Question: We have an embarrassing problem that happens every holiday season and I am already feeling anxious in anticipation.

Our toilets are older low-flow models that were installed about 25 years ago to help reduce our water usage, and they work just fine for my husband and me.

However, we have a large house where our extended family gathers for Thanksgiving and, like clockwork every year, the plumbing gets all backed up, creating an embarrassing situation for our guests and a very expensive visit from the plumber.

What can we do?

Your Handyman: The holidays are a time for families to gather and enjoy the company of one another but are also one of the busiest times of the year for the local plumber.

A very common holiday plumbing scenario involves a home with sewer lines that are partially blocked with tree roots. They drain just fine all year for Grandma and Grandpa but get completely backed up when the house suddenly is full of festive holiday visitors washing, showering and flushing.

If your home has a history of root intrusion in the sewer lines, then it would make sense to have a plumber rooter out your sewer lines prior to your guests arriving.

The plumber can insert a small video camera with a light down the main line to see if the pipe has partially collapsed or has extensive damage from roots. If the pipe has substantial damage, it will eventually need to be replaced before it becomes permanently blocked, and sooner is better than later.

You may have seen advertising for “trenchless” sewer lines where the plumbing contractor digs a fox hole at the location where your sewer line enters the house and then a second hole where it connects to the sewer main in the street.

They then feed a steel cable through the pipe to pull a funnel shaped mandrel through the old pipe, which bursts the old pipe open, pulling behind it a new polyethylene pipe, giving you a brand-new root-proof pipe without having to dig up your yard, driveway, walkways or planters.

It sounds like your home has the first generation of low-flow toilets that came out in the early 1980s as a well-intentioned way to save water, but many of these toilets just simply had a smaller tank with no effective redesign of the trap in the base of the toilet.

These earlier designs really didn’t work very well, were prone to clogging, and often required multiple flushes instead of one, effectively defeating the water-saving intentions. 

The good news is that new toilets today have both a smaller tank and the trap has been redesigned so clogging is now no longer the problem it used to be.

But back to your issue. You can check your toilets to see if the water level is adjusted to the maximum height, or you may want to consider buying new toilets and just be done with the problem.

If you do decide to keep the old toilets, it would probably be a good idea to purchase a new baffled-style toilet plunger that can be found at any hardware store, keep it in the garage with a pair of rubber gloves in a 5-gallon bucket as your emergency clog response kit, and hope for the best.

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Question: I am a Santa Barbara City College student and have just moved into a new condo that has a very narrow stairway to the upstairs master bedroom. Despite the efforts of my movers, there is no way that my box springs mattress will go up the stairs!

The movers even measured the upstairs windows, hoping they could lift it in through an upstairs window, which is not large enough either.

I don’t sleep well on a small bed and I’m desperate to get settled into my new place. How can I get the box springs upstairs so I can finally get a good night’s sleep?

Answer: This is a fairly common problem that comes up on moving day every month, and there is a last resort solution if all others fail, which is cutting and folding the box springs.

This may sound a little extreme, but the box spring mattress is essentially what the name implies: a wood framed box that is filled with springs, upholstered on the top and sides and usually covered on the bottom with a light fabric liner.

The first step is to remove the fabric bottom liner to reveal the wood box framing, carefully cut the wood box in the middle of the bed, and then fold the box springs in half like a book to carry up the stairs.

Unfold it in the bedroom and then, by using small lengths of boards as splints, screw these boards across where you cut the frame and your box springs will be fine when set back in its metal base frame.

However, you will have an unsightly cut in the side upholstery of the mattress, which can be hidden with bedding.

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Question: My mom’s clothes dryer seems to be running fine, but it takes forever for a load of laundry to get dry. It isn’t all that old and she says it was working fine up until recently.

Is it time for a new dryer?

Your Handyman: It sounds like your mom’s clothes dryer may be due for a lint cleaning.  Even for a household with just one person doing laundry, lint will build up in both the dryer and in the dryer vent, causing the dryer to work much less efficiently and sometimes creating a fire hazard.

Clothes dryers clogged up with lint are a major cause of house fires and are easily prevented by a periodic thorough cleaning of the exhaust vent done with a long brush.

The exhaust vent should be a flexible metallic tube, not the old white plastic style, and should not have any kinks or large dents that will restrict the flow of hot air away from the dryer.

We clean dryer vents on a regular basis and people are often amazed at the amount of lint that has accumulated. After a good lint cleaning, your mom’s dryer should work just fine.

She should put the next cleaning on her calendar about 18-24 months out if she tends to do a large amount of laundry.

Santa Barbara general contractor Mark Baird is a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, a multigenerational handyman and a longtime DIYer. He is the owner/manager of Your Handyman, a family-run company that has been helping local homeowners since 2006. Email your questions about your homes to The opinions expressed are his own.