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3 Easy Steps to Testing your Sump Pump

A Sump Pump

Check Your Sump Pump

Spring in the Akron area means lots of rainy
days with the occasional downpour. Check your sump pump now before you desperately need it to work. By then, you may end up with an overflowing sump pit and water in your basement. Here are our tips so you’re prepared for those April showers.

Identify Your Lid Type

Before the testing, you need to identify your lid type. Sump pits usually have either no
lid, a removable lid, or a sealed lid. If you have a sealed lid it’s a little harder to test.
We’ll address that at the end.

  1. Visually Inspect Your Pump
    Use a flashlight to look down into your pit. You’ll see your pump and maybe a back-up
    pump (if you have one) as well as the discharge pipe(s) and the cord(s). If your pit is
    full of mud or has debris floating around, it may be best to have it cleaned as the mud or
    debris can clog up the pump. Also, look at the check valve. That should be located
    somewhere on the discharge pipe(s) within a few feet of the actual pump. You want to
    make sure it doesn’t look crooked or like there’s a lot of stress on it.
  2. Test Your Pump
    There are two ways to test your pump. The simplest (but less accurate) is to just reach
    down into the pit and raise the float ball or arm with your hand. If your pump is working,
    you’ll hear the pump turn on. Once you release the float ball or arm the motor should
    shut off. The better way to actually fill up your pit with water to see how it works under
    real conditions. Keep in mind, it may take a couple of 5-gallon buckets to get the water
    high enough for the pump to turn on. You can also hook up a hose to your water heater,
    laundry faucet, or even an outside hose faucet to fill it that way.
  3. Inspect the Discharge
    Take a trip outside to see where your sump pump discharges and make sure there are
    no leaks and that the drain it discharges into is free from leaves or other debris.
    Pumping the water out of the house is the first step, but it’s outside the house you want
    it to freely flow down the drain to the road or ditch.

The Sealed Lid Problem

Radon mitigation companies seal the lid on sump pumps but, unfortunately, it makes it
really hard to inspect your sump pump. If you have a sealed lid you can either remove it
(which may affect how the radon system works if it’s not put back on properly) or you’ll
have to find a floor drain in the basement that drains into the sump pit. If you can find
one, just use the buckets or a hose to run water down the floor drain. Eventually, it will
fill up the pit and you’ll hear the pump come on.

Our Five Most Expensive Toilet Repairs (and how to avoid them!)

out of order sign on toilet

What’s Going On?

Dealing with toilet problems is no fun and paying a plumber to come out can be a hassle. Hey, we love the work but we understand you’d rather spend that money on pretty much anything else! So, we’ve checked our records and talked to the Techs and here’s our five most expensive toilet repairs with a few tips on how to avoid them! 

Just Jiggle It – FREE  

The old loose handle is easy to fix but we don’t charge our customers a penny to fix it. Now, if the toilet handle is broken that’s a different issue but in most cases it can be tightened. The Fix: Just take a pair of pliers and tighten the nut on the backside of the handle, just inside the tank. But, take note, this nut tightens counterclockwise! 

The Run-a-Way Toilet –  $69 

Probably the most common, the flush seal keeps the water in the tank. This seal sits in the very center of the tank down at the bottom. When you flush the toilet this seal or flapper gets lifted up and the tank water rushes into the bowl, flushing it. A faulty flush seal causes small amounts of tank water to seep into the bowl. This causes your toilet tank to sporadically fill up and the noise in the middle of the night causes lots of interrupted sleep! The Fix: Put 5-10 drops of food coloring in the back of the tank and wait to see if food coloring seeps into the bowl. If it does, you’ve got a bad flush seal. Replacing the flush seal or flapper is pretty easy. The hard part is that it’s best to find the exact replacement for that toilet. We don’t have much success using those “universal” flappers you find at the big box stores. 

The Money Down the Drain Fill Valve – $119 

This one is fun because we get to save people literally hundreds of dollars a year by replacing a broken fill valve. The fill valve is on the left side of the tank and there’s a flexible tube that puts water into the tall vertical tub in the near the middle of the tank. If your fill valve won’t shut off and keeps running, that’s a ton of water that just gets wasted right down the drain! The Fix: To see if this is leaking, flush your toilet, take the lid off and wait for the water level to rise to the tub of the rough overflow tube. If the water level rises over the tube and starts pouring down it, you know you have a faulty fill valve. Short-term you can turn the toilet off down at the floor. Long-term, the fill valve needs to be replaced. 

The Mid Century Modern Rebuild – $200-$275 

There’s a lot of beautiful toilets (yes, plumbers think toilets can be beautiful) that may be quite old, and maybe even pastel green, but they are part of the style of the bathroom. We have a lot of customers, especially in the older parts of Akron that want to preserve that vintage look. So, we get to work tracking down rare parts, delicately taking the tank off the bowl so we can rebuild the entire inside of the tank. It’s a joy to see a classic back to working at 100%. The Fix: This one is better left to the pros.  

The Stuck Childrens Toy – $500+ 

We’ve seen it dozens of times. One of the children drops a toy down the toilet or a toothbrush gets knocked off the counter and down it goes. When this happens we alway try to retrieve the item with our specialized toilet cable but sometimes it’s just jammed in there tight. That’s when we have to pull the toilet off the floor and take it somewhere where we can flip it upside down to see if we can get the object out that way. And once we do that, many times it just makes sense to install a new toilet. 

Time to End the Tail Light Warranty

Tonight I fixed a table lamp with blue electrical tape. Now what would a state- licensed, master plumber be doing repairing lamps? My wife thinks it looks nice; that’s reason enough. I was more inclined to chuck it into the trash bin. Maybe I should have saved the warranty information that came with it when we bought it from the dollar store.

Oh wait, it’s a piece of junk with no warranty that wasn’t built to last the car ride home from the store.

Thankfully, we’re not in the cheap table lamp business. We’re in the business of being true craftsman. But what does that really mean? For Mackin & Sons it means the work we do for our customers has to be up to a higher standard. A homes plumbing needs to perform reliably day in and day out. The leaks we fix must be fixed right, the first time. The things we install must stand up to daily use for years to come. If we fail in craftsmanship, leaks re-appear, carpets, ceilings and floors get ruined and we lose customers.

Saying you’re a craftsman is one thing, but it’s not enough. That’s why we back it up with our 5 Year Craftsmanship Warranty. On every job we do we promise our customer that if we’ve not done craftsmanship level work and something we touched leaks or breaks within 5 years we’ll come back and fix it for free.

I know our plumbers have down days. Even top-notch toilet and faucet manufacturers have QA issues. But we choose to make the promise and we stand behind it. It’s a win-win for everyone and a big part of the secret to our success: the customer has the peace of mind knowing we’ll come back to fix it. We get a daily opportunity to get better at what we do.

Think about it. There’s a huge difference between the plumber who knows his repair only has to last until the customer can’t see his tail lights as he drives off (true story – I actually had a customer who told me that!) versus our plumbers who know it has to last 5 years.

Craftsmanship. Quality. Pride in a job well done. Doing things the right way. These age old virtues seem to be lost in our modern age of cheapness and instant gratification (and cheap table lamps). At Mackin & Sons Plumbing it’s part of our mission to bring them back.

Is Your Plumber Getting Paid on Commission?

During a recent continuing education seminar I got to talking to the guy next to me who works for [unnamed national plumbing chain] and learned that he’s paid a 20% commission on everything he “sells” while in someones house. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with salespeople. It can be a honorable profession. Even commission payments have their place but not, I repeat, not when the knowledge gap between the homeowners and the specialist (a plumber, in this case) can be so vast.

Imagine the person at the deli counter told you that turkey slices would be $65 a pound because they needed to use a special slicer? Or it’ll be extra to put your turkey in an extra durable bag? You’d laugh. It’s turkey. Who are you trying to scam??

When it comes to specialty trades where we have to trust the expertise of the tradesman, i.e. your mechanic working on your transmission or the plumbing in your bathroom walls, most consumers don’t really know much about it.  That just leaves too much opportunity for a shady salesperson (who’s pretending to be a plumber) to jack up the price just so they get that weekly bonus check.

I can tell stories about the countless times I’ve talked with homeowners who were told they absolutely needed to replace this or that for thousands of dollars when, in reality, an $85 dollar repair is all they needed.

Obviously, all plumbers are trying to “up sell” – any business relies on the income from our customers.  However the temptation is too strong when your primary motive is a fat check; that’s why we do not pay our plumbers sales commissions.

When we send a plumber into a home their sole intent is to do what is best for the customer. Our plumbers are there to solve your issue and provide options that best suit your needs.  After the homeowner has been educated about the right repair the best option for them is also the highest priced choice. But many times it’s not.

We grow and by doing what is right for our customers.  Period.

The Deal on Dual Flush

We get asked about about dual flush toilets a lot. And we never really gave them much thought until we talked to a customer in Peninsula, Ohio. You see, there’s a lot of houses over there who need water to be delivered by truck because they aren’t hooked up to Akron’s municipal system and it’s too rocky to dig wells. This particular customer had even installed a rain water collection system and they were trying to get every once of efficiency out of their plumbing fixtures. That’s was our first Kohler Wellworth Dual Flush toilet installation and we’ve installed a lot since then. We couldn’t be more pleased.

A dual flush toilet has two flushing mechanisms. One for numero 1 and one for numero 2. Most toilets on the market these days use 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Kohler’s dual flush has a second lever as part of the handle (for when you go #1) and it only uses 1.1 gpf. This may not seem like much… but 30% savings per flush has some big pay off. Depending on how busy your bathroom is that can translate into 3,000 – 4,000 gallons of water saved per year. That’s a ton of water! Here’s where it gets cool though: you save 3,000 gallons per year. With Akron water rates rising that can add up to hundreds of dollars over the life of the toilet.

We also like the Kohler Wellworth dual flush for its functionality and style. The dual flush mechanism is incorporated right into the handle and couldn’t be easier. Most of the other brands on the market use two push buttons located on top of the tank lid; the top of the toilet is prime nick-nack space. Ask yourself: do you really want your little children reaching and climbing all over the toilet to find and push the buttons?

You just can’t go wrong with a Kohler product. They’re durable and easily repaired.

Why look further for a great toilet? You’ve found it.

Is there a Doctor in the House?

Today we saved a customer (we’ll call her Debbie) from drastic plumbing surgery on her shower faucet. We’re talking close to $1,000 with holes in the wall-level surgery. The diagnosis was a broken Delta shower handle with the added complication of corroded parts on the inside. Yikes!  Understandably, Debbie was worried. The faucet was pretty old and she thought we may have to replace the whole thing.  At times, this is necessary.  The entire fixture may need replaced – even requiring drywall work to cut behind the shower to replace pipes in the wall.  Again, expensive due to the time and labor intensive nature of this project.

Before I went down that road I pulled out my trustiest tool in my toolbox, my decades of experience, to determine if there are any other options. Luckily for this patient, there were plenty.

Understand that unlike some of the garbage found in your local big-box home improvement stores, most reputable faucet brands have excellent warranties and provide replacement parts free of charge to the customer. In this case we called Delta, worked with them to identify the faucet, and ordered the internal parts and new handle all under warranty. And because there is a chance the trim plate may be damaged during removal and re-installation, Delta opted to send us a brand new one.

We’re committed to service: treat the customers well and they’ll treat us well.  This customer was happy to wait a few days (for shipping) to have her shower faucet brought back to like new condition for a few hundred dollars instead of a messy – and expensive – complete faucet replacement.

We’ll still perform minor outpatient surgery… but her shower faucet will be back to 100% performance!  That’s the type of service we provide at Mackin & Sons Plumbing.  Give us a call today to have your plumbing repairs given the same type of expert-level treatment.

Low-Tox and Your Home

CONTENTS: Milky liquid with an ether-like odor. Extremely flammable liquid and vapor. Vapors may cause flash fire. May cause eye and skin irritation. Inhalation of vapors or mist may cause respiratory irritation and central nervous system effects. Swallowing may cause irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and kidney or liver disorders. Aspiration hazard. May be fatal if swallowed. Symptoms may be delayed.

That’s the “Emergency Review” of ABS pipe cement from the manufacturers material safety data sheet (MSDS). Doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it? Unfortunately that and some of the other products plumbers have to use in your home currently don’t have non-toxic substitutes.  Sometimes these products are the only ones out there that will glue or solder pipes together.

Despite the toxins, bacteria, odor and general . . . grossness . . . we believe there’s much plumbers can do to keep our customers homes odor-free, toxin-free and clean.  Just recently we had a customer with serious allergies request we clear a kitchen sink clog and replace some drain piping.  We love a good challenge so we got a little creative:

The work was all under the kitchen sink so we built a temporary “bubble” around our work area with plastic sheeting from the ceiling to the floor, covering everything, all the way to the wall behind the sink. Then, we put a fan in the window above the sink. Viola! With the work area sealed off and the fan sucking the air out the window we sealed off our work and completed the job.  The best part?  The homeowner didn’t smell a thing! In fact, he shared his experience on Angie’s List: “Due to the smell and allergy issues Ron provided a temporary tent that contained all odors until the job was complete. My custom kitchen floor tiles were completely covered and protected. Upon completion of the job my kitchen and basement area were in immaculate condition and odor free.”

As a site note, our plumber thought it was pretty cool to work in a (space?) bubble!  [Editor: Get that man an application for NASA.]

Why is My Water Heater Making Noises?

Every so often we get the “it sounds like my water heater is going to explode” call. Fortunately, the days of exploding water heaters are long gone: thank you temperature and pressure relief valve!  That said, there are still three water heater related noises that may raise the red alert:

1. The “mysterious drip” sound in the wall.  Only last week we had a customer who was convinced a pipe in the wall was leaking when they turned on their bathroom sink faucet.  I had a hunch: I asked them if it happens when they turn on the hot or cold water. Ah ha! As I suspected it only happened when they used the hot water. The drip, drip, drip noise was the result of the hot water lines moving ever-so-slightly due to thermal expansion in the pipe and rubbing against the wood in the walls. This is typically harmless.

  1.  The ominous “drip in the water heater” sound. This sound, while much less common, does cause many homeowners to think their water heater is leaking.  Typically it happens when the water heater first fires up and the warm exhaust air causes condensation in the vent pipe that drips back down onto the burner (think warm breath on a cold day making those little clouds from the mouth). Fortunately, as soon as the vent pipe warms the condensation stops.  Easy enough.
  1.   Snap-crackle-pop noise. No, we’re not talking about cereal. This noise is a real concern because it means that your water heater is holding sediment.  Over time the minerals in normal water builds up on the bottom of the tank thereby reducing the lifespan and efficiency of your water heater. Lime and other mineral deposits from the water solidify and build a thick cake at the bottom of the tank and water gets trapped inside this substance. When the water heater turns on these pockets of water expand and pop and crack. While this issue poses no immediate risk of damage to the tank it can result in expensive repairs of the control valve and, to the dismay of many a homeowner, decrease the efficiency and lifespan of your water heater.

Here we have a simple remedy: schedule and perform a regular flushing your water heater to clean out any sediment buildup.

Takeaway: next time you are … bored … take a walk downstairs and listen to your water heater. It may have a story to tell!

When Calling the Plumber Saves you $900

Customers call us frequently with a lot of questions about how we will fix things and how much it will cost. Understandable – we all want to know what we’re getting into before we commit. (think ordering food, replacing an alternator, marriage…) And with that commitment we’re all familiar with a certain amount of fear that creeps in when the homeowner has to call a plumber (or any in-home services company for that matter).

“Can they trust them?”
“Are their rates fair?”
“What if things go south?”

On the phone or over email we usually try to avoid answering too many questions. You say, “That seems a bit evasive!” however it’s actually for a very good reason.  It’s for you, our customer, and to protect you from worrying unnecessarily about your plumbing concern.

Case in point: recently we had a lady call who wanted to replace her roman tub faucet.  She was told by her handyman that it 1) could not be repaired and 2) had to be replaced. She called in, went to a local box store to look over styles, poured through the Moen and Delta faucet web pages in search of a new style… many hours of researching the right fit for her replacement faucet.  We even went as far as to special order a replacement faucet and brought the new fixture with us to do the job. While she was stressing about the expense and scope of the job we were emphasizing this fact:

there is no true way of knowing until we actually looked at the job.

Keep in mind, Roman tub faucets are not cheap. A good one retails for anywhere from $350-$500. Not to mention the actual work involves some pretty extensive repiping underneath the tub. All in all, she could’ve been looking at close to $1000 by the end of the day.   As our tech walked in the door carrying a very expensive Moen faucet everybody’s stress level was… high.  You could’ve wrapped yourself in its blanket.  However, after our lead plumber diagnosed the actual issue we concluded all the faucet needed was a simple repair. And better yet (why we always recommend going with a quality company like Moen or Delta), the part was under warranty.  Price tag for parts?  FREE.

A quick call to the manufacturer and a replacement was on its way. Once complete, the repair was a little over $100.

The moral of our epitome:  Don’t be too quick to make a diagnosis on your plumbing system.  In reality it’s a lot more complicated that many people think! And secondly, when you call Mackin & Sons Plumbing, rest assured if we defer to answer all your questions. In the end, we may have a $900 savings surprise for you too!