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February 28, 2004

Ask the Builder Newsletter

This is the first issue of the weekly Ask the Builder newsletter that is now going to be part of my RSS feed. I just thought of doing it moments ago. This newsletter went out via email yesterday. Here is the newsletter:

Several times a week I get emails from very polite people who ask me if it is okay to create a link from their website to mine. Frequently these people are employed in the real estate industry. These professionals tell me the reason they want to add the link to their website is they want to help their clients after the closing. The real estate agents recognize that home ownership involves care and maintenance of the property they just sold.

My response is always the same. I tell them I am indeed honored and appreciate the link. At the end of my Thank You! email I add a quick comment that I know how tough their job can be as I have been a licensed real estate broker in the state of Ohio for nearly 15 years. I first got a sales license in 1975 to help me save money as I bought and sold old homes during the rehab boom of the late '70s. The reply email I get back from the agents and brokers usually makes me laugh as the folks say, "What don't you do?"

To be honest, these days I don't practice real estate at all. Getting a broker's license requires lots of extra education and work and I am very reluctant to let it lapse. My license is kept active by taking continuing education classes every three years. The license will come in very handy when my kids decide to buy their first home.

If you want to create a link from your website to mine, I would appreciate it. I can provide you with a cool small photo of me dropping a plumb bob into the camera lens if you need an image. In return, I will *gladly* add a link back to your website on a special page on my website that I will title: Ask the Builder Friends.


Each week I also get new product news. Some of the press releases make me yawn. But more often than not my reaction is, "Hey, that is a great idea!" Three weeks ago I got an email *out of the blue* from Ed Littell in Arizona. He sells these very unique and colorful panels that transform your standard 2 foot by 4 foot fluorescent office lights into skylights! No, you don't cut a hole in your roof and create leaks.

Ed sells diffuser panels that replace those yellowed and cracked clear diffusers that came with your lights from the factory. These durable diffusers allow all the light from the fixture to stream into the room. But they change the look and feel of the room dramatically. Your light fixtures look like the sky when you lay on your back on a blanket. There are six different scenes and the one with the palm tree fronds reminds me of being at the beach.

You MUST go to Ed's website and see these things. Ed sent me a few to make sure I was satisfied with their quality. These diffusers are top notch in my opinion. I guarantee you these panels will generate lots of interest and put everyone in a better mood in your office or finished basement. I don't get a sales commission from Ed. I just want you to be aware of a cool product! Be sure to click the "Catalog" and "Pictures" links on the top navigation bar. If you are a dentist, these things are a MUST in the rooms where you treat patients!


<<< Toilets are Getting Better and Better >>>

DEAR TIM: I am looking at toilets for my new bathroom. Our current toilet measures 23 inches from the back wall to the front edge of where the toilet touches the floor. Many of the measurements in brochures seem to start at nearly 27 inches. Space is valuable in this small room. We also have a flushing problem with our current toilet. It seems to always require two or three flushes to rid the bowl of waste. Karen N., Williamstown, NJ

DEAR KAREN: I don’t think you are comparing apples to apples. You measured the foot extension of the toilet. The foot is the actual surface dimension and shape of where the toilet bowl base contacts the floor. Bathroom planners and plumbers are rarely interested in that dimension. The most critical dimension is the distance from the front of the bowl where the toilet seat contacts the china bowl to the back of the toilet. My guess is that if you measure your existing toilet, you will quickly discover it extends 27 or even 28 inches from the back wall.

An often overlooked measurement is the rough-in dimension of the toilet bowl. This measurement is the distance from the back of the toilet to the center of the waste outlet hole on the underside of the toilet bowl. The most common dimension is 12 inches. But many toilet manufacturers also offer two other sizes in case mistakes are made during construction or a pesky floor joist gets in the way. It is not unusual to find toilets with a 10 or 14 inch rough-in dimension. Be sure you purchase a toilet bowl that has the correct rough-in dimension to match your current drainage pipe location.

Toilet technology has made significant advancements in the past seven to ten years. In fact, certain manufacturers continue to devote significant research and development resources to toilet design and functionality. There are millions of consumers who are disappointed with the performance of toilets since the low flush water savings law was enacted in January of 1994. You are a perfect example of how that law has backfired. The intent was for toilets to save water by using less water per flush. But if you flush twice or even three times, you may end up using even more water than with an older 3.5 or 5 gallon per flush model.

Flushing toilets is all about physics and stored potential energy. The water that is at rest in the tank just before the flush has the ability to do work because of its weight and the pull of gravity once the flush handle is activated. For the flush to be complete, this water needs to enter the bowl as rapidly as possible and encounter as little friction as possible as it leaves the bowl on its way to the drain. You can buy toilets that have enormous three and one-quarter inch flush valve openings at the bottom of the tank. These same toilets have fully-glazed trapways so the water and waste slips through the toilet with minimal friction.

Certain toilets are so well-engineered they can flush solid waste with just 1.4 gallons of water per flush instead of the industry standard of 1.6 gallons of water. This small savings per flush can add up to big savings over time. A family of four using one of these toilets can save nearly 2,000 gallons of water per year. Imagine how much water could be saved if an entire subdivision or city used these toilets.

The advancements in toilet design do not stop at the toilet bowl. You or your plumber can now buy new toilets that take the hassle out of connecting the tank to the toilet bowl. In years past, I and many others struggled with bolts and washers that passed through holes in the bottom of the tank. Tighten the bolts too much and you risk cracking the china. If the bolts were not tightened enough water would leak through the bottom of the bowl.

A new tank design eliminates these holes by using a hidden steel plate on the underside of the tank. The bolts lock into the steel plate and then pass through the holes in the back of the toilet bowl. It is an ingenious concept that will save both time in installation and service calls created by leaks.


Low quality toilets can have a hidden defect that is often very hard to see. Toilets have a colon inside of them that is simply the path of the trapway. The trapway is the internal sealed tube that connects the bowl with the drain exit hole at the base of the toilet. It serves the same purpose as the trap drains one sees under a standard kitchen or bathroom sink. This colon used to be hidden on many older toilets but it is now common to actually see the convoluted pathway the water and waste takes as it travels from the bowl to the drain hole in the floor.

Toilets that are hard to flush or that clog on a frequent basis may be the victims of poor colon design. The bends within the colon may be too tight. The actual interior size of the colon may be small. Try to buy toilets that have a two inch minimum trapway/colon or those that have even large diameter colons. Ask the plumbing supply sales person to show you different toilets with exposed colons so you can see how some have better streamlining than others. (Photo at the website column shows an exposed colon toilet. I *urge* you to click the link above to see it.)


You should consider getting a great new magazine - Extreme How-To. I am the Editor-at-Large of this publication. Getting in on the ground floor of a new magazine launch is very exciting. You should come along for the ride! Click this link:


Dear Tim,

I recently had to replace the shower handle body of my shower. I cut the copper lines and re-soldered a new shower assembly in. This was my first time to ever solder anything and everything appeared to be OK. Well, until we tried to use the sink in the same room. When I turned off the water at the main, I would leave the sink on so as to help drain the water and to verify it being off. But when I turned it back on, it was very low pressure, then nothing no air no water. Later as I repaired another fixture, I turned on all faucets before turning on the water. I systematically turned each one off and I got water to return to the sink but it is still very low pressure. I have verified that the main meter was turned on fully. Any other ideas as to what happened and how to fix? I greatly appreciate any help you may offer

Kenny Anderson

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Whenever you or someone else works on water lines in a house or out in the street, pieces of sediment get knocked loose off the sides of the pipe when the water rushes back into the pipes after the repair. The flow restrictors in the tips of faucets as well as the cartridge bodies themselves in the faucets can get clogged with these fine pieces of rock, grit and sand. Soldering flux also makes a mess of the faucet aerators and flow restrictors.

The first thing I would do is just take off the aerator tip of the faucet and turn on the faucet. Be sure you get the rubber washer out of the faucet body before you turn the water on. If you have lots of water exiting the faucet, you know exactly where the problem is. Start to carefully dis-assemble the aerator and you will find the flow restrictor and a fine mesh screen. Clean all of these components and put everything back together again. You should be back to normal.


Posted by Tim Carter at February 28, 2004 8:34 AM

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