Friday, April 30, 2010

Septic System Basics for Women, by a Woman

Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of http://www.networx.com

 I know very few women whose favorite subject is septic systems.  For that matter, with the exception of guys who earn their livings pumping out septic systems, I don’t know any men who particularly savor the topic.  Nevertheless, septic systems are a part of life that most people who live in rural areas can’t avoid.  Since I’m a home improvement lady who likes to face challenges head on, I’d like to demystify the septic system for you.  Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll feel a little less queasy and anxious when you think about your home’s septic system.  OK, ladies, brace yourselves, we’re about to get a little dirty:

How Your Septic System Works
In short, your septic system is a 1000 (or so) gallon concrete tank that is buried underground, out in your yard.  Solid waste stays in the tank to be broken down by friendly bacteria, and wastewater flows out to different locales, depending on the kind of septic system you have. There are two types of septic systems: mound systems and gravity systems.  Gravity systems are the simplest type.  Wastewater flows from the house to the septic tank, then from the tank to a distribution box.  The distribution box channels water into absorption trenches where it sinks into the ground.  Mound trenches work like this: Solid waste matter and liquid waste all get treated inside the tank.  The tank allows liquid effluent to exit into the mound, which is essentially layers of sand and earth that absorb treated liquid waste water.  Sounds appealing, right?

What’s the Deal with Bacteria?
If you’ve ever had candida overgrowth (AKA, yeast infections - something most women deal with at some time in our lives), you’ve learned the benefits of friendly bacteria.  Just like your body needs to maintain proper levels of friendly flora, so does your septic system.
Ideally, when everything is working properly, friendly bacteria that live in the septic tank break down toxic human waste, so that by the time the liquid effluent flows into the ground, it’s less toxic.  A septic system with proper bacteria levels probably won’t smell.  If you notice a sewage-like funk emanating from the direction of your septic mound, either your absorption field is failing, or you don’t have enough friendly bacteria in there to treat your sewage.

What Can’t You Flush?
Basically, don’t flush anything that can’t decompose quickly, or will kill the friendly bacteria that break down your sewage.  Things that can’t decompose quickly include garbage disposal waste (garbage disposals and septic systems do not play well together), paper products (like tampons), and too much water.  Overloading your system with water will cause it to malfunction, so it’s best to embrace some water-saving measures.  Detergents and anti-bacterial products (like bleach and anything containing triclosan) will kill friendly bacteria.  Water softeners are also no-no’s, as they leach sodium into the soil, which interferes with absorption.

How to Glam Up Your Septic System
There isn’t much you can do to glam up the underground part of your septic system, but you can definitely choose a http://www.plumbingnetworks.com/info/septic-tank-covers/">tank cover with some personality.  I know, I know, it’s not as fun as getting your nails done or choosing paint colors for your kitchen (and I never expected to use the words “glam” and “septic tank system” in the same sentence), but why not express your individuality?  Faux rock septic tank covers often offer the functional benefit of venting the system.  Covering up that concrete circle on your lawn with a decorative flower pot is another great option. 

Now you know the basics.  Informed women are powerful women!

Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of http://www.networx.com

Septic System Basics for Women, by a Woman

Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of http://www.networx.com

 I know very few women whose favorite subject is septic systems.  For that matter, with the exception of guys who earn their livings pumping out septic systems, I don’t know any men who particularly savor the topic.  Nevertheless, septic systems are a part of life that most people who live in rural areas can’t avoid.  Since I’m a home improvement lady who likes to face challenges head on, I’d like to demystify the septic system for you.  Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll feel a little less queasy and anxious when you think about your home’s septic system.  OK, ladies, brace yourselves, we’re about to get a little dirty:

How Your Septic System Works
In short, your septic system is a 1000 (or so) gallon concrete tank that is buried underground, out in your yard.  Solid waste stays in the tank to be broken down by friendly bacteria, and wastewater flows out to different locales, depending on the kind of septic system you have. There are two types of septic systems: mound systems and gravity systems.  Gravity systems are the simplest type.  Wastewater flows from the house to the septic tank, then from the tank to a distribution box.  The distribution box channels water into absorption trenches where it sinks into the ground.  Mound trenches work like this: Solid waste matter and liquid waste all get treated inside the tank.  The tank allows liquid effluent to exit into the mound, which is essentially layers of sand and earth that absorb treated liquid waste water.  Sounds appealing, right?

What’s the Deal with Bacteria?
If you’ve ever had candida overgrowth (AKA, yeast infections - something most women deal with at some time in our lives), you’ve learned the benefits of friendly bacteria.  Just like your body needs to maintain proper levels of friendly flora, so does your septic system.
Ideally, when everything is working properly, friendly bacteria that live in the septic tank break down toxic human waste, so that by the time the liquid effluent flows into the ground, it’s less toxic.  A septic system with proper bacteria levels probably won’t smell.  If you notice a sewage-like funk emanating from the direction of your septic mound, either your absorption field is failing, or you don’t have enough friendly bacteria in there to treat your sewage.

What Can’t You Flush?
Basically, don’t flush anything that can’t decompose quickly, or will kill the friendly bacteria that break down your sewage.  Things that can’t decompose quickly include garbage disposal waste (garbage disposals and septic systems do not play well together), paper products (like tampons), and too much water.  Overloading your system with water will cause it to malfunction, so it’s best to embrace some water-saving measures.  Detergents and anti-bacterial products (like bleach and anything containing triclosan) will kill friendly bacteria.  Water softeners are also no-no’s, as they leach sodium into the soil, which interferes with absorption.

How to Glam Up Your Septic System
There isn’t much you can do to glam up the underground part of your septic system, but you can definitely choose a http://www.plumbingnetworks.com/info/septic-tank-covers/">tank cover with some personality.  I know, I know, it’s not as fun as getting your nails done or choosing paint colors for your kitchen (and I never expected to use the words “glam” and “septic tank system” in the same sentence), but why not express your individuality?  Faux rock septic tank covers often offer the functional benefit of venting the system.  Covering up that concrete circle on your lawn with a decorative flower pot is another great option. 

Now you know the basics.  Informed women are powerful women!

Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of http://www.networx.com

After the Thaw - Burst Pipes (Part 2 of 4)

This posting is part 2 in a series about the damage that  may have been done to our homes over the winter.  Typically the cause of a lot of the damage can be attributed to the freeze/thaw cycle.  The freeze/thaw cycle occurs when the outside temperature falls below freezing and then returns to above freezing at frequent intervals, which happens often during the spring in Colorado.

Some of the damages you may encounter are: damaged hose bibs, burst water pipes, damage to your roof and cracking or spalling of exterior concrete.  This is the first in a series of 4 posts which will address each of these issues.  Each post will discuss some of the common causes, simple repair methods and ways to prevent similar damage next year.
  
Typical causes of a burst pipe.
  • Piping installed too close to exterior walls without insulation
  • Piping installed above frost line
  • Piping installed in un-conditioned area of home (crawlspace, garage) without insulation.
Repairing a burst pipe:
Things to think about before you start!
  • Never start a project late in the day or when hardware stores aren’t open!
  • After shutting off your water remember to drain your system or you will get VERY wet.
  • When cutting copper tubing be sure the cut is straight, clean, burr free and dry.
  • Don’t try soldering unless you’ve practiced in advance.
  • Test all new connections thoroughly before calling the repair a success.
Turn off water at the main shut off valve
 
If you don’t know where your main shut off valve do the following:
  • Go to the lowest level of your home, which may be a crawlspace or basement.
  • Go to the wall nearest the street side of the your home.
  • Look for a valve that looks like one of the valves shown to the right.
  • If you can’t find it there start at your water heater and identify the cold water pipe by looking for the pipe with the shut off valve.  Trace that pipe until you find the main shut off valve typically near a foundation wall.
  • If you can’t find it, call a plumber.  It is important that you know the location of this valve.
Replace damaged piping
 
This is something you can do yourself if you give yourself enough time and have the right tools.  This is not something I recommend you do yourself if being without water to your home for an extended period of time is not an option.  This is one of those times when paying a professional just makes sense.
 
DIY Option:
 
Use "shark bite fittings".  These fittings are wonderful and easy to use.  There are numerous types including reducers, elbows and even shut off valves.  I have used these with great success.
  • Cut out the damaged sections of piping
  • Clean the areas where the piping was cut.
  • Install a new section of piping
  • Test thoroughly for leaks

How to prevent it next year:
  • Install foam insulation on all exposed water pipes.
  • Install heat cable on pipes
  • Fill all areas around piping that exits through your walls to the exterior with expandable foam. 
 








 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

After the Thaw - Damaged Hose Bibs (Part 1 of 4)

It is the time of year when we all begin to assess the damage that may have been done to our homes over the winter.  In Colorado and other areas of the US with cold climates there are some typical problems you may encounter once the cold weather is over.
 
Typically the cause of a lot of the damage can be attributed to the freeze/thaw cycle.  The freeze/thaw cycle occurs when the outside temperature falls below freezing and then returns to above freezing at frequent intervals, which happens often during the spring in Colorado.
 
Some of the damages you may encounter are: damaged hose bibs, burst water pipes, damage to your roof and cracking or spalling of exterior concrete.  This is the first in a series of 4 posts which will address each of these issues.  Each post will discuss some of the common causes, simple repair methods and ways to prevent similar damage next year.

 Damaged Hose Bibs
 
Some of the reasons your hose bibs may be leaking or are broken are:
  • Not removing all hoses and accessories attached to the hose bib.
  • Not adequately protecting the hose bib and other exterior plumbing from freezing.
  • Not draining water from the hose bibs and leaving the valve closed.

Simple Repairs
  • Install frost free hose bibs - these are designed with the valve/seal located on the inside of the wall reducing the likelihood of freezing and causing damage.

  • Install shut off valve at each hose bib - a shut off valve installed on the inside of the home  will allow you to shut off the water to the hose bib each winter.





Prevention is the key!
  • Remove all hoses and accessories 
  • Install insulated covers on each hose bib during the winter 
  • Seal and insulate openings around the hose bib and other penetrations.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My First Class: Carpentry and Power Tools

After growing excitement, I found myself running late for the very first class. My husband wanted to drive me, and we left a little late. We pulled into the college campus parking lot 10 minutes late. Finding the classroom inside the huge main building took another 10 minutes. Sweaty and frantic, I stepped into a classroom that was empty, except for a woman surfing the web. "Is this 1102?" I huffed. The woman had salt and pepper hair down past her shoulders and wore jeans and a t-shirt with some logo on it. "Yes, are you Edith?" Her t-shirt read "Workshop for Women." This was Judy. There was no one else in the class. I was alone for the first class, Basic Carpentry. Another woman would join us later, for the Power Tools class.

Judy introduced herself as I sat down at the stone lab tables at the college's chemistry lab. She explained that she quit her job, and thanks to the support of a super husband, volunteered for one year at Habitat for Humanity. She taught new volunteers, well, basically, how to build homes. That morphed into teaching Handy Women classes and starting a business as a Home Inspector. She loved what she was doing and it showed.

I received information like homemade mashed potatoes accept gravy. Judy schooled me on different nails and their purpose, how to use tape measures and chalk lines, different hammers, their uses and how to choose the best hammer. Who knew hammers were different? There are hammers with a wooden handle and some with a rubber grip. If you're the sort that perpetually has the dropsies, or used to sling your bat during playground baseball games as a kid, then a rubber grip might be better for you. I prefer the smoothness of the wooden handle myself. Judy taught me how to hammer a nail. This may sound rudimentary, but it really isn't. She explained that every Habitat house is built using hammers, not nail guns. Everyone is shown the proper way to swing a hammer. Apparently, if your form is incorrect, you will start to feel fatigue and soreness in your wrist, hands and arms after a few minutes. After 10 minutes of practicing my hammering, my wrist felt like I had been transcribing dictation on a non-ergonomic keyboard for an hour. After careful redirection from Judy, plus a few deep, Zen breaths I was successful. I could hammer a nail into a board in a few swings. Judy chuckled at my technique. I don't think she came across anyone so serious about their hammering. I was in a martial arts stance: my knees were bent, pelvis tucked in, with a few deep breaths before I began hammering. Hey, it worked!

Next, we were assigned a project. The second half of the class, Power Tools, had begun. I scarfed down a tuna wrap in the down time in between. I talked about the projects I wanted to do, and Judy gave me tips, websites and instructions on how to do them. By now, Lisa (I think it was Lisa) joined the class. Lisa was a plump, middle aged blond with a full set of acrylic nails. I was interested in seeing how she did, what her skill level was. Suddenly, this had become a competition.

Judy showed us everything about drills and saws, including what every button and switch does, the settings to use and how to change bits and blades. We drilled holes and sawed wood for practice. The smell of fresh cut wood filled that chemistry lab. It was intoxicating. It wafted up my nose and sent my imagination zooming like a skateboarder flying down the streets of San Francisco. I imagined the flannel clad, hunk on the front of the Brawny paper towel package in an Armani suit sweeping me off my feet only to lay me down on a fresh bed of saw dust and...whoa, whoa. I'm losing my focus here. Let's just say I love the smell of fresh cut wood.

Our in-class project was to make a toolbox. We were given the specs, wood and tools. We got to use our new measuring, cutting and chalk line skills. Half an hour into the project, I noticed Lisa was ahead of me. She just seemed to fly through things with ease. I asked her why she was taking the class, trying to feel out her background. She and her husband had a rental property. She was taking the class so she wouldn't feel left out, and had a better understanding of what was needed to maintain the property. Hmm...she was a natural. If I had been born with a hammer on the end of my wrist instead of a hand, I'd still have to practice hammering.

Lisa did finish her toolbox 10 minutes before I finished mine. To her own admission, mine looked better. I still don't know how she managed a power tools class with a full set of acrylic nails. Ahh, the power and determination of a woman cannot be underestimated.

I thanked Judy profusely and walked out to the parking lot still wearing my "Workshop for Women: apron, flat carpenter's pencil behind my ear, sporting a wide grin and holding up my new toolbox to my husband, approaching in the car. I got inside and handed him my toolbox. He just had a blah look until I said, "I made this!" He stopped and picked it up in wonder. " made this?" he repeated. YouYep. I'm one Handy Beeotch.