How To: Repair water hammer in pipes

February 22, 2012

Q. Is there a relatively easy and positive repair for an annoying water hammer that occurs in the hot-water line to the master bedroom bathroom sink in our house? It’s been going on for years, and I’m concerned it may cause damage. This is a three-story townhouse; the bedroom is on the top floor.

Herndon

A. Water hammer doesn’t usually damage plumbing, but it can certainly be annoying. Luckily, what needs to be fixed isn’t usually tucked inside walls that would need to be opened up to make the repair.

Most often, the problem is a failed gasket in the pressure-reducing valve where water comes into the house. Replacing this valve, including the part and labor, costs less than $300, according to Connie Hodges, operations manager at Wacker Plumbing & Remodeling in Sterling (703-450-5565, www.wackerplumbing.com).

There are other possible causes, ranging from things as simple as a loose washer to air trapped in piping. Like a skilled birder, an experienced plumber can listen to the noise and identify what the specific sound means. Irvin Schools, a plumber for 39 years and co-owner of H&S Plumbing and Heating in Herndon (703-437-6966), says it usually takes less than half an hour to diagnose the cause, because the sound is such a good clue.


(Image Source/GETTY IMAGES)

“It depends on whether it’s a chatter or a steady thump,” Schools said. Chatter usually means a problematic washer or valve. A single thump often points to trapped air within the pipes. Fixing that can be as simple as turning off the water, draining the pipes and then refilling them.

Plumbers charge wildly different rates, but folks with the lowest prices sometimes know a lot less than those who charge more, so in the end you don’t always save by going with the lowest rate. H&S charges $120 for the first half-hour and $35 for each 25 minutes thereafter, plus parts.

I recently had my basement waterproofed and painted. Now I would like to put in shelving for box storage, but the shelving units I want are 18 to 24 inches deep, and that is too deep for a footing ledge that runs on two sides of the basement. Both the height and depth of the ledge are somewhat variable, but generally it’s about 6 inches high and 15 inches deep.

Is there shelving with adjustable legs so the front can be longer than the back and extend over the ledge? Or do I just need to hire a carpenter to build custom wood shelves?

Alexandria

Here are a few ideas:

Set the shelves you want on the ledge and add adjustable legs at the front to support the overhang.

Or shop for cabinets and shelves made for garage storage; these often include adjustable legs because garage floors usually slant toward the door. You might be able to omit the legs in the back and install legs that adjust to 6 or 7 inches in the front.

Or buy a wooden shelving system with adjustable shelf heights. Determine where to install the bottom shelf so it will be higher than the ledge, and simply cut off the legs in the back to match the ledge height at that spot.

Or bring in a carpenter and get shelves built exactly how you want them.

My rental apartment has vertical blinds. They make a lot of noise when I open the adjacent windows, and the pieces fall out. I’m tired of reassembling them and want to replace them, even if the landlady refuses to pay for the change. I’ve been thinking of putting in a sheer for light during daytime, with a heavier curtain for night. The total width of the window is about 12 feet. Any suggestions?

Hawaii

Two options are panel track blinds and vertical pleated shades.

Panel track blinds, also known as sliding window panels or panel tracks, resemble vertical blinds, but the panels are wider and less rigid, with a heft that’s more like the shade on a roller shade. Panels are available in styles that range from sheer to opaque. Comfortex and Bali are two manufacturers that offer this style.

Vertical pleated shades are made with a honeycomb material, as in standard pleated shades. However, the pleats run up and down, and the shades have side rails that you push or pull to open or close. Bali Verticell is one example.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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