Winterizing, Toilets, Mildew

“When it comes to your building, ‘Winterizing’ California style is simple…”

Dear Maintenance Men:

I hear people talk ing about winterizing their buildings. I grew up on the east coast where that meant some thing! In Southern California, what “Winterizing” could we be doing?


Dear Jonathon:

In California and many western states, “Winterizing” simply means we switch from light shorts and white T-shirts to dark shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt! When it comes to your building, “Winterizing” California style is simple, and many of these suggestions below will work in both warm and cold winters.

Start from the top and go down. Inspect your roof and replace any loose tiles, shingles etc. Caulk all flashings around fireplaces, vent pipes, siding to roof transitions and skylights. Remove any junk on the roof, clean your gutters, and secure any loose gutters. Test your gutters with water to make sure they are pitched correctly, and check your gutter downspouts making sure they direct the water away from the building.

If you have any floor drains, clean out and snake them. Caulk any wood seams, window trim, stucco cracks, vents and any area that might get soaked with water during a rainstorm. Check your sprinkler timers and adjust the duration and days watered, depending on water restrictions in your area. To keep your grass green all winter, fertilize and seed with Rye grass.

During windy, rainy weather, trees may touch both the side and roof of your building so trim any branches that may cause damage. Secure any weak or young trees or bushes that may fall in a storm. These simple winterizing steps will help keep you dry and off of the roof during winter weather.

Dear Maintenance Men:

My resident called and stated the toilet is not flushing properly. I have replaced the flush valve and the flapper valve. The toilet is still slow to flush. What have I overlooked?


Dear Phillip:

You might have any number of issues at play. First, make sure the flapper valve is letting enough water through. If it flops down too soon, be sure the toilet flush handle is not loose or that the chain or line connecting to the rubber flapper is tight enough. The chain connecting to the flapper should have about an inch of play. You want the flapper to open wide enough to float a few moments before it falls back down and closes off the flush valve. If the flapper is working properly, check that the holes under the rim are not clogged.

If you live in an area with very hard water, calcium may build up in the drain holes under the bowl rim. A partially clogged rim might not allow enough water through the rim to start the vortex motion and slow the evacuation process. Use a stiff toilet bush and a vinegar solution to help remove the calcium buildup under the rim.

Lastly, is there an item lodged in the toilet trap? The items we find most often are small toys, rags, etc.

Use a toilet auger to push your way through the trap and clear or pull back any obstructions. A toilet auger is a special tool that has an offset hand crank, a long sleeve handle and a special auger bit at the end to break through a clog or retrieve an obstruction. The auger bit is connected via a flexible shaft to a crank handle that you control. Its reach is about three feet. The auger can be found at any hardware store.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am running into an issue at my rental property. The bathrooms are constantly developing mildew. I have replaced the vent fans with bigger units and the problem does not go away. How can I solve this problem?


Dear Bill:

A number of things may be at work here. Unit overcrowding is generally the main reason for moisture and mildew buildup in an apartment unit. Because of the overcrowding, the residents take more showers and baths throughout the day and evening. Often to hide the excess people in the unit, the resident will keep all the window covers closed and the windows shut, effectively keeping the moisture from escaping. Add a windowless bathroom into the mix and the problem is compounded.

Mechanically, we suggest you inspect the vent fans in the bathrooms. Make sure they are not clogged with lint or dust. If the fan is operating properly, check the CFM or Cubic Feet per minute of air movement. The minimum number should be 50 CFM. If the bathroom is getting more than the average amount of use, you may want to replace the existing fan with one that has a higher CFM rating. We recommend using at least a 120-CFM fan.

Even More Important, many bathrooms have two wall switches: one for the light and the other for the fan. If this is the case, we recommend combining the two switches into one. That way when the resident switches on the light the fan will come on automatically. We find most residents will not turn on the fan if it has its own switch. Lastly, of course, is to get the resident to open a few windows and let some fresh air in.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have a resident who is complaining the garbage disposal smells. I have tried running lemon slices and ice cubes to clean the disposal unit. It works for a short time, but the smell comes back.

What steps do you recommend for resolving this problem?


Dear Barbra:

The smell may come from a number of places.

  1. The first and easiest to check is the rubber splash guard that keeps things from falling into the disposal. Remove the rubber splash guard and turn it inside out. Clean out the debris that have collected and wash with soap and water.
  2. Use a small toilet type bush with soap and scrub the inside of the garbage disposal. This will remove any slime build-up. (For safety reasons, shut the garbage disposal off at the breaker or pull the plug.)
  3. Remove the drain trap and clean out any sludge. Many times the horizontal pipe between the trap and the wall may have hard deposits coating the inside of the pipe. The deposits will collect food and debris that may slow the drains considerably.
  4. If you have a dishwasher, check the drain line leading from the air-gap or dishwasher to the garbage disposal. It may be full of sludge that will cause a smell to come through the air-gap located next to the faucet. Clean or replace any pipes with deposits or sludge. Check both drain lines for the above problems.
  5. Now if you wish, run the garbage disposal with a few slices of lemon and it should smell good and stay that way. Once in a while, throw some ice cubes in the garbage disposal unit to help scrape away any debris.



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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.