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Know Where the Shutoff Valve Is

Learn the importance of knowing where your shutoff valve is from Master Plumber John Wood in this plumbing repair video from Howcast.


I also want to talk about three no-no's in the plumbing world, okay? DIY is fine. Repairing your own home is fine. Being a cowboy is not, and it's for a very good reason. Everybody wants to save a buck, including myself. I'm actually intimidated by electricity, so I won't work beyond replacing a switch or an outlet or something like that. Once it gets beyond that, I'm done. I'm a master plumber. I am not an electrician. So that said, there are three things in my realm that are major dangers. I don't say that to be theatrical. They're dangerous. Those are: gas lines, acids and lyes in the drainage system, okay, also known as Drano or Liquid Plumber, and boilers. Okay? There are not things to be dealt with on a hobby level. These are not fixing toilets.

Gas lines are, understandably, deadly. Every year, you hear of somebody blowing their house off the foundation, because maybe a back hoe hit a gas line, or somebody didn't know it was a gas line, or somebody was playing with a gas line. I remember, years ago, I saw a garden hose leaving a basement window, going up to the third floor of a home, back into the home, and what it was, was somebody was stealing gas from Con Edison and actually ran a garden hose up the outside of the building under pressurized gas. I don't need to explain how deadly that is. Okay? So don't ever, ever, ever touch a gas line. I don't care if it's hooking up a stove that you bought at Best Buy. Let a professional do it. Pay a small fee to get it done properly, and have peace of mind.

Acids and lyes in the drainage system I get a lot of shrugs. "Ah, it's fine." It's not fine. I'll tell you why. Especially dealing with your older galvanized iron pipes you see in the five boroughs, acids, if they don't eat through that clog of hair and grease and everything else that clogs a pipe, what they do is they just sit there, and I promise you that if they don't eat the clog, they're going to eat something. That something, generally, is the wall of the pipe. So what happens is I respond to a call for a clogged bathtub, and what could easily be cleaned with a drain cleaning machine suddenly turns into a multi-thousand dollar project, because, when I put my equipment down the drain, and the snake kicks around at a half horsepower, which is a lot of torque, it is a lot of energy, that pipe wall, which is sixty years old has been destroyed by the acid. It's very, very powerful stuff, very dangerous to work with. So if you do, if you must use it, wear gloves and eye protection. It goes down there and chews up the wall of the pipe, and then the seam, the factory seam of the pipe from 60, 70 years ago, that's the first to go. That snake is kicking around in there trying to get through the clog, and, all of a sudden, I've got water pouring through the ceiling below, because the pipe is broken.

The last of the three no's in your home is your boiling or your heating system, okay? This is not a hobby item either, okay? A boiler is basically a very expensive piece of apparatus, kind of the heart of your home. In New York City, we have steam. Most commonly, we have steam. Out in the suburbs, we have a lot of hot water boilers. They're smaller units. They kind of all work on the same principle that water is boiled and circulated in one form or another, either hot water or steam throughout the building to make heat. Normally, you see radiators here in New York City, and this is a very, very elementary drawing of a boiler. I want to tell you why it is a no-no to play with. Coming from somewhere in the building, you have a gas line, a gas shut-off, and then the gas goes into the manifold. Okay? If we were to take the jacket off of the boiler, the service plate, we would see that manifold.

That's what you, when the boiler fires, you'll see a bunch of blue flame shooting up, which should be reason enough not to play with it, and this heats this big cast iron tank full of water. Okay? It sits at a certain level. Now, the water turns into steam, runs up into the piping of the building, runs up the radiators, heats them, turns back into water, and rolls back down to the boiler. Many, many times I have seen in my career that a customer with every good intention came in and was trying to make the boiler fire. Now, when a boiler stops firing, it stops firing for a reason.

Okay? There are a number of different safeties and controls on the boiler designed to protect it, prevent it from exploding, and, thus, bringing the building right down to the foundation. Okay? If you want to see some of that, look around YouTube for exploding boilers, alright? Then, also dry-firing and cracking the boiler which is the most common. So this is what happens. The customer, Mr. Good Intention, comes in, and the boiler's not firing, and he can't figure out why, so he does something like jump out a cable or jump out a wire on the boiler and, lo and behold, the boiler fires. What Mr. Customer doesn't know is the boiler has no water in it. None, not a drop, okay? It's shut off to protect it from firing. The boiler doesn't want to fire with no water in it.

So what happens is we super-heat this cast iron block. Now, you can only imagine the cost of some of these boilers. You've seen them in the larger buildings, let's say the Trump Plaza or something like that, the boiler's the size of a small yacht. Alright? It dry fires. This cast iron, which is a brittle metal, gets red-hot, glowing hot, and then water rushes in and hits that cast iron, and it cracks right in half, splits right down the middle. Whole boiler's gone, okay? These are not things to play with, folks. Just leave the boiler alone. If it fails, unless you're a boiler man or a plumber, call one of us, and we'll come take care of it and fix it for you.

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