sewing 9/18/17

Myra asked via email “I have my Grandmother’s Singer Sewing Machine…I would like to clean it up and use it, also teach my granddaughter how to sew a little. I didn’t realize how gunky and dirty it really was ……any suggestions?”

Jessica J asked “…what can I use to safely clean the metal parts?”

Theresa asked “… Also how do I clean her?”

* * *

This is probably one of the questions I get asked thae most, and when I was looking for advice on how to clean up my Singer Machine I found terrible advice. (Please don’t dip your machine in a vat of kerosene)
You can read a bit more about me first meeting my girl
here
Before I go on, please remember the following…

I am not an expert.
I don’t spend money on unnecessary products or parts, so this is a cheap way to get your machine running smoothly.
I assume that your machine was rescued from a skip or a damp garage and has not been cared for for some time. It is probably mucky and tarnished, with cobwebs and random sticky patches.
I assume that your machine is generally working but hasn’t been used for decades.
If you want to treat your machine like a priceless antique, spend a fortune on her and have her look like new, this probably isn’t the guide for you. I just want to help you get it good enough to be a functional piece of equipment again.
Here is what I found worked the best to clean up my machine from a tarnished and mucky mess. It was a 2 day job.

You will need:
An old toothbrush
Wooden cocktail sticks, for gently poking and scraping out dust and fluff.
Cotton buds (q-tips)
A ball of cotton string
A couple of rags (preferably lint free, old t-shirts are fine though)
A couple of microfibre cloths

Singer sewing machine oil (available on ebay if you can’t find it locally)
WD40
Peek Polish (also available on ebay)

New needle and some thread

A pot of tea < -- This is essential Step 1 Give the whole machine a wipe down with a damp microfibre cloth (or rag) to remove as much of the loose dust and dirt as possible. You are unlikely to do the machine any damage. You may feel you need to use a little warm water with a little dish soap in it, but do make sure you wring the cloth out well, you don't want to introduce any excess moisture to the machine, you just need to surface clean. Wipe the machine first, then the table and round the drawers to the treadle mechanism at the bottom. You might need several cloths to get the muck off. Always start a clean cloth on the machine body, you don't want to rub a cobweb from under the drawers into the mechanics of the machine. Step 2 Remove the end panel. Use an old toothbrush to loosen and scrub out any grime, grit or fluff behind the panel. It might help to turn the balance wheel slowly while you do this to draw out any fluff that many have been trapped, blow fluff and dirt away. Only use a dry toothbrush, don't introduce moisture to the inner workings of the machine. You can spray some WD40 into the workings and use a cotton bud if you need to scrub off little parts of grime and dirt. WD40 can damage the decals and the black japanning so make sure you wipe any drips off with a dry rag immediately. This can take a while and I never managed to get the parts shiny clean and looking like new, but clean enough and all the actual dirt and fluff and sticky bits must be gone. Once you have got rid of all the grit and grime from the inside you should polish the bars, and clean and polish the end plate with peek polish, you only need a tiny amount of polish. Replace the end plate. Step 3 Remove the old needle, the needle clamp, the foot and thread guide, carefully lay them to one side and clean and polish the needle bar, wrap the cotton string round the bar and pull the ends back and forth to polish it. Clean and polish all the small parts before re-assembling (don't put the needle back on, you will need to replace it with a new needle) Step 4 Remove back panel and similarly clean out as much grit and grime as possible. Do the same in the bobbin chamber under the slide plate and remove the plate above the feed dogs. This is a often where a lot of fluff and grime lies, so give it a good clean. Only use WD40 where there is sticking or bad grime on the inside. I needed a new bobbin case as the original is too tarnished to use, ebay is great for sourcing spare parts if you need them. Repeat this process on all moving parts, getting access by removing panels where ever you can, I do these one at a time, so that screws and parts don't get mixed up, and I remember where I am. The bobbin winder is tricky, you can remove it if you like but I didn't. I just cleaned and polished it as best as I could in situ. Step 5 Cleaning the balance wheel - I have been told wire wool should remove the tarnish and then it can be polished, my balance wheel is very badly pitted with rust and I have never tried wire wool on it, but it still works fine and that is all that matters to me. The most important thing is to get dust, fluff and grime off. Step 6 To clean the black japanned areas and the decals use singer sewing machine oil on a dry lint-free cloth. The black areas can be rubbed quite hard to clean them up but with the decals you must be careful if you want to retain them as they are. My decals were already quite badly damaged, so I wasn't too upset when I damaged them with WD40, but they are so pretty you really should keep them in as good condition as possible. WD40 will remove the original gold and leave them silver. Step 7 If you still have the old leather treadle belt it will probably be loose and need tightened. To do this find the metal staple and carefully prize it apart, slip one end off of the staple and snip an inch off the leather. Poke a new hole in the leather using a bradall or a strong darning needle. Put back on the staple and pinch it together firmly with pliers. Treat the belt with olive oil on a cloth, you will see the leather change colour as it absorbs the oil. Immediately after treating, the belt will be extra slippy, but after 24 hours it will be nicely reconditioned. Alternatively, you can get a new belt on ebay for around £5. If your treadle is squeeky, give it a little spray with WD40. Step 8 I suggest you do this on day 2 Once you have all the machine dust and grime free, and polished as much as you can it is time to oil the machine. Remove the end panel again and drip just 2 drops of oil on each moving part, turn the balance wheel a couple of times and drip another drop on each moving part, replace the end panel. Next, you will see a line of holes along the top of your machine, these are oil holes, drip just one or two drops into each of these. Drip oil into the oil holes near the feed dogs and over by the balance wheel and bobbin winder, and any other oil holes you see. Use the treadle or balance wheel to run the machine for a minute or so (this will disperse the oil around all the moving parts) I would now go round the whole machine again and drip one more drop into each oil hole and onto each moving part. Use a dry rag to give the machine a quick rub down and clean off any excess oil. Done!!! You will need to leave the machine alone for a few days now before using it. This will allow the oil to really seep in and avoid any rubbing off on your sewing work. When sewing on the machine for the very first time use a brand new needle, use fabric scraps and just go back and forth and round in circles until you figure out how well the machine is working, adjust the tension if necessary, and get used to the rhythm of the mechanism. Each time you use your machine (or maybe once a fortnight or so if you use it every day) remember to oil it a little (just a drop on each oil hole or moving part) this will keep it running smoothly and stop it from seizing up or getting into a bad state again. * * * I do hope that helps some of you clean up your machines and get them running again. I am sure their are other ways of doing it, and there are probably professionals that offer a clean-up service I have found one Youtube user who has some beautiful machines and gives details about how to use, thread and clean various machines in detail... all her machines are pristine and super-shiny - here is the link to her lovely channel * * * Let me know how you get on in the comments below ------------------------------------------- I wrote this article back in 2013 - some of the links no longer work - Please check out this updated post for more up to date resources.CLICK HERE!If you are trying to identify a year and model for your treadle or handcrank singer sewing machine, let me tell you how I identified my girl. I have given all the relevant links - remember I am no expert in this, but I struggled to find decent information and I am just trying to make it a bit easier for you. Knowing the age and model number can be essential if you need new parts for your machine, and it is always nice to know anyway. Of course, once you get your old lady working again you'll be giving her a new name and identity and I hope she is with you for many years to come. Here is my girl, her name is Nefertiti - she came to me a year ago and I cleaned her up and got her working again. She is reliable and even-tempered, a nice lady to have around. Right, let's get started: You will find your serial number embossed onto the metal body of your machine. It looks like a little plate but it is in fact straight onto the body and can't be removed easily. I'm not sure why you would want to remove the serial number, but I guess it happens. The position may vary slightly but mine is on the front right corner. My girls is Y1368567 Model and Age: Once you have your serial number pop over to this website and click on the relevant letter prefix, they have a pretty extensive database. It should identify the model number and the manufacture date. From this I know Nefertiti is a 15K model, 1 of a batch of 250,000, Made in 1923. 'date allotted' I am assuming is the date the factory decided to make 250,000 15K machines - it makes her feel not quite as precious and unique as you might think. * * * Where it was made: To find out where your machine was manufactured, check the letter prefix: click here if it has a single letter prefix. click here if it has a double letter prefix. So my girl was made in Clydebank, not far from Glasgow. The singer factory was famous, it was the biggest sewing machine factory in the world and was bombed heavily during WWII - The factory was closed and demolished in the 1980's but it's train station is still there and the area (now mostly housing) is still called 'Singer'. So my sewing machine has ended up about 30 miles from where she started... I wonder how many of her 250,000 twin sisters are still around. * * * If you don't have a complete serial number: Here are some other identifying methods: If you have part of the number you can check the year of your machine on the singer website, just follow directions depending on whether your machine has a 2, 1 or 0 letter prefix. If you have no serial number you can still identify the model that you have the sandman collectables website (though not the best interface) has a fairly easy to follow instructions - click on 'start here' and answer the questions as you go. * * * I hope that helps those of you looking for more information about your old sewing machines. If there is anything else you'd like to know or I can maybe help you with, just let me know in the comments, I always try my best to answer your questions. * * * 12/11/2013 - I love sharing everything I have learned about vintage singer machines with all you readers out there in Blogland. But please, please, please don't email me photos of your machines for me to do the work. Check out the post above and follow all the tips and links I have put up here (thats all I do anyway) The instructions above are for domestic, pre-electric models, and the most important thing you need is the serial number, but even if you don't have it there is another website linked above that can help. If you are really having trouble, do email me and I will see if I can help, I do like to help, I really do, promise. I've been getting an email a week, often just containing photos and a curt "what machine have I got?" message - I could start charging for the service I guess, but since I have shared all my resources already that seems a bit cheeky. =--------------------------- * * *I was wondering what to do about the sewing machine cabinet. The veneer is chipped in places but I decided against any major work on it. I don't want the sewing machine to look new or pimped in any way, so I decided I'd give it a bit of an attack with the sander I had no idea if the stains would come out, thinking they look pretty bad and must go quite deep but thankfully no and I'm quite impressed!! For the rest of the cabinet, I gave it a quick rub down with 160 grade sandpaper, concentrating on the stains and suspicious marks. I gave the whole cabinet a wipe down with a damp microfibre cloth and allowed it to dry before giving it a varnish. The top got 3 coats of varnish, and still needs a final one I'll go back to that once I have finished plastering and painting the room it is going to live in I was happy to use the varnish sparingly on the fronts of drawers and the side detail, just where it needed a little touch up on the dull parts. The alternative was to strip down the whole cabinet to do it properly but I felt I would loose too much character doing that. I'm really chuffed, she still looks like a little old lady. But she has much more grace and dignity now. The Nitty Gritty Sander - an orbital 1/3 sheet sander, we find it suits every job. Bought from (and branded) Wickes, we believe their power tools are made by Draper Sewing Machine - 1923 Singer Treadle 15K in a 5 drawer cabinet. We got it for free through gumtree you might also try a local freecycle, they come up on eBay all the time too. Varnish - Ronseal clear gloss varnish (I only bought a teeny tub, and still only used 1/3 of it) I was Listening to Gosh, I've not done a music mention in a while.... I can't listen to much with the sander buzzing so loudlybut while doing the varnishing on a bright sunny day I was listening to Jack Johnson Inbetween Dreamsand chillaxing in a laid-back-hawaii-kind-of-a-way...... ahhhhhhhh! ================= I was very frustrated when I got my Vintage Singer Sewing Machine. I couldn't find any help or online guides for where to start and what to do with her, I learned the hard way and spent hours digging around in badly maintained websites to get some info. So I've put together a few posts that I would have found useful at the beginning. If you have just acquired an old people-powered sewing machine (treadle or handcrank) I think you should start by reading why I love my machine so much. Now for one of the most frequently asked questions, click on the link below if you want to sell your Granny's old machine and pay off the mortgage. I received my hundred year old treadle sewing machine (a 1923, 15K) in 2012 and I just love having her around. We get thousands of hits each month from people looking for information about vintage sewing machines. So I've collected all my posts here, including some FAQs from those of you who have sent me questions over the past year or sew* *ha, ha, get it?, Sew, hahahah... I'll get my coat. Varnishing my Singer Cabinet Protecting Floors From a Treadle Sewing Machine FAQs How Should I Clean My Vintage Sewing Machine? How Do I Unlock My Sewing Machine Drawers? How Do I Do Reverse Stitch on My Old Sewing Machine? Ask Your Singer Machine Questions...If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in relation to your machine please follow the link to this postand leave questions in the comments box. I use my old singer for all the sewing I do in the house (except for the rare occasions where I have to use a zig-zag) Here are just some of the things I have made with my Singer Sewing Machine over the past few years. Our Livingroom Curtains Some Nursery Curtains for a friend A Retro Kitchen apron NB: Identifying an Old Singer Machine I love sharing everything I have learned about vintage singer machines with all you readers out there in Blogland. I can ID your machine for you or check out the post How to... Identify an Old Singer Sewing Machine and follow all the tips and links I have up there (thats all I do anyway) The instructions are for domestic, pre-electric models, and the most important thing you need is the serial number, but even if you don't have it there is another website linked on that post that can help. I've been getting an email a week, often just containing photos and a curt "what machine have I got?" message - I could start charging for the service I guess, but since I have shared all my resources already that seems a bit cheeky. ETA - I have now launched an ID service ==================I didn't even walk into my sewing room yesterday. Usually not a good indicator of my mental health status for the day. But yesterday turned out alright. In the morning we did some shopping around town and at the Farmer's Market. We even splurged and bought a mixed berry pie from the Mennonite booth. Can you believe that we got a day old pie for just $5! Regular price it was only $9. Wow, was it good. In the afternoon I helped Parker clean his room. Actually I bribed him with a new Hot Wheels car if he did a good job, with my help. He had an entire tall kitchen garbage bag full of trash and junk in his room, mostly on the floor! Most of it he didn't even know he had. I had to be sneaky though to throw so much stuff away. I would make a pile and tell him to take this to the playroom, then while he was gone I stuffed things in the trash bag. He did pull out one item later, a tamborine made in school last year out of two paper plates and some beans. We'll see how long his room stays clean. In my seven years as a parent, I have learned that you can not force your organizational style on your child. (You can't force it on your husband either) I did get to do a little cross stitch in the evening while watching a bit of TV. For the past few years I have been making ornaments for my nieces, nephews and close friends of the family kids. This year I have 12 to make, including Parker. Let me give you a little background on this practice. Growing up my Aunt Sue would send my sister and me an ornament every year for Christmas. Usually we got to open them on Christmas Eve which is certainly one of the reasons I looked forward to getting one every year. Now that I'm old, every Christmas I love pulling out all the ornaments and remembering when I got them, who gave them to me, etc... For the past couple years Parker has been old enough to help me decorate the tree. While we do this I tell him about the ornaments and who gave them to me or where I got them. It has been so much fun that I want him to have that opportunity someday, as well as the other children I make ornaments for. I guess the most important thing though is that I enjoy making them. I've just started so their isn't much to show yet. When I get one done, I'll post a photo. For now I'll post a photo of my most recent favorite quilt. I finished it in April 2008. I actually never planned to finish the quilt. I took a class at my local quilt shop to learn a new paper piecing technique. The worst part of paper piecing is pulling all the paper off afterwards. With this technique, you don't actually sew to the paper but you get the same level of accuracy. I had such a great time doing it that I went ahead and made all the blocks for the pattern we were using but I set them in a different way. Usually, my favorite quilt is the one I am currently working on. This one will be a favorite for a while though. Originally, I thought I'd give it away, but after I was done I couldn't part with it. Here's a couple detail shots. I always love to see the quilting up close so I thought you might too. ============The fun began yesterday and goes through September 5th. I got the pattern for this little lady last year but just got around to making her. This is Bobbin the Robin and she is the official mascot of Row by Row. Isn't she adorable?! The pattern is easy. I'm not sure why I put off making her. The shoes are 18" doll shoes (think American Girl Doll). Her legs are BBQ skewers painted white and then I used a Sharpie marker to make the black stripes. There is air-dry clay inside the shoes so she can stand up. The theme for this year is "On the Go" and this is the row for my shop.Our row celebrates Alamosa as a town "on the go!" Alamosa was founded as a railroad town. The whole town was transported on flatbed railroad cars from just east of Ft. Garland in the summer of 1878 and set up in just a few days. There is a famous story that the owner of the hotel served his guests breakfast in Ft. Garland and dinner in Alamosa that same day in the same building! Just like last year, our row was designed by Janet Davis exclusively for Alamosa Quilt Company. If you want a kit you can come in to the shop or call to order one, (719) 937-2555, or email me or leave a comment so I can email you. Please do not send credit card information in an email or comment though! I'll call you for that. Row by Row rules do not permit shops to mail out any patterns or kits until November 1st. This is so that only folks who actually go into shops are eligible to win the associated quilt contest, which ends October 31st. So if you do call to order a kit, just be aware that we are not allowed to ship it to you until November 1st. Last year we took orders, processed the sales and packaged everything to be ready to ship on November 1st. That way everyone who called was assured to get a kit, since we set one aside specifically for them at the time of purchase. For more information, go to the shop Row by Row page by clicking here. =============== This is what I've been doing this morning. Yesterday I pieced the background and marked the portion I have stitched. I'm just playing with stitching patterns to see what kind of texture they create. I need some hand work because I am mad at our school district. For the past two years the district has been doing an early release or late start for the children on the first Wednesday of each month so that the teachers can do their PLCs (professional learning community). They are doing them again this year, doing an early release. In the past this has meant the children are in school 2 hours less on these days, so for early release they should get out at 1 pm. However, this year it is going to be 3 hours, so the children get out at noon. The reason I am angry is that the notice that early release was going to be 3 hours early instead of 2 came home yesterday afternoon. That is not even 24 hours notice! I arranged my work schedule so that Parker would be in school while I am at work so I wouldn't need to arrange child care. I am not making enough to make it worth my while to work if I have to pay for child care. But yesterday I found out that on early release Wednesdays he will get out of school at the same time my class starts!!!! And my husband also has a class at noon on Wednesdays. I have made alternate arrangements with a friend for today but I am going to have to change my class schedule for the rest of the semester. I do not understand why the school district does not feel it is necessary to inform parents of these decisions when they are made. They could have easily let everyone know about this in early August at registration. But no ... they wait until the day before to send home a note that many parents may not even get. So I was stitching this morning thinking about how best to channel my anger towards positive change. Unfortunately, this is not the first time in the 2+ years Parker has been in the district that parents have received short notice of major events. Don't get me started! -----------------I'm trying to make new placemats for our dining room table. We have a round table and rectangular placemats don't fit a round table top very well. (I like to use a table cloth but my husband and son have both almost pulled everything off the table while sitting down to dinner with a table cloth on the table.) A few weeks ago I drafted a pattern and bought fabric. Yesterday I cut everything out and sewed everything together, except for the quilting. When I sat down to quilt this morning, the above photo shows what the back looked like. Yuck! I want these placemats to be reversible so I can't have loopies on the back. I changed the needle, rethreaded the machine and cleaned the machine. Then I tried again adjusting the tension and machine speed. It seems that my problem is mostly related to the speed of the machine, not the tension. As long as I sew slow to medium speed, both sides look good. If I go too fast, I get these loopies on the back. Despite having to quilt them at a snail's pace, I got all six of them finished this afternoon. I also bought fabric for napkins but I didn't have time to do those today, for obvious reasons. Maybe next week. I showed my husband the trouble I am having with my machine and warned him that I am starting to, maybe, think about (gulp) getting a new machine. The one I have is only 9 years old but about three years ago I had an incident with it. I wound a bobbin of wash-away thread the regular way with the machine and I shouldn't have. The manual does say this but I've had this machine for years, why read the manual!? Anyway, I couldn't get the bobbin off after I had wound it. I called the shop where I bought the machine which happens to be 3 1/2 hours away over a mountain pass. When they realized bringing it in wasn't an option, they took my name and number and the maintenance person called me back about 30 minutes later. She explained to me that I am not suppose to wind specialty thread the regular way. That I had ruined that bobbin already and that I needed to manually unwind the bobbin to get it off my machine, then throw it away. After that the machine would only sew a straight stitch with the widest stitch length, no matter what buttons I pushed or how much I pleaded with it. I was so mad (at myself) I just unplugged it and didn't turn it on for about a week. When I did turn it back on, it worked properly, for the most part. However, ever since then weird little issues keep coming up. Maybe they are completely unrelated to my mishap, but my baby has not been the same since. ================== Late yesterday afternoon I had about 45 minutes before dinner and I wanted to sew something. Looking around my messy sewing room, I spied my fabric for the mystery quilt my guild is doing. I had not yet made the blocks for last month and I don't even have the directions for this months block. (I missed the last guild meeting because I was in Nashville for Liesel's wedding) I looked at the directions for last months block and decided to start them. They are on the far left in the photo. I used all fabrics that I purchased in Nashville, mainly because they were on the top of my fabric stash for this quilt. The two bags of fabric in the picture are what I'm using. The pattern called for a focus fabric, background fabric and two dark fabrics. I prefer scrappy quilts so I am using brown as my background, blue and green as my two darks, and the focus fabric is in the center of the Ohio Star blocks. It doesn't really show very well in the picture above but I will have more posts on this and next time I'll try to take better pictures. Following the pattern, the quilt will finish at large lap quilt size. I asked our Projects chairperson if the pattern could be expanded with more blocks to make it King size. She says yes, so this will end up being our new bed quilt for our new king size bed. I've made three types of blocks thus far. There is a fourth block, handed out last month. I will get the directions next week and maybe I'll have time to put it together before this months meeting. We will be assembling our quilt tops after the guild meeting in November. I don't know if I will put my blocks together then or not since I am going to make it larger. ================= Earlier this week I basted a charity quilt with Sullivan's Basting Spray. Despite the chunks of glue that dropped out of the very old (I bought it at least 10 years ago) and almost empty can, the results were great. My LQS recommended removing and washing out the sprayer part on the old can to see if that corrected my problem with the chunks dropping out. I haven't tried that yet. I decided that I should invest in a new can since my old one is almost empty anyway and purchased one on Wednesday, but I haven't had a chance do any more basting yet. However, I have three more charity tops ready to be basted and I will use the spray for them all. Here is a photo of the finished quilt I basted with the spray. And here is a photo showing the back so you can see the quilting a bit better. I quilted in the ditch around the blocks and then did alternating serpentine quilting over the blocks. It's fast, simple and different than just stippling. Black binding would have been a better choice, but I like to use my binding scraps for charity quilts and I had enough yellow, so yellow it is. I think this spray is a great option for basting things quickly. I believe that the problems I had before with it were because I was a new quilter and had not yet learned to properly baste a quilt with pins or thread. You can't just spray the batting and slap down the backing, flip it over, spray the batting and slap down the top. You need to understand proper basting techniques and how to employ them with a new basting method. It is much faster than pin or thread basting, but can't be done properly in two minutes. I think it took me about 10 or 15 minutes for this small baby quilt to get everything laid out, sprayed and smoothed properly. I may get faster with practice. One last comment about the basting spray: It is very sticky. Be careful where you spray this stuff. The over-spray can make unintended things sticky. If you get some on your hands, soap and water will not get it all off. It will wear off after a day or so and can be picked off like dried glue, but Goo Gone or D-Solve-It worked great for me at getting it off my fingers. ================ On Friday the Moda Bake Shopposted a pattern for a Strippy Charm Pouch. I thought it was so cute and the pattern looked pretty easy. So I decided to make one (or two). I didn't want a pieced top portion like the pattern called for, so I just used a single fabric. Warning: If you decided to make one, there is an error in the cutting instructions. You need to cut your two bottom rectangles 2 1/2" by 9 1/4". The instructions say 2" by 9 1/4" in the cutting instructions, but later in the pattern it refers to these as 2 1/2" by 9 1/4" bottom rectangles. This is the correct measurement for them, but doesn't help much if you cut everything at the beginning like she instructed. I also did not like the method she uses for putting in the zipper. I did do it the way she instructs the first time, but the zipper didn't operate smoothly. Also the pouch looked funny at the zipper ends. So ... I took the entire bag apart again. It wasn't toobad. Then I got out my Cash and Carry patternand did the zipper like this pattern does. I put the whole bag back together and it is perfect. Note: I don't want to sound like I think the original pattern is bad. I don't. The pouch is very cute and a nice size. It's just that the zipper method she uses didn't work well for me. I am not very experienced at putting in zippers. The only way I have had success with zippers is using the method from the Cash and Carry pattern I referenced above. So when it didn't work for me the first time, I just went to the method I knew would work for me. I did everything else just like the original pattern. She had a picture for every step and the written instructions were very clear. My only other advice for this pattern is to sew slowly over the top portion of the bag, where the zipper is, when assembling the bag. I did break a needle in that area, twice! Both times I think I was sewing too fast over this bulky area. When I sewed slowly I had no problem. I made the first one for myself. My son has a friend who will be turning 9 soon. A friend who is a girl, not a girl friend. Anyway, I made one for him to give her for her birthday. I asked my son what fabric she would like. He said, "any fabric with dogs." So here it is. He was very excited when I showed it to him. "Oh Mom, she will love it!" He knows just what to say! I'm pretty sure he is right. ======================= I mentioned recently that a certain project languished in the UFO pile because I dreaded removing the paper. And that I did that project before I learned how to paper piece without sewing through the paper. Someone asked how to paper piece this way, so here is a little tutorial on the process. Step 1: Draw or trace your pattern onto the paper side of a piece of freezer paper. Note: you must use freezer paper for this method. Since you don't sew through the freezer paper, you can reuse your pattern several times. Step 2: Iron your first fabric piece to the shiny side of the freezer paper. Iron the wrong side to the freezer paper. Make sure your fabric covers all of piece one and the seam allowance too. (Do as I say, not as I do.) view from the paper sidewith the drawn pattern view from the shiny side Notice that in both of the above photos I have circled the little corner that didn't get covered with fabric. I could have easily corrected this at this stage had I noticed. Unfortunately I didn't notice in time. My "helper" was ironing a bunch of scraps that really didn't need ironing. He was having so much fun doing it and not begging to watch TV so I just let him. However, his presence in my space was quite distracting. He talks nonstop about whatever pops into his head. Kind of hard to concentrate with all background the noise. Step 3: Fold back the paper pattern along the sewing line between pieces one and two. You'll need to peel the fabric off of the freezer paper, but only up to the sewing line. I use a piece of card stock to fold against to get a nice straight line The card stock is covering piece one, but the edge is right on the line between pieces one and two Fabric peeled back and freezer paper folded on the sew line between the first and second pieces Step 4: Trim the first fabric 1/4" from the sewing line (folded edge of freezer paper). The add-a-quarter ruler is very handy for this. If you don't have this ruler, your regular ruler will work just fine, but I highly recommend the add-a-quarter ruler if you plan to do a lot of paper piecing. preparing to trim all trimmed and ready for the next step Step 5: Place your second fabric underneath your first fabric, right sides together. fabrics right side together I didn't line them up perfectly yet so you could see the second fabric underneath Step 6: With the freezer paper folded on the sew line between pieces one and two, sew pieces one and two together with a 1/4" seam allowance. You are sewing right next to the folded paper but not through the paper. sewing right next to the paper pieces one and two sewn together view from back of piece two pieces one and two sewn together view from back of piece one Step 7: Press the seam toward piece 2. I like to press first from the front, but do not let your iron touch the waxy side of the freezer paper or you'll have a mess. Then press again from the back so that you adhere piece two to the freezer paper. preparing to press note that the freezer paper has been unfolded all pressed and ready to start over with piece three Now go back to Step 3 and repeat steps 3 - 7 with the next fabric. Continue in this manner until you have completed your unit. after the third piece was sewn and pressed the finished unit with the uncovered corner - grrrrrr! When you have it all together trim it to size (be sure to leave a 1/4" seam allowance all the way around), then just peel the freezer paper off the back and it's ready to be used again. I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions please ask in the comments. =================== Recently I showed you a couple free patterns I got from a friend. Well, one is a book of patterns and the other is just one pattern. My rule for keeping these was that I had to make them before the end of this year or give them away. I have read the Lazy Girl Designs pattern and this one looks like a good one. I just need to get some elastic. The book has really cute bags in it and my friend had some fabric and the tubular handles required to make one of the bags in the book. I snagged those too from her pile. Last week I decided to make the bag but quickly realized why my friend was probably getting rid of these items. The book does not give you any cutting measurements. You have to copy and enlarge the patterns out of the book. First this involves going to a copy store. The pattern I was going to make was already full page size and it needed to be enlarged 150%. Then you have to find a copy store that will allow you to make a copy of copyrighted material. This should not be a problem since it says right on the pattern to "make a copy and enlarge", but some places are so worried about being sued that they won't allow you to make copies of anything that is copyrighted, period. At this point I decided that as cute as this bag is, it isn't worth all this time and effort. There are other just as cute bag patterns that don't require so much hassle before you can start cutting. So I'm taking the book, the fabric and the tubular frames to guild with me next month for the in-house raffle table. The other pattern I pulled out is the Yellow Brick Road pattern. I had a little money left on my Mother's Day gift certificate to my local quilt shop, so I went and bought 6 fat quarters to use with this pattern. I kitted this up and put it in my retreat bag for the end of October. I think it will make a fun retreat project. ==================== I'm starting a new project soon using these fabrics. This is as far as I've gotten on it because I am preparing for my guild retreat this weekend. Last week I woke up early one morning and couldn't get back to sleep because I was worried about what projects I should pack for the retreat! LOL! Of all the things to worry about, sheesh! That morning I got out my project tub and loaded her up. The fabrics above make 8 projects I'm taking to work on. I'll don't think I'll run out of things to do! This morning I purchased a new, smaller sewing chair for me to take to the retreat. My regular chair is quite heavy and has arms which makes it very difficult for me to get in and out of my car. The new chair is not as nice, but is height adjustable, much lighter, and has no arms. I'm only planning to use it for retreats. The rest of the time it will just be an extra office chair. I'm on the crew for Friday night dinner. We planned our menu weeks ago and I have almost all of the ingredients already packed. I'm not sure if I will have any more posts before I leave for the retreat. Most of my sewing time is being spent cutting and making sure I have everything I need for each of my projects laid out or packed. Not very exciting. I do have something else to show today though. I made up more earbud pouches over the weekend. I decided that I like the one shown in the bottom of the photo above (with the earbuds inside) better than the first one I made. So I'm keeping it instead. I blogged about these last Friday and the link to the tutorial is in that post.

plumbing blogs for champion

water leak plumberIt is one of the worst nightmares of any homeowner. You wake up in the morning or come home from a relaxing vacation to discover that your pipes have burst. A burst pipe is a serious matter, and what you do next could make a big difference in the amount of damage you ultimately suffer.

As with any household emergency, the faster you react the better off you will be. If the pipe just burst, you may be able to prevent flooding and the resulting water damage. Turn off the main water supply as soon as you discover the burst pipe, and do not turn the water back on until you are sure the problem has been rectified.

You will next need to drain the system of water to avoid flooding from the burst pipe. Turn the cold water taps on the whole way on every sink in your home to drain the accumulated water. Flush the toilets several times to remove that water from the system.

After the water has been drained from the system, the next step is to turn off your heating system and electronics. Once that has been done you should go around and collect any standing water that has already accumulated. Water damage can become severe very fast, so the faster you clean it up the better.

Once the accumulated water has been collected and discarded, it is time to locate and repair the leak. If you are confident in your ability to detect the leak and fix it properly, you can do the work yourself. If not, it is best to call in a professional plumber.

Plumbers have many years of experience in finding and repairing leaks, and they may be able to detect leaks you would have missed or even find potential problems. If your pipes have sprung one leak, there could be additional weak spots you are not aware of. Having the entire system checked by a professional is a good preventative measure, even if you are certain you can fix the original leak on your own.

Only turn the water back on after you are sure the leak has been addressed and there is no additional damage to the plumbing system. Having a pipe burst can be a disconcerting and frightening experience, but the sooner you deal with the better. If you act promptly, you can avoid long term water damage and the destruction of the contents inside your home.

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water shut off valveWhen a plumbing emergency happens, do you know how to shut off the water to your home? Waiting until an emergency arises is not a good time to determine the location of your water shut-off valve.

Regardless of the individual catastrophe which sends water shooting across the room, through the walls, and into the lower level ceilings, the ability to stop the water in your house is an imperative safeguard against the amplification of certain problems. While this knowledge will not prevent pipes from bursting or drains from clogging, it will allow you to best control the situation should it occur.

The average homeowner files an insurance claim every nine years, making it less of a question of whether you will someday need to know how to shut off the water in your home, and more of a matter of how soon it will happen to you.

What is a water shut-off valve?

The water shut-off valve is typically placed close to the point of entrance of water into your house, apartment, or office building. It s purpose is to cease the flow of water. There are line shut-off valves located throughout your home: washing machine, sinks, external faucets, dishwashers, and toilets. These valves stop individual lines of water when maintenance is required. Your main shut-off controls the flow of all water into your home or office.

Why the knowledge of your shut-off valve location is important

Every second counts once a pipe bursts. The typical house can experience an average of 16 gallons of flood water flowing each minute, so you have little time to spare. Cascading water moves quickly and can damage even that which is out of sight, including floor joists and foundations. Although stopping the water will not reverse what damage has already been done, the ability to stop the situation from escalating can save you thousands of dollars and weeks of additional repairs.

Spread the word

Once you find your water shut-off valve, let everyone in the house know where it is, and show them how to operate it. If your shut-off valve is in an unusual area, do not stop with those who reside with you; share this location with house guests, baby sitters, and anyone that may be watching your home while you are away. Explain the dangers involved with flood waters and develop a plan that begins with stopping the water.

After you have shut off your water valve, now you can start salvaging affected possessions, cleaning up what you can, and contacting a plumber or water damage professional, and documenting as much as you can for insurance purposes.

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water-heater-tipsIf you are looking to upgrade your hot water heater, you have lots of options. Today’s models include high-efficiency styles such as those run by solar energy or a hybrid heat pump. Standard gas and electric water heaters are sold by numerous manufacturers, giving you a wide variety of choices. You can even get one fueled by liquid propane. Finding the right type and size of water heater is important not only for your budget but also for the level of comfort you experience when using your hot water.

Deciding Which Tank Size to Purchase

The standard water heater is available in different sizes, ranging from 10 to 20-gallon capacities. The size that you should install depends on two factors – the size of your family and the amount of space you have available for the heater. Larger families might prefer to purchase a larger tank size to accommodate a higher demand for hot water, while smaller families can probably get by using the 10-gallon size.

Things to Consider When Purchasing Storage Tank Water Heaters

One of the most popular styles of water heaters, the storage tank, is designed to deliver hot water on demand. While its storage capacity is the first feature that you will consider, it is important to find out what the recovery rate for it is. The recovery rate refers to the number of gallons of water that the tank can heat in a single hour. If you intend to use a lot of hot water, then you need a tank offering a high recovery rate.

If energy costs are a consideration, which they typically are for most families, choosing a water heater that offers high efficiency and lower than average heating costs over the course of a year is your best option. You can find all of this information out by looking at the EnergyGuide label attached to the model that you are looking to buy.

If you are purchasing a secondary storage tank, a smaller size might be sufficient for your needs. For example, if you want a source of hot water for exterior buildings, such as garages and workshops, a utility water heater ranging in size from 2.5 to 10 gallons should be more than sufficient.

Maintenance Tips for Your Water Heater

Whether you have an electric or a gas water heater, performing an annual maintenance checkup on it can extend its lifespan considerably. Typically, a conventional water heater is designed to last as long as ten years. However, you do need to maintain your water heater properly in order for it to last that long. If you prefer not to do the work yourself, you can call a San Antonio plumber to arrange for an annual checkup.

Basically, you want to give the tank a mini-flush. To do so, you should start by turning down the temperature setting so that it at least 115 degrees but less than 120 degrees.

Next, you should check the T & P valve (temperature and pressure) to ensure that it is working properly. Lift the lever part of the way, release the lever, and watch to see if it snaps back in place quickly. As it does so, you should hear water going into the drain tube. If you don’t hear his gurgling noise, your T & P valve needs to be replaced.

Finally, you are going to remove the sediment buildup from the bottom of the tank to help improve the efficiency of your water heater. Place a bucket beneath the valve that allows you to drain some of the water from the tank. Open the valve and allow a few gallons of water to flow into the bucket. Close the valve and empty the bucket.

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Tips on Choosing the Best Water Heater

water-heater-tipsIf you are looking to upgrade your hot water heater, you have lots of options. Today’s models include high-efficiency styles such as those run by solar energy or a hybrid heat pump. Standard gas and electric water heaters are sold by numerous manufacturers, giving you a wide variety of choices. You can even get one fueled by liquid propane. Finding the right type and size of water heater is important not only for your budget but also for the level of comfort you experience when using your hot water.

Deciding Which Tank Size to Purchase

The standard water heater is available in different sizes, ranging from 10 to 20-gallon capacities. The size that you should install depends on two factors – the size of your family and the amount of space you have available for the heater. Larger families might prefer to purchase a larger tank size to accommodate a higher demand for hot water, while smaller families can probably get by using the 10-gallon size.

Things to Consider When Purchasing Storage Tank Water Heaters

One of the most popular styles of water heaters, the storage tank, is designed to deliver hot water on demand. While its storage capacity is the first feature that you will consider, it is important to find out what the recovery rate for it is. The recovery rate refers to the number of gallons of water that the tank can heat in a single hour. If you intend to use a lot of hot water, then you need a tank offering a high recovery rate.

If energy costs are a consideration, which they typically are for most families, choosing a water heater that offers high efficiency and lower than average heating costs over the course of a year is your best option. You can find all of this information out by looking at the EnergyGuide label attached to the model that you are looking to buy.

If you are purchasing a secondary storage tank, a smaller size might be sufficient for your needs. For example, if you want a source of hot water for exterior buildings, such as garages and workshops, a utility water heater ranging in size from 2.5 to 10 gallons should be more than sufficient.

Maintenance Tips for Your Water Heater

Whether you have an electric or a gas water heater, performing an annual maintenance checkup on it can extend its lifespan considerably. Typically, a conventional water heater is designed to last as long as ten years. However, you do need to maintain your water heater properly in order for it to last that long. If you prefer not to do the work yourself, you can call a San Antonio plumber to arrange for an annual checkup.

Basically, you want to give the tank a mini-flush. To do so, you should start by turning down the temperature setting so that it at least 115 degrees but less than 120 degrees.

Next, you should check the T & P valve (temperature and pressure) to ensure that it is working properly. Lift the lever part of the way, release the lever, and watch to see if it snaps back in place quickly. As it does so, you should hear water going into the drain tube. If you don’t hear his gurgling noise, your T & P valve needs to be replaced.

Finally, you are going to remove the sediment buildup from the bottom of the tank to help improve the efficiency of your water heater. Place a bucket beneath the valve that allows you to drain some of the water from the tank. Open the valve and allow a few gallons of water to flow into the bucket. Close the valve and empty the bucket.
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professional-plumberIt’s always a good idea to select your plumber before you actually need one, so that you can make an informed decision about your choice. Otherwise, you might find yourself choosing a plumber in a rush, which often doesn’t lead to quality repairs and affordable prices. Don’t wait until your toilet is clogged or your pipes are leaking. Instead, use these tips to assist you in figuring out which professional is the right person for your plumbing needs before anything happens.

Get a Recommendation

The first place to start your search is to ask family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who they use for their plumbing maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. You might discover that several people recommend the same plumber or plumbing company, giving you a good option.

Ask a Professional

If you have an established relationship with a building or contracting company, you should call and ask for the contact information for the plumber used by them. If you purchased your home recently, you can contact your real estate agent and ask for a recommendation.

Request the License Number

In order to determine whether or not the plumber has the proper credentials and training, ask for the individual’s license number. If he cannot provide one, it’s best to continue your task of choosing a plumber by looking for a professional who does have a license. In the event that you need to file a claim with your insurer, you will be required to provide the plumber’s license. Choosing a plumber with a license gives you a convenient way to locate him if you need to request additional service based upon the terms of the warranty.

Ask if the Plumber/Plumbing Company Is Insured

Typically, licensed plumbers are insured. You should verify that the plumber does have insurance, just in case you need to put in a claim.

Ask About Service Warranties

If the plumber provides a customer-service guarantee, it’s a clear sign that he does quality work. If he doesn’t offer a service warranty, then it’s more than likely he won’t return to remedy a problem that he created. A plumber who is confidant in his own skills is going to provide a guarantee for his services, giving you an excellent reason to consider him for the task of keeping your plumbing in good condition.

Consider Pricing

As with many service industries, you’ll discover a wide variety in pricing. Some plumbers charge a flat fee that includes everything from parts to labor, while others charge an hourly rate or service-call fee on top of the cost of materials and parts. While it is normal for some jobs to require an open-ended quote due to the unknowns existing with the job, this shouldn’t be the case for each type of plumbing repair. If you want to find a plumber with affordable prices, you need to ask a lot of questions, including whether or not there are any additional fees.

Choosing an Established Plumber

Due to the intricate nature of plumbing, finding an experienced professional who has been in the trade for a number of years gives you access to skilled work. Look for a plumber who operates out of a business office rather than out of his home. You don’t want someone who simply does plumbing as a side business, but rather, you should look for a professional who is committed to providing quality plumbing service.

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Choosing a Plumber Who Is Qualified for the Job

It’s always a good idea to select your plumber before you actually need one, so that you can make an informed decision about your choice. Otherwise, you might find yourself choosing a plumber in a rush, which often doesn’t lead to quality repairs and affordable prices. Don’t wait until your toilet is clogged or your pipes are leaking. Instead, use these tips to assist you in figuring out which professional is the right person for your plumbing needs before anything happens.

Get a Recommendation

The first place to start your search is to ask family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who they use for their plumbing maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. You might discover that several people recommend the same plumber or plumbing company, giving you a good option.

Ask a Professional

If you have an established relationship with a building or contracting company, you should call and ask for the contact information for the plumber used by them. If you purchased your home recently, you can contact your real estate agent and ask for a recommendation.

Request the License Number

In order to determine whether or not the plumber has the proper credentials and training, ask for the individual’s license number. If he cannot provide one, it’s best to continue your task of choosing a plumber by looking for a professional who does have a license. In the event that you need to file a claim with your insurer, you will be required to provide the plumber’s license. Choosing a plumber with a license gives you a convenient way to locate him if you need to request additional service based upon the terms of the warranty.

Ask if the Plumber/Plumbing Company Is Insured

Typically, licensed plumbers are insured. You should verify that the plumber does have insurance, just in case you need to put in a claim.

Ask About Service Warranties

If the plumber provides a customer-service guarantee, it’s a clear sign that he does quality work. If he doesn’t offer a service warranty, then it’s more than likely he won’t return to remedy a problem that he created. A plumber who is confidant in his own skills is going to provide a guarantee for his services, giving you an excellent reason to consider him for the task of keeping your plumbing in good condition.

Consider Pricing

As with many service industries, you’ll discover a wide variety in pricing. Some plumbers charge a flat fee that includes everything from parts to labor, while others charge an hourly rate or service-call fee on top of the cost of materials and parts. While it is normal for some jobs to require an open-ended quote due to the unknowns existing with the job, this shouldn’t be the case for each type of plumbing repair. If you want to find a plumber with affordable prices, you need to ask a lot of questions, including whether or not there are any additional fees.

Choosing an Established Plumber

Due to the intricate nature of plumbing, finding an experienced professional who has been in the trade for a number of years gives you access to skilled work. Look for a plumber who operates out of a business office rather than out of his home. You don’t want someone who simply does plumbing as a side business, but rather, you should look for a professional who is committed to providing quality plumbing service.

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Water Filtration SystemWhether or not you install a water filtration system in your home depends upon the existing quality of your drinking water. While public water is treated to remove most impurities, it is still possible for contaminants to find their way into the water. Typically, the condition of your water lines influences the quality of your drinking water. Over time, impurities and contaminants can find their way into your water, lowering its quality and influencing its taste and smell.

Drinking purified water is the best option for anyone. Its lack of impurities makes this type of water safer and healthier to drink. However, if your water isn’t purified, you might be placing yourself and your family at risk of becoming exposed to harmful pollutants that might make you ill.

Whether or not you draw your water from a private or public source, you might benefit from having a water filtration system installed. Two of the most commonly installed filtration systems include the fiber filtration system and the carbon filtration system.

What Is a Fiber Filtration System?

If your water contains particles, such as minerals or sediment, installing a fiber filtration system is probably your best option. This type of filtration system is designed with spun cellulose or rayon, which is used to trap the bits of sediment contained in your water. The fibers are tightly wrapped into a cylinder-like shape so that the particles are trapped and removed from the water.

Fiber filters are sold in different styles. The primary difference between them is the type of filter that is attached to the device. Each filter features a woven mesh with openings. The tighter that the weave on the mesh is, the smaller the size of the particles can be. When a looser weave is involved, the only particles that can be trapped are those of a larger size. If you need help choosing the correct type of fiber filtration device for your needs, an experienced plumber can assist you with your decision.

What Is a Carbon Filtration System?

One of the best options you have when your water has a foul odor or taste to it is to look into a carbon filtration system. The foulness could be due to the presence of organic compounds that have dissolved into your water supply. If this is the case, a carbon filtration device can be used to remove the organic material.

This type of filtration system is designed to remove most of the organic impurities from the water using a unique carbon filter. Your water is channeled through the filtration device, where the impurities are captured, removing them from the water.

Several types of carbon filters are available, but each one requires replacement eventually. How quickly you need to replace your carbon filter depends on how much water you use on a daily basis as well as on the amount of organic material that is present in your water supply.

A licensed plumber can assist you in selecting your carbon filtration system, using the information that you provide about your water supply and usage. Your options include granular, powder-in-pad, and powder-in-block versions.

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Should You Install a Water Filtration System?

Water Filtration SystemWhether or not you install a water filtration system in your home depends upon the existing quality of your drinking water. While public water is treated to remove most impurities, it is still possible for contaminants to find their way into the water. Typically, the condition of your water lines influences the quality of your drinking water. Over time, impurities and contaminants can find their way into your water, lowering its quality and influencing its taste and smell.

Drinking purified water is the best option for anyone. Its lack of impurities makes this type of water safer and healthier to drink. However, if your water isn’t purified, you might be placing yourself and your family at risk of becoming exposed to harmful pollutants that might make you ill.

Whether or not you draw your water from a private or public source, you might benefit from having a water filtration system installed. Two of the most commonly installed filtration systems include the fiber filtration system and the carbon filtration system.

What Is a Fiber Filtration System?

If your water contains particles, such as minerals or sediment, installing a fiber filtration system is probably your best option. This type of filtration system is designed with spun cellulose or rayon, which is used to trap the bits of sediment contained in your water. The fibers are tightly wrapped into a cylinder-like shape so that the particles are trapped and removed from the water.

Fiber filters are sold in different styles. The primary difference between them is the type of filter that is attached to the device. Each filter features a woven mesh with openings. The tighter that the weave on the mesh is, the smaller the size of the particles can be. When a looser weave is involved, the only particles that can be trapped are those of a larger size. If you need help choosing the correct type of fiber filtration device for your needs, an experienced plumber can assist you with your decision.

What Is a Carbon Filtration System?

One of the best options you have when your water has a foul odor or taste to it is to look into a carbon filtration system. The foulness could be due to the presence of organic compounds that have dissolved into your water supply. If this is the case, a carbon filtration device can be used to remove the organic material.

This type of filtration system is designed to remove most of the organic impurities from the water using a unique carbon filter. Your water is channeled through the filtration device, where the impurities are captured, removing them from the water.

Several types of carbon filters are available, but each one requires replacement eventually. How quickly you need to replace your carbon filter depends on how much water you use on a daily basis as well as on the amount of organic material that is present in your water supply.

A licensed plumber can assist you in selecting your carbon filtration system, using the information that you provide about your water supply and usage. Your options include granular, powder-in-pad, and powder-in-block versions.

=========================

clogged-drainOne of the most common plumbing problems experienced by homeowners is the clogged drain. Whether it occurs in the kitchen sink or in one of your bathroom fixtures, this type of problem can disrupt your life in a major way until you get it fixed. If the kitchen or bathroom sink doesn’t drain, then you can’t continue using it as you normally would.

In some cases, a clog leads to slow drainage of the water, while in other instances, the clog prevents the water from draining at all. With either problem, the need to have the clog removed is an immediate one. Not only do clogged drains lead to the accumulation of standing water, but they can also create unpleasant odors.

While the obvious choice is to call in a qualified plumber to unclog the drain, most people prefer to attempt it on their own, at least initially. Here is a look at some of the strategies that you can use to clear your drain on your own before calling in the services of a trained and skillful plumber.

Hot Water Flushes Break Up Sticky Residue

If the clog recently appeared, it is possible that you might be able to flush it through simply by running the hot-water tap for several minutes. This strategy works best when the clog is due to a buildup of soap or grease.

Plunging the Drain Creates a Vacuum That Sucks the Clog Out

The idea behind the use of a plunger is to force water to push the clog clear of the drain and through the pipes. In order for this strategy to work, you need to have a secure grip on the plunger as you pump it up and down on top of the drain. You should be able to feel the plunger creating a vacuum-like pressure. If all goes well, the clog will break loose completely.

Natural Drain Cleaners Work to Loosen Hardened Debris

In some cases, a clogged drain can be cleared with a natural solution that involves the use of baking soda and white vinegar. Measure approximately one cup of baking soda and pour it into the drain. Follow that up with a single cup of white vinegar. You’ll need to let this sit for an hour or so to allow this mix to work on the clog. When you are ready, flush the drain with lots of hot water. If you have metal pipes, you can use boiling water from a tea kettle. Otherwise, run the tap for the hot water.

A Plumber’s Snake Uncorks the Clog

Although this tool is called a plumber’s snake, anyone can purchase one to use in clearing a clogged drain. You’ll find one at a hardware or home-improvement store. You run the snake through the drain and pipe in an attempt to dislodge the clog. You should exercise caution though so as not to damage pipe. If you hear the scraping sound of metal on metal, you might want to use a different strategy to clear the clog.

Chemical Cleaners

If you are going to use a chemical cleaner in an attempt to clear a clogged drain, you’ll need to protect your eyes and skin. The harshness of the chemicals can irritate your eyes and/or skin if they splash you. Always follow the directions on the cleaner and make sure that the product you select is safe for the type of pipes that you have.

Periodic Cleanings

If your drains clog regularly, you might want to incorporate monthly (or weekly) cleanings to assist you in keeping your drains flowing freely. You can probably use the natural-cleaning strategy to handle this task successfully.

Call in a Professional Plumber

If none of the above solutions works for your situation, your best bet is to call in a professional plumber who has the experience to do the job quickly and efficiently. While he might use some of the same strategies that are listed here, he has the knowledge needed to unclog a drain without damaging your plumbing system.

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What Can You Do to Fix a Clogged Drain in Your Bathtub, Shower, Utility Tub, or Sink?

clogged-drainOne of the most common plumbing problems experienced by homeowners is the clogged drain. Whether it occurs in the kitchen sink or in one of your bathroom fixtures, this type of problem can disrupt your life in a major way until you get it fixed. If the kitchen or bathroom sink doesn’t drain, then you can’t continue using it as you normally would.

In some cases, a clog leads to slow drainage of the water, while in other instances, the clog prevents the water from draining at all. With either problem, the need to have the clog removed is an immediate one. Not only do clogged drains lead to the accumulation of standing water, but they can also create unpleasant odors.

While the obvious choice is to call in a qualified plumber to unclog the drain, most people prefer to attempt it on their own, at least initially. Here is a look at some of the strategies that you can use to clear your drain on your own before calling in the services of a trained and skillful plumber.

Hot Water Flushes Break Up Sticky Residue

If the clog recently appeared, it is possible that you might be able to flush it through simply by running the hot-water tap for several minutes. This strategy works best when the clog is due to a buildup of soap or grease.

Plunging the Drain Creates a Vacuum That Sucks the Clog Out

The idea behind the use of a plunger is to force water to push the clog clear of the drain and through the pipes. In order for this strategy to work, you need to have a secure grip on the plunger as you pump it up and down on top of the drain. You should be able to feel the plunger creating a vacuum-like pressure. If all goes well, the clog will break loose completely.

Natural Drain Cleaners Work to Loosen Hardened Debris

In some cases, a clogged drain can be cleared with a natural solution that involves the use of baking soda and white vinegar. Measure approximately one cup of baking soda and pour it into the drain. Follow that up with a single cup of white vinegar. You’ll need to let this sit for an hour or so to allow this mix to work on the clog. When you are ready, flush the drain with lots of hot water. If you have metal pipes, you can use boiling water from a tea kettle. Otherwise, run the tap for the hot water.

A Plumber’s Snake Uncorks the Clog

Although this tool is called a plumber’s snake, anyone can purchase one to use in clearing a clogged drain. You’ll find one at a hardware or home-improvement store. You run the snake through the drain and pipe in an attempt to dislodge the clog. You should exercise caution though so as not to damage pipe. If you hear the scraping sound of metal on metal, you might want to use a different strategy to clear the clog.

Chemical Cleaners

If you are going to use a chemical cleaner in an attempt to clear a clogged drain, you’ll need to protect your eyes and skin. The harshness of the chemicals can irritate your eyes and/or skin if they splash you. Always follow the directions on the cleaner and make sure that the product you select is safe for the type of pipes that you have.

Periodic Cleanings

If your drains clog regularly, you might want to incorporate monthly (or weekly) cleanings to assist you in keeping your drains flowing freely. You can probably use the natural-cleaning strategy to handle this task successfully.

Call in a Professional Plumber

If none of the above solutions works for your situation, your best bet is to call in a professional plumber who has the experience to do the job quickly and efficiently. While he might use some of the same strategies that are listed here, he has the knowledge needed to unclog a drain without damaging your plumbing system.

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Should You Choose a Traditional Storage Tank or a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

tankless-water-heaterIf your hot water heater is on the fritz, you have more options today than ever before when selecting your next model. Advancements in technology have produced energy-efficient models and a variety of sizes, making your selection as easy as possible. Here is a look at the advantages and disadvantages of owning a traditional storage style and a tankless option.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Installing a Traditional Storage Tank?

The traditional style of hot water heater features a large tank that can hold up to 100 gallons of water, depending on the size that you purchase. In order to install this style, your home needs to have sufficient space for its placement. Therefore, if you have a small home, you might not be able to purchase a larger capacity, reducing your access to hot water on demand. As a result, you might need to wait an hour or more to obtain hot water once the tank has been drained completely through use. If you have a large family, this can lead to squabbles as the individuals at the end of the shower line discover that there’s no more hot water to use.

With a storage tank, hot water is accessible within minutes of turning on a faucet or appliance. Typically, it takes longer to access hot water when your water lines are not insulated. However, the amount of time that most people have to wait to obtain hot water with a traditional storage tank is usually less than 30 seconds.

This style of hot water heater is available in several sizes, enabling consumers to choose the model that is suitable for their hot-water demands. It is possible to purchase a small tank that is less than 20 gallons as well as larger tanks up to 70 or more gallons. Popularly purchased sizes include both 40 and 50 gallon tanks, which are ideal choices for families. If your current water heater isn’t providing a sufficient supply of hot water, you should select a larger size when you decide to replace it.

Consumers can purchase a gas, oil, or electric version, giving them the flexibility to select a model that matches their available power supply. A licensed plumber has the skills to install each type.

Traditional styles of hot water tanks are generally less expensive than tankless versions, providing affordable options for individuals with tight budgets. They are also easy to vent and install, saving the consumer even more money.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Installing a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

Designed to heat water on demand rather than continuously, a tankless hot water heater offers financial savings that result from lower utility bills. Tankless models deliver a high level of energy efficiency, reducing the amount of power that is wasted on a daily basis. Once you turn on the hot-water tap, you receive heated water immediately, eliminating the one-to-two minute wait that often occurs with a storage-tank system. As you can see, tankless models also cut back on the amount of water that is wasted each day.

Tankless versions take up less space than the traditional storage tank, so this type of heater is the ideal choice for smaller homes. It offers a streamlined appearance while providing the same high quality of heated water that you would get with a bulkier storage tank.

Also known as the “demand water heater,” this style provides enough hot water for everyone to take a shower, wash the dishes, or do the laundry without running out of hot water. There’s no need to worry about being last in line to take a shower anymore, because you will always have a sufficient supply of heated water to use.

This style is available in electric and gas models, offering customers the flexibility they need to match up a hot water tank with their home’s existing utility setup. You simply choose the model that fits your home’s gas or electric energy source.

Homeowners can also choose tankless heaters offering different heating capacities. Even though you never run out of hot water, it is possible to experience a decrease in the temperature of the water if you are running several appliances (washing machine and dishwasher) along with the shower or bathtub. When you select a tankless model with a higher capacity rating, this risk is minimized.

Since tankless versions take up so little space, you always have the option to install two of them if your hot water demands are high. For example, you can install one unit that is setup to deliver hot water to your showers, tubs, and sinks and a second unit that is installed to provide heated water to the dishwasher and washing machine.

Tankless models are electronically controlled, so they are easy to use. Once your plumber sets up your heater, you can sit back and enjoy using it.

Should You Install a Traditional Storage Tank or a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

Unless you have professional training in plumbing services, you should hire a licensed plumber to install your hot water heater for you to ensure that the job is done properly. After all, you can expect your heater to last for several years as long as it is installed correctly.
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Never Ignore a Slow Leak

water-leakLeaky faucets are one of the most common plumbing problems homeowners must fix. Champion Plumbing puts leaky faucet repairs in the category of home maintenance because they are generally easy fixes and cost-efficient as well. Plumbing repairs are highly recommended to protect homes from structural damage. Water from leaky faucets can cause enormous damage and, depending on its mineral content, will discolor sinks, tubs, showers, and more.

Is a Professional Necessary?

Small leaks can easily be fixed by the homeowner. However, homeowners experiencing larger leaks or who are unfamiliar with fixing faucets should contact a plumber right away. In case of large leaks, or water leakage in a wall, the main waterline to the house may need to be shut off until the problem is remedied.

Moisture Buildup

Uncontrolled moisture in the home can be hazardous. A continuous source of water can lead to water accumulation on or inside a wall or under flooring, which can result in severe damage and a buildup of fungus or toxic mold too dangerous to inhale. We highly recommends calling a plumber immediately if any signs of water damage or leakage are spotted. These signs may include water spots on ceilings, in walls, and leaking from light fixtures. A continuous musty odor may also mean a hidden plumbing leak.

Energy Bills

We know a small leak often leads to a larger leak. If ignored, a constant drip may grow into a stream of water. The slow, yet constant use of water means a higher water bill, because it can add up to gallons of water each day. Depending on the speed and consistency of a leaky faucet, homeowners may pay an additional $20 or more than necessary each year in their water bills.

Water Damage

A slow leak can damage and discolor sinks, tubs, and other areas designed to collect it. Specifically, the chemicals and minerals in the water can lead to brown or green discoloration. In some cases, the water may ruin the sink basin and cause it to deteriorate. Not all leaks come from the faucet, either. San Antonio Plumber recommends checking other places, too, such as the faucet base or pipe joints.
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rusted-plumbing
When It’s Time For New Plumbing

rusted-plumbingWhether you live in an old one or a new home, keeping up with plumbing is critical. People with older homes often consider the benefits of upgrading plumbing systems, but there are times when newer homes need a plumbing remake too. While all homeowners want their systems to last, building materials have varying life spans – there always comes a time when updating and replacing plumbing pipes is inevitable.

We encourage homeowners to know their pipes. The type of plumbing material used in a house will determine its life expectancy. For new homebuyers, an inspector’s report should list the type of material used. For established homeowners who have been in their home for a while and may no longer have access to an inspection report, a professional plumber can offer insight regarding the type and condition of the pipes in the home.

The length of time the pipes last may vary. Some pipes may last longer than a century, but hard water may cause them to fail sooner. The best advice for homeowners is to have pipes maintained to maximize their lifespan. It is often in the best interest of the homeowner to have a professional plumber inspect the house’s plumbing if it is older than 50 years.

So what are some popular materials, and how long do they last? In the home, supply pipes are usually made of:

Brass – Life span typically lasts anywhere from 80 to 100 years.
Copper – Life span between 70 to 80 years.
Galvanized steel – Life span between 80 to 100 years.
Our plumbers have plenty of experience with locating warning signs of possible pipe failure. Signs that it is time to replace plumbing due to age and corrosion include:

Discolored tubing
Stains
Flaking
Dimpling
Even without signs of corrosion or pipe failure, there are certain plumbing materials that should immediately be replaced no matter the situation. Any home with lead or polybutylene pipes should have the plumbing replaced immediately. Lead pipes are a health hazard, and polybutylene pipes break easily.

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Water Main Inspection

water-main-repairThe importance of a water main inspection is often overlooked, and San Antonio plumbers are well aware of the costly consequences this negligence may have on a home. It is important to have a water main inspection to identify the current condition of a water main. This is because breakage of a water main could lead to significant flooding as well as cross-contamination of a safe water source. The fragile ecosystem in which we live is also at risk when a water main fails. Additionally, by knowing the state of a water main, costly and complex water main replacements can be avoided.

Problems Found in Water Mains

A dangerous, yet thankfully rare, problem found in water mains is lead contamination of drinking water. This is normally found in older houses which still utilize the water main installed when the home was constructed, and prior to the knowledge that lead is detrimental to health. If lead is found in the tap water or inside the water main itself, it is imperative to find alternative drinking water while the water main is replaced.

One of the most common water main problems is that of leaks within the main itself. These leaks often go unnoticed and lead to extremely high water bills. A leak left undetected can severely damage the infrastructure of a home over time. Further, one leak within a water main often leads to several others which can be devastating. If this happens, an entirely new, and costly, water main installation is often the only solution.

What Can be Done?

By knowing the state of a home’s water main, a San Antonio plumber can create an individualized plan which addresses all aspects of the existing water main, thus saving the homeowner both time and money. An old water main will receive any repairs and updates needed to keep it in top working condition. If a new water main is required, a trusted San Antonio plumber will work with the homeowner every step of the way while ensuring proper and professional installation with minimal interference. Schedule a water main inspection today for a healthy home tomorrow.
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The Benefits of Septic Tank Cleaning

septic-tank-cleaningIn the hectic schedule of everyday life, it can be easy to forget about one of the most important parts of the house: the septic tank. However, the importance of cleaning a septic tank should never be ignored. Plumbing maintenance is an essential aspect of caring for a home, and could mean the difference between scheduling a cleaning every couple of years or being forced to do an entire overhaul on the wastewater disposal system. Here are a few benefits of keeping a clean septic tank to ensure proper function for years to come:

Extended Life of the Septic Tank

Septic tanks work to remove the solid waste from water disposed down the drains of a house, like the toilet or sinks, while the liquid waste goes through further treatment or is distributed into the soil absorption area. The solid waste has two options: floating to the top as a layer or sinking to the bottom as sludge. A San Antonio Plumber would state that by removing the solids from the wastewater routinely, you protect the soil absorption area from becoming clogged. Clogging leads to a failing septic system, which can result in wastewater backing up into the yard or the home.

Increased Overall Effectiveness

Not only will the septic system last longer with routine cleaning, its general ability to perform will improve as well. Having the septic tank pumped, and then avoiding use of the septic system, allows the tank and absorption area to dry out. The entire plumbing system benefits from the rest and any partially decomposed waste will fully break down in the absence of water. Over time, the removal of solid waste from the liquid waste becomes less effective and more solids end up in the soil absorption area, leading to a system failure. To prevent this, be sure to schedule septic tank cleanings with a San Antonio plumber and allow time for the system to rest without any use, like during a family vacation or business trip. Fortunately, with an expert plumber, costly repairs can be easily avoided with a simple maintenance appointment every three years or so.
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An updated and beautiful bathroom will increase the value of a home immediately. Whether a homeowner is looking for a new bathroom design to enjoy right away, or the home is to be placed on the market, a new, beautifully crafted bathroom answers the call for luxury. From a few small changes to a complete bathroom overhaul, a San Antonio plumber can help complete the project.

A Skilled Plumber Can Make all the Difference

A homeowner often visualizes how a brand new bathroom should look, but may have difficulty deciding on the correct or most aesthetically pleasing layout. Further, a homeowner may have purchased a beautiful new sink or luxurious bathtub, but is unsure of the proper way to go about installing these new pieces. That is when a San Antonio plumber can help!

Qualified plumbers understand the craftsmanship required to install a new bathroom beautifully without overlooking any detail. A San Antonio plumber will work inside of a budget and time frame ensuring optimal results and preventing the hassle of approaching such a project alone.

A plumber can customize a new bathroom layout that speaks to both the elements of practicality and design. Additionally, a San Antonio plumber will craft a new plumbing and piping system, if needed, that will allow the bathroom to function with ease. Finally, a plumbing professional will install any brand-new appliances with the care and craftsmanship that each deserves.

Enlist the Help of a San Antonio Plumber Today

Trying to tackle a home repair project alone, such as the installation of a new bathroom, can often lead to costly mistakes and repairs. These can be easily avoided with the cost-effective approach of contacting an experienced plumber. Let professional plumbers use their many skills to assist in the beautification of a new bathroom.

San Antonio plumbers have the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will make all the difference. Don’t embark on a new bathroom journey alone and confused. Our plumbers will work with you every step of the way to ensure that your previously envisioned dream bathroom can soon become a reality.
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Why You Need a Water Softener

water-softenerHard water is a result of having too much calcium, magnesium, or other minerals present thanks to groundwater dissolving them from the surrounding soil and water. It is a natural enough occurrence, though they can be very problematic. But, what does that mean for homeowners? In the long run it can mean costly repairs and, in a more immediate way, it means an unpleasant experience with water in your home. Hard water is one of the most common complaints of people who use groundwater in their homes and, thankfully, it’s very easy to get rid of.

When hard water is allowed to continue in a plumbing system, all kinds of problems arise as a result. The minerals will build up in the pipes, causing clogging and decreased effectiveness of the plumbing. On a more personal level, it keeps soap from properly lathering and leaves an undesirable scum in the tub and on the skin, making your skin feel dry and itchy. With hard water, yellow stains commonly appear on plumbing fixtures and spots refuse to wipe away on dishes. This no longer has to be the case if the proper actions are taken. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, they should not be ignored. The San Antonio plumber suggests the installation of a water softener to combat these issues.

A water softener works by adding more sodium to the water to replace the ions of the other minerals. In this way, the minerals are negated and the water does not leave build up in the pipes or on the skin. It also has the ability to improve the taste of the water, as well as extend the life of any appliances that use the water. Laundry will become brighter and dishes will appear to be cleaner, without the gray film that can become problematic with hard water.

When a plumber comes to install a new water softener, he will shut off the water, drain the pipes, and choose an appropriate location to place the fixture. While the installation may seem complicated, an experienced San Antonio plumber will be very capable of handling the situation.
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Traditional Water Heaters

water-heaterImagine standing in the shower, hot water flowing from the shower head, but it suddenly goes cold. The water heater has stopped working.

There are several options to consider if the time has come to replace the water heater, a San Antonio plumber indicates. Among the most common is a traditional tank water heater.

How they work

A traditional water heater has a storage tank which will store anywhere from 30 to 80 gallons of water. These units most often use natural gas, but can also be electric or use liquid propane. The units keep the water in the tank heated, which means they are always running. As water is used for those hot showers or washing the dishes, the tank refills and the water heater must work to reheat the water. This can mean the supply of hot water will run out.

Because of this, choosing the right size tank is an important decision. A 30-gallon water heater can easily support the needs of one to two people. A family of four would want a 40-gallon unit. Heaters with 50-gallon tanks will keep water warm for three to five people.

Safety issues

Unfortunately, malfunctions with water heaters can cause extensive damage to a home. There have been cases where water heaters have essentially become missiles and shot through the roof of homes.

A San Antonio plumber will make sure this doesn’t happen during installation of the water heater. A few of the problems to watch out for include:

Pressure build-up. Each water heater has a pressure-release valve. In the event the pressure inside the tank gets too high, it will release the water in the tank to prevent further damage. If this valve becomes damaged, the pressure inside the unit can cause it to explode.

Overflow. Each unit will have an overflow valve. This ensures the tank does not overfill, which could damage the heating elements.

A San Antonio plumber will be able to provide any other information needed about a traditional water heater. They also will professionally install and service the water heater and ensure it keeps those showers from going from hot to cold
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tankless-water-heater
Should You Choose a Traditional Storage Tank or a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

tankless-water-heaterIf your hot water heater is on the fritz, you have more options today than ever before when selecting your next model. Advancements in technology have produced energy-efficient models and a variety of sizes, making your selection as easy as possible. Here is a look at the advantages and disadvantages of owning a traditional storage style and a tankless option.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Installing a Traditional Storage Tank?

The traditional style of hot water heater features a large tank that can hold up to 100 gallons of water, depending on the size that you purchase. In order to install this style, your home needs to have sufficient space for its placement. Therefore, if you have a small home, you might not be able to purchase a larger capacity, reducing your access to hot water on demand. As a result, you might need to wait an hour or more to obtain hot water once the tank has been drained completely through use. If you have a large family, this can lead to squabbles as the individuals at the end of the shower line discover that there’s no more hot water to use.

With a storage tank, hot water is accessible within minutes of turning on a faucet or appliance. Typically, it takes longer to access hot water when your water lines are not insulated. However, the amount of time that most people have to wait to obtain hot water with a traditional storage tank is usually less than 30 seconds.

This style of hot water heater is available in several sizes, enabling consumers to choose the model that is suitable for their hot-water demands. It is possible to purchase a small tank that is less than 20 gallons as well as larger tanks up to 70 or more gallons. Popularly purchased sizes include both 40 and 50 gallon tanks, which are ideal choices for families. If your current water heater isn’t providing a sufficient supply of hot water, you should select a larger size when you decide to replace it.

Consumers can purchase a gas, oil, or electric version, giving them the flexibility to select a model that matches their available power supply. A licensed plumber has the skills to install each type.

Traditional styles of hot water tanks are generally less expensive than tankless versions, providing affordable options for individuals with tight budgets. They are also easy to vent and install, saving the consumer even more money.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Installing a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

Designed to heat water on demand rather than continuously, a tankless hot water heater offers financial savings that result from lower utility bills. Tankless models deliver a high level of energy efficiency, reducing the amount of power that is wasted on a daily basis. Once you turn on the hot-water tap, you receive heated water immediately, eliminating the one-to-two minute wait that often occurs with a storage-tank system. As you can see, tankless models also cut back on the amount of water that is wasted each day.

Tankless versions take up less space than the traditional storage tank, so this type of heater is the ideal choice for smaller homes. It offers a streamlined appearance while providing the same high quality of heated water that you would get with a bulkier storage tank.

Also known as the “demand water heater,” this style provides enough hot water for everyone to take a shower, wash the dishes, or do the laundry without running out of hot water. There’s no need to worry about being last in line to take a shower anymore, because you will always have a sufficient supply of heated water to use.

This style is available in electric and gas models, offering customers the flexibility they need to match up a hot water tank with their home’s existing utility setup. You simply choose the model that fits your home’s gas or electric energy source.

Homeowners can also choose tankless heaters offering different heating capacities. Even though you never run out of hot water, it is possible to experience a decrease in the temperature of the water if you are running several appliances (washing machine and dishwasher) along with the shower or bathtub. When you select a tankless model with a higher capacity rating, this risk is minimized.

Since tankless versions take up so little space, you always have the option to install two of them if your hot water demands are high. For example, you can install one unit that is setup to deliver hot water to your showers, tubs, and sinks and a second unit that is installed to provide heated water to the dishwasher and washing machine.

Tankless models are electronically controlled, so they are easy to use. Once your plumber sets up your heater, you can sit back and enjoy using it.

Should You Install a Traditional Storage Tank or a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

Unless you have professional training in plumbing services, you should hire a licensed plumber to install your hot water heater for you to ensure that the job is done properly. After all, you can expect your heater to last for several years as long as it is installed correctly.
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Septic Tank Cleaning and Why It Is Important

conventional-septic-tankHomes that aren’t hooked up to a public sewage system often have a septic tank and drain fields to handle their wastewater. This type of setup is also referred to as an individual wastewater treatment system. All of your wastewater from the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry flows into this system and is eventually returned to the environment through the drain fields. It is the septic tank’s job to clean this wastewater before introducing it back into the ground.

What Is a Septic Tank?

A standard septic tank is made from precast concrete, heavy-duty plastic, or metal. It is designed to hold all of the wastewater exiting a home, providing a storage place for solid wastes to accumulate until they are broken down and processed out of the system. Older versions consist of a single compartment, whereas newer models typically have two or three compartments. The tanks are available in different capacities, ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 gallons.

How Does a Septic Tank Work?

Knowing how a septic tank works is critical to understanding the importance of having it cleaned regularly. An inlet is located on one side of the tank. This is where all of the waste from your home enters the system. The bacteria inside the tank help to break down the solid waste.

Three layers are created during this process. The top layer of organic solids floats to the top of the tank and is called “scum.” The inorganic solids, which are referred to as “sludge” drop to the bottom of the tank. In between these two layers is a liquid known as the “effluent,” which is actually treated wastewater that is ready for expulsion into the environment. The effluent is transferred through an outlet that directs it through a draining system on its way to designated area known as the drain fields.

Three Important Reasons to Clean Out the Septic Tank

No matter which size or style of septic tank you have it is important to have it cleaned regularly to ensure that it is working properly. Unless you take care of your system, eventually it is going to fail. Here are three important reasons to arrange for septic tank cleaning.

Good Health: An improperly maintained septic tank leads to significant health risks created when inadequately treated wastewater draines into your yard, well, and surface water. A severely neglected tank might even cause backwash to flow into your home, introducing bacteria into it.

Financial Savings: Maintaining your septic tank through regular cleanings is less expensive than replacing it. When your tank is properly cleaned, the service technician can examine the tank for signs of structural damage, including cracks, leaks, and issues created over the years by the settling of the tank.

Property Value: If you decide to sell your property, an inspection of your septic tank could reveal problems that indicate the system hasn’t been maintained properly for years. As a result, you could lose a potential sale. You might be asked to reduce your asking price or be required to replace the system.

The Overall Picture

If you fail to clean out your tank regularly, the layers of sludge and scum begin to take over, thickening and growing in volume until little room is left for the effluent to exist and do its job. As a result, solid excrement enters the draining system each time that water enters your septic tank. If solids are permitted to overrun your drain fields in this manner, they can lead to clogs or a breakdown of the field’s ability to process wastewater properly. Solid wastes should never exit the tank in this manner. They are supposed to remain stored there until such time as you have the tank cleaned by a professional septic cleaning company.

Since most tanks are designed to hold only three years’ worth of waste, it is recommended that you have you arrange for septic tank cleaning after three years of use. If you use your home for large gatherings on a regular basis, frequently use the garbage disposal, or suspect a problem, it is recommended that you have your septic tank cleaned more frequently.

Champion Plumbing

If your septic tank needs cleaning or maintenance, give Champion Plumbing a call today to receive $30 off your next septic tank cleaning or inspection. Just mention this blog or see our San Antonio plumbing coupons.

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Water-Saving Tips That Save You Money

leaking-faucetFinding ways to save water is a task that pays for itself. One of the best places to get advice on water conservation in the home is to ask your San Antonio plumber. He has the expertise and knowledge needed to quickly assess the condition of your existing plumbing fixtures as well as the ability to diagnose specific areas that need improvement to reduce their use of water. If you want to save money on water bills, ask your San Antonio plumber to assist you in making your home more water efficient. In the meantime, here are a few water-saving tips to get you started.

Update Your Toilet

Switching over to a low-flow or dual-flush toilet is a great way to reduce your water usage. Today’s models are much better than the original styles and can save you as much as 40% of the water used to flush toilets.

Check for Silent Leaks in the Toilet

If you discover a silent leak, having it repaired can cut down your water usage considerably. Add a couple of drops of food coloring to the toilet tank and wait a few moments to see if the color leaks to the bowl. If it does, you should call a San Antonio plumber to repair the leak for you.

Replace Your Faucets

If you are still using faucets from ten or more years ago, it’s time to replace them. Today’s styles are designed with aerators that minimize your water usage while maintaining quality water pressure.

Switch out Your Showerhead

Newer showerheads are more energy-efficient than older ones. They are designed to deliver excellent water pressure while reducing water flow.

Install a Cut-Off Valve for the Shower

A cut-off valve makes it easy to turn off the water in between soaping up and rinsing off while showering.

Maintain Your Plumbing Equipment

It’s always a good idea to bring in a qualified San Antonio Plumber to give your plumbing a thorough annual review. A single leak can waste countless gallons of water, while increasing your water bills unnecessarily.

Switch Your Fine-Mist Sprinkler for a Large-Drop Model

Sprinkles that produce a fine mist are subject to higher levels of evaporation than ones using large droplets. Replace the one that you have with a model that delivers larger drops of water at a low angle to minimize the evaporation that occurs, particularly on hot days.

Check for Leaks throughout the Home

Hidden leaks can exist anywhere in your home. Checking for them is important not only to reduce your usage of water but also to prevent damage to your foundation, walls, ceilings, and possessions. Once a year, you should check for leaks using the following test. First, turn off all of your water-using devices and appliances. Make sure that the faucets are turned off tightly. Next, read your water meter and write down what you see. Wait about twenty to thirty minutes and go out and take a new reading. If the reading has changed, then you probably have a hidden leak that should be repaired by a plumber.
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How to Choose a Good Plumber

hire-the-right-plumberFinding a good plumber is possible as long as you have the time to search for someone with a reputation for being dependable. You need to find somebody who has experience in this industry and who uses quality equipment and parts. Here are a few tips that can help you to make the perfect choice.

Choose a Professional

If you want quality work performed, your best option is to go with a professional plumbing company with an established presence in the community. After all, you need a plumber who has proper training and sufficient experience to be able to handle any type of plumbing installation, repair, or replacement. Even if your brother-in-law comes highly recommended, you should avoid asking him to complete a plumbing task if he hasn’t received any formal training. To verify that the individual you are hiring is a professional, ask for his license number and the name of his insurer.

Request a Referral

The first place to go when you are looking for a referral is family. Don’t stop with the first answer you get, because you might find a plumber who is referred by several family members instead of just one. If no one in the family has used a plumber recently, ask a few friends or co-workers. You can also look at a few local companies online. Check to see if they are a member of Angie’s List or if they have been rated by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If you visit Angie’s List, you’ll get to look over reviews submitted by previous customers of the plumber.

Find Out How Long They Have Been in the Plumbing Business

A reputable plumber has usually been around for a while, so ask how long the company has been in business. You’ll want to select a plumbing company that has been in existence for several years. The only exception to this rule is when you choose to hire an individual who is just beginning in this profession. If you decide to choose a newly established professional, you should try and get as many references as possible, while also asking to look at his credentials.

Ask about Fees

If you don’t want to receive an unpleasant shock when you get the bill, talk to the plumber ahead of time about his fees. Find out if he charges by the hour or by the job. Some plumbers also charge a service fee just for showing up at your door. Once you finish talking about the fees, ask whether or not a written quote will be given and if the work is guaranteed or not.

Get Three Quotes

If you are concerned about the cost, contact three different plumbing professionals and ask for quotes. While the numbers are probably going to vary somewhat, they shouldn’t differ by a lot. If there is one quote that is a lot lower than the other two, it should be a red flag telling you not to use that plumber.

What to Do If You Need a Good Plumber in a Hurry

Unfortunately, if you need a plumber in a hurry because of an emergency, you probably won’t have time to do a thorough search. If that’s the case, simply try to find a plumber with a valid license and insurance coverage.
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The Role of Bacteria in a Healthy Septic System

septic-tank-coversSeptic systems are more than just a series of pipes and drains: they’re living environments. The microbial system within, which includes bacteria, yeasts, and enzymes, plays an active role in both breaking down larger waste products and in clarifying water in preparation for reuse. Let’s take a look at just what is happening underneath the surface.

An Introduction to Septic System Structure

Your standard septic system begins indoors, as water, cleaners, waste products, and more enter the various drains and pipes of the home or business. These materials converge into a holding vessel called a “septic tank”, which is often buried underground nearby. These tanks have two chambers, and as material builds up in the initial chamber, the liquids (or “effluent”) are drained into a secondary one through small holes in the dividing wall. Effluent then passes out of the tank, into a series of gravel-lined trenches known as a “leach” or “drainage” field, which provides a layer of basic filtering before the liquids return to the water table. Solid waste remaining in the tank must be physically pumped out on a regular basis.

How Microbes Come Into Play

Because these solid materials must remain within the septic tank (or risk clogging the drainage field and causing serious backup), they must be removed with the use of septic pumping trucks. What may be surprising is how infrequently pumping is needed (the EPA recommends once every 3-5 years).

It’s all thanks to vast colonies of microorganisms living within the tank. These work round-the-clock to break down waste materials, converting much of the solids into liquids that join the stream of effluent and gases that simply dissipate through the soil or leach field. A healthy bacterial environment is crucial to maintaining septic system health, and without it, you’ll be facing frequent maintenance and nasty issues.

Are Bacteria-Boosting Additives Worth It?

Numerous companies market products promising to rejuvenate septic bacterial cultures, thereby combating the damage done by solvents like bleach and paint thinner, should they have made their way into the septic system. Some consumers may wonder whether these are truly worth the price.

The fact is that even though harsh chemicals can put a considerable dent into bacterial populations, it’s rather hard to wipe them out entirely. And since these microorganisms have extremely speedy reproductive cycles, most damages can be countered by natural means in mere hours or days, without the need for additives.

Champion Plumbing

If you need septic tank cleaning or help with additives in your septic tank, call the experts at Champion Plumbing. We never charge extra for plumbing services performed on nights or weekends and we always provide a written estimate before the plumbing services are performed. Call 210-393-9617 today!
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construction law

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Anybody who reads the papers will know of all of the contractor horror stories that are published every week – with homeowners losing thousands of pounds after placing their trust in the wrong construction team.

A lot of the time, such losses occur due to a lack of care before construction has even started. Many people don’t even bother to sign a contract with their contractor and subsequently, there is little they can do once things go wrong.

Taking the above into account, here is our guide to selecting the right type of procurement for your next home improvement project. It should be noted that this is only the tip of the iceberg and once you have selected one of the following three, you must then acquire a standard contract that can be used with your chosen method of procurement and complete it appropriately.

Traditional Procurement

As the name may indicate, the traditional method of procurement is the most common in the construction industry. In simple terms, it means that the design stage is completely separate from the construction – meaning that the project is basically split into two parts. The design of your project will have to be created before you can source the contractor.

There are several benefits to this method, most notably the certainty and the fact that it is the industry standard. In relation to the former, as you already have the design prepared, there are no excuses for the contractor not to provide you with an exact figure for the project. If they do not stick within this budget throughout the project, you are not liable for any additional costs. The popularity of the traditional procurement method means that practically every contractor out there will know how to work with it, and this will obviously promote efficiency.

Unfortunately, there is a drawback, with this focussed around time. As the project is split into two stages, design and construction, it will take slightly longer to complete than projects which are procured in different ways.

Design and Build Procurement

Again, the name gives everything away in relation to this procurement. Unlike the traditional method which was split into two stages, the main contractor is responsible for both designing and constructing the project. Unsurprisingly, this means that the project can run much more efficiently – as there is no overlap as is the case with traditional procurement. Furthermore, the design and build procurement method holds the similar advantage of certainty – as you and the contractor will agree on the cost of the project at the very beginning.

Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect method and there are suggestions that this type of procurement does not promote the best quality design. This is because a lot of contractors merely specialise in one field, meaning that they may not be quite as proficient at designing as they are in actually carrying out the practical elements of the project.

Management Procurement

The final type of procurement we’ll take a look at management and if you are merely having a small alteration to your home, this is probably not going to be considered. It involves a main contractor being appointed and being responsible for managing the whole process – meaning that they appoint sub-contractors to carry out specific sections of the project. However, you will be responsible for sourcing a design professional – with the main professional only accountable for the practical elements of the contract.

To put the above into an example, we’ll look at the situation in relation to a proposed extension to your home. You will firstly hire an architect or design team to design the extension, before then sourcing a main contractor to manage the whole construction process in relation to this design. They will then hire contractors for each separate process; so this could be a large firm such as Taylor Lane for the frame of the extension, or NRC Ltd for the roof covering.

Management procurement is another method that is regarded as being very efficient, as processes can overlap each other and the construction phase does not have to start once all of the designing has been performed. Furthermore, unlike the design and build system, the main contractor can bring in specialist teams which should help with the overall quality of the project.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of certainty with the management method, as each segment of work is let at a different time. Therefore, if you are working to a strict budget, this might not be the most advisable solution.

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The Homeowner’s Bill of Rights

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings (“HADD”)(www.hadd.org) is a consumer protection group for homeowners and homebuyers that advocates on behalf of homeowners against defective construction. In their effort to protect homeowners the organization developed a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights that details what consumers should be able to expect from a builder or contractor. HADD also proposes legislation, such as a New Home Disclosure Act, a Home Lemon Act. It also sets standards for litigation, such as preventing confidentiality agreements in settlements and prohibition of arbitration.

The Homeowner’s Bill of Rights sets forth the expectations each homeowner should be entitled to from a builder and the protections they deserve from the government as consumers of new homes. The full Homeowner’s Bill of Rights includes a statement of rights and advocates for protective legislation. The following is a summary of HADD’s Homeowner’s Bill of Rights. To read the full Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, link to www.hadd.org.

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings Homeowner’s Bill of Rights

“When consumers buy a new home or contract for additions and/or remodeling of an existing home:

They have the right to safe and sound, quality construction.

They have the right to expect that their new home and/or any home improvements are built in compliance with all existing local, state, and federal building codes and ordinances.

They have the right to expect that only quality, performance-proven building products are used in their homes and that all such products are installed in accordance with manufacturers’ specifications.

They have the right to expect that the architect’s and engineer’s designs are completely and accurately followed.

They have the right to expect that the home will not leak or breed toxic mold(s), is structurally sound, and that all mechanical systems and structural components will perform properly.

They have the right to receive, in a timely manner prior to signing a sales contract and/or closing documents, complete information regarding their purchase contracts, warranties, disclosures of agencies, and any and all relationships and/or partnerships their real estate broker and/or builder may have with all agencies involved with the home buying process. This includes, but is not limited to: home inspectors, lenders, title companies, builders’/subcontractors’ insurance carriers, products’ manufacturers, realtors, and home warranty companies.

They have the right to access records, public and private, regarding performance and complaints pertaining to their builder, subcontractors, home warranty companies, lenders, manufacturers, realtors, title companies, insurance carriers, and any other entity associated with the home building/home buying process.

They have the right to full disclosures in regard to new housing.

They have the right to a trial conducted by their peers, rather than to be forced into contractual binding arbitration.

They have the right to peace of mind concerning the safety of their family.”

Conclusion

If you believe your home suffers from a construction defect, contact an attorney with experience in construction-defect litigation. Not every defect will warrant the time and expense of pursuing a claim, and often the time limits (statute of limitations) will prevent a homeowner from pursuing a claim. To protect your rights, contact an attorney who can help you evaluate how your state’s laws apply to the particular circumstances of your situation.

Copyright ©1994-2005 FindLaw, a Thomson Business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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Housing and Construction Defects – An Overview

A house is generally a homeowners’ single most valuable financial investment and one of the most important emotional investments. To them it is more than bricks and mortar; it is the place where they live, rest, and raise their families. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting homeowners realize their new homes suffer from some type of construction defect that will cost thousands of dollars to repair, depreciate the value of their home, or force them to leave their home.

Construction defects cover a broad spectrum from minor problems like popped nails and peeling paint to situations when a house must be bulldozed. Some cases involve leaky windows that have led to toxic-mold contamination. Other problems include faulty design, code violations, cracked foundations, substandard workmanship, and unsafe structures.

The number of construction-defect cases has surged in recent years because houses are being constructed in record numbers to meet the high demand for housing. Many general contractors are inexperienced and others mass produce thousands of houses. The home construction industry is intensely competitive. Many builders respond to the competition with low bids for contracts, then cut corners, and frequently employ unskilled or overworked subcontractors and poorly supervise subcontracted work. At a time when government regulation is more important than ever, government inspection departments do not have the funding to adequately inspect homes and often approve below-par construction. The combination of these factors results in homes that are built with serious defects.

Types of Construction Defects

Construction defects usually include any deficiency in the performing or furnishing of the design, planning, supervision, inspection, construction or observation of construction to any new home or building, where there is a failure to construct the building in a reasonably workmanlike manner and/or the structure fails to perform in the manner that is reasonably intended by the buyer. Some of the most common and high-cost construction defects include:

Structural integrity – concrete, masonry & division, carpentry, unstable foundations
Expansive soils
Mechanical
Electrical
Water intrusion (often resulting in toxic mold)
Thermal and moisture protection
Doors, windows and glass
Finishes

Generally, courts categorize construction defects in one of four categories: design deficiencies, material deficiencies, construction deficiencies, or subsurface deficiencies.

Design Deficiencies

Design professionals, such as architects or engineers, who design buildings and systems do not always work as specified, which can result in a defect. Typical design deficiencies relate to building outside of the specified code. Roofs are an example of a typical design defect that result in water penetration, intrusion, poor drainage, or inadequate structural support.

Material Deficiencies

The use of inferior building materials can cause significant problems, such as windows that leak or fail to perform and function adequately, even when properly installed. Window leaks can result from many things including, rough framing not being flush with outside at openings, improperly flashed windows, improperly applied building paper, window frame racked during storage/moving, lack of sheet metal drip edge above window header, etc. Common manufacturer problems with building materials can include deteriorating flashing, building paper, waterproofing membranes, asphalt roofing shingles, particle board, inferior drywall and other wall products used in wet and/or damp areas, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Construction Deficiencies

Poor quality workmanship can result in a long list of defects. A typical example is water infiltration through some portion of the building structure, which may create an environment for the growth of mold. Other problems include cracks in foundations or walls, dry rotting of wood, electrical and mechanical problems, plumbing leaks, or pest infestation.

Subsurface Deficiencies

Expansive soil conditions are typical in California and Colorado, as well as other parts of the country. Many houses are built on hills or other areas where it is difficult to provide a stable foundation. A lack of a solid foundation may result in cracked foundations or floor slabs and other damage to the building. If subsurface conditions are not properly compacted and prepared for adequate drainage, it is likely the property will experience problems such as improperly settling to the ground (subsidence), the structure moving or shifting, flooding and in many cases more severe problems such as landslides.

Legal Theories

The typical construction defect cases is based on the contracts between the homeowner and developer and the contracts between the contractor and subcontractors, including suppliers, architects and engineers, involved in building the home. The goal is to require the party who is responsible for the defect to remedy the situation. The complaint against the defendants typically alleges negligence, breach of contract or warranty, strict liability, and in some instances fraud or negligent misrepresentation may be alleged.

Negligence

The law imposes the obligation upon the developer/general contractor/ subcontractor to exercise the reasonable degree of care, skill and knowledge that is ordinarily employed by such building professionals. The duty of care is extended to all who may “foreseeably be injured by the construction defect”, including subsequent purchasers. Developers and general contractors are responsible for the negligence of their subcontractor.

Breach of Contract

Homeowners can sue the builder/developer, under theories based upon privity of contract, for breach of any obligation set forth in the purchase and sale documentation, and/or the escrow instructions. Typically, this is something that goes beyond a failure of the builder to build the project in accordance with the plans and specifications.

When such claims are made, courts often invoke the doctrine of substantial performance, which typically requires the builder to pay the contract price with the deduction for the reduced market value of the home/unit caused by the failure of the builder to strictly comply with the plans and specifications.

Breach of Warranty

Similar to breach of contract theories, the purchase documentation between the developer and the homeowner often sets forth warranties regarding the condition of the property. If there is an issue as to breach of an express warranty, the principles of contract apply. Courts have held that builders and sellers of new construction should be held to what is implied, that the completed structure was designed and constructed in a reasonable workmanlike manner. A builder/vendor is subject to the theory that a home was built for sale to the public to be used for a specific purpose. Privity of contract is not always required under this particular theory of liability.

In some states, homebuyers may waive or builders may disclaim implied warranties. If disclaimers are involved, they are strictly construed against the seller/developer. Typically, waivers are difficult to enforce.

Strict Liability Claims

In most jurisdictions, the implied warranty of habitability imposes strict liability on the general contractor. The theory of strict liability against a general contractor evolved from products liability law. In a strict liability case the plaintiff does not have to prove the general contractor or developer was negligent in the construction of the home. They do have to prove the defendant was involved in the mass production of housing, a defect in the house exists, damages were proximately caused by the defect, and the defendant caused or created the defect.

Fraud and Negligent Misrepresentation

Fraud is alleged on the grounds that the developer intentionally misrepresented the quality of construction in false statements or advertisements. It must be shown the developer had no intention of following the design plans and specifications as promised.

Negligent misrepresentation is based on proving the developer asserted something as factual, but had no reasonable basis for believing the information to be true.

Limits on Potential Claims

Most states impose time limits on construction defect claims by Statutes of repose and Statutes of limitations. Statutes of repose specify the time period within which a cause of action can arise at all. Under these statutes, the limitation period may expire before the plaintiff’s cause of action has arisen. Conversely, statutes of limitation foreclose suits after a fixed period of time following occurrence or discovery of an injury. These statues are complex and vary from state to state. It is critical that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney if you believe the damages to your home are the result of a construction defect before you lose your right to seek a remedy from the responsible parties.

In most states the time limits begin to run when the defect is discovered, or should have been discovered by a reasonable person. If the defect is patent, or apparent based on reasonable inspection, the action against a defendant must begin within the time period specified by state law. If the defect is latent, or not readily apparent by reasonable inspection, any action to recover damages generally must be within ten years after improvements are substantially completed.

Conclusion

Construction defect litigation is complex. It may involve several defendants, include insurance companies and involve many legal theories. Most states impose complex time limits on when a claim may be brought. If you believe your home suffers from a defect caused by the builder, or another party, protect your rights. Talk to an attorney with experience in this complex area of law.

Copyright ©1994-2005 FindLaw, a Thomson Business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Housing and Construction Defects

Q: What is a construction defect?

A: A construction defect is a condition in your home that reduces the value of the home. Some defects are obvious such as water seepage, but many are less obvious and do not become apparent until years after the home was built.

Q: What causes a construction defect?

A: A construction defect can arise from a variety of factors, such as poor workmanship or the use of inferior materials. Many arise from a combination of factors, including:

Improper soil analysis and preparation
Site selection and planning
Civil and structural engineering
Negligent construction
Defective building materials
Q: What are some of the most common types of construction defects?

A: The most common types of defects involved in litigation include:

Mold
Water issues
Electrical systems
Landscaping and soil
Faulty drainage
Foundation, floor, wall and roof cracks
Dry rot
Structural failure
Heating and electrical
Q: How is a construction defect proved in court?

A: It depends on the defect. Some defects are obvious and are called “patent”. Other defects are hidden or do not become apparent until years after the home was built. These defects are called “latent”. A successful construction defect litigation claim relies on the testimony of experts who specialize in specific areas of construction. The experts investigate the defect, evaluate the cause and make recommendations for how to remedy the defects.

Q: What kind of damages can be recovered?

A: It depends on the facts and circumstances of your case, but in general the cost of repairs and the decline in the value of your home may be recovered. Additionally, other recoverable damages might include the loss of the use of property during the repair, the cost of temporary housing, court costs, and in some instances the attorney’s fees if provided for in the contract or by your state’s laws. Of course, any personal injuries resulting from the defect may be recovered. In some instances punitive damages may be assessed against the defendant if the court finds their behavior to be reckless and intentional.

Q: Who pays for the damages?

A: Typically the defendant’s insurance company that was in effect when the damage was first noticed will be responsible for paying the damages.

Q: Are there any time limits on filing a lawsuit for repairs?

A: Yes, but it varies by state. Many states have legislation that requires the homeowner or homeowners association to notify the developer or contractor of the defect and give them an opportunity to remedy the damage. Then they can file a lawsuit if the defect is not repaired. The statute of limitations (the time limit for filing a suit) also depends on whether the defect is latent (hidden and not obvious to a reasonable person) or patent (obvious). The shortest time limit is three years from the date the defect is discovered, or should have discovered the problem. Other statutes start from the date of completion of the home. It is important to take action immediately if your home has a construction defect.

Q: Who is responsible for construction defects?

A: There may be several responsible parties, but generally the responsibility will lay with the general contractors, developers, and the builders of residential structures even if the work was performed by subcontractors or if the defective materials used in construction were manufactured by others. Architects, designers and other involved parties may also be defendants in litigation.

Q: Should I make repairs while the lawsuit is pending and can I recover those costs in the lawsuit?

A: Usually the homeowner or homeowner’s association is required to protect property from sustaining additional damage. Such costs are recoverable in the lawsuit. Failure to perform routine maintenance and reasonable repairs can cause or contribute to additional damages, which could be offset from the owners claim and lead to the defense of “failure to mitigate damages”.

Q: Can I sell my home during a pending lawsuit?

A: Generally homeowners are allowed to sell their home during the lawsuit but most states have a disclosure law that requires a homeowner to disclose to a potential buyer that the home is involved in litigation.

Copyright ©1994-2005 FindLaw, a Thomson Business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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lawn care

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Five easy annuals for every garden

If you only had time and space to grow five summer flowers, which ones would you choose? We asked ourselves that question last year. Flowers in dazzling colors topped our list-ones whose vivid hues would stop passersby in their tracks and invite lingering looks. We’d toss in a few varieties with eye-catching frills, spots, or stripes.

Our next criterion: They would be annual (or behave that way), going from seed, tuber, or seedling to flower to seed again in one glorious spring-to-fall season. They would be easy to plant and easy to grow. We wanted nothing that needed fussing over, nothing temperamental or wimpy. The flowers had to be good for bouquets or good companions for cutting flowers. We wanted ones that would bloom over a long season (as long as we were faithful about deadheading, of course).
We made a list and pared it down. We browsed through nurseries and catalogs, choosing plants that piqued our interest. Finally we planted many varieties of five flower groups in Sunset’s test garden in Menlo Park, California.
As they grew, we studied their backgrounds, noting that all of them hail from hot climates. Cosmos originated in tropical America. Dahlias come from Mexico and Central America, where they were first used as food (their tubers contain a nourishing starchy substance not unlike a potato), while improved varieties bloomed lustily at Montezuma’s gardens in Huaxtepec. The marigold family, despite French and African names, is entirely American, found from New Mexico and Arizona south to Argentina. Summer mums are native to Morocco and have naturalized in sand dunes along Southern California’s coast. Sunflowers grow wild from Minnesota to the Pacific Coast and south to Argentina. (Red sunflowers descend from Helianthus annuus lenticularis, a variety found in 1910 near Boulder, Colorado.) Together, these groups make up a colorful and sunny brotherhood.
By early summer, there was an abundance of blooms that we enjoyed as much in bouquets as in the garden. Our vases were always full. And those elec tric colors did more than caffeine to jump-start our days. We made note of the duds and the stars; our favorites are listed below. April is a splendid time to plant them all.
Annual Chrysanthemums
Unlike the muted, mostly warm-toned perennials that sustain the autumn border, annual chrysanthemums are generally earlier and brighter, and flower longer. You’re likely to encounter two kinds, both native to the Mediterranean region and both recently renamed by taxonomists (the new designation follows the old in these descriptions).

Tricolor daisy (Chrysanthemum carinatum, now Glebionis carinatum) is a 1- to 3-foot-tall annual whose flowers have bright bands of color around dark centers.

Court Jesters mix comes in orange, rose, salmon, scarlet, white, and yellow White Carinatum Dunnettii Choice mix has white, yellow, bronze, and crimson flowers. In ‘German Flag’, scarlet rays and a golden yellow band surround the central disk. Merry mix has multicolored bull’s-eye flowers on 2- to 3-foot-tall plants. Single Annual mixed comes in yellow, pink, purple, and rust.

It’s a shame crown daisy (Chrysanthemum coronarium, now Glebionis coronaria) had its botanical name changed, since the word chrysanthemum combines the Greek for gold (chrysos) and for flower (anthos)-a perfect description for this lovely annual, which usually has yellow petal-like rays and a yellow central disk. Flowers can be single or double.

‘Primrose Gem’ is a double yellow on a 3 1/2- to 4-foot stem.

Cosmos
Cosmos (C. bipinnatus) must be one of the easiest annuals ever. Sow its seeds once, and pink or white flowers come back year after year from their own seeds. Flowers (mostly singles) start blooming in early summer and continue for months until the first hard frost. The wonderful Sensation strain is the best known of the clan, but cosmos come in many other flower forms-some have rolled or filled petals-and in a range of solid colors and stripes.

‘Candy Stripe’ produces white flowers with crimson borders or stripes and grows to 3 to 31/2 feet tall. Three-foot-tall ‘Daydream’ has petals of rosy pink that fade to pale pink edges. Psyche mix bears semidouble blooms and grows to 3 feet tall. Seashell mix (to 31/2 ft. tall) has rolled petals in creamy white and shades of red, rose, and pale seashell pink. Sonata mix, a 2-foot dwarf, bears many 3-inch single blooms in white, pink, and mixes. ‘Versailles Tetra’ (to 3 ft. tall) has 4inch pink flowers and darker shading around a bright yellow eye.

Yellow cosmos (C. sulfureus) brings yellow and red flowers into the cosmos clan, but at a cost: Its seeds don’t germinate as easily as common cosmos, and its flowers tend to be smaller (2 in. in diameter) than other cosmos. Many gardeners find it easiest to grow from nursery seedlings.

Bright Lights mix has large (2 1/2-in.) flowers of yellow, gold, orange, or scarlet on 3- to 4-foot plants. ‘Lemon Twist’ bears clear lemon yellow flowers on stems to 2 1/2 feet tall. Ladybird mix grows to only 1 foot in height. Sunny Orange-Red and Sunny Gold top out at 15 inches.

Dahlias
During the 19th century in England, winning dahlias fetched hefty cash prizes in competitions, motivating breeders to produce a steady stream of larger, increasingly exotic varieties. In The English Flower Garden (1883), English landscape designer William Robinson called the large-flowered varieties “monstrosities,” prompting breeders to work on smaller single-flowering types to be used as bedding plants. Today, Westerners grow both. Named varieties, many of them magnificent in bouquets, number in the tens of thousands.

‘Anatole’ has white flowers streaked with crimson and grows to 3 1/2 feet tall. ‘Bashful’ (2 1/2 ft. tall) bears deep purple blooms with lavender tips and golden yellow centers. The flowers of 5-foot-tall ‘Chilson’s Pride’ are pure pink with white centers. ‘Pink Gingham’ (to 4 1/2 ft. tall) has petals of bright lavender-pink with white tips. ‘Siemen Doornbosch’ bears lilac blossoms with creamy pincushion centers on stems to 1 1/2 feet tall. On ‘Wheels’ (to 3 1/2 ft. tall), red petals and a yellow fringe surround the center disk.

Marigolds
The vast array of garden marigolds traces back to three ancestors: African marigolds, French marigolds, and signet marigolds, all of which originated in the Americas.

In the 16th century, the Spanish took seeds of Tagetes erecta to Africa, where it naturalized so quickly that botanists thought it must have been native there. When T. erecta finally reached England, the Brits named it African marigold. The name still sticks–especially in the craws of growers who would like to see it renamed American marigold. These 1- to 3-foot-tall plants do well in heat and produce huge flowers.

‘French Vanilla’ and ‘Snowball’ are creamy white 2-footers. Inca mix and ‘Perfection’, both with gold, orange, and yellow flowers, are excellent midsize varieties. ‘First Lady’ (to 20 in.) has yellow flowers. ‘Deep Orange Lady’ (to 20 in.) blooms in orange. Plants of Sugar and Spice mix bear 3 1/2-inch flowers of orange, yellow, and white on 20-inch-tall stems.

French marigold (T. patula) came to England via France, so it, too, wound up with a logical but inaccurate moniker. These marigolds are shorter and more refined, usually staying below 1 foot tall.

Disco mix has single 2 1/4-inch flowers of clear yellow, orange, or red on compact 10-inch plants. ‘Gypsy Sunshine’ (frilly butter yellow blooms) and ‘Honeycomb’ (frilly reddish petals edged with gold) are floriferous 6- to 10-inch-tall plants. ‘Jaguar’ bears single golden yellow flowers dabbed with maroon spots over neat, mounding 10-inch plants. ‘Mr. Majestic’ produces single bright yellow blooms with mahogany stripes on a 1- to 2-foot plant. The single flowers of ‘Striped Marvel’ (2 ft.) are striped red and gold like a pinwheel.

Signet marigolds (T tenuifolia) produce many yellow flowers on 8to 16-inch plants with fine foliage.

‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Golden Gem’ both have dainty single flowers on 8-inch plants. Starfire mix has miniature single flowers in shades of red to gold and reaches 12 to 14 inches in height.

Sunflowers
In 1888, while living in southern France, Vincent van Gogh made a remarkable series of sunflower paintings. Done to decorate his house for a visit from fellow artist Paul Gauguin, the works show sunflowers with dark and light centers, long and short petals, and blooms of many sizes. These oils hint at the wonderful variety of these large, sunny

Sunflowers grow quickly and are easy to tend–that’s why they’re favorites with children. If you want to use them for cut flowers, as van Gogh did, choose varieties with long stems and smaller flowers. It helps if they’re pollenless, so they don’t shed on your furniture and carpet.

Pollenless ‘Dorado’ bears golden yellow flowers with dark centers on 5-foot stems. ‘Sunrich Lemon’ is pollenless and has 3-to 8-inch flowers with lemon yellow petals and black disks on 4- to 6-foot-tall plants. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ is pollenless and bears 5-inch straw-colored flowers overlaid with light red on 6-foot-tall stems. Multiflowering branching types such as creamy yellow ‘Valentine’ (5 to 6 ft. tall with 5- to 6-in, blooms) look better in the garden longer than single-stemmed sunflowers like ‘Sunrich Lemon’.

Plant Our Fiesta Flower Bed
This dazzling combination glows in the summer sun. Many of these flowers–especially the cosmos–attract butterflies and hummingbirds. In late summer and early fall, flocks of tiny finches and other seed-eating birds swoop in to graze among the spent blooms. Mass the taller-growing cosmos in the rear, with a clump of sunflowers behind (optional) and dahlias, marigolds, and midsize cosmos in the middle row. Plant lower-growing marigolds and yellow cosmos in front.

A. Ladybird mix dwarf cosmos; B. ‘Mr. Majestic’ marigold; C. ‘Tangerine Gem’ or Starfire mix marigold; D. ‘Bashful’ dahlia; E. Ladies mix marigold; F. Sonata mix cosmos; G. Sonata White cosmos; H. Seashell mix cosmos; I. Bright Lights mix cosmos; J. ‘Candy Stripe’ cosmos; K. Cosmos Sensation strain.

Planting and care Except where noted, these annuals prefer mostly sunny locations. Keep old flowers picked off to prolong bloom.

Annual mums. In hot climates, choose a spot that gets some afternoon shade. Sow seeds outdoors after weather warms for blooms in summer and fall. (If you live in a mild-winter climate, you can also sow in fall for spring and summer bloom.) You may also plant from nursery containers. Summer mums aren’t fussy about soil. Space plants about 8 inches apart. Water deeply and frequently where soils are porous, less in heavy soils. Feed mums two to three times during the growing season.
Cosmos. Sow seeds in open ground from spring to summer, or set out transplants from cell-packs, 4-inch pots, or 1-gallon cans. (Yellow cosmos are easiest to start from nursery-grown plants.) Cosmos will flower best in poor, sandy soil; heavily amended soils and lots of fertilizer result in fewer flowers. Space plants about 12 to 18 inches apart. They can tolerate some aridity, but for best bloom, water them regularly (once a week or so), especially in hot inland valleys.
Dahlias. Provide light afternoon shade in hottest areas. Plant tubers in spring after soil has warmed and danger of frost is past. Dig holes 1 foot deep in loose loam high in organic matter. Space largest kinds 4 to 5 feet apart and smallest ones only 1 to 2 feet apart. Drive a stake into the hole; place the tuber horizontally, 2 inches from the stake, with the eye pointing toward it. Cover tuber with 3 inches of soil and water thoroughly. As shoots grow, gradually fill the hole with soil. Start watering regularly after shoots are above the ground. Dahlias planted in soil enriched with compost rarely, if ever, need supplemental fertilizer.
Marigolds. Plant in full sun. Marigolds are easy to grow from seed and sprout in a few days in warm soil. Or set out plants from nursery flats, cell-packs, or 4-inch pots. Slugs and snails are especially fond of young marigold foliage; use traps or ring the planting with horticultural diatomaceous earth (available at nurseries).
Sunflowers. Sow seeds in spring. If you use young nursery plants, space them 8 to 12 inches apart in soil well amended with compost. After true leaves appear, water plants deeply once a week. Fertilize once when plants are actively growing, using a controlled-release fertilizer. Large-flowered kinds need rich soil and lots of water.
Flowers. Today the color range is even greater, with red, mahogany, and white forms in many sizes.

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Lawn Irrigation Systems
Due to competing needs for existing water resources, the amount of water available for irrigation is dwindling. Like it or not, we’re going to have to learn to irrigate more efficiently. This is why it is so important to schedule irrigation according to plant needs, not simply according to a clock. The latter is the case with all automatically scheduled irrigation that does not take the weather (sun, wind, temperature), evaporation and transpiration (ET) into consideration.

If you don’t know how well your irrigation system is operating, or how much water is being delivered by each sprinkler in a zone, you should perform an assessment and an audit to obtain this valuable information. You can then use this information to make changes to the irrigation system that will increase efficiency.

Assessing Your System
Before you can improve your system, you must determine its inefficiencies and then commit to making the changes needed to bring it up to par. Changes might involve respacing sprinklers, reducing pressure, changing nozzles, resizing pipes, repairing or modifying a pumping system, upgrading a controller, adding or recalibrating a weather station, adding flow and metering devices, or other changes that may be needed. Many irrigation systems operate at around 65- to 70-percent water-use efficiency. If you can increase the efficiency by as little as 10 percent, the resulting water savings will be substantial. Water savings at sites we have worked on ranged from 25 percent up to a 72-percent savings for a 24-acre site. The latter has resulted in a substantial saving on their water bill — to date, enough to pay for the audit five times over.

Additional savings can be realized in the form of less electricity for pumping, lower fertilizer needs, fewer system component repairs from reduced operating time and slower plant growth, resulting in less frequent maintenance services.

At one site, we introduced a flow sensor so we could track real flow numbers. This goes a long way in demonstrating the savings that you actually achieve. Another useful device is a dedicated, irrigation water meter. I find that when the actual amount of water used at a specific site (sports field, golf course, commercial site or even a large residential site) is known, the owners or managers are much more ready to adopt conservation practices to reduce the daily, weekly or monthly irrigation volume.

Some metering devices are capable of shutting down the main water supply in case a pipeline ruptures, which is another way to save water.

Auditing Your System
One of the main goals of a water audit is to achieve as balanced a system as possible based on economies of scale and return on investment. You would not spend $1,000 to get a $1.00 a year savings. However, you probably would spend $1,000 if that would net you a $500 reduction that year and every year after as long as you operated the irrigation system.

A balanced system applies water as evenly as possible throughout the irrigated zone. An unbalanced system may apply too much in one location, resulting in wet areas, while not applying enough in another location of the same zone, creating dry areas. The result is that you always overwater because you must run the system long enough to meet the requirements of the driest areas.

When considering an audit, it helps initially to actually watch the site’s system in operation. Doing so, you should be able to tell if overwatering is occurring and if you will be able to reduce the usage by a lot or just a little. You don’t want to spend your time — and your client doesn’t want to spend the money — where no substantial reductions will be achievable.

Obtain as much background information as you can. Weather data, historical water use, system layout, components, water source, water meters, controllers, etc. Prearrange with the client permission to operate each zone of the system for about 5 to 10 minutes.

==========================Gardening Tips
For every bed and every border, there must be a reason. Wendy Burroughs–self-taught gardener turned sought-after design pro–says you have to figure out that raison d’etre before you even shape the garden. “Is it an entry garden?” she asks. “Does it have to have a high-season splash of color? Are fall and winter interest important? Does it need to be low-maintenance?” More questions: “Do you want a specific kind of bed or border: English cottage garden? Mediterranean? Are deer a problem? Is water?” Only once you have asked yourself all these questions, and more (and, yes, answered them), can you begin to plan the shape of your gardens, Wendy says. And only after that can you start to figure out what plants you want and where you want them.

Wendy’s drive-side bed and border started out as shade gardens. Then a violent winter windstorm felled many of the 80-foot firs towering above her plantings. So the shade gardens had to become sun gardens. And the plants had to be removed and replaced. Is your planting area in shade or sun?–another question to ask yourself.

Wendy has another tip for you. You’ll like this one especially.

“It’s never a bad thing to make mistakes,” she says. “You learn by trial and error. I am completely self-taught by my mistakes. I don’t mind–I’m not a perfectionist. When something doesn’t work, I change it.”

If you need to move a plant, move it. “But after I move a plant three times, it goes into the compost pile.” Because sometimes a perfectly good plant turns out to have no earthly reason for being in your yard. “If it doesn’t look good, excuse it from the garden,” she says. “I used to have a big moral problem with that. Then I took out six crab apples.”

One more thing, Wendy says. Perennials aren’t the only answer. Make sure to integrate trees and shrubs into your herbaceous beds and borders.

Wendy started her drive-by border with a triangular anchor of trees–cherry, magnolia, and liquidambar. Then she introduced a slow-growing conifer–a golden Hinoki cypress–which gave a yearlong glow to her wonderful garden.

The addition of trees and shrubs does two things. One, it gives layers to your garden. The beds rise from ground-huggers to the coif-toppers, a must if your backdrop is–as it is for Wendy–filled with tall objects. But, two, the structural aspect of the woody plants gives you something pleasing to look at in the off-season–that oft-bandied term “winter interest.”

“In winter, when everything else is gone, those architectural plants are still holding it all together,” says Wendy. “I just love four-season borders.” If you plan well, she says, you will include some colorful berries; trees with striped, peeling, or glossy bark; yellow and blue evergreens; broadleaf evergreen shrubs; and deciduous woodies with interesting branching habits.

“I haven’t completely eliminated all-perennial gardens,” Wendy says. “I have some clients who still want them.”

Why Wendy Likes To Think Big
Seasoned gardeners know to do things in a big way. Paths shouldn’t be a stingy 2 or 3 feet wide; that’s a dog path. Paths should be 5 or even 6 feet wide. Two people should be able to walk side by side without tripping over each other. Benches, if they are to accommodate anyone but love-struck teens, should be 5 or 6 feet wide. For two more level-headed people to sit agreeably, 4 feet is too close for comfort. Elbows collide; drinks get spilled.

And then there are flower borders. “I used to think of borders as 4 feet deep,” Wendy says. “Now I make mine 10 to 12 feet deep.” That’s how you get all those ornamental trees and flowering shrubs in there. And, says Wendy, “It really knocks your socks off.”

A Few Parting Words From Wendy

Put some edibles in your landscape. “The kids graze all summer long, and we have apples all winter.”
Plant lots and lots of euphorbias. “I just love every one of them. They’re especially good in flower arrangements.”
And don’t spend too much on your garden too soon. “I first bought inexpensive trees like you can get from any drugstore. They were like pencils. When a local nursery moved, I pulled trees out of their Dumpster. I learned on cheap plants and moved up from there.”
And Now a Few Words About Edging

Wendy first edged her oval island bed with rocks she collected on the property. Funny thing though–weeds don’t know they aren’t supposed to grow in and among stones. In fact, weed seeds like to lodge there. Worse, it is hard to weed out rogues around and under rocks. So what started out as a weed-suppressant idea became a weed-germination nightmare. Solution: Wendy pulled back the stones, had a concrete barrier laid, and set the stones back in the concrete:

If you have flowerbeds next to your lawn, edging (such as flat stone or bricks) can provide double duty. This soil-level barrier not only keeps your lawn and your perennials from encroaching on each other’s turf, but also acts as a mowing path. Run the wheels of one side of your mower right on top of the stone or brick. The grass will be cut at a uniform height, and there will be no telltale line of towering stragglers along the edging. Nope, no hand shears or weed trimmers needed.

From the Beginning: Think About Your Soil Before You Plant

Back in 1988, Wendy’s five-acre property was “choked with woods,” she says. “I grew up in the woods, but this was 8 feet of debris, tree trunks piled high. There was no light–not even blackberries could grow there.” When she had the trees thinned, “it was the biggest land-clear the guy had done on the island.” The marketable logs were taken out, and the rest of the stumps, logs, and forest debris was burned. “My husband could see the fire from his office in Seattle. It burned for a week.” Then came the storm of ’93, and shade turned to sun. “I was so naive: I bought packets of seed and scattered them in the turnaround without amending the soil or anything.” Pffft: zilch. So she amended the soil with peat from an island bog. “They brought it in by the truckload. It was goopy, oily, thick pudding,” she recalls. “And hard to work with. But it worked like steroids on my plants. Now I always spend as much in soil amendments as I do in plant material.”

Garden Plans
Most yards start out as a standard rectangle. It is up to you to break out of the box. But unlike Wendy’s garden, yours probably needs to have some lawn. Kids, croquet, whatever. Here are four starting points (page 171) to get you thinking about what kind of shape or shapes you might want to impose on your landscape. Rather than just line the edge of the property with a hedge, think of the boundary as opportunity for border gardens. And maybe that’s all the gardening you want to do. For now. But gardening has a way of becoming an itch you just can’t help but scratch, and somewhere along the line you may decide more is better. The shape you stamp on your backyard is one of the greatest injections of personality you can make on your garden. Just remember: These shapes should have a reason too. Think: How do I use my yard?

Garden Plans
The Garden Retreat This plan features a wide flower border on the left and an entertaining area (or a spot for seclusion) way out back.
The Cottage Garden An ambling, free-form lawn seeps like a slow river through undulating flowerbeds. Ah, to be in England.
The Formal Garden Circular turf areas give strong geometry in a dramatic space. Ample areas are provided for ornamental plantings.
Room for Kids Here children can get up a full head of steam and still avoid trampling on the flowerbeds. So they can play while you plant.
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Organic Lawn Care
Elise Craig lives in a garden apartment in Portland, Oregon, where children roll in the grass and run barefoot across lawns in the summer light. A year ago, she realized that whenever the landlord spread lawn-care chemicals on the grass, her six-year-old son, Michael, lost bowel and bladder control for weeks afterward.

“Michael’s symptoms came back every time they treated the lawn,” says Craig. “They told us it was safe after a day, so I kept him off the grass for a week or two. Michael still got sick. We were ultimately successful in organizing our community to go organic, but we are about to move, and I may face this battle in our new home with new neighbors.”

In Portland, where Craig organized teams of weed-pulling parents at her son’s school (with help from a principal who’s an organic farmer), the city has put up billboards that say, “Is Your Lawn Chemical-Free? Maybe It Should Be.”

Each year, Americans apply more than 80 million pounds of chemical products–including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides–to their lawns and gardens.

Homeowners often don’t realize the myriad health hazards associated with lawn-care pesticides sold under such innocuous names as Weed & Feed and Bug-B-Gon. These products contain pesticides such as 2,4-D (linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and MCPP (associated with soft-tissue cancers).

People think the government would warn them if these widely sold chemicals were known to damage their nervous systems, harm fetuses or give them cancer. None of these long-term adverse health effects are required by law to be listed on product labels.

“Forty years ago, in the enormously praised and fiercely criticized book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson demonstrated the dangers of pesticides,” says H. Patricia Hynes, director of the Urban Environmental Health Initiative at Boston University and author of The Recurring Silent Spring. “Lawn chemical usage has nearly doubled since 1964.”

Pesticides used solely on lawns are not required to undergo the same rigorous testing for long-term health effects as those used on food. No federal studies have assessed the safety of lawn-care chemicals in combination, as most are sold. Because of industry lobbying, the identities of “inert ingredients” are protected as trade secrets under federal law. Pesticides may contain up to 99 percent inert ingredients, some of which are suspected carcinogens, while others are linked to nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage and birth defects.

“More than 90 percent of pesticides and inert ingredients are never tested for their effects on developing nervous systems,” says John Wargo, director of the Yale Center for Children’s Environmental Health and author of Risks from Lawn-Care Pesticides, a report from Environment and Human Health. “Children are more affected by exposure to such chemicals because they are smaller and their organs are not mature.”

Wargo adds, “Streams and groundwater in the Midwest are contaminated with atrazine, a widely used herbicide linked to sexual mutations in fish and amphibians. Is this the price we pay for green lawns?”

The Natural Resources Defense Council is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect the public from environmental and health threats posed by atrazine, which is banned by the European Union. “Atrazine poses a serious cancer risk for millions of Americans,” says Jay Feldman, director of Beyond Pesticides. “Companies, federal and state regulators downplay the hazards of commonly used pesticides.”

Steps To Pesticide Freedom
Try “natural” alternatives. Chrysanthemum-derived pesticides, diatomaceous earth and boric acid are sold in garden centers. SharpShooter (citric acid) is an effective insecticide. Or make your own solution of three to six tablespoons of dishwashing soap (without degreaser) per gallon of water.

Squirt weeds. Instead of RoundUp, use BurnOut (lemon juice and vinegar) to kill weeds along walkways. And what’s so terrible about clover anyway?

Get rid of grubs. Beneficial nematodes and milky spore kill them.

Choose native plants. Replace grass with ground covers or wildflowers.

Know your insects. Some bugs are beneficial. Ladybugs eat aphids; lacewings eat caterpillars; and praying mantises eat all insects (even each other).

Go organic. Agricultural extensions often analyze soil for a small fee. Organic care nourishes the soil for a lawn that’s naturally luxuriant, disease-resistant and pest-free. CONTACT: Beyond Pesticides, (202)543-5450, www.beyondpesticides .org; Environment and Human Health, (203)248-6582, www.ehhi.org/pesticides. BurnOut and SharpShooter are available through St. Gabriel Laboratories, (800) 801-0061.