Dear Maintenance Men

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

Dear Maintenance Men

By Jerry L’Ecuyer and Frank Alvarez 

Q: I have owned an apartment building since the early 1970s and have always performed my own repairs and general maintenance.  Lately, I have been struggling with kitchen and bathroom faucet repairs.  I am handy, so I am not referring to the actual physical aspect of repair, but the decision to repair or replace a faucet.  Over the many years of ownership, I have replaced my older stem and rubber washer (Compression) faucets to the newer washer-less and single handle models.  The problem is, I now have a difficult time finding parts or the cost of repair is awfully close to buying a new fixture.  What do you suggest I do?

A: Your issue is not unusual.  Today, a typical repair of any medium quality faucet can cost 30% versus. replacing the same faucet.  The difference and deciding factor will be the quality of the faucet you are repairing.  For instance, the cost of repairing extremely “cheap” or off-brand fixtures is not worth the time or effort as they will continue to fail in a short amount of time.  Most brand name fixtures will last you 10 years or so, depending on the following factors: use and abuse, maintenance, installation, finish, water quality, and the model of fixture.

The number one reason you should consider replacing your old faucet is to conserve water. Older faucets can waste between 3 to 5 gallons per minute. Newer faucets use less than 2.5 gallons per minute.  When it comes to purchasing faucets and all other plumbing fixtures for your investment property, it is best to be value driven and not cost driven in your decision-making process. Consider a consistent brand, style, and type of fixture you will use. There are many “Better” quality fixtures at affordable prices you can choose from with a look for any style of bathroom, or kitchen. For longer lasting, commercial quality fixtures, which will have replacement parts far into the future, look to purchase from a plumbing supply store instead of the big box stores.

Why? Most fixtures are made specifically for each big box store and are for residential use. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to find replacement parts if the store you originally purchased it from does not stock the replacement part you need. That said, most fixtures come with a “Lifetime Warranty” (for residential use) but waiting the considerable amount of time it takes to receive your replacement part may not be practical  when you have to fix it right there and then.

The benefits of installing new fixtures are that the many new technologies help to extend the actual lifespan of the fixtures and reduce the water consumption. Looks do matter! Nothing dates your units like old, worn and style- challenged fixtures.  There are four major types of fixtures which are prevalent in our industry, (i) compression, (ii) ball, (iii) disk and (iv) cartridge faucets. Only the compression faucets use the stem, seat washer and valve seat technology we were all accustomed to, and probably still have collecting dust in our storage rooms. The good news is ball, disk, and cartridge faucets use “O”-rings and seals as the primary technology for faucet function.

To reduce the expense of repairing or replacing your faucets, consider purchasing a kit with a variety of faucet specific “O”-rings and seals.  There are many universal kits on the market which can help you reduce the need to purchase the actual cartridge (most times, it is not necessary to replace the cartridge.)

Q: I have a pool at my apartment building and my pool man is suggesting I convert to a saltwater system for sanitizing the water.   Will the saltwater damage my pool or its equipment?  How does a saltwater system work?  Will swimming in the pool feel like an ocean swim?

A: We are big fans of saltwater systems for swimming pools.  They feel great to swim in and you do not have that chlorine smell on you when you get out.  A saltwater system or “saltwater chlorine generator” is used to replace liquid or pellet chlorine with chlorine produced from salt in the water.  The salt dissolves in the water separating into sodium and chloride.  By passing a low voltage electrical current between special metal plates and the water, the salt-cell will convert the chloride into chlorine in a process called electrolysis.  The saltwater system will create the chlorine to sanitize the water, but without the chlorine smell, taste or feel.  Not to mention, you will not need to handle or store a dangerous chemical. 

Swimming in a salt pool is not like swimming in the ocean.  A salt pool contains 3,000 to 4,000 parts per million of salt while the ocean is approximately 35,000 parts per million.  A better illustration is that a saltwater pool is like putting one tablespoon of salt in a gallon of water and the ocean is like 9 or 10 tablespoons of salt in the same gallon of water.  The saltwater pool is closer to (but, less than) the salinity of your eye’s natural levels.  A typical human eye’s salinity level is about 9,000 parts per million. 

While switching to a salt system pool has many advantages, there are a few downsides you should be aware of.  If the pool if very old, using a salt system may further corrode the pool’s metal skimmer and return pipes faster. Older pool heaters may also be adversely affected.  Calcium may build up on the tile work.  Newer pools use plastic pipes and pumps; the salt will not cause any damage to these items.

Attention Apartment Owners – Holiday Time is Upon Us:  We are getting close to the holidays, which means guests, cooking and an emergency call to you from one of your residents on Thanksgiving Day about a clogged sink or non-working oven with an apartment full of guests waiting for dinner.  This scenario can ruin both yours and your residents’ holiday.  The answer is: “Preventive Maintenance.” 

Before the holiday season begins, check each stove and oven for proper operation, many residents only turn on their ovens at this time of year, and the problem may be as simple as a pilot light being out.  Also, check the oven’s temperature calibration with an oven thermometer.  Because of heavier than normal use of the plumbing, it may be a good idea to snake out your main plumbing lines.  Also, sending a note to each tenant on the proper use of the garbage disposal will be useful.  Note what they should and should not put down the disposal unit.  A few items to include on this “No-No” list are: banana peels, potato skins, coffee grounds and any stringy food.  Also make sure they turn on the water before using the disposer and put down small amounts of food at a time.  Do not use the disposer as a trash can and then turn it on when full; it will clog. 

Halloween and other holidays also mean more people than usual walking on your property.  Is your property safe?  What are some of the liabilities to worry about?  Check trip and fall hazards.  Sprinkler heads sticking up above the grass or landscape near sidewalks.  Use pop-up heads to solve this problem.  Look for sidewalks that have been pushed up by tree roots.  This can be solved with a concrete grinder or replacement of the section and removal of the tree root.  Cut any low hanging tree branches and look for branches that may break in heavy winter wind or rain.  Check your decking for cracks or damage and inspect the exterior stairways for wear and tear.  Inspect all your garage door springs, winter wind and rain may make them heavy causing the door to close or fall unexpectedly.  As a precaution, always replace both garage springs at the same time and throw away any used springs.  Never install used garage springs.  Check all property lighting and timers.  Remember: Preventive Maintenance is cheaper than “emergency maintenance!!!”

Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc.  He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years.  Frank can be reached at (714) 956-8371 or at  Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker, and he has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.