be. Being hydrated completely eliminated the dizziness.

6. Reduced headaches.

I used to get some form of a headache every single day, but this past month, I only experienced two or three headaches in total over the whole month. It was so much easier to enjoy my day and be productive when I wasn't in pain.

7. Increased ability to sing.

The few times that I had to sing at different events during the month, I noticed that higher notes were easier to hit and my voice's tone was smoother when I was hydrated.

8. Better skin.

Every single winter, I get patches of dry skin on my face that stick around until June, but this winter's dry patch went away by the middle of the month. And when it comes to acne, my skin was noticeably clearer.

There are many, many more benefits of staying hydrated beyond those specific short-term effects I experienced, like improved heart health (water naturally thins the blood and helps it flow more easily), improved cognitive function and memory, weight loss and anti-aging, and more. I fully intend to continue drinking 64 ounces of water every day, even though the 31-day challenge has ended. I feel really great.

The thing that made all the difference in this challenge was my RO (Reverse Osmosis) water filter under my kitchen sink. We've had it at my house ever since we renovated the kitchen in 2005, and I just took it for granted for a while, but during this challenge it made staying hydrated so easy. Pure, cool water comes out of a little faucet on my kitchen sink, so I just turned on the tap and refilled my water bottle with that filtered water every morning and afternoon. It tasted like fresh bottled water straight from a store. I live in an area where the municipal tap water is clean & safe to drink, but with the way tap water tastes, I wouldn't have made it through this challenge if I had to drink 64 ounces of tap water every day.

Reverse osmosis works by filtering water through a semipermeable membrane that only pure H2O molecules can pass through. This means that even dissolved substances, such as salt or even lead, can be filtered out. The only thing that comes out the other side is genuinely pure water. In fact, it's even cleaner than bottled water!

If you want to be healthier and feel better in every area of your life, drinking the recommended amount of water every day is a great and easy first step. Even just try it for a month and see how you feel, like I did. And if you hate the taste or the chemicals in tap water and you don't want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on bottled water every day, a good under-sink filter will be the perfect solution for you. I don't know what I would do without mine now, honestly, and it has lasted over 12 years without giving me any problems. Speaking from experience, it's definitely worth it!

 

Call us today at 586-459-0040 and ask us about our water filtration options!

4 Ways a Hot/Cold Hose Spigot Makes Life Easier

Have you ever wished you could have both cold and hot water come out of your garden hose outside, just like the faucets in your home? With a hot/cold hose spigot, you can. Here are a few great reasons you'd love having outdoor hot water.

1. Washing the Dog

Washing the dog in your bathtub works fine, but that dog hair gets everywhere. All over the floors, cabinets, and not to mention down the tub drain (which can easily cause a clog). And if your dog is anything like mine, they'll shake immediately after the bath is done, spraying that water and hair all over the house. Being able to wash your dog outdoors will eliminate the cleanup completely, and the availability of warm water will make it more comfortable for both you and your dog. And when they do that after-bath shake, they'll already be outside.

2. Filling a Pool

Even on the hottest summer days, swimming in ice-cold water will make anyone shiver. How many times have you filled up the pool, and then let it sit for a few hours before using it so the sun could warm it up a little? If you could fill the pool with warm water straight from the hose, you'd be able to swim right away and it'll be much more enjoyable.

3. Washing Your Car (or Motorcycle, Boat, Etc.)

Anyone who has washed dishes before knows how much easier it is to clean anything with hot water, and your car is no exception. The icy hose water does very little to cut through the dirt, tar, and bird poop that could be stuck on your car. Washing your car with hot water can save time and make the job much easier.

4. Rinsing Off 

Playing or working outside is messy, no matter what you're doing. Shoes get muddy, hands get dirty, feet get covered in grass. Instead of tracking all that grime inside the house and having to clean it up later, wash it off right outside! With a hot/cold hose, rinsing off your (or your kids') hands and feet is just as comfortable as a warm shower.

Does this sound good to you? Give us a call at (586) 459-0040 and we'll install one of these great hot/cold hose spigots! You'll be on your way to a more enjoyable summer in no time.

Sump Pumps: Don't Hook it Up to the Sewer!

A sump discharge line that's hooked up to the city sewer is illegal in many areas and in general is not a good idea. In this post we'll explain the reasons, why you should care, and what you can do instead.

When I first heard that pumping sump water into the sewer system was illegal, my first thought was "Why? It's just water!" and I'm sure plenty of people share the same thought. But it isn't just water; when it comes to this issue, we must think of groundwater and city water (the water that comes out of your tap) differently.

The storm drain system, designed for groundwater/rainwater, is separate from the city sewer system, doesn't go through a water treatment facility, and flows directly into the nearest body of water. Because of this, the city sewer system and its water treatment facilities are designed only to handle the demands of daily city water usage in the city's homes and businesses.

If you're a homeowner with a basement or crawl space, you're likely aware of the large amount of water your sump pump has to handle during a storm. If your pump is discharging to the sewers, that's a sizable amount of extra gallons pouring into the sewers in a short amount of time. Now imagine if sump pumps all over the city were discharging to the city sewers-- during a storm, that would be thousands of gallons of extra water pouring into the system all at once. The sewer system and water treatment facilities would quickly fill to over-capacity and easily flood during a period of heavy rainfall, causing either the sewers to back up into homes or the water treatment plant to release partially treated sewer water into local streams and rivers (ew).

If that doesn't convince you, here's another reason: A main drain/sewer clog is a fairly common problem, especially in yards with trees, and it usually happens without warning. If your main sewer suddenly stops flowing properly, it can back up into your toilets, bathtub, and sinks. The last thing you'd want in that kind of situation is a sump pump pouring gallons and gallons of additional water into the clogged sewer! You can turn off your water until you can get the sewer cleared, but you can't turn off your sump pump without risking a flood.

No one wants sewage backing up into their home, so if your sump pump is currently hooked up to the city sewer, get that fixed! You may hate the idea of having an unsightly pipe pouring water into your yard, but there are plenty more attractive options that will work with your home's current situation and landscaping, such as routing the water away from your home in a pipe underground and directing it to a drainage ditch, or even hooking it up to the storm drain system, if available.

Working with a licensed and experienced contractor like Universal Plumbing & Sewer can really help when weighing the different options. We can help you determine the best course of action for your landscaping, personal preferences, and budget while ensuring the water gets carried far enough away that it doesn't return to your basement. Call us at (586) 459-0040 for more info, or click here to read more!

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Clogs

Today's blog is about clogs. It's a clog blog, if you will. (Sorry, we found that amusing.)

Terrible jokes aside, a slow-running or clogged main drain line is an annoying and expensive problem. Here are 3 easy things you can do to make sure your drains stay clear. (Warning: more terrible rhymes ahead.)

1. When in doubt, toss it out!

Toilet paper is biodegradable and breaks down in water, but other things don't break down and can get stuck somewhere deep in your home's pipes. This includes (but is not limited to) paper towels, wet wipes, tissues, dental floss, diapers, feminine hygiene products, Q-tips, cotton balls, etc. Even "flushable" wipes aren't biodegradable and will eventually cause problems if you keep flushing them. So if it's not toilet paper, don't flush it!

2. Strain the drains!

It's always a good idea to install strainers on all of the drains in your home. Strainers are inexpensive and will help catch any food, hair, or other debris that would otherwise go down the drain and into your plumbing. We've also heard horror stories of people dropping jewelry and other valuables down open drains; you won't have to worry about that if the drain is covered with a strainer.

3. Cease the grease!

This is a big one: DON'T POUR GREASE OR OIL DOWN THE DRAIN, even in the garbage disposal! You might think it isn't a big deal because grease is liquid, but the big thing about grease is that it solidifies as it cools. Even if you run hot water as you pour the grease down the drain, it will cool as it flows through the pipes and it'll stick. Even small amounts of grease can build up and create a nasty clog. The problem goes deeper than just a greasy buildup; further down in the city sewers, the fatty acids found in grease can continue to build up until they eventually cause sewers to back up into the surrounding homes. Super gross.

DON'T pour hot or even warm grease in the trash, as it might start a fire. Here are some alternative ways to get rid of grease: (1) If it's a small amount of grease, let it cool and harden in the pan, and wipe it into the trash with a paper towel. (2) Pour it in a glass container or old coffee can, keep the container in the fridge and keep adding to it whenever there is more grease to be disposed of, and carefully throw out the closed container when it's full. (3) Pour it in a bowl and let it harden in the fridge or freezer, then scoop the grease into a plastic bag and throw it in the trash. (4) Save it to use in future cooking! Read about that here.

Keeping your main drain clear is not limited to the 3 things on this list. Be mindful of what you're putting down the drain at all times, don't throw just anything into the garbage disposal, and teach your kids about the importance of taking care of your home's drain system. And as a rule of thumb, if you find yourself questioning whether or not you should put something down the drain, just put it in the trash.

Even if you follow all these guidelines, clogs can still happen, and sometimes they can be a sign of a deeper problem like a broken sewer line or tree root intrusion. So don't wait for it to get worse! Call us at 586-459-0040. We have the tools to completely clear the toughest clogs and fix any problems we find.

Why Backup Sump Pumps are So Important

"My sump pump is new and works great, why do I need two of them?"
"My power never goes out, do I still need a backup pump?"
"My neighborhood has a low water table and never floods. I should be okay without a backup, right?"

If you've ever found yourself asking those questions, you're not alone, and we're here to provide answers. In this post, we'll outline a few situations in which a backup pump will save you.

Power Outages

While a primary pump runs on electricity, a backup pump is powered by either a battery or water pressure. This is perfect for an event like a power outage or a tripped circuit breaker; when your primary pump loses access to electricity and stops working, your backup pump will take over without skipping a beat.

Storms that cause basements to flood are often strong enough to knock out the power, rendering your primary sump pump completely useless right when you need it the most. And although unlikely, emergencies like a blown transformer somewhere in your neighborhood can happen, leaving your home vulnerable to flooding. So even if your home rarely loses power, it's still a good idea to be prepared for a power outage.

Primary Pump Malfunctions

Just like any other mechanical device, your sump pump is not going to last forever. After years of pumping water out of your basement, the sump pump's motor will eventually burn out. And before that happens, a number of other things can go wrong that will cause the pump to stop working: debris entering and clogging the pump, a stuck or tangled float switch, electrical problems, and more. Even something as simple as leaves getting into the sump can cause problems.

A backup sump pump ensures that if any of these things happen, your basement will stay dry until you replace or repair the primary pump.

Floods

In certain emergency flooding situations, like melting snow followed by heavy rain, sometimes the large influx of water into your sump is just too much for your sump pump to keep up with on its own. A sump pump can even completely burn itself out by working too hard. The backup assists the primary pump in these situations, lessening the load on your primary pump and extending its life as well as keeping the water in the sump at a safe level.

Still not convinced? Even if your basement is only used for utility, things like water heaters, furnaces, and washers/dryers can short out when exposed to a flood. Not only that, standing water rots wood, promotes mold and mildew growth, and has potential to cause serious water damage. Don't take the risk! If you need help installing a backup sump pump, or your primary pump needs maintenance or repair, call us at (586) 459-0040. We're even available 24/7 in case your sump pump fails in the middle of the night.

How Tree Roots Affect Your Plumbing

With the growth of beautiful green leaves comes the growth of tree roots, so springtime is an excellent time to keep an eye on your plumbing.

Tree roots naturally grow towards water, especially during times of drought, so when moisture escapes through cracks in your sewer line, the roots will inevitably move in that direction. Roots are extremely powerful; we've all seen how they can cause concrete sidewalks to buckle and crumble, so they will easily penetrate water pipes (this is called root intrusion) and, if left untreated, will eventually fill up the pipe completely, causing your sewer line to back up into your home.

How to Prevent Root Intrusion

The first step you should take is finding out where your sewer line is located on your property (we can help you do this). When you are planning your landscaping, limit the amount of plants around the area of the sewer line, and plant trees a distance away. It also helps if you select trees that grow more slowly; if root intrusion ever becomes a problem, you'll be able to stay on top of the maintenance more easily than you would with a quickly-growing tree.

If there's already a tree near your sewer line, don't worry! You don't need to cut it down. Just keep an eye on how your main sewer line is draining, and call a professional for an inspection if you have any concerns.

Root Intrusion Warning Signs

If your plumbing is more than 25 years old, your pipes won't have the strength to keep roots out. Older systems typically have clay or iron piping. Clay is porous and is prone to cracking, so roots will find their way into a clay pipe easily. Iron piping is a bit more resistant to roots, but it is prone to corrosion and will end up letting roots in as well.

If you have frequent drain backups or slow drains, or if your toilet makes gurgling noises, there may be roots blocking your main sewer line. Pay attention to these warning signs and don't ignore them.

How to Get Rid of Roots

The first step is to have a plumber come and cut the roots out with an auger. This simply clears a path through the tree roots, so your sewer line can flow again. It's a good idea to have this done regularly if you have a lot of trees in your yard.

An extremely effective (but more expensive) solution, especially for a sewer line that's heavily blocked with roots, is a high-pressure hydro jetting of the sewer line. You can read more about it here, but in short, a trained technician feeds a high-pressure hose into the main line, and sprays a piercing jet of water that cuts through and washes away the roots. This lasts much longer than an auger alone and cleans out the entire pipe.

To help keep the roots at bay, your final step would be a root treatment. This treatment foams up when it comes in contact with water, filling the entire sewer line with a chemical that kills tree roots and leaves behind a residue that will help slow the roots' future growth. It is most effective right after a drain cleaning or jetting, because the roots are freshly cut and open to the root treatment chemicals.

If none of the above methods are effective, the damage may be too extensive and a complete sewer replacement may be needed.

If you have trees in your yard, especially if they are near your sewer line, you can easily prevent severe root intrusion by having your plumbing inspected every 18 to 24 months, preferably in the spring.

Call us at (586) 459-0040 and we can help you locate your sewer line in your yard and find out if there are any roots growing into the line. We'll work with you as a team to determine the best solution for your situation, and we'll help you keep your sewer line clear all year long.

Spring Cleaning Plumbing Checklist

Spring is an excellent time to make sure everything in your home is in tip-top shape, and that should include your plumbing. Here we have compiled a simple checklist for you to make sure all of your plumbing is working properly after the long winter months.

Kitchen

  • Check faucets for drips and fix them to avoid wasting water.

  • Make sure your kitchen sink drain has a strainer.

  • Check the pipes under the sink for leaks. An under-sink leak can easily go unnoticed, causing water damage and mold growth.

  • Check dishwasher and ice maker supply hoses for bulges or leaks. Replace any hoses that look weak, and use stainless steel hoses whenever possible (they are stronger and resistant to bulging).

Bathrooms

  • Check faucets for drips.

  • Make sure drains have strainers or pop-up assembly covers.

  • Check the pipes under sinks for leaks.

  • Inspect toilets for visible cracks on the tank or bowl.

  • Check toilets for leaks. To do this, put 6 drops of food coloring into the toilet tank, and wait 30 minutes. If any color appears in the toilet bowl within that time, your toilet has a leak.

  • Clean mineral deposits from your shower head. You can do this by filling a plastic baggie with vinegar, placing it over the shower head, and holding it in place with a rubber band. Leave it soaking overnight and then use an old toothbrush to scrub away the minerals the next morning.

Appliances

  • Make sure your water heater is set no higher than 120 degrees. This ensures maximum efficiency and reduces the risk of scalding injuries.

  • Flush your water heater of sediment, which builds up in the bottom of the tank and shortens the life of your water heater.

  • Check washing machine supply hose for bulges or leaks. Replace any hoses that look weak, and use stainless steel hoses whenever possible.

  • Clean the washing machine lint trap, if you have one. If you don’t, place a wire trap or even a piece of pantyhose over the end of the hose that drains the water from your washing machine.

  • Make sure no flammable items are stored near your furnace or water heater.

Basement

  • Pour a gallon of water into infrequently used drains, like floor drains, to make sure they drain properly and to fill up the trap. A dry trap can allow sewer gases to enter your home. Clear any drains that are draining slowly.

  • Test your sump pump to make sure it is operating properly. To do this, pour buckets of water into the sump pit to make sure the sump pump switches on and pumps the water out. A failing sump pump will mean a flooded basement, especially during a storm.

Outdoor

  • Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear and open.

  • Check for bird nests in plumbing vent pipes.

  • Check all hose faucets to make sure water flows freely and there are no leaks. If the faucet drips or there is a leak inside your home after you turn it on, the pipes may have frozen over the winter and need to be repaired.

Additional Improvements

  • Install flood alarms in your basement. Flood alarms are similar to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and they sound the alarm when they come into contact with water.

  • Install a backflow valve in your floor drain if you live in an area where the sewers sometimes back up into homes.

  • Consider replacing a water heater that’s over 15 years old. The average lifespan of a water heater is 8-10 years; older ones are prone to leaks and corrosion, and they are much less energy efficient than new ones.

  • Install a sump alarm. If your sump pump fails in the middle of the night, you will have no way of knowing until it's too late. A sump alarm will alert you if the water level in the sump pit gets too high, so you can take action before the water begins to flood your basement.

If you prefer to have a professional plumbing technician perform this inspection, or you need a drain cleared or a sump pump replaced, don't hesitate to call us at (586) 459-0040. We're here to help!

How to Get Rid of Sewer Smell

We all know that nasty sewer smell; it's immediately recognizable and it's never pleasant. So what do you do if you start smelling it in your home? Usually the cause of the problem isn't obvious and finding it will take a bit of trial and error, but don't worry, nasty smells in your home are usually easily fixable. Here is a list of the most common causes, and what you can do to fix them.

Rarely-Used Sinks, Tubs, or Other Drains

That curved piece of pipe under your sink is called a p-trap, and it's designed to hold water at all times to stop sewer gases from coming up through the drain. Every drain has a trap of some sort. If the drain is rarely used, the water in the trap can evaporate, which opens up the pipe to allow sewer gases to enter your home.

What to do: Turn on the sink or tub at least twice a month to keep water in its trap, and pour water into floor drains.

Worn Toilet Wax Ring

Every toilet has a wax ring, which seals the drain beneath the toilet and prevents water from seeping out. It's designed not to wear out, but a loose toilet can damage the ring so it no longer creates a seal.

What to do: Check the toilet bowl to make sure it's secure. If it's wobbly or loose, reset the toilet with a new wax ring.

No Caulk Seal Around Toilet Base

As a rule, water that can't dry will grow bacteria and start to stink. So if there is no seal around the base of your toilet, water and urine can seep under there and won't be able to dry.

What to do: A simple bead of tub & tile caulk around the base of the toilet, where it rests on the floor, will create an effective seal.

Bacteria in Drains

Over time, soap scum can build up near the opening of a drain, and it creates an excellent place for bacteria to live and grow.

What to do: Pour a household cleaner or enzyme drain cleaner down the drain a few times a day over the course of a week (pouring the cleaner down the drain only once usually won't do the trick). Pour some cleaner into the overflow drain too, if there is one.

Sewer Cleanout Cap Screws

Sewer cleanout cover plates are attached to the sewer cleanout with a screw. The screw can deteriorate over time, allowing sewer gases to seep through. These are usually located under sinks and behind/next to toilets.

What to do: Replace the old deteriorated screw with a new one.

Still stinky? 

If you try all of these and the problem still isn't fixed, it might mean there is a trickier problem that only a skilled plumber can find and solve. Don't hesitate to give us a call at (586) 459-0040 and we'll help you get to the bottom of it.

Pros and Cons of Chemical Drain Cleaners

Slow sink & tub drains happen to all of us. But before you head to the hardware store for another bottle of Drano, first consider these pros and cons of chemical drain cleaners.

The Pros

  • It's easy to use. Unlike cabling or hydrojetting, chemical drain cleaners don't require any special skills or training; you just open the bottle and pour it down the drain.

  • It clears clogs quickly. Most clogs can be cleared in ten to fifteen minutes with chemical drain cleaners.

  • It's inexpensive and convenient. Price does vary, but you can generally buy a bottle of drain cleaner for around 10 bucks, which is a small percentage of what you'd pay to hire a plumber or rent plumbing equipment.

  • It works well on clogs made of hair, food, or grease. Tub/shower drains often get clogged with hair, and kitchen sinks without garbage disposals can easily become clogged with a buildup of food and grease. Chemical drain cleaners can work well in these types of clogs.

The Cons

  • It can't clear all types of clogs. While it can work well on hair or food clogs, chemical drain cleaner can't clear clogs made of solid objects or mineral deposit buildup.

  • It doesn't work in toilets. Chemical drain cleaner is heavier than water, so it sits at the bottom of the toilet bowl and is unable to travel up over the siphon curve to the clog.

  • It can create noxious fumes and cause chemical burns. Chemical drain cleaners break up clogs by creating a chemical reaction with the clog and dissolving it, and it can do the same to your skin and eyes if it accidentally splashes on you. It also gives off some pretty strong fumes that can be dangerous if you're in an enclosed space.

  • It often contains pollutants. Pollutants aren't clearly labeled on the front of the bottle; you have to dig into the ingredient list on the back to find them. If you have a leak in your main sewer line, these pollutants and chemicals can get into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.

  • It can damage your plumbing pipes. The chemical reaction that breaks up the clogs also gives off heat, which can significantly soften PVC pipes and corrode older piping. And if your pipes already have some corrosion, the chemicals will cause further damage.

  • It can cause more clogs with repeated use. A residue is left behind every time you use a chemical drain cleaner, and it builds up in the pipe similar to grease.

More Warnings

  • Never pour chemical drain cleaner into a garbage disposal. It will damage the unit, and chemicals can splash back into your face when you turn it on again, damaging your eyes and skin.

  • Don't use a chemical drain cleaner if the drain is completely blocked. This will just coat the clog in chemicals, contaminating the sitting water and making it dangerous for a plumber to clear the clog.

  • Don't use a chemical drain cleaner if you have a septic system. These chemicals are known to damage septic tanks.

Alternatives to Chemical Drain Cleaners

So, although chemical drain cleaners are convenient and cheap, what if you don't want to risk it? Here are a couple alternatives you can try before calling a plumber.

  • A plunger. Plungers aren't just for toilets; smaller plungers are made for sinks and tubs, and they can be effective in breaking up clogs if you know how to use them correctly. Here's a helpful article to teach you how.

  • Boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar. 
    1. Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain.
    2. Dump about 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for a few minutes.
    3. Pour a mixture of about 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup very hot water down the drain on top of the baking soda.
    4. Cover drain with a drain plug to keep the reaction below the drain surface. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
    5. Rinse it all down with another pot of boiling water.

If all else fails, don't be afraid to call in a professional, like Universal Plumbing & Sewer. Our master plumber and drain specialists have been clearing all kinds of drains for years, and even the toughest clogs won't stand a chance. (586) 459-0040

How to Prevent Basement Flooding

Spring is quickly approaching, and that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and open windows. But it can also mean melting ice/snow and more rain storms, increasing the risk of a flooded basement. Protect your home and your valuable belongings by following these easy preventative steps.

1. Keep your rain gutters clear.

If your downspouts are short and close to your home, attach extensions to draw the water at least 3 feet away.

2. Look for cracks in the foundation in your basement.

Even tiny cracks in the walls can allow water to seep in during heavy rain, so seal any cracks that you find.

3. Make sure your sump pump system is working well.

You can test your sump pump by pulling up on the float switch and making sure the motor runs. Replace your sump pump if it isn't working right or if it's old. If you live in an area that experiences frequent power blackouts, install a water-powered backup pump, which will ensure your basement stays dry when the power is cut off from your primary sump pump or if your primary pump fails.

4. Invest in some window well covers for your basement windows.

These help keep water, debris, and even pests away from your windows.

5. Inspect your plumbing system to make sure there are no leaks.

The basement is usually one of the first areas to be affected by plumbing leaks, even if the leak is very small. Frozen pipes often cause leaks, so if your pipes gave you any trouble over the winter, a thorough plumbing inspection is an especially good idea.