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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Plumbers

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One of the biggest amenities of modern life is also one we normally take for granted. Running water allows us to cook, clean, bathe, and dispose of waste. When it works, no one thinks about it. When it doesn’t, we panic. It’s little wonder that plumbers can command high labor rates—in some areas, in excess of $100 an hour—to make sure things keep flowing smoothly.

To better understand how these pipe whisperers keep civilized society intact, we spoke to several industry professionals. Here are a few things you might not know about the very patient people who are sometimes squeezed in under your sink.

1.THERE’S SOMETHING FAR WORSE THAN TOILET CLOGS.

While sewage lines are bad enough, there’s actually something worse than fecal matter. “Restaurant kitchen sinks,” says Mike, a plumber working in the Cleveland, Ohio area. “Everything gets down in there and solidifies. It tends to be fat-based, and no soap works on it. The stench just sticks to you. It’s far worse than sewage.” A rough sink job, he says, can mean using rubbing alcohol to clean his skin or just throwing out his clothes entirely.

2. THEY WISH YOU’D STOP USING DRAIN CLEANERS.

Over-the-counter chemicals used to break up clogs in drain lines don’t always do an effective job. When a homeowner has poured some down the drain and then calls a plumber to fix the persistent issue, the plumber often sighs. “They are almost always ineffective and are definitely only temporary,” says Tom Parker, a plumber in Maryland. “They can also cause corrosion in the drainage system. And if I have to snake the drain, I can get those chemicals splashed all over me. Please at least warn me ahead of time.”

3. YOU SHOULD STOP TRYING TO FLUSH CELL PHONES DOWN THE TOILET.

According to Mike, a surprising number of people who accidentally drop their cell phone into a public toilet make the unfortunate decision of trying to abandon it by flushing. “Most people are grossed out by it and aren’t going to want to use it again,” he says. “They think it’ll go down.” (It does not go down.)

4. SOME OF THE OTHER THINGS YOU THINK ARE FLUSHABLE AREN’T.

Other popular causes for toilet clogs: feminine hygiene products (which are designed to swell with fluid) and “flushable” wipes, which do not break down as easily as toilet paper. “The flushable wipe business has been good for the drain cleaning business,” Mike says.

5. HIGH-RISES GET POOP FLUSHES.

A hydro-flush is a preventative service provided to apartment complexes to help avoid any potential blockages in sewer drain lines. According to Andreas Samaris, a plumber working in Canada, the job is basically one big engineering enema. “It’s essentially a pressure washer that you shove down a pipe in the bottom of the building that needs to be done once a year, so that the building doesn’t get as many blockages,” he says. Once the line has been uncapped, it tends to seep brown or black liquid. “It's honestly the most disgusting thing, but I am not too grossed-out about it.”

6. YES, THEY GET HIT ON...

Tradesmen have a short-hand for flirtatious customer encounters: “near-sex experiences,” or NSEs. “It’s not like I flirt with customers, like, ‘Hi, help me take off this shirt,’” says Mike, who is happily married. “But female customers can flirt. I’ve been hit on.”

7. … UNLESS THEY’RE COVERED IN POOP. WHICH HAPPENS A LOT.

Cleaning out drains means getting rid of waste clogs backing up the line, and they have to go somewhere. If a plumber is stationed at a point of poop access, odds are he’s going to get hit. On one of Mike’s first jobs, he was accompanying his supervisor while they were snaking a second-story drain above them. “He wasn’t paying attention, but he heard it,” Mike recalls. “30 to 40 gallons of raw sewage. His face was six inches from the pipe.”

8. WHICH IS WHY SOME OF THEM MIGHT NOT CALL YOU BACK.

James, a plumber in the Pacific Northwest, says that some plumbers may suddenly discover they’re all booked up if your call involves a poop-flooded basement. “I actively avoid jobs where I know it's going to be an issue,” he says. “It's too disgusting to seek it out, and I don't like to charge more for jobs that are unpleasant, so I try to avoid them if I'm already busy enough. I can refer you to seven other great plumbers in the area, though.”  

9. THEY CAN GET EXTREMELY SICK.

James might have the right idea. Close encounters with human waste puts plumbers at risk for a variety of illnesses, including E. coli, stomach parasites, and hepatitis. “A lot of plumbers wind up dealing with hepatitis A at some point,” Mike says. “You’re getting stuff splashed in your face and mouth. Every single plumber I know has dealt with something rough.”

10. YOU MAY NEED TO GIVE THEM A HAND.

Most of the plumbers we spoke to had nice things to say about their customers, with one exception: Not everyone bothers to give them an unobstructed path to the offending plumbing. “I need access,” Tom says. “Bathroom sink clogged or faucet broken? Please remove all the stuff piled under the sink. Water heater need replacing? Please be sure it is clear and I have a clear path to remove the old one and bring in the new one.” If not, you've effectively hired a $100-an-hour moving service.

11. THEY HAVE A TIP TO CLEAN GARBAGE DISPOSALS.

Ice cubes. But it’s not to sharpen the blades, because disposals don’t really have blades. “They are blunt pieces of curved metal that whip around and pulverize everything,” Tom says. “Then the pulverized stuff is forced through a perforated plate. Over time, food matter can build up on the blades and the holes. A couple ice cubes can knock some of that debris loose to clean things up in there a bit. Adding some lemon peels can help with odors, too.”

12. NEW TOOLS ARE NOT NECESSARILY A BAD SIGN.

Conventional wisdom says that a plumber with brand-new tools should be eyed suspiciously, as any experienced laborer will have a bag full of rusty, poop-encrusted wrenches. Not so, according to Tom. “There are many reasons why a plumber may have new, clean tools,” he says. “Maybe he's just starting a new company, maybe he had his stolen, maybe he just replaced a few broken ones and those are the only ones he needed to bring into the building.” A better sign of experience, James says, is how well his tools are organized.

13. IF YOU NEED ONE, WAIT UNTIL TUESDAY. (OR THE NEW YEAR.)

People try to avoid calling plumbers on weekends so they don’t have to pay them for overtime. That means a lot of business on Mondays. “Generally speaking, after New Year’s Day it will be slow, too,” Andreas says. “People tend to not want to fix things due to lack of money from Christmas."

14. THEY KNOW FOOD.

And not just after it’s been digested. “When you have the opportunity to go out to lunch, go with a service plumber,” Mike says. “He’ll tell you where something’s good locally.” You might notice that he doesn’t eat the corner of his sandwich, where his fingers have touched it. According to James, they don’t bite their fingernails either. They know better.

All images courtesy of iStock.

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Food
Cook Your Next Out-of-This-World Meal in a Cosmic Le Creuset Dutch Oven
Le Creuset
Le Creuset

Le Creuset, one of the most coveted names in cookware, has given its classic Dutch oven a stellar makeover. As delish reports, the updated item is decorated with the image of a starry night sky.

The pot’s midnight blue exterior is scattered with white and yellow stars. The print, which is known as “cosmos,” is one of the brand’s boldest looks yet.

Le Creuset Dutch ovens have gained a cult following for their durable cast iron hardware and iconic design. The enameled equipment comes in several vibrant colors, including pink, turquoise, and the company’s signature orange.

While Le Creuset has produced patterned pots in the past, they’re usually hard to come by. Earlier this year, it released limited-edition soup pots inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This latest product appears to be sticking around for the foreseeable future, but shoppers are still limited in their options. The cosmos look is only available as a 4.5-quart round oven and it's exclusively sold by Bloomingdale's. If you’re looking to gift this to a heavenly home cook in your life, it will cost you $380—about $80 more than a regular Le Creuset oven of the same size.

Space-printed cookware.

Space-printed cookware.

[h/t delish]

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25 Holiday Hacks to Make Your Life a Little Easier This Season
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Chances are you’re already stressed out by the holidays. That’s no good. It feels like you don’t have enough time, enough money, or enough of a break during the break, which is why it’s important to take care of yourself and find shortcuts for making the holidays less tense.

Whether it’s decorating, wearing an ugly sweater to your office party, or finding the perfect gift, here are some holiday hacks to take the stress out of the season.

1. USE SANTA’S BAG TO ORGANIZE YOUR GIFTS.

Santa's Bag app screenshots
Santa's Bag

Santa's Bag, an excellent shopping list manager app, lets you keep tabs on your budget, your gift ideas, and your recipients so that no one leaves empty-handed—and you don’t end up with an empty wallet.

2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE SHIPPING DAY ON DECEMBER 15TH.

Person delivering package to woman at house
iStock

If you’re planning to purchase gifts online, you can shave a bit off the bottom line by doing it on December 15th, a.k.a. Free Shipping Day. As of this writing, more than 400 retailers are participating, including Kohl’s, Target, and Barnes & Noble.

3. FIND STORES THAT HONOR ONLINE PRICES.

woman looking at smartphone in clothing store
iStock

Stores like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Bed Bath & Beyond will price match that perfect gift with the price on their website, and those savings can stack up quickly. Be careful to check for small print like blackout dates and be sure to have your phone with you to show the sales clerk.

4. PICK UP COOPERATIVE BOARD GAMES.

Photo of a family playing a board game
iStock

While you’re price-matching and enjoying free shipping, check out board games like Pandemic, Castle Panic, and Forbidden Island to bring out the cooperative spirit while passing the time with your family. Games like TableTopics can also be a great way to launch some fun conversations.

5. TURN YOUR PUMPKINS INTO SNOWMEN.

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Just as there's always that one neighbor whose holiday lights are still twinkling come Valentine's Day, there's a good chance that there are still some pumpkins hanging around your neighborhood, even though we're more than a month past Halloween. If that's you, turn your laziness into a craft by piling your leftover pumpkins up and turning them into a snowman. It's simple to do, fun for the whole family, and gives you an Earth-friendly excuse for still having a jack o' lantern in December.

6. LET SANTA IN WITHOUT A CHIMNEY.

Santa
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If your child is worried about how Santa will visit the house without a chimney to climb down, pick up a Magic Key and hang it on the door Christmas Eve. You can also build a DIY chimney out of cardboard boxes.

7. LET APPS BE YOUR GUIDE.

Honey app
Honey

Try using an app like Hopper to help you optimize your flight or an app like Honey to automatically apply promo codes to online shopping trips. You can also use apps from stores you like to get special rewards and coupons.

8. INVITE YOUR CROCK POT TO PARTIES.

Crock-Pot
Amazon

Utilizing your slow cooker can be a big help for family dinners and parties. Recipes are usually simple and delicious, there’s enough for everyone, and you don’t have to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. When dinner’s done, make a big batch of hot cocoa or mulled wine.

9. SET UP A SECONDARY FRIDGE WHEN ENTERTAINING.

food in fridge
iStock

Parties take up a lot of room in your refrigerator, so organize a cooler with condiments and extra ingredients you’ll need access to while cooking, or use it to stow random items you won’t need so you can use that valuable refrigerator real estate for drinks or party food essentials.

10. COOK AND BAKE AHEAD AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.

A photo of gingerbread cookies being iced
iStock

Instead of cramming your cooking into a single day, reduce the stress of getting it all done on time by prepping foods in advance. Items like mashed sweet potatoes, beet soups, and veggie salads can be made up to a few days prior to the party. The same goes for several pies, dough-based deserts, and cookies. All you’ll have to do is bake and chat with your friends.

11. ENHANCE YOUR OVEN SPACE.

Betty Crocker 3-tier Oven Rack
Amazon

Just like with your precious refrigerator space, there’s never enough room in the oven for everything you want to cram in there. You can expand that space with a tiered oven rack; perfect for dishes like pies and casseroles.

12. STOCK UP ON BUTTER.

stack of butter
iStock

Seriously. Almost every recipe uses it. You’re going to run out (and have to run to the crowded grocery store at the worst possible time).

13. USE SQUEEZE BOTTLES FOR KID-FRIENDLY ICING PROJECTS.

Girl and woman decorating cupcakes
iStock

If you’re looking for a fun way to bring the little ones in on the baking without the Jackson Pollock-style messy aftermath, use condiment bottles to make it easier for small (and big) hands to apply that royal icing.

14. PICK UP BROKEN GLASS ... WITH SANDWICH BREAD.

Photo of a broken red wine glass on the floor
iStock

These things happen (especially where there’s hot mulled wine available), but it’s annoying to need to pick up broken glass shards while you’ve got dozens of feet shuffling around the floor. The easiest, safest way to handle the situation is to grab a slice of sandwich bread (yes, really); press it on the ground to grab big and tiny bits of glass, then toss it in the trash.

15. MOVE THE CROWD TO AVOID DIRTY DISHES.

adults drinking wine in the living room
iStock

The curse of hosting a party is that you don’t get to enjoy your own gathering. Clean-up can be a major culprit because you don’t want people chatting around a pile of dirty dishes, but people will start saying their goodbyes as soon as you rinse the last dish. To avoid both, have your guests move into a different area to visit after dinner and leave the dishes for the morning.

16. DE-STALE YOUR LEFTOVER CHIPS.

Bag of potato chips
iStock

When you have five half-emptied bags of chips following a party, and you’re looking at eating nothing but chips for the next week, you can either feed the birds or take the inevitable staleness out of the chips by tossing them into your oven for a few minutes.

17. MAKE BOWS OUT OF TAPE.

holiday pattern Scotch Duct Tape
Amazon

Duck Brand makes duct tape in festive patterns, which you can use to make sturdy, attractive bows for presents and decorating. They have snowmen, penguins, and candy canes, and if you need to do some quick air conditioner repair work, you can always undo the bows.

18. TURN A MASON JAR INTO A SNOW GLOBE.

mason jar snow globe
Mashable Watercooler, YouTube

Looking for a unique, inexpensive keepsake for each holiday season? This mason jar snow globe is ingenious. It’s simple to make, and since it’s customizable, you can make one every year with craft-sized versions of Christmas trees, menorahs, or whatever your imagination invents.

19. USE A LASER PROJECTOR FOR YOUR OUTDOOR LIGHTS.

holiday lights projected onto a house
Amazon

If you don’t have the time, inclination, or a large enough ladder to string up lights all around the outside of your house, consider buying a laser projector to create an incredible design without all the hassle.

20. TAKE THE TANGLE OUT OF YOUR HOLIDAY LIGHTS.

holiday string lights
iStock

If you find yourself wrestling with the tangled, Christmas light Kraken, it’s time to set your future self up with an organized solution by cutting your own cardboard holders for plastic bins, wrapping them on plastic coat hangers, or wrap them around tension rods before stowing them away.

21. GET YOUR WRAPPING PAPER SAFELY SORTED.

gift wrapping materials
iStock

Like lights, you can buy an expensive wrapping paper-specific storage container if you’d like. You can also use a wire wastepaper bin, a wine crate, clip them to plastic rings to hang on hooks on the back of a door, or keep them in a hanging garment bag. (Plus, ribbon rolls stays obedient when you keep them on a paper towel holder.)

22. IMPROVISE IF YOU RUN OUT OF WRAPPING PAPER.

wrapped gift
iStock

Instead of yet another trip to the store, you can use brown bags, map pages from an old atlas, newspaper pages, scrap fabric pieces, or your ugly Christmas sweater to creatively wrap a gift.

23. GET RID OF GIFT CARDS YOU DON’T WANT.

gift card
iStock

Maybe you wanted Home Depot but they got you Starbucks. Or maybe you wanted Target but they got you Jiffy Lube. Either way, Gift Card Granny offers a way to sell unwanted gift cards and buy discounted ones from tons of stores.

24. GET RID OF YOUR TREE WITHOUT DROPPING THE NEEDLES.

iStock

The beauty of a live Christmas tree is only rivaled by the metric ton of pine needles that fall off as you drag it out of your house. To avoid leaving a needle trail, wrap the tree in trash bags (or a special tree removal bag) before carrying it out. Just remember to remove the trash bags once you get it to the curb (or else your tree will end up at the garbage dump instead of being mulched).

25. REMEMBER TO TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.

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iStock

The holidays are demanding, and hacks can only trim your time and budget down so much. With so much extra duties on our plates, it’s important to actively plan some low-key relaxation time for yourself. Prepping a big family dinner or party? Maybe plan to get a quiet coffee with a friend the day before. Struggling to come up with activities for all your visiting relatives? Even five minutes of solo meditation can make a big difference.

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