9 Things That Will Clog Your Pipes

home planningThere's no denying that plumbing is a messy business; most of us cringe at the thought of the nightmarish stuff plumbing pros encounter on a daily basis. Indeed, our expert sources tell us they've pulled everything you can imagine from pipes and drains—from a pair of dentures to 10 pounds of wheat (seriously) to a host of dead rodents and raccoons.

And while some plumbing problems are unavoidable—like, say, those dead critters—others are the result of user error. In other words: People stupidly shoving stuff where it really doesn't belong. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

There's a simple solution, though: Don't be that guy.

And if the potential shame isn't enough incentive, consider this: The average plumber's house call runs between $150 and $460. So save yourself some cash (and humiliation), and take heed of what plumbers tell us are the most common clogging culprits. You might just be surprised to discover how many of these you're guilty of tossing down the drain.

1. FRUIT PEELS AND RINDS

If you're like us, you probably love to test the limits of your garbage disposal. But the first step to avoiding clogs is to scale back on what you put down the drain to begin with. No. 1 on the no-no list? Fruit rinds. These bad boys simply don't break down easily.

A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it down the kitchen drain.

2. STARCHES (AND OTHER FIBROUS FOODS)

This one surprised us. Apparently, starchy and fibrous foods—including potatoes, celery, corn, corn husks, onion skins, asparagus, and artichokes—expand in the garbage disposal and can wrap around its blades, damaging the motor and causing a big backup.

"Think about what happens when you overcook pasta, rice, potatoes, or beans," says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing. "They turn into a pasty substance capable of clogging the kitchen drain if you dispose of them there."

Adds Janet O'Dea, owner of Powers Plumbing in San Diego, "We had one instance on Thanksgiving when the plumber was sent out to service a clogged kitchen sink, and the owner admitted that she put a box of mashed potato buds down the drain, ran the hot water, and the disposal literally was stuffed full with mashed potatoes."

To avoid such problems, O'Dea recommends using the garbage disposalonly for crumbs and putting other larger kitchen scraps and debris into the trash.

3. GREASE, OIL, AND FATS

"Grease should never be allowed to go down the kitchen sink drain, because it will coat the pipes and create sludge," O'Dea says. "Grease also will build up over time, making the pipe size constricted and preventing you from getting good drainage."

Instead of dumping your grease down the drain, pour it into an empty container let it congeal. Then throw it in the trash.

We're not quite sure why this warrants a reminder, but Gallas also cautions against dumping grease and oil waste in the toilet.

"Pipes are a lot like arteries," he says. "When fats flush the pipes and cool off, they freeze and congeal, building up like cholesterol. After a while, the blockage can become too great, causing your pipes to have a proverbial heart attack."

4. FEMININE PRODUCTS AND COTTON SWABS

We don't want to write about this one any more than you want to read about it. But we have to, because plumbing professionals keep finding these items in homeowners' drains and pipes.

We're here to tell you once and for all: Stop. Flushing. This. Stuff.

OK, moving on...

5. WIPES AND COSMETIC TOWELETTES

"Anything that claims to be flushable besides toilet paper should never be put down the toilet because it won't don't break down," O'Dea says. "If it makes it past your drainage system, it continues to play havoc with the municipal system."

The consistency of toilet paper allows it to fall apart quickly when immersed in water, she explains—unlike towels, towelettes, or wipes.

"Once a drain is clogged with wipes (or paper towels), you will likely have to call a plumber to clear the drain—the plunger won't provide enough force to get the line clear," she says.

And sorry, new (tired) parents: The same logic applies to baby wipes—they don't mix well with aging infrastructure.

"Many older neighborhoods, like those in the northeastern United States, are finding themselves at risk for shelling out big bucks to clear clogs related to wet wipes," Gallas says.

6. KITTY LITTER

Don't even think about dumping cat litter down the toilet.Clay, silica, and sand are extremely troublesome for any plumbing systems, because those substances are designed to absorb moisture and create clumps, which turn into large clogs almost immediately once they enter your pipes.

7. EGG SHELLS

There's an old wives' tale that claims eggshells are good for disposalsbecause they sharpen the blades. False!

"The membrane layers of eggshells can wrap around the shredder ring, potentially damaging the disposal, not to mention the sandlike consistency of egg shells can cause pipes to clog," Gallas says.

8. TOYS

Anyone who's shared a space with a child is likely nodding knowingly: Toys have the darnedest way of scattering, well, everywhere.

"One evening we received a call from a casino we often work with who had complaints of a backed-up sewer line," says Robyn Roth, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Yavapai & Coconino Counties in Arizona. "When we arrived, the clog was so bad that the foreign object had been pushed into the main sewer line, backing up all pipes throughout the casino. If we didn’t act fast the entire casino would have flooded with raw sewage! A combination of sawing, digging, and jetting led us to the culprit of four Thomas the Train toys that had been flushed down the toilet in the day care of the casino."

Avoid a train wreck (sorry) of similar proportions by keeping toys far, far away from the toilet.

9. DENTAL FLOSS, HAIR, AND OTHER STRINGY STUFF

Believe it or not, O'Dea says that dental floss (in addition to "flushable" wipes and tampons) are the most common clog culprits for bathroom drains.

Floss and string "are neither biodegradable nor easily flushed down the toilet," Gallas says. Add in all the hair that's swirling down there, and consider how this stuff can easily form knots and clumps, trapping in icky odors and resulting in major clogs.

 

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Questions To Ask Your Home Inspector Before The Inspection

family roomWhat are some questions to ask a home inspector? Given this professional is charged with checking out a home for any flaws before you buy it, he's an important safeguard who could protect you from purchasing a lemon—and squandering tons of cash in repairs.

Questions to ask a home inspector

So, how do you separate a great home contractor from a merely good one? It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they'll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask. Bonus: This'll also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.

1. "What do you check?"

"A lot of people don't know exactly what a home inspector is going to do," says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

 It's a lot! A home inspector scrutinizes a long list of more than 1,600 features on a home.

"We inspect everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between," Lesh says.

Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can't do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.

2. "What don't you check?"

There are limits. For instance, "we're restricted to a visual inspection," says Lesh. "We can't cut a hole in somebody's wall."

As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert—a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber—to come back and do a more detailed examination.

"Understand that we're looking at what exists in the house today," says home inspector Randy Sipe of Spring Hill, KS. "I can't see into the future any more than anybody else."

3. "What do you charge for an inspection?"

Home inspections usually cost between $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally you'll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you'll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.

Lesh cautions against going with an inspector who quotes you a very low price. "That's often a sign they're having trouble getting customers," he says.

Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.

4. "How long have you been doing this?"

Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn't necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you're considering an older home or something with unusual features.

5. "Can I come along during the inspection?"

The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house's systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!

6. "How long will the inspection take?"

Inspections often take place during the work week, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you'll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You'll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn't know what he's doing, says Lesh.

7. "Can I see a sample report?"

If you're buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else's report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren't that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It's another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.

 

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6 Home Maintenance Tasks For August

kitchenThe dog days of summer are barking and Labor Day is just around the bend, signaling the end of yet another epic season in the sun. But before you give your flamingo pool float one last hurrah, take a break with some home maintenance prep for the changing season ahead.

We know what you're thinking: It's still summer, and you're being a buzzkill! Why worry now about what you can do next month? Well, as it turns out, some home maintenance tasks are best tackled in August, before temperatures start dipping.

Don't worry: We’re here to make all those chores as quick and easy on you as possible. With our handy checklist of home maintenance tasks, you can knock 'em out and be back to your barbecues and beach days in no time.

1. Check your washing machine connections

With the kids home from school and loads of sweaty garments to clean, your washing machine has likely taken a major beating this summer. With all that extra use, be sure to check that the water supply hoses which connect to your machine are in good condition.

"If they are older black rubber hoses, check for any bulging in the hose or any parts that look worn," says Tony Dunaway of BEST Plumbing of Cincinnati.

DIY: If you have worn hoses, you can swap them out with replacements for as little as $25, but it'll take you some effort. After you've turned off the water supply to the hoses, use adjustable pliers to loosen one hose at a time from the water supply, and then from the washing machine. You'll also need to make sure your new hose has a rubber washer in each end. If your hoses are made of rubber, consider upgrading and replacing them with rupture-proof, braided stainless-steel hoses.

Call in the pros: A pro will save you the effort, but you'll shell out around $140 for the job. How much are your days in the summer sun worth to you, anyhow?

2. Prune dead wood from your lawn and garden

Now's the time to tidy up your perennials and clear those unsightly dead twigs and branches, according to Tony Smith, president of Nursery Enterprises in Rexburg, ID.

Not only will you have a more attractive yard, but "by cleaning them out this summer, you'll create a clean slate—and next summer you'll have a better grasp in understanding your plants' health." Smith says.

DIY: You'll need pruners, a saw, and loppers (or a chain saw) to really attack this job.

Call in the pros: If the mere thought of wielding a chain saw gives you the heebie-jeebies, call in a professional landscape company to do the deed. The cost depends, of course, on the extent of the work and the size of your yard, but expect to pay at least $400 to $700 for a reputable, licensed tree trimmer.

3. Clear the gutters

Summer thunderstorms can clog your gutters and lead to costly water damage down the road. Properly functioning gutters direct water away from your home, but muck and debris can cause water to collect around your home's foundation and seep into your basement, if you have one. (Clogged gutters also make great homes for rodents and other vermin, just in case you needed another reason to tackle this task.)

DIY: Grab a ladder and shimmy up to the roof to inspect your gutters and drains, taking care to wear proper hand and eye protection. A simple garden trowel is effective for clearing most debris.

Call in the pros: Scared of heights? The average gutter job will run you around $150.

4. Deal with wasps, mosquitoes, and other insects

Wasp activity peaks in late summer; these insects become more aggressive and likely to sting in, you guessed it, August. So you'll want to spray for wasps and eliminate them, pronto.

DIY: "The first step to eliminating a wasp nest is to identify where the colony lives," says Dave Patterson, owner of Tactix Pest Control in Boise, ID. "Scan your lawn, looking for activity close to the ground. Once you find where the wasps are coming and going, apply wasp treatment to the entrance. Repeat this step every few days until you no longer see any activity."

Patterson also recommends patrolling your property for stagnant water, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

"First, drain any areas that are holding water—this step alone should significantly cut down on mosquito activity," he says. This means birdbaths, planters, or any other places where rainfall might have accumulated. "For further prevention, invest in forms of mosquito repellant like citronella candles, mosquito traps, and bug zappers."

Finally, check the seals around your home, including doors, windows, and dryer vents. Caulk or expanding sealants should be more than enough to seal most openings, according to Patterson.

Call in the pros: The national average cost of wasp removal ranges between $100 and $400. The cost of mosquito control depends on a variety of factors, including property size and treatment frequency. An entire summer of mosquito treatment could run $500 or more, but you're more likely to get a deal now that it's later in the season.

5. Clean your natural stone

“After a summer filled with nonstop grilling fests, family gatherings, and just general outdoor fun and wear and tear, it’s important to properly clean natural stone around your home—whether it's outdoor granite countertops, stone walkways, or patios—to prevent food, dirt, and oil stains from setting in and leaving permanent marks," says James Freeman, chief operating officer of Colonial Marble & Granite.

DIY: Start by dusting off stone surfaces, because abrasive materials such as dirt or sand (carried home from weekend getaways) can cause damage. Avoid using harsh cleaning products on natural stone; instead, choose a gentle cleanser with a neutral pH (preferably without soap, which causes streaks and film) and a soft cloth. For a longer-lasting finish and better protection against stains and grime, consider applying a water-based penetrating sealer.

Call in the pros: For serious stains, call in a professional stone maintenance company to restore your stone. Expect to spend anywhere between $400 and $1,100, depending on the level of grime.

6.  Get your furnace prepped for winter

“When residential furnaces fail, they typically do so during the coldest days of the year, which is why it’s important to have these systems inspected in August, before temperatures drop,” says Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing & Heating, in New York City. “An annual tuneup and inspection can help homeowners save money, maintain comfort, and ensure safety when units are turned on for the first time in several months.”

Call in the pros: There's no shortcut for this one; maintaining your furnace is something you'll want to defer to a pro. Typically, HVAC companies run prewinter specials for this kind of work, so keep your eyes peeled for deals—but expect to spend between $130 and $450.

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Things to Avoid When Buying A Home

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Buying a home is exciting and terrifying. After all, this is the biggest financial move most people ever make. As such, there's a lot of room for error, and even tiny mistakes can translate to tens of thousands of dollars.

The lesson here: Even the most intrepid home buyer should get some guidance not only on what to do, but also what not to do. Look no further than this list, which highlights the most common mistakes buyers make so you can avoid the same fate.

1. Don't shop for homes without an agent

By all means, start out by looking online at pictures of pretty houses—the more the better. It's a vastly useful way to get the lay of the land. But when it comes time to get serious about buying a house, you should find a professional to help you out.

Think of a buyer’s agent as a fairy godparent who’s here to turn your homeownership dreams into reality. This person will guide you through every step of the home-buying process—from finding the right property and writing a winning offer to negotiating home inspection repairs and sailing through to closing.

“You want an advocate who is going to look out for your best interests in the transaction,” says Bellevue, WA, real estate agent Holly Gray.

2. Don't meet with just one mortgage lender

Once you’ve found a real estate agent, your next step should be to get pre-approved for a home loan. To do that, you’ll have to meet with a mortgage lender and provide a good amount of paperwork, including two years of W-2 forms, two years of tax returns, and proof of funds for the down payment (among other documents).

That mountain of forms is one of the things that prompts many to meet with only one lender, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider's Guide.” That's a potentially big mistake!

Redmond recommends getting at least three quotes from different lenders so that you can survey your options and find the best loan for you. If you don’t feel like doing the legwork of shopping around yourself, you can use a mortgage broker—basically an intermediary who presents you with options from a variety of lenders. The caveat is that you'll likely have to pay a broker's fee for the person's service (usually 1% to 2% of the total of the loan).

3. Don't understate your budget

It might sound strange, but a number of home buyers make the mistake of hiding their true budget from their real estate agent.

“Some people are afraid that their agent is going to make them buy the most expensive house that they can afford, so they understate their price range,” says Daniel Gyomory, a real estate agent in Northville, MI.

However, if you're not upfront with your agent about your price range, you might miss out on a great house.

“If you tell me your budget is $300,000 maximum but you’re actuallywilling to pay $400,000, I may not send you listings that could actually be a good fit for you,” Gyomory explains.

4. Don't hold out for the 'perfect' house

People throw around the words “dream home” a lot. (Heck, we’re guilty of it.) However, here's the not-so-harsh truth: “There’s no such thing as a perfect house,” says Gyomory. And that's why he has clients create a list of “musts” and “wants” to identify their criteria and focus on what really matters to them.

5. Don't make ridiculously lowball offers

You obviously want to get a bargain, but you could lose out on a home that you love by making an absurdly low offer. In fact, a recent survey from Inman found that 15% of real estate agents say the third-largest mistake people make when buying a home is offering too little for a property (that’s behind not talking to a lender first and waiting too long to make an offer).

“When you overlook market data and make a lowball offer, you’re pretty much slapping the seller in the face,” says Gyomory. And if you offend the seller, the person might not even be willing to make you a counteroffer.

Bottom line: Trust your agent to help you assess the value of a house and write a winning offer, says Karen Elmir, a luxury real estate agent in Miami.

6. Don't forget to budget for closing costs

The home seller will chip in some money at settlement; however, as the home buyer, you have the (unfortunate) pleasure of shouldering the lion’s share of the closing costs. Your mortgage lender should be able to give you a rough estimate of your closing costs once a seller accepts your offer, but as a rule you can estimate that they typically total 2% to 7% of the home's purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500.

7. Don't make big purchases before you close

Once you have found the right house and get the seller to accept your offer, your loan still needs to go through underwriting in order for you to obtain the mortgage. One thing underwriters do is look at your credit score from the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to make sure your credit hasn’t changed since you were pre-approved.

Therefore, you'll want to avoid taking on any new debt while you’re in the process of buying a house. Purchasing a car with an auto loan or maxing out your credit cards, for example, could hurt your credit score, which could potentially raise your loan’s interest rate or—in the worst case—get your mortgage application rejected. (In other words: Bye-bye, new house.)

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Safety Checklist: What To Check After You Unpack

home techMoving into a new home? Soon after unpacking all those boxes, you should run through a home safety checklist, just to make sure you and any family members will be as secure as can be in your new digs. We don't want to make you paranoid, but as much as you'd like to think otherwise, hidden dangers could be lurking around every corner—from your dryer vent to your water heater. So give everything the once-over. And use this list to hit all the areas that could spell trouble down the road.

1. Smoke detectors

This one is obvious, but the importance of checking your smoke detectors can’t be stressed enough. Make sure they’re properly installed, working, and clean.

Consider the following statistic from the National Fire Protection Association if you need any motivation: 3 in 5 home fire deaths occurred in homes with no smoke alarms or nonworking smoke alarms. In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. The NFPA recommends installing smoke alarms inside every sleeping room, plus in the hallway on every level of the home.

 

2. Fire extinguishers

There are a million new things to buy when you move into a new home, but don’t scrimp when it comes to buying fire extinguishers—get one for every level of your home.

“It’s a simple thing you can do, but you’ll be amazed how many people live in multilevel homes that don’t have this in place,” says Tariq Abdullah, CEO of Tarchitects and Elite Real Estate Inspectors. “It can truly spell the difference between a tragedy and a simple fix.”

3. Carbon monoxide detectors

If your home has a furnace that uses gas or oil, you should also have a carbon monoxide detector. More than 150 deaths due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning are reported each year, and many of those deaths could be prevented by CO detectors.

“Unlike smoke, carbon monoxide has no color, no taste, no smell and is poisonous,” says Kurt Wedig, president and CEO of OneEvent Technologies. “Prolonged exposure or large amounts of CO can overtake a person in minutes without warning—causing them to lose consciousness and suffocate due to lack of oxygen. “

While many smoke detectors are also carbon monoxide detectors, there’s no guarantee the smoke detector in your home is a dual detector or that it’s working correctly. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends placing both smoke and CO detectors on every level of the home.

4. Dryer vent

Check your dryer vent. We're not talking about the one that's inside your dryer; we mean the big vent from your laundry room to the outside. Sure, it’s a hassle pulling the dryer away from the wall, but it should be done at least three or four times a year, as lint is highly flammable. In fact, an estimated 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year, and the leading cause is lint-filled dryer vents. Here's how to clean a dryer vent.

5. An escape route

In case you do hear those smoke detectors go off, make sure you have an escape route for all members of the family.

“If possible, figure out two ways to exit every room, even if that means out a window,” says Robert  Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. “Make sure everyone in the household understands and can run through the escape route.”

6. Water heater

A long, hot shower after all of that moving probably sounds great, but check your water heater first to make sure things don’t get too hot. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends setting a home’s water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, some people hike theirs to temperatures so high they can be scalding, especially for children or the elderly.

7. Your front door

Few people think to check the quality of their exterior doors, but sometimes cheap contractors or house flippers will install an interior door as an exterior door, which can cause a number of issues.

Interior doors are not built for insulation, so your energy bills could be higher. What's more, these doors are also far less safe because they often have hollow cores and are not built to resist forced entry, says Jonathan Johnson, a home safety expert with YourLocalSecurity.com. If that fits your situation, consider getting a new one.

8. Door locks

You should also change the locks on your new home or have them rekeyed. While getting the keys at closing was probably exciting, it’s less than exciting to think of the potential number of people who might have been given copies by the previous owners. From baby sitters to neighbors to relatives, an unknown number of people might have a key (and instant access) to your home.

9. Windows and screens

Generally, window screens are designed to be removed from the interior of the home. However, if they're installed backward—a surprisingly common mistake—they can make an easy entry point for thieves.

No screen will stop a determined thief, which leads to our next point: window latches. Even if windows seem latched, it's always a good idea to test them as if you're trying to break into your own home. Older latches, especially plastic pieces, can break after extended use, yet show no obvious signs of breakage.

10. Your weather alert apps

Here’s one you probably won’t think about until bad weather hits: the weather alert apps you installed when you previously lived in another city, state, or country. Make sure to update them with your newest location before natural disaster strikes. The American Red Cross has a step-by-step guide to setting up emergency alerts.

 

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