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Robert Lamoureux: Guests show up, toilet backs up

Your Home Improvements

Posted: June 18, 2010 9:36 p.m.
Updated: June 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Hi Robert,
Periodically, I’ll have guests in the house when the toilet backs up. I hear there is a snake you can use in a toilet? I used a plunger, but sometimes it takes forever to unclog the toilet.
Beth E.

Hi Beth,
Don’t use an electric snake because it will damage the porcelain bowl. There are times we do need to use a snake. For example, when there are roots in the line, but first we remove the toilet and then reset it. For many clogs, you can leave the toilet in place and use a toilet auger.  Make sure the end of the auger goes all the way in, and the rubber portion is the only part touching the porcelain.

Time and time again, I have seen a toilet that is scuffed and damaged. That’s due to either someone using a snake through the toilet, or using an auger incorrectly.

Pull the handle all the way out and stick the auger in. Then start cranking. Don’t take the cable and run it up against the toilet because this will scratch the bottom of the bowl. As far as I’m concerned, this is a great tool, and every house should have one. 

Hi Robert,
How difficult is it to install a skylight?
Bruce T.

Hi Bruce,
If you do not get into the structural aspect of the roof, and if you have carpenter skills and understand waterproofing, you should have no problem. If not, or you don’t feel comfortable in cutting a hole through the roof, hire a contractor.  The first step is to build up a curb to accept the skylight. The minimum size I would build would be 2” x 6.” Anything less, for example a 2” x 4,” will leak the minute there is wind-driven rain. 

First, cut your roof open, then build the curb. It is imperative you use flashing. A common practice is to take roofing tiles and roll the tiles over. This is the worst thing you can do. The curb needs to be built up with flashing. 

After you build the curb, counter flash the leading edge so when the water hits, it is deflected and runs away from the opening. The paper goes right up on top of the flashing. The flashing is your water barrier. 

When you set your skylight, be sure and seal it to keep the wind out. You don’t want dust blowing up inside your house.
For this job, get a sealant and place it on top of the curb. This is similar to the weather stripping around a door, then set your skylight on top. On the inside you have to drywall the inside of this box, (called “the chase”) to give it a finished look. 

Also, it’s important to use security screws. If somebody climbs on top of your roof, they can unscrew four screws and get inside in your house. If you use security screws, they would have to break the skylight to get in because burglars probably don’t carry security screwdrivers.

If you have a security system in your home, be sure and contact the company to monitor the skylight 

We are now using a water tank exchange service after having our own system for many years. With our own system, it worked flawlessly giving us the correct “softness” day after day. However, with the exchange service, for a week to 10 days after we get a new tank the water is so “soft” it feels oily. Then when the tank runs out, we have “hard” water until the next tank arrives. Is it possible to add some kind of adjustment valve to our plumbing so we can adjust the “softness” and make each tank last longer? I enjoy your column in The Signal, thanks for taking the time to answer questions.
Howard K.

Hi Howard,
I wouldn’t think that would be possible, but contact your particular manufacturer to be sure. It’s a one in, one out. If you bring it down then you are minimizing the volume of water coming in, so you can’t do that.  You must be using a lot of water. Make sure your system is set up correctly and you are not watering your yard with the “good stuff.”

Hi Robert,
Greetings from Leona Valley. My septic tank was here when we bought the property but it is not permitted. Now it’s leaking. How is a leech bed designed? We’ve got a 250 gallon tank. We’d like to increase the size because every few years we need to have it pumped out. Would replacing it require permits?
Thank you, Rick W.

Hi Rick,
Yes, it would require permits. In Leona Valley, you would be dealing with the County of Los Angeles and they are known for being easy to work with.

You will have to engineer it for replacement because the County wants to see the plans and permits before it gives approval.  Depending on what the engineer requires the tank needs be within close proximity of the house. We recently dug a leech field for a 1,500 gallon tank for two homes.

The field was 39 feet long x 26 feet wide x 4 feet deep. This was a little overkill, but the homeowners were adamant and didn’t want problems in the future.  After you excavate, the area will need two feet of gravel base, place the perforated pipe on top, covered by an additional six inches of gravel. Then you can cover it with straw or a heavy duty building paper, which is covered by 1 1/2 feet of dirt. The purpose of the straw or paper would be to keep the dirt from saturating through the rock. Personally, I prefer the straw because it doesn’t rot as quickly as the paper.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send questions to


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