Protect Your Plumbing

Protect your Plumbing from Frozen Northern Illinois Weather.

Its finally Spring and we are fortunate to have gotten through another Frigid and Cold Winter – Follow these tips to get through the next frigid Winter and Protect your Pipes, Plumbing and Fixtures.

While we appreciate your business, the best way to protect yourself from the perils of frozen & burst pipes is to prevent them from freezing in the first place…  Here are some tips:

  • Any time freezing temperatures are expected, be sure your home’s thermostat is turned on to heat mode, and set at 55° F or higher. NEVER turn off the heat unless your home has been professionally winterized (see below).
  • Pipes that are most susceptible to freezing are often run within outside building walls, located in unheated or outside areas, or exposed to air currents leaking through holes in the structure.
  • Exposed pipes subject to freezing temperatures should be insulated, and they can also be wrapped with self-regulating heat cables (always follow heat cable manufacturer’s installation instructions).
  • You should disconnect outside hoses, and protect hose faucets with insulated faucet covers.
  • If you have interior shutoff valves for outside faucets, shut them off and drain the piping.  Valve tags should be installed on shutoff valves to aid in identifying them.
  • While dripping water from the hot & cold taps on a faucet will cause the water in the supply pipes to move, making it less susceptible to freezing, beware of the ‘law of unintended consequences’!  If the fixture’s drain pipe runs in the same cold area with the supply pipes, that water dripping from the faucet could freeze and clog the drain, with disastrous potential consequences!  Be careful and make sure your drain doesn’t back up.
  • Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow warm inside air to circulate around pipes.
  • If a pipe does freeze, turn off the water supply to the pipe to reduce pressure, and prevent flooding if the pipe bursts. 
  • Know where your MAIN WATER SHUTOFF VALVE is located, be sure that it’s tagged and in working order, and know how to use it!  It can make the difference between a nuisance and a disaster.  In case you couldn’t tell, we feel pretty strongly about this one.  If you are able to shut off the water quickly when a leak is spotted, rather than having to wait for a plumber or the municipality to respond, the disaster you avoid is potentially huge!
  • If a frozen pipe is visible, you can use a hair dryer to thaw it and restore flow.  NEVER use a torch or any other open flame, because of the risk of fire!  Enough houses have burned down because of this. Trust us, don’t do it!
  • There are lots of things to remember if you want to winterize a home that will be unoccupied for an extended time. We recommend calling a professional – like us – to make sure you don’t end up with any unpleasant surprises next spring!
  • A lot of burst pipes and leaks occur when frozen pipes THAW, not necessarily when they first freeze.  Keep an eye out for leaks that begin when the temperatures begin to warm up after a deep freeze…  A loud bang in a wall could be a chunk of ice dislodging and flying down the pipe, hitting the next turn – an impact that could rupture the pipe, causing a leak!
  • Remember, you can always call HT Strenger Plumbing for fast, friendly service!  If you see a leak, if a faucet stops working, if a drain backs up, or if you just want a thorough peace-of-mind checkup for your plumbing system, we’re here to help with all of your plumbing needs.

So, remember to respect this dangerous weather, and be safe. And as always, call us if there is anything we can do to help!

Should I Replace ? Or should I Repair ?

When should I Replace ?
Or should I Repair ?


Agony is being told that a major household appliance is broken beyond repair. The job you thought might set you back $100 or so is going to cost many hundreds or even thousands.

“Can’t you just fix it?” is the plaintive wail we hear from homeowners in this situation. Sometimes we can, but often we can’t. Or we can, but it’s not in the homeowner’s best interest to do so. As with radios, TVs, VCRs, and shoes, the cost of a major repair for many home fixtures and appliances is creeping ever closer to the cost of replacement.

Here are some things to consider in deciding whether repair or replacement might be the better option.


Furnace/Heat Pump/Boiler

These are the most costly systems to replace, so naturally you want to get as many years of use out of this equipment as you possibly can. The best way to do this is to make sure you have your system professionally serviced at least once a year. Many heating and cooling contractors offer service agreements that assure routine inspection and cleaning at least. Prices usually are a real bargain considering that a new home heating, ventilating and cooling (HVAC) system will cost many thousands.

Myriad repairs can be made on HVAC systems to keep them running for decades. Yet when a boiler section cracks, there’s little that can be done except replace the entire unit. Likewise, central air conditioners and heat pumps have two major components – the indoor evaporator coil and the outdoor condensing unit (compressor) – that when they fail, cannot readily be fixed.

When one needs to be replaced, it is best to replace the other with a compatible unit. Unmatched evaporator coils and condensers usually will operate together for a time, but with a steep penalty in performance, energy usage and premature system failure. So although it entails higher initial cost, replacing both components at once is the smart thing to do in the long run.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that about half the time, people opt for the cheaper but shortsighted single unit replacement.

While HVAC systems ought to last for decades, it’s not necessarily a bargain to keep them running that long. Tremendous strides have been made in energy efficiency in recent years, leading to quick cost paybacks from lower energy bills. The United Homeowners Association (UHA) is a Washington-based consumer organization that offers the following advice:

“If your furnace is over 15 years of age, it’s probably time to boot it out the door… If your furnace’s efficiency comes in somewhere in between 50-75%, you ought to begin investigating rebate offers for buying a high-efficiency new furnace.”

This is not a contractor talking. This advice comes from an organization dedicated to protecting consumer interests. UHA can be reached at 1511 K Street NW, Suite 345, Washington, DC 20005. Membership costs $18 a year.


Water Heater

Industry statistics show that the average water heater lasts 12 years. With regular maintenance and routine repairs, some keep operating two or three times as long. As with HVAC systems, however, it’s not always to your advantage to hang on to older units. Modern high-efficiency water heaters often can pay for themselves in energy savings within 3-5 years.

Almost all components on a water heater can be fixed or replaced except for the tank. Once the tank rusts through, there is no way to rescue the water heater. Replacement is the only solution.

Water heaters come with internal sacrificial anode rods to protect against rusting. An anode’s sole purpose is to corrode away so the steel of the tank can’t. Replacing the anodes every 3-4 years (more frequently if water is softened) will add considerably to the life of a water heater.

Another main cause of failure is overheating from sediment buildup inside the tank. Ask your plumber to inspect the anodes and sediment periodically. Sometimes this can be done as part of an annual service agreement.

Some plumbing firms also offer extended water heater warranties lasting 10 years or even a lifetime. If you plan to live in your home for quite some time, these warranties may be worth looking into.



Automatic dishwashers are another appliance that should last a decade or more – though here, too, you often can save money by buying a newer energy-efficient unit.

Brand new units can be bought for $400-$600, while repairs of various operating mechanisms typically run $150 and up. If your dishwasher is getting near the 10-year mark, a major repair may be a signal that other components are also on their last legs. It won’t take many service calls to pay for a brand new unit.



Stoppages and minor malfunctions are worth repairing. But if the motor goes out, or the blades break, you are better off replacing the entire unit. Especially so if you deal with a plumbing company that warrants the product for 5-10 years or even longer.



Unless you crack the porcelain, a toilet can easily last a lifetime. What will wear out are the flushing mechanisms comprised of moving parts. Leakage may occur from the wax ring seal by the floor, but that can be fixed short of replacement.

Toilets commonly get replaced for reasons other than malfunction. Water conservation is one. Modern toilets operate with 1.6 gallons per flush or less, compared with 3.5 gallons for older standard models. (A few 5-gal. and 7.5 gal. flush versions from many decades ago also are still in operation here and there.) Depending on water rates, sometimes you can save money by replacing a toilet.

Styling and quieter flushing are two other reasons to replace. This is a matter of homeowner choice more than necessity.



Replacing a cartridge, washer or other internal component can repair leaking faucets. Tarnishes and nicks are harder to fix.


10 Most Common Household Plumbing Repairs

10 Most Common Household Plumbing Repairs

Call Us at 847-965-2200 – LJ Brown Plumbing

#1 Faulty Tired Water Heater – “Old reliable” churns away in your basement or utility room day after day, month after month, year after year like a farm mule in days of yore. Except this one doesn’t eat as much – nor do you have those ugly, malodorous piles laying all around the place!

But sometimes, like a cantankerous old mule, the modern water heater doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. That’s when you call a plumbing contractor saying “no hot water.”

This is the top reason why people call a plumbing or heating contractor, according to a survey taken a few years ago by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Information Bureau (PHCIB) in Chicago. A related problem, a leaking water heater, came in at number 5 out of the top 10.

Looking over the list, I can’t help but shake my head at all the waste of time and money these emergency service calls represent. Most people don’t pay much attention to their household “mule team” – the mechanical systems that provide so much comfort and convenience in our modern lives. We take for granted our water heaters, toilets, faucets, furnaces and air conditioners, until they stop working. Then comes the panicked call to the Service Company, and a repair job that always ends up costing more than we expect.

Regular care and maintenance can forestall most of these breakdowns at a fraction of the cost of repairs. Have your plumbing, heating and air conditioning inspected, cleaned and checked at least once a year. Progressive service companies offer service agreements in which they automatically come out to take care of these things for a modest annual fee.

Homeowners also should consider replacing ancient water heaters, toilets, furnaces, boilers and other appliances with new high-efficiency or water-saving models. Most of us are in the habit of squeezing out every last day of service out of such equipment. Yet any unit more than 12-15 years old probably can pay for itself within a few years through reduced energy or water usage.

Here are the rest of the top 10 household repairs identified by the PHCIB.

#2 – Clogged drains. Many of these calls could be avoided by taking greater care in what you put down drains – especially the kitchen sink drain, the most used and most clogged drain in the house. I also recommend regular treatment with Bio-Clean, a biological drain cleaner sold only through plumbing contractors.

#3 – Dripping faucets. This is an annoyance that most homeowners have to deal with from time to time, as the washers in the faucets wear out with use. You can extend the life of your faucet washers by not turning them off with too much force.

You may also consider replacing your older faucets with those that feature washer less valve cartridges instead of rubber washers. Since the valve mechanism is contained in one cartridge, these faucets are easier to repair and replace. In addition, cartridges are generally more durable and do not leak because they do not deteriorate with friction or age as washers do.

#4 – Leaking pipes. In extreme cases, these can cause expensive damage to floors and belongings. To stop a small leak from turning into a big one, look at your pipes periodically to check for rust or white lime deposits that may indicate a leak is starting.

#5 – Leaking water heaters. Most often when you have a leaking hose or fixture, it’s time to get rid of the water heater. Usually leaks indicate rusting through at the bottom of the storage tank, for which there is no good repair. By the time this happens, the water heater is usually so old you’d benefit from replacing it with a more energy-efficient model anyway.

#6 – No heat. When your furnace or boiler stops operating, it can make for a long, cold winter night. An ounce of prevention here is worth a ton of cure. It’s important to make sure your heating system is functioning properly before the first cold snap hits. Have a competent contractor do a thorough examination and cleaning in late summer or early fall every year.

#7-8 – Running and leaking toilets. This is not only an annoyance, but also a waste of water and money. Leaky toilets can cost you upwards of $100 a year on your water bills. If you hear a low humming noise, or if the toilet continues to run into the bowl after the toilet is flushed, it indicates that some part of the mechanism is out of order. Sometimes a little jiggling of the ballcock or flush valve mechanism solves the problem with cost. Otherwise, you may need to replace the entire mechanism.

#9 – New faucet installation. Many homeowners replace faucets not only when they break down, but for decorative reasons as well. This is the ninth most common reason for a service call, according to the PHCIB.

A few people buy a faucet from a home center and then call a plumbing firm to do the installation. This is okay, but be forewarned that in doing so, the plumbing firm will warrant only its workmanship, not the faucet itself.

#10 – Malfunctioning food waste disposal. This can be a messy headache for homeowners. Here are several tips to keep your unit in good working order.

First, always run cold water when grinding to move the waste all the way down the drain lines. Fats and grease congeal and harden in cold water and can be flushed through the system. Hot water should not be used because it can dissolve fats and grease, which may then accumulate in the drain line.

Almost all biodegradable food waste can be fed into disposals. However, they should not be used to grind clam or oyster shells, corn husks or other material with a high fiber content. Under no circumstances should you put glass, plastic or metal nonfood materials though a disposal. This includes bottle caps, tin covers or aluminum foil, which are some of the items service technicians commonly find in clogged or broken disposals.

Maintenance is easy. Grinding small bones and eggshells actually helps clean the disposal by scraping away stubborn deposits or citric acid and pulp. Grinding a little ice is another way to clean deposits and get rid of odors. For the most part, though, disposals are self-clean