Tool Box, Sinks, Grease Stains

“We believe a good maintenance mechanic needs a bit of ‘Detective’ in them or have problem-solving abilities.”

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am interested in becoming a Maintenance Mechanic or tech. What skills should I hone or include in my “Tool Box”?


Dear Robin:

That is a very good question. The list below should be considered as the minimum needed to be a well-rounded maintenance technician who wants to be excellent at their job.

  1. We believe a good maintenance mechanic needs a bit of “Detective” in them or have problem-solving abilities. In other words, getting to the root of the problem and not just fixing the issue at hand. Find out what caused the issue in the first place.
  2. Care about the details. The details can include anything from noticing something out of place to having the right tools for the job at hand.Detail-oriented means having a keen eye on what is going on around you and making sure “good enough” is NOT good enough. An often forgotten detail is the importance of being on time and cleaning up after the job.
  3. Technical aptitude or technical abilities. Learn the system you are working on. Become proficient, get hands-on training on systems you are unfamiliar with. Attend training programs, etc.
  4. Learn organizational skills. Being organized will save time, money and will create efficiency to get more out of each day.
  5. Ability to work under pressure. In other words, get in, get out and get the job done quickly and correctly the first time.
  6. Be versatile. Don’t be scared to try something new. Don’t get bogged down; learn to think outside the box to find solutions. Not everything is black and white.

Dear Maintenance Men:

We tried to replace an angle stop valve under the kitchen sink but found a brass collar around the copper pipe which traps the nut behind it. The new angle stop threads are not compatible with the old nut. What can I do? Also, how often should I routinely replace my under sink water flex lines?


Dear Roland:

On the first question, it is always best to remove the old collar. That is easier said than done. You cannot pull off the collar with your fingers because it is too tight. Pliers will damage your soft copper pipe and cutting the line behind the collar is OK if you have enough pipe to spare. But, in most cases, the space is limited and cutting the line won’t work.

The hardware or plumbing store sells a compression Sleeve Puller (approx. $20) designed for this job, and it will not damage your pipe. You can now install your new angle stop valve. An alternative once you remove the collar is to solder a male or female one-half inch fitting to the end of the copper pipe. Install a male or female angle stop valve and never again deal with a stubborn brass collar. If you ever need to replace the valve, just twist it off and install a new one.

On your second question about replacing under sink water lines, if any of your lines are the white plastic lines, replace them immediately because they are a flood waiting to happen. We like using the stainless steel braided flex lines. They last a long time and don’t seem as susceptible to fatigue or abuse. A way to spot a bad flex line before they leak or burst is to look for telltale signs of rust, calcium build-up, loose or broken braids, tight kinks, brown spots or they just look bad. While you are replacing those water lines, be sure to replace the angle stop valve also.

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I get oil or grease stains out of concrete? I have both a concrete patio and a parking area with grease stains and soap and water does not get them clean.


Dear Brenda:

Go to your local grocery store and pick up the cheapest brand of cat litter you can find. Spread the cat litter over the oil-stained concrete and grind it in with your shoes. Leave the litter in place for a minimum of an hour or best for 24 hours. Then sweep up the cat litter and the stain should be gone. Cat litter is an absorbent that helps draw out the oil or grease. If you have a large area to clean, you may want to go to the hardware store or industrial supply house and purchase 50 pound bags of Absorbent. The cost is a little bit more than a regular sized bag of cat litter at the supermarket.

Dear Apartment Owners:

We are getting close to the holidays, which means guests, cooking and an emergency call to you from one of your residents on Thanksgiving Day about a clogged sink or nonworking oven with an apartment full of guests waiting for dinner. This scenario can ruin both yours and your residents’ holiday. The answer is: Preventive Maintenance. Before the holiday season begins, check each stove and oven for proper operation, many residents only turn on their ovens at this time of year, and the problem may be as simple as a pilot light being out. Also, check the oven’s temperature calibration with an oven thermometer.

Because of heavier than normal use of the plumbing, it may be a good idea to snake out your main plumbing lines. Also, sending a note to each tenant on the proper use of the garbage disposal will be useful. Note what they should and should not put down the disposal unit. A few items to include on this No-No list are: banana peels, potato skins, coffee grounds and any stringy food. Also make sure they turn on the water before using the disposer and put down small amounts of food at a time. Do not use the disposer as a trash can and then turn it on when full; it will clog.

Holidays can also mean more people than usual walking on your property. Is your property safe? What are some of the liabilities to worry about? Check trip and fall hazards. Sprinkler heads sticking up above the grass or landscape near sidewalks. Use pop-up heads to solve this problem. Look for sidewalks that have been pushed up by tree roots. This can be solved with a concrete grinder or replacement of the section and removal of the tree root. Cut any low hanging tree branches and look for branches that may break in winter wind or rain.

Check your decking for cracks or damage and inspect the exterior stairways for wear and tear. Inspect all your garage door springs, winter wind and rain may make them heavy causing the door to close or fall unexpectedly. As a precaution, always replace both garage springs at the same time and throw away any used springs. Never install used garage springs. Check all property lighting and timers.

Remember: Preventive Maintenance is cheaper than Emergency Maintenance!

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men” column, please send in your questions to:

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956-8371. Frank Alvarez is a licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer and educational instructor for the Apartment Association. Frank can also be reached at For more info please go to: Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker and has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.