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How to Unclog a Drain

March 10, 2017

Stop—don’t panic! You, too, can unclog that drain with these easy steps for banishing the backed-up sink and toilet.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz


  • All Clogged Up

    If you’re like most people, you don’t give much thought to the drains in your bathroom and kitchen fixtures—that is, until something goes wrong, and you’re confronted with a sink full of grimy water, or worse, an overflowing toilet.

  • Make It Hot

    Plain hot water is perhaps the unsung hero of clog busting. Typical sink and tub clogs consist of grease, hair, and food residue. Running a couple of quarts of boiling water down the drain will often dissolve much of the sticky “gunk” that is causing the clog. One-half cup of baking soda followed by a full cup of vinegar is also an effective remedy that you can use on a regular basis.

  • Clear the Hair


    The first step in clearing any sink clog is to remove the strainer, reach in with your fingers, and pull out any solids that you can. For bathroom sinks, a simple tool called a Zip-It can remove an amazing amount of hair. Zip-It is a long, slender piece of plastic with small barbs on the sides; you stick it down the drain as far as it will go and pull gently to remove the clogs.

    Photo: Lowes.com

  • Plunge It

    For tougher jobs, you may need a sink plunger, which is a plunger with a smooth bottom surface. Put two to three inches of water in the sink and gently pump the plunger up and down to clear the blockage.


  • Check the Trap

    If the drain is still clogged, you may have a blockage in the trap, which is the curved section of pipe underneath the sink. Place a bucket under the trap and then unscrew it using pliers or a pipe wrench. Typically, just unscrewing the trap will dislodge any clog; you can also poke a flexible piece of plastic tubing into the pipe to loosen any material clinging to the sides.


  • Meet Your Auger!


    Finally, for really tough jobs, you can purchase a drain snake, also known as a drain auger. A drain snake is a long, flexible metal device that bends around the corners of your pipes. You push the snake gently but firmly into the pipe until you reach the clog, then you turn the crank handle to break through the clog. Remove the snake periodically to clear any debris that gets wrapped around the head.

    Photo: homerepair.about.com

  • Tackle Toilet Troubles

    For clearing toilet drains, the best tool to start with is a toilet plunger, which has a flexible lip around the rim. Fill the toilet bowl with enough water to form a seal around the lip of the plunger when it’s placed over the drain hole. Pump the plunger gently up and down until the clog clears. You should not have to use a lot of pressure. If the first attempt does not succeed, try pouring hot water into the toilet bowl and letting it sit for a few hours, then try the plunger again.


  • Snake It Out


    For tougher toilet clogs, you may need a toilet snake, which is similar to a drain snake but covered in a protective rubber sleeve to avoid scratching the toilet’s porcelain finish. A toilet snake works in the same fashion as a regular drain snake: Insert the snake gently but firmly into the toilet pipe until you come to the clog, then turn the crank handle to remove the clog.

    Photo: icreatables.com


The Best Way to Avoid the Discomfort of Cold Floors

March 8, 2017

Put an end to the shock of waking up to icy floors—and frigid feet—by installing a cutting-edge heating system that provides all-encompassing, “everywhere” warmth. Read on, and you’ll discover that toasty tootsies are just one of the many benefits of radiant heating.

You never get used to it—the discomfort you feel when you roll out of bed and set foot on an ice-cold floor. But while some homeowners merely wince, stumble toward their slippers, and get on with their day, building pros recognize cold floors as a hallmark shortcoming of traditional heating systems like forced hot air. Forced-air HVAC, which surged in popularity during the postwar era, remained the dominant mode of residential climate control for more than 50 years. Recently, however, amid a tide of innovation, a number of new options have come onto the scene, each boasting performance and efficiency advantages over older, increasingly outmoded technologies. Of all the systems in common use today, one in particular—radiant heating—stands out for its ability to guarantee warm, welcoming floors while maintaining an overall level of wintertime comfort that even the latest high-tech equipment can’t match.

Radiant floor heating isn’t anything newfangled. In fact, with roots reaching all the way back to ancient Rome, radiant-heat technology has been undergoing continual development for centuries. Today, it’s more than just a viable whole-home heating alternative—it’s the system that many industry experts consider to be the new standard-bearer. But although radiant heating has been widely adopted in Europe and Asia, it remains relatively rare in the United States. That’s all changing, though, as more and more homeowners learn that the virtually silent, dust-free, and energy-efficient performance of radiant heating surpasses that of competing technologies, including, among others, forced air. Read on for details on the benefits of a system that delivers heat from the ground up, across every inch of floor space, fostering even, encompassing, “everywhere” warmth.



Cold Floors - Radiant Heat Panel Tubing

Photo: warmboard.com

First off, a point of clarification: Many homeowners labor under the misapprehension that radiant systems heat only the floor. That may be true of electric radiant systems, but hydronicradiant technology operates very differently. In an electric system, a network of cables installed under the floor generate on-demand supplemental heat. Such systems do a good job of making making the floor feel warm, but it’s rare for homeowners to rely exclusively on electric radiant heating for their heating system. Why? Well, electricity doesn’t come cheap. Hydronic systems, on the other hand, rely on efficiently boiler-heated water instead of costly electricity, enabling homeowners to enjoy affordable whole-home radiant heat. In a hydronic system, as hot water moves through tubes set into panels below the floor, heat radiates outward into the home, creating a qualitatively different kind of comfort.



Cold Floors - Radiant Heat vs. Forced Air

Photo: warmboard.com

Hydronic radiant heat isn’t only a viable means of heating the whole house. Many experts argue that it’s the best means of doing so, because by delivering heat from the ground up, radiant systems don’t merely eliminate the problem of cold floors. They also deliver something forced air never could—uniform temperatures from wall to wall and from room to room. If you’re familiar with forced air, you know that it’s warmest—too warm, in fact—right near the vent, and becomes cooler the farther away you go. Plus, quite soon after entering a room, the conditioned warm air in a forced-air system flies to the ceiling, where no one can feel it. Under these circumstances, if family and guests feel totally comfortable, it’s for only a fleeting moment. In contrast, by delivering warmth across every square inch of flooring, radiant heat provides steady, “everywhere” warmth that’s concentrated not above your head, but at the level where you need it most.



Cold Floors - Radiant Heat Panel Detail

Photo: warmboard.com

Perhaps more than any other technology, forced air has popularized the notion that in the winter you can either save money or enjoy a comfortable home, but you can’t do both. Why do forced-air systems cost so much to operate? One primary explanation: Ductwork, which is notoriously prone to leaking, especially at the seams, can lose energy, thereby compromising the overall efficiency of a forced-air system by 25 percent or more. With radiant heat, there’s no such heat loss and, as a consequence, no wasted energy. Still, bear in mind that while radiant heat always offers efficiency benefits over forced air, some radiant systems deliver greater efficiency than others. It all depends on the design of the system. Historically, radiant-heating systems relied on gypsum concrete, but that trend has been changing. Warmboard, for instance, builds panels with aluminum, a material whose exceptional conductivity allows the system to heat quickly while saving homeowners an extra 10 percent to 20 percent each month.



Forced-air heating doesn’t tick like baseboards or hiss like radiators. But when the system clicks on and the blower begins to blow, the rush of air through the ductwork creates a sustained “whoosh” not unlike the sound of an idling jet engine. One of the most appealing characteristics of radiant heating is that it calls no attention to itself whatsoever. Besides being virtually silent, the technology also goes a long way toward supporting indoor air quality. For allergy and asthma sufferers in particular, radiant heat can be like a breath of fresh air. Unlike forced-air systems and their dust-collecting ducts, radiant heating doesn’t distribute airborne impurities throughout the home. Nor does radiant heating traffic warm, dry air through the house, reducing the moisture content of the air—a big relief for homeowners who were accustomed to spending the winter with red eyes and a scratchy throat.


Finally, radiant heating enhances not only comfort in the home, but also aesthetics. Indeed, for some, radiant impresses most not for the quality of its comfort or the efficiency of its operation, but for its complete invisibility. Whereas forced-air vents require clearance and, as a result, dictate furniture arrangement, radiant heating places no such limitations on the homeowner. True, there was a time when the technology didn’t pair well with certain types of flooring. Today, however, modern panels from the most reputable manufacturers make radiant a compelling choice in any circumstance, even if the homeowner plans to put in wall-to-wall, thick-pile carpeting. Indeed, when it comes to the benefits of a heating system beloved by builders and homeowners alike, eliminating the discomfort of cold floors isn’t the be-all and end-all—it’s only the beginning.

Cold Floors - Radiant Heat Solution

Photo: warmboard.com

Ready to update your heating system? Contact us today!

Jim Lavallee Plumbing
Serving Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston area
Phone: Toll-free (888) 884-4122

How To Unclog a Garbage Disposal

March 6, 2017

How To Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Photo: flickr.com via Rhonda Fleming Hayes

– Flashlight
– Long-handled tongs (or pliers)
– Plunger
– White vinegar
– Baking soda
– Lemons (optional)

For homeowners attempting repairs, the first thing to do is turn off the breaker that controls the disposal—a successful home repair will never be remembered as much as a trip to the emergency room.

Once the breaker is turned off, shine a flashlight into the clogged disposal. Do you see any objects that could be causing the clog? If so, carefully use a pair of long-handled tongs or pliers to retrieve these items and clear the way. Once all visible items have been removed, turn the breaker back on, and then turn on the disposal. (It may be necessary to push the reset button on the disposal.) If it drains water and works properly, congratulate yourself and be sure to tell everyone it took hours to fix (kidding); otherwise, continue on.

Again, turn off the breaker. With no more foreign objects to retrieve, it’s time to consider another cause for the clog: lingering leftovers. Food can clog garbage disposals when it isn’t broken down enough to be flushed out of the drainpipe. In these situations, it’s helpful to use a plunger first to try to loosen food that has clogged the disposal.

After covering the drain completely with the plunger, allow water to cover the edge of the plunger and plunge the drain a few times. When finished, see if water will drain—a good sign that scraps might also do the same. If so, turn on the breaker and disposal to see if the food remnants can now be processed through the drainpipe. Should it work, add a notch on your DIY belt. If not, it may be time to prepare a cocktail—for the clogged drain, that is.

Ensuring the breaker and disposal are both off, pour ¼ cup of baking soda in the garbage disposal. Next, pour ½ cup of white vinegar over the small pile, and be prepared for fizz and foam. Because many garbage disposals contain plastic parts, harsh drain cleaners can be detrimental. The combination of baking soda and vinegar ultimately offers the same type of unclogging ability, but on a much gentler scale.

After five to 10 minutes, turn the breaker and the disposal back on. Then run hot water into the disposal for another few minutes. (Again, the reset button may be necessary to get it started.) If it works properly, call it a day and make yourself a cocktail this time. If not, you may want to consider calling in your last resort: the professionals.

Turn off everything and call a plumber. But the job isn’t done after your pro clears up the problem and goes on his way. Remember to do your part by putting half of a lemon in the disposal every 2 to 3 weeks to keep the blades operating properly and the disposal smelling as fresh as your newfound respect for plumbers—this 2-minute maintenance can save you hours of headache down the road.

Still clogged up? Give us a call!

Jim Lavallee Plumbing
Serving Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston area
Phone: Toll-free (888) 884-4122

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