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Planning Retirement Online

50plus Handyman       August 2006

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The handyman column   
By Roger Runswick

Plumbing and Bats

50plus Handyman director Roger Runswick discusses plumbing disasters and how to avoid them


With a summer leaving the UK alternatively under several feet of water or on the verge of a full-scale drought, we take a look at plumbing disasters and how best to avoid them. Firstly, the edited highlights from two recent calls to the 50plus Handyman booking lines.

1. The waiting game

Customer: I have a bulge in my kitchen ceiling. It's been there for a while but now it's getting bigger and there's been water dripping from it and this morning it's dripping a lot faster.

50plus Handyman: What is on top of the kitchen?

Customer: The bathroom.

50plus Handyman: Can you turn your water off?

Customer: I think so.

50plus Handyman: Do it now and then call us back.

A couple of hours later….'Hello? 50plus Handyman? Can you repair holes in ceilings?'

2. A bad valve day

Customer: I was trying to repair a ball valve.

50plus Handyman: How can we help you?

Customer: Well my internal stopcock was stuck so I turned off the water in the street.

50plus Handyman: Yes, quite sensible. But how can we help?

Customer: I think I turned off the wrong stopcock. When I took off the ball valve off the water wouldn't stop.

50plus Handyman: Oh dear! What's the current position?

Customer: Well I jammed the ball valve, ran outside and now everything is turned off but I'm not sure what to do and my neighbour has no water.

50plus Handyman: Have you tried the other stopcock?

Customer: Well I did but now it's stuck.

50plus Handyman: We're on our way.

We can all chuckle in retrospect, not least because the insurance company will usually pay up (but not in the case of street stopcocks. They are owned by the Water Company, and they may charge you). But in these albeit rather extreme cases, the solution would have been taking action earlier or testing before starting.

So what else can one do?

50plus Handyman sees two very common problems, which end up costing the customer far more than they would have done if they had addressed the problem at an early stage.

(i) Leaking showers are a perennial problem. The biggest issue is the old-style flexible plastic shower tray mounted on upper floors. The tray moves with people's weight. Sealant is dislodged or traps/pipes become loose, and eventually there's a damp patch on the ceiling below. Don't leave it too long or don't use the shower. It won't fix itself. And if changing the tray, fit a stone cast type.

(ii) A dripping tap can easily fill a bath full of water in a day (every day). If you are on a meter, it's costing you money. It is also costing us all money as water 'down the drain' has to be stored, pumped and the infrastructure paid for. A tap washer or new tap insert is a good investment and the sooner it’s changed the less it will cost, particularly in hard water areas where the constantly running water will erode the tap base.

And finally, a darker plumbing tale. A customer reported that they did not have any water coming out of a bath tap. Every other tap was OK. Our intrepid 50plus Handyman turns off the customer's hot water and having ruled out more obvious causes dismantles the tap. What’s that in there? Some careful extraction later and we have a (rather dead) bat. How did it get there? The tank was covered.

We'll never know, but next time the water's running slowly, perhaps better to just shrug and call the experts - quickly.

Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at .

Previous articles in this series:


Fixing drips and changing your taps

Can I still change my light switch?

Fitting an outside light

Pre-winter maintenance

Thinking of installing a shower?

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?

Estimate or quotation?

Replacing a door?

How to upgrade the lighting in your home

Creating a cloakroom and shower

Ideas for collecting and saving water

Power in the garden

Plumbing and bats


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