Hard Water vs. Soft Water

Most people assume that water is just water but, in reality, not all water is “created” equal. Typically, water falls into one of two categories: hard and soft. The difference has nothing to do with how it feels, and everything to do with the mineral content. Although both are safe for human consumption, some homeowners prefer soft water over hard water and vice versa. Knowing the difference between the two can save you money while improving your health.

As rainwater falls, it’s naturally soft. However, as water makes its way into our waterways, it picks up minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium. Since hard water contains essential minerals, it is sometimes the preferred drinking water. Although hard water tastes slightly better, soft water is preferred in most households for one reason: hard water is harsh. Hard water is to blame for dingy clothes, dishes with spots, soap scum accumulation, higher energy use, weak lather, and dried out skin.

Identifying Hard/Soft Water

The most common way to determine the hardness of water is by investigating the formation of suds when you use soap. There is less lather formation with hard water; instead, soap scum is produced. Additionally, hard water forms deposits through calcification that can clog plumbing. In swimming pools, a cloudy or milky appearance is a sign of hard water. While hard and soft water test kits are sold at most home improvement stores, the identification of soap suds is the easiest way to evaluate the hardness of your home’s water.

When it comes to hard water, it’s often classified into either permanent or temporary hardness. Hardness that can’t be “removed” via boiling is called permanent hardness. Since water hardness is caused by the presence of bicarbonate materials, boiling hard water can actually remove these materials – with the end result being soft water. If the water hardness can be “boiled out”, the water is classified as being temporarily hard. Note: permanent hardness can still be softened, just not through boiling.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Although soft water may be preferred for household chores, both types of water have their own advantages and disadvantages. Hard water typically has a more pleasant taste, and some people believe it’s better for your health because it provides the body with essential minerals. However, it can leave deposits and corrode pipes over time. Hard water tends to leave behind spots on dishes and in showers and bathtubs, and doesn’t produce much soap lather. In some cases, hard water can prevent water heaters and washing machines from working properly.

While soft water is better for the skin, better for cleaning clothing and dishes, and helps household appliances work more efficiently, the biggest drawback is that it does not taste as good as hard water. If you use tap water for drinking and cooking, expect a salty, flat taste.

How is Hard Water Softened?

There are several ways to reduce the hardness of water, including distillation, reverse osmosis, or, most commonly, the addition of a chemical softener. A high quality water softener system will give you well balanced water for your home. If you think you may have hard water, contact a commercial water filtration and treatment company for more information.

How to Prevent Bathroom Pipes from Freezing

Winter is here and, depending on where you live, you’re probably wearing extra layers to keep warm. But did you know your pipes need protection from the cold, too? If you live in an area where the temperatures drop into the 20s, even for only a few days, you’ll need to do several things to protect your plumbing. Each year, thousands of households deal with the messy and expensive inconvenience of frozen pipes. So, if you’re warm and cozy in front of the fireplace, don’t forget about your pipes!

At-Risk Pipes

Although all pipes are at-risk in extreme temperatures, some pipes are more prone to freezing because of their location in the home. Pipes most at risk for freezing include exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home, pipes located in exterior walls, and any plumbing that’s located outside the home. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces, and outside walls are especially vulnerable to freezing, particularly if there are cracks or openings that allow the cold air from the outside to come in contact with the pipes.

Preventative Measures: Exterior

If you incorporate the following tasks into your regular seasonal maintenance, you can prevent frozen garden hoses, costly pool repairs, and post-winter faucet replacements:

  • Drain water from the swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines;
  • Remove, drain, and store any hoses used outdoors;
  • Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas;
  • Wrap insulation around any exposed pipes; and
  • Turn off the water supply to exterior faucets and drain them.

Preventative Measures: Interior

Although exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they’re in a heated portion of the home, there are plenty of pipes in unheated areas that require attention. Here are some preventative measures you can take to keep the pipes in the interior of your home from freezing:

  • Leave the cabinet doors open in the kitchen so the air in the room can keep the pipes warm;
  • Place a lamp with a 60-watt bulb in potential problem areas;
  • In moderately cold climates, cover exposed pipe in inexpensive foam pipe insulation or newspaper. In severe climates, wrap pipes in thermostatically controlled heat tape, which will automatically turn on at certain minimum temperatures;
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage;
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night; and
  • When the weather is very cold, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you forgot to prepare your pipes for winter and are suffering the consequences, you can still thaw out your pipes in a few steps. First, locate the water main cut-off valve and cut-off the water before attempting to thaw out frozen pipes. Once the water is shut off, open the faucet the pipe runs to so the thawed out water in the pipe has somewhere to go. By using a hair dryer, heat lamp, or portable space heater you can manually thaw the frozen water in the pipe, just be sure to avoid using blowtorches, kerosene, charcoal stoves, or other open flame devices. If you cannot locate the pipe or cannot thaw the pipe yourself, call a licensed plumber.

Five Budgeting Tips for Your Bathroom Remodel

So, you want to remodel your bathroom but don’t want to break the bank? Join the club. Although the cost of a bathroom remodel varies depending on location, materials, age of the house, and what kind of renovations have already been done, a typical bathroom remodel can set homeowners back by an average of $15,000+. With that type of investment, it’s important to stick to a budget the best you can. Here are some budgeting tips to help you minimize the costs associated with a bathroom renovation.

Purchase Items Yourself

When it comes to bathroom fixtures, like bathtubs and vanities, you can save some cash by purchasing these items on your own. While it might be easier to hire someone to purchase these items for you, you can save thousands of dollars on your bathroom renovation by finding your own deals. Online retailers are a great place to start – in many cases, purchasing directly from the factory can save you up to 70 percent and includes free shipping. If you’re going for a vintage look, try estate sales, auctions, and Craigslist – you never know what treasure you’ll be able to find until you take the time to look.

Ditch the Professional Painter

Whether you’re a DIYer or not, performing some of the work yourself is a great way to save on labor. When it comes to painting, it’s a time-consuming (and expensive!) act that most people can do themselves. Once you’re in DIY mode, think about what other parts of the renovation you can do on your own: demolition, removal of popcorn ceiling, and installation of smaller fixtures often top the list of bathroom renovation projects that are suitable for even the least-experienced individuals.

Don’t Relocate Fixtures

One of the major costs in a remodel is moving fixtures. Not only does repositioning fixtures require a lot of extra materials and plumbing expertise, but it’s a time-consuming act and you’ll be shelling out extra on labor costs as a result. If you keep the same floor plan, you’ll save up to $2,000 on plumbing costs alone. Then, there’s the cost of the fixtures themselves: if that exquisite glass vessel sink is a must-have, then pick a standard no-frills toilet or tub to make up the difference. While it’s certainly acceptable to splurge, don’t splurge on everything- especially if you’re trying to stick to a budget.

Donate Your Trash

While this won’t save you money right off the bat, donating your “trash” will give you a little bit extra come tax season. Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. About 85 percent of a home is reusable, so you’ll save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause. The average cost of trashing bathroom fixtures is about $100, and the cost to donate is nothing and includes a tax deduction – so why wouldn’t you donate?

Make Decisions Early

Start walking the aisles at the hardware store or home improvement center months before you call a contractor for an estimate. This way, you’ll get a good feeling for what you want in terms of fixtures, design, and appliances. Additionally, you’ll know their cost and have an idea of what number the contractor will throw your way. If the number seems too high or low, let the contractor know. If you’re absolutely clear about what you want from the get-go, your contractor will be able to give you a better estimate and, once the demolition and remodel gets started, you’ll be able to better stay within budget.

The Deadly Sins of Bathroom Renovations

When it comes to home improvement projects, renovating your bathroom can add significant value to your home – but only if done correctly. While renovating any part of your house is no easy task, kitchen and bathroom renovations tend to be the most difficult - water and electricity, when combined, are forces to be reckoned with. The main causes of botched bathroom renovations are the unwillingness to spend the time and money necessary to construct a bathroom properly, and inexperienced individuals handling the work. Here’s a list of the deadly sins of bathroom renovations you should look out for.

Improper Installation

Even if everything is installed perfectly, the bathroom is still one of the most dangerous rooms in the home. When you combine water, electricity, slippery surfaces, and breakables together in one room, it’s no wonder that the majority of home accidents happen in the bathroom. Now add an improperly installed electrical outlet or a poorly mounted mirror to the mix and you can put your safety (and life!) at risk. From putting your family at risk for electrical shocks and exposing them to mold, improperly installed bathroom fixtures can cost you. If you aren’t an accomplished DIYer, get professional assistance from an experienced contractor who can help make your bathroom beautiful and safe.

Inadequate Waterproofing

When it comes to bathroom renovations, every aspect of the planning and construction of a bathroom should take water exposure into consideration – after all, bathrooms are functional spaces first and design showcases second. If the waterproofing aspect of your bathroom renovation doesn’t account for at least 5 to 10 percent of the total cost, then someone is cutting crucial corners. Inexpensive building materials and poorly constructed shower pans can lead to major water damage down the line. Additionally, carpeting in the bathroom should be avoided at all costs – while it may have once been trendy, it’s now an easy way to invite dirt and bacteria into your bathroom.

Avoid Open Storage

While open storage might seem trendy, do you really want to put your prescriptions, ointments, acne medication, and fungal cream on open display for your guests? In a day and age where 70 percent of house guests admit to snooping through other people’s bathroom cabinets and drawers, do you really need to make it easier for guests to look through your personal toiletries? If your heart is set on open storage, consider mixing it with closed storage solutions – put hand towels, tissues, and other innocuous bathroom essentials on display and hide anything that might embarrass you in closed storage.

Bad Math

Math is important in bathroom renovations, especially since space is usually at a premium. Errors in math and projections can lead to tile-layout problems, shower stalls and toilets that don’t meet code minimums, faucet handles that collide with backsplashes, and large gaps between the toilet tank and wall, to name a few issues. If you’re renovating the bathroom yourself, check and double check your measurements; if you’d like to be extra careful, ask your spouse, roommate, or a friend to look over your measurements before using them to order bathroom renovation materials.

Bathroom Demolition: How to Remove Old Vanities

Before you can remodel your bathroom, you’ll have to demolish it – this includes removing existing vanities and fixtures so your bathroom is prepared for the facelift you’ve always dreamed of. Whether you’re a total novice or somewhat of an expert, it’s important to take the time to demolition the right way – after all, a successful demolition isn’t about who can swing the hammer the hardest. There is a process to the demolition phase and it requires a plan and lots and lots of patience. Here are some tips for demolishing your existing bathroom without creating extra dust.

Have a Plan

Before beginning a demolition, you should either rent an industrial-sized dumpster or a truck to haul the debris to the landfill. Be prepared for tons of dust and grit, as removing plaster and tile will cause quite a mess. If your vanities and other bathroom fixtures are still in good condition and you feel guilty tossing them in a landfill, you may wish to consider donating them to organizations like Habitat for Humanity – they’ll get a second life in someone else’s home. If you’re working with a hired team, let them know about your donation plans ahead of time so they won’t damage or trash them upon removal.

Collect Tools & Supplies

Whether you plan on performing the demolition yourself or with a hired crew, you’ll need the following tools and equipment in order to perform the demolition properly: sledge hammer, utility knife, wheel barrel, large shovel, shop vacuum, heavy duty gloves, face gargles, face aspirators, duct tape or construction tape, screw drivers and wrenches, old towels, a large bucket, and high intensity light.

Although you’ll have to buy most of the above items, some of the larger tools, like wheel barrows and sledge hammers, are available for rent. Before renting, compare the purchase price and the rental price. In some cases, it may be cheaper to buy the tools and either sell them in a yard sale or save them for later use.

Turn Off the Water Supply

Before beginning any demolition job, think about what household elements you’ll be dealing with. Water? Gas? Electricity? All of the above? In the case of bathroom demolition, it’s important to turn off the water supply. Before removing a bathroom vanity, turn off the water supply below the sink by twisting the hot and cold nozzles. Turn the handles the opposite of their current position, and test both faucets to ensure the water is turned completely off before you move forward with removing the vanity.

Next, you’ll want to unscrew the supply lines that flow from the piping in your wall to the faucets. You can do so by wrapping a wrench around the nut that connects the line to the faucet and turn it until it becomes loose enough to unscrew by hand. If your home has copper pipes that have corroded over time, spray a plumbing liquid lubricant into the joint before beginning the process.

Remove Drain Pipes

Disconnecting the plastic piping that connects your drain to the hole in the wall is one of the easiest parts of a bathroom demolition and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. If you’re having trouble with turning the pipe connectors, try using a dry rag to get a better grip. If you’re dealing with a double vanity, the job is still simple but you’ll have to disconnect both before trying to pull apart the sink. Once the drain pipes have been removed, you’re ready to remove the vanity and cabinets.

Vanity Countertops & Cabinets

If the countertop is attached with silicone caulk, you’ll have to use a utility knife to loosen the countertop where it attaches to the cabinets. In some cases there are clamps securing the bathroom countertop, which can be removed with the appropriate tool. Once the bathroom countertop has been lifted, discard of it in an appropriate area. Now that the countertop is off, it’s time to remove the cabinet. Using a screwdriver or screw gun, remove the screws. Once the screws are removed, you should be able to remove the bathroom vanity.

After removing the vanity, cap off the drain pipe to prevent sewage gases from escaping into your home. Either push a large rag into the drain pipe or use plastic and tape to cover the opening. Now that your old bathroom vanity is removed, you’re ready to install your brand new bathroom vanity.

Common Plumbing Questions: Answered

As a homeowner, it’s only natural to have plumbing questions. While some plumbing problems are quite complicated and may require the expertise of a professional, many issues are minor and can be fixed with a bit of time and elbow grease. Not only will homeowners who understand the complexities of plumbing be better prepared to make the best decisions when a plumbing problem arises, but they may be able to take care of the problem themselves.

Q: What are the most important plumbing tools to keep at home?

A: The most well-known tool is the plunger – an essential tool that should be found in every household due to its usability and effectiveness. It can be used for unclogging toilets, sinks, showers, and tubs. Next on the list is a hand auger, which should be used for difficult clogs. With over 25-feet of steel cable, the hand auger is capable of handling clogs a plunger can’t. Finally, a wet-dry shop vacuum, though not strictly a plumbing tool, can be a lifesaver in the case of a flood. If a broken pipe or appliance has flooded a room, getting the water up as quickly as possible with the vacuum can mean the difference between saving a floor and having to completely replace one.

Q: How can I increase my water pressure?

A: Typically, issues with water pressure can be attributed to a volume or flow issue. A restriction in a line, or having a line that’s too long or under sized, could be the problem. If a pressure gauge is installed, you can check the pressure yourself. Water pressure in most households should be around 50 PSI. Look at the gauge with all the water off, and then once again when the water is on full. If the pressure is okay until you turn the water on, then it’s a flow problem. If the pressure problem only happens to a particular faucet, it might be possible to improve the pressure by cleaning the faucet or installing a new aerator on the end of the spout. Over time, faucets can clog and reduce the flow.

Q: How can I avoid frozen pipes?

A: If the pipes in question are exposed to an unheated area (garage, basement) or are outside, the pipes should be wrapped with foam or some type of insulation material and bound with electrical tape. If you can get your hands on electrical wire heating wrap, this will keep the pipes above freezing even in very cold weather. If you’re concerned about pipes within a wall, you can poke small holes through the wall and cover the pipes with insulating foam. If the pipes are totally inaccessible, leave a trickle of water running– this will warm the pipe slightly and slow down the freezing process.

Q: Is there a difference between hard and soft water?

A: Yes, and the difference can be damaging to both your home and your body. Hard water is water that contains a noticeable amount of dissolved materials, like calcium and magnesium. Soft water is treated in such a way that the only ion present is sodium. If you’re experiencing damaged clothing after laundry, excessive soap consumption, pipe scaling, deterioration of faucets and fixtures, or undesirable odors or tastes in your water, you may have a water problem. In addition to improving soap lather and removing soap scum, using a water softener can have financial benefits as well. In homes with water softeners, energy bills are noticeably lower and, since appliances don’t have to work so hard, the lives of washing machines, dishwashers, and water heaters can be prolonged.