Plumbing, Electrical, Mechancial

Problems and Solutions

3-Way Switch Malfunction

A 3-way circuit is one where a single light is controlled by two different switches (such as stairwells). If the switches and light aren't working as they should, it is likely that some re-wiring is needed. The repair will require a licensed electrician.

Weak Air Flow From Vents

Change filters. Remove the filter from inside your return grill(s) and replace with new filter. Remove filter from main HVAC unit on return side and replace with new filter.

Low Water Flow From a Faucet or Fixture

If the issue is just in one faucet or bathroom fixture, check the screen in the faucet; it may be clogged. You can unscrew it from underneath the faucet mouth. Clean screen and replace or buy a new replacement screen. Also, check your shutoff valves for that fixture. Make sure the valves are fully open. If that doesn't work, you likely have some clogged pipes feeding that fixture and will need a plumber to diagnose and replace.

Low Water Flow Throughout House

If you have low water pressure throughout your entire home, there are several possible causes. First, check your main water shutoff valve (usually somewhere in basement or crawl space and should be labeled). Make sure the valve is fully opened. Check other shutoff valves that may affect water flow to certain areas of your home. If those don't help, you may have clogged pipes in one or more areas of your water supply system, or the water pressure from your water meter is low. Get a pressure gauge at a home center (around $10) and test your home's water pressure at one of the exterior hose bibs. It should be a minimum of 40psi. A water pressure booster can be installed, if needed.

Running Toilet

Jiggle the handle to see if it will stop the water flow. If it does, you need to replace the "flapper" that is inside tank. Take the lid off the tank and disconnect the flapper and chain. A new flapper can be purchased at any home center and easily installed. If jiggling the handle doesn't work, you may need to replace all of the parts inside the tank. Those replacement kits are also available at any home center and can be easily installed according to the directions on the package.

Water Stains on Ceiling

If you see water stains on your ceiling, it may indicate a plumbing leak above, especially if there is a bathroom or kitchen over that area. If it is just the attic or roof overhead, check the roofing section for guidance. If you have plumbing above the stain, remove that section of drywall and run the fixtures above, one-by-one, to try to find the leak. Once you have pinpointed the area of the leak, contact a licensed plumber to perform the repairs.

Garbage Disposal Locked Up

If your garbage disposal is making a humming sound, but isn't spinning, your flywheel is most likely stuck due to debris. First, either unplug the unit or turn off the appropriate circuit breaker if it is hard wired. Next, use an allen wrench to insert into the hex nut on the bottom of the unit to try to spin the flywheel and dislodge the obstruction. Then use a small rod and pliers to locate and remove the obstruction from the sink side. Plug the unit back in or turn the breaker back on. Turn on the water and flip the disposal switch to see if it works properly. If the disposal isn't making any noise when you flip the switch, many units have a reset button on the underside. Look for this button and press it to reset the unit. Try operating the disposal again.

Food Scraps Pouring Back Into Dishwasher

If you notice that food scraps are returning to your dishwasher after it has drained, you may just need to adjust your dishwasher's drain line. We're talking about significant amounts here, not just a couple small bits that may not have drained. The problem could be the positioning of your dishwasher drain line. The drain line should have a "high loop" behind it before entering the cabinet under your sink where it ties to your main drain. To check this, you'll need to pull the dishwasher out and check the drain line. It should be fastened to the back of the dishwasher up high and then descend down into the cabinet. If that's not the case, secure it in that fashion, slide the dishwasher back into place and test by running another cycle.

Dishwasher won't fill up

This is likely the same cause as the problem above. Your dishwasher's drain line should be attached to the rear of the dishwasher up high before it descends into the adjacent sink cabinet. If it doesn't, this can create a siphon effect and, as the dishwasher tries to fill, it will just pour water continuously down the drain. This is why you sometimes see the air gap units on top of the counter/sink. They are designed to create an air pocket in the drain line so a siphon can't occur, allowing the dishwasher to fill. Most modern dishwasher setups don't require these, but the drain line must have a "high loop" to prevent the siphon from occurring. If you need to check it, slide the dishwasher out from under the counter and check the drain line positioning. If it's not attached in a high loop fashion, attach the drain line to the back of the unit as high as possible and slide it back under your counter. Run another cycle to check its operation.

Leaky Shower Head

It's a fairly common problem to see water dripping from behind your shower head where it connects to the arm going into the wall. Usually, this is a simple fix with some teflon thread tape or an o-ring gasket. Remove the shower head by unscrewing it. You may need to use pliers (if you do, put a towel over the shower head connection before applying pliers so you don't scratch it). There should be an o-ring gasket in the shower head connection. Check that; if it looks rotted or worn, you may need to replace it. Clean the threads on the arm that protrudes from the wall. Apply some teflon tape to the threads and re-attach the shower head. Check for leaks.

Dryer Takes Long Time to Dry

If you notice that your dryer is taking a longer time than usual to dry your clothes, there are a couple possible explanations. The first to check is the dryer vent and lint screen. Make sure you're emptying your lint screen each time before you start your dryer. If you do that, you may have lint built up in your dryer vent, which not only slows down the dryer performance, but is a serious fire hazard. They make inexpensive tools to clean out your dryer vent line that you can buy at most home centers. There are also service companies that will examine it for you and clean if necessary. If that's not the issue, you may have a problem with the appliance itself and should call an appliance repair company.

Light won't go on (or off)

If you have a switch-controlled light that won't turn on, the obvious first check is the light bulb. Assuming you've already checked that out, there are a couple other possible explanations. First, the light itself may have gone band. Another potential issue is the wall switch. If your light won't turn off at all, the most likely problem is the switch and you will need to replace it with a new switch. If it won't turn on, even with a fresh bulb, it could be the light, the wire connections, or the switch. If you wish to diagnose it on your own, be sure to turn off the circuit breaker that controls that light before trying to fix it. A tool that will help greatly is a "hot pen" (non-contact AC voltage detector). This should help you pinpoint the spot where power is lost and determine the cause of the power interruption in the circuit. If you're still not sure after these steps, contact a qualified electrician in your area for the repair.

Utility Bills Higher Than Usual

If you notice that your recent utility bills are higher than usual, you may have some energy efficiency issues to address in your home. Some are very simple, others require more work. If it's a heat wave in the summer or a real cold spell in the winter, it could just be a normal increase in your gas, oil, or electric bill based on the extreme weather. However, you should check the efficiency of all your HVAC systems. The first, easiest check is your filters. If your filters are haven't been changed in a while and are clogged, your HVAC system won't run as efficiently, which will be especially noticed in extreme conditions. Most filters should be changed every 90 days.

Noisy Ceiling Fan

Sometimes you may notice your ceiling fan(s) making a squeaking or clicking noise. This is often simply due to some loose screws. First, be sure the fan is turned off. Then check the screws that attach the blades to the motor housing. There should be 2 screws (possibly 3) that attach each blade to the underside of the motor housing. If they are loose, the blades can wobble and rub, causing extra noise. The next place to check is the downrod where it connects to both the fan motor housing and the ceiling mounting bracket. There are set screws and pins in each end that could be loose, causing rubbing or wobbling that will be noisy. If those don't work, you may have some internal issues with the fan motor or bearings and will need professional repair or a new fan to resolve the issue.

Steam Buildup in Bathroom

All bathrooms with a shower are required to have either a window or an exhaust fan in the ceiling to remove moisture when showering or bathing. If you have an exhaust fan and notice an unusual steaminess when showering, you should test out the fan. First, turn the fan on and place a tissue just below the fan grill cover. The tissue should stick to the surface due to the fan's suction. If it doesn't, your fan isn't working properly and will need repair or replacement. If the tissue sticks, you may have some blockage in the exhaust duct or the duct may have come disconnected from the fan housing above the ceiling. If either of those happens, the steam will just recirculate into the bathroom. This can cause significant damage over time and create conditions favorable to mold growth. You will need to remove the fan cover and housing to inspect. Be sure the power is turned off to the fan switch prior to removal.

No Hot Water

If your water is flowing, but it won't get hot, there is an issue with your hot water heater. If you have a gas hot water heater, your pilot light may be out. You will usually need to remove the small panel at the bottom of the water heater to expose the pilot light and check it. If it is out, relight it according to the manufacturer's instructions (typically on a sticker on the inside of the panel you removed). If your water heater is electric, open that same panel and you should find a reset button. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for resetting the unit.

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