A Minor Inconvenience

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone around the world in some way. In fact, it may be the first instance in recorded history of one single crisis sweeping across humanity on every continent so quickly. It has had an influence not only on people’s health, but also on the global economy, the environment, and the way we learn and work. It has even changed our relationship with toilet paper.

Our appearance has also changed, as masks are now a regular part of public life. Since returning to work after the peak of the first wave of the virus had passed, I have taken PPE very seriously. When I go to customers’ houses, I wear a mask at all times. Usually, it is this large builder’s mask with a built-in face shield and two filters:

It forms a complete seal around my face, and I ensure to put it on when I am still outside, before entering the property. In addition to this, I carry sanitizing spray with me and clean my hands regularly. In certain cases, it makes more sense to wear a smaller P3 mask instead, and I always carry one of these with me as well:

Some people, in fact many people, might consider this to be overkill. Even some of my customers’ dogs look somewhat confused as I enter their houses. I can understand that my PPE might look a little apocalyptic at first glance, and I can understand that everyone has grown tired of all this “new normal.” However, much like in plumbing, a problem might be inconvenient, but that doesn’t mean that you should just ignore it. I wear PPE and will continue doing so until the virus is eradicated or until there is compelling evidence from health experts that we no longer need to wear masks.

It’s not a case of being afraid of the virus, it’s a case of being careful for the sake of others. I am relatively young and healthy, but I have many elderly and vulnerable customers. Therefore, I take every step I can to protect them. I have a responsibility to keep myself as safe as possible when going between so many people’s bathrooms and kitchens, where food is prepared and faces are washed. Knowing that I am protected from the virus, I know I am not spreading it directly into people’s homes either. Moreover, I would like to do my part to protect the economy and society as a whole. The more cavalier we become, the more likely it is that there will be further lockdowns. Whether or not any given person agrees with lockdown as a method of keeping the virus at bay, it is a very real possibility that it could be imposed. We can all help prevent this from happening by being careful and wearing masks.

If it turns out that my PPE was overkill, the only thing I’ve done is inconvenienced myself in a very small way. However, if it turns out that the virus is as dangerous and contagious as leading epidemiologists around the world are saying, then wearing a mask could be saving lives and livelihoods. For me, this is a worthwhile inconvenience. So, if you book me for a plumbing job, don’t be too shocked when I arrive at your door in what looks like a gas mask. It’s all part of the new normal at Hedgehog Plumbing.

On the brighter side, the PPE has actually made some parts of my job more pleasant. Now that I’ve got a built-in visor, I am immune to unpleasant odours and water dripping on my face. Thanks to the air filters, my lungs have also never felt healthier. I realise now how much dust I must have been inhaling before. And to top it all off, I no longer worry about spiders crawling on my face when I am looking at pipes underneath old floorboards. In times of crisis, it’s always helpful to look for the positives.

Under Pressure

Nothing in life is constant, and that includes water pressure.

Various things may cause low water pressure in your home, and some of these factors will be outside of your control. For example, properties with a shared mains supply experience low pressure more often than others. Beyond this, in the early morning and evening there is more demand on the water mains network, and the pressure may be lower. If you’re having problems with pressure during these times, it may be worth adjusting your schedule so that your household showers and washes up outside of these peak times. Of course, for many people this is simply not possible due to work and family commitments. Because of this, it is also important to bear in mind how the plumbing of your water pipes can affect your water pressure and flow. Part of what we do at Hedgehog Plumbing is to advise on your ideas for your bathroom, kitchen, or any other room that requires new pipework. We always strive to make things not only work, but work well. In the case of water pipes, this means ensuring that they are fitted to provide the best pressure and flow possible for the desired layout of your property.

The water pressure from the mains is usually the same for all the properties on a given street. However, flow is another factor to consider. Flow and pressure are easily confused, but are separate aspects of your water supply. Some houses have a low flow with a high pressure, or a good flow with a low pressure. Your water pipes may be restricting the maximum amount of water that can flow to your property. Factors such as corrosion in the pipes, the length of the supply pipe, a leak in the supply pipe, dents or kinks in the supply pipe, and the diameter of the supply pipe may all affect the water flow to your property. Fittings and bends in the pipework can also affect the flow. However, this last factor is less of an issue with modern water supplies.


Home Pressure/Flow Check

If you suspect you might have a problem with your water pressure or flow, there is a simple way to check this without the need for any special equipment.

Use the first tap off the supply pipe (usually this is the cold kitchen tap):

  1. Turn off all other taps and appliances that use water.

  2. Fill a 4.5 litre bucket with water.

  3. The bucket should fill in 30 seconds. If it takes longer, then you likely have a problem with either your water pressure or water flow.

    If you suspect you have a problem, it is then worth consulting with a plumber to see what – if anything – can be done to fix it.

Sometimes the issue is with the mains supply. You can speak to your neighbours to check if this is the case. Usually, if all of the houses on a street have problems with pressure, then the problem lies with the mains supply. Water companies are legally required to supply a minimum pressure of 0.7 bar to your stop tap. This works out as a pressure that will push water to a height of 7 metres. If there is suddenly not enough pressure to get water to the top of your house, it is possible there is a burst water main. You can get in touch with your water company to find out more.

Shower Screens

I’ve noticed that a lot of people in Bristol are opting for shower screens when installing a new shower. The appeal is understandable; they look more solid and integrated with the bathroom. You see them in hotels and the idea is that they are easy to clean with a bit of glass cleaner. The reality, however, is different. I have yet to come across one that doesn’t leak. With leaks comes standing water, and with standing water comes mould. Shower screens look tatty in no time, and I would always advise against them.

There are many options for good quality shower curtains out there, and most of these you can clean in a regular washing machine with regular washing liquid or powder. Even the really tough stains on a shower curtain will come off if a couple of towels are added to the wash. There are also linen shower curtains available, which can be washed at a higher temperature to ensure all mould and bacteria are killed.  As with any advice, please check the packaging of the product to ensure you use the right temperature, and be especially careful when washing plastic curtains.

For those that still want a screen, or something similar, it would be worth looking at a hybrid product like this:

over-bath shower panel

The curtain stops the water leaking and pooling by the fixings, so they don’t end up looking like this:

How to Stop a Leak

I get lots and lots of phone calls about leaks, ranging from an annoying dribble that can wait a few days to panic-inducing fountains of water gushing all over brand-new carpets. Regardless of how torrential the leak may be, there is a short term, fix-all solution that may just save you from flooding your front room: THE STOPCOCK.

This  vital piece of plumbing is what allows all of the water to flow into your house. It is essentially what connects your property to the mains. Turning it off will stop any water flowing in and keep your property dry while the problem is resolved.  When I arrive to fix a leak the first thing I will ask is, “Where is your stopcock?”

So where IS the stopcock?  A surprising amount of homeowners don’t seem to know this about their house. When you buy a house, this should be one of the first things you find out. It is often found under the kitchen sink, but some homes also have an outdoor one. I also see homes where the stopcock is underneath the floorboards. This is usually the result of a badly-planned renovation. On that note, if you are doing any work on your house, do try to think about any future access to the plumbing or electrics of the property. It will save you having to pull up your nice hardwood floors in order to stop the leak flowing down your equally nice freshly-painted walls.

If you’re not sure where the stopcock is, check the following common places:

  • Under the kitchen sink
  • In the larder or other large cupboard
  • Near your boiler
  • Behind a panel by the front door

If you’re still not sure, it’s worth asking your neighbours, as the houses along a street are often designed in the same way.

Regardless of where it is, it’s a good idea to find it before you have any leaks, so that you can quickly prevent permanent damage if you do get one.

Cold Shower?

Taking a cold shower can be invigorating and is said to be great for your hair.  Taking a cold shower involuntarily, however, is an entirely unpleasant experience. If your shower starts getting colder and you’re not able to turn up the heat, it’s possible, even probable that the thermostatic cartridge needs replacing. These are sometimes called thermostatic cores or thermostatic cassettes. The vast majority of modern showers in the UK have these, and replacements are readily available. It is a little bit tricky to find the correct replacement as there are no standard cartridges linked to any particular models of shower, but if you take the old cartridge out it will be possible to identify the correct new one from a photo. The Shower Doctor website has a very useful section for this; you can find it here.

As always, if you would like a professional opinion on this, do give your local plumber (that’s us at Hedgehog Plumbing if you’re in Bristol!) a call and they help you out.


Which? Trusted Traders

As a business owner it’s not unusual to get phone calls offering insurance, SEO services, software, and lots other things that I normally politely decline.  I was surprised, however, to get a cold call the other day from Which, the would-be go-to guide for any payable products and services. They asked if I’d like to get onto their books as a “Trusted Trader.” I would be listed and rated on their website, along with other plumbers local to my Bristol postcode. On the surface this may seem like a win-win; I get more business in Bristol, and customers using the service can be guaranteed that I’m a reputable and quality tradesperson. The conversation, however, left me very dubious as to what difference signing up to this would make to me or my customers, and who would really benefit from it.

Let’s start from the fact that I was cold-called. I did not have to apply or even be recommended by someone. Not only this, but the person on the phone explained that I would probably pass their application process because only 1 out of every 4 tradespeople fail to make the cut. A 75% success rate does not imply quality to me. “Which?” markets itself as a scrupulous consumer guide.  However, I had a quick look at the “trusted plumbers” that they recommend in my post code. There are 45 of them in total. That’s a very high number for just the BS2 area of Bristol. I have personally seen the work of a few of these plumbers, and I would not consider it of the highest calibre. This is bad for customers and also for the industry. What does it say when plumbers who are promoted as being some of the best are actually just anyone in the top 75th percentile? Many people already have the perception that plumbers cut corners and overcharge, and without a more rigorous selection process, is “Which?” fueling this?  Furthermore, does having 45 recommended options to choose from actually make the choice any easier for the customer?

The caller from “Which?” went on to explain that I can pay £70 to go through the selection process, and then £45 per month to be on their books.  This last figure goes up depending on the number of employees I have. At this point I really felt like I was just being sold ad space. The caller even called plumbing a “broken industry,” implying we plumbers needed all the help we could get to grow our businesses. If they are charging plumbers to be on their books, it is in their interest to have as many “trusted tradesmen” as possible.  Hence the high pass rate. It also implies that they want more big companies as they get a higher fee due to the company having more employees. Is there danger here of larger businesses being on the list because of financial gain rather than quality workmanship? I have seen some bigger employers paying their plumbers minimum wage and scheduling them to work incredibly long hours in bad working conditions. Is it a good idea for these types of businesses to be on the “Trusted Tradesmen” list?

Let me make it clear that I am not bitterly slating all internet recommendations. In posting this, I only intend to question the legitimacy of these “trusted” lists. Which(?) is not the only organisation to have this type of set up.  There is Checkatrade, Trustatrader, the AA, RAC, and many others in various industries. I would’t mind if these websites described themselves as what they were: local advertising boards. Businesses need to advertise and when consumers understand that they are looking at a business’s advert they can make an informed decision. I feel it’s a problem, however, when consumers see an advert disguised as a trusted, expert recommendation from an unbiased guide. It seems that with their monthly fee Which? are the only real winners in this scenario. The consumer and the tradesman on the other hand seem to gain very little.

Buying a House? Pay attention to the Plumbing

In the UK there comes a point for most people when they start thinking about buying a house.  When and if it is financially advisable to get a mortgage is something best dealt with by a bank manager. I can tell you, however, that looking at the plumbing can give  you some glaring clues about the quality of the house. In the houses I visit all over Bristol, my job involves a lot of looking behind bath panels and underneath boilers in darkened, dusty cupboards. It is here that I often notice water damage and resulting mould and rot. This compromises the quality of the house, but is often something that isn’t seen until the problem gets a lot bigger, and a lot more expensive to fix. If you are looking at houses to buy, in Bristol or anywhere in the UK, try to have a good look in places like this. Bring along a torch and shine it on all those darkened corners where pipes disappear beneath the floorboards. Ask if you would be able to carefully remove the bath panel, or any panels covering pipes. Of course, this may seem a bit over the top to the seller, but for the sake of a few awkward requests you could get yourself a much better deal and save a lot of hassle down the line.

Even the more visible plumbing can be a good signal as to whether or not the house has been looked after. Does the pipework look clean and straight or does it look kinked and bodged-in as an afterthought to the rest of the house? Sure, it may work fine at the moment, but bad pipework usually ends up being problematic in the long-term. How modern is the boiler? How good is the silicone around the bath, shower, and sinks? If it’s cracked or coming away, chances are it will need replacing sooner rather later. It may even mean that water has got behind the unit and there is invisible damage.  Pay attention to the location of things in the kitchen and bathroom. If the toilet is in an awkward place, think about whether you’ll be able to live with it or will eventually want to spend more money rearranging your bathroom. See my Location, Location, Location post for more on this.

The plumbing is not the be-all and end-all of a house, but if you are going to take out hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt, it’s good to know exactly what you’re getting. Think of the pipes as the veins and arteries of the house. Make sure they are in good health, along with the rest of your potential new home.

Now Gas Safe Registered

A quick mention that Hedgehog Plumbing is now gas safe registered. If any one in the Bristol area needs a new boiler fitted or general gas work done, please give use a call. We are happy to take you through all of the options if you are choosing a new boiler, and we can recommend the best websites to look at when searching. We also do boiler services and repairs to guarantee maximum performance. Bristol is still rather chilly outside, but your home can be toasty and warm if you keep your boiler serviced and up-to-date!

Vaillant Combi boiler
Vaillant ecotec pro 24
Heat Exchanger
Vaillant Heat Exchanger

Location, Location, Location

What colour should the tiles be?

Should we go for a corner bath?

How about a fancy waterfall tap?

These are all important plumbing decisions when designing a new bathroom, but before thinking about any of these it is important to first think about location.

Where all of the bathroom features go in the room affects how quickly and efficiently I can do my job putting in the pipework and fitting everything into the room. More importantly, it affects your experience when using the room.

For example, I’ve seen Bristol bathrooms with showerheads placed directly opposite the cubicle door. To let the water run and heat up means then soaking the floor when opening the door again to get in. The only other option is to get in before turning the shower on and then stand under cold water for the first minute or so. Perhaps a good thing for a morning wake-up call, but not ideal for a relaxing experience.

I’ve also seen sinks and toilets squeezed onto a far-too-small portion of wall. These look neat and tidy from the bathroom doorway, but sitting on the toilet with a cold, ceramic sink basin poking into your shoulder is again, a less than pleasant experience. Towel warmers placed well out of reach of the shower will provide an exceptionally frustrating experience on a cold winter morning. Even a frosted glass window will give your Bristol neighbours a glimpse of your silhouette as you get into the bath placed directly underneath it. The list goes on.

With all of this in mind, I always recommend the people of Bristol consider not only the aesthetic value of their new bathrooms, but also the day-to-day experience in these rooms. As a plumber I see my role as more than just fitting whatever does the job wherever it fits, but also helping my customers have a good experience after all the pipework is in and tiles are fitted. Advising on the best layout for a bathroom is an all-important part of the service.

(Not so) Flushable Wet Wipes

So-called “flushable wet wipes” have been popping up on Bristol’s supermarket shelves in increasing numbers over the past couple of years. They are handy for makeup removal, household cleaning, and personal hygiene, and their popularity is understandable. However, despite the branding, they are in no way “flushable.”

The science is simple: the fibres in wet wipes do not break down once they are flushed.  Even the wipes that are labelled as “flushable” have this problem because by definition they need to be made strong enough to stay wet for long periods of time. If they did not have this resilience to moisture they would fall apart before you even took them out of the packaging. Toilet paper, no the other hand, is thin enough to disintegrate soon after passing the U-Bend.

Some wipes claim to meet “flushability protocols,” but again do not be fooled by this. These protocols have been set by the wet wipe manufacturers, rather than plumbing or drain experts.

Flushing anything other than toilet paper, pee, or poo (commonly known as “The Three P’s”) down the loo can lead to serious blockages in your drain, or worse, those of your neighbours. Some estimates suggest that wet wipes are responsible for over 10,000 blocked drains every year. As a result, several water companies have now called for a ban on the word “flushable” on wet wipe packaging.

Wessex Water, who cover Bristol and the surrounding area, have even made the following video to inform people of the damage “flushable” wet wipes can cause:

The solution is simple; put your wet wipes in the bin. You can avoid these costly blockages for yourself, your neighbours, and your city.