Ask The Contractor: Plumbing the mysteries of slow drains, 'phantom flushers' and more

This must a plumbum week - that is, plumbing, from Latin plumbum. We had multiple questions on fittings, valves, septic systems, pipe noise, toilets, faucets, traps, drains, water supply issues and plumbing code issues. This will have to be a two-part column to answer all of your plumbum questions.

Q: We have a double sink in our bath and, due to slow draining, I replaced the j trap this past Tuesday. On Wednesday, the sinks were still draining slow, and by Thursday, they started to back up. I read your column regularly and am ready to call a plumber or sprint off to the hardware store first thing Friday morning, depending on your answer.-Ed, Prescott

A: This is a simple fix. The drain needs to be snaked out. When j traps or p traps, as they are commonly called, are replaced, the replacement process can dislodge soap, toothpaste, hair, etc., which becomes lodged in the waste elbow, and this creates a plug in the line. This is not a serious issue and will not take much time to correct.

Q: We moved into a new home last week and recently noticed that the guest bath cold-water faucet is dispensing warm water. All other cold-water faucets are supplying cold water.-Margie and Ted, Williamson Valley

A: There are two issues that could be the source of the problem. The water supply line could be crossed somewhere, which would create warm water coming from the cold-water faucet. If that were the case, more than likely the hot-water faucet would be dispensing cold water. More than likely, the cold water line is touching the hot water line somewhere within the plumbing grid line, and this is creating a small warm-up of the cold water. If this is a newly constructed home, and it sounds as if you are within the first two years of home ownership, this issue is under warranty, and your contractor has the responsibility under performance standards to take corrective action.

Q: Our toilet has recently started to flush on its own. What is happening?-Mark, Prescott Valley

A: In the plumbing industry, this is called a phantom flusher. It more than likely simply means the tank has a leaky flapper valve. You can confirm this issue by pouring some food coloring into the tank after the tank has filled with water and the water has stopped running. Check the toilet after 10-20 minutes and, if the bowl water is colored, you will know that the flapper is not sealing properly and needs to be replaced.

To replace the flapper, turn off the water supply to the tank. Flush the toilet to drain out the water. Replace the flapper valve. Turn the water back on and test-flush the toilet. Perform the color dye test one more time to ensure that you replaced the flapper correctly.

There is one other cause that might be creating the phantom flush and that is if the refill tube is stuck inside the overflow tube. If it is, this means the refill tube needs to be reattached.

Q: We had a major plumbing leak and the plumber indicated that we had polybutylene piping and it should

be replaced. Why should it be replaced?-Tom, Cottonwood

A: Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was predominately used for water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. This type of water supply piping is infamous for leaks, ruptures and bursting. It was discovered that chlorine in public water supplies reacted with this piping material and the polymers that held the joints together, thus the rupturing. The plumber who indicated your piping should be replaced is correct. There were scores of widespread issues with this piping material on a national level and, because of this, consumers filed a major class-action suit against the manufacturer.

For all of you who

live in a home built between 1978 and 1995, it is only a matter of time before your plumbing will leak, and it might be good to take precautions, especially since the class-action lawsuit has been closed.

Q: We have a 15-year-old home. I recently replaced the showerheads and now it seems as if the water pressure has dropped. Can you help?-Tom, Dewey

A: More than likely, the fixtures are the problem. Be aware that newer plumbing fixtures have various waterflow restriction devices that the government has mandated to help us save water. The reduction of water volume is very noticeable with newer shower heads. You can remove the water flow restrictor if it is removable. There are some devices on the market that have permanent restriction devices in the shower head. Make sure that the water shut-off valve is fully opened - just a possibility in case you did not give it the full throttle.

Just as a reminder to other homeowners who might experience low water pressure with sink faucets: More

than likely the aerator screen has become clogged with particles. Sometimes the screen needs to be cleaned, or possibly the aerator needs to be replaced if it is old and worn.

Thanks to YCCA plumbing members The Plumbing Store, RED Plumbing, Arizona Green Plumber and Brewer Plumbing, whose owners contributed their expertise to this week's column.