Dear Maintenance Men: Slab Leaks, Shaky Ovens and Safety Bars

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Dear Maintenance Men  Slab Leaks, Shaky Ovens and Safety Bars

Dear Maintenance Men

Slab Leaks, Shaky Ovens and Safety Bars

Dear Maintenance Men:

Slab leaks! They are the bane of my existence! Turns out the problem is the hot water recirculation line. I’m trying to decide if I should fix it again or just abandon the line and remove the circulation pump and be done with it. What harm can it do? Do I really need a hot water return line for my residential units?


Dear John:

Unfortunately, dealing with slab leaks is almost a “rite of passage” for property owners or managers. First, let us demystify what a return line really is. Simply, it is a dedicated hot water line which loops from the water heater to the furthest unit, and back to the cold water heater inlet. Its purpose is to maintain hot water at each tap by assistance from the circulation pump. The circulation pump constantly delivers hot water through the return line or loop.  A slab leak is a water line break under the concrete floor of a building. A water pipe under a concrete floor can leak for a long time before it is noticed or it can bubble up through cracks in the concrete depending on soil conditions. The most reported type of slab leak is on the hot water side of the plumbing and along the return line of the recirculating system. The reason for the return line being the most popular leak point is because the water never stops moving and it wears away and corrodes the pipe.

We do not recommend canceling the return line and removing the pump. This will cause other unintended consequence such as a slow delivery of hot water to many of the units in the building. The lack of a pump will waste water while the residents wait for hot water to come out of the tap which in turn will make the water heater work harder. Not only will this annoy the residents, it will cause the water heating bill to go up.

As for repair of the return line, there are a number of solutions. If the return line has chronic leaks, it is best to run a new line outside the slab. The old return is canceled at the pump and the furthest plumbing fixture in the building and the new line installed and routed back to the water heater.  Another solution after the pipe is repaired is to limit the incoming water pressure with a pressure regulator and put a timer on the recirculation pump to operate only at peak demand times such as morning and evening. Installing a water softener system will also help keep both the hot water heater and water lines from corroding as quickly. 

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am installing safety grab bars in all of my showers & bathtubs and I need some guidance on the installation procedure.  What do I need to know to install these bars correctly?


Dear David:

The use of handrails and safety bars help provide stability and extra support required by the elderly and people with limited mobility. Approved ADA grab bars are available in a wide variety of configurations, colors and finishes. The most common is the stainless steel or chrome finish.  The grab-bars must be able to support a dead weight pull of 250 pounds. The preferred method is to bolt directly into the wall studs. This is not always practical, as the stud might not line up where they are needed. Grab-bars can be mounted vertically or at an angle to match wall stud spacing. If finding studs becomes a problem, alternate installation methods are available. If your walls are in good condition, you may use large toggle bolts or if you have access to the backside of the shower or bath walls, insert a backer plate or add a new stud for an anchor point. Safety grab bars can be located at any local hardware store. It is advisable that you check ADA requirements with local, state and federal agencies for regulations governing height, distance & angle of the bars.  

Dear Maintenance Men:

I was cleaning the kitchen stove in one of my vacant units and noticed the free standing stove tipped forward when I put a bit of weight on the open oven door. It looked a bit dangerous and was wondering how I can fix this issue. 


Dear Rick:

You are very lucky it was you and not one of your resident’s children that found out about the dangers of a tipping oven.  First let us explain what a tipping oven is: Most stoves with an oven are free standing appliances. The stove is placed in the kitchen, gas or electrical lines are installed and it is ready for use, very simple. The issue arises when a resident is using the stove and they or a child opens the oven door and puts weight on the open door. This causes a cantilever effect which may pitch the whole stove forward causing the stove top pots or pans to fly off the stove and onto the person or child in front of the stove. Best case scenario is this causes a mess in the kitchen and worse case is a resident or child is badly burned or disfigured.   It is not uncommon to hear about a small child wanting to see what Mommy is cooking by using the oven door as a stepping stool or even more common, removing a turkey, roast or other large item from the oven and placing it on the open door. The extra weight is enough to tip the stove forward. 

The solution is an “anti-tip bracket” installed behind the stove. An anti-tip bracket is “L” shaped and usually installed on the floor and against the wall (towards the back of the stove) for one of the rear legs to slide into. Replacement parts are available at any hardware or home center stores, however, if not installed, there is a good chance, it is still in the plastic bag tied to the back of the stove. Shut off the circuit breaker or gas line feeding the stove, carefully slide the stove away from the wall, ensure a bracket isn’t installed (the last time the stove was slid against the wall it may have simply missed the bracket) and if not installed, search around for the original plastic bag. Hopefully, the instructions and template is still in the bag.

Keep in mind installing an anti-tipping bracket is both a resident safety issues as well as an owner liability issue. This is a $10.00 part and a ten minute install that will keep both you and your resident out of hot water.


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 

Jerry L'Ecuyer is a licensed contractor & real estate broker. He is currently on the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Education Committee of the Apartment Association of Orange County. Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.

Frank Alvarez is the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance & construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer & educational instructor. Frank can be reached at (714) 956-8371 For more info please go to:

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