For many long years Pete the Plumber envied the ‘sparkie’s’ relative ease of sending Romex and cable through bored holes in stud, plate, rafter and joist. My copper, steel, iron, and rigid DWV required time consuming, precision layout. Well, for threaded steel, I can now play like the sparkie. A little bit late (in years), but I finally went down to one of my wholesale plumbing supplier’s and attended a workshop on installing CSST, or “Corrugated Stainless Steel Tube”. This very flexible fuel gas material was developed in Japan in the 1980’s. I’ll wager it was an earthquake generated idea. Anyway, this corrugated stainless steel tubing, with a non-metallic cover “……which provides ease of running through joists, studs, and other building components” (TracPipe/CounterStrike by OmegaFlex) now enables plumbers to mimic the ‘sparkie’ when installing fuel gas systems. Could have taken that class years ago. Why did I wait so long? Probably because of general laziness and a pre-investment in a lot of other tooling for threading steel pipe.
The incident that finally “broke the camel’s back” was a new gas line for a 3M ‘fixer-upper’. It t’was the epitome of “The Money Pit”. The worst of the job was under the house, crawling around on my belly, like swimming, long distances, and doubling around and squeezing* through cripple walls on grade beams. No convenient foundation vents to avail either. Plumber, tools, black steel pipe, and fittings accessed that under-portion of the home through a basement opening. Even if I had been running coiled PEX, instead, it still would’a been a huge pain. Realizing how quickly I could have been in-and-out with CSST, Pete the Plumber decided it was past time to check it out. I had a couple month wait for the workshop.
After partaking the two-hour work shop and a short, 20 question test, myself and a half-dozen other plumbers received our Certification card. With it we can now purchase this brand of CSST at suppliers who offer it. This company (OmegaFlex) (www.omegaflex.com) chooses not to trade with the general public, only with plumbers. I can see why. (Better have a gargantuan liability insurance policy). It’s not because of any difficulty assembling their systems. Matter of fact, it is so easy.
All one needs are two Crescent wrenches and a quality tubing cutter with a cutting wheel designed for the task. That’s the rub. (To the untrained, it so appears.) But to be successful cutting the tubing, with a sanctioned tubing cutter, requires past experience with tubing cutters, a great deal more than you could expect from the ‘man off the street’. That’s not to say that a bright beginner could not be trained to safely use this technology. The factory rep who put on the workshop, if with some attention to the operation of different choices in tubing cutters, on his product, could show a mechanically adept non-plumber how to safely assemble it. With the Design and Installation Guide, the illustrated Parts List, and easy to understand slide rule sizing tool, experienced plumbers adapt with ease.
There are some proprietary brackets and components that I assume the three or four competing companies also have versions of, or close to. Like the PEX manufacturers, there is no intermixing product lines. The fittings are all proprietary, and there are actual outside tubing diameter differences between manufacturers. So like PEX, you gotta stick with one brand. I liked OmegaFlex’s TracPipe because it has higher Btu flow rates, per pipe size, than it’s competitors; its various brass fittings are high quality; has well-designed installation support (text and ill.), beefy protective hardware; and, it’s manufactured in the USA. When will Pete the Plumber likely employ this additional piping technology? Probably not before being faced with another horrid crawl job. But if and when that day comes, I know what I’m gonna do, then.
An afterthought: I wonder if the damage of Hurricane Harvey (and his inevitable siblings) could spotlight CSST for its speed of installation, when there’s a need for re-creating housing at warp speed?
Pete the Plumber once had to have the Oakland, CA Fire Department come to a job where he was stuck under a house. Yep, tried too hard to crawl between cripples on a grade beam and swelled up. The brave rescuers, after cutting off as much of my clothing as they could, then hosed me down with a slippery, gooey foam. It took three of them to pluck me free. Ever since then, when under a house looking for a hopefully crawlable cripple wall, I hope the 40 pounds I’ve lost since that embarrassing episode will keep me free.
Yours truly had promised a further rant under the heading : Brass Is Best.
Pete the Plumber wagers that all occupations are saddled by a human, species-wide inclination to ‘Get One Over’ on the prospective consumer. In the plumbing supplies industry, one of these human traits can manifest itself as any bare and/or electroplated steel, or ‘pot-metal’ parts/components.
The toilet related parts purveyors of last post, peddling the bogus steel were the first to be pilloried. There is no shortage of other rascals. But, one I’d like to discuss next is the escutcheon manufacturers. There is a phrase, that one of my generation used to hear often: ‘Old World Quality’. What exactly did this infer? Well, to me, it meant the fine reputations of trained craftsmen, throughout history, but especially those who toiled in the last four hundred years or so, was an assurance of at least an ‘honest’ degree of quality. What changed?
We humans were ‘gifted’ with the harnessing of electrical energy, among other things. One result was the electro-plating of metals. (Pete the Plumber once did work for a steam power R&D outfit. They created space-age steam power plants and designed vehicles to put them in. This included a metro-bus that was operated in California’s A/C Transit System.) That R&D company had its own plating shop. It was exclusively for plating moving parts with a metal that extended the working life of the part or assembly.) But, the technology also allowed industry to put chromium (and other metals) on steel, pot metal, wood, even plastic. (Think automobile bumpers, toys and lamp parts of years gone by.) But, from antiquity, we have learnt that other than vitreous/near-vitreous pottery/earthenware, only the metals gold, silver, copper, or brass/ bronze would resist the effects of close exposure to long term human hygiene practice.
Climates too can also contribute their effects. Plumbing escutcheons, not made of brass or stainless steel (or chromed plastic), in housing built near salt water environments suffers most quickly. Until not that many years ago all plumbing-trim escutcheons were made of brass or copper and chrome or nickel plated. That was the ‘old world’ way of doing things. Well, those days have flown the coup.
Today, so much trim and finish plumbing is owner-installed that escutcheons are not even thought of. In cabinets under bathroom and kitchen sinks what’s the big deal if the escutcheon is left off? Outta sight outta mind? They were intended to make a ‘sightly’ pest-barricade (and add flash to your installation). Only on ‘Finish Plumbing’ inspections will you find anyone interested in this topic, today. But, if the rough plumber installed the toilet’s water supply in the correct general area, then, with time, noticing the ‘unsightly’, corroding, plated steel escutcheon is the crow’s return to roost.
It wasn’t that many years ago that one could purchase chromed-brass ‘shower-arm’ escutcheons
(a standard ½-in. MIP size), and use them with brass nipples for closet/toilet and wall-hung and pedestal sink supply trim. But, like chocolate in candy bars, the volume of brass in brass shower arms has shrunk dramatically. As a result, standard brass nipples will no longer slide through the hole in a plated brass shower arm escutcheon. Drats. And, chromed brass ‘low-profile’ and ‘box’ escutcheons for trap arms are scarcer than great auks. Ragnar, at The Sink Factory in Berkeley, however, tells me they know where to find ‘old world’, nickel-on-brass, quality escutcheons.
In 2005 Pete the Plumber submitted a hair sample to test for heavy metals. The results were “off the charts” for arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, copper and a few other nice guys. It required abandonment of habits and chelation therapy to rectify. It’s now no more bending solder, with teeth, or, breathing fumes; and, it’s gloved hands before I get out of the truck and until I get back in.
One metal though, brass, an alloy, is one of a plumber’s better friends (in most water quality conditions). This is especially true when it comes to kitchen and especially bathroom ‘finish’ plumbing. I often wonder if insurance companies keep detailed records of the sources of their losses, to the nit, so I could ask them: “How many millions did you pay-out last year for water damage to bathrooms and kitchens, and also the floors and structure to adjacent rooms? And, how many claims from policy holders for such damage did you deny?
You know what? There is a metal that is guilty for a majority of those damages. You wanna guess what it is? Not a betting sport? Well, the answer is STEEL, coated, plated, or not. Most of this damage results from steel bolts and washers and nuts used to hold the toilet to the floor, and in the case of two-piece toilets, steel bolts, washers and nuts used to install the tank to the bowl.
Steel has no place, outside of the wall, in a bathroom. Why? It's big enemy? : urine, and moisture in general. If all men were “sitters” instead of “hip shooters” the situation would be somewhat less dire. But, toilet bowls anchored to floors, and tanks to bowls, with plated steel hardware, are time bombs. (If you could procure and view one of the early printings of Alexander Kira’s book, The Bathroom, it would be optically self-evident.) How can you tell whether the closet and tank bolts you purchased, separately, or those which came with your fixture, are solid brass or brass plated steel? Sometimes, without scraping the parts, it can be tricky to tell. The fail safe is a good magnet.
Want to guess the antidote for this folly? This evil practice that destroys so much property? This crime of greed committed by both unscrupulous manufacturer and distributor alike? The answer is: solid brass. NO MORE deceitful brass plated steel, that far too many purveyors of plumbing hardware peddle. Pete the Plumber has a saying: “Brass Is Best”. (And, “have a quality magnet on your key chain or in your pocket.”) I can’t tell you how many hundreds of structural and finish floor damaging, leaking/seeping toilets Pete the Plumber has dealt with, to date. Of those, the vast majority leaked because the installer had used brass plated steel anchor bolts and tank bolts, and plated steel washers and nuts. In a small, humid, often closed-off space constantly subjected to urine splash (Kira’s “The Bathroom”), the plated steel hardware “dissolves” with time.
In the case of the anchoring-to-floor bogus closet bolts, as the steel bolts and washers corrode away, the toilet begins to move, sometimes imperceptibly at first, and the wax seal is compromised. Then seepage begins and often before you know it wooden sub-floors begin to rot. On slab, the moisture can migrate under the tile or linoleum to the lower plates of the walls, rotting them. From there the moisture creeps up the walls in the gypsum board. In both instances this “water”, where it doesn’t belong, by itself damages the structure and puts out a clarion call to termites and other insect pests, not to mention molds. All this because of inferior parts that exist solely due to greed.
In the case of tank to bowl hardware for two-piece toilets, the inferior parts corrode away and let water seep/drip out of the tank under the rubber washers on the tank bolts, and from the foam rubber tank-to-bowl gasket. In the case where the toilet is set upon a sheet goods finish floor (see the author’s recommendations in his book: Installing And Repairing Plumbing Fixtures), the leak is often misdiagnosed as a wax seal failure because water escaping from the failed rubber washers and/or foam rubber gasket seal, adheres to the sides of the bowl, and gravity takes it to the floor where it pools around the base/foot of the bowl. l have, and almost everyone (including other plumbers), on one or more occasions first (mistakenly) suspected the wax seal had failed.
So, maybe after unnecessarily lifting and resetting the toilet you may discover (if you are fortunate), the tank-to-bowl leak. In many cases this leak can be tricky to detect. The author suggests that before you lift a toilet to replace a suspected failed bowl wax, that you test by using wads of toilet tissue held to the upper back and sides of the bowl as you flush the tank. Tanks joined to bowls with the inferior plated steel hardware may be rusted solid with no way of separating the tank and bowl without a grinder, from underneath, or in rare occasions, with a hacksaw blade, in-hand, placed between a sufficient gap between tank and bowl, if it exists. Grinding the nut and bolt from below without lifting the toilet and laying it on its side (with all the time and mess of preparation) can make for a stiff bill for a customer.
Did an installer, employing the inferior steel hardware, at the time, know that he/she was contributing to the early demise of their or someone else’s investment? This author’s guess is no, in most cases. However, I have witnessed merchants of marginal financial standing (and marginal conscience) selling only the bogus product.
What are the odds that the tank-to-bowl bolts shipped with a new, two-piece, boxed toilet are solid brass? And what about the flat washers and nuts? They too should be all-brass, nickel/chrome plated or stainless steel. Accept nothing else. The sleaze bag manufacturers who make brass plated steel and/or plain steel closet hardware (both bowl and tank) and the fixture manufacturers who ship this junk with their fixtures, are not your friends, to put it mildly. When you go shopping for a new fixture, ask that the tank carton be opened (in the case of a two-piece toilet) and use your magnet to test the tank-to-bowl hardware. They will come in a poly bag. With your quality magnet, you can tell if there are any duds without opening the bag. Detect any steel? If yes, politely tell them you will look elsewhere for your new fixture unless they provide you with solid brass bolts and nuts and solid brass or stainless steel washers.
The closet bolts, nuts, and washers used to anchor the bowl to the floor are not usually shipped with a new fixture. These you usually need to purchase separately. Whether you purchase them at a wholesale plumbing supplier or a hardware store, keep that magnet handy. Even solid brass closet bolts, both tank and bowl, when used with plated steel flat washers, and/or plated steel nuts, spell doom.
In my next post I will tell you about another instance where plated steel causes great angst and brass is best.
Since the early Pleistocene Pete the Plumber has been an ardent water conservationist. He used deep woods adventuring to instill in his four children, his Eco-values. Whether you believe in Global Warming or not, fresh water concerns are not liable to diminish until the late Anthropocene.
However, some real good news: Just the other day I was leafing through a magazine when I came across something that caught my breath. A titan of American enterprise, Colgate/Palmolive, has just championed a new water conservation theme: #Every Drop Counts. The advertising agency, Red Fuse, produced for them a gorgeous public service graphic (Pete the Plumber’s family blood is thick in advertising), that I hope serves as a model and beacon for other American mercantile giants.
If we now have such a ‘big hitter’ showing concern for ‘drops’, maybe our water future doesn’t have to remain so pessimistic. When you next purchase a C/P product, why not call their toll free, 800 number and tell someone how much you appreciate their message and good example.
Throughout mankind’s history he has crafted piping from a variety of materials. Wooden pipes were some of the very earliest and he continued this practice right up into the twentieth century. As every school child knows, the Romans created pipe from terra cotta and lead. And, throughout the history of pipes, they have been employed to both supply civilizing communities with water to drink and to drain away their wastes. In the Weingarten edition of Plumbing A House we look at one of the latest supply variety: PEX, and, from time to time, yours truly will be leaving here, In The Pipe, his thoughts on other new arrivals and various other aspects of the changing world of modern day plumbing.
According to the U. S. Geological Survey, the total amount of fresh water on earth (and that man has an opportunity to put into his pipes), comes to about 10.6 million cubic kilometers. If combined into a single droplet, this would produce a sphere with a diameter of about 272 kilometers. But, 99 percent of that sphere would be made up of ground water, a great deal of which is inaccessible. By contrast, the total volume from lakes and rivers, humankind’s main source, would produce a droplet of a mere 56 kilometers in diameter, not a pleasurable or reassuring thought.
Other specialists (1) extrapolate that about only 0.5 percent of the world’s fresh water resources are available for the needs of populations and Eco-systems. Peter Gleick, of the Pacific Institute, in Oakland, CA, estimates that we humans require 13.2 gallons of clean water per day. Is it surprising, according to Peter, that in 2005, Americans were consuming 98 gallons per day? American Exceptionalism? Certainly not in Eco-folly. (The cup of coffee that someone might be drinking while reading these paragraphs requires approximately 140 liters of water to produce.) (Guilt? Guilt? Guilt?)
Another reference to pipes: Boston was the first American city with a municipal waterworks, incorporated in 1652. The initial pipe line supplying water to the waterfront ran from Jamaica Pond to the Faneuil Hall area. And in 1795, 15 additional miles of three and five- inch bore hemlock water main was added, expanding the system, which was credited with lowering the city’s death rate. (2)
Might this data have contributed to the saying: “The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation”? (See poster above).
Speaking of wooden water mains, if you were thrown into the calaboose, as late as the closing decade in the 19th Century, in the raucous gold mining/timbering town of Weaverville, CA, you might have “chosen” (in the case of a better word), while whiling away your forced vacation from your brethren, to ply your hand at employing the five-foot long manual auger bits to bore, from both ends, the hemlock and elm logs used for the city’s growing system of mains. “Me wonders” if those who proved most proficient at this chore ‘somehow’ had their bail denied versus those who demonstrated less aptitude. If you ever visit that quaint, now quite touristy enclave, you might wish to visit the basement of the Jake Jackson Museum to view these crude augers leaning in a corner of some original (iron) walls of the historic calaboose. And during your visit, behave yourself, or maybe………“Me surmises” also that if it were again, say, 1900, most of the present day patrons of the town’s very lively drinking establishment, The Diggin’s tavern, would prove remarkably proficient with those augers.
(2.) National Drinking Water Clearing House, Kathy Jesperson
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