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Questions - Repairs, Installations, How-to

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frequently asked questions  ask a question  questions by category questions 900-949  questions 850-899  questions 800-849  questions 750-799  questions 700-749  questions 650-699  questions 600-649  questions 550-599  questions 500-549  questions 450-499  questions 400-449  questions 350-399  questions 300-349  questions 250-299  questions 200-249  questions 150-199  questions 100-149  questions 50-99  questions 1-49

Question #842: I am looking for a class that I would be able to take to help me understand boiler systems and to install them. What classes are there in New York City. Post your answer

Answer: NYC College of Technology in Downtown Brooklyn has a whole department, "Environmental Control Technology) with up-to-date boiler lab, etc. Go to and check it out. None better in these parts. Dick Koral

Answer: Housing Conservation Coordinators (HCC) and the Association for Energy Affordability (AEA) are two New York City organizations giving good classes on understanding boiler systems. Contact them and ask if they can also help you find out where to learn about installing boiler systems. When you do find out, let us know so we can print the information here. Glen Stoltz

Question #841: Our roof, installed in 1990 with Brai RubberoidMB roofing process and a final layer of Karmak Alumninum Coating, has developed some bulges that appear to be filled with water.  The two bulges can be seen at this link: What do you recommend? Post your answer

Answer: There are several issues with your roof. The immediate cure for the blistering is simple. The roofer would cut out the defective section (if the insulation is wet, that too would need to be cut out) and a new section installed. What caused this condition is the real problem. From what I can see in the pictures is the water is going under the roof from the side walls, from the metal capping. There is NO flashing and where there was, it was covered over. The walls need to be addressed. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #817: I have lived in my rent controlled pre-war apartment for 34 years. The electrical wiring here is a joke -only two outlets in the whole place outside of the kitchen. I would like to have the wiring redone since I don't intend to leave anytime soon. I'm assuming I will have to hire an electrician and pay for it all myself. Do I need the landlord's permission to get a permit to have the work done? Can he refuse me when I'm only trying to bring the apartment up to code? Post your answer

Answer: Yes, Landlords permission is needed. Yes, he can refuse you. He can also say that he will have his electrician do the electrical upgrade, and increase your rent by 1/40 of the cost, but only with your permission. Renters have to keep in mind that while it's their apartment to rent, the apartment is still the property of the owner. You mentioned you wish to bring it up to code, it is up to code for the year it was built. Lets face it, you want to make these "improvements" not for the landlord's benefit but rather your own, as you stated you are not going to move. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #816: Will TRVs work for steam radiators inside a wall covered by a metal cover with vents? Post your answer

Answer: Not exactly sure what a 'TRV' is.  If this is one of those automatic room temperature control valves, you have two options. For single pipe steam radiators you must put this valve on the air vent, not on the steam valve to the radiator.  If you have two pipe steam (with a trap on the radiator), then you can use this type of valve. However, piping is important or water hammer may result.  Please post again with more details of your application and I will try to answer in more detail. Joe Lambert, Leonard Powers

Question #810: I own a 2nd floor condo and about 6-8 months ago my super came to me and let me know there was water dripping down into the 1st floor unit. We found the problem, and it was fixed. I went down there about 2 days later and asked if there was still water coming into his unit?  He said it wasn't. Just the other day I get a call from the actual owner of the unit, she tells me that there is damage in the bathroom and that I have to fix it.  My question is, since I didn't know there was damage and 6-8 months have passed since this accord, am I still liable for the damage? Post your answer

Answer: First of all, was the leak inside the wall or outside of the wall. Second, check you propriety lease. Most of the time, leaks inside the walls on what is call common use piping is the responsibility of the building to fix the leak as well as any damages. If it was outside the wall as in leaky pipe under your sink etc, then these items mostly are the owners responsibility to repair as well as any damage. If you paid for the repair to the plumbing then mostly you will have to pay for its repair. As for 8 months later, well fair is fair, if you are responsible for the repair, then just have it replaced. Lastly, as always our answers are just our opinions and any legal questions should be referred to an attorney. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #803: This question is related to Question #613. We have a serious rust corrosion condition at the base of our 18" six-story steel chimney stack. Our neighboring building's system has been merged into our stack for over 25 years. We've recently discovered they have installed a high condensing heating system that will surely disintegrate our already compromised stack. If they hedge (as they have been) on footing the bill for repair or separating their high condensing emissions, can we repair our base and cut them off to prevent accelerated corrosion? If so how do we go about this expeditiously? Post your answer

Answer: First of all, you have to establish that the chimney is owned by your building. Second, you need to establish if the building next door has ever received permission to share it. If you own the chimney outright, the cost of repair / replacement is yours. I cannot understand how permission to do what you have said was done. I don't believe a permit was given. You need to try to find out if there ever was a permit granted. I have not heard of sharing of a chimney. Beware trying to work this out before calling the Department of Buildings - once they come in, their findings will be final. If no permission and no permit was given, then your building has the upper hand. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #798: The boiler in our small co-op is a Weil McLain 169-75 BL 586 (oil burner Carlin 701, 185). The boiler was installed in 1976 the burner in 1997. A recent hole in the jacket and small leaks that may be coming from the coils and / or gaskets inside may mean the boiler is nearing the end of its useful life. I'm told that it could last through another heating season or two, but we want to prepare to make an informed choice about replacing it. Can you give me some advice about how to do that? Is there a source of information that would be useful to lay people like our co-op members? Post your answer

Answer: The Boiler Site, Master Plumber, Weil-McLain, or call a local heating consultant. Glen Stoltz

Question #796: I own my co-op apartment and have been having some electrical problems. However, our super has informed me that everything from the circuit breaker box, to the wiring in my apartment, to the outlets are my responsibility to repair and maintain.  Is this correct.  If so, what is the co-op responsibility? Post your answer

Answer: The answer to your question is in your proprietary lease. It is common for all the electrical wiring, from the meter in the  basement on up, is the shareholder's responsibility regardless of it's being inside or out of the walls - but check your lease.

Answer: If you wanted to change from a fuse box to a circuit breaker you would be responsible (you would have to pay the electrician) but if you have faulty wiring in your walls meaning that the wires were worn and frayed, since they are inside the wall, the responsibility of replacing the wiring would be the co-op's and the same can be said about the plumbing. Roberto Cardona

Question #786: I live in a two-floor condo, on the first floor. Every time my upstairs neighbor shuts his kitchen faucet off, I get a loud water hammer bang above my kitchen in the pipes. After doing research on Google, I think the solution is an air arrester or valve. Is this right?  Also, can I install it myself?  Last, will it solve the water hammer from upstairs if install it down here where I have access to the main line (under my sink) or does it have to be installed in the upstairs apartment? I would rather not have to touch their plumbing or bother them.  Post your answer

Answer: You will need to get a plumber involved to give you the best advice, but it looks like you may be on the right track.

Question #782: I had a contractor, recommended by Home Depot, install a boiler 5/18/06, in the Bronx in a two family house, that had only one boiler to heat the whole house. I have 2 tenants. One apartment is a duplex, where the boiler is connected. The smaller apartment's heating usage was being included in the duplex apartment ConEd bill. I decided to install a boiler for the smaller apartment, that way each tenant is responsible for their own bill. I was informed that once the installation is completed, the contractor / plumber has to obtain a blue card with the Buildings Department. I was also told by ConEd, that they must inspect the installation before they install a gas meter. I am having a hard time getting the contractor to complete the paper work. The boiler was installed, but with no meter. The contractor said that I was responsible to get a plumber. I told him if that is the case, I would have gone to Home Depot myself, got the boiler, and then hired a plumber. I was charged $4,700.00 for this job. I want to complete the job before the cold weather sets in. What can I do? I called Home Depot and they contacted the company and he keeps telling them that he would help me get a plumber. I am wondering whether the installation was done by an unlicensed plumber. I don't know what is going on. I need guidance. Post your answer

Answer: Let me suggest that you contact GBOC for assistance. -Glen Stoltz

Question #781: I have a duplex apartment. The bedroom closet on the second floor that is adjacent to the bathroom, develops some form of mold / mildew on the walls. I am wondering if the problem is from improper ventilation from the bathroom. there is no window in the bathroom. It has been suggested that possibly the vent is circulating through the wall as opposed to having a vent connected outside. I have stopped using the vent in the bathroom, to see if the problem stops. I do have a dehumidifier that helps somewhat, but running it can be costly. When the closet door is closed, a foul odor sets in.  Do you have any suggestion that might be permanent. Post your answer

Answer: Without someone looking at your space in person it is impossible to give an accurate answer. I suggest you hire Grech Building Operations Consulting or someone similar to help you. -Glen Stoltz

Question #776: Can suds coming up into our tub be caused because we live on top of a laundry room. The super is requesting an inspection of the apartment on the second floor, says there is a washing machine. Isn't this a drain / plumbing problem? Post your answer

Answer: If you see suds in your tub, then some one most likely above you has a washing machine. In old buildings, drains are not designed for washing machines. Thus the excessive water when dumped at one time into a drain has to go somewhere. Now, if there is a specific laundry room near you, then the drains should be snaked on a regular basis. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #775: What are the proper steps in cleaning a Kewnee dual fuel boiler? Post your answer

Answer: Using Google ( or other popular search engine, search on the words "Kewanee dual fuel boiler" (with or without the quotations marks); when you get to some relevant websites that come up, try a site search using the word cleaning or "boiler cleaning" or something similar. You'll be surprised what you will find that will be helpful to you. Glen Stoltz

Question #773:  Every Summer I experience this problem. I have a very bad odor is coming out from the radiator in my apartment. Please help me with some information and what can I do to resolve the problem. Post your answer

Answer: If you have a one pipe system, there should be an air valve on the upper end on the radiator. Simply turn this air vent upside down and you will have no more odor. If you have a two pipe system then you will have NO air vent, but then a two pipe system is completely contained and no order should come out of it. If you have a two pipe radiator (one pipe going in at one end and one pipe coming out of the other end) then your problem is not with the radiator! or perhaps would need a good cleaning and there maybe a hole behind it. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #767: Where can I find a black rectangular fuse box that holds the larger tube fuses to put into an electrical box in back of an older apartment building? Post your answer

Answer: You need to speak to an electrician, or call an electrical supply house. Glen Stoltz

Question #766: How do I get keys for a new tenant's mailbox. The previous tenant was evicted & didn't leave them.  Post your answer

Answer: If there are no keys left, you will have to get the lock changed. In most buildings this is something the super will take care of, start by asking him who can do it and will you be charged for it (again, in some buildings there will be a charge, in others, no). Glen Stoltz

Question #756: I thought I remember reading somewhere that window air conditioner installations now require a support bracket along the top of the unit so that the window is still operable. I have searched the NYC websites, but could not find verification. Can anyone confirm this? Post your answer

Answer: Yes, there is a law which is tacked on to Local Law 11. It is under Appurtenances only. You will not find it under Air Conditioning. Basically it states that an appurtenance, such as an Air Conditioning unit, that extends 10 inches or more past the window glass, must be supported by a bracket that is secured to the ac unit on one end and rests against the side of the building at the other end. If the unit is less the 10 inches past the glass, it may be installed by using a metal bar across the width of the window and secured to the window frame, but not the window itself. As always, check with your buildings architect about this. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #750: We have child safety bars installed in our apartment windows and when we requested that they be removed to accommodate an air conditioner we were told they cannot be removed once they are in. We don't have children and we weren't told when we moved in that they couldn't be removed. Is this true? Are there any other options to have them removed? Post your answer

Answer: Yes Peter is correct, they can be removed, child window guards are installed with one way screws, to avoid removal by the tenant. There are a couple of ways to remove the screws. They sell special one way screw drivers for such screws, or you can use a cold chisel to remove the heads of the screws, remove the child guard and then use vise grip pliers to remove the rest of the screw. Good luck Roberto Cardona

Answer: Whoever said they cannot be removed once they have been installed, is mistaken. The purpose of child guards are to protect young children. If you no longer have young children, then the guards can be removed. There is no such rule / code / law saying that once they are installed, they stay installed, even though there are no children living in the apartment. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #741: What is the generally accepted useful life of the following components of a buildings (in this case 16 stories 110 apartments) heating plant:
  • Fuel Tank
  • Burner
  • Boiler
  • Vacuum Pump
  • Heat Timer

Post your answer

Answer: The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, DHCR has a schedule of useful life that they use when owners of buildings apply for a major capital improvements (MCI). For fuel tanks: in vaults - 25 yrs underground - 20 yrs. For Burners - 20 years. For boilers; Cast Iron - 35 yrs Steel Boilers - 25 Yrs. As stated below, any numbers are just estimates and greatly depend on the maintenance program being applied. Peter Grech, GBOC

Answer: A fuel tank (20-40 years) has a wide spread in useful life span, depending on type of fuel, below or above ground, and proper maintenance. It is essential that a tank be properly cleaned every 5-7 years, to remove corrosive sludge and moisture, that tends to build up on the bottom of the tank.  A burner (20-30 years) varies, depending on type of oil and size. Larger burners, more often, tend to be rebuilt or upgraded, rather then total replacement. For instance, blower motors, relay controls, metering pumps, electric heaters, etc. are replaceable parts, that do get replaced on an ongoing basis. Boilers (5-60 years) Your building probably has a steel "Fire Tube" boiler. These, with proper ongoing tube cleaning and replacement, a proper and comprehensive water treatment regime, have been known to last over 60 years.  I have seen some cast iron "sectional" boilers last as little as 5 years due to poor water management and return leaks. (return leaks allow for constant water make up, the fresh water is full of oxygen. The released excess oxygen literally rusts out the cast iron sections) Vacuum pumps, (5-15 years) vacuum pumps have motors, sometimes the motor fails, sometimes the pump fails, and the entire unit is replaced. Proper maintenance of steam traps and strainers are crucial in the long life of a vacuum pump. Heat Timer (10-30 years) The old electromechanical type were work horses, and relatively simple. Other then a motor or contact burning out, they lasted a very long time. The newer electronic type, while offering enhanced versatility and power, have not been around long enough, but if I were a betting man I would put my money on the older type as far as longevity. As an energy saving measure, Heat-Timer units should be re-calibrated by a factory rep every 5 years or so.  It must also be noted, any of the above, often last longer then I indicated, under the management of a devoted and knowledgeable superintendent. Bill Aristovulos

Question #739: I would like to move a closet wall within my apartment.  I have gotten approval, but there is a phone riser / cable to contend with.  How does one get a phone riser / cable moved about 1 1/2 feet? Post your answer

Answer: Not a quick answer. First you need to check if it is a functional riser, is it still in use? Next, who is responsible for it's maintenance, probably Verizon.  In some buildings though, it is owned by the building outright, and they are responsible for it's upkeep. Once you have ascertained it is a functional riser, you will need to get a proposal to "relocate" it. Be warned this is usually a relatively "pricey" quote! Bear in mind, that first, the technician has to establish a temporary "jumper cable" to continue service to residents above. Then he/she will have to route (including possible costly channeling in the concrete) the new cable around to the new location, establish junction boxes/points above and below, and finally splice in anywhere from 50 to 200 individual wires (depending on the cable size). This usually is in the cost range of several thousand dollars, plus. In the last dozen or so sites I have been involved with dealing with telephone and intercom riser relocation, the residents have simply opted to "box" around the cables (with a removable, service allowing enclosure). This was preferable to the cost, and one last issue, the responsibility, for any future problems that may "arise" in that "riser". Bill Aristovulos

Question #733: Can I replace Steam Return Pipes with PVC pipes. The pipes that I have seem to be rotting away I figure that the pipes only carry hot water? Post your answer

Answer: Never use plastic piping on a steam system! Even CPVC which is rated at a higher temp/pressure than PVC should not be used. There is a chance with failed traps that steam will get into the return piping and erode the plastic. It is never ever recommended to use any plastic piping on steam systems. Joe Lambert,

Question #732: I have 12 high sodium lights that go on and off as they please, what I should I do, change the ballast? Post your answer

Answer: Either the ballasts or the bulbs themselves, or both should be changed. Try a bulb first, if that doesn't work, try the ballast.

Question #723: I live in an 80 year old upper Westside co-op building of 38 units. Although the building is well taken care of, the Board of Directors is about to snake out the waste lines in order to allow for the use of dishwashers. We have had opinions on both sides about this issue and but would like your opinion as to risks involved. It seems to me that trying to remove the scale of 80 years within these pipes might very well cause leaks and full fledged breaks. What is your opinion? Post your answer

Answer: A dishwasher in an apartment is a great sales incentive and increases the value of the property, so yes, snaking COULD cause leaks and full fledged breaks but it may be worth it. Of course anything can happen. The vibration from the snaking machine alone inside the pipes could aggravate weaknesses in some 80 year old pipes. Proper venting is very important also, especially when expecting an increase in volume that comes from using additional appliances, so make sure that is looked at as well as making sure the existing vents are not at all clogged. Weighing the pros and cons properly may well show that the benefits exceed the risks. Make sure that everyone who will participate in making the decision understands both sides. Also that it is spelled out who will be paying for damages, should they occur. Glen Stoltz

Answer:  It is my opinion that the snaking of the pipes to remove scale and such should be done every ten years or so, as a good preventive measure. To do this after so many years may cause leaks, not because the snaking would cause damage to pipes, but rather the removing of the build up would expose old cracks or weakened points, that the build up protected. More of a concern should be that the pipes were not originally designed to carry this extra load and backing up of suds and water may occur in some lower apartments from the drain lines, again MAY OCCUR. You can't stop progress. Peter Grech, GBOC


Question #721: I live in an apartment building co-op and would like to cover the steam riser pipe in my bathroom, what can I use? Post your answer

Answer: Read the answer to Question #653, a similar question. Glen Stoltz

Question #718: Should the blower on a Jenn-Air downdraft range be degreased? Does the blower have to be removed?  Mine is slow to start working but runs well after it gets started off to a very slow start.  How would you do this? Post your answer

Answer: Please see question #710 below. By their purpose, I would think the fan blades would need regular degreasing.  Going further, I also think the blower motor itself might need servicing, possibly lubricating the blower motor would help, otherwise you might need to replace the motor itself. Bill Aristovulos

Question #713: What happens when using metal nails with copper valleys? Post your answer

Answer: Since these last three questions (713, 712, 711) are referring to roofing techniques, I assume we are talking about roofing copper valleys. The metal nails you refer would work fine, if the metal they were made of was copper. However problems arise when using steel nails on copper sheeting or flashing. The steel nails and copper actually combine to form an electrical "battery" of sorts. The moisture in the air adds the final ingredient, pretty soon the nails corrode due to a process called dielectric corrosion. The corroded nails eventually lead to physical roofing failure and leaks. Therefore, the only type of nails one should use on copper valleys, are copper nails or the new and exciting plastic composite nails. Bill Aristovulos

Question #712: How many inches of overlap must you overlap on end point of felt paper when roofing? Post your answer

Answer: You should overlap felt paper at least 4", more, if it is a flat roof. Bill Aristovulos

Question #710: I received a Jenn-Air Gas Stove top (downdraft) from a family friend. The installation instructions I was given did not have any information about the duct requirements or how to vent it.  Can you please assist me?  Thank you. Post your answer

Answer: Jenn-Air appliances are sold, installed and serviced by Sears. Call Sears at 877-830-9177 to ask about installation of your specific product, or stop by a local Sears appliance store to inquire. Also, there is a little information on Sears' website (here) to get you started. Glen Stoltz

Question #709: I would like to know how often you have to flush your boiler in the summer. Also, why am I getting yellow colored water from the drain pipe? Post your answer

Answer: You did not give enough information on your boiler to give you a proper answer. The yellow color, however, is most likely rust from the piping. Some is normal, a lot is not good. For a big boiler, talk to your chemical guy, for a small residential boiler they do make some chemicals you can put into the boiler but most just live with it. Joe Lambert,

Question #690: In an 8 floor concrete slab construction building with plaster and lathe walls and 10 apartments on each floor, what is the best way to combat a recent MOUSE infestation? Post your answer

Answer: The best defense is: Plugging all the holes you can find!  Pay particular attention to heat risers in the apartments. Also check, in kitchens and baths, around utility lines (Water, Gas and Electric ) where they emerge from the wall. Mice posses what seems to be an articulated skeletal design, that allows them squeeze through openings of only 1/2 inch high!  Poisons are also a way to deal with mice, however I strongly suggest using a professional company. (One of our vendor members in STA, are professional exterminators. You can scan for their ad in our newsletter, SUPER!) Bill Aristovulos

Question #689: I have to try to take a small amount of dried oil-based paint (dark gray) off of a light colored carpet - any suggestions? Post your answer

Answer: Try Goof-Off. It's a paint remover in liquid form - you can also get in an aerosol can. Follow the directions on the package and use adequate ventilation. After that, rinse the spots with warm water and soap, then use a carpet cleaning machine over the entire area if you have access to one. Glen Stoltz

Question #683: I am a maintenance supervisor for an apartment complex. I have a second floor unit that is getting too hot in the winter - so hot that they have had to use their heat very little. It routinely gets into the upper 70's in the apartment when it is cold outside. Is it possible the duct work of the apartment below may be leaking hot air into the crawl space between the apartments thereby heating up their apartment?  (The heating and a/c for these apartments are controlled by individual heat pumps). Post your answer

Answer: Many things are possible. I ran into on similar situation in an overheated apartment with the valves shut to all the heaters. It turns out the risers in the wall were the cause. We found this out by actually measuring the temperature of the walls with a non-contact IR thermometer. You may wish to try this.  Joe Lambert,

Answer: I have seen once where the steam risers in a wall were overheating an apartment even with the valve shut to the fan unit, this rarely occurs with lower temperature hot water. I would first check temperatures of the walls to see where the heat is coming from. Joe Lambert,

Question #675:  The landlord follows NYC Heat Guidelines. However, upper floors do not read 68 degrees 6am-10pm. Yesterday my apartment read 72 degrees @ 8:30pm. The apartment on the sixth floor read 60 degrees. I assume that there is not enough pressure or it's the pipes. Does the DOB get involved with this type of problem, or does it require an outside inspector? You can probably notice by my info that I am not familiar with boilers. Post your answer

Answer: This is a common problem in many buildings, commonly called heat balancing. Since the steam comes from the basement, the lower floors heat up before the upper ones. The solution is NOT to increase the pressure (actually decreasing the pressure often helps solve the problem). Your building may need to calibrate the heating controller, new zoning valves, or to install thermostatic radiator valves on the lower floors to allow the steam to get to the upper floors while not overheating the lower ones, or there could be a piping issue with some of the risers not draining properly. There are many steam specialty companies in the city (including the one I work for) that can diagnose the problem and give recommendations. It is not something that has a quick fix or can be solved on-line without looking at the exact situation in your building. Joe Lambert,

Question #661: What tools are needed to snake a drain in order to find the pathway? Post your answer

Answer: Working under a kitchen sink you would need a plastic drop cloth beneath the sink, a channel lock to remove the waste line, a wrench to remove the "U" trap and a good flashlight or droplight to look inside the nipple. The "pathway" is only a few inches past the nipple and be sure to bend the head of the snake just a little in order to enter the pathway. Same goes for the bathroom. For best results use an electric snake. Roberto Cardona

Question #651: I would like to know from where can I get a centrifugal license, and a lead painting license? I recently applied for a job and they mentioned these requirements. Post your answer

Answer: There is no such thing as a centrifugal license in NYC. I think you are referring to the refrigeration license which covers, among many things, centrifugal machines. That you have to go to Fire Department for. It takes an average of two years to study and prepare for the two tests to obtain it. The certificate for lead, or the Safe Work Practices for lead, can be obtained by taking a class at HPD. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #650: Can anyone tell me where to find replacement pins for a heat timer, it's an AMF Paragon timer. Post your answer

Answer: You can buy these through my company, we are a full service steam specialty company based here in New York City. However, these are standard parts offered by many electrical distributors (you can use G&G electrical at 212-243-0051). This is an older style controller and you may be interested in upgrading, if so give me a call.  Joe Lambert,

Answer: Those are tough pins to get. Try a good electrical contractor store. Or ask you boiler mechanic to get them for you. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #648: Does anyone know for sure whether raising or lowering the steam set point during heating will conserve more fuel. For some reason I seem to use less fuel when raising the set point from 5psi to 6.5psi. However I don't know if my readings are that true. Post your answer

Answer: Steam pressure has very little to do with the cost of heating a building. It is the AMOUNT of steam that the building uses that effects the cost. That being said, it does take less BTU's to product lower pressure steam than higher, so there is a small savings there. Now, get this, buildings HEAT FASTER and USE LESS STEAM at LOW PRESSURES. Even 5 psig seems high. With the proper piping and equipment, you can get more comfortable and better heating with 3 psig or below!! It is strange but true. Joe Lambert,

Question #639: I live in a pre-war Queens Co-op, and I have two questions about the operation of the radiators. First, the radiators (which are inside the walls behind radiator covers) seem to be too large in terms of capacity for the rooms. When there is steam in them, they overheat the room. Is there anything I can do to limit the extent they fill with steam or in some other way dampen them without turning them off? Second, the windows over the valve end of the radiators collect moisture on them when the value hisses. Does this mean that the radiators are not operating properly? Post your answer

Answer: It sounds like you have a one-pipe steam system. If you do, it is that valve that is 'hissing' that actually controls the amount of steam in the radiator. These air vents let air out of the radiator and allow the steam to flow in. If you do not let the air out, the steam cannot flow in and you can't control the heat. They make automatic air vents that open and close based on the temperature of the room and they also make variable venting ones that you can control by hand. Since they do vent the air in the radiator, and there is steam and water there, too, it is normal that the air that comes out is moist. If it is pure hot steam coming out, time to get a new vent. Joe Lambert,

Question #635: Does anyone know of a good technical book on the operations of 'Icecap / Islandaire' through-the-wall a/c & heating units? Post your answer

Answer: Call Islandaire at 1-800-886-2759, speak to Richard Nuss at ext. 141. He can help you with I&O manuals. Jeff Eichenwald

Answer: Good luck with those two units. Their reputation is not a good one. But then, most through the wall units are not as good as the cheap simple window units. There is NO book on those units. There is however a operation pamphlet that should come with each unit showing operations and maintenance issues. Call the manufacturer or perhaps you can find them on line. Peter Grech, GBOC

The original questioner responds: I have Islandaire and Icecap thru-the-wall units in my building. These a/c units work in conjunction with the existing heating coils. Previously all the buildings I have worked in have had the heating coils above the unit so that when the fan is operated, air is blown through the coil and hot air heats the apartments. In my new building the set up is different. The heating coil is below, so when the fan is operated, air is supposedly sucked through the heated coil. However this does not appear to be efficient with very lukewarm air emitting from the top of the unit. Have these units been incorrectly installed?

Question #634: My landlord recently replaced the radiators with a copper pipe (that has a copper pipe arm branching off it) that is supposed to heat the apartment with hot water. It is not working yet. I can't see how it will ever work. It looks so flimsy. The copper arms have plugs at the ends so I don't know how the hot water is supposed to fill them. Has anyone heard of this system? We are freezing. Post your answer

Answer: The system you speak of, if I understand you correctly, is called a hydronic system. The hydronic system works well as long as installation is done correctly. To have water enter into a coil or fin is common but there has to be a second pipe leaving the coil/fin to keep the water moving through the coil/fin. Water can not just enter and stay. Make sure that there is only one pipe, then report it to the landlord. Keep in mind, water is not the same as steam. With steam you need venting all the time - as opposed to water which only needs to be vented when air is trapped. Also, no heating system beats the old fashion cast iron radiators. They are simple and the best heat exchanger. Lastly, if your apartment is below 68 degrees F when it is below 55 degrees outside during the hours of 6 am to 10 pm call 311 - if the landlord won't do anything about the problem. Peter Grech, GBOC

Question #614: Is there a formula whereby one can determine how much ventilation is needed in a boiler room? We have one high and one low opening now. Post your answer

Answer: I am not an expert on the fire side of the boiler, but rather the steam side. However I have done some projects with air intake fans for  boiler rooms. There is a size determined by the boiler horsepower and type of boiler. Of course with fans (forced air intake) the opening is MUCH smaller.  A good place to start is this article on the National Board's Web site: Joe Lambert,

Question #612: I have a 3 family unit. There is a forced air heating and cooling system in the lower level apartment (where I will live). The system is from the 1970s. I want the tenants to control & pay for their own heating/cooling. I need to upgrade the old 1970 system. Do I have to buy 3 separate systems in order for the tenants to be separate? Or, can all three units feed off one system & have separate meters? The alternative - is it to use baseboard heating in the tenants' apartments? I am looking to do what is best in the long run financially. Post your answer

Answer: The only way to be able to fairly bill tenants for heat usage is to have three separate units installed. PGrech,

Question #611: I have a new two story home. The hot water heater is on the first floor. The hot water migrates through the entire house. I plumbed in a heat loop on the hot water outlet of the water heater. The hot water still migrates out of the hot water heater. My next thought is to install a check valve on the hot water supply. Do you have any suggestions. Post your answer

Answer: Not sure what is meant by "migrates out of the hot water heater." Putting a check valve in may solve this, but create another one. PGrech,

Question #605: I live in PA in a 2 bedroom apartment with my roommate. We have always had air conditioning but this summer the unit was only cooling the living room area, leaving the rest of the house hot. The maintenance people have come in numerous times and said it does work, but I have consistently insisted that it does but only in that living room area. I have even spoken to the regional manager and he has advised me that as long as the maintenance people check the temperature and it reads 60 degrees they will not replace it. I do not want to move but I need a new a/c unit. I have lived at in this apartment for 3 years and never had a problem with the AC. What should I do? Post your answer

Answer: If you're sure it doesn't cool your space as it did previously, and as it should, you could try taking temperature readings for several days or weeks, then present your findings to management with your demand to replace or adequately repair the unit.

Question #604: Does anyone have experience and/or comments about replacing an intercom system in a building built in the late 1950's with a system that utilizes existing phone lines to individual apartments. Are there any drawbacks to such a system (i.e., problems if DSL internet connection lines are being used)? Post your answer

Answer: We have the intercom on our phone line system. It does not interfere with the DSL lines. PGrech,

Question #601: I have central air. The unit is running, but no cold air is coming out, I checked outside. Ice has formed on the pipes attached to the unit. What is causing this? Post your answer

Answer: Your air conditioning unit either has a restriction in the capillary tube or it is low on refrigerant. If it is low on refrigerant this might indicate that you have a leak in the unit. PGrech,

Question #597: I have two boilers fed off of oil which generate steam in the winter for heating, and hot water through a coil for the summer. Is there a way that I can change parameters on the boiler settings, ie, steam set point, boiler temperature, to reduce my fuel consumption when only making hot water in the summer? Post your answer

Answer: Yes, there are ways to improve your system efficiency. I would need more information about your equipment and therefore it would be better if you spoke to me directly. My office number is 212-982-4803. Jeff Eichenwald

Answer: If your boiler produces hot water from a coil that is INSIDE the boiler, during summer operations, it should NOT be producing steam. So changing the set points for steam during summer operations is not necessary.  IF you are producing steam in this type of boiler/coil arrangement then you have a problem.  Try reducing the temperature of the hot water output from the Hoby valve or other mixing device. 5 degrees decrease yields about 3% reduced oil consumption. (3% is a raw number). PGrech,
Question #587: My landlord told me that there is a leak under my tub creating a problem in my neighbor's bedroom. She wants to send a handyman to rip up the tub to repair the problem. I'm afraid the job will be too big for anyone other than a plumber. I suspect she's cutting corners and does not want to pay for a plumber. Should I insist on a licensed plumber? Post your answer

Answer: See the answer to Question #588.

Question #569: We have four apartment buildings, with four separate boilers for four heating systems. Each apartment building has 28 units each. In winter, some apartments are too cold and some are too hot. How can we solve this problem, to control the temperature more evenly among the different units? Is there any technology nowadays to solve this problem? Post your answer

Answer: The quick answer is yes, there are ways to balance the heating in a building. How this is done depends upon many variables, most dependent on how the building is heated in the first place (hot water, one or two pipe steam, etc.) Your next step is to call in a professional (you can e-mail me) to do an initial survey and give you some ideas of what can be done. Joe Lambert

Question #568: I have just installed a new downdraft blower motor with a new Jenn Air range. I installed the blower motor to the hardwood floor under the range, as directed. However, there are fairly significant vibrations in the floor around the stove when the range downdraft fan is on. How would I best solve this problem? Post your answer

Answer: It is not uncommon to get vibrations from these blowers. You need to mount the blower on a vibration absorbent material. Rubber works very well. Installing a rubber pad under the blower will eliminate the vibration by 80 to 95% and bring it to a tolerable level. If this does not eliminate or greatly reduce the vibration, then you have a defective blower. PGrech,

Question #552: I am currently engaged in replacing the first flight of stairs (wood) in my building with metal. We have already made our contractor selection and have plans prepared by an architect and approved by DOB. What I am uncertain of is what documents I should require from the contractor to insure competence, qualification and of course liability. Budget is very tight. Appreciate all responses. If dialogue is preferred: 212-222-9760. Thanks in advance. Post your answer

Answer: The architect's role is to make the plans, and to screen the contractors. The architect is not the only person who can qualify and check references. Money is tight. Can you risk not paying a fee for the architect to do this? As for liability: the contractor must have the necessary insurance to do the work, Workers comp and liability insurance. Don't forget the warranty. Lastly, see if the Better Business Bureau can help you with information on your contractor. PGrech,

Question #551a: I got a job as a Supt./Handyman in a small office building. I have run into my first problem and it's driving me nuts! A Sloan flushometer is leaking from the vacuum breaker. I've changed the vacuum breaker and spud; but every time I flush, the water leaks out from the perforations at the top of the flush tube (into which is inserted the rubber vacuum breaker). I've tried putting a 1 1/2" gasket on top, applied string around the flush tube, tightened the nut till it couldn't go any more. Nevertheless, every time I flush the water leaks out of the perforations at the top of the flush tube. Can anybody assist - please! I need to keep this job. Post your answer

Answer: If you have a control stop and it works, perhaps you might try to cut the flow down. If your water pressure is very high, it's possible that the water is backing up in the vacuum breaker and being forced behind the sleeve and out the orifices. Is the rubber sleeve the correct one for the unit? I have never experienced this kind of problem. Good Luck! Gene Marabello

Question #551b: Gene, Thanks for reply - I now understand the process which causes the water to leak from the holes at the top of the pipe; it's water backing up between the rubber piece and the flush tube.

Now I understand why Sloan installation instructions specifies the length of the flush tube! It's possible that my flush tube is too short (it's full length is only about 4").

I'm already sure the rubber piece is correct. I'm going to try adjusting the close-valve. If that doesn't work, I REALLY don't want to break open the wall, etc. to raise the height of a flushometer that's been there for a million years. Would I cause problems if I eliminated the vacuum breaker completely and put a straight tail piece from base of flushometer into the toilet spud? Post your answer

Answer:  Gene - Just thought you'd like to know how the problem was resolved. The hardware store gave me a universal replacement part for the rubber sleeve. I went back to the hardware store where the owner was adamant that this was the correct part for my Sloan flushometer. I had to agree that it looked exactly like the old one which I was replacing. However, after much anguish, I went to a different hardware store and got a rubber sleeve replacement part that was manufactured by the company (Sloan). Even thought all the sleeves looked alike to me, once I put on the Sloan replacement part, the job worked like a Swiss clock - no leaks. David L. Taylor

Question #550: I'm a superintendent in a newly constructed building in Manhattan. The building has 120 units. Tenants are asking me to install their air conditioners for them. Is this my responsibility? There is enough work around the building to keep me busy other than this kind of work. Can I call on a law or similar? Post your answer

Answer: I don't think there's a law on this, but if you're in the union you can ask if there is a union rule on it. If not a union member, it depends on whether or not it's in your written job description, if you have one. If you don't have a written job description then it's no doubt completely up for negotiation. Without knowing more details, it sounds like it would be beyond your daily responsibilities, and one that either the tenants themselves or your management company should pay you extra for.

Answer: Is the air conditioner a window unit; I would not let one of my staff members install an air conditioner in the apartment window. If that unit ever fell out of the window and hurt someone, or worse killed them, the building would be responsible. If it's a sleeve unit, all that's required is the old one be pulled out and the new one pushed in. Mike Mac

Answer: Installing AC units IS NOT normally the job of the superintendent. If you do install them because you are told it is, or because you want to make money doing it, you must follow LL.11/98. PGrech,

Question #541: We live in a 126-unit building and there are exhaust vents in the bathrooms which have no windows. Lately, I have noticed that both bathrooms have what the super calls "negative drafts", air is actually coming into the bathrooms instead of being sucked out through the vent. Management has been unresponsive - saying that cleaning the whole system would be an inconvenience to tenants and that most buildings just don't clean the vents. Is there some sort of building regulation that addresses this issue? We have been getting lots of cigar and cigarette smoke through the vents and it really is becoming a health issue. Post your answer

Answer: Most vents are not cleaned in New York City, but should be cleaned once every ten years or so. Negative air usually is not a sign of dirty vents. First thing to check is the vent housing on the roof. Just because the motor is running that does not mean the fan is running. The housing needs to be removed and the motor, V-belt and fan checked for proper operation. Sometimes the fan may be running backwards, other times the belt is slipping. All these are just some of the problems that cause negative air. With the housing attached, the super should be able to feel the air coming out of the housing discharge vent. Secondly, in your apartment, open a window say a few inches and put one piece of toilet paper on the vent (see tip of the week). If the moving air holds the paper against the vent, then you don't have negative air anymore. For positive air to be true an air supply is needed to fill in the space taken by the air that is removed by the vent. Usually this is done by the gap under the front door and is sometimes lost when carpeting is installed or when weatherstripping is put on the door. PGrech,

Question #539: My wife and I live in a three bedroom apartment in Manhattan. There is a highly noxious, very chemical-like smell that's in one of our bathrooms, that seems to be emanating from the radiator.  The odor is making my wife and I sick (burning throat, eyes, dizziness, etc.). Given that our drains have been snaked and that sewage has been removed from adjacent pipes, it does not appear to be mold or sewage gas. Does anyone have any idea what it may be? Post your answer

Answer: Check with your super and building's managing agent to see if a "skunk test" was performed. This test is done on a boiler heating system to see where there are leaks in the system. This is my best guess. If you have a one-pipe radiator system, then this test should not have been performed. Have the super check the air vents on your radiators if it's a one-pipe system. The air vent(s) may not be functioning properly. Let us know if you do find out what was the cause, so we may know for future reference. PGrech,

Question #537: I am a Superintendent of a commercial building, my domestic water pumps are not working in the auto mode but they work in hand mode. Is the float the only area I should be checking? Post your answer

Answer: The house pump system is the simplest system. As you know the floats tell the pumps when to go on and off. Since the pumps go on in hand (manual) mode then you have a control problem. Check:

- Floats to make sure they move up and down freely, grease if necessary.

- Check to see if there is power to the float, it could be a wiring problem and not a movement problem.

- Once the above are eliminated, check to see if the microswitch in the float is working. Most likely it is the microswitch. PGrech,

Answer: Here is a way to work through the problem:

Leave the H-O-A selector switch on Auto. Go up to the roof tank, assuming that you have a gravity tank set-up and not a constant pressure system. In the tank you will find at least one float switch. If there is more than one, look to see which has the biggest float ball, that is probably the one responsible for pump activation. The other float switch(es) probably govern alarms. Look carefully at the float switch. You will see an arm through which the rod passes. Lift the arm gently until it clicks. If you see water start to enter the tank, you know that the magnetic starter, the electric line to the roof and the float switch are all fine. Your problem is with the float ball and rod. Inspect the rod, make sure that it is not bent, and make sure that it is free and does not bind. Make sure that the float ball is still attached to the rod and that the ball is able to float and is not punctured. Float balls are weighted, so if it feels somewhat heavy, it is not necessarily bad. There should be a total of 4 locking collars. One under the ball, one over the ball, one under the float arm and one above the float arm. Make sure that all the collars are still there, are that all are securely locked.

If the pump does not activate when the arm is lifted, check to see if there is power to energize the float switch. Be careful, depending on how the switch was wired, you could have high voltage here. Use a tester and test the leads coming to the switch. If there is no power, you could have a short in the long electric line between the pump and the roof tank, or a problem with the magnetic starter. If you have power at the leads, the problem is the float switch itself. Float switches can easily be replaced.
Lee Hamer,

Question #535:  I live in an old pre-war co-op building and recently there was a leak (evidently from my toilet lead bend inside the floor) to the apartment below. The Super (unlicensed for plumbing) came and made a big hole in the floor and replaced the T-bend flange under the toilet. I subsequently had a friend help me cement and tile the floor (special tiles $) and reinstall the toilet. Then, I relaxed, but the neighbor from below called to say there was water dripping again and her paint is a mess. OK so I think the co-op has to rip up the floor all over again and we have to demand money from them for the tiles and labor. Also, shouldn't we ask for a licensed plumber this time? Post your answer

Answer: Before ripping up the floor again:, You stated that you reinstalled the toilet. Did you put a new wax ring on the horn at the bottom of the bowl? if not, this could be where the leak is coming from now. Secondly, corrective work should have been tested many times before you put back the floor - did no one test after the repair was made? Email the answers to

Question #533: Is it possible to join ABS piping to a lead pipe and have it work/stay? Post your answer

Answer: In most cases, yes. You need to check your local building codes to see if it's legal. Note: ABS piping is not the same as PVC, for those who might have been wondering. ABS is plastic also but its color is black while PVC is a white plastic. You can not glue ABS to PVC, but you can join the two by using clamps. PGrech,

Question #532: Regarding a toilet in the cellar - has anyone heard of a problem where sewage is siphoned up the toilet and waste comes out of the toilet? Post your answer

Answer: This problem is typical of a house trap (main trap) problem. Buildings and houses should have the main trap or traps cleaned out at least once every 3 to 4 years. Call a drain & sewer guy, he can snake out the trap(s). PGrech,

Question #530: I am considering enclosing my boiler and hot water heater, creating a boiler room that's fire proof - if possible. What regulations must I be aware of regarding this type of work? Post your answer

Answer: The rules depend on the jurisdiction in which the building is located, which you didn't reveal. Check first with your city's building department. There are no universal rules, except that you should be sure to allow for plenty of outdoor air to enter the enclosure, which the boiler needs for combustion. Dick Koral

Answer: Also, make the room large enough so that maintenance and repairs can be easily made. Too often these rooms are made too small, which makes repairs difficult. The materials should be fireproof and DEP may require that the room be able to hold a certain amount of oil (assuming you have an oil burner) in case of an oil leak from the line in the "boiler room". Consulting your fuel supplier may be a good place to start. PGrech,

Question #527: What type of credentials would one look for when hiring a contractor to install a staircase, in particular, a staircase between a ground floor and the second floor, a steel staircase with concrete pans? Post your answer

Answer: As always when hiring a contractor, references are one of your best defenses in getting the right contractor. One source is an architect. Another is word of mouth. Don't forget the Better Business Bureau. PGrech,

Answer: In addition to the good advice above, you should advertise for bids, specifying exactly what you want, and asking contractors to list at least three jobs they have done like the one you contemplate. Then, compare the bids and the submitted credentials. You might employ a consultant to help you pick the winner. Dick Koral

Question #525: I live in a pre-war co-op and have an original shower body inside the wall. I want to have an acrylic wall system installed in my stall shower. I've had drip issues since buying the apartment. My super has replaced the valve stems & changed the washers twice. I'd like a one valve unit installed while work is done to the walls/floor. Since now would be the time to avoid further plumbing issues with the shower body, I'd like to know how I can have the co-op pick up the tab. The unit isn't leaking into the wall, yet. I would pay for all parts. What are my options? How can I position myself for having this done as a proactive measure? Post your answer

Answer: The problem with most co-ops and condos is that the board has little idea of what proactive or preventive maintenance means. However, in the case of a shower body, it is a close call. Look to your offering plan, that should state who owns the shower body. From my experience, the shower body, even though it is behind the wall, does belong to the owner of the apartment. One, it is for your exclusive use, and two you can see the controls from the apartment. Sorry. But in some cases the building may pick up the cost. Just ask. PGrech,

Question #524: When the steam starts to rise in the heating system in my building the steam pipes start to knock and bang. I think it's air in the system, but anyway how do I stop the noise. Post your answer

Answer: First of all the banging is the result of water - more than air - that is trapped in the pipes. Different heating systems have different solutions. Do you have a one pipe gravity or one pipe mechanical system? Do you have a two pipe gravity or two pipe mechanical system? Is the system steam or hot water and lastly, is the system under pressure or vacuum? Also in the analysis, when does the banging occur - this is important. Does the banging occur when the steam comes up? Midway of boiler firing or towards the end? Answer these questions and we can narrow down the causes and give an opinion on the cure. PGrech,

Answer: This "water hammer" is caused when you have the hot steam hitting colder water that is stuck somewhere in the piping. It could be caused by non venting air, the piping configuration, bad steam traps, or a number of other system problems. You need a professional experienced with steam systems to diagnose the cause and recommend solutions. Joe Lambert

Question #523: Whenever my landlord improves an apartment that's been vacated, the fumes from the polyurethane floor treatment fill other apartments. I like my super and don't want to cause trouble for him, but stinging eyes, headaches, and upset babies are a real problem. What suggestions can I make to my super? Post your answer

Answer: I sure know what you mean about that odor and watery eyes. There is no real solution. This I know because we treat our apartment floors the same way. I have found to reduce the effects of floor treatment, putting a cheap, boxed fan in the window works very well. Secondly, when possible only apply the polyurethane on dry days. The humidity only slows down the drying and keeps the odors locked indoors. These two simple things will greatly reduce the effects. Good luck. PGrech,

Answer: The only other way to get rid of the odors more quickly is to use a water based polyurethane. The oil based one is the one that throws off the odors for hours or days. Mike Mac

Question #518: I have a family of five with three children under the age of 4. We live in a rented 2 bedroom apartment. We have had an ongoing mice problem since Christmas of 2004. The landlord says we have a lot of clutter. He has sent people to come by and plug up some holes in the walls a few times but we still have mice. What course of action can I now take to get rid of these mice and protect my young family? Post your answer

Answer: Mice are attracted to FOOD. Remove the food and the mice will move on. Clutter only gives the mice refuge and encourages them to live in your apartment. Remove the food, remove the refuge and the mice will move on. Once you have done this and the mice still won't move, send the landlord a written letter advising him of his obligation. In addition to the above, you may want to bring in your own exterminator after advising the landlord that you are going to do it. If you do this, you may be able to collect the money spent from the landlord. May I suggest using one of our vendor members (See the March 2005 newsletter). PGrech,

Question #517:  I want to replace the bin on the sidewalk where we store bags of garbage and recycling until it is time to put it out for pickup. I need to know where to find fabricators of such bins. Post your answer

Answer: There are several options you should consider: Rubbermaid horizontal sheds (#3747-01) would be the best solution, unfortunately they were discontinued and cannot be purchased anymore from Our customers on the other hand, do have access to our leftover inventory for the Item# 3747-01 (54 pcs to date). This is an item in the range of $250 - $270. Other solution depending on the actual site and desired look is the metal dumpster. A metal dumpster can be found in several sizes (standard sizes go from 1 yd and up, metal or plastic lids, casters or not). This option would allow you to discard existing pails. Also visit and search for "cube trucks". These come from yd and up. Lids can be purchased as well. Dino Leva, 914-667-7713 Every Supply Company, Inc.

Answer: You can also have one or more made of wood. Wood can be quite durable, painted and easily maintained. Ask your super if he could build them for you for extra pay. PGrech,

Question #516: Is there a requirement for landlords to install electronic ignition rather than the pilot light in stoves and ovens? Post your answer

Answer: There is no law or code that requires a landlord to replace working stoves with electronic ignition. However, when the stove has to be replaced with a NEW stove, that new stove has to have electronic ignition. The landlord is NOT required to install a new appliance as a replacement for a non-operational one. The landlord can replace it with an old or used appliance as long as it is of the same size or larger, and that it works. In this case, if he is replacing a stove with a USED stove, that used stove does NOT have to have electronic ignition - ONLY if he gives you a new one. A tenant can request a new stove or appliance rather then getting a used one, but the cost of the new stove/appliance is divided by 40 and 1/40 of the cost is added to the rent forever. PGrech,

Question #511: How do you use a toner tracer to find a circuit breaker? Having a problem trying to find a breaker. Post your answer

Answer: Toner tracers work like sonar, the difference being sonar sends a pulse signal through water, the toner tracer sends the pulse through the wire. So attach the transmitter into the circuit you wish to look for on the fuse box, switch it on, and then pass the receiver over each fuse. When the receiver detects the pulse you will hear a sound or see a light. There are two types, one that is designed to have NO POWER in the circuit and on that has power in the circuit. Also, you may get a false reading at the fuse because the wires are so close together you have to pass it a few times to eliminate the false readings. PGrech,

Question #508: How can it be determined whether our building's boiler is producing wet steam - and pushing water up through the heating system - which may be causing water hammer? Post your answer

Answer: The term for 'wet' steam coming out of boilers is carryover. Basically the water in the boiler is carrying over into the steam line. This usually happens only on boilers that have the water level too high or have very dirty water in the boiler (sort of like foaming). Some boiler piping will have a steam trap or two right on the main distribution line near the boiler. If these have a strainer before them you can see if you are getting a lot of water here.

However, most cases of water hammer occur because of naturally occurring water that is formed when the steam condenses. This water needs to be drained from the system, usually from the bottom of every riser. So, if you are getting hammer near the boiler or in almost every riser, you may have carryover. If you are getting hammer in one or two risers or radiators, the water problem is more localized. Joe Lambert

Question #507: How can you unclog a septic tank and clogged up tub?  Post your answer

Answer: Not sure what you are asking. If you are asking how to unclog a septic tank, you need to call in a septic tank cleaning company. If you are asking how can you unclog a septic tank and result in clogging up the tub, I have no idea. I don't think the two are related, just coincidental. PGrech,

Question #506: Can soot be disposed of with the regular trash? Post your answer

Answer: Yes.

Question #505: What are the by-products of punching a boiler and how are they disposed of? Post your answer

Answer: There is no by-product from punching a boiler. There is, however, a byproduct of incomplete combustion which results in buildup in boiler tubes that require them to be punched. That byproduct of incomplete combustion is carbon (soot). This soot by itself is harmless, however, when it is in the presence of air and moisture it becomes a form of sulfuric acid. Best way to dispose of the soot is to put it into plastic containers such as those that laundry detergent comes in, put them into a garbage bag and dispose of them via sanitation. PGrech,

Question #491: I live in a two level apartment in Brooklyn. My upstairs bath tub is leaking water into the downstairs ceiling. The landlord said that it is due to the fact that we have no overflow pipe or drain, but that he is not responsible for it and that we should not put so much water into the tub. What is the real law on this and where can I find information on it? Post your answer

Answer:  Your landlord is typically responsible for repairs to pipes inside the walls (whether or not it's a leak in the drain pipe or a nonexistent overflow pipe), and a typical lease / rental agreement will spell out the details, at least in general terms. Consult with a lawyer well-versed in landlord / tenant law to be certain who is responsible for what in your case.

Question #487: Some of the electrical outlets in my apartment have a light switch on top and plug on bottom. A friend of mine told me this is no longer code. Should these be converted to separate the light switch and the electrical plug? Post your answer

Answer: The type of switch you are referring to is called a stack switch. Yes, they are no longer to code. If your stack switch works fine, then it's ok to leave it as is; if you have to replace it because its broken, then you have to put in a GFI stack switch, that's to code. Furthermore, new renovations call for a separate line and switch for the light and a separate GFI outlet. I recommend replacing the old stack switchers with the new GFI stack switches because they do save lives. PGrech,

Question #486: I have changed and serviced all the traps in the basement that I could, and I have one radiator (out of six on a riser) that is not getting hot. What I did today is turn off the main valve on the return line to the vacuum pump. After than I opened a valve that I have on top of the boiler to see if I would get any action in or out. I didn't get anything, so I don't know if I am having a problem with the vacuum pump? Post your answer

Answer: Not sure what you mean by opening and closing the valve on top of the boiler. You need to supply more information for me to give you a proper answer, such as outside temp, inches of vacuum at the time, settings on the motorized valve, etc.? PGrech,

Answer: My suggestion is to concentrate on the particular riser and the radiators, traps, return line and riser return associated with it. Change all traps on radiators attached to riser. Check for vacuum AT THE TRAP on the riser. If none, look for areas in the riser or return where water could collect and block the vacuum. After you spend too much time on it, call in a professional who can look at the system with a fresh prospective.  Joe Lambert

Question #479: I live in a co-op building, built in 1952 with 108 units. When I purchased the apartment I noticed that the apartment contained a fuse box instead of an updated circuit breaker. While installing ceiling fixtures I noticed that that the wires were very old. Since the wires are in the walls is the co-op responsible for updating the wiring or am I responsible? What's the average cost of upgrading wires in an 2 bedroom apartment?  Post your answer

Answer: You need to refer to your co-op offering plan to see who is responsible for replacing your wires. My guess is you are. Changing wires depends on whether the wires are in BX cables or in conduit. If they are in conduit then you are in luck because it is relatively inexpensive to do as compared to BX cable. In conduit the wires are just pulled out and new wires are pulled in. With BX cable the entire cable has to be removed which means disturbing the plaster and paint. In conduit, very little plaster and paint are disturbed. PGrech,

Question #478: How do I fix a downdraft in the hot water heater so the fumes will go out instead of building up carbon monoxide. Post your answer

Answer: There could be a number of causes for a downdraft in a gas fired hot water heater.  The first thing to do is to check the flue for proper pitch or any obstructions.  The second cause, which we have seen many times, is a negative air pressure in the room where the hot water heater is.  You MUST have fresh air make-up into any room that has a burner (boiler, hot water heater, even a fireplace).  Without  a source of air in the room there is a chance that the combustion air is being pulled down the chimney causing the downdraft. Joe Lambert,

Question #474: In a small kitchen renovation, on the side with the sink, and refrigerator to the left of the sink, how best can the countertop and refrigerator be separated so that no water drips down between the two, and what fraction of an inch should there actually be between the two. Post your answer

Answer: The space between the refrigerator and the countertop can be as little as you want it to be. This is because most new refrigerators have the condensing coil at the bottom. Just make sure there is about an inch between the back of the refrigerator and the back wall. To stop water, you can either have the backsplash of the counter continue to make a right angle corner next to the refrigerator, or you can buy a plastic strip to go against the refrigerator and counter. Or you can use due diligence and not splash water. PGrech,

Question #472: My boiler is steam and works with a vacuum system. One of the risers feeds about 6 radiators. I find that these 6 radiators only get half-way hot, the rest of the building is OK. I changed the radiator trap and also the supply and the return line from the first radiator. I cannot find the main trap because a lot of the pipes are in the wall, what I did was touch the pipe with my hand, before and after the trap and they both are hot - I didn't use the chalk or tester. What could be the problem? Post your answer

Answer: Your problem may be your steam trap. When a steam traps gets worn it doesn't allow heat to pass because they contain a little water inside them. Replace the trap (which is on the return side of your radiator) and your radiator should get fully heated. Roberto Cardona

Answer: In addition to the above, replace the parts to the main steam trap on the return riser in the basement. PGrech,

Answer: Hopefully, you replaced the traps on ALL 6 radiators on the riser. If so, look for a place where water will collect and block the vacuum on the return line. A quick check is: on the radiator, close the steam valve tightly and carefully remove the cover of the trap and the element inside. When the vacuum system is on, you should feel the vacuum on the orifice of the steam trap. Check all traps on the riser this way. If no vacuum, you will get partial heating. Then you must check where water may be blocking the vacuum on the return line. Joe Lambert

Question #471: Can someone give the names of the parts of a gun type burner? Post your answer

Answer: Main Parts: oil burner - gun type:

  • Main body
  • Transformer
  • Electrodes (one or two)
  • Cable from transformer to electrodes
  • Air or draft tube,
  • Fan or blower,
  • Nozzle (one or two)
  • Fuel pump, one or two stage type
  • Metering pump
  • Air damper
  • Air damper linkage
  • Air diffuser, fixed or adjustable,
  • Manufacturers name tag,
  • Burner drive coupling,
  • Safety devices such as oil interlocks and inspection interlocks (number depends on type of burner and code)

Not in order, and to the best of my memory; notwithstanding there are many different types of burners, so either the names would change or other equipment may be present. PGrech,

Question #469: How do you attach a plastic sink trap to the main line which is lead pipe? Post your answer

Answer: In New York City boroughs, you don't. It's illegal to use plastic or PVC piping. And by the way, anytime the trap is involved, then by code you must have a licensed plumber do the work. PGrech,

Question #467: What are the dangers of using white 1 1/4 " PVC pipe to carry hot water from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs apartment. The pipe is run through a closet in the upstairs apartment. This is in a senior housing complex in California. Does the PVC pipe put off harmful fumes? Post your answer

Answer: PVC is safe in the form of PVC pipe. You can drink water carried by it and it will last over 100 years. Europe is now using PVC piping. PVC is ONLY dangerous when it is burning - then it gives off a poisonous gas - but only when it's on fire.

Question #466: My home is very old and has one outlet in each room. I only have six breakers on the panel. I know its a fire hazard - if an inspector was to look at it he would agree. If it was confirmed as a fire hazard, is my landlord responsible to fix it, and if so would he have to pay for housing me in another spot while the problem was fixed? Post your answer

Answer: What might appear to you as a fire violation may not be one. It is not unusual that an old apartment still has fuses and only one outlet per room. If the fire hazard is in the fuse box, then once the violation is given out he is obliged to cure it. He is not required to give you more outlets. Also, assuming that the violation is in the fusebox, that can be replaced with circuit breakers in one day, so you would not have to vacate. PGrech,

Question #463: Our building has exhaust vents in bathrooms and kitchens where there are no windows. How are these systems maintained and/or cleaned and is that something that should regularly be done? Post your answer

Answer: Basically there are three parts to this kind of vent system. The first is the roof exhaust fan: these fans need attention usually on a monthly basis. Lubrication and check of the belts for wear and tear are the most common maintenance. Second is the vent grill or louver in the kitchen and bath room: these need to be cleaned usually once a year unless the occupant is a heavy cook who uses grease, then more often. Best and quickest way to check whether the vent is working: use one sheet of two-ply toilet paper. Hold this to the vent flat and let go. The air draw from the vent should keep the sheet of toilet paper in place. The third part to this system is the duct itself: this should be mechanically cleaned every 5 years or so depending on usage. PGrech,

Question #462: What does it mean when your heating pipes and your radiators in your home make extremely loud noise, such as clanking and banging almost as if it will break. Is there some flood in the boiler itself? Post your answer

Answer: The loud banging in steam system radiators and associated piping occurs when steam rises from the boiler after the boiler has been resting for a while. When the rising steam encounters a puddle of cold water (which should not be there) sitting in a section of sagging piping or the radiators, it suddenly implodes and creates an instant vacuum, which shakes things up. It's quite easily fixed. Dick Koral

Answer: In addition to the above answer, your boiler may have too much water in it and when it makes steam the water is carried over with the steam, making for wet steam. Steam is meant to be dry, very dry. PGrech,

Question #461: Is there a sealant or goop that can be used between the metal faces of the radiator union in a one pipe steam system? I have a slight leak, and the union seems to be in good shape.  Post your answer

Answer: Try using Teflon tape on the threads. To use "goop" is a problem because the joints expand and contract with the heating and cooling of the pipe, therefore the goop will not hold. If the tape doesn't work, try more tape. If that doesn't work, then you will have to replace the union. PGrech,

Question #458: I own a co-op and recently a heating pipe froze and burst in my bedroom, flooding and ruining carpeting. My insurance only covered $215 out of $803.00 bill to replace carpeting. Co-op officers say they do not have to reimburse me for any difference in loss. What should I do, go to small claims court? Post your answer

Answer: First check your proprietary lease. In many cases, you the shareholder are responsible for the "improvements," regardless of the cause of the damage. Improvements are carpeting, cabinets and even finishes like paint.

Answer: I agree with the above, but for a small filing fee, you can go to small claims court. I think that's possibly the best road to take. PGrech,

Question #457: We live in a large pre-war Manhattan building. We have an ancient #6 oil burner and there is a 5000 gallon oil storage tank in the basement. It smells. The smell goes up the elevator shaft. It did not used to smell this much. My visitors complain because the elevator smells of gas. Something is up. What are your instincts? Post your answer

Answer: The oil tank has an air vent, venting out into the open air. The oil tank is a completely closed vessel. NO you should not be able to smell the oil fumes from inside the building. YES there is something wrong. You should call an oil tank company to look into it. You may have an oil leak, and pray that you don't. Or you may have a leak in the vent pipe. PGrech,

Question #451:  I have a loud banging noise from the steam riser in my bedroom. I have been told that the system has a single pipe steam heating, but it might be the two-pipe. The landlord is procrastinating, and more or less claims that this cannot be fixed. The noise is quite loud. Would you advise on the possible treatments of the problem? Also, could you recommend a reliable and reasonable company dealing with heating problems? Post your answer

Answer: This banging is caused when steam hits cooler water in the pipes or radiator, and is called water hammer. There are many causes, such as the pitch of the pipe, a valve that is turned off or systemic problems in the steam distribution piping in the basement. Sometimes, in fact, the problem cannot be solved without changing some piping in the walls or floors, but in other cases there are easier fixes. The company I work for solves these problems on a daily basis, and there are others throughout the city that do the same. You need a professional to come look at the problem, diagnose the cause, and recommend solutions. Joe Lambert

Question #444: Is there a good source of supply for replacement knobs for an old shower / tub? Fit-all knobs don't work well for long. Post your answer

Answer: New York Replacement Parts, 456 Lexington Avenue at 94th Street,
212-534-0818 is one. George Taylor Specialties, 76 Franklin Street near Broadway in lower Manhattan, 212-226-5369 may be another, but try NYRP first.

Question #443: I have three sets of radiators (old, clanking steam heat) in my apartment, which gets too hot. I can turn off one of them completely, but I can't manage to turn the others off, even when the wheel valve is as far "off" as it can go. What may be preventing me from turning it off? Any other valves to check, or do I need to replace the wheel valve? Suggestions? Post your answer

Answer: Radiator valves are not meant to be turned off or on, but rather used for maintenance purposes. It seems that your radiator valve is broken and needs to be replaced. In the mean time if you have a one pipe radiator, on the other end of the radiator from the valve end you will find an air vent. Turning this vent upside down will prevent most of the steam from entering the radiator. Note: the air vent may leak water in the upside down position, so keep something under it just in case, and keep your eye on it. Pgrech

Answer: Chances are that the radiator valves need to be re-packed. New packing (a rope-like substance) is available in the hardware store. The problem may be that your valve stem and bonnet is rusted so that, even with a wrench, you will not be able to open it. In that case, call a plumber. Dick Koral

Answer: Because turned-off valves sometimes cause hammer (banging), some valves, even when they are turned off, have a small flow rate through them that will still heat up the radiator. Also, in a two-pipe system you could have a failed steam trap on the return side that is letting in hot steam / condensate. Joe Lambert

Question #439: Please explain the process of double glazing. Post your answer

Answer: I'm not sure what you want to know about the "process" of double glazing, but put very simply, double glazing in windows is the use of two panes of glass with dead air space between them. This creates a certain insulating quality and will increase energy efficiency, along with other performance benefits.

Question #437: How is water hammer resolved in a building? Post your answer

Answer: Water hammer can be easily taken care of, if your building has what is termed as "air chambers." These are installed at the top of the bathroom water lines and a valve is closed off and you are allowed to remove the excess water from the system, thus removing the water hammer. Check your lines on the top floor, they can be located in hallways and sometimes inside the apartment, behind medicine cabinets. If you can't find them you may need a plumber to help you locate them, or have them installed. Roberto Cardona

Answer: The other type of water hammer is in the heating system and there are many causes, but it is usually steam and water mixing where it should not. (For more info see the answer to Question #427). Joe Lambert

Question #429: Anyone know where I can buy the pins for the heat-timer? And do you know can I buy an ON pin that is not designed for the morning? I know the ON pin for the morning will make the boiler stay on longer than its normal cycle. i want to turn off my boiler at noon and then turn it back on at 3 in the afternoon, but do not want it set for that same-type "first morning cycle". right now i have the heat-timer set at its lowest settings but the building is way too warm with very few tenants home during weekdays. Any ideas? Post your answer

Answer: Heat-Timer's website, where they have all their contact information. Also see the answer to Question #230.

Answer:  Please be aware that it is ILLEGAL to put any amount of pins or devices on the heat timer other than two, one for day one for night. You will receive a severe violation and fine if HPD inspectors find more than two pins or other devices on the heat timer. Having more than two is a violation of the Administrative Code that governs heating in multiple dwelling buildings. Pgrech,

Answer: While it is true that it is a violation of the New York City housing maintenance code to have more than one night setback pin on a heat timer, your reference to overheating despite your attempts to change the heat adjustment setting indicates that you probably have other problems with your system. Check the location and the setting for the indoor element for the heat timer. If the yellow light is not going on at some point, then the heat timer will let the boiler run constantly regardless of the outdoor temperature. This is a common problem with heat timers which have never been properly adjusted to the building. Also note, there should be enough air vents in the heating system to deliver the steam to the most remote radiator in under two minutes! If not, then add additional vents in the basement and at the top of every steam riser in the building. JEichenwald

Question #428: Moen single handle kitchen faucet Model 67315, no cold water, even when handle is all the way to the right! Hot water is extremely hot. New installation. Post your answer

Answer: Contact whoever installed it, obviously it wasn't done correctly, and they owe you a job done right. It may be just a simple thing like a loose handle or stem.

Answer: It also could be the speedy connector is kinked or blocked. Dumb as it sounds, check the valve under the sink, it may be shut, or broken. Lastly is the faucet itself may be defective. Pgrech,

Question #427: Can you please explain the importance of steam trap maintenance in a two pipe steam system and what the results of poor trap maintenance can be? Post your answer

Answer: Two bad things can happen to steam traps. They can fail closed - not letting any water (condensate) through. In this case the radiator will get cold, the tenant will call the super, and someone will fix the trap. The other case is that the trap fails in the open position - blowing live steam into the return system. This is a huge waste of steam and has other effects. The live steam goes into the return line, affecting other radiators on that return. It may cause these other radiators not to heat up, it may cause water hammer (banging in the pipes), and it may cause other problems in the distribution system. It is always my first recommendation for buildings that have not done trap maintenance to get repair capsules for ALL of the steam traps in the building and install them, riser by riser. The pay-back will always be INCREDIBLE, and the entire system will be more balanced and work better. Joe Lambert

Question #421: I recently drained a hot water heating system of unknown age. The boiler is about 15 years old but runs fine and produces great heat. The water was in terrible shape, it was filthy. At the end of the draining, black water was coming out of the drain and left a sediment trail to the basement drain. Is there an inline filter I can install in a hot water system to get the impurities out, or at least a really good website about hot water heat systems? Post your answer

Answer: The water in a hot water heating system should be drained only when absolutely necessary. When you feed fresh water into the system, the fresh oxygen introduced will increase the rate of corrosion of the system. The black you saw was normal, the water you drained was okay - and inert - and you would not have had a problem leaving it in the system. Eugene Marabello

Answer: To expand on Gene's answer: Boiler valves such as bottom, surface, column, and low water cutoff should be blown regularly (say once a week), for a few seconds. This will prevent what you experienced. Boiler water should be completely drained once a year with a chemical, blown down to clean the mineral build up from the water side of the tubes. Pgrech,

Question #420: Are there contractors that specialize in steam trap repair / maintenance? If so, can you list some. Post your answer

Answer: Our Company does many steam trap services (as well as other steam related work). We are Leonard Powers here in New York City.

Question #415: I live in a NYC prewar co-op and the noise from the steam radiators is really loud at times throughout the night. Is there anything I can do to fix it? Post your answer

Answer: There are many causes of water hammer in a heating system. For a steam radiator, it may be the pitch of the piping, the steam trap on a two pipe system or the vent on a one pipe system, or even a problem with the riser originating in the basement. You must get a steam professional to diagnose the problem before it gets fixed. One common problem with steam radiators is that people may close the radiator valve trying to get less heat and this very often causes the banging. Joe Lambert

Question #405: At the level my landlord keeps the temperature, only two radiators in the apartment ever get hot. The radiator in my room does not turn on unless the landlord raises the heat to 75 degrees. Therefore the temperature in my room when the door is closed, falls below 68 degrees. The only way I can heat it is to constantly leave the door open. Is this legal under the heating codes? Post your answer

Answer: The real question you need to answer is not whether it's legal, but why that radiator doesn't heat up as fast as the others. Best bet is that there may be some air trapped in the radiator, which means that the air vent on the radiator is either not working properly or not at all, or doesn't exist. Talk to your super or a good plumber and they should be able to figure out what you need to get it working properly.

Question #403: I live in an old 5 story converted factory building in New York City. Occasionally on the 5th floor we smell very noxious odors coming from the floor boards, similar to spray paint. Is it illegal to use such chemicals in a residential building? Post your answer

Answer: Your building is not the only building that has these kinds of problems (where the building was first used as a factory then converted to a residence). I know of a building that once was a dye factory, and when there was a leak, the dye would ooze out of the floor into the apartment below - not to mention the dye smell. "Is it illegal to use chemicals" is not the question, as these are old chemicals imbedded into the floors of the building - as opposed to someone using chemicals today. Your Board would have to look into this as I can't find any City Codes that really answer your question. Pgrech,

Question #398: I just moved into my apartment 2 months ago, a co-op, and noticed the heater pipes in the bathroom that run from floor to ceiling have a covering halfway up that seems to be fiberglass or something like that with a paper type outer layer. It prevents one from getting burned (the previous owner had small children) but I am wondering if this covering is safe and the best way to handle the hot pipes. Post your answer

Answer: Not sure what you mean by "is it safe?" The insulation you are describing seems to be a standard fiberglass pipe insulation. It is common to use this type in kitchens and bathrooms to cover half the steam riser, to prevent children from minor burns. I have seen some very imaginative ways to solve the protection part while keeping the riser pretty. Try inventing a stainless steel mesh wrap, its looks great and serves the purpose.  Pgrech,

Question #397: The other day my manager was talking to the board president about installing co-generation. They turned to me and asked me what did I think about co-generation. I said we need to study it more before making a decision. Now I have NO idea what co-generation is. I tied to look it up but really couldn't find anything. So please what is it, is it a good idea, what can I say to make them think I am smart and know about this subject. Can you have a free workshop on co-generation and visit a building with it? Post your answer

Answer: Cogeneration simply means combined heat and power (CHP). Cogeneration systems either convert waste heat into power or generate heat and power from a single energy input, usually using either reciprocating engines or a turbine. Turbines are normally powered by steam or hot air. Combustion turbines have a compressor, combustor, and hot air turbine in a single unit. One common method is to use the waste heat from an engine or combustion turbine to generate steam, which is then used to power a steam turbine. CHP allows a more total use of energy than conventional generation, potentially reaching an efficiency of 70-90%, compared with approximately 50% for conventional plants. This means that less fuel needs to be consumed to produce the same amount of energy. (I don't know how you can say you tried to look it up but couldn't find anything - there's more online than you could read in many weeks). Here is a pretty good site on the subject. Google "cogeneration" for lots more info.

Answer: To answer the rest of your question, it is possible that in the near future we would have a trip to a building with cogeneration. We have had similar trips to green buildings. Your emphasis on FREE is bothersome. Seems many want to get everything for free and fast. It has taken most of us a lifetime to learn what we have learned, and we are glad to share our knowledge with people who ask. As for free, the saying here is "forget about it". Pgrech,

Answer: To find out if cogeneration is applicable to your building, go to, the state energy office, and ask for expert assistance. In general, cogeneration systems are feasible only for large apartment buildings or building complexes.

Question #395: Are PVC pipes and/or tubing permitted in the installation of central vacuums in New York City in a multiple dwelling? If it is allowed where can I get copies of such confirmation. Post your answer

Answer: According to the 1991 Amended Building Code for the City of New York, when referring to dwellings as per section four of the Multiple Dwelling Law, there is no mention of a central vacuum system what so ever. The PVC rule is only applied to plumbing. Ergo one can deduce that PVC is allowed for central vacuum systems only because there is no rule against it. And I know that plumbers would agree on this issue. Your best bet would be to call Department of Buildings or an architect. Please let us know what you find out. Pgrech,

Question #393: I live in a Manhattan apartment with a gas stove; the stove is probably 2-3 years old and has pilot lights. Frequently the pilot lights go out and the apartment becomes very rank with the smell of gas. I have reported this to the management and to the super; the super re-lit the pilots and said there would be no further problems. That was more than a year ago and still the problem persists. I feel unsafe and have to keep a window open in the kitchen to manage the smell. Please help me. Post your answer

Answer: Your problem is not too uncommon. The super needs to increase the pilot light flame just a tad to compensate. Also cleaning the burners and pilot light orifice will help. Remember only have it increased just a tad. If it is increased too much then there you have other problems. Pgrech,

Question #387: I have a tenant who claims the top of a Delaney flushometer flew off without notice or any recent service, obviously causing significant water damage before the valve was shut. Has anyone had a similar incident? It doesn't seem possible but thought I'd ask. Post your answer

Answer: With close to 30 years experience in this field I have seen almost all. (I have seen the spindle and handle fly off the hot water valve that connects the washing machine.) Yes this can happen in two ways. First the head may not have been screwed on correctly (cross threaded), secondly the thread could be worn. Usually it's the worn threads. Pgrech,

Answer: If you heard any water hammer in the flush unit, this could also be the cause. Water hammer is powerful enough to drive the cap off the flush unit over a period of time.

Question #381: We'd like to know the pros and cons of installing in-sink garbage disposals in a 20 story, early 1960s Manhattan apartment building. What impact might there be on the plumbing? Post your answer

Answer: While it is legal to put garbage disposals in sinks in Manhattan, it is not a good idea to put them in apartment buildings, especially old buildings. The drains in old buildings are hard to keep clean as it is. I spoke to two plumbing outfits and they love the garbage disposals, as they are about 10 percent of their business problems. Pgrech,

Answer: The above answer is correct, not to mention that a lot of the buildings in Manhattan are cooperatives or condominiums and the boards are dead set against installing them because of the problems stated above with the drains.

Question #380: What kind of paint would you use to refinish a fiberglass bathtub or shower and what would the procedure be? Post your answer

Answer: I would use Dupont Imron or Sherwin Williams Sunfire, which are both polyurethane enamels - I would not use epoxy. I would spray it on using a good quality, 3 or 4 stage, HVLP sprayer and I would wear a full fresh air mask while spraying, as the isocyinates from these paints cannot be filtered by charcoal filter masks. I would prep the surface by sanding it with 220 wet sandpaper -jw

Question #376: What are the steps involved when a co-op building is considering upgrading it's heating plant (boiler, burner, oil tank, timers) etc. Who determines what is needed and then how does the contractor get hired, monitored etc. Post your answer

Answer: First step is to hire an engineer or a heating specialist. Jeff Eichenwald of this Technical Association is just such a specialist. Pgrech

Question #371: We live in a 90-unit cooperative in Manhattan. Recently the Board hired the Superintendent to renovate a "bike room" for about $4,200. This entailed removing three walls, removing a bathroom and the appliances in it and installing new electrical and switch. There were no permits obtained and the Super does not have an electric or contractor's license. He also hired some people, who clearly were not licensed, to help out. This all seems like a bad idea. Can you advise? Post your answer

Answer:  Bad idea? Not really. As along as no one who is working for the super gets hurt, as long as no building inspectors came by, as long as there is no electrical fire, as long as no resident gets hurt - to name a few - it should work out ok. There comes a time when Boards have to weigh the up-front cost versus the possible hidden cost when things go wrong. A better idea would have been to not have the super be the contractor but an employee of the building, and have him and a temp helper build the room. This way everything would have been covered properly by building insurance. The electrical, as long as NO NEW installation was being done and only Old fixtures were being replaced ,sounds like it's within the electrical code. It's good to give the super and staff extra money for extra work; you just have to consider is he acting as worker or contractor. Pgrech

Answer:  You answered your own question. If the Buildings Department gets wind of this, you are all in trouble. If a fire breaks out or other thing you think you are insured for, the insurance company will find out what you did and refuse to pay. Dick Koral

Question #365: Can a building that burns oil to make steam heat realistically purchase steam from Con Edison that can be distributed throughout the heating system, in effect, rendering the boiler obsolete (except for possible heating of hot water). If so, what are pros and cons? Post your answer

Answer: The short answer is yes. For your building, steam is steam, it makes no difference how it is made. Many buildings have changed from boiler to Con-Ed steam. A new pressure reducing station must be installed (often costing more than a new boiler, depending on the size of the building). The old boiler can be left in place or removed to create new usable space. The pro's are there is no fuel in building, no boiler maintenance or operation. The con's are that Con Ed steam is probably more expensive - depending on the efficiency of your existing boiler, and there is maintenance on the pressure reducing equipment. Con-Ed on its site gives some sales points at:   Ultimately, it will be a cost/benefit analysis that will differ for each individual building. Joe Lambert

Question #351: What causes "brown water"? Is it just like oxidation or rust in pipes. What can be done to remedy this, in a building that already has a water filtration system in place. Post your answer

Answer: Brown water can come from the pipes or from the water supply. If you have a WORKING filter system on the incoming water, then the 'brown' must be from the pipes.

One source is the hot water system. These have return lines that circulate the hot water around the building and there is more chance of picking up deposits in this system. We have been successful putting in small centrifugal separators on this recirculating line to remove this type of debris. Joe Lambert

Question #332: We are having trouble with clothes washing liquid soap being spilled on hallway carpets. We manage senior buildings where the occupants use pull carts to carry laundry. They don't get the top on tight, and then when the cart is tipped back it dribbles over the carpet. Any advice on how to get it out? Post your answer

Answer: Use a good heavy duty extractor or wet and dry vac. Pgrech

Question #326: How can I stop the condensation from the toilet? Post your answer

Answer: Condensation can not come from water that is around room temperature. Therefore, for a toilet tank to gather condensation, the water must be well below room temperature. 99% of the time water that is cold enough to cause condensation is caused by running water. Therefore, there is a small leak in your tank. Put food dye in the tank and wait and watch to see if the dye leaks out into the bowl, making sure you don't flush during that time - it may take a good 30 minutes. Then just replace the leaking part. Members of our club know these things because they are discussed at meetings. Lets see you at one soon. Peter

Question #317: I am interested in cleaning my radiator before I repaint it. Do you recommend any solvents? Post your answer

Answer: If you are just cleaning your radiator, first vacuum as best you can the dust and lint etc., from the radiator. Fantastik is a good product that would clean the radiator. Pgrech

Question #304: I am trying to renovate my bathroom, which is probably in original condition. The prewar co-op is from 1920s but not sure about this bathroom - has cast iron bathtub, small tiles glued in floor, pedestal sink and flushometer toilet. Can I get away with just reglazing the bathtub? I will do the plumbing work for the sink and toilet to replace with tank and vanity sink (and also redo floors), but not sure if I can afford even more plumbing associated with bathtub. What are my risks? I am on the near to top floor. Some people have warned me that my renovations could be ruined by not fixing the tub, but what things could happen? I'm planning on living there for 5 years max so do I have to invest in it? Post your answer

Answer: If only we had a crystal ball to look into the future. Glazing only the tub works. Keep in mind that while replacing plumbing and the tub is the ultimate solution, just glazing the tube is cosmetic. Reglazing will cost under $350.00 as long as your tub is in reasonable condition, and it was not reglazed before. If so add about another $100.00 or so. $350.00 is not a bad investment to clean up your bathroom, and should you have a leak (and who knows if you will or not), it was only $350.00 invested. Not a great loss for enjoying the clean tub for that time. Pgrech

Question #300: Can you please explain why the water in my bathtub turns to a lime green as I fill it up with cold water? Post your answer

Answer: Assuming this didn't happen on St. Patrick's Day then more information is needed about your building to formulate an answer. How old is the building? Does the building have galvanized piping? Where are you located? How high is the building? Has your riser line recently had any repairs done to it? Does any one else in the building have this problem? If all or parts of the piping is galvanized, the lime green could be settlement and rust in the line - usually brown but could be light green. If new plumbing work was done recently, then the lime green is the flux used to solder the pipes and they over-used the flux. Township water could be contaminated. Also if you have a roof tank, then its time to have it cleaned. Pgrech

Question #297: I live in a large pre-war building and am concerned about the electric wires within my walls being old and worn. I am consistently blowing fuses and recently saw what lies behind one of the switch plates. It was quite scary looking. My building manager's response has been "you realize the building is old, right". While I do realize that the building is old, at what point does it become necessary to rewire? Post your answer

Answer: At what point do you say its time to replace the wires in the walls? Good question. Your building was built before the explosion of electrical conveniences of modern times. Best advice is to use the wires for what they were designed for, and that is very little load, or call HPD and ask for an inspection. If you request the wiring be changed, then most probably you will be subject to a rent increase.  Pgrech

Question #296: I live in a large co-op hi-rise, and I want to create a bedroom out of my dining area. I've been told that, because of ventilation laws, I will need to partly use pressurized walls (not permanent) to close off the door to the kitchen. What I'm wondering is: how big does that 'non-permanent' opening really need to be, legally? Can I just use temp materials to cover a 2'x 2' hole, instead of the entire doorway? There is no ventilation system in the kitchen, as the dining area windows are considered acceptable, but once I close off the kitchen door, that wouldn't apply, without a 'temporary' wall. Post your answer

Answer: Sorry I don't really have a solution to your question. Seems that your best move is to seek the advice of an architect. After getting all the facts, they would be able to give you the best choices for solutions that meet the legal requirements. Pgrech

Question #292: I am having severe clogging in my basement sewer line. There are 5 drains in the floor of my basement. If I run water in my tub and drain it, my basement drains overflow, especially the one that's in front of the shower and the drain where my wash machine hose drained into, which is located near the wall next to the yard. I recently hired a plumber to run lines into my upstairs spare room off the kitchen, and I had him move my washer and dryer upstairs. Every since he did this my basement drains clog up and feces and toilet paper and water is all over the floor. Can you tell me what is causing the clogging. Post your answer

Answer: Your problems may have one of two causes: 1. Improper venting of the drains; 2. Major stoppage in the main drains going to the sewer system. Pgrech

Question #290: How do you repair a collapsed sewer pipe under a home yourself. My husband & I can not afford $2,500.00 for a plumber to do it. Post your answer

Answer: Don't kid yourself. You can't do this on your own. A competent plumber is exactly who you'll have to hire to do it, unless you can prove it's owned by someone else. Look at it as an investment in your property, bite the bullet and get it done. If you have equity in your home and good credit you should have no problem getting a loan - if you need it - to do the work.

Question #280: We have an old boiler (maybe 20 years); it burns number 6 oil and I do not have more information but evidently a bearing needs to be replaced. How bad is that and what precisely does it mean? Thank you. Also there is some kind of a problem to do with broken (internal?) pipes and chemicals mixing and a chlorine smell. Post your answer

Answer: You need to have a qualified boiler mechanic take a look at it immediately. Don't delay - a proper diagnosis of the problem can NOT be done via email.

Question #278: What is the proper procedure according to NYC regulation in charging a York centrifugal a/c unit, after it has been repaired? Post your answer

Answer: I won't answer this question because only qualified persons with the proper Certificate of Fitness and license can do that work, and if you did have the certificate and license, you wouldn't be asking this question because you would know. Pgrech

Question #277:  What kind of adapter do I need to join PVC pipe to ABS pipe? Post your answer

Answer: PVC and ABS are basically two different types of plastic pipe. In the past NO HUB or Franko (all Rubber fitting) fittings we used to join both pipes. I recently heard that there is a cement (glue) that can join both together, but I don't know the name. A good plumbing supplier will be able to help you there. Pgrech

Question #266: I just bought an apartment in an 8-unit, fully owner-occupied co-op building in Brooklyn. None of the other owners have dishwashers or washing machines, even though the lease allows it. Since we pay the building's water bill collectively, they've voiced concern that our appliances will raise their bill. We've offered to chip in more, but there's no way to tell how much water we'll really be using. How do other co-ops deal with this? Are there individual water meters we can attach to each apartment? Post your answer

Answer: Dishes have to be washed, whether by hand or by machine. In most cases people let the water run down the drain while washing dishes. Did you KNOW that a dishwasher in many cases uses either the same or LESS water then if down by hand? The only thing a dishwasher uses more of is HOT water. Pgrech

Answer: Engage a plumber to install a water meter on the lines going to the washing machine, if the co-op board agrees. Dick Koral

Question #263: When I watch the home improvement shows on TV, This Old House etc., one thing they often recommend to upgrade steam radiators is the addition of a thermostat to individual radiators. I've been in a lot of over heated apartments but have never seen a thermostat on a radiator. Why is that? Is it just not feasible in a large building or is it not worth the savings in fuel oil? Post your answer

Answer: There are probably several reasons for not having individual thermostats on apartment radiators. Many owners may not know that such a device is even available, having not done the research, or because they're relying on their supers or managing agents, who also may not know or care that radiator thermostatic valves exist. And, if they do know of their existence, that they work as intended and can be installed at a reasonable price. Another reason may be that, in the past, some of these devices have not worked all that well. I have them in my building, and after having been installed 6 or so years ago, they are failing. When they fail, they usually don't work at all,  generally (although not always) blocking all heat from coming into the radiator. The solution agreed upon by management and the heating specialist, although I was against it, was to remove the thermostatic valves (we had and still have some "Dan Foss" brand valves) when they go bad. Just removing them is not a particularly good solution because it gives the owner/tenant no way to turn down the heat when it does get too warm in the apartment - the only instant alternative in most cases being to open the windows. To answer your question from my experience: yes, I think generally it is economically feasible to install these, and yes generally I believe they do save energy, although I cannot give you specifics. The specific answer(s) depends on the equipment already in your building & how good the controls are that are already in place, the predilections of your owner and manager and super, and what kind of cost/benefit ratio is expected.

Question #262: I am the owner of a newly constructed 3-family house in Harlem. In all three apartments the intercom system makes a screeching noise when you press the talk or listen buttons. Does anybody have any idea as to what the problem might be? Or could refer me to someone who could fix it. Post your answer

Answer: Sounds like you have a grounding problem. We use Jordan Intercom for our repairs, 718-543-5929, ask for Diane. Pgrech

Answer: Call Umbrella Locksmith at 212-744-4499; if they can't help you, they can guide you to someone who can.

Question #257: Is there a professional washing machine installation service somewhere on the Upper West Side - a place where you can pay a fee and expect the plumber to come on the day and time that was agreed upon, install the washing machine properly and make sure that nothing leaks and there is no danger of a plumbing accident in an old, rent-regulated apartment? Post your answer

Answer: In our building we us Alkem Plumbing to install washers. Their phone number is 718 433 2400 Pgrech

Question #249: How frequently should steam system trap maintenance be performed, and what would you say about a super who has done no such maintenance in over 20 years? Post your answer

Answer: Steam Trap Maintenance should be on a preventive maintenance schedule. Every Heating season, the RISER traps should be checked by temperature differential to make sure they are holding. Any traps in the apartment should be on a 5 yr automatic replacement on the thermostatic diaphragms. As for what I would say about the super who is not doing this, he should belong to our Association so that he knows these things. Pgrech

Answer: If something that should have been done wasn't done for 20 years, your building manager is as much at fault as, if not more than, your super. Normally the super answers to the manager, and it is the manager's job to oversee the super. If that oversight by the manager isn't happening adequately, things like this often fall through the cracks. Your manager needs to know what needs to be done -- as well as the super, so that he/she knows how to supervise the work of the super.

Question #239: My general contractor is redoing my co-op bathroom. His licensed plumber is using PVC to connect the new toilet, sink, bath to the old pipes instead of black iron. Is PVC legal in 36 unit 6 story buildings in Brooklyn? Post your answer

Answer: See the answer to Question 225.

Question #238: Does it make sense to replace a #6 fuel oil boiler with a #2 fuel oil boiler and separate the heating of the hot water from the steam heat? Post your answer

Answer: Which came first the egg or the chicken? The question you ask is one that is always debated. I will keep my answer succinct.

  • #6 oil is cheaper per gallon
  • #6 oil requires more maintenance
  • #6 oil has 25% more BTUs per gallon
  • #6 oil requires a permit and Certificates of Fitness to operate
  • #6 oil generates more pollution
  • #6 oil requires more equipment, ie, electric preheat, smoke guard, fuel transfer pump.

When asked which do I like, I love #6 oil. Pgrech

Question #235: I live on the top floor of a walk-up. This winter season there has been a harsh, burnt, petroleum-like, chemical smell coming from all my radiators, especially when the heat first comes on. I think the landlord has been doing unlicensed work in the basement, so he is reluctant to acknowledge any problem. What could it be? Is it dangerous? Post your answer

Answer: Why do you suspect a link between the smell and unlicensed work (if any has been going on), and why do you think unlicensed work HAS been going on? Living in the building it is incumbent on you, if you suspect anything shady going on, to investigate. Most problems between landlords and tenants are the result of miscommunication or no communication. Ask, keep on asking and demand answers, with the premise in mind that you DO have a right to know most of what goes on in the building in which you live. This is your home, and you have a right to know what the super, management and/or landlord does in the building that may adversely impact on you, other tenants, and especially children in the building. Don't just expect your landlord to do the right thing - some will, some won't unless they're forced to do so.

Question #234: The PSI gauge on our booster pump (we have a 6 storey 75 unit co-op) when turned on reads zero and the pipes start to shake. I have been told there may be air in the pipes. How do I correct this? Post your answer

Answer: Your gauge is broken or malfunctioning, depending on where the gauge is located on the pump. If the gauge is on the suction line of the pump, then it should read the street pressure. If the gauge is located on the discharge side, then it should read the pressure being discharged when the pumps are on. If the pumps are off, then it should read the head pressure of the column of water in the pipe. The noise, if the noise is heard in the pump itself, and it is a centrifugal pump then yes it may be air. If the noise is heard in the discharge pipes, then the noise is due to NOT ENOUGH VOLUME of water. Pgrech

Question #233: There is a strange chemical smell, sort of like the smell when you burn plastic but a little different, that is somehow related to the radiator heat system in my apartment. I don't always smell it, not even when the radiators are on, but quite often the whole kitchen takes on a strong chemical smell - I open the window, but I'm worried about what it might be doing to my health. The interesting thing is that you can sometimes smell the same chemical odor in the second floor landing of the stairway leading up to my apartment (on the third floor). I told the Super, but when he come by it seems like the smell is gone. It often smells worse at night. Any ideas? I have not recently painted anything in my apartment. Post your answer

Answer: Your description is much too vague to allow anyone to make a definite pronouncement as to the problem and solution. From what you describe it is probably related to someone painting a radiator, but if you didn't paint any radiators in your apartment recently, then it may be someone else, even on another floor, having painted their radiator(s). IF that's all it is, the smell will go away in a few days or weeks as the paint gets "baked" onto the radiator surface by the heat - and cured, and you're doing the right thing in opening a window when you encounter the smell. If however, it's something else and the smell keeps returning, get other tenants and the super or management involved in trying to discover the source, and whether or not it's toxic.

Question #230: I'm a newly hired super in a building with a Heat-Timer device on the heating system. I'm not familiar with how to program a heat timer, and there is no manual. How can I get a users manual for it? Post your answer

Answer: First, find out which heat timer model you have, then go to the Heat-Timer website. You will have to register with them (it's free) giving them your name, address, management company name, etc., and choose a username and password. After that you can go to the portion of their website that has the user manuals. Choose your model from their list, and download the appropriate PDF file to your computer. Then if you want to, you can print it. You can also call them to inquire about their training schedule.

Question #228: When we moved into our house the 2nd floor was unfinished. Now that we are in the process of finishing the 2nd floor, what are our options for heating the upstairs? Post your answer

Answer: WHATEVER heat you use on the first floor can be extended to the 2nd. Call several good heating contractors, who will come out, take a look, and give you a free proposal/estimate to do the work. You might start with the plumbing/heating contractors who advertise with us.

Answer: You will have to supply a lot more information for ANYONE to give you advice, like details of the system that is heating the first floor. Steam heat? Hot water heat? Warm air heat? Is there piping or ductwork going to the 2nd floor?

Question #225: Can I use bristol pvc pipes to do the drain of my wash machine in New York City? Post your answer

Answer: To the best of my knowledge, NO PVC piping can be used in NYC legally. Pgrech

Question #224: We just got a new boiler installed in our 16 unit co-op. What, if any, are the requirements for obtaining a license or approval of the installation? Does the job have to be approved by the City? Post your answer

Answer: The answer is YES. But your installer should know this, as well as the engineer if you hired one as well. There may be other permits required also, depending on the fuel type used. Pgrech

Question #222: I have a question that I feel is going to be nearly impossible to resolve. Allow me to give you a bit of background first regarding the house. It is a 1056 square foot home with 2 full bathrooms, a laundry room and of course a kitchen. The house is about 60 years old and the 2nd (master bath) and the laundry room were added on, I am guessing, within the past 20 years or maybe less. The laundry room and the master bath share a common wall, where all the plumbing is.

The hot water tank is actually inside its own enclosure, a closet like space, within the first (not master bath) bathroom. It has a sink and a tub. We live in the Pacific Northwest where the average daily temp in winter is just above freezing. There are 2 teenagers in the home. Now to the problem. Approximately 2 months ago, after one child would shower in the morning, (always in the master bath as the other had no shower) the second would complain that the first had used all the hot water.... (this was a bit unusual, as the tank is I believe 52 gallons and usually quite sufficient for 2 showers).

Over a period of a month, the problem began to worsen, until one day there was no hot water at all in the master bath. We began testing all the water faucets within the home and discovered that there was no hot water all the sudden now, in the shower of the master bath, nor in the sink in that room. There was also no hot water in the sink of the other, older bathroom, but there is plenty of hot water in the tub in that bathroom. There is also no hot water in the laundry room but there is plenty in the kitchen. Very curious, you think. First we tried to reset the hot water heater. No change. We experimented. Thinking there was some sort of blockage between the hot water heater and those certain faucets, we shut the valve at the out put of the hot water tank. Then we proceeded to turn on the faucets, that are affected, one by one.... no water comes out when that valve is shut closed.

When the valve is opened, the water flows and you can feel that it warms up maybe a degree or two warmer than the cold water. We checked under the house for any signs of any leaks or flooding. Its dry under the house. We went to the local plumbing supply store and asked... they were all stumped. A handyman happened to be there at that moment, and overheard the conversation, he was fascinated but is also stumped. The hot water problem has not changed since the water stopped coming out hot in the two bathroom sinks, the master bath shower and the laundry room. There remains plenty of hot water to the other outlets. I am a single parent and I do most of the home repairs myself. I have asked everyone and anyone that I can think of if they have any clues or suggestions. Nobody has been able to help.

That is why I am sending you this e-mail. I am hoping that you have some ideas or have actually seen such a strange problem and can tell me how to fix it. We have hooked up a temporary hand held hose type shower head in the original bathroom so the kids can shower, however this bathroom has no vent or heat, and has an unfinished wood framed window that is about 4 feet above the level of the top of the tub and moisture is collecting very rapidly and if I don't figure out this problem soon, the wood is going to begin to rot. I would so appreciate any suggestions that you might offer on what to do or what to look for. Post your answer

Answer: Click here for the posted answers to this question.

Question #219: The apartment was redone a month ago and the contractor/landlord forgot to connect the heaters, so when the boiler was turned on, hot rusty water came out of the heaters onto my apartment. Is the landlord liable for my personal damage? The apartment was uninhabitable for 4 weeks and I had to clean up. Post your answer

Answer: We're not lawyers, so we don't answer specific questions of liability. Still, the person(s) who did the work should be responsible for any damage resulting from mistakes made by them or by those employed by them. Try discussing it with the "contractor/landlord" first. Then, depending on the outcome of that discussion, think about any further action you may want to take.

Question #218: In a 100 unit apartment building with a #6 fuel oil boiler, what causes banging of the heating pipes as the heat cycles on, and what can be done to eradicate it? Post your answer

Answer: In a steam system, banging is caused by water in the pipes. You should drain the traps in the basement and check that the return line is pitched down. If the banging is in individual apartments it is the radiator. On a one pipe system it is caused by the tenant shutting off the radiator while the heat is up, trapping steam which turns to water. The next time the steam comes up and hits the closed valve it bangs. On a 2 pipe system you need to replace the trap.

Question #215: There are 3 boilers in the basement generating hot water for heating. They vibrate. In the unit directly above, there are cracks and fissures in the ceiling. What's the best way to repair them? (They open up in every heating season.) How can the boiler vibrations be dampened? Post your answer

Answer: If cracks in the ceiling are not due to structural problems, they can best be repaired by caulking them using a good paintable silicone caulk. A good caulk will stretch a little with slight building shifts, and will cover a multitude of cosmetic problems. After the cracks are filled in and smoothed over, paint as usual. An experienced painting contractor will be able to advise you specifically.

Question #195: In my refrigerator water is leaking out on the floor, while is it on. Can anyone tell me what is the problem. Post your answer

Answer: Unless your refrigerator is very old, it has a plastic catch pan to collect condensation at the bottom, whether it's self-defrosting or not. It could have a hole or be missing. If you have an ice making unit, the feed system could be leaking.

Answer: Your drain hose may also be plugged. You will see it coming from the rear of the fridge leading down to the pan. Pull it off, blow it out with your mouth, or compressed air if need be. Plug back in and you are flying.

Question #193: I have a large garage door in my building and have been having lots of trouble with it. The repair companies I've used haven't been very good, and I'm shopping around for another. Anyone have a suggestion? Post your answer

Answer: I found this very reliable company called Guardian Gates. I have a contract with them. They will respond the same day or if the emergency is extreme within a few hours ( depending on the time of day) The number is (718) 725-4700. Chris Christensen

Question #191:  I did some painting recently in my apartment and stupidly, I painted some of the standing heater. I've been smelling a funny chemical smell, which I think is coming from the heater. I have no idea what to do and am scared of telling my landlord. Is it possible that the paint is burning when the heater is on? will my landlord be very mad? Post your answer

Answer: You are probably not in trouble with the landlord. Without further information on what "heater" you have in your apartment, I'm guessing it's a cast iron steam or hot water radiator? And painting them is, while not necessarily an absolute no-no, not a particularly good thing either. It will look better if you paint it, but will also be insulated better, which you don't want - in most cases you want as much heat from it as possible. Probably what you are smelling is the fresh paint cooking (burning), and in a few days or weeks, when the paint cures, the smell will stop. If you got paint on the vent, however, you should call the landlord or super and have it replaced (a few dollars to buy), because you may have stopped it up, which will prevent it from doing its job. The vent must work if you want heat distributed evenly in the radiator.

Question #179: In the building that I work they have 4 gas boilers and 2 pumps. On the 3rd floor hallway the radiator does not get hot, but on the other floors the radiators are hot. The radiator valve on the 3rd floor is turned on. If I turn the temperature up it still doesn't get hot. I would like to know what is the problem. Post your answer

Answer: It is not possible to answer your question with so few facts about your heating system. However, one does suspect that the radiator is air bound. See if bleeding the air out of it helps. If not, one might suspect that the radiator valve is in need of repair or replacement, or that the radiator is so full of rust particles that they block the flow. Dick Koral

Question #176: I have a GE Profile Quiet Power II dishwasher, model GSD402Z02BB, installed in August 1998. It has begun to spray black spots of a grease-like substance from the spray arm. Repeatedly running distilled vinegar cleans some of the grease, but it comes right back! Any ideas as to what is causing this continuing problem? Post your answer

Answer: If you don't have yours anymore, you can get an owner's manual at, besides getting lots of other information on your appliance. Unless someone responds who has experience with your particular model or the line generally, there will probably be no really good answer forthcoming. Ultimately you may have to make a decision between having a serviceman come out for between $100 and $200, or live with it and keep cleaning it as you are doing now.

Question #175: Can sewer gases back up into my basement from an unused toilet? The toilet has no water in it. Post your answer

Answer: Yes. The wet seal acts as a filter to keep out the gases and the same can be said about the hand basin, the bathtub ,as well as your kitchen sink drain lines. Roberto Cardona

Answer: YES.  The water in the bowl acts as a "wet seal", keeping the vent gases from entering the apartment. PGrech

Question #171: Can you help me find information on energy efficiency retrofits for multiple dwellings? Post your answer

Answer: Go to Google search, put in energy efficient retrofits" + "multifamily buildings as your search parameters. You'll find many leads, links and much information, much more than you can quickly digest.

Question #168: I just bought a co-op in Queens that has an old style flush valve toilet. I want to replace the toilet. Among other reasons, on a few occasions I returned home to find it was flushing continuously - perhaps all day. The downstairs neighbor has threatened to go to the co-op board if there is another day when the toilet runs endlessly all day long. Is there any advantage to getting a new tank type toilet? Post your answer

Answer: Whether you elect to replace the flush valve or replace the entire water closet with a tank type, you must now get a low-volume unit. It is likely that the new low-flush valve will not completely flush the old style bowl. Talk to your plumber to get the pros and cons. Another point: Talk to your super. What is his or her experience with maintenance of the two types. That may be the clincher. Dick Koral

Answer: There is no real advantage to changing to a tank type toilet. To renovate from a flush valve style toilet, the plumbing would have to be redirected to come out of the bottom to feed the tank, which means you would have to either break the tiles to set the pipe in the wall, or you would have to lay the pipe over tile, which is unsightly. Flush valves do work great, and actually they use less water than tank toilets, and flush better too. PGrech

Answer: Your problem is quite common; I've worked on flush valve toilets for years. A number of things may cause this to occur: the parts inside your flush valve (diaphragm) head may be worn or damaged and simply need replacement. You may also have air in your line, or the diaphragm may have "residual" which occurs during shut downs. Many people do switch to toilets with tanks, because during a shut down (the water supply to a line of bathrooms are turned off), when the main water line is opened again air has to be vented out of the lines, and if you are not home the combination of air and water in your toilet can cause flooding in your apartment. as well as the one downstairs. With the tanked toilet, that problem is eliminated because when the tank fills up the water is shut off automatically, therefore no flooding in your apartment. Roberto Cardona

Question #167: I just bought a co-op in Queens that has an old style flushometer toilet. I want to replace the toilet. Among other reasons, on a few occasions I returned home to find it was flushing continuously - perhaps all day. The downstairs neighbor has threatened to go to the co-op board if there is another day when the toilet runs endlessly all day long. Is there any advantage to getting a new tank type toilet? Post your answer

Answer: Whether you elect to replace the flush valve or replace the entire water closet with a tank type, you must now get a low-volume unit. It is likely that the new low-flush valve will not completely flush the old style bowl. Talk to your plumber to get the pros and cons. Another point: Talk to your super. What is his or her experience with maintenance of the two types. That may be the clincher. Dick Koral

Answer: There is no real advantage to changing to a tank type toilet. To renovate from a flushometer style toilet, the plumbing would have to be redirected to come out of the bottom to feed the tank, which means you would have to either break the tiles to set the pipe in the wall, or you would have to lay the pipe over tile, which is unsightly. Flushometers do work great, and actually they use less water than tank toilets, and flush better too. PGrech

Answer: Your problem is quite common; I've worked on flushometers for years. A number of things may cause this to occur: the parts inside your flushometer (diaphram) head may be worn or damaged and simply need replacement. You may also have air in your line, or the diaphram may have "residual" which occurs during shut downs. Many people do switch to toilets with tanks, because during a shut down (the water supply to a line of bathrooms are turned off), when the main water line is opened again air has to be vented out of the lines, and if you are not home the combination of air and water in your toilet can cause flooding in your apartment. as well as the one downstairs. With the tanked toilet, that problem is eliminated because when the tank fills up the water is shut off automatically, therefore no flooding in your apartment. Roberto Cardona

Question #164: Our landlord states that they filed for a permit to install a gas boiler when the weather was still warm. They say due to red tape it is taking longer than expected, and it will be another 4-6 weeks before we'll have heat. I'd like to be able to find out from the City "when exactly" they filed, if they got all the permits they need and if its really supposed to take 4-6 weeks to install a gas line and to hook up a gas boiler. Can I find this out on my own? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Not sure about the red tape. However, New York City and New York State laws state that the landlord MUST provide HEAT after Oct 1, when the temp goes below 55 degrees and must maintain an indoor temp of 68 between the hrs of 6 am to 10 pm. All other times the landlord must provide heat and maintain an indoor temp of 55 when the temp is below 40 [See heat requirements]. THATS THE LAW.  THE courts do not accept ANY excuses PERIOD. Your landlord is obligated to find other means of providing heat if the heating plant is unable to do so. PGrech

Question #162: Can anyone tell me whether or not my landlord is required to provide me with phone jacks in my apartment? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: The landlord is required to provide only a "network interface," usually a large box somewhere in the apartment, according to a Verizon rep. The tenant is responsible for the phone jacks. I suggest that you call Verizon for assistance (which will not be free!)

Answer: The network interface is just a bit larger than a normal jack, and has a jack in it. It is usually placed as near as possible to the point of entrance of the phone line into the apartment.

Answer: Phone jacks, like cable connections, are not part of the landlord's responsibility, unless specified in your lease. PGrech

Answer: Of course it depends on the lease or rental agreement that you signed, but no lease/rental I've ever heard of has provided that the landlord installs your phone jacks for you. Normally the phone company must install at least one when the service is turned on -- if there are none available already -- and will install more for you if you wish, for a fee. If you want more installed now, call any of those people looking for work on our Situations Wanted page. At least some of them would be happy to help you out.

Question #161: We live in a large 100 year old prewar apartment building in Manhattan. The two apartments above us are experiencing an occasional intense smell of sewage in a bedroom. There is no evidence of leaks but the smell is coming from a wall that does contain two pipes in it -- the pipes are perhaps six inches in diameter, probably run the full length of the building, and do not appear to go directly to any bathrooms. The smell is particularly intense when there is a strong wind outside. The super is pretending the problem does not exist as the smell is not always present. He opened the wall, looked at the pipe and did nothing. Please, what are the possible causes of this? Again, there is no evidence of leaks. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Every drain pipe riser is accompanied by a vent pipe. The vent pipe, which is tied into the drain pipe riser at each floor, allows the gases and air to move upwards so the drain and sewer water can move downwards. The vent under normal conditions is NOT carrying any waste. It only carries gases. These vents are made of galvanized pipe. So when they break or crack they will leak gases (including methane), yet not leave any trace of a leak other than a smell. If your building is 100 years old, that is your problem: the vent is leaking gas. Peter Grech

Question #151:  I am interested in seeing whether a gas-powered generator can be practically, legally and safely installed to operate essential services during a blackout in a residential co-op, 9 stories, 73 apartments, 24 car garage and basement. Calculating @ 1kW / floor, X 10 floors to include a domestic water pump, gas/oil burner with auxiliary pumps, elevator, etc, plus 1kW for the garage lights and opener and heat-fans.

Could such a setup be installed in the boiler room, electric meter room, garage, or yard, or on the garage roof? Would the gas supply be likely to continue during a blackout? Could it be dual fuel, to use our #2 heating oil as a backup? I found a nominal 8KW gas-powered generator on-line of only $2000 plus $500 for a transfer switch. Since the next blackouts may possibly be prolonged and frequent, might this be money well spent? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: The answer is yes.  However, you would need to speak to the Fire Department of New York to find out if any permits or licenses are required to operate the generator. Also, the generator must be properly vented to the outside. You can't vent it through the boiler stack.  You would need to check the code, but I believe a pipe leading out of the boiler room like into the back yard maybe fine.  Installing a steam turbine that generates electricity from unused steam is usually referred to as cogeneration, this electricity is used for the building power, lowering the cost of electricity for the building. Any unused electricity generated is sold back to Con Ed. Peter Grech

Question #142: How do you remove a child window guard that has the one-way screws? I live in an apartment with no children at all, and I'd like to move the air conditioning unit from one window to another. Unfortunately, the other window has the tamper resistant screws. I'm willing to buy a tool if necessary. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: There are tamper proof screw removers, but this tool doesn't work well if the screws have been in the windows for many years. Best way is to drill the head out, then use pliers to remove the screws once the head is broken off. A good hardware store can give you advice on how to do this. Peter Grech

Question #141: The waste line from our bathtub had to be replaced.  The plumber did a great job of saving our tile and tearing up a 2' section of our floor under our sink.  Now I want to put the tile back.  The substrate in this 2' area is completely busted up into chunks.  It is difficult to tell what the substrate is made of in the untouched section of the floor.   Do I need to remove all of this? It looks like 1" plus of thinset with rubble mixed in and then a tile floor and then our tile floor finally put on top. The building is 80 years old.  Can I thinset the rubble back together and then lay a 1" bed and then re-tile?  Can I completely encase the waste line? Do I need to leave space around the waste line as I tile? Click here to post your answer to this question
Answer: First thing to do is to remove all loose debris that is present. Yes, you can bury the new waste line. It shouldn't be an issue for many years to come. Use ordinary sand mix (portland cement and sand) available most places, and fill the space up to approximately 1/8 - 1/4" below the bottom level of the tile. After this is set, use thinset to install your tile. Be sure to clean off any old thinset on bottom of tiles. Thinset shrinks, so leave cemented tiles raised slightly above the untouched ones.

Question #138: What should I do when the water from the kitchen sink is backing up into the bathtub? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Call a competent plumber.

Question #137: I just purchased a co-op in Queens where the mold around the tub caulking was so bad it was literally a black 1/4 line all the way around. I used "caulk be gone", removed all caulk and recaulked myself. All is now white and water tight except for the caulk right in front of faucets. The small section right in front of faucets is still soft and wet. A small constant drip appears to be dripping on it. If I keep a bag over the faucet, the section gets dry but is still mushy. Any ideas? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Get the leak fixed, then recaulk.

Question #130: I live on the 2nd floor of a four story apartment building. When the tenants on the 3rd and 4th floor use their washing machine, water backs up and overflows into my kitchen sink. Is there any device that I can install to stop this problem? The lease states that any tenant with a machine is in violation of their lease, but management has not enforced this clause. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Perhaps the problem has nothing to do with the washing machines above your apartment and more to do with a clogged drain pipe just below your apartment. I would suggest that you have the super investigate that possibility. Gene Marabello

Answer: The problem lies with the drain line riser pipe. They are too small to handle the washer pumping a lot of water at one time.
One solution would be that the tenant above have the drain cleared from their apartment down to the first floor or lower if possible.  Another solution is to put a check valve between the drain riser and your trap under the sink. However this solution may not conform to the plumbing codes. The check valve allows water to flow from your sink into the drain but prevents any water backing up. It is a one way flow device.
Peter Grech

Question #129: How can I clean up the appearance of the steam pipe in my bathroom? It currently looks like a cactus: severely chipped, slight rust spots from top to bottom, completely uneven texture. I considered chemical stripper or just sanding, but I was afraid of lead or asbestos or other hazards as the building was built in the 1920's. I'm not a super, just someone who is interested in making his apartment look nicer.  Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: All your fears about that old riser and its paint are valid. Best simple solution is to box it in, then paint the box. If the room depends on this riser for warmth, then make a matrix of small holes near the bottom and top to allow air to flow through and come out warm.

Question #128: Our Steam boiler is malfunctioning. I live in a residential building and the boiler constantly is not turning on and the superintendent has to turn on the boiler manually. The mechanic that we use says that the oil has been mixed with water and that we should change oil company. However, we would like a second opinion on why the boiler is shutting down. Are there any master boiler mechanics that could come and give us an opinion why the boiler is not functioning? I am looking for someone with tons of experience or someone who has been a mechanic for 20 years or more. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: There are many reasons why the burner could be shutting off on safety. 1) Weak or defective ignition transformer 2) Burnt oil residue on the electrodes preventing proper spark 3) Air leaks in the oil supply line and yes, 4) Water in the oil. Call me at 212-982-4803 and I can recommend some competent mechanics. If it turns out to be water in the oil then you might benefit from an additional oil filter. I would recommend a Gar-ber 11BV-WSK oil filter with integral water separator. Jeff Eichenwald

Question #122: The electricity in my bathroom and my son's bedroom is out, the circuit breaker has power but none of the outlets have power going to them. How do I find the problem? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: With the proper test equipment you, or a licensed electrician, can find the break in the line that you are experiencing.

I would begin with the simple things first like making sure that that circuit breaker wires are screwed on tight. These wires have been know to come loose. Second, check to see if all the wires connected to the outlets are tight. Do this and you have eliminated two of the simplest problems. PGrech

Question #117: I have a Carlin 301 burner and I am having an oil leak into the fan area. Could it be that the pump is leaking, and if so is it easy to put a pump on a DAR Kit, or is it better to replace the entire DAR Kit? I have installed a new draw assembly and I still have the oil leak. I also have back pressure from the boiler. I have an HB Smith 19 series boiler. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: It appears that the seal on the pump is leaking (based on our phone conversation). This is not something you can fix yourself. You will need to replace the pump, but not the entire DAR kit. It can be attached to the new pump. Jeff Eichenwald

Question #115: I live on the top floor of a brownstone and am planning on installing a gas range with a downdraft. My question is, rather than creating a new vent in the roof specifically for the range, would it be possible to duct it into one of the existing vents running up through the wall? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: The answer is NO. Gas equipment must have its own vent. PGrech

Question #114: One of the apartments on the second floor of my building has a problem with shower temperature. The shower goes from hot to cold and vice versa by itself with no warning, with the resident being scalded. It  happens in light building shower times as well as heavy. Can I put any kind of regulator on his shower head. Are there such things? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: There is a device known as an Anti Scalding device, which prevents a person from being injured by sudden drops in cold pressure. These are inexpensive and can be purchased from a good hardware store or plumbing supply house. The device simply screws on before the shower head. It will NOT solve the pressure drop problem, only save a person from injury. PeterG.

Answer: You need to install a "heat reducing" shower body. It's the round type, as opposed to the 3 knobs (Hot on left, Cold on right and the director in the middle). MOEN makes a decent one. The thing is, you need to replace the shower bodies, which means breaking the walls, cutting the copper pipes and sweating on the new unit. I recommend hiring a plumber for the latter part. In fact, this is now Code for new construction, so I'm told. The owner may be able to write it off. It also may be of interest to you that below 34th Street in Manhattan, there is generally less pressure, so these things may not work as well. Below the 3rd floor, you should be ok. Jon F. Frank Jr.

Question #113:  I live in the NY Metro area in a highrise rental apartment. How much will it cost me to have someone repaint my 1100 sq. ft. apartment? I am talking about repainting it with white builders paint before I move out? Any ball park estimates will be helpful.  Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Get at least 3 estimates from competent painting companies, then choose one.

Answer: Not all painters prices are the same. Assuming there is NO plastering and the painting only requires one coat, approximate price is $1,200 - $1,500 and UP. PGrech

Question #111: Our Co-op is 8 1-bedroom apartments, in a brown stone building in Brooklyn. How many times should we use roto-rooter for our building's sewer pipe for preventive maintenance? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: We have our house traps done annually, along with the boiler cleaning in the summer. I wouldn't recommend anything else . Jon Frank

Answer: I believe you should wait until there are signs that the drain is starting to clog. I would not consider this a routine procedure. Dick Koral

Question #106: Should a non-licensed, non-certified person be repairing C violations (lead paint, cracking ceilings)? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Lead paint is only an issue if there are young children in the apartment, 6 years old or younger. If there are children 6 or younger, then the painter must follow the lead abatement rules. There is nothing in the Codes that I know of, that the painter must have a certification to do the work - only that they follow the rules.

Question #102: My number six oil low pressure steam boiler starts making a loud humming noise about ten minutes after it first starts to make steam. The noise can be heard in my apartment on the ground floor and also on the second floor, in the boiler room and in the basement. The noise is not as bad in the boiler room as it is in the other areas. What should I be looking at to stop the humming noise? Could it be dirt in the steam lines or surface impurities in the boiler? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer without being there. May I suggest you call your boiler maintenance company for help. It could be vibration. PGrech

Question #100: I am moving into a new apartment on 3/22/03 in Manhattan and have found the four pipes running through my apartment from floor to ceiling to be extremely hot. My heater was off all day and it is still about 90 degrees. The pipes (my guess: water pipes) are of course too hot to touch. What can be done to take care of this problem? Will insulating do it? Is the landlord responsible for fixing this problem? It is too hot now to stay in the apartment for any length of time, I can not imagine what summer will be. I would appreciate a speedy e-mail reply. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Your super, who should probably attend our meetings to learn a little about his heating system, is the only one who can control the boiler. The city housing code only states that you should have a minimum temperature during the winter and no concern about a maximum one.

Your landlord should be ashamed of himself. With the cost of fuel as it is, he should be trying to conserve fuel use and run his building more efficiently. What's really driving the housing market is the limited amount of housing available in the city. He doesn't care to correct anything because he has passed his inefficiencies on to the renter.

The only solution I see for you: Go to Home Depot or a plumbing supply and pickup fiberglass pipe wrap. It runs about a dollar a foot and is easy to install. It's round and has about a one inch wall thickness around. It has a split surface for wrapping around a pipe. It's the best insulation for your situation. If you have complained to the owner and he hasn't responded or doesn't care, I see insulating the pipes as the only remedy for your problem. I think you may have an issue with the housing dep. if you don't have radiators in those other rooms. I hope I've been of some help. Good luck!

Question #98: I own a two-family house that is heated with one furnace which has two circulating pumps - one for each unit. How can I install meters on the pumps to tell me how much heat each apartment is using? Where do I get these meters and how do they work? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: These meters are called BTU meters. They include a water meter which measures GPM and two temperature sensors- one one the supply and one on the return line for the heating system. In addition, there is an electronic calculating unit as well as a power supply. The complete package is offered by a company called ISTEC corp. and it can be ordered from Pronto Gas Heating supply, 181 Christie St., NY, NY 10002. phone 212-777-3366 Jeff Eichenwald

Question #97: I am having a problem on the roof of my building. Apparently, nesting birds are clogging the drain pipe, causing the rainwater to back up. This in turn makes the water flood all parts of my building. It has gotten so bad that water leaking from the ceiling got next to some lights. This can be extremely dangerous. The roof is pitched with slate covering, which makes it difficult to reach. Also, the roof is so high that no one can get up there to unclog the drainage. Any suggestions on how I can fix this problem? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: It would seem the heart of the problem is the birds. Call the exterminator on our vendor list. He was very helpful to me in getting rid of such problems. PGrech

Answer: I'm making the assumption that your problem is occurring in the gutter of the drain system and that there is a screen of some sort over the drain opening in the gutter and this is where the birds are nesting. If you have a gutter system, you might consider drain guards. I have used the plactic type that allow water to flow to the gutter but repel leaves and debris. If you have another situation that's not evident in your question please reply to the website.
Gene Marabello

Question #95: I own a co-op on a high floor of a 21-story building in Manhattan. When certain dishwashers or washing machines are operating on floors above me, water containing food particles and other debris, all not mine, back-up into my bathtub. Otherwise, all my drains flow clearly. I am very clean and conscientious regarding good drain preventive maintenance, i.e. no food residue, hair, or other debris is ever discarded down the drains. I do not have a dishwasher or washing machine.

A few months ago, the vent stack was snaked from the roof, and the problem was resolved. Now the back-up has returned with a vengeance! The super refuses to snake from the roof again. He wants to snake from the toilet waste line, but has made no provision for shutting off the water in the line, or releasing the tanks in toilets on the floor above. I am very concerned about flooding, because this has already occurred in the building under similar circumstances. My resistance to snaking via the toilet has made me "public enemy number 1". Thanks in advance for your prompt consideration. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: That's a tough question to answer with out knowing the plumbing lay out of your building. Usually when snaking out of the toilet there is little chance of flooding back in to your apartment. The better way might be to snake right into the stack itself via the sink drain. You might want to call Electric Sewer, they are very modestly priced, and are very good with such problems, Their phone number is 718 863 7144.
Question #94: I live in a tenement downtown. Our building does not have an intercom system. Residents of the 5 floor, 16 apartment building have asked the landlord for one but she says its too expensive to install. Approximately how much do these things cost to purchase and install? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Most intercom installation companies will give you a free estimate. There are too many variables to give you even an approximate estimate without visiting the building site.

Question #93: How does varying the cross-link density affect the elasticity of silicone elastomer? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Varying the crosslinking density decreased smoothly over a distance of 18 microns from a maximum at the outer surface. In another case, the crosslinking density was uniform over a distance of 5 microns and then dropped abruptly. In either case, varying the cross link density effects the elasticity of the silicone elastomer by decreasing its smoothness as its spreads.

Answer: The cross link density affects the smoothness, but not the elasticity. The elasticity is more determined by the ratio of polymer and fumed silica in the rubber base.
Peter Grech

Question #92: I am the Superintendent of a 37 unit building. My elevator floor is a black rubber and has dirt and salt trapped in it and around the corners. I've tried everything to get the floor back to a beautiful black shine but it won't come back, it leaves white spots that look like water stains or salt stains. What can I do to get this floor back to the way it used to be? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Is it possible that you haven't thoroughly stripped the floor before applying a new coat of floor finish? Use a good commercial grade stripper and make sure that all the dirt is removed by mopping after that, then let it dry and maybe, if the dirt is thick, use the stripper a second time before applying your floor finish.

Question #87: What kind of commercial gas water heater(s) should you install in the building for business purposes like the sauna/spa where people use hot water in the shower constantly? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: As a designer of heating systems, I am constantly counseling clients and students alike to avoid, whenever possible the use of commercial hot water heaters. They are not only expensive, difficult to install and inefficient, but also they are guaranteed to require replacement in three to five years. In a situation of extremely heavy usage, they have been known to fail in a year! If there is a heating boiler of sufficient size, then an indirect water heater can be connected to the boiler which will make domestic hot water. If there is no heating boiler, then I would recommend a copper heat exchanger water heater with a stainless steel storage tank. If you would like more details, call me at 212-982-4803. Jeff Eichenwald

Question #85: I live in a co-op environment. On two occasions the sewer line got clogged, causing the basement to have a flood of feces, urine etc. The building had a strong odor. I call the super and reported it to him. He fixed the problem, but the board members got together and wrote me a note. It stated that the next time the sewer line gets clogged that they are not going to pay for it. I hope it doesn't get clogged again, but if it does who is responsible for getting the problem fixed? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: If you're the owner of the co-op, you may be responsible to pay for it.

Question #81: Hi, I am a home owner in Staten Island. I need to place overhead lighting in a bedroom (a ceiling light). To run BX I would have rip open two walls. Someone told that there was a January 2003 New York City Code change and I should use ROMEX NM-B 12/3. Is this correct? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: You should just install surface wire molding that you can purchase at any hardware store. It is much easier to install this than BX cable. If you should have to change the wiring in the future, it is easy to pull in new wires in the molding. Mike MacGowan

Question #67: I have a hot water boiler that give heat and hot water. Could I just run a line from the boiler to two a/c units that have a coil for heating to feed a space, could you advise me on what I should do, thanks. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Yes. It's easier if it's a boiler that sends hot water to heat the building instead of sending steam, but it can be done in both cases. If it's hot water heat you can run lines and a pump, and wire the pump to turn on whenever one of the two areas need heat, and also wire the zone valve for that heater to open at the same time. If the AC unit does not already have a zone valve it's easier and probably cheaper to buy two pumps instead of a pump and two zone valves. You also have to accommodate eliminating air from the new piping, and have to have some way of preventing the AC from blowing cold air or not making heat when the boiler isn't making heat. How you do this depends on how the boiler is controlled.

Question #66: While working the vacuum pump for the boiler was pulling air from the system into the tank and then released through the vent pipe. After 1 LB. of p.s.i. this action was reversed, with air being sucked through the vent pipe into the tank. Is this how the system should work? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: No. There should be a check valve that prevents air from flowing back into the heating system piping when the pump cycles off. Look for the check valve and bang on it with a channellocks; otherwise, shut the system down, wait for the piping to cool off, unscrew the top of the valve and see what sort of gook is holding it open; then, close it up again. If all else fails, change the check valve.

Question #65: I am running an electrical service in my pole building. I am going to run an auxiliary box off my main box in my house. I will put a 100 amp box in my building. (Probably will never use over 40 to 50 amps at one time.) How heavy a gage underground wire should I install? I am running approx. 150 to 175 feet to the building. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: You should be calling a licensed electrician to perform this kind of work. You don't know where any lines are underneath the ground.
Mike MacGowan
Question #55: Painting of interior walls of occupied apartments: Plainsview Apartments (Wilkes-Barre, PA) is starting some painting of a few of the apartments here with a new outside painter who is moonlighting from his real job as a school bus driver, I'm told. He has experience in painting of private homes and he has painted an empty apartment prior to new tenant moving in. He has never before painted an occupied residential unit and now he'll be moving furniture and belongings of the current tenant. (Our residents are always home, since they are disabled.)

Our concern here is if, in the course of this repainting of the walls, some personal property of the tenant is damaged or marred accidentally. Is the rental office management responsible for these damages that may arise in the process of shifting furniture, etc.? This painter has no commercial insurance, since he is painting as a freelance moonlighter. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Yes, the management company is responsible for any one they hire to do work in the building. Since there are usually no laws in most municipalities requiring licensing of painters, there is no legal reason why an uninsured painter could not be hired. However, it would be especially risky to use him to paint occupied apartments since there are possible theft and damage issues involved.

Question #54: Help! I have a big problem! I live in a cooperative building and my flushometer burst/exploded while I was at work. I have called a few plumbing companies, and they have not provide me with an answer as to what would cause this flushometer to burst with out any warning? I have now extensive damage done to my neighbors below my unit, which I am being made responsible for. The board will/refuse to advise me. They insist it is my problem, I have to pay for all the repairs. This is very sad, because I did nothing to cause this flushometer to burst. If anyone has any idea, please let me know. Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Your "flush valve" (Flushometer is a trade name for one brand of flush valve) burst because of water hammer. Water hammer occurs when someone lets air into the water piping, and then someone opens a faucet and the air rushes out faster than water can, and then suddenly the water gets to the end of the run and then, boom!!! It's analogous to the difference between placing an encyclopedia on your foot and dropping an encyclopedia on your foot. Probably a plumber had been working on the piping and drained a pipe to work on it and then either filled the pipe too quickly by opening a valve too quickly, or didn't go to an upper floor to slowly let the air out. If it's a top floor, the air can accumulate because it comes out of solution as the pressure in the water pipe decreases at higher levels. Air vent valves are sometimes installed in tall buildings to take care of this, and yours might have an air valve that failed. One good way to determine if you have a failed air valve is to see if the flush valve explodes again.

Answer: Yes, as the owner of your apartment, it IS your problem.

Answer: If this were a condominium then the responsibility would definitely be yours. However, as you indicated that this is a cooperative, then technically you are a tenant of the cooperative corporation. The details of responsibility would normally be specified in your proprietary lease. You should read it, and in addition you may need to have a lawyer look at it. However, in most cases, the courts usually consider the cooperative corporation ultimately responsible unless someone can prove negligence on your part.

Question #53: What does PSI mean for a dish washing machine (restaurant)? How does it hinder getting the dishes clean? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Restaurant dishwashers use water pressure to scour the food off the dishes. If your pressure is insufficient, the dishes won't get clean. If it's too high, you'll use more hot water than the water heater can make, and the electric booster in the dishwasher can cost over $1,000/day for electricity. I suggest reading the instructions that came with the dishwasher and installing a permanent pressure gauge ($30) on the hot water pipe and another one on the cold water pipe near the dishwasher. If the pressures are too high (possible in NYC) you can add a pressure-reducing valve. If the pressures are too low you can add a pump, or better yet, a spray nozzle from the dishwasher factory that accommodates lower pressure. If the pressure is OK but the machine isn't working well, I'd suspect worn spray nozzles, something no "professional" contractor will check for because it's a special order part and just too much trouble to make the phone calls to track it down.

Answer: PSI stands for pounds per square inch and, in this case, the pressure of the water supply. I guess that insufficient supply water pressure (hot and/or cold) would result in failure to be able to fill the machine as designed. Normal PSI, I think, is about 15. Higher would be OK. If, when you open the tap you get a good flow in sink or lavatory, you're OK.
Dick Koral

Question #48: I have a shop sink that keeps overflowing with soap bubbles, causing a large puddle on my basement floor. My landlord allows washing machines - is there a way I can stop this? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Tell the tenants on that riser to use less soap and put a check valve on the basement sink trap.
Tom Lynch

Answer: There is one mechanical solution to this problem and one people solution to this problem. The mechanical solution is to add a "suds zone" to the plumbing, as described in the NYC plumbing code. This entails the tearing open of walls, etc. The people solution is to tell people to stop using too much detergent. You decide which you prefer - a mechanical solution or a people solution.

Answer: You could have a check-valve installed on the waste line to prevent any thing from backing up.

Answer: This is a landlord-tenant problem, not a technical question, obviously. You may be correct that the problem stems from the washing machines on the upper floors, but it may also be that the connection between the soil stack (the vertical cast-iron pipe that drains all the sinks and toilets) and the house drain (the sloping, horizontal pipe that carries the stuff to the street sewer) is slightly blocked. A handyman can enter the connection through a hole blocked off with a screw-on lid and, with a rod, push the accumulated stuff down the drain pipe. However, this is guess work on my part. The owner needs to get a plumber. In the worst case, the plumber will have to change the routing of the pipes, which can be very expensive.
Dick Koral

Question #42: I'm looking to replace my boiler maintenance company with one that is savvy about energy efficiency (tests for firing accuracy, uses modern combustion analyzers, etc.). Any suggestions for an honest and modern company? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: I can recommend three companies for you:

  • New York Heating- 718-782-3894
  • Marlande Heating- 718-993-4350
  • High Tech Combustion- 917-750-9357

    Jeff Eichenwald

Question #34: What is better to use, mechanical seals versus packing? What is the new code for NYC? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: To my knowledge, there is no code issue on this, except for fire pumps, which must use packing, not mechanical seals. As to which is 'better', there is no easy answer. Packing is inexpensive and easy to install. Mechanical seals are more expensive and harder to install. Packing must leak, seals shouldn't. But a pump that is packed is not simply converted to seals--it must be sent out for conversion.
Denton Taylor

Question #33: I've got this drain I've done plunging, snaked it, even use liquid drain cleaner, but can't get it unclogged. Any suggestions? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Yes you will need a plumber because you have something that is resisting the plunging, snaking and drain solvents; it may even be plastic, or a piece of pvc.
Roberto Cardona

Answer: If you did all that and the drain is still clogged, it's time to call a plumber.

Question #29: I have a problem with mail box locks (they are easy to open.) Does anyone know of good, secure ones available in stores, etc. The boxes are rectangles, approx. 4"Wx12H" and 5"D. Click here to post your answer to this question


Question #28: What caused both boilers on my job to go on safety at the same time while they were both on pre-purged? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: I would need more information about the heating system before I could answer. Is this a steam or hot water heating system? What type of burners are these? If they have a pre-purge cycle then they must be fairly large. What is the model # of the flame safeguard control? Did the flame control lock out or did the temperature or pressure manual reset control trip?

Question #27: How do you remove graffiti from marble? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: Automotive rubbing compound works great and will not harm the marble.

Question #17: The PSI gauge at the top of a boiler is reading 4 lbs. What should be the reading of the vacuum pump gauge? Vacuum or PSI? Click here to post your answer to this question

ANSWER: The gauge on the vacuum pump should read either atmospheric pressure or vacuum. How much vacuum it reads would depend on the settings of the pump and the condition of the system. It shouldn't read in pressure because that would indicate that there was steam in the returns.
Dan Holohan

Question #10: I have an old model tube boiler. Water is leaking from the lower corner of the front plate. I received some complaints about not enough hot water. Seems like a coil leak to me. Any ideas, please! Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: I'm not sure what you mean by a tube boiler, they all have tubes, but if it's the burner plate, then you have to have it welded. As far as a coil leak, the only thing that would happen is that depending on the size of the leak, your boiler, or even the heating pipes, would get flooded. Did you check your circulating pump? Do you have a circulating pump? Does the tenant have a washing machine or dish washer installed WITHOUT check valves? Feel free to e-mail me ( if you need any more help.

Answer: Seems to me that if it is a fire tube boiler then one or more of your tubes have sprung a leak.. As for the hot water circulation problem seems that it is not related to the tube leak. Poor circulations is due to many things.. pump failure, cold water mixing, poor heat exchange in the coil, air trapped in lines are a few.

Question #1: Could you compare the failure rate of high-quality single-ply roofing vs. a high-quality, thick and reinforced, liquid-applied membrane? This is going over asphalt roll roofing in fair shape. Are there any advantages to spraying polyurethane foam with a silicone coating over applying the membrane directly to the roll roofing, when in this situation there is already an R40 roof? Click here to post your answer to this question

Answer: The failure rate of both types of roofing is about 15 to 20 years for both but can be diminished considerably by the quality of the installation. Ask your building engineer to supervise installation and draw up specs. JMA Consultants in New Jersey are excellent and will save you thousands in the long run. Bellet Construction can install. Both are great and fair priced. Silicon coating will not last and will separate from the petrol based roofing.