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Water-main breaks can plug up lines in homes

Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

The good news is, that break in a massive 54-inch water pipe just off Providence Road – and the smaller water line breaks it spawned – are repaired. Utility officials said early this week that things should be close to normal by week's end.

The bad news is, such major disruptions can send debris – usually tiny pieces of minerals and other deposits – into the water pipes in your house, causing problems.

The good news is, you can fix many of them yourself.

Charlotte plumber Ron Steele said he regularly hears from people with clogged plumbing after water-line work.

Debris can clog up the aerators at your kitchen and bathroom sinks. Aerators screw into the ends of spigots and soften the flow to prevent splashing. When they get clogged, they block the flow of water.

They're easy to remove and clean – just rinse them thoroughly. “I would suggest to people, if they have any concerns at all, to go ahead and take those aerators out and clean them,” Steele said.

Don't forget the little filters in the supply lines to your washing machine.

Steele said debris also can clog pressure-reducing valves – which some of his customers aren't even aware they have.

The reducing valve does just what its name implies: reduces high water pressure coming from the line in the street to a lower pressure more compatible with household use.

Many Charlotte-Mecklenburg utility customers added reducing valves eight or nine years ago at the request of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities. The utilities increased pressure in some areas to better serve homeowners at the outer reaches of the system, said spokesman Cam Coley.

Debris in the reducing valve might cause any of several problems. “That can cause the pressure to drop or the volume of water to drop,” Steele said. “Somebody not too long ago said the valve was making a knocking noise or a banging noise.”

If your valve is clogged, you might notice a ringing or “singing” noise when you use water.

If you have a reducing valve, it might be in the water meter box at the street, or in a separate in-ground box nearby. It might be near the whole-house cutoff in the utility room, Steele said, or on the main water line under your house.

Steele, of course, recommends that you call a pro if you suspect you have debris in your reducing valve. That might be a good idea if you're not sure what you're doing.

Some valves have strainers to catch debris. In fact, some manufacturers recommend that you clean the strainer every six months. If you know what company made your reducing valve, you can look for how-to instructions online. (Don't skip over the portion of the instructions that says TURN THE WATER OFF.)

Coley said the debris that gets into water lines typically consists of minerals and other deposits dislodged from pipe walls by changes in water pressure. Workers try to raise and lower pressure gradually to prevent that, he said.

When a line as big as the one off Providence Road breaks – it serves some 100,000 homes in the eastern and southern Mecklenburg – water is rerouted through the system to reach affected households. That also can cause debris. “Even a change in direction can cause it to wash off,” Coley said.

Any time you have a problem with your municipal water – discoloration or air in it, for instance – run some water for a few minutes to see if it clears up. If you still have problems after water-line work, Coley said, report them to 311 or your local water utility.

Allen Norwood: homeinfo@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5035

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