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Do It Yourself: Several reasons behind banging pipe noises

SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2011

Q. Every time we use our hot water the pipes start banging like someone is hitting them with a hammer. Is there a solution?

A. It’s difficult to give a specific answer without knowing a lot more about the noises and your source of hot water. Pipe noises can occur for different reasons when water is turned on and running, and when it is turned off.

If you have old-fashioned, washer-type faucets, a loose washer can cause noise when water is running.

Loose water pipes, knocking against joists or floorboards, can also cause or contribute to the noises. Check all visible pipes and tighten any loose clamps, and place foam pipe insulation pads between pipes and wood surfaces.

Another possible cause is a condition called water hammer. Water hammer occurs when a faucet or valve is suddenly closed and the pressurized column of water is abruptly stopped; this causes the pipes to vibrate and make banging, rattling or other noises.

It sometimes helps to shut off the water at the main valve and open the lowest faucet in the building. Let the water drain from the system, then close the open faucet and open the main valve.

Also remove faucet aerators and clean out any debris or accumulated minerals left by hard water (soak metal parts overnight in white vinegar to dissolve minerals).

If these steps don’t solve your problem, consider installing water-hammer arresters near the faucets that are causing the noise.

An arrester is simply a small air chamber and usually sells for less than $20, but the installation can be tricky. Arresters are usually installed as close as possible to the faucet or valve where the problem originates.

You can get more information and sources by searching for Water Hammer Arresters on the Web. If in doubt about installing an arrester, consult a plumber.

Q. How can I remove tree stumps still in the ground?

A. A stump grinder is the fastest way to remove stumps, but has its downside. You’ll be left with a hole filled with fine chips and sawdust.

I have known people who cleaned out the debris, filled the hole with topsoil and planted grass seed, only to have the fill sink into the ground so that more filling and seeding is needed.

If you want quick removal, a tree-removal service will use a grinder or you can rent one at some tool-rental agencies and do it yourself.

Another method, which sometimes takes a long time, is to treat the stump with a chemical. Stump-killing chemicals are sold at some garden-supply outlets and in the garden departments of some home centers.

The chemicals vary, but are often potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, both commonly known as saltpeter.

The procedure is usually to drill a series of holes into the stump and fill them with a chemical solution. If you try this, follow instructions on the package carefully, but don’t expect quick results.

A spade bit and electric drill work best for drilling the holes. You can also just drill some holes into the stump and let rainwater speed the rotting process.

My favorite treatment, however, is to cut the top of the stump flat and level and use it to support one or more planters. Some stumps can also serve as seats or side tables for outdoor furniture.

Q. The roof shingles on my 15-year-old house have dark streaks that run downward. The roof is shaded but I have trimmed most of the trees back to give it more sun. What cases the streaks and what can be done about them?

A. This question has been answered several times before in this column, but needs repeating because it is asked so often.

The streaks are a fungus and they are most common on shaded buildings and in areas where there is high outdoor humidity.

There are special cleaners to remove the fungus, but working on roofs is dangerous for unskilled do-it-yourselfers and it is usually best to hire an experienced roofer to do the cleaning.

Once the roof is clean, future staining can sometimes be avoided by installing zinc strips near the ridge of the roof; the strips react chemically with rainwater to keep the fungus away.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at

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