O.K…the author admits it. He’s been derelict (AWOL) in feeding his article stash. Part of the reason (I know, ‘no excuses soldier!’) was a lull in the author’s topics of interest colliding with his consciousness…, fishing and kayaking suffered not. “A Conundrum”, is this Pipe’s first of 3 installments involving domestic water heaters of/for the future. Your Rip Van Winkle-esk author hopes he can make up for his last spell of laziness? by sparing the reader (in the future) a lot of “head scratching” when ‘must-choosing’ one of 3 sanctioned, electrically powered water heater designs.
Why would someone be put in this situation of ‘must choosing a water heater? Read on…
Of late, there was ‘zilch’ in the plumbing realm sufficiently inspiring Pete to nudge you. (He trusts the reader put the same time to good use?) However/But, the author DID do some wrestling-on-the-couch: “…..would it behoove the reader to know about some ‘plumbing things’ (politics included) that might prove, in the not-too-distant future, a possible lifestyle ‘upend-er’ for many. This change (the author believes) will involve HOT water. And, how the cold water turns into hot water might interest the reader.
Is your fresh water supply heated by using electricity or by burning natural gas or propane? This question is the seed of Pete’s story. (“Oil-ers’ are excused from class.)
Because climate change is forcing human activities to become as *environmentally clean as we can do them, staying clean via hot water (using some form of heat energy) will not escape closer and closer inspection.
The Big 3
Today, three concerns of geo conservationists are causing elected officials to fret over continued use of fuel gas (Natural Gas and Liquid Petroleum Gas (Propane) to fuel stoves. Concern 1. Radiation in Natural Gas includes uranium and thorium. 2. Stanford University researchers discovered using gas stoves raises indoor levels of the carcinogen benzene to higher levels than secondhand tobacco smoke.
3. Global Warming concerns include methane (mother of natural gas) leakage in the oil & gas exploration and production. And, additional concerns involve air-pollution, possible asphyxiation and fires.
Presently gas stoves are the ‘hot’ target. (Yes. That was a pun.). But, the author thinks gas water heaters and furnaces won’t be that far behind. He expects only a grace period (once stoves have been banned) before we see legislation aimed at them.
Hot Nuts and Bolts
Because the topic of hot water heaters can encompass so many technical aspects, the author wants to narrow his focus to the why of this article: There’s a chance that in the future, in enough parts of the Country, Natural Gas (due to health concerns) (and a little politics) will be phased out and *electricity will be tasked with making/facilitating all the domestic hot water. Those readers presently being served hot water made with electricity will not be affected. Those making hot water by Natural Gas/Propane will have to purchase a new, electric water heater. Of course those readers who use oil/kerosene will not be affected.
*Suburban dwellers relying on well pumps still need electricity (whether it be by solar or Utility), to live ‘on solar’.
Pete the Plumber would now (in 3 Installments) like to describe and illustrate 3 popular designs of electric holding tank water heaters on the American market, today, and tell you their advantages and shortcomings. The author did not include “tankless” water heaters in this discussion because he admit-tingly has a bias, born of decades of experience. He is not a fan.
Pete perceives 3 possible/probable ‘camps’ of questioning among the readership for this article on holding tank electric water heaters.
Camp 1. Bored-to-curious. Moot.
Camp 2. Individuals needing to replace an existing mass-produced water heater. (This could mean replacing a simple electric heater with another like it, OR replacing a gas water heater with an electric one.)
Camp 3. Individuals interested in 2 higher technological choices for a holding tank electric water heater either for replacement or new construction. *
*Pete thinks this new construction will be the arena where the political battles of banning the use of gas home appliances will find eventual traction.
O.K. Assuming the worst. Let’s say (in the future) one or more of my readers were informed that they need a new water heater. And…the County has successfully banned all new gas appliances. What would then go into the decision to choose an electric water heater?
Those readers presently served by an electrically heated hot water appliance wouldn’t feel the crush like the ‘gas-ers’ will, when/whenever fossil fuel hook-ups are banned for all new construction. And with a possible quick sunset on existing installations. Today’s basic tech level, mass produced holding tank electric water heaters could simply replace a worn out one. For an unfortunate “gas’er” how and what their choices are, are thoroughly discussed in the trio.
Yours truly was raised in homes with natural gas stoves and furnaces. He and wife, Katherine, also raised four children in a house with a gas stove and gas furnace. As a result, the author prefers gas cooking appliances over electric ones but understands the rationale for retiring the ‘blue flame’.
In some parts of the Country (especially mountainous and/or remote), fuel oil/kerosene can figure into the equation. Which energy gives the reader hot water? Yours truly has loved ones living in the ‘far flung’ whose homes and fresh water are heated by appliances burning fuel oil. This article will not discuss the merits or de-merits of fuel oil.
For all dwellers presently living in communities served by NG gas, with a future total ban successfully implemented, those hot showers the reader is presently enjoying are going to have to originate in an electrical or solar water heating appliance. This spells considerable expense, and the author hopes this article will aid them in choosing the ‘right’ hot water servant for their needs and budget.
The number of ‘gas’ holding tank water heaters versus the number of electric holding tank water heaters manufactured today (2023) is approximately 50/50.
There are three major American water heater manufacturers: A.O. Smith; Bradford White; and Rheem. Between these majors and a few independents there are hundreds of different brand names on the market. It’s not unlike the food canning business. One cannery might produce the same can of peaches with twenty different labels.
As mentioned above many readers may be employing “oil” for heating needs, both water and space. The author has a friend, Becky B., living in a mountainous location in his State who cooks with electricity, heats water with an oil-fired water heater and space heats with propane. Sometimes when living in extreme weather locations where electrical utilities routinely suffer outages it can pay not to ‘put all your eggs in one basket’. The author feels that this “out there” group may/should be the last ‘made’ to make ‘changes.’
For the rest of us living in gentle climes and hospitable topographies, and perhaps already employing (or with an option to) an electric water heating appliance, and whose life/styles are not at risk of bans, Pete’s piece also has some information you might find of some interest. (And possibly some money saving in the future). For our poor ‘gas-ers’, this article is more focused on your having (at some future date) to choose an electric water heating apparatus.
Just for the record, the author resides in a living space surrounded by steep, heavily forested terrain. Because of heavy snowfall and high winds, the electrical utility serving Pete’s abode can be expected to lose power, winter and summer. (And now and then for an extended period). Pete’s neighbors have electric water heaters. Pete has an LPG (propane) fired holding tank water heater. With extended power ‘outs’ the author’s unwavering hot showers are a source of considerable neighborhood want.
Pete’s electric water heater ‘stories’ begin with a basic (graphics supported) description of today’s economically priced, electrical element, mass produced, steel holding tank water heater. And how it works. The author reckons this basic, lowest cost (electric) water heater will be around for some time to come. Two other described designs of electric holding tank water heater the author considers advanced and are ‘expensive’, relatively, will also be discussed. But, Pete’s suspicion: at some point in the future, one of the advanced choices, the heat pump hot water heater may become the mandated design in all new construction and replacements where physics and weather allow. Were this to happen (politics) the reader might have no choice but to install the expensive, technologically advanced heat pump water heater. That is why it is included in this Pipe.
As was with toilets, when super efficiency models became available many communities’ Water Utilities gave rebates that enabled many customers to afford swapping their old water wasting designs for the new, super low-flow models. Pete believes similar programs will be made available for advanced/more efficient water heaters, when “push comes to shove”)
In the third tale-in-line for this Pipe, the author describes an advanced version of the ‘basic’ holding tank electric water heater with a lifetime warrantee, for those readers who today or in the future will be staying put in their homes for “the duration” and who need or want a new water heater. This heater is the Rheem Marathon, a fiberglass tank version (with no need for dielectric anode rods, as discussed, following). You could bequeath this Rheem water heater to your children.
But, before spending time talking the advanced models, let’s dissect, as promised, the ‘long-on-the-job’, basic, 30 to 50 gallon, steel tank, electric, holding-tank, residential water heater.
Wrapped In Blue
Ever wonder what factor most threatens the common ‘holding’, steel tank, water heater? (Yacht owners already know.) Aggressive Water is the culprit. When fresh water is heated to high temperatures, it starts behaving badly. (Like it’s meaner sister, salt water.) It’s molecular ‘arrangements’ play musical chairs, and someone always loses. The water is then ‘hungry’ for molecules it no longer owns. This is now aggressive water. It’s going to fight to get back what it lost.
It just so happens that the steel walls of the tank suffice as nutrient for the aggressive water. Over time aggressive hot water can eat all the way through the walls, floor, or the top of the tank. Major Leak time. Catastrophic, National, property damage results annually.
Davy Jone’s Salvation
For the yachtsman, clamp-on zinc shapes are placed on the hulls underwater metal components, to protect them from ‘being eaten’ (while they are submerged). These added shapes sacrifice themselves to the hungry aggressive water for the sake of the hull. (And need to be replaced cyclically.) To protect the steel tank of the water heater from heated fresh water, its interior is coated with a layer of vitreous (molten) (mucho hot) glass, many times dyed blue,
Somewhat like the saltwater yachtsman protecting their hull with zinc, water heater makers introduce ‘sacrificial’ metal rods (anode’s) into their tanks. These (preferably) magnesium rod forms are replaceable, usually by un-threading them where they were installed. (Sometimes tricky to find where). As the rod is eaten by aggressive water, all’s well. When it’s totally consumed, the aggressive water goes on the warpath and looks at any ‘soft defenses’ in the vitreous tank lining protecting the steel of the tank. The aggressive water likes the steel underneath almost as much as it likes the factory installed magnesium anode rod. As long as the anode is replaced ‘in time’, the heaters life can be extended considerably.
Moons ago the advertising of one competing water heater manufacturer claimed it gave their tanks a ‘Second Coat’ of ‘…Glass Lining…’. When and how (in the manufacturing process) does the steel tank get this glass coating? The tank was complete when molten glass was ‘sprayed’ through existing threaded holes. If the apparatus that applies the molten glass fails to maintain its precision and ‘misses’ or only ‘lightly’ applies the vitreous in one spot or two, that leaves the tank vulnerable to early failure. So, some savvy manufacturer, in their ads, claimed it performed a ‘second coating’. The most thorough job of applying the glass could mean a longer-lived tank. To this day, when I watch my friend Larry the Plumber (larryweingarten.com) use a sawz-all and perform a water heater autopsy for his plumbing class, the inner tanks are often blue (like us?)
Pete’s good friend and mentor, plumber Larry Weingarten, has written a ‘home run’ of a manual showing in easy to understand text and illustrations) how to care for and repair the basic water heaters. His website is: larryweingarten.com. Here you can order a copy, and the curious can also enter Larry’s amazing on-line world of hot water.
O.K., Illus. 1 is the theoretical, standing -‘half’ of the modern day, residential electric water heater.
Steel tanks are made by rolling flat sheets of steel into a desired diameter, forming a tube, and then seam welded. The concave top is a separate piece, stamped or spun, and welded to the tube. On it are threaded openings, usually three or four, depending upon model. #3 The Cold Inlet /dip tube; #1 Hot Outlet tube; #2 the magnesium Anode Rod and possibly a last one for T&P.
Our tank (the ‘Yellowstone’) has the T&P on the upper side, left. #7.
The tank bottom is also a separate part, welded to the tube. Welded to the tank bottom is its base, another separate part.
The walls of the tank will host its own share of holes. Two are for the thread in electrodes #4 & 5. Another is for the T&P Valve (temperature and pressure relief device) #7. #6 Is the threaded hole for the tanks drain valve.
Some water heater’s (depending upon the make and model) will have two extra threaded holes on the side of the heater for cold water-in and hot water-out. This is a tremendous help when the heater needs to be placed in tight quarters. Needless to say, it is a luxury paid for. Equally beneficial is the manufacturer who provides 2 possible locations for the T&P Valve.
The fuse protected electrical power cable #9 in our illustration brings 220 Volts and (in our case) 30 amperes of electrical power to the two thermostatic controls, #10 & 11.
*Unlike thermostatic controls on gas powered water heaters, with a built-in, multi-inch probe, the thermostatic controls on electric water heaters #10 & 11 are flat and mount to a flattened surface on the tanks outside wall. Electrical wiring connects the two thermostats to the two thread-in electrical resistance heating elements #4 & 5.
The Ins and Outs
Cold water enters the tank through #5 the blue dip-tube. Notice the tube hangs down into the tank a long way. It’s that long because designers of the water heater want incoming cold water introduced near the bottom of the tank. (Cold water is ‘heavier’ than hot water.) About the upper 1/3rd. of the tank holds the ‘desirable/useable’ amount of heated water in a cycle. It would not be a good idea to let cold water dilute the temperature of the existing hot water. This would happen if not for the cold-water dip tube.
What else ‘hangs down’ from the top of the tank? Components #1 & 2. Number One (Red) is the hot-out tube. Number Two (White-ish) is the magnesium anode rod. *
*Pete has a confession. The anode rod as drawn is about one-half the length it would be.
The red, hot-outlet tube is much shorter than the blue cold inlet-tube, as one can see. And for a good reason. The longer the tube length is, the cooler the water it will be tapping. Some smart people are the reason lengths are ‘what they be’.
The author thinks/hopes the reader is game to witness a full cycle operation of the modern (electric) two electrical element, holding tank water heater. As mentioned upstream about one-half of the water heaters operating in the U.S. are this type.
Let’s pretend your domicile makes its hot water with a facsimile of the water heater in Illus. 1. And, it’s early A.M. and you get outta bed and head for the shower. Uh Oh. No hot water!!!! (Not a good way to start the day). The heater is eventually (hopefully timely) replaced with a new one. And it is filled with COLD water on its first filling. Then the power is turned on. What happens next? The water heater’s upper e.element (green) #4 is energized. The work performed by the upper e. element heats the water at its level (height) and above, to the set temperature on the thermostat. As the water temperature reaches the setting on the thermostat, power is cut off and it is now sent to the green lower e. element #5.
The water at this lower level of the tank is now heated to the temperature set on the lower thermostat. With this accomplished, the water heater is now at rest and waiting to serve.
A theoretical Someone (again) takes a shower. (This water heater has resting hot water.) By opening the hot port of the shower valve, cold water starts entering the heater (through the dip tube) #3 to the bottom of the tank. The lower thermostat feels it and and sends power to the lower e. element, #11. All this while the therapy of enjoying a hot shower is happening. With the shower valve turned off the reader is now energized!
O.K./ However, if someone else takes another shower right away, the top thermostat #10 will send power to #4 the upper e.element. ONLY ONE Electrical. ELEMENT IS POWERED AT A TIME.
If the water heater’s tank is ‘sized’* correctly, about 90% of the heating will be accomplished by the lower e.element. The Department of Energy has an easy to follow guide to sizing a water heater. You can find it at: https://www.energy.gov/energy saver/sizing-new-water-heater
A Little, side-History
When Pete the Plumber was an apprentice in the late 50’s, water heaters were widely available in four warranties. The first was a 5 yr. warranty with a caveat or two. Next was a 10 yr. Third choice was a 15-year warranty and 4th and last, you could get a 20 yr. warranty. Today? No longer. *caveat
*The author does, though, in the 3rd. discussion involving the Marathon water heater, ‘talk’ you through the construction of this Lifetime Warranty electrical, fiberglass holding tank water heater. It’s his choice and he will tell you why. (Admittedly it is priced for those ‘staying in place’.)
Back to the reasons for the discrepancies (then) in the water heater warranties. These included: tank wall thickness; glass glazing: coats/thickness; number of anodes; number of female iron pipe ports; thickness (and type) of thermal insulation and quality level of heat producing/regulating source. Today, because of Larry Weingarten’s book: The Water Heater Workbook, the reader can ‘assemble’ their own 20 yr. (or more) hot water servant. (Every shower thereafter renews your DIY pride.)
Spit It Out
Because the cost of initial purchase and/or replacement of any holding tank water heater is what it is, a sane person would prefer not to be subjected to it for as long as possible. (It’s a shame that all manufacturers (both gas & electric) are guilty of ‘short-circuiting’ your chances of a long-lived water heater by supplying an inferior drain valve (orange) #6. See: The Water Heater Workbook.
Though this Pipe was intended as a comparative study, repairing water heaters is too large of a topic to include. However, the reader faced with a water heater replacement or repair would be wise to own a copy of Larry’s book.
At/with the final word of “Conundrum” a coffee/tea break is recommended. For those who didn’t perish on this rocky word journey, Pete hopes to ‘see’ you jump in, slide, or fall into “Heat Pump Water Heater’s”, following.
Well…Piper’s…It’s about that time…Again.
The old man is off the couch (and has been thinking of you.)
The urge to share finally overcame stasis.
Since Pete the Plumber last burdened your ears, several fresh water scandals have made the author feel a tiny bit: “I told you so”. (He’s preached in past blogs). The Always Question: Are you prepared for interruptions? Always a good question. But, before going any further on that topic, Pete wants to ‘talk’ about an idea which has ‘cooked’ long enough to demand escape... It (idea) was sparked when a nephew (who is in the ‘biz’ in Orlando) sent the author a brochure on an industrial Stainless Steel DWV system designed for industries like breweries, laboratories and food processors. Pete couldn’t help but see the possibility for a future residential version. This possibility is the focus of this Pipe. (Disclaimer: The author does not expect to still own consciousness if or when such a new product line materializes.)
Ever since the early development of “push-together” pressure fittings for Fresh Water (Photos 1 & 1a), the author has seen the Trade’s acceptance for this technology grow, and even extend to Fuel Gas. What were figments of plumbers’ imaginations fifty years ago are now ‘old hat’ plumbing practices. (Did P.O.A.’s (Plumbers of Antiquity) have dreams of advanced technology?)
An early developer (1980) of the “Push” fitting type was the British manufacturer Hepworth Building Products which was founded in 1936 in Doncaster. They were originally made of plastic and trade named: Hep20. Today in the U.S. we find brass versions sold under the names Sharkbite, PlumbBite, and Nibco Push.
Oh, the author recalls “off the clock” discussions amongst his brethren disparaging ‘college students in tennis shoes’ taking our jobs when ABS was newly sanctioned for residential DWV. “Anyone with a hand saw and can of cement could work the material.” Of course that was a naïve perspective. ‘What to do’ with the pipe and fittings (essence of being a journeyman plumber) was not automatically dispensed along with your receipt from the supply house. A familiar sense of superiority and disdain accompanied the development of “push” fittings for Water Supply. “Anyone can merely cut the pipe and jam the components together.” A novice could install an entire FWDS (Fresh Water Distribution System) using a tubing cutter and “push” fittings. No flame & flux/ solder; no ratchet dies and oil; no primer and cement. Same rational response: “Don’t be silly.” It’s what you know.
When Pete (as an apprentice) was on his knees in a trench pouring molten lead joints on sewer laterals could he see what was coming (in a few short years): No-Hub pipe and couplings? He thinks he might be in a similar situation presently: another ‘college students in tennis shoes’ plumbing revelation. This time around it is again (he thinks) (any bookies?) a DWV involvement/development. This time the surprise is a DWV fitting and piping system made of stainless steel that employs a “Push” joinery methodology. Being made of stainless steel it is of course very expensive. Only money making enterprises who can recoup the purchase cost can afford the stuff. But that is the way many innovations become mainstream. Start out as specialized answers for specialized industries and through time and acceptance become a ubiquitous item/system in the Big Box warehouse stores.
As the author noted the stainless steel DWV “push” system he is bringing to your attention is prohibitively expensive for residential applications, but he believes there is a chance that this technology could become commonplace in the DWV practice with a materials substitution to Schedule 40 PVC. With the same jaundiced eye yours truly earlier viewed ‘No-Hub’ and FWDS push fittings, methinks the result may be the same: eventual industry wide acceptance of ‘push DWV’ (in plastics).
The pictures of the BLÜCHER (a Watts Company Brand) SS DWV system the author employed for this Pipe: (Photos 2, 2a, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8) at the end of the article, are cropped iPhone shots by yours truly taken from the manufacturer’s paper sales media.
*Pete has not worked with this material. But from his exotic metals experience in R&D steam plumbing he recognized immediately the limitations of sheet-welding compound curves Photo 2a.
The Pit In The Olive
It may be the realization of the possible superior shape/formed injected molded plastic fitting (by comparison) that the concept of economically producing “push-together” PVC DWV fittings for Residential construction is why the possibility is so intriguing.(ABS pipe would be disqualified because of the foam core.) The beautiful specimens shown are works of art, but their cost reflects that fact. Why? It’s the material/labor costs. The beautiful specimens are made of stainless to handle chemicals of multitude stripes in multiple industries. But for housing? PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) pipe and fittings have already proven themselves in this industry. It is of the author’s opinion that with the necessary hub modifications of present, cemented, PVC fittings… to DWV PUSH fittings, another ‘kids in Keds’ revolution may unfold.
Now, yours truly knows from laying large diameter “push” plastic sewer line (gasket-ed bell) (Photo 9, above) that successful pipe-end-to-fitting hub and pipe-end-to additional pipe bell joinery requires that a certain amount of precision be maintained on pre-assembly pipe edge chamfer. Almost any cut-to-length plastic push-together joinery is possible (with a lubricant ) to accomplish in the field, with some skill and quality made hand tools. For a residential sized application with custom cut Schedule 40 pipe, Pete realizes that, tooling (either with power or by hand) which will produce a rather precision chamfer on male, custom cut to length Schedule 40 PVC pipe ends, needs to be in the plumber’s tool kit. (It would simply take too much time (to compete with ‘cemented’ joinery) to hand shape acceptable pipe end chamfers with simple files. Photos 10, 10a, 10b, 10c & 10d are examples of available specialized manual tooling.
For a plumber who would choose to pursue PVC DWV Push installations there are drill powered chamfer tools which accommodate the common diameters of DWV piping. Photos 11, 11a & 12 are two examples of easily affordable drill powered options.
What’s That Terrible Smell
Now. What would we gain with a push joint versus the popular primer-cement joining method for plastic residential DWV? Well, to begin with, the avoidance of working with dangerous (to the plumber) vapors/gasses escaping from PVC Purple Primer and PVC cements (in all of their viscosities) which is also a serious health concern to societies who must deal with strict disposal rules (and $$$$) for abandoned and dumped surplus chemicals (and sometimes a costly surprise to an errant consumer offender). And, a possible ability to “swivel fit” the components. With cemented DWV the plumber only has a second or two (ambient temperature) to ‘twist’ pipe and fitting to final “set”. With elastomeric seals in push fittings, rotation is not time-limited. The plumber would be able to create DWV of improved performance.
With a PVC DWV “Push” fitting, current and past measuring and cutting tools would also still remain relevant. Of course plumbers would encounter situations where due to structural realities they have no choice but to substitute a space saving cement cured fitting. (An analogy exists for plumbers employing the larger press copper fittings in FWD (Fresh Water Distribution) due to tight space conditions : revert to a sweat joint.
Just for fun, let’s do a parts cost estimate by using BLÜCHER SS Push DWV catalog figures and re-creating a DWV pattern from Plumbing A House. Let’s go with Pattern 1, page 102, Photo 13.
This pattern is a very common one. For fittings we have:
Now, the BLÜCHER Company’s price is the material, in all of its pro’s and con’s, and their labor (including machinery costs). The author in no way is demeaning the manufacturer. He’d wager that for what you want (in that material), their price is very reasonable.
A plastic injection moulding set-up (to the contrary) producing Schedule 40 PVC pipe is not much more bulk than several modern washing machines resting side by side. The author confesses he has not observed plastic ejection equipment popping out DWV fittings. But, he questions not that the manufacturing square footage required and cost to produce equivalent sized residential DWV components, in each material, would be drastically less for the PVC. And thus drastically more economical for the less technically challenging residential market.
Yours truly had fun with this Pipe. It is fun to daydream new plumber’s tools and fittings, and guess at what’s coming next. And water, in all its possibilities, constantly ‘floats his boat’. If/whenever plumber Pete sees a ‘new angle’ (possibility), rest assured he won’t spare you bending your ear.
Pete just got back to the beach. Hope we didn’t lose any of the crew. Since the last ‘Pipe’ the author voyaged south to meet his mentor Larry Weingarten and the two led a one week hands- on plumbing class, DWV this time being the author’s responsibility. There is n o better way to teach anything than doing it ‘hands on’. Unfortunately not too many are fortunate enough to arrange such a ‘leg up’ opportunity.
The author considers himself a proficient instructor when he is demonstrating with real materials on a real structure. Trying to elucidate the same information by word and representational art is another kettle of fish.
In this last class, Pete the Plumber was given an hour and-a-half for lecture time and the rest of the week (fortunately) was actually doing-it. The author confesses that he is better at authoring than he is at speaking. Since the subject of Drains, Waste and Vent is such a huge topic, Pete thought it best to do a little second guessing and leave the students a ‘hand-out’ that might hopefully fill in the seams of a leaky lecture.
Since this last class was an introduction to DWV, rather than toss his notes over the side at its conclusion, Pete thought they were worth sharing to his ‘In The Pipe’ readers (since he figures most of you are also “wanna learn-ers”).
It is the author’s hope that the some of his ‘Pipe’ audience’s ‘foggy logic’ on this confusing and very involved topic might be somewhat clarified by maybe more than one ‘read through’? Are you ready (and willing) to “way-off”?
Introduction To: Drains, Waste and Vent (DWV)
Definition OF DWV
Drains, Waste and Vent is the piping system plumbers create/install to safely convey the liquid and waterborne wastes derived from ordinary living processes to a public sewer or private sewage disposal system (septic).
Let me mention that by ordinary living processes the author infers human excrement (urine and stool), and in some cases food waste processed by a ‘garbage disposer’, NOT waste from industrial activity.
The UPC (Uniform Plumbing Code) (the code of Pete’s bailiwick) lists Sewage as: “Liquid waste containing animal or vegetable matter in suspension or solution [and that may include liquids containing chemicals in solution.”]
My note: (sewer) piping begins 2 feet away from the exterior foundation of the structure. So this means sewers are N O T considered a portion of DWV.
Further downstream PtP will “go over with you” the ‘established’ (UPC) definitions. Like dialects in various parts of the Country, the ear will hear more than one word for the same item. It can be confusing for some learners. Plumbers also seem to attract the more superstitious practitioners of all memberships. (Won’t take that further.) So, a fitting, in one part of the Country may have a different spoken vernacular description than in other locales. We need coherency of terms when discussing such a huge topic as that of DWV and its installation. It’s important: we ALL need to be on the ‘same page’ as for descriptions of the materials we will be using.
*In some jurisdictions a separate permit process involves the installation of sewers. Even though the sewer “lateral” (pipe) is laid on private property, to within 2 feet of the structure. The lateral is directly connected to the public, main sewer (sometimes referred simply to the main, and therefore of critical interest to the Authority. Therefore private contractors are not allowed to ‘touch’ the ‘City Main’. Municipal workers (or contractors selected by the Local Authority) add the connection to the sewer and bring the new pipe (lateral) onto the building site. (However the c o s t to expose the sewer and add the connection for the lateral is often included in permit fees.)
The Big Mystery
The ability to design a safe and efficient DWV plan is the ‘Holy Grail’ for plumbers. Water systems function because of pressure. DWV operates on gravity. Think of DWV as a one chance system: You have only once chance that the “waste” you introduce to the DWV, makes it outta the building and into the sewer lateral (or septic). If it stops before exiting the drains and wastes, into the sewer lateral, there is usually no easy fix. You have a clog/stoppage prone dwelling until the design issues are rectified. The author sees a parallel in designing/building a DWV system not totally unlike making a “Pinewood Derby” car. In a race, it has once chance.
On water systems, a poorly supplied plumbing fixture can be ‘helped out’ by increasing the pressure at which it is pumped. DWV is a ‘one shot’ proposition. It operates on gravity (a value of 9.8 meters per second, squared.) (14.7 psi.) Like auto parts stores selling “additives” to help unclog your auto cooling system, there’s no ‘additive’ to bump up gravity to help sluggish DWV systems. It’s critical to employ DWV pipe and fittings as would bobsled course designers make the most “fluid” twists and turns of ice course.
Matter of fact, it would behoove learners of DWV design, to think (visualize) their potential piping paths (structure allowing) as mini-bobsled runs. Keep up the velocity (speed) of poop/paper/food scraps (occasional goldfish) gliding/sliding at a constant ¼-inch per foot until we say goodbye to them at the sewer entrance. The fewer ‘tight’ (speed robbing) turns created by multiple combinations of DWV fittings, the better. (The author allows that to create superior operating DWV, sometimes he will use more fittings in their design.)
Upstream Pete mentioned Definitions. Now is a good time to go through those. Let’s start with the three initials in DWV. These will be lifted verbatim from the UPC with a possible little ‘English’ for clarity.
A pipe that carries waste or waterborne waste in a building drainage system.
The discharge from a fixture, appliance, or appurtenance in connection with a plumbing system that does not contain fecal matter (bold emphasis mine).
Liquid or waterborne waste from industrial or commercial processes except domestic sewage.
(We will be revisiting this definition)
The vertical pipe installed primarily for the purpose of providing circulation of air to and from any part of the drainage system
A pipe provided to ventilate a plumbing system, to prevent trap siphonage and back pressure, to equalize the air pressure within the drainage system.
“A pipe installed to a fixture trap and connects with the vent system above the fixture served; or terminates in the open air.” (Or, a l l b y I t s e l f ! )
The primary artery of the venting system to which vent branches may be connected.
Venting is/can be a difficult path. It can/has ruled-out many a ‘wet’ floor plan, because of the impossibility of finding a code sanctioned path without structural changes to accommodate. There are books by others on the topic already.
The author has ‘cried’ on numerous occasions where a fabulous location for a tub, for a sink, for a toilet, bidet, etc. could not happen, because the structure of the building ruled-out a code sanctioned path for a vent.
So far, in the Definitions, we’ve seen no pipe expressly mentioning the transport of poop. Until now. That pipe is the Soil Pipe:
“A pipe that conveys the discharge of water closets, urinals, clinical sinks, or fixtures having similar functions of collection and removal of domestic sewage, with or without the discharge from other fixtures, to the building drain or building sewer.” (That’s one very important pipe.) It can carry poop. (Night Soil). (Shower drains and Washing Machine drains are considered soil piping because diapers are rinsed/cleaned in them.)
Liquid waste containing animal or vegetable matter in suspension or solution and that may include liquids containing chemicals in solution.
The word sewage is another ‘term’ that is often misinterpreted. What the author wants his readers to understand is that his focus in this article: “DWV”, is on piping that sends “...household wastes…” on-their-way to the point of connection (2-ft. from foundation exterior) with their “lateral”. From there, in Pete’s mind, it may be considered sewage.
What’s The Secret?
The secret to designing a successful DWV system is to know your materials and your ‘code’. The author just finished a helper position on a two-story, two-family, total re-pipe. DWV h a d to be iron or copper. Water h a d to be copper. Former floor plans had been spun ‘this way-and-that’. It was a physical (and organizational) challenge for yours truly.
However it was also a great opportunity to have had a “re-fresher” acquaintance with the making of a “hot lead” joint. No longer legal in CA. (The author has been asked/will demonstrate in the up-coming Weingarten Class in August).
Yours truly is so old that he remembers when cast iron was the o n l y choice of drainage pipe material and threaded galvanized steel was the sole, alternate, vent material. There were no other choices. Thankfully in subsequent years ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene and PVC (Polly Vinyl Chloride) were developed for use in pipe and fitting materials.
A one foot long piece of modern, 4-inch cast iron pipe (CI) weighs over 9 pounds. It comes in 10-ft. lengths. Eat your ‘Cheerios’ this morning? Correspondingly a one foot piece of 4-in ABS or PVC (they weigh closely [for now]) is approximately 1.5 lbs. These come from the manufacturer in 20-ft. lengths but are easily hand-cut to two 10-footers making transport easier.
Both ABS pipe and PVC pipe and respective fittings are sanctioned by the UPC. Can you, where you live, use either? Or only one of them? It’s most common to not find both materials sanctioned in any particular district. (It’s the case of manufacturer’s ‘carpet baggers’.) But, there are pro’s and con’s to using each type. If you were to horizontally suspend, by near-ends, a length of each pipe and wait a week, you would see that the PVC has bellied (sagged). PVC will require more support/suspension points than ABS. As for gambling which material to lay in a trench PtP would prefer that ‘saggy’ PVC. Its greater plasticity will resist cracking, longer, buried. But what about more than one floor of several wet-walls? The author, given the choice, would prefer the lighter ABS.
*The Alameda (CA) City Schools settled on PVC for the DWV in their High School chemistry lab, because the greater harsh chemical protection PVC provides.
Who’s Behind the Curtain?
When the author was introduced to ABS pipe and fittings (late 1950’s) the pipe was solid wall. That’s the pipe Pete believes that was in the Arizona ‘test house’ that opened-the-door to its adoption, Nationally. Arizona builder John F. Long built a ‘test’ home using ABS pipe and fittings which had its various drains opened up twenty years later and inspected. The ABS showed no wear. In 1960 the FHA approved ABS for DWV.
PVC (in general) did not become ‘practical’ until BF Goodrich chemist Waldo Seman “plasticized” it in 1926. (The author is unaware of the pioneering responsible for it.) PVC pipe and fittings for both pressure (water) and DWV were used on a experimental basis in the 1960’s in Germany in a similar scheme that Arizona builder John F. Long was granted: “Install it and we’ll assess.” In the late 1950’s communities in the U.S. began allowing builders (on a limited basis) using the PVC material with designated downstream ‘inspection protocols’. Today, PVC has its place in the world of DWV pipe and fittings.
Matt M. a friend of the authors whose family has operated many wholesale plumbing outlets for many decades told the author that “...if PVC was suddenly allowed for use everywhere ABS was sanctioned, that the ABS manufacturers would be outta business in a week.”
Both ABS and PVC DWV fittings are made in the same molds. However (at this writing) Schedule 40 PVC pipe (pressure rated) is the pipe used with PVC DWV fittings to create a PVC DWV System. Contrarily, the ABS pipe used with ABS DWV fittings is not pressure rated like PVC is. ABS pipe is rated: ‘DWV’ (only) and it is restricted for use in gravity operating DWV systems.
This non-pressure rated ABS DWV pipe is a “Red Herring.” One reason the ABS DWV pipe is lighter than the Schedule 40 PVC pipe used in PVC DWV systems is because the ABS pipe “has been cheapened” by selling a pipe without a solid wall. (The ABS manufacturers make a lightweight ABS “ foam” sleeve and add a ‘typing paper thick’ layer of solid ABS on the inside bore and on the outside (exterior). The author wonders if his “Great Depression-induced, super economical mother, Mary E., might have had something to do with this.) (Attempt at joke). Anyway, this chicanery came back to bite them. A massive lawsuit for pipe failures. The author will explain what happened, further downstream. According to Water Online, in the US PVC as a piping material has seen significant growth in use in the last 35 years accounting for two-thirds by weight of plastic pipe and almost half of all installed pipe by length in 2004.
There is a basic difference in the assembly time/procedure of PVC versus ABS DWV pipe and fittings. PVC is more resistant to chemicals than ABS. To ‘cement’ PVC pipe and fittings, the plumber first has to treat the pipe end, and inside fitting hub, to a coating of special primer which allows the cement to “sufficiently” grip both surfaces. This is a cement bond. ABS pipe and fittings are actually “welded” by ABS cements. The cements ‘melt’ both joining surfaces. This aspect is what caused the massive lawsuits mentioned upstream involving ABS pipe. Improper (too much) ABS cement can “eat through” the thin, solid layer of ABS pipe in the bore and on the exterior. This places too much shear force on the weak foam core and the weight of pipe runs can shear the pipe loose of fitting, at the joint.
*The PVC manufacturers are taking the hint from their ABS competitors and producing a “foam core” PVC DWV pipe. Author’s suggestion: eschew it and stick to the solid Schedule #40 PVC pipe (pressure rated).
To make sure plumbers don’t skip using the PVC primer when building PVC systems, the primer is dyed a nice bright purple, which can be detected visually from a distance. This primer used to be sold in a clear solution but too many non-plumber installers (not understanding the the material they were working with), skipped the extra primer application step and PVC systems failed as a result. Among plumbers there can be a certain hesitancy in choosing PVC as their DWV choice (unless they have to) because the extra step of applying the Purple Primer is a messy one (no matter how you try) and ABS is a time saving, cleaner, lighter one-step method. But whose benefit should we be concerned with the most? A plumber’s inconvenience or a better job for the customer?
As the author drives/rides in, at, and around domestic development he can’t but wince when he sees the zillion protruding ABS vents on square miles of ever-widening roof-ista’s . That piping (whether ABS or PVC) deteriorates in direct sunlight. (The ABS faster). Where the developments began, Pete could probably (in one dandelion whack), sever one roof protruding vent after the other. These plastics need to be protected with a minimum of a ‘paint job’. Those living with ABS vents (to a lesser degree PVC), a n d the truly concerned, might want to query plumbers about installing vent ‘snow shields’ (covers), which provide 100% sun protection.
Cutting the Mustard
Whether a plumber installing DWV systems chooses PVC or ABS, if cut by hand, should use a saw with teeth expressly made for the job. The author has tried them all and the PASCO 4333 is still hands down the best for both plastics. However, you will immediately notice that it is more labor intensive to hand cut PVC than ABS. Now Pete has many times over, installed complete DWV systems (mostly ABS) with hand sawing. (Could still do it if forced to.). If a plumber is contemplating more than “just a few cuts” of DWV plastic pipe, he/she would be well rewarded if cuts were performed on a “chop saw”. (With a blade expressly for plastics.) Not only is this operation quicker, but the quality of the cut is so good (with proper blade) that there is no need to ream the inside bore.
*All’s it takes is one, tiny splinter of pipe material to stick up, to ruin the flow performance of your horizontal runs, possibly creating a “forever stoppage situation.”
However, you s t i l l will want to chamfer the outside edge after cutting of the pipe. This prevents the cement that you are working with from being push entirely out of the hub’s socket and into the pipe, reducing the opening, and as mentioned above, with ABS, could cause a failure.
Me No Atlas
The author has learned (by association) that students (of the Weingarten Classes) are not likely to be called upon to “design” and install a DWV system, for their present employer (who tends to contract out). But, all of these learners are ‘long-in-the-saddle’ repair tech’s, dealing with the Plumbing/Public’s Inter-face: chivalry meets vandals.
Because the topic of DWV is so encompassing, the author thought he should spend the lecture time he was allowed with you, on the most practical (your common involvement) issues that y o u want input on/for. Rather than delve into the arithmetic of pipe sizing (which other than understanding the process/concept, will be of little use in your present work responsibility), in this article Pete wanted to share some recommendations that h e was bequeathed from “Tiny the Plumber”(website/“Me And Angie”); the ‘School Of Hard Knocks’; and tips from other pro’s, that have proved both economical and practical, working with ABS and PVC building DWV systems. (T h e r e is a Transitional Cement to assemble ABS to PVC and vice versa, vetted by manufacturers, but because of the ‘carpet baggers’ the most prevalent application is un-permitted repair work.)
No-hub Iron and copper DWV systems both use very similar shaped fittings in their line-up but differ in scale. For variety of fittings the author believes ABS holds the cards, in his Western Region. Go East and it gets more PVC. Working for clients where it’s the plumber’s choice (cannot divulge that Shangri-La) is the most satisfying.
Sweep ‘it out’
Over the years the author couldn’t but help learn what he (intrinsically sensed) and what training and experience has reinforced: the best ‘jewel’ in the DWV crown is the magic word: sweep.
A small (1/2-inch or, ¾-inch) water supply 90’ has a radius not much more than one of your knuckles. Pete see’s them as quite cavalier about their trimness. They need not be engineered to any reasonable efficiency to meet their expected performance. Why? They have an ace-in-the-hole: app. 60-80 psi doing all the hard work getting their master to where he/she needs to go.
DWV, on the other hand is still relying on what Aristotle, Galileo, and later Einstein could see/sense: gravity. No tight bends here. Pure knowledge. Paid for by “learning-on-the-job” plumbers of antiquity dealing with graviton. Were plumbers of antiquity (POA’s) beheaded if their plumbing for the King’s spa backed-up? Maybe it was safer to be a tailor or sailor.
Anyhow, the author thinks it’s time we get into the nitty-gritty of the “Introduction of DWV Design” It’s also a good time we each take a bite outta Alice’s magic mushroom. We want small. PtP has found that visualizing he’s in a new whitewater ‘play’ boat (Jackson) and instead of lining a waterfall, he is about to squirt into the overflow ‘tube’ of a large, hydroelectric dam. (Always wondered how many ‘fittings’ that route took to daylight, again.)
By visualizing yourself as a kayaker, in a big (for the claustrophobic = c l e a r tube), following the path of your houses DWV, you’d know instinctively how you’d ‘like’ to take those turns and drops. There’s not enough (yet) code sanctioned change-of-direction fittings, available (due to no demand) to mimic the kayak run. (Or a bobsled run). But if just subconsciously, one could be affected to the point that his/her runs became much more ‘efficient’ than ‘code’: progress made. We must remember that ‘Code’ was/is a minimum standard. But of course. When the dollar is involved, few go outta their way to do more than ‘what’s code’. That’s O.K. There are venues for the Cult of Craft (any tradesperson with pride in their work) to keep alive and even boost interest in their methodologies.
Just a few drainage fittings get most “un-initiated” installers into trouble building DWV systems. They are: the 1, the Sanitary Tee, and 2, the Wye. These (aside from another ‘special’ (90’) are up for discussion, first).
Sanitary Tees (San Tee) and Wyes are No.’s 1 & 2 (especially to the untrained EYE) because of their “look alike’ ness. The author wagers improper use of these two fittings might be the most common violation. Something I’ve tried with dubious affect is to tell the layperson: “For drainage there is only one (legal) application for the (San Tee) fitting. It’s for receiving trap arms from sinks, showers, toilets and specialized water discharging equipment. No worry. If you’re in a crawl space installing/connecting horizontal drains, you know this fitting is not mean for a n y purpose, under there, with you. Most will encounter it (magic glasses allow you to see inside walls) under their sinks (all) under their tubs, under the shower and near their toilet. All will be in the vertical position (drain at bottom; branch=center; vent=top) as shown in (Photo 1). Where we do not want to find one is connecting drains, especially
o n t h e h o r i z o n t a l.
The “Weir” Wolf
The weir in the branch of the San tee (Photo 1) is so designed (by really smart people) to not let (under ‘normal’ circumstances) liquid waste flowing into it to reach a velocity that would siphon the water out of a trap it was serving. If you replaced that San tee with a Wye (Photo 2) the 45 degree down slope of the Wye branch could generate sufficient velocity to suck the trap ‘dry’. Then gases in the sewer (or septic) could infiltrate your structure.
*When Utility gas companies vetted residential open-flame interior lighting in the 1820’-30’s, dry (or non existent) traps caused an unknown percentage of home explosion and fires. It was always (at first) assumed that it was the gas company’s fault. Finally some smarter-than-the-rest person figured it out: There are gases in the ‘drains’ that need to be kept out of the living space. P-traps (Photos 3 & 3a), S-traps, Running-traps, and Barrel-traps were soon included in building codes.
The author (usually here, or near) on “Builder’s Breakfast” tells a tale of his favorite barber shop blowing up because of a sewer gas/space heater catastrophe. Fortunately it happened in the middle of the night with no human injuries (or worse). Pete actually sat in the chair that he knew (after the tragedy) was the center of ignition. He even wondered (for years as he was getting his hair cut) if the walnut sized hole in the exposed MBD (Main Building Drain), which ran with its top radius exposed in the slab floor right behind the chair he sat in, would ever cause trouble. The author surmised that a drain cleaning technician had made the hole long ago to insert his cable into the line. So folks, it can, it d o e s happen. The gases commonly found in sanitary drainage systems include: Hydrogen sulfide; methane; esters; carbon monoxide; sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Four of them burn profusely. These same gases when they are not ignited, can and also cause asphyxiation.
The Mine Field
As the class is constantly reminded the DWV plumbing system operates on gravity. Because we are straddled with such a “low pressure” force to move our plumbing wastes in whatever our DWV design happens to incorporate, change of direction fittings that we employ to build systems with have to be accurately designed and properly installed.
Let’s read what the Uniform Plumbing Code has to say in their introduction to this topic: “Changes-in-direction of drainage piping shall be made by the appropriate use of approved fittings, and shall be of angles presented by a:
Note: We did not see ¼ bends (90’s) in this listing. Does that mean we cannot have a horizontal 90’ in our design? The answer is NO. We can by using a “special” 90 (noted upstream) that incorporates a clean out extension provision (Photo 4) to building perimeter that is time consuming to install in most instances so we try to not have to employ one, to begin with.
We see mentioned in:
“Horizontal drain lines connecting with a vertical stack shall enter through (Photo 2) 45 degree Wye branches...(A stack is: “The vertical main pipe of a system of soil, waste, or vent piping extending through one or more stories.”)
“Horizontal drainage lines connecting with other horizontal drainage lines shall either through 45 degree Wye branches, combination Wye and 1/8th bend branches (Photo 5) or other ‘approved’ fittings of equivalent sweep.”
“Vertical drainage lines connecting with horizontal drainage lines shall enter through 45’ Wye branches or other approved fittings of equivalent sweep.”
“Each horizontal drainage pipe shall be provided with a clean-out (CO) at its upper terminal, and each run of piping that is more than 100 feet in total developed length shall be provided a clean out for each 100 feet or fraction thereof. An additional clean out shall be provided in a drainage line for each aggregate horizontal change of direction exceeding 135 degrees…” (That’s one ‘90’ elbow and one 45 degree elbow…or…three 45’s…or six 1/16th bends (22&1/2 degrees) or…mix and match.
I Didn’t Say That…
Pete the plumber now wants to touch upon the most common code “misunderstandings” where most violations by the uninitiated occur. These boo-boo’s are concentrated in the Edicts designated 706.0: Changes In Direction and Flow, in the Uniform Code, beginning with Edict 706.1 and Vents 901.2 through 908.1
*Now there is a Get Out Of Jail card for this edict, 708.1. If you happen to be running a minimum pipe diameter of 4-inch, the UPC says this: “…where this (1/4-in. per ft.) is impractical due to the depth of the street sewer, to the structural features, or to the arrangement of a building…pipe or piping 4 inches or larger in diameter shall be permitted to have a slope of not less than 1/8-in. per ft. where first approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.” For any size pipe under 4 inch you’re out of luck. This can be a good reason to install a 4-inch Building Drain and lateral for a problematically sited home in relation to sewer depth, even when 3-inch would satisfy serving the fixture units of the design.
Because most class members will not be tasked with designing a new DWV system during their maintenance career, the author wanted to concentrate on the area where they are already functioning: maintenance and repair of their existing DWV systems.
Traditionally, the class (broken into teams of usually five members) will be tasked with designing and installing a mock-up DWV system for a theoretical ADA bathroom, on premises, that includes water supply and gas line to a water heater. The author looks forward to closely working with each team to make sure they fully understand the principals involved with their completed DWV system.
Off To The Pub
Pete hopes this Intro to DWV which he wrote for one of his classes proved of interest to his readers of In The Pipe. If the author has accomplished nothing more than to show the reader that properly designed and installed DWV systems are an art form, he’d consider it worth the time of writing.
Until Next Time
Pete the Plumber
Hello. Welcome back. Long time no-see (hear).
The author, Pete the Plumber, like many of his countrymen, have recently themselves been inconvenienced by contracting the Corona virus. Thankfully the author is back on his creaky legs again and looking forward to sharing his take on a very time worn subject: lead poisoning via municipal fresh water agencies’ l e a d service lines; plumber installed galvanized (galv) steel/iron lines; and, lead soldered copper fresh water lines installed in new and remodel ‘living space (up until 1986).
During Pete’s recent MVI (mandatory virus isolation) period he had time to think about what subject he’d likely wanna make for his next ‘In The Pipe’. Well. Now, thanks to the recent majority of the 117th Congress agreeing to fund the removal of a l l lead service lines to American housing” (at Government cost) through recent legislation, ‘me fig’erd’ (as a plumber) would make for an interesting, close observation. There are only a few photos this time woven into my story (where I could find examples).
Nationally, we still cringe when hearing or reading anything new about the “Flint Michigan Water Crisis.” Poor Flint. (Glad I don’t live there.) As it turns out it did not end there, by any measure. (Neither did it begin there.) Nationally we’re still in deep doo-doo. There are still estimates of 9 million, still-active lead service lines in the Country serving 22 million people. In the author’s estimation (yes, by plumber’s bias), if N O T H I N G else were accomplished during a n y Presidential Administration, “Getting The Lead Out” alone would be a history making milestone. One to really crow about. Now there are funds (allocated) to do just that. You could be among the many privileged to see a truly historical landmark: bye bye to lead in water piping.
The AWWA (American Water Works) estimates 5-6 thousand dollars, on average, to replace each lead service line. The new legislation allots a total of 15 billion, and 3 billion has been put in play as of this writing. As encouraging news as it is, I have to remember that the Clean Water Act of 1948 became law in 1972. But hell, I’d take a repeat of that wait to see this campaign finally accomplished.
However, as Citizens we a l l should remain cognizant (and vigilant) in seeing what progress and at what speed this comes to be. Very few improvements, if any, could be so immediately beneficial to a society as replacing e v e r y o n e’ s lead service* piping with a healthy alternative. It will be worth carrying a placard, making phone calls and signing petitions when the progress lags.
*As you will discover downstream there are still more sources of lead in house piping aside Service Lines (SL).
Since our (my) Middle School days we’ve (I’ve) known the Romans were inextricably known for their adoption of lead in various avenues of their lives. The argument as to whether lead was responsible for the decline of the Roman Civilization still erupts now and then. Since Romans were so good at mining and smelting galena ore (source of lead) and making water pipes the author thought their experience with the material merited a casual look (dinner plates and wine goblets aside).
The Roman means of producing lead plumbing pipe was simple: pour molten lead out onto a flat stone surface to a depth of desire and then let it cool down. Once cooled, it was rolled into a diameter they wanted and then soldered. Common diameters ran from ½-inch to 22-inch. This piping was used for both water supply a n d drainage (they also lined open conduit of their aqueducts with sheet lead).
It’s been estimated that the lead content of ‘municipal’ water in large Roman cities ran between 14 to 105 times that of local spring water concentrations. It’s lead content in “drinking” water that civilization up to the present day lives/has with, that makes the new Congressionally sanctioned removal attempt almost a “Bookie” event. Only more time will tell. The legislation d o e s have a stipulated completion date. Whether Uncle Sam can find the competent leaders and laborers to get this done by that date will be a nervous interim. What’s a mere two or ten years ‘behind schedule’ when this problem has befuddled man since Augusts was ordering more baths built.
Who’s Guilty ?
Yes. There were a number of Roman elite who knew the health hazards of using lead to transport water. And, the American lead industry funded cover-up campaigns trying to stave off the eventual discontinuation. ‘Our’ lead service lines were installed as late as the 1970’s. Where the water quality is good though, the fewer problems are encountered with lead. The Author remembers the Utility serving his metropolitan area annually dug up someone’s lead service line. It was then cut open and visually inspected and tested for leach. Because of the high quality EBMUD water (Sierra snowpack) (how much longer) lead leaching was not a problem. (It was just Pete and his plumber bro’s using that lead solder and flux that posed the larger danger.)
Now it is not without a degree of guilt that the author looks back at his career years, those forklift’s of copper for fresh water systems he assembled using lead base fluxes and solders. (It was ‘the norm’ back then. “I was only following orders”.) Pre-1991, lead-soldered, copper (potable) water systems are one of two major contributors to lead in drinking water today. The author recalls his soldering technique, though, needing ‘tweaks’, to be able to effectively use the first available lead-free solders. Matter of fact, PtP has another anecdote to share on that subject.
One day the author was running ‘copper water’ (in Type L) (his default) in a custom addition in the Berkeley Hills (CA) and he was testing several different manufacturers’ offerings of ‘Lead Free’ solder. As it happened during this exercise, Pete decided to ask his client, a metallurgist, what was antimony (which was one newly adopted replacement for lead). “Well, she replied, “Basically, move one molecule just a tiny bit and you have a r s e n i c !
“Whoa!” was my reaction/reply. My client ‘calmed down’ yours truly by explaining that unlike lead, antimony is n o t water soluble. Yes! If I were to i n g e s t it, it’d probably kill me just as swiftly as arsenic.* Plumbers (yours truly included) discovered some brands of lead-free solders and fluxes were easier to master than others. And as this plumber will also tell you, as for ease-of-use, your choice of flux is as critical as the ingredients of the solder. (Flux compounds commonly contained lead prior to the 1986 Amendment.)
*After feeling ill late in his career Pete sought medical attention. Hair analysis showed ‘off the chart’ levels of several bad boys: lead, arsenic, cadmium, copper etc., etc., etc. a lot of years of bending solder with his teeth (while lying on his back, under houses) which streamlined the joining process. He breathed years and years of solder and welding smoke with insufficient ventilation. Thankfully a medical process called chelation put him right again.
When dwelling on the lead pipe danger issue, the author can’t help envisioning those long ago Roman lead workers, toiling with large pans of molten lead and the polluted smoke. It was a ‘negative’ to make as well as a negative to use.
ASTM-MUM (new Roman rating)
What the author finds interesting, most, is how did ‘they’ (Romans) figure out what pipe wall thickness could handle what volume and pressures. (And over what a period of time). In Photo 1 we see a cross section of an ancient Roman lead pipe. To Pete’s eye he’d say the wall thickness looks approximately equivalent to Schedule #80 (or a Heavy Duty Schedule #40), two of today’s most commonly specified values for piping in modern construction. The Romans used lead for both supply and drainage. Today’s construction industry’s lead worries are supply issues (existing lead/copper systems). It is when water is delivered in lead piping and then INGESTED that is the issue here. Showering with lead tainted water is not a palpable thought but much less worrisome than drinking it. Knowing how Epsom salts can affect his body, sit-down bathing in a tub with high lead concentrated water is something Pete would avoid if possible.
Keeping an eye (trying to) on the impetus for this article (new Federal efforts to eradicate lead potable water pipes) (Service Lines), it’s the ‘service’ portion of the water line that is our focus. This is piping that the Water Service provides/uses to take ‘their’ water to the connection point (meter, outside) with the customer’s Main Water Line. From that point it’s the customer’s responsibility to install and maintain water lines. As you will be reminded downstream the Feds are not offering help re-piping housing, which is/can be another source of ‘lead in potable water poisoning’. We are going to focus on the former, the ‘water service provided’ lead (service) plumbing. Why? Because that’s where the money is supposed to be spent. Replacing, replacing, replacing. (The costs of structural re-piping, for many homes makes it ‘out-of-the-question’.) (Read on for a remedy.)
Money Colors Everything
Would/does anyone ever wonder why lead pipe would still be chosen, for this span of ‘Augustus-to-us’ knowing the health risks? Since antiquity? We plumbers know why: Until very lately, until bendable ‘plastic’ piping was certified for use, plumbers either cut threads on rigid pipe and used ‘change-of-direction’ fittings, or they ‘bent to their need’, this (lead) already century-proven piping material. (Go around the tree. Go under the boulder.) If given a choice who of us wouldn’t want to take the less laborious route? Lead lasts a long time in a large range of aggressive soils. It can be bent and shaped. With soldering, any length of pipe (without mechanical couplings) clan be assembled. (Labor saving). But because we k n o w there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood, the battle remains, in progress. With modern materials the remaining (known) (9 million?) lead, in-service “service lines” can, thanks to the 117th finally start being retired and replaced. Hurrah! However, to rid our present housing stock of it’s lead transporting FWD drinking water piping (Fresh Water Distribution) the author fears is only going to progress as individual properties decay to the point at which they are condemned and re-built. (Another Agustus-to-us time span?). One foot in front of the other! Let’s take the money and get the “in ground” replacement done, behind us, like Augustus. Then the momentum might speed up getting it outta the FWD. (Our reward might also include more ‘Einstein’s’ per 100,000.)
The first Federal Drinking Water Standards were established in 1914. They were standards of
Bacteriological Water Quality. Finally, Congress in 1986 amended the 1974 Safe Water Drinking Act which then mandated that solders, fluxes and pipes were “Lead Free”. That term Lead-Free, at this point in time, a c t u a l l y meant solders AND f l u x e s contain no more than 0.2% lead. And, pipes, faucets and valves (tub & shower) were now limited to an 8.0% lead content. (California though lead the way (yes, pun) requiring these limits the year prior (1985). In 1991, the December 1970-EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) published a new edict, the: LCR rule (Lead and Copper Rule).*
*This rule was expressly focused on End Of Use Taps: fresh water faucet and valve spout - water in inhabited space. This rule coerced water suppliers to timely test the drinking water (usually annually) a n d if more than 10% of sites tested above 15pbb (yup, that’s billions) of lead a n d/o r 1.3ppm (per million) of copper, the system provider had to take actions to control corrosion [on their dime]. This term corrosion has a sinister handicap which will be illuminated below. Water Systems/Providers, besides chloramines, infuse other chemicals (Orthophosphates) into Supply, to coat the lining of their pipes, offering protection against various biological pests. But, the corrosion layer (rust) lining iron pipe (inside your house) absorbs chlorine, which then has insufficient time to kill bacteria. Too soon after infusion: Microbes party!
*The orthophosphates the Water System (water provider) introduces bond with lead to form a protective inner ‘coating’ on the walls of the piping. Depending upon the quality of water flowing through such lead pipe, this intentionally formed ‘coating’ of orthophosphates, does, to an acceptable degree, maintain a ‘potable’ rating. Safe for human consumption. Where trouble occurs is when waters are not benign, when waters are what is termed aggressive. This tag results when water contains (or is missing) any number of minerals and/or chemicals, which can prove injurious to the piping. It’s when aggressive waters flow through lead piping and reduce/destroy the introduced protective orthophosphate liner that creates the biggest health hazard. This is what happened to poor Flint, Michigan. A change in water suppliers, from a long time purveyor of quality product to a ‘discounted’ situation, for a poor product.
The ‘switched-to’ source water contained aggressive elements that not only ate away the protective orthophosphate layer in lead service lines, allowing for continuing leaching of lead, but the corrosion of iron pipe ‘inside-house-freshwater’ piping consumes/d the chlorine added by the Water Service to control bacteria such as Legionella. Poor Flint took a ‘two-punch’ to the head. A lot more lead and less protection from dangerous microbes.
Why the Corrosion?
A common cause for corrosion can be poor water quality. Aggressive waters attack metallic (iron) and copper water lines. Copper less so. (PEX, none). If you wanted/needed to do something now while waiting for Uncle Sam to put on his coveralls and get on with the job, you might consider a counter top filter or distiller. They are made to satisfy as few as one person per day all the way up to a whole family of seven. Just make sure your choice meets NSF Standards for removing lead. (A good thing about distillers is they also solve many more problems with micro organisms than filters.) You can call the National Safety Foundation International’s Consumer’s Affairs Office and ask if your possible choice made their list. 1 800 673 8010
KTP (Keep Their Promise)
It’s going to take some time before we know if the money and energies promised, come to pass. In the interval if your water quality worries you, you can get it tested, free. If you are worried enough about water quality that you already purchase bottled water, regularly, at COSTCO, y o u should be making it yourself with a distiller and not contributing to plastic pollution.
There are some aspects of the lead pipe chosen for FWS (Fresh Water Service) that PtP would like to elucidate. From elementary school many of us recall learning about the ancient Romans’ wide and enduring use of lead for the fashioning of water pipes. For the same reason it served the Romans it served Municipal Water Authorities through the Twentieth Century. If, found in that time, would you or the author have made any other demands for an alternative material? Why should we have? Lead was what had been/known for centuries, to be the easiest to install and the longest lived in-the-ground metal (economically speaking) available for municipalities to employ. If, in enlightened modern times, adding ‘modifiers’ neutralized the leach worry/question, why stop? In a way it was an amazing piping material for its time. Today we have no excuse for using it due to ‘plastics’ behemoth development, and availability (distribution).
Down the Drain
Thanks to all of the former battles of clean water movements and legislation, the lead-solder fight has been ‘put to bed’. The next ten to twenty years will present a scary number of challenges to our fresh water infrastructure. But, at least we can say, today: “We got the lead out of solder”. Now thanks to the 117th, society can finish the job and finally send lead service lines down the drain’, for keeps.
Flushing (No, not New York. Or your toilet)
For those readers who are concerned about the probability of their living with a lead Service Line (or know they are) OR copper/lead solder/flux assembled Fresh Water Distribution piping, or old high lead content brass faucets and valves, until your situation is physically remedied, flushing is your most effective option. Efficient filters, stills, and Reverse Osmosis options unfortunately are financially out of reach for the many folks who need them the most. For them ‘Flushing’ is their only option.
Because we are in the early stages of a ??? thousand year drought cycle this ‘lead’ question comes at the worst time. (I might get an argument from ancient Romans.) Here we’re supposed to be conserving water and now we’re being told to let the water….run? We need an answer.
First order of business: Try to find out IF you do indeed have a lead Service Line. Some cities and Water Providers have documentation. Many more don’t. Sometimes it requires expensive detection instrumentation to tell if a pipe, in the ground, is lead, or not. (The electronic gizmos to do that can look really neat….like some sort of Sci-Fi hand held weapon.) The lucky un-lucky can find or expose enough of their Service Line to physically determine (with a flat screwdriver or scraper) whether it is made of lead. O.K. Thanks to your scraper, we now know yours: lead. (Don’t panic.) ‘Let’s go further and see what your house piping is (Fresh Water Distribution). By doing some observations at various locations of your water system (maybe a little crawling). (Oh Me! In my brand new Carhartts): You have threaded galvanized with a shorter, newer, short copper section. Galv pipe and fittings have no external rust. Copper sweated fittings are joined with leaded solder, the dirty old ‘50/50’.
O.K. We know you have a lead Service; original threaded galvanized; mixed with lead-soldered copper. What about the faucets? Pre-1991? Yes? Served by a Water Service? Yes. Thank you. Looks like you have a case of worthy concerns. Estimates, by Public Health agencies, of flush times for a housing situation with above listed liabilities would probably be two minutes. So, we leave a faucet running for two minutes until we drink that water? What about laundry? No lead worries. Use/do early in the ‘awake cycle’. Taking a shower? No lead worries. Do at your leisure. Where and when in your awake cycle will you (and family) be drinking tap water? At lavatory basin, after brushing teeth?; in breakfast beverages? The Author’s suggestion would be to ‘use up’ (through appliances) as much as possible, the stagnant, overnight supply before beginning the ‘water contact’ of your awake cycle. That would include dishwashers along with clothes washers and water softeners.
Because of continued sophistication, some appliance manufacturers can offer appliances so specialized that the ‘possible buyer’ will have to brush up on their IT. That’s wonderful. But that won’t solve our challenge. The price tag is beyond the masses’ means. Tabletop distillers? Wonderful answer if one has the dinero. We should/need to be looking for ways to do the ‘best possible good’ for the largest population groupings, leaving the lightest ecological footprint. Until we reach that mark, socio-economically, a ‘best practice’ for the greater population, that costs $ are an issue, flushing is the one and only option for them. The general rule for flushing is do so after water has ‘stood’ (not moving) in the piping for more than 6 hours. (The present drought makes this an especially regretful exercise.) For drinking, we hear often “…. let it run for 60 seconds to 2 minutes.” Remember, this is for drinking. There is no need to flush tub and or shower lines for lead concerns. (Legionella is another matter). Morning showers and baths are a good way to flush the main line and branch lines, but the sinks (lav and kitchen) should be flushed as they are daily ‘brought on line’. It is accepted by health professionals that leaving a faucet run for 15 seconds rids the concern (temporarily—6 hours) of built up lead from the faucet/valves own composition. What about copper pipe soldered with leaded solder and flux serving that faucet? How much of your system is/might have been so joined? (It might pay you to do a little investigating.)
What the author is trying to do is raise a reader’s understanding that the piping bringing them their drinking water can be more than one type of pipe and has a possible health cost varying between materials used to make it. (There’s a long fought ‘battle’ still going on about health risks of some plastics and drinking water piped through it.)
If flushing is our only (present) option, then it would be wise to use established time frames for flushing particular components of the system. Since we are not concerned about the lead issue when bathing, a 5 minute shower with a 2.5 gallon per minute rated shower head draws off close to ten gallons from the system. (Best to perform this significant water use ritual first thing and rid the system of most of its holding capacity. Two 4 minute showers taken simultaneously will go a long way in ridding the system of most of its stored capacity.)
The Author confesses he is fixated with how terrible a time it is to be ‘wasting’ water with the West’s drought and at the same time recognizes a needed precaution to protect human health and development. In an attempt to save what water we can and still flush (what we need tool) efficiently, the author wants to share some facts.
A lavatory sink faucet with a questionable date (pre 1991) of manufacture (but with a known lead-safe supply) is recommended for a 15 second flush. It would be the same if you drank water from the kitchen sink faucet. A known/estimated length of high lead content (50/50) soldered copper pipe is another kettle of fish. Most faucets are served with ½-inch diameter piping. A 10 foot length of ½-in diameter pipe holds approximately 1 pint of water (1/8 gallon?). A new lavatory faucet in California has an aerator that passes 1.2 gallons per minute (GPM). A new CA approved kitchen sink faucet has an aerator that passes 1.8 GPM. To empty/replace the water in 10 ft. of ½-in. (most common) branch pipe, through an “approved” 1.2 GPM faucet (opened fully) will require approximately 15 seconds. Now if you are running this water to drink (cold…no?) you need only run the cold water. The hot side can be used in other scenarios without wasting it, unused, to drainage.
An uncomfortable fact is that not only lead service lines but galvanized iron/steel water lines are also a source of lead in drinking water. That’s actually b a d news. There are so many miles of the stuff in housing, everywhere, that to remove it would mean in some instances house demolition would be cheaper. The author cringes when contemplating not only the oily mess, but the time it took and the number of oily thread cuttings and dirty rags later, involved in that joining process. But until just recently his “comfort zone” about using the material was over the line in the positive column. Not so anymore. (If it were just threading a water line to the duck blind, for old farts like Pete, I’d give it a pass. But for the General Public I would be happy to see more PEX in its place.)
It’s a shame, but “it’s the water, dummy.” Your water quality really dictates which material is best used for the locale. I can remember when after sawing through 90 year old galvanized pipe in old homes in Berkeley, CA and being amazed at what great condition the pipe was in. No build up. No rust. Full wall thickness. In other parts of the State where I’d ‘crank it’ (galv) the terrible local water quality would eat it up in ten years.
The initial worry about ‘galv’ was/is the lead content in the zinc coating applied to it (hot, right after its extrusion) to specs: 0.5 (or less) % lead content. Research by Brandi N. Clark, Sheldon Vaughn Masters, and Marc A. Edward of the Environmental Science, Policy and Research Institute found that pipe installed from 1950 to 2008 had lead concentrations from “….non detectable up to 2%.” And a second worry was its success with local water quality. A newer concern is corrosion (‘rust’), Photo 2 & 2a, harboring lead (and at different flow rates ) the Pb could migrate. The corrosion also kills the chlorine added by the Utility/Supplier.
So, this can present a double loss: Lead Service Line feeding galvanized system which itself could be leaching lead. And then you throw in a little copper pipe (repair/remodel/addition) (50/50 or “lead free”) and you’ve upset the apple cart with galvanic reactions to the mix, ending with even more lead levels in the water. For mixed systems of modern times Pete cannot see a way out of our Pb predicament but to outlive the problem, with the use of filtration and distillation at end-user points. Municipally funded improvements are linked with property decay (and necessary private repair action). The author can visualize water demand/safety issues at some point in the future having the impact that Government 0%-interest loans for end-use filtration/distillation will be as common as those for solar additions.
As far as new installation the author sees PEX as the most logical choice. Not only do you ditch the corrosion and the lead threat but also the copper worries. The author dealt with PEX in his revised and expanded edition of Plumbing A House. You will see there, though Pete had his own ideas on ‘terminations’.
With the presently available “Press” copper fitting/crimping system (which uses standardized copper tube) and PEX, options to ditch-the-lead in Private Development are here. PEX (no piping) cannot protect you from your private/municipal water utility that flubs up the chemistry, though. It does happen. But PEX d o e s eliminate the lead/copper concerns. (Besides energy and water savings due to efficiency gains.)
Counters (not accountants/bookkeepers). Kitchen counters. Discussion of that topic is often a quagmire for any more than one-person households. The author has had more than his share of EB (embarrassed bystander) moments when discussing (anything to do with) kitchen counters, with clients who were a couple. In this question of whether to employ filtration, distillation or R/O (reverse osmosis), besides costs, c o u n t e r s p a c e and to a lesser degree, under-counter space is going to be a major consideration in choosing purifying appliances. Because the author was once a college grunt assistant to a professor fine tuning s o l a r stills for developing countries, the grunt has a ‘soft spot’ for distillers. Of course they tend to be the bulkiest and biggest challenger for countertop space. Pete the Plumber worked on distillers that looked like something right outta Boris Karloff and/or Vincent Price horror movie sets. But today they are as sleek as high end Italian fashion. No more excuse for embarrassment.
The cutting edge countertop filter designs are also available chic. No more excuses there, either. Unless it’s purchase price. But to just attempt a remedy for existing infrastructure’s needs, there’s enough room for a market, and costs will come down.
The Reader can see why ‘under counter’ and ‘countertop’ water purification appliances appeal to those who want to save water, opposed to those who choose to “let it run” in the flush mode. For the ‘savers’, after Initial investment it was then peace-of-mind. There are also “whole house” filters (which usually require installation by experts) that are designed to remove lead…and more. As the Western States drought continues we ‘bystanders’ will be experiencing more upon more requests for conserving. Pete believes he’ll also see the return of a ‘bootleg’ specialized under-sink drainage fitting that allows/allowed the user to select where to send the drainage. Down the Sanitary System or…”where waz you think’n?” The laundry.
The Romans knew not of Ballcocks. Their waste piping ran 24/7. Most citizens were not aware of the dangers of lead. Plates, bowls, and drinking vessels of the time were also made of lead. The author believes he remembers lead “squeeze tube” toothpaste and mendicants of various stripes in his childhood. Lead had a good, long run. But the author doth have another confession: he badly misses his bread loaf-sized brick of solid lead. It was the BEST under surface for the hand punching of many materials, foremost leather; soft plastics; soft sheet metals, paper, and e s p e c I a l l y gasket paper/materials. “Somewhere laid it down…
In closing Pete would like to say that he hopes the action taken by the 117th will result in totally lead free Service Lines, for all…even if it does take a while. But it won’t happen if we don’t ‘come together on this’ and play ball.
Until Next Time…
The author just learned in a Water Online e-mail (www.wateronline.com/doc/newark-completes-lead-service-line-replacement-program-0001) that the City of Newark, New Jersey, has completed its Lead Service Line Replacement Program (LSLRP) replacing 24,000 lead Service Lines in just 3 years, seven years ahead of original schedule, thanks to the 117th legislature’s funding.
If ‘Jersey’ can do it, why can’t the rest of us?
Pete the Plumber would like to leave the following links to two short articles he believes the General Public would find enjoyably enlightening…
Link 1: A Brief History of Lead in Water Supplies
The author wanted to call to his readers’ attention this article from Fluence Corporation on the
history of lead in drinking water. It is well written and especially geared for the general public.
Link 2: Chlorine vs. Chloramines: What's the Difference?
The author has used the names chlorine and chloramines in this article. To the layperson this might create some confusion. The link below is a very good explanation for the learner.
Sorry for the long absence. My excuse? The author evacuated his residence because of the Monument Fire, still burning, in Northwestern California. Pete went to his daughter’s house, 150 miles away, and to the south. She (Kelly) promptly assigned me to more house painting (with Dad’s full approval). When the painting project was completed (and Grampa realizing how well-kept Kelly was keeping him, fully pampered, with all of his exotic/extravagant meal preferences, the author thought it a good time to take his leave.) (After first checking with a fellow tenant back in Hay Fork).
When first back home, things were still a little ‘dicey’ but not near as much ‘perceived’ danger as that which had driven the author out, the first time. Well, for awhile all went well. Then it didn’t. Because of high winds (blowing in the wrong direction) and topography, ‘The Monitor’ came marching back; and then, even further. A nervous Pete called his neighbor for the latest. Ginnie told him: “My son is the Fire Chief, Peter. When he tells me ‘It’s time’, I’ll tell you right away.”
Knowing he now had an ‘inside track’ Pete could relax, somewhat. For a while. But, as wild fires are known to do, they sometimes “Go Rogue” and behave badly, in new ways the fire fighters have no previous experience with.
Things were not ‘going our way’ for Hay Fork Valley. Eventually the fire blazed within a couple hundred feet from the author’s front door. No word from Ginnie? No worry. Pete also found a great comfort from hearing the overhead, daily, window-shaking, booming, ‘thud-thud-thud’ of big helicopters (full of water) and sometimes accompanied with the baritone roar of fixed-wing aqua-bombers’. A shame Pete wasn’t a photographer. I counted rivets.
Things are now resembling ‘normal’, again. Two days of light rains have produced deep blue skies with silver, puffy clouds. All evacuation orders regarding my neighborhood have been rescinded. The old plumber during this stressful time had been thinkin’ about ‘making the best of’ his predicament: Was there a lesson in ‘there’ that would benefit others? Well, Pete d i d see a very important, modern I i f e s t y l e “pillar” possibly threatened in the near future. He thought it worth taking a closer look and share a concern that appears to be only on the author’s radar.
More Straight Poop: The Cruelest Inconvenience
Pete has focused in this post on the threat to what he sees as the Number One ‘pillar’ of our ‘take-for-granted’ hygienic lifestyle (flushing toilets) and the odds that through continuing weather disasters (drought, hurricanes, tornado’s, wild fires, ice storms, cyber war?, (not to mention earthquakes) that we might be looking to the i n c o n c e i v a b l e: a time in the near future when we can no longer take them for granted?
Our modern sanitary waste systems have two (2) requisites: copious water supply and electrical power (under our full control). Several natural disasters of late have shown us how quickly we can lose control. The entire state of Texas found itself with electrical grid failure in the midst of freezing temps. Plus, water systems frozen solid. Also, an alarming number of towns and cities in the drought stricken west are seeing their wells and reservoirs go dry. Hurricanes and tornados are capable of ripping up and destroying expensive infrastructure (like waste treatment plants). This is not an out-of-the-question possibility in some of the more historically trashed (‘prone’) States. Texas to New York. The biggest threat Pete sees is a cyber attack by a Vladimir Putin or wanna-be; but of these, any could spell trouble for convenient pooping, the benchmark of American hygiene.
Toilets flush when they are supplied with water via electrical energy (think pumps and motors). What are the odds we are going to be faced in the near future with a situation that temporarily renders our toilets ‘off line’? Yes, you can flush a toilet with a bucket IF your water supply remains intact. No water supply: deep doo-doo. Sending expensive bottled water down will not be a viable option as Texans discovered.
Just as inhabitants of actively seismic communities are liable to have in place a developed ‘10 Day Plan’ of necessary emergency stores for surviving ‘The Big One’, or a once-in-a-hundred-storm, the author believes the era when we should have such plans for the possible interruption of waste treatment facilities is here, now. As mentioned the biggest threat is cyber but climate change is closing in on the gap, and regardless of the cause, the same preparedness routine will help you tremendously see yourself through a limited period of inconvenience.
Humans have always chosen water (when possible) to rid themselves of their biological wastes. Why? Water performs a lot of work.*
*The author was a terrible munchkin. As an eight year old at his family’s Trinity River placer mine he and his older brother Mickey (10) would squat down in swift water, three hundred feet upstream of the placid emerald pool his little sister and two little brothers were swimming and wading in and ‘sank submarines.’ After three to five minutes there’d be a screaming.
Thanks to its weight and thanks to gravity we humans have taken advantage of water since day one. When we have not this functioning arrangement, something/someone else’s labor has to do it for us. We’ve all seen or heard about a septic service contractor’s truck with a sign: “It May Be Shit To You…But It’s My Bread And Butter.” That sewage is being moved not by water but by diesel and rubber, and very expensively. That is not an economical model for city and metropolis. The amount (volume) of waste involving a city adds up fast. Editor Mindy Weisberger at Live Science reminds us that the average adult produces almost a pound (14 ounces) of poop a day. In fact almost 90 percent of treated sewage is returned directly to an ocean, lake or river. If all of a sudden (for any reason) you had to endure a week or more with no flush toilet, how would y o u collect, store and safely dispose of your waste? You’ve never been asked to figure that out. We take for granted SO much. The author here wants to share some of his Straight Poop (photo) recommendations, for answering that question.
Y’all a Family of One?…How Many?
Are you a family with young children? If so there’s more reason for a plan. How would the ‘of-late potty trained’ deal with an interruption (no matter how temporarily) of ‘the only means they know’? A good many teenagers a n d adults might also find themselves at a very uncomfortable disadvantage, for any number of psychological reasons. Ask any therapist/psychologist just how prevalent are the public’s concerns and ‘hang-up’s’ about bodily functions, e s p e c I a l l y pooping. Can you recall the least preferable choices women list for places to perform their toilet: restaurants, malls and bars. How many shops have signs posted: No Public Restrooms? How many times have you ever bought gas on a trip because you wanted their key to their restroom?
What if y o u had to say to your household: “I’m sorry family, but the toilets will be out of commission for what looks like to be a little while. But don’t concern yourselves, I got you 5-gallon buckets.” (Photo 1, below) You wouldn’t be very popular. Pete the Plumber though thinks everyone “past a certain age” should be schooled in an emergency, basic ‘poop drill’. When/if that terrible day or weeks of “no flush toilets until further notice” arrives, those who prepare will face far less stress and anxiety if/when such actions are called for. As our President would say: “It’s a BFD! Nothing would demoralize a major big city, or the Nation, more than an interruption of a citizenry’s e s t a b l i s h e d routine. Regardless of cause. It’s also a cataclysm on few radars…
The author would like to show you some examples of ‘Get By’ solutions to your pooping needs if/when you are ever faced with the Cruelest Inconvenience.
Photo’s 1 through 6 are means, from crudest to kindest, that are available to substitute for a temporary loss of flush toilets. What to do with your poop is also of grave concern. In the event of a major city or metro area ever suffering loss of treatment facility operations, Public Safety agencies will have to establish “drop-off’ locations and hopefully for no longer than necessary we will once again smell a signature aroma of human establishment (in the U.S.) not detected for two hundred years or more.
For those fortunate to have a basement or back yard the author highly suggests including an inexpensive privacy tent. That is especially important for children. (Photo 7)
Power To The Pee-ple
Now, an announcement about something new (manufactured) that will be very helpful to the world. Pete titled this shout-out: Power To The Pee-ple.
In an upstream blog article, maybe a year or two ago, the author introduced his readers to MFC’s (microbial fuel cells). In that article Pete explored the possible application of MFC equipment at each individual living unit to treat total amounts of liquid and solid wastes, and generate electricity simultaneously. No. Unfortunately we’re ‘not there yet’. However, two smart researchers led by Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo (Photo 8) have given us a functioning pee (urine) powered MFC. And, a Japanese firm (Photo 9) is marketing the first commercial Pee Batteries. It’s a baby first step, but nonetheless a forward step.
The following links are to articles the author found very informative yet still a joy to read:
1) Almost half a million U.S. households lack indoor plumbing: “The conditions are inhumane” - The Guardian
2) Pee Power! | University of Bath – 50th Anniversary
3) Researchers turn urine into a sustainable power source for powering electronic devices
4) Reinventing the Toilet | Global Grand Challenges
5) Smaller, Cheaper Microbial Fuel Cells Turn Urine into Electricity
A Few Poop Facts
Well, with the posting of this blog, PtP gets time away on a mega sewing project which will be full joy. Sometime in the next article (which deals with peeing) will/maybe see if Pete has anything new to add. (Sorta like the old waiting-for-baby clips of filmdom past).
In Pete’s bailiwick fall has arrived. The ‘nip’ is now most of the day. It always feels good after a long absence. For homeowners it’s a ‘last chance’ not to be at chance. Fall/winter weather-prep saves dollars, and anguish.
Well Dear Readers,
Yours truly does not expect to be gifted any ‘plumbing industry’ inside-knowledge of possible new products in the pipeline, anytime soon. But if he spies something worth your reading time he’ll snag it and forward it.
Oh How Blessed to be retired at the pinnacle of this country’s prominence. Everything is working, to a point. Later generations will never know the doctor/patient ratio’s the author has appreciated and enjoyed. He does want to have some surgical improvements performed but the Pandemic has rendered moot, for now, those hopes. Not that he is a couch potato, he still walks two miles to village, daily, for meal prep and mail.
Until something pops up, Pete hopes your toilet’s fill and flush valves are amply served by copious amounts of safe water.
Hello Readers of ‘The Pipe’,
It’s that time again. Another volley of personal perspective. As we here in North America are about to enter another summer (and growing season) it’s evident we do so (in some regions) with frighteningly low levels of stored water, both in the ground and in lakes and reservoirs. The author has been reading that in the middle and western states this summer and fall, severe water use restrictions can be expected, as a result. (PtP can recall the 1970-‘77 California drought where at the worst stage, residents of the City of San Rafael received as much as a $50.00 fine for as little as one too many toilet flushes.) And, how many readers remember “The yellow’s mellow but the brown goes down”, or “Share the water, shower with your neighbors”?
Well, now PtP believes it’s very possible a sizable number of us Sunbelters are, in the near future, going to revisit some of these strapped conditions. Yes, it’s scary, in more ways than one. (The author lives deep in an already stressed fire-prone forest.) How bad can it get? Only time will tell. But in this blogpost the author will revisit some of the standard water saving precautions we tend to forget or overlook in plentiful water times but may now, again, be worth paying attention to.
There are four consistent trouble makers when it comes to the most common causes for water waste involving residences. Pete likes to think of them as The Four Whales. This post will not be a repair tutorial but rather a maintenance preparedness reference for a possible Western/Mid-Western mega-drought.
1st Whale: Thirsty Mechanical Servants
Pete the Plumber’s long time good friend, Berkeley professor C. McGee, once had a fridge/freezer that should have been retired a generation previous to its demise, but the old Scot just couldn’t bring himself to chuck it and buy a new one. This went on for years until finally he was finding his chilling martini glasses totally entombed in ice. After PtP’s constant chiding (and ice chipping) the Perfesser relented and replaced the old servant with an efficient new refrigerator/freezer. (He learned from the appliance store that his old fridge/freezer had six motors which when new, the electricity to run them was cheap.) (The ‘Perfesser’s’ electricity (aside his drinking water) was also sourced from hydro-power, hundreds of miles away, part of the biggest plumbing system on the planet.
It was the same with his automatic washing machine. I think Eisenhower was President when it was made. A rivulet of water ran out from under it every time it ran. Conveniently a floor drain was feet away. When the rivulet eventually became a horse piss the old Scot’s disdain to spend was drowned into action. A a new mechanical servant was installed. (After a rather short interim (two utility’s billing cycles) later the Perfesser was bragging that between the savings over the old fridge/freezers electric bills and the water and power savings over his old washing machine, he was ‘ahead’ twenty-five dollars a month.
So, (the lesson) if you have been thinking (dreaming) of replacing some long serving water and/or power hungry appliance (fridge/freezer, dishwasher, or washing machine), according to meteorological science reports it appears there would be no better time than now to do it. *Also, if your dwelling is served by a water utility, you should check with them for any number of money saving incentives they may have on offer. Pete the Plumber has saved many of his clients considerable sums by recommending that action. If ‘things’ (drought effects) do get really ‘dicey’ again, fees are going to climb sharply to possibly astronomical. Any such incentive programs acted upon will have proved prescient. Don’t lose out.
Timing and the 2nd Whale: Bathing
Just as the public has been informed through community service media that we can save on our electric bill by timing our washing machine and dishwasher use to ‘off’ hours, time and water play another part in our rhythmical hygienic habit: bathing. Be honest now. Who hasn’t fallen back into long showers and/or deep soaks since the last time we were asked to drastically reduce our water usage?
The time it takes automatic appliances to go through their various cycles, is, automatically programmed. Even though our present, possible decadent bathing practice (2nd Whale) may seem ‘automatic’ to us, we are the programmer. We may discover here in the future just how much monetary expense we will endure to enjoy our presently unregulated bathing habit.
At the State Park we may insert several dollars of quarters in the slot to take a hot shower of the shortest ‘acceptable’ duration. In a worse case scenario we could see comparable pricing (or worse) at home, on our monthly utility statement.
May the author make a suggestion? (Too bad if you disagree). ‘Things’ can have a way of becoming pretty irritating to us in our daily activities, but one thing that is almost universal: a good hot bath or hot shower goes a long way reversing it. Though yours truly wasn’t in the military service (Boy Scouts doesn’t quite cut it) he wishes to mention/introduce a military term: G.I. Shower. You have probably heard the term and already understand the concept. (But PtP doesn’t want to lose any stragglers.) The G.I. Shower equates to a: quick, military version of a low water use bathing method, via a timing.
This method means shower water running in short segments, with it turned off in between, while the bather lathers. Then the water is resumed to rinse down the body. This timing cycle: water on/water off (in military scenarios) serves two purposes. One, is to reinforce the concept of efficient use of ‘supplies’, and the military’s other intent (of course) is torture: to ‘viscerally’ remind the bather who’s the boss.
PtP wants to tell you in the next paragraph about a little piece of plumbing hardware (which has been around for decades) that can remove any semblance of torture for conscientious civilians (sand crabs?) wanting/needing to take ‘action’ to combat the ‘tyranny’ of severe water restrictions, which could interfere with their personal desires involving the cleaning and maintenance of their bodies.
Mounting the Flow
With the incorporation of a flow control valve (Photo 1) on your shower arm, upstream of the shower head, lucky civilians can learn to enjoy an actual civilized version of the G.I. shower (with the superior to G.I. bath fittings in most homes). This routine will come in handy when ‘things’ get ‘dicey’. Because of the flow control valves ability to abruptly stop and then let go of a pre-determined temperature and volume of water, there’s a huge savings by two measures. Read on to find out how and why.
Most tub and shower valves manufactured at this writing are now single handle designs. The reason for this is scald safety. The long used two handle shower valve was cause for many tragic burns, usually involving children’s use of the plumbing and to a lesser degree tragic burns to adults from using an unfamiliar shower valve which was improperly installed (hot and cold piping were switched.) States like California (usually first at everything) finally put their foot down and mandated no more unregulated two handle and single handle shower valves. After a certain date a l l shower valves sold in the State had to be temperature compensated so that a bather, by his/her actions or due to a negligent plumber could not scald themselves when using the shower.
A two handle shower valve can be temperature regulated by plumbing in an additional temperature control device. The added cost of the extra device and the plumber’s labor time to install it makes this an unappealing choice for most consumers. Manufacturers found the simplest fix was to modify a single handle valve to attain the goal of scald-safe.
The internal mechanics of a scald safe valve means (except for one version mentioned downstream) the valve first begins sending only cold water. The hot water is added as the flow is increased, awaiting “The Three Bears” ‘just right’ point. As you go from cold to the hot in the “just right” direction, the flow also increases.
Many bathers using single handle scald safe shower valves (without the addition of a flow control valve) never find the “just right” combination of flow rate and temperature that they most desire.) See: Slight Detour, downstream.
With scald safe valves there is no way anyone can make hot come out first (like one could do with the ‘old style’ two or ‘old style’ unregulated single handle valve). An ability to turn on the hot water first is what caused so many scalds over the years.
‘High end’ models of some scald safe tub/shower valves are offered in a pre-temp version where the bather selects the desired temperature prior to turning on the valve. The price there-of is reflective.
The ‘G.I.’ Made Easy
And Mostly Painless
Having to re-adjust both temperature and flow rate each time one turned off a two-handle shower valve in order to conserve water, and perform a ‘G.I.’, the author believes was an imposing force of resistance to doing the routine. But, with the inclusion of the flow control valve on the shower arm, it’s an all new ballgame.
With a flow control valve (Photo 1, above) on the shower arm, we have the luxury of maintaining the temperature and flow the bather first selected, and, return immediately the same with each ‘on-and-off’. This allows (with a quality shower head) for a surprisingly degree of ‘pleasant enough acceptance’ for a more water saving bathing routine if and when it becomes mandatory.
A Slight Detour
The author lives in an apartment blessed with a spacious bathroom and spacious shower with a non-pre-select temp, scald-safe single handle shower valve. Because PtP likes things hot, to attain his desired temperature for a shower the valve will also have to be operating at near full volume. Now you might find this a bit odd but Pete prefers his hot water delivered from his shower head at a somewhat reduced (wimpy?) flow rate. Without the added flow control valve Pete would be out of luck. To get his desired temp he would have no control over how much force the valve produced. The flow control valve lets the scald safe valve operate normally to attain desired temperature and at the same time also lets the bather select the flow rate of that “just right” shower water. Not only that, but by leaving the knob on the flow control valve where he found his “just right”, he saves water with each shower by not having to “search” for his/her “just right” with the water running (with or without the neighbors).
The author admits that he likes nothing better than lying in his antique, 6’, legged cast iron tub, out on his deck (up to his chin) in 104 degree heaven, on a starry night, soaking with Ms.Piggy Bubble Bath in water that’s derived from his free-flow spring— for free.
Our first whale of a cause for high bills of water and energy, just discussed upstream, was out dated washing machines. Our Second Whale was bathing (our choice of shower habits). Our third whale cause for high usage and high bills is our toilets. A running toilet can easily go through 30,000 or more gallons of water a week. If things were to get drought ‘dicey’, at those volumes, someone’s most basic bodily function might have to function in a less than convenient place. (As a touring cyclist PtP learned first hand what a convenience a BM was on a manufactured fixture in a private setting.)
Toilets tend to leak large volumes of water in two places. Either the fill valve (Photos 2 & 2a) does not shut fully off and the tank over fills, and the excess flow, through a connected poly Fill Tube, goes over to and down the Flush valve’s Over-flow Tube (Photos 3, 3a & 3b), sending potentially thousands of gallons of fresh, drinking water, very slowly and silently down the MBD (Main Building Drain). The cost of that wasted (and soon to be precious) water at severe drought pricing would be prohibitive.
The second common water loss is a leak at the tank flush valve (Photo 4). At the time PtP first buckled on his tool belt there were several unique designs of flush valves commonly found in his district. Today, what’s called generically a flapper design (Photo 4 ) is industry-wide, the most common. Because of its shape, plumbers often referred to them as pancakes (Photo 4a). Over the years, other competing designs found some favor, one of them the tilt-back.
One of the major competing designs that did take hold that the author favored for its simple/dependable operation, was the ‘tilt-back’ introduced by American Standard. (Photo 5) The author appreciated this design because he could manipulate the ‘timing’ of the flush by adding/subtracting tiny weights. (Out of his tackle box).
PtP in his earliest tutorials (The Straight Poop—A Plumber’s Tattler) wrote Chapters such as: “Hot Rod Your Toilet Tank”. Those were different times, both culturally and state of the environment. He would not suggest you follow those instructions, today. Manufacturers have stepped up to their obligations to society, so to speak. You can find very efficient toilet choices today.
*PtP was once admitted to an exclusive, experimentally focused medical clinic which happened to have terribly performing toilets. As a bribe, he wrote the manufacturer of one design of high performance/efficient toilet and offered to write a magazine article for the most elite publisher of the ‘enlightened builder’ genre, IF they would donate toilets to the clinic. When Pete wasn’t being treated, he was busy installing toilets.
Regardless of the design of flush valve you might encounter, the sealing of the water in the tank is accomplished through the use of rubber type material, formed into preferred shapes for the valves seat (Photo 6). Rubber type compounds do break down over time, in water, and need to be replaced.
Regardless of the shape of the flapper and the seat in the base of the flush valve, when the rubber type compound of the flapper (or ball) deteriorates far enough, leakage begins. In almost all cases the leakage is silent and only by billing shock is one alerted to ‘something’ being ‘wrong’. Thankfully, most all of the different ‘flappers’ are economically priced.
Over many years PtP discovered that the flapper (pancake) one manufacturer shipped with its toilet sometimes worked on other brands of toilet, also. He had a large collection on his plumbing truck to experiment with.
Most municipal water utilities will happily send you via the Post, free, upon request, some potent, brightly colored die tablets to help you determine if you have a flush or a fill valve leak. These tablets are dropped (gloved hands?) into the tank and, in time (minutes) if the water in the bowl turns that color, you know the flush valves flapper needs replacement, or a seal in the Fill Valve has failed and is letting excess water into the Fill Tube of the Flush Valve. If that is the case the seal needs replacement. (Depending upon the age of the toilet (and a worst case), replacement of the flush valve itself might be required if a new pancake/flapper cannot prevent at leak at the Flush Valve seat.)
Replacing a flush valve itself can be a time consuming procedure but a motivated layperson is capable of doing it using my other books: “Installing And Repairing Plumbing Fixtures” and “The Straight Poop”, available at used book sources. The Straight Poop can also now be downloaded for free on the Net.
The last common source discussed for slow, silent leaks are automatic valves incorporated into irrigation systems. If you have automatic irrigation systems which are maintained by professionals there is little worry about faulty valves. But if it’s your responsibility, it’s worth walking the turf occasionally with an eye not just for dandelions but also soggy spots (especially near and around the valves). If it does soon get ‘dicey’ (severe drought) water pricing will take care of the dandelions (and probably/maybe even your lawn, or plantings) but you won’t want to be pissing away the then precious commodity in a futile attempt or paying an exorbitant water bill (if they let you). Perhaps the situation (this? time) merits a professional’s attention?
There are other common leak sources and ‘situations’ that can affect your water bills but the topics we’ve discussed are the most prevalent ones and those easily diagnosed by the dweller of the property involved. Even if you don’t find yourself so impacted, in casual communications with those in your ‘bubbles’ you may be able to offer some valuable hints on the subject everyone will be talking about, and…help someone else?
*In the 1970’s drought in California a particular ugliness arose (that wasn’t plant growth). PtP has empathy for those who by nature are green thumbs and maybe ‘don’t feel really alive’ unless they are caring for their gardens. (Pete’s first ‘outside of home responsibilities’ job was a Gardener’s grunt.) In California’s 70’s drought there happened to be a high concentration of “one-percenters” in the area, served by PtP’s water utility. These individuals did not care how much dinero it cost to maintain their 40+ acres of urban, manicured tropical forests and grounds.
When the pain level of the general public (having to let their landscaping die) started spilling over into the ‘overflow tube’, there were bills introduced to allocate water (a specified amount) per person NOT by account numbers. It got bitter. I hope we don’t have to witness that once more.
Ace In The Hole
Hopefully this summer and growing season will come and go with little suspense and the sky will stay put and we’ll again soon be thinking about ski and boot rentals. PtP (nevertheless) plans on getting off his “gasoline plantation” forest homestead for the duration, just in case—harvesting oysters and razor clams in Puget Sound (knee-deep in fire-proof H2O!).
When It’s ‘That’ Time Again,
Me wonders if in these COVID times whether the ‘shelter-in-place’ orders might be sending some of the ‘bored’ to areas of the WEB they’d not otherwise likely be going, like stumbling into ‘The Pipe’. For those of late who have been purchasing The PEX Edition of Plumbing A House (in spite of these pinched times), not to mention these most turbulent times, the author would like to thank and commend you.”
On A Roll
One reality very pertinent to our present circumstance is the public’s penchant to wiping out the shelves of toilet paper at their favorite outlets, once again. A good example of our ‘Freudian angst’ with an unmitigable function of human physiology? (Caveat: Pete the Plumber was recently seen with an armload himself at Wiley’s, his local market.)
Toilet paper was a topic yours truly covered in some depth (Plan B) in a late post. Pete has long believed that should a mega seismic event or electrical grid collapse ever render a large metropolitan area’s infrastructure a lethal blow, loss of waste treatment facilities would be almost as debilitating as loss of drinking water availability. (You would then find the ubiquitous 5 gallon bucket as rare as the missing TP roll.)
When PtP lived in Northern California’s East Bay for over 20 years, the knowledge that his drinking water traveled hundreds of miles and at one point very far away, through two, 100 plus year old, hand lain brick tunnels, crossing a major earthquake fault, was something that he would be thinking about as he dozed off to sleep.
This present post is not going to revisit the TP quandary. But it is focusing on a subject that is intimately entwined with waste water treatment and TP: toilets. And, in this particular instance, a modern toilet design that is fast gaining a major niche with new and remodel architects and designers: the “inside-the-wall” (hidden reservoir) wall hung toilet known as Concealed Cistern Wall Hung (CCWH) (Photos 1, 2, 3, & 4). Because of their growing popularity the author figured this newer design was a timely subject to discuss. And/but there are a number of angles (issues) about this tank inside the wall wall-hung toilet that the author feels should be aired for the benefit of anyone who might consider incorporating one in a ‘new build’ or a remodel.
In the past ‘good old days’ wall hung toilets were not that common to residential construction. Most folks encountered them in commercial office buildings, medical facilities, and maybe an occasional gas station or movie theater. These designs required ample space for their bulk. The flushometer supplied models (Photo 5) were ubiquitous. In the ‘way past’ PtP did install some in private homes. These occasions were for architects who had designed their own new homes and for clients with physical conditions that lent custom height toilet bowls an expensive imperative in a remodel. The wall hung toilets for these residential installations eschewed flushometers (for several reasons) and instead employed two-piece, ‘close coupled’ tank-to-bowl designs similar to (Photo 6).
The design requirements to create a bowl which ‘hangs’ on the wall versus ‘sets’ (rests) on the floor (and which can support up to several hundred pound human bodies) mean that a lot more clay went into making the wall hung design. A lot more clay meant considerably more weight. To securely hold this heavy vitreous ware bowl to the wall requires/d a sophisticated ‘rack’ or ‘hanger’ if you will, called a carrier. The carrier in most cases is made of sturdy cast iron pieces which are bolted together and secured in position inside the wall. These carriers differ for wall type (wood stud or masonry) and brand of toilet manufacturer. The toilet manufacturer usually does not make the carrier too, but chooses one manufactured by one of several long established foundries serving the plumbing trade. Photo 7 is a carrier used with wood stud wall construction. Carriers used mainly for masonry walls are bulkier and more time consuming to install (Photo 8).
PtP lobbied residential builders who wanted to employ one of these common wall hung toilets to frame the wall with a minimum 2x8 stud and preferably in 2x10. Even with 2x8’s the author recommended that several stud bays either side of the toilet be ¾ plywood with rock over. As a plumber, the author on too many occasions witnessed installations which were prone to leaking due to wall movement (flex) supporting a body during use. In one instance he recalls a leak service call to a home which had wall hung toilets (2) which were ‘back to back’ (in two separated bathrooms). A user of one toilet would feel a definite ‘bump’ and lift when a person in the other bathroom sat down on that bowl. A mini teeter-totter it was. The reason: two, heavy, elongated 2-piece tank-to-bowl wall hung toilets hung on a common, unreinforced 2x6 wall.
In the author's opinion, most architects and designers give the bathroom short shrift when allocating square footage in their floor plans. (Me knows it’s prejudice on my part.) Well, this issue of square footage (the less of) Pete recognizes as a big driver for the newfound embrace of the tank inside the wall wall hung toilet: Concealed Cistern Wall Hung (CCWH). Most residential bathroom space is too small. The conventional two-piece, close coupled tank-to-bowl set on floor toilet in many marginally sized bathrooms ‘hogs’ an unacceptable amount of the available space. Many times in these situations door swing can also be a difficult facet of the design to accommodate. The author believes this issue of less than optimum space is the biggest reason to consider employing a (CCWH tank inside the wall wall hung toilet (other than ease of maintaining cleanliness of the toilet and surrounding floor area). By eliminating the bulk (physical dimensions) of the tank from a toilet (whether it be wall hung or set on floor), as much as 9 to 10 inches can be “shaved” from the ‘from-wall-to-nose-of-bowl’ distance. Nine to ten inches doesn’t sound like much? When it comes to door swing and passage concerns it can make or break the feasibility of a potential or added bathroom.
A New Pallet
A traditional facsimile (Photo 6, above) for a two-piece close coupled wall hung toilet you might have encountered in the traditional American home of past decades is now being out competed by the CCWH (Photos 1, 2, 3 & 4 above). The space saving aspects of this design however can also be secondary to designers without square footage constraints. For them it’s an enhanced design opportunity. (‘Wall treatments rule’.) Designers can select an almost unlimited choice of color and texture for a space previously limited to merely a few different colors of vitreous. The last four photos illustrate this. (This newfound freedom of texture choice though can sometimes present a challenge to the Finish Plumber.)
What A Rack
The traditional wall hung (Photos 5 & 6 above) and the new on the scene CCWH don’t simply defy gravity to remain in place. The CCWH too utilizes a carrier. But due to the smaller size of bowl (and the less weight) the ‘rack’ (carriers) for the CCWH need no longer be a heavy (cast iron) ‘one-of-only-a-few-kinds’ of assembly. The carriers for the CCWH are manufactured from standardized mass produced steel square tube, usually ‘powder coated’ to resist corrosion. (Examples downstream). There are incorporated into each brand’s design of carrier, a few customized plastic brackets and tubular pieces which lend themselves perfectly suited to the economical, current expertise of the plastics industry’s mass production capabilities. Because of the many different CCWH bowl shapes found today, the toilet’s manufacturer markets the carrier also, as proprietary, and a ‘package deal’.
What the foundries produced in the form of cast iron carriers for traditional wall hung toilet designs, those for CCWH are also a fraction of the weight. However, to accomplish both the support of a plastic tank (cistern) a n d hold a toilet bowl firmly on the finish wall, our new found friend is a much lighter but a physically more expansive (much taller) shape (the extra height means more leverage = strength.) So, thin wall steel material may be employed which is many times over cheaper to manufacture than the older, cast iron carrier designs. As mentioned, each CCWH carrier is proprietary to the manufacturer of the toilet. No mixing and matching.
Assembling and installing the CCWH carrier (regardless of manufacturer) is vastly quicker and a joy in comparison to installing its cast iron brethren. The framing schematic (Photo 9) for one particular brand of CCWH is quite straightforward. Some others may ask for dado’s for blocking. And most framing options incorporate double studs. With accurate execution of the plan the carrier fits, and quickly. Big improvement over yesteryear’s cast iron pals.
Over the years PTP met a lot of frustration because of the way a bathroom and/or kitchen was framed. Maybe a strong structure, but much more troublesome to plumb. Upon encountering such conditions on a job the anguish was never less. As a result (the author confesses) ‘there was a chance’ PtP ‘cried in his beer’ to his fellow tradesmen. A good friend, Charles Miller (at the time Senior Editor of Fine Homebuilding Magazine) one day said to the author: “Pete, make your case. That would make a great article for the magazine.” The author did just that. The Publisher titled it: “Framing with the Plumber In Mind.”
It’s a common occurrence of making living space that plumbers need to remove framing members dutifully installed by the builder that are in the wrong ‘orientation’ for the plumber to be able to install his necessary piping. The author always felt a pang of guilt when this occurred because he either had to ask the builder to alter their work or make the necessary changes, himself.
Also, it was always the case of: whose job is/was it to do what reframing should/could be done to re-strengthen a structure after a plumber removed ‘just enough’ to complete his/her work? (Yours truly always offered his services when materials were provided and if it was within his skill set.) As mentioned, in the case of framing for a CCWH toilet, the carriers are proprietary to the fixture manufacturer, a reversal of the ‘good old days’. Because of this proprietary to vitreous manufacturer, the builder framing from an ‘Approved’ set of plans ‘better/will/should’ know what brand of CCWH is spec’d for the job, and frame accordingly.
Now if someone wanted to pay PtP wages to frame for one of these toilets, I would not balk. But because the framing (Photo 9, above) is more involved than just adding or removing a stud or joist, the builder can always frame faster than yours truly, and by a lot. (He was rarely offered the job.) By studying the carrier frame in Photo 10 you can see the spec’d framing is integral (tight to) the carrier. However, “…no time for wobbly knees.” One merely needs a quality circular or hand saw, hammer or nail gun, and a little concentration and patience to create it. Thankfully for the layperson, most of the toilet brands offer free, well-produced installation videos on their respective websites.
Observe the two CCWH carriers (‘hangers/racks) in Photos 11 & 12. In these cases the tubular, plastic, bowl inlet (smaller) and outlet (bigger) drain fittings have black plastic dust/debris plugs in place. Both carriers have similarities. (Dust/debris plugs are yellow plastic in the other.). They both utilize thin wall square steel tube in their manufacture. Both have adjustable feet to allow the installer to achieve a custom height for the rim of the bowl. That’s a big deal. If you were another Wilt Chamberlain, you could have the toilet ‘way up there’ on the wall because the legs are standard square tube and easily modified. The dimensions of the poly flush tank (cistern) yours truly believes is where the designs begin. There has to be a ‘certain’ amount of water (derived at by a smart person) at a certain height, to attain velocity to flush the bowl. Cistern shapes differ among manufacturers. The tank/cistern is the size it is due to physics, plus it has to satisfy the need to ‘pancake’ into as little as 2x4 framing, on some models.
Note: Some CCWH toilet manufacturers offer a carrier even for a 2x4 stud wall. PtP would recommend ¾ ply on entire wall, to hang a toilet on a 2x4 stud wall. The 3-in plastic Schedule 40 drain pipe serving the toilet will eradicate the full width of 2x4 lower plate/s.
Water In…Waste Out
The water supply to some makes and models of these fixtures incorporate specialized, usually copper and or brass, parts which are supplied by the manufacturer as integral to those others of the carrier (Photo 11, above). Also, the proverbial “flush handle” or “trip lever” in the case of a CCWH is a panel (Photo 13). Pushing on the ‘buttons’ results in activating parts (little hooks) which travel vertically up and down, lifting linkages to the flush mechanism below, in the tank.
These linkages (moving parts) are behind the finish wall on an installed CSWH toilet. As a plumber with deep repair experience, this makes me a little nervous. I feel more comfortable when I can switch out a fixture's components or even the fixture itself without having to bother a wall.
Photos 14 & 15 focus on the adjustable feet of a CCWH carrier. The installer sets the height of the bowl by what he/she notes on the approved plan; or, if desired, by drilling one’s custom positioned holes in a carrier body and adjustable leg, any height of bowl could be obtained. However, if the bowl height was radically different from the range of standard toilets it could become an issue if/when the sale of the property was initiated. If it meant however the ease and comfort for the long term use by a physically challenged property owner the decision would be an easy one.
The Real Business
There are two places (smaller one above the larger one) where tubular (plastic) pipes are inserted into the carrier (Photo 16). These fittings are proprietary thermoplastic fittings which are part of the ‘kit’. Into them go the trimmed-to-length pipe (for the particular thickness of the finish wall of a particular bathroom. (Rough stone?, custom tile?, plastic laminate?, mirror?, smooth drywall? All will differ.) Now notice the two openings in the back of the CCWH toilet bowl in Photo 17. With proprietary rubber seals on the ends of the trimmed-to-length plastic pipes, a waterproof seal with the vitreous bowl on final assembly is attained…(See videos, by manufacturers, on YouTube.)
Now look at Photo 18. The Schedule 40 PVC drain protrudes up through the lower plate with remaining wood around the hole, because the framing is larger than 2x4 stud wall. Another look at the photograph reminds the reader that the drainage continues out and down. To where? Straight down the wall to a lower story bathroom to pick up more fixture units before exiting the structure? To a crawlspace under a first floor before turning horizontal? What about those with slab foundations? On new construction or additions slab is ‘no problema’. What about a remodel on slab?
Well, Photo 19 & 19a tell us that with enough money to throw at it, builders like Ed Marciniak (E/M Design) will happily saw up your slab foundation (and put it back) so you can have a CCWH wall hung toilet. For those lucky readers with the budget to ‘do something’ with, there are some facts PtP wants you to know about before you get your hopes up, too high.
Seat of Power
Due to the many more different shapes of CCWH bowls, (Photo 4 above is an example), each model has its own uniquely shaped seat. Specialization always colludes with increased cost. A replacement seat can command a hefty price because there is only one manufacturer making it. If you have the bucks to afford one of the real ‘spacey’ toilets, like Photo 4, you might think about also picking up a replacement seat (now) and putting it away for a rainy day. Availability could also be an issue, way down stream.
Another aspect of the above sub-head (Seat Of Power) is just that: Power. In this case, electrical power. The ever more popular bidet seat that has all the “bells and whistles” needs electricity. Most CCWH toilet manufacturers offer a custom bidet seat to fit their particular bowl shape. Bowls so equipped will have integral plastic tubes (conduit) incorporated into the hanger for water supply tubing as shown in Photo 20, below. These conduit tubes are preformed or are ‘easily bend corrugated’ and come as a component of the carrier. For the person wanting a CCWH with an accompanying custom bidet seat (from the same manufacturer), the carrier (for such) most often will be supplied with these conduits so there will be no exposed electrical cord or water supply tube to spoil the aesthetics of the design. Often then there is no adding a bidet seat as an afterthought (without having exposed cord and tube if you could find one to match the bowl). In the framing plan upstream you’ll notice an electrical outlet on the lower left. This location may differ between brands (on whose models of bowls are ‘drilled’ (cast passageways) for electrical cord and water supply for the proprietary bidet seat). Photo 20a is an example of a custom bidet seat made by the manufacturer of the toilet.
Well, that’s about the shape of the article the author had in mind. But before closing this piece he wanted to share some general concerns/facts about CCWH’s that might help a reader decide whether they might want to paddle down that stream.
Job Site Realities
PtP asked his San Francisco son building contractor (Baywardbuilders.com) what comes to mind when he thinks about Concealed Cistern toilets, and what he shares with prospective clients who inquire about them. Dan mentioned the following topics. They were all familiar to the author. As follows:
CCWH’s can save as much as 9 to 10 inches of floor space. That is crucial for ‘tight’ bathrooms.
CCWH’s make clean up a breeze. No more toilet base to clean around – mop glides right underneath the whole thing. Also, no joint space between tank and bowl for moisture to collect and fester. No more condensation from porcelain water tank contributing to dank bathroom conditions.
Adjustable legs on wall carrier allow for fine tuning of your preferred toilet height. No longer limited by factory options.
Rushing water noise from plastic tank [cistern] in the wall emanates from behind the flush control plate on the wall in addition to the typical toilet bowl flushing sounds. This is potentially louder than some of the quieter tank toilets with porcelain tanks.
CCWH’s are ideally suited for new construction bathrooms or full remodels because you need to fine tune the wall framing for the particular wall carrier unit.
Even with slimmer 2x4 wall carrier models, you may still want a 2x6 framed wall. Although doable with 2x4 stud wall, it gets tricky at the bottom where the drain discharge pipe penetrates the floor. On Geberit brand carriers, the discharge pipe actually protrudes into the plane of the of the wall board that gets installed over the carrier (causing a very slight bulge). In tile wainscot situations, the tile will ultimately cover the drain pipe, while sheet rock will result in needing a gap and a ‘thin veneer’ of drywall ‘mud’ at this juncture (instead of a ‘full thickness’ of wall board/sheet rock).
Alternately, by using 2x6 wall [or deeper] instead of 2x4, you can install the carrier back another ½-in. or more, placing the discharge pipe safely into the wall cavity behind the finish wall board AND it allows you to install plywood backing at the bowl mounting area to increase rigidity of your wall and reduce flex movement of the toilet bowl. This is crucial for tile wall wainscot applications where tile or grout may crack from any movement. Setting the carrier back further into the wall cavity also reduces sound transmission by preventing direct contact between plastic tank [cistern] and the wall board. This will also allow for packing the wall cavity with insulation for even greater noise reduction.
To insure perfect sealing of the plastic inlet and discharge pipes (of the carrier) to the behind the toilet bowl cavities, be sure to employ high quality plumber’s ‘grease’ (Photo 21) or even consider using a ‘touch’ of silicone sealant (in lieu of) to ensure a long-term water tight seal.
The employment of CCWH’s sometimes lets one create a full bath out of a half-bath, or a different, square foot challenged space. Photo’s 22 & 23 by Baywardbuilders.com, show how a small half-bath (plus sharing a junior portion of a small adjacent closet) was remodeled to a full bath (Roman tub included, with shower) complementing a residence with two other full baths. By employing the CCWH the hair care demands of a four person household, three of which maintain long hair, makes life much easier.
Well, that’s going to be ‘it’ for this topic, for now. I hope you don’t feel cheated by your time investment. With luck we’ll both ‘be here’ in several more months, when this old man finds inspiration to put another one “In The Pipe”…
Greetings To One And All
Between hurricanes, a recession, and a pandemic, how are you managing? PtP has been hunkered down and keeping busy with hobbies which explains his of late word scarcity. He though, has noticed an uptick in book sales and readers’ questions. He figured this might be due to a financial squeeze on the planned, previously-to-be, contracted projects of his reader? The possibility of losing audience to Covid occurred to him too. (How many might now be m.i.a.?) Yours truly is of an August age which has been recently more than well informed on healthy pandemic habits. So methought this post would be the perfect ‘couch-time’ activity to keep old Pete inside and ‘distancing.’
Now, due to WAY too much shelter in place electronic device time, the author has noticed a flood of advertisements pertaining to an aspect of my last post: toilet paper and personal hygiene. These online adverts are urging the public to adopt a different method of personal hygiene, and be ‘done with’ toilet paper by using pressured hydro to wash your bum clean, instead of wiping post poop.
The author’s concern with this new on-the-scene toilet bidet involves a physics issue, and by illuminating the functioning of traditional bidets he hopes to assure your possible adoption of a toilet bidet be a safe practice. This is underwritten by the addition of a little known, important plumbing device NOT necessarily included in the inexpensive, foreign designed and manufactured toilet bidet now appearing in so many on-line adverts. This little gem of a plumbing part is discussed and illustrated in The Lone Ranger To The Rescue, near the end of the article.
As for toilet bidets, while cruising the NET in search thereof, the reader will see hundreds of ads for the same means (and mostly the same product). It’s a hand held bidet ‘handset’. It consists of a nozzle/handle; a flexible metal hose; and a diverter valve.
The diverter valve allows the existing cold water supply for the toilet to be the source for the handset also. This particular design of bidet is marketed for cleaning human ‘bottoms’ following a poop, without the need for toilet paper (or much of). PtP is all for this new campaign, but as he mentioned above he wants to raise a red flag (and offer a few complementary suggestions). Before we slide into this technical ‘head’s-up’ topic, the author first wants to air some historical perspectives of the long in use bidet, as we’ve known it.
Water, and especially moving water, from time immemorial has been utilized for dispensing with human waste. The Minoans, Etruscans and Romans were especially adept at it. Where the author would like to launch this post is when we begin to see objectively depicted (posh) ladies astride a bidet.
(Photo 1): Men, no snickering. With your adoption, you would find your appreciation thereof increasing as you aged, in dealings with overly saturated methane, for one.
OK. Now. Why is a bidet called a bidet? Well, if you haven’t already guessed, bidet is old French slang. It referred to a ‘little horse.’ When one (I) look at renderings of ‘bidets’ of early eras (Photo 2) the saddle shape of the fixture and the fact that the person, when using, sat astride only supports the slang story that stuck: little horse.
These artfully rendered female members of the upper crust (most) were not using the bidet as a chamber pot but rather attending to their lady parts with (at the time) a quite convenient pool of mostly (for the times) clean, and most probably warmed water. Then, the fixture was portable. It was a vessel one squatted on and with the use of finger/s and more, cleansed themselves. Many who trusted the use of as birth control had big surprises. It wasn’t until we see stationary, piped bidets first appearing in American upper class housing during the early 1900’s (Photo 3) and becoming more common in 1940’s following World War 2, that directed flow and temperature of moving water became fashionable in this exercise. The author will have more to say about this further downstream.
In the early 1960’s, apprentice Pete was becoming familiarized with the installation and workings of the two basic designs of supply and drainage plumbed, free-standing bidets, those accepted by municipalities’ and States’ building and safety codes. The ‘new ones’ he worked with then still utilized a p-trap in the floor. His at the time employer (Me and Angie) served a world-traveled clientele. Pete right away appreciated the complexity of fittings incorporated (and required by codes) for modern bidets. One of the two basic designs has fewer parts than the other. The fewer parts version is cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to rough plumb. But both designs though have to wrestle with physics to be accepted by codes.
Both types of free standing (modern) plumbed (supply and drainage) bidet designs have a pop-up stopper (like bathroom sinks) to form (when desired) a pool in the bowl, (Photo 4). And, both designs employ ‘sprinkles-to-blasts’ of your choice-of-temperature water, in their functions. (That temperature selection aspect is a big deal and we’ll get into that shortly.) Because plumbers are known as protectors of the nation’s health (Photo 5) yours truly wanted to raise an issue concerning the recent effort by some to ‘dump’ toilet paper in favor of a hand held toilet bidet, for this purpose. This new interest blossomed alongside a Covid-19 related consumer supply problem: TP availability. However, the aspects of both temperature and directed water for said purpose, the author wishes to raise. PtP will begin with water temperature before water flow choices are discussed.
The author admits (confesses) that the ‘morning after’ an over-indulgent (rack it up to youth) consumption of abalone stuffed Mexican hot chili peppers (in Mexicali), he discovered the most important use there is of an ice cube. But since these occasions (thankfully) were far and few, additional desire to have coldness ‘down there’ was not extended. If you are someone who, in spite of being limited to only cold water, would be interested in living with one of these remarkably low-priced off-shore sourced hand held toilet bidets now being advertised, PtP congratulates you. (Anyone who can make the adjustment to using only cold water this way: all the more to you!)
With traditional, permanently installed bidet fixtures, to have them accepted by states and communities everywhere, they have to have met some important safety/sanitary codes, one of which keeps ‘everything’ directed in the safe direction: downstream. This is where the physics issue aforementioned comes into play.
In the plumbing code of jurisdiction for the author (Uniform Plumbing Code), a condition defined as a Cross Connection is the plumber’s greatest worry/concern. A mixture of waste water into a source of drinking water has long been known as an accomplice to death and ailment. It is an action that plumbers just cannot allow to happen. Today’s manufacturers of sanitary fixtures have to provide for a function that does not let waste water (water used) have any possible way to mix with fresh water supply. With plumbing fittings and materials, what the non-plumber effects in his/her bathing routine (by their own actions) must not constitute a Cross Connection. Below is the actual wordage of the code.
“A connection or arrangement, physical and otherwise, between a potable water supply system and a plumbing fixture or a tank, receptor, equipment, or device, through which it may be possible for nonpotable, used, unclean, polluted, and contaminated water, or other substances to enter into a part of such potable water system under any condition.” (Spoken with beautiful legalese.) An accidental back siphonage of waste water from a bidet would constitute a cross connection.
In the case of the permanently installed bidet fixture, one method to accomplish this safety/sanitation level is with the addition of an anti-siphon valve (Photo 6) on the water supply portion. (This valve and piping illustrated was common on earlier models which left the pipe and fittings exposed behind or on the back shelf of the fixture. To appear modern (at the time) the manufacturers decoratively electro plated the parts in chrome and more expensive finishes then in vogue.)
A later style of free standing bidet popular to present, illustrated in Photo 7, the shelf mount, that maintains its favor with authorities (illustrated in: Installing And Repairing Plumbing Fixtures) employs an air gap (gap of free air). This design of bidet directs water flow to the bather’s anatomy from above, versus below the flood level rim of the fixture, as in a ‘rose-sprinkler’ design (Photo 8). The gap of air between the water issuing the shelf mounted valve spout illustrated in Photo 7 and the lower altitude of a bather’s exposed flesh, establishes a “safety distance” against any possible back siphonage and resulting cross connection should water supply be interrupted. Yours truly will have more to say about this choice, downstream.
All quality plumbing manufacturers like to put their name or mark on their products, often with an additional mark of a regulatory agency for extra effect. For about a third of the lower 48 United States, reputable sanitary fixture/valve/equipment manufacturers mark their products with: UPC, sometimes within a shield facsimile. UPC are the initials of the Uniform Plumbing Code. Fixtures and valves that can exhibit that mark guarantee (with proper installation) that no back-siphonage occurs with their product, among other imperatives.
To earn this sign of safety, manufacturers incur considerable design and manufacturing expense. Does the hand held toilet bidet product being sold online and even in some brick and mortar outlets exhibit the mark of the Uniform Plumbing Code? Or others? If it has passed UPC requirements by spending the bucks doing so, it would only make sense to advertise that fact with a UPC or other nationally recognized code symbol, prominently, somewhere on the item of manufacture, no? This brings us to the second point of interest in my argument: direction of flow for both waste and supply.
The average person in the US uses 9 squares of toilet paper per poop. Do the extrapolation and the possible environmental rewards of using less are plainly seen. (According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, toilet paper accounts for 15 percent of deforestation.) However, this switch of hygiene habits should be done safely, without the possibility of ‘cross connection’ through back siphonage. Does/did any possible hand held bidet product you purchase/d or are evaluating, have such a mark of approval like a UPC mark? If it doesn’t, does it mean one should not purchase it? Though PtP is rooting for toilet bidets, he does not want this to become a public health trade-off due to laypersons’ lack of code knowledge. If it’s going to happen, yours truly would like to see it safely handled. He proposes the addition of a consumer supplied, very reasonably priced check valve, readily available by a respected US manufacturer for just this purpose. (I’ll tell you more about this product downstream.)
More on Anti-Siphon
From a ‘rose-in-bowl’ plumber’s installation schematic (Photo 9), we are looking at a cross section of a rose/sprinkler anti-siphon and diverter valve, in one! This specially designed valve serves both a function change (directed spray or rinse-down-and-fill bowl), and at the same time provides the service of an anti-siphon valve. This valve prevents spent water collected in the bidets bowl from back siphoning up into the fresh water supply system through the ‘rose’/sprinkler. (The same precaution is taken for landscape sprinkling and watering.)
The lower supply valve shown on the right would be the cold water supply. The hot water supply valve would be replicated on left side of this symmetrical fixture. This design of traditional bidet where the supply valves are under-hung (with trim above), on the back ledge/shelf of the vitreous fixture, and which through tubing connections, water is routed to the traditional rose (sprinkler head) in the bottom of the bowl, has long been the standard bearer of ‘top drawer.’ (And before it, the ‘in-the-wall’ valve and supply with sprinkler.)
The newer, second major free standing bidet fixture (Photo 10), (the design mentioned prior and illustrated in Photo 7) referred to as a “back shelf” design, again, escapes the requirement of the anti-siphon valve by the means of its natural (physics) air-gap. The bowl shape and ‘faucet’ style valving choices are quite varied, Photos 10a, 10b & 10c.
What with this change in valving, where the mixed temperature water is emitted from above the flood level of the bowl, angled down onto the bather’s choice of exposure, affords a ‘no chance’ of back siphonage/cross connection. There’s no way for waste water (bouncing off the bather) or left in the bowl, to climb up and out of the bowl and be ‘accidentally’ siphoned back up into the valve and supply piping.
Can one do all of the ‘things’ with this back shelf design as one can do on/with the “rose in the bowl” design? The answer is no. But, if you haven’t been introduced to the ‘rose’ first, you’ll still be very impressed, and hopefully become an adherent.
Most Americans are probably already feeling too financially encumbered in the time of Covid-19 to make or re-make bathrooms to accompany stand-alone bidets. Until lately, manufactured options have been the toilet seat bidet, made popular in my region by the Toto Manufacturing Company, such as Photo 11. This Japanese company has been very successful selling their version of toilet ‘seat’ bidet ‘attachment’/add-on, in the US. Now many competitors compete in the “seat races.” But, predominantly, they too are ‘sanctioned’ anti-siphon and also require an in-wall electrical supply. Plus, one look at pricing, and if your heart is still in it, Pete says: “Go for it.” Not many readers are in the position or mood to go that direction however, especially now, thus the interest in cheap alternatives.
The Lone Ranger to the Rescue
Wanting to do his part in rooting for the ‘entry level’ hand held hygienic device for the toilet (toilet bidet), the author has a simple recommendation for the ‘questionable’ choices on offer: Put your own check valve on it! Thanks to the American Standard Manufacturing Company for making available their wonderful little product, the M962520-0020A check valve (Photo 12) this is easily and economically accomplished. This check valve comes to the rescue. With this plumbing part installed on either end of the flexible toilet bidet hose (Photo 13), fresh water can only travel in one direction. No going backwards. No cross connections.
Because standard US pipe threads (Photo 14) are traditionally used in this country throughout the ‘rough’ and ‘finish’ plumbing schedules, foreign competition now shipping to the U.S. equips their offerings with US threads. Luckily that allows us to employ the American Standard check valve in conjunction with foreign offerings too. The author recalls the 1970’s when he first started encountering foreign made plumbing products. On the west coast the Germans landed first. Great ‘old world’ quality and no plastic, but one needed to purchase extra adapters to make threaded connections. We (U.S.) didn’t take very long though, to jade them however (lower the quality). Now, it’s lots of plastic too (yet superior to ours) but US threads. Regardless of country of origin, now you can do something for public health and prevent back siphonage: include the American Standard Shower Hose Check Valve on your non UPC sanctioned, hand-held, toilet bidet kits.
There are two additional aspects of indulging the hand held toilet bidet the author would like to air before ending this post.
Be Kind To Yourself
The author has spent time in primitive conditions in the northern wilds where your butt could stick to an outhouse toilet seat like a boy’s tongue to a frozen metal flag pole. If you cannot afford (at this time) an expensive ‘seat’ bidet or free standing ‘standard,’ providing warmed water, and want to experiment with toilet bidets, PtP would like you to know about two things. The first is a diverter valve for bathroom sink faucets (Photo 15). This device allows a person with a conveniently close-to-toilet lavatory basin faucet the ability and luxury of having a temperature mixed hand held toilet bidet, on the cheap. When you can have the pleasure of having water at the temperature of your choice, the odds that you make a successful bridge between hand held toilet bidet hygiene and 9 to 27 or more squares of TP are greatly enhanced.
Photo 15: This diverter valve threads onto a bathroom lavatory faucet spout after removing the faucet aerator. An aerator adapter may be required depending upon your faucets manufacturer. It allows for temperature mixed water for use with the hand held toilet bidet. This particular valve was discovered on eBay and it had no manufacturer’s name or model number.
Round or Elongated
The second ‘thing’ yours truly wanted to mention is a factor to consider when your toilet bowl is round versus elongated. Back Shelf and rose-in-bowl free-standing bidets are, by design, longer bowls than a standard, round, 12-in. rough toilet bowl, allowing for hand movements. Instead of having the pre-positioned sprinkler or jet of mixed temp water from a standard bidet, or a ‘seat bidet,’ with a hand held bidet on a hose, you the bather must, by hand position, get the flow of water to where you need/want it.
In choosing a hand held bidet ‘head,’ which bowl you have, round or elongated, can spell your level of success and enjoyment. Using a hand held toilet bidet is more physically challenging in conjunction with a round toilet bowl than with an elongated toilet bowl. In this situation size matters, in favor of modest. Definitely for round bowls but not excluding elongated bowls, depending upon your choice (size/bulk) of bidet heads, an open front with lid toilet seat combination (Photo 16) might be well worth the expense, allowing sufficient space to manipulate, effectively, your eventful choice of head. The case of hand held toilet bidet heads could prove a parallel with hearing aids: rarely is your first and even second choice the one you settle on for the longer haul. Be thankful again for the standard ½- in. female iron pipe connections on hoses, and the standard ½-in. male pipe threads on heads, noted above. This allows you to try as many different available heads as you desire. And, if you have satisfactory temperature desired flow rates, you might find yourself owning an additional head that is better suited for other tasks.
Well, the author hopes he didn’t lose too many readers on the trail. For those who persevered though, he hopes you found it worthwhile. For all of us, I wish the quickest and safest end to Covid-19.
Until Next Time,
Hello ‘In the Pipe’rs. Crab season (see upstream post) ain’t over yet but yours truly felt motivated to paddle ashore and broach a subject which he felt was very timely. (Salt water and cell phones are a dangerous pairing.) It’s a subject close to the author’s heart (but even closer to his anatomical sphincter). It’s a subject which PtP feels if not illuminated at this time, could cost the world public (those with flush toilets) even more financial burden than what they might already be suffering due to income loss from the fallout of the Novel Coronavirus, plus: clogged toilets and drains and the fees to ‘get them back on line’? This post takes a look at the dangers of substituting the wrong paper for genuine toilet paper. The author believes that at no other time in recent history is this scenario more probable due to present circumstances.
First, there were the Pentagon Papers. Then we got the Panama Papers. And now, lo and behold, we have the Corona Papers. Who would have ever thought the corner stone of personal hygiene, toilet paper, would become the poster child of a 21st century global pandemonium. (Pete the Plumber once came to the rescue of a Mr. D.E. and family (frozen water pipes), so yours truly felt entitled to coin: Corona Papers.)
According to the site: HistoryExtra, the earliest known record of using a form of ‘paper’ for this hygienic chore comes from China, in AD 589. However, it was a Yankee in 1857 (New York) by the name of Joseph Gayetty who first started marketing commercially packaged ‘toilet’ paper, Photo 2, below. His were individual sheets with our man Joseph’s picture printed on them. However the masses had to wait another twenty-years before the introduction of perforated rolls (and even then the occasional splinters were a problem). The ubiquitous, super soft, layered fare we know so well today was a twentieth century dream come true. Isn’t it ironic that in the span of about one month a disposable commodity selling (normally) for ‘peanuts’ suddenly became a new gold standard, one everyone clambering for. Our aversion to employing anything else (historical standby’s and Plan B’s) speaks volumes.
Pete the Plumber (yours truly confesses) for years has harped to anyone who would listen that only poop and TP should be flushed down the toilet. This admonition served/serves a double purpose. The first concern involves drainage piping and the second concern involves septic systems and sewage treatment plants. Those inaugural individual sheets and albeit splintery perforated rolls are a far cry from today’s quite technical ‘bath tissue’. Today’s TP is made with short cellulose fibers. When the paper is deposited in the toilet bowl and becomes saturated, it breaks down (dissolves) into tiny bits. This assures that it will flow through the sanitary drainage piping without causing a stoppage (clog). The pliable nature of our poop (in most cases) presents little resistance to transit within the piping. (Japanese toilet designers use mochi dough to model human poop to test new toilet passageways.) Most other forms of paper are not made of short fibers designed to dissolve in water. As a matter of fact, household ‘paper towels’ purposely use longer, in-twining fibers to produce a paper resistant to breaking down in water. Paper towels, even if they manage to slide through the toilet passageway will hang up in the drainage piping because of their bulk. Homeowners who need pay the drain cleaning contractor learn this lesson early.
Inhabitants of living space served by septic systems are faster learners than a populace served by municipal sewage treatment facilities. There are several concerns involving living with a septic system that the municipally franchised need not concern themselves with (mostly involving bacteria killing household chemicals). But the use of any papers not designated short fiber toilet paper is equally problematic to both types of sanitary system. “In the literature” the author has read conflicting accounts on the biodegradable-ness of short cellulose TP. Some claim it does not biodegrade. Others claim that ‘in time’, it does. As the author has been known to confess skipping chem lab, on too many occasions, he has no chops to question either camp. But, he knows of occupied dwellings operating on septic/leach that never need “pumping” or “additives”. This tells the author that a well designed, well fed septic system takes care of itself. Just don’t poison it. Biodegradable TP is widely available for those on septic who wish to “get the best mileage” out of their hard working bugs. A caveat: biodegradable toilet paper is not as soft as the standard fare.
On a different note:
Another one of Pete’s ‘hot button’ sanitary paper concerns involves the manufacture of products marketed as flushable. Flushable does not connote dissolvable or biodegradable. Sewage treatment plants end up having to operate sophisticated mechanical systems to intercept, then extract (tons and tons) of non-biodegradable trash. Flushables a majority among it. Then, more expensive rolling stock is required to transport the trash to a land-fill. Who pays the price of recycling what private industry designers concoct from non-degradable material? The City/County/State taxes it’s citizenry to pay the cost of ridding themselves of such garbage. (It’s just going to another spot of ground with a much lower property tax.) The old “vote with your feet” slogan, twisted by twisted minds to shout “vote with your butt” might be heard some evenings, now. The only way to stop and then reverse the “non green” solutions is to educate the public (the market, by association): “Do not make it with ‘these’ materials.” Cut the demand and you see companies rethinking former actions taken. Only then will we begin to reduce the amount of land fill for consumer non-biodegradable materials and lower the costs for sewage treatment. Which brings me back to my old slogan: Flush nothing but poop and toilet paper!
For those interested, inexpensive, temperature/flow controlled hand held toilet bidets (served by lavatory faucets) are available for reducing TP usage.
Where we end up our battle with the Covid-19 virus is anybody’s guess. But one thing you can be assured of is that tissue mills and paper companies are operating at full employment (with big smiles). How much longer the hoarding of the new, “soft white gold” continues, is an unanswered question. But the industries involved with producing America’s TP are, presently, enjoying robust order sheets. How fast the public stops panic buying and production falls back to pre-pandemic levels, we’ll see, first hand. The author had a couple of automobiles in his early past that used a roll of standard toilet paper as the filter material. (Photo 3) Would that design, after all the present hullabaloo has died down, be worth resurrecting?
O.K. That’s it. The fish heads are beautifully stinky. The pot is baited. Short rod and surf rod lashed to deck. It’s back out with the tide, lamps lighted…
Until Next Time,
Hello In The Pipers!
The “old man” is taking a short break while he prepares his latest pipe dream project - a crab pot kayak! Hopefully all those years of chasing leaks means he won’t take on water and we won’t lose him to the crabs of Puget Sound any time soon. In the meantime, I have a little plumbing story to share with you all….
As a kid growing up watching my dad wrench on pipes, I learned just enough about plumbing to think I could do it too. That inherited knowledge has come in handy plenty of times over the years as a homeowner and later, as a general contractor specializing in residential remodels. With that limited expertise in my back pocket, it’s often difficult to resist the temptation of taking on some of the little plumbing fixes and upgrades that accompany our frequent bathroom and kitchen remodels to save some time and even money. The (good) plumbers in my market are frequently very busy - “you can’t fit me in until when?!?” and expensive - “you guys are billing over a buck and a quarter per hour now?!?” Hmmmm…. well, I have a set of adjustable wrenches too. Maybe I’ll just do that last minute faucet replacement myself and save us all some trouble.
Ha! If only it ever worked out that easily. In this particular tale, we had just wrapped up our final day on a kitchen remodel for an adorable young family in San Francisco. Their condo conversion was on the 4th floor of a building that was presumably built sometime in the ‘teens. Mind you, that would be the ‘teens from 100 years ago. The project had gone very well, with only the usual level of surprises and cost overruns and they’d been perfect clients through it all. I knew they’d spent more on this remodel than they’d planned and had stretched themselves a little thin, especially with their second child soon on the way, but they were otherwise very happy with how everything had turned out.
It was early Friday afternoon as the Mrs of the house and I completed the final walk through, exchanged the final payment check and said our final “thank you’s”. As she walked me to the front door, she stopped at the little “washroom” off the hallway. This cute and very original half-bath had been used by my crew throughout the kitchen remodel since we didn’t have space for a portable toilet down on the street. “Oh, wait….. I want to ask you one more thing before you go”, she said as she flicked on the washroom light and grabbed a box from the floor beneath the sink. It was a new faucet she had picked up someplace for “a song” and she wondered if it was a suitable replacement for the old, tarnished original. I opened the box and sure enough, it was compatible with the sink and would work fine. It was a tasteful modern interpretation of a classic widespread faucet and it actually looked really nice with the sink and would finish off their otherwise pristine half-bath. I was quite pleased to have their project all wrapped up and taking on one more item didn’t exactly thrill me. But I would also never leave a good client hanging, so I contemplated the next move. Getting my plumber back out for such a small task wasn’t going to be easy, cheap or convenient and the more I looked at that gleaming faucet, the more invested I became in seeing it installed. I then realized that the tool kit in my truck had everything required for installation and in that moment it became impossible not to offer to swap it out for her myself, as a parting gift on a project that had gone so well. Should only take me about 20 minutes! I’d be home before the Friday commute even began...
Well, I’m sure at least a few of you have heard the old maxim, “a good deed never goes unpunished”. I probably should’ve taken a closer look at things before offering up my help, but I didn’t recall anything out of the ordinary about the old sink or faucet. And the only unusual detail on the new faucet was the factory-installed braided stainless steel supply hoses, but they had the garden variety, female ⅜” compression fittings that we use all the time, so I figured -- no problem!
Well, things got off to an unexpected bumpy start right away when I first tried to shut off the water to the faucet. The old angle stops below the pedestal sink were as original as everything else in that bathroom and not like anything we install today. They were thick, smoothly polished & plated castings with chunky 4-cross handles. They looked like they belonged on a steam ship or an old submarine. And they were quite impossible to turn! We had learned during the kitchen remodel that the apartment didn’t have its own water shut-off, so if I couldn’t get these angle stops to work, it would mean shutting down all 6 floors of the building. And that would mean a 24 hour notification to the other occupants, a return visit, the usual gripes and grumbles about inconvenience, plus the very real nightmare possibility of dislodged scale and crud from the 100 year old pipes clogging faucets, shower heads, dishwashers, washing machines etc. throughout the whole 12 unit building after the water came back on line. That was a nightmare scenario I was not prepared to endure for “a favor” and I was beginning to worry that I would have to renege my offer.
Then I remembered an old trick I’d learned from my Pops -- Pete the Plumber. We all know how plumbers use their propane torches to sweat copper pipes, right? Well, they come in handy for so much more: thawing icy pipes, cleaning gunky tools, warming cold, leftover pizza, to name just a few. I own a plumbing torch of course, but didn’t have it with me on my truck so I asked the lady of the house if I could borrow the next best thing - a hair dryer! It took a good minute to warm up those hefty angle stops and soften the hardened stem packing, but it eventually did the trick. The heat probably softened the crusty old rubber washers too because lo and behold, those ancient angle stops still managed to shut off the water to that old sink. It then took me less time to remove the old widespread faucet and rigid supply tubes than it did to shut off the water. Should take just another 15 minutes or so to get this faucet installed and I’d be on my way home for a cold beer and a satisfied early start to my weekend.
But not so fast! While I was wiping crusty (heat-softened) pipe thread compound off of the old angle stops, I realized I’d failed to take notice of the larger outlet size. It was noticeably bigger than the ⅜” fittings on the new faucet supply hoses and coarse thread to boot. Since I couldn’t swap out the swaged-on factory installed hoses, I would need a step down adapter for the angle stop. No problem, I thought. These looked like ½” coarse NPT thread. A quick run to the ‘Big Box’ for the parts and I’d be able to wrap this up before traffic got bad for the ride home. I’d also pick up a small tube of clear silicone for the faucet bases and a roll of teflon tape while I was there.
Have you ever gone to the ‘Big Box’ hoping to find something a little out of the ordinary? A: it doesn’t exist. Or B: it does, but the young kid working that department doesn’t know what you’re talking about or where to find it. Or C: they do have what you need and the computer says they have 14 of them in stock but there is only one in the box on the shelf when you need at least two. It was scenario ‘C’ that day. Luckily, the other nearby ‘Big Box’ answered the phone and was able to confirm they had some more on their shelf. So after a little detour I had the two “BrashCraft” ½” FIP adapters in my hand for less than $4 each. At least I was in and out of that second “Big Box” in less than 20 minutes!
Friday afternoon traffic congestion was starting to pick up and when I finally returned to the job it was pushing 3 o’clock. I confidently told the Mrs that I would be wrapped up and on my way in another 15 minutes or so. I could almost taste that beer waiting for me at home….
Alas, I would have to wait a little longer for that refreshing beer. Out of habit, not doubt, I did a quick test fit of the adapters on the angle stops before applying teflon tape to the threads. Hmmm…. these are WAY too loose. No way the teflon tape is going to take out this much slop. Dang, these adapters aren’t going to work at all!! What gives?? I’ve never had problems with “BrashCraft” stuff before. No, it was those old angle stops -- they were some funky size between ⅜ - ½”. So what to do now? Accept defeat and reinstall the old faucet? Too embarrassing. Try and find some way to connect old-style rigid supply tubes to the factory flex lines of the new faucet? This was all exposed - that would look awful and ridiculous. Replace the funky old angle stops with new ones? Remember the nightmare scenario -- no shutting off the building -- certainly not on a Friday afternoon. Dang… it’s time to call Pete the Plumber for some advice. Hope he doesn’t have his head stuck up in the bow of his kayak and he can hear his phone.
Turns out he did have his head up in the bow of his kayak, but fortunately for me he was using his cell phone as a flashlight and was able to answer. Before I finished my second sentence, he knew exactly what I was dealing with. He interrupted me, “Those are American Standard angle stops. They’re 7/16” coarse thread and not ½”. They used to sell adapters for those if you can still find them.”
Needless to say, “Big Box” didn’t have any such adapters. Neither did the last few remaining neighborhood hardware stores not already pushed out of business by “Aces” or “Big Box” and more recently “Amazonian”. Quite desperate now, I was on my phone Googling anybody that might sell plumbing parts. Shockingly, I discovered a previously unknown “WB Plumbing Supply” located just 10 short blocks away from the job…A quick phone call and finally the words I wanted to hear, “Yeah, we got ‘em. We’ll be open for another half hour. We’ll leave two up at the counter for you”.
“20 minutes” had now turned into nearly 4 hours, but I finally had that new faucet connected and just in time for the “crawling” Friday evening commute. If only I’d known about those old American Standard angle stops and their unusual thread size, or realized that small, family-owned plumbing supply stores still exist in SF’s neighborhoods, I could have started my weekend hours earlier. But it also could have turned out a whole lot worse (an embarrassing retreat, or the nightmare of clearing dozens of clogged faucets throughout the building). This was a useful reminder of the invaluable expertise and knowledge you get from your professional plumber and the dedicated stores that serve them. Without our active support to keep them both in business, stories like mine might not have had such a happy ending...
Thank you all for reading my little yarn! As I mentioned before, Pete the Plumber has been crustacean-obsessed lately and is presently spending most of his waking hours doing critical ocean-duty kayak modifications before the crabbing season closes. After some well-deserved “rest” in the brine and with luck, a belly full of hot buttered crab, he will return to his regularly scheduled In The Pipe duties. In the meantime, if you should need to reach ol’ Crab Claw Pete, feel free to send him a message. His “flashlight” receives email…
Peter Hemp is a San Francisco East Bay residential plumber and plumbing author and former R & D steam vehicle plumber. His hobbies are ocean kayaking and touring the Left Coast by bicycle.
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