The Life and Times of a Master Plumber
As a Master Plumber I have experienced many situations that the average person will never have to experience. In this blog I will detail some of these situations for your benefit and enjoyment.
So sit back, grab a cup of hot coffee and read on. Enjoy!
Leaky Toilets & Septic Tanks
You wouldn't think that your toilet would have too much to do with your septic tank but it does. Sometimes when we pump out a septic tank that is not working properly, we find that there is water still running into the septic tank from the house drain. When we ask if there is any water running in the house, the homeowner often says no. Upon our investigation, we often find a toilet that runs constantly which will dump thousands of gallons of extra water into septic tank which will cause the drain field to become saturated. Many times pumping the septic tank and fixing the leaky toilet will give the drain field time to dry up and go back to working properly. So if you have a leaky toilet or a dripping faucet, get if fixed ASAP so it does not cause your septic system to fail!
Should I Plumb or Should I Run?
This past week I went to a customer's home to repair a toilet handle that wasn't flushing right. Once on site I began talking with the customer and one thing lead to another. She began telling me about missing her first love because being divorced she now felt alone in this big huge world. She described how she had fell in love back in the early 1970's with an airmen that was later killed in action in Vietnam. We began talking about the spirit world and that one day we had the promise of being with our loved ones again. That's when she began telling about this past lover contacting her beyond the grave. She went through many details that I will spare telling you now but the most interesting detail was that she had asked for a sign from this ex-lover's spirit to prove that he was still with her and watching over her. She told that she had felt very alone one night not so long ago and she asked for a signal from him. That's when in her attic a toy began talking that hadn't been touched or played with in years by her grandchildren. She knew then that her ex-lover was now with her.
I was to the point of getting bored hearing all the wild tales. When suddenly in the corner of another room in her house I heard a voice and the sound of music!
Mind you we had been talking about many spiritual things before this occurance. Her face turned white as she turned to me and whispered,"That's him."
I tried hard to hear clearly the spoken words amongst the sound of music. I followed her to the sound. It stopped. We both looked around the room with a feeling of stunning. Then it sounded again.
This time I could make out the words, "That's what you have to do." was the words being spoken. I then traced the sound to a toy in a box full of toys under the Christmas Tree.
She then began laughing in relief and said, "See he's telling us we're on the right track to contacting the spirit world."
At that point I was ready to run out the front door but I had come to do a job. We then walked up the stairwell to the 3rd floor of the home to the toilet with the problem. I took off the lid, lay it aside and said to her, "Let's see what the problem is." She replied back, "I hope it's still not working." I flushed the toilet.
To my disbelief it worked as it was supposed to. She looked at me and said, "Well, that's it. It's God's will that your here today to witness what just happened." I replied, "Yea, but reckon I best be going now." As I headed for the front door.
The Buzzing Faucet Mystery
A few weeks back I recieved a phone call from a hysterical woman complaining that her hallway lavatory faucet was buzzing and none of the other household plumbing fixtures was doing it. I told her I would come out and take a look at it.
In a few minutes I drove up into her driveway. She was standing at the entrance to the front door waiting.
She welcomed me in and walked me to the hallway bathroom and pointed at the buzzing faucet. I put my ear to the faucet and it was buzzing away and sounded like putting your ear against a hornet's nest. I then put my ear against the wall and could hear it just as well buzzing.
There was a bathroom that was directly behind the hallway bathroom. I went in there and listened. The fixtures were silent. I put my ear to the lavatory faucet, no buzzing. I put my ear to the tub faucet, no buzzing.
Sometimes but not always when a pressure reducing valve on the main cold line coming into the house goes bad it will cause a buzzing throughout the plumbing system. So if that were the case here then I should be able to hear the buzzing in every plumbing fixture in the house. But that wasn't the case.
I went into the basement, got upon a ladder beneath the buzzing lavatory faucet and could faintly here it. I suspected I could feel the buzzing in the plumbing pipe below and trace it to the source but that wasn't happening.
I then went back upstairs to the buzzing faucet in question, shut the door to the bathroom, put my ear against the wall and began following the sound because you could tell it's epicenter. I followed it to the toothbush tray. I then picked up a battery operated toothbush that had been left on. Turned it off. No more buzzing.
The Case of the Missing Water Connection
One day not long ago a local box store called and wanted me to come out and take a look at a two inch gate valve that they thought had a broken stem in it preventing it from turning on the water that fed the garden center. I went and tried turning on the water at the gate valve the same way they tried. To me the valve was working as it should, the wheel turned easy from the closed position to the open position as it should and stopped turning as it should turning from position to position.
If the valve stem had been broken as they suspected then I or anybody else could have turned the wheel of the gate valve all day until the cows came home and the crows got dizzy and it would have never stopped spinning.
I determined right away that the valve was working that the problem was another valve shut off before reaching this valve. Management of the store disagreed and told me to replace the two inch gate valve with a two inch ball valve. Difference in the two valves is simple. The gate valve has a gate inside that raises or closes with the spinning of the wheel on top of the valve. A ball valve operates with the swinging of a lever that spins a ball inside the valve. When the lever is in line with the water piping the ball is in the open position, when the lever is across the water piping then the ball is in the closed position.
I changed the valve as directed to so but guess what? When I cut the copper piping at the top of the valve where there should have been full water pressure there was none. No water. The valve had been fully functional.
They were happy with a newer valve that was easier to operate so all is well at this point except they still had no water to the garden center.
The search was on for another valve that someone had shut off without the box store management knowing the whereabouts of it that fed the water across the store to the valve that I had just replaced.
I found the building plumbing plans, laid them out in the floor of the break room and traced the water piping from the garden center to it's own water meter in the store's yard. I went up and took the lock box off the water meter and found that it had a two inch backflow preventer that had frozen and busted during the winter. Another contractor had been sent out to replace the backflow preventer by corporate home office without the knowing of the store management. That contractor had turned off the water meter because of having to order the part to fix the backflow preventer preventing it from running full stream and pressure all over the place. He never told store management that he shut off the water meter and store management didn't know that the garden center had it's own water meter separate from the store's water service meter.
After several hours on the job the case of the missing water connection was solved.
Sleep Tight, don't let the bed bugs bite!
I just implemented a new strategy to keep our service technicians busy during this economic slow down by having them do free customer home plumbing inspections. All the customer has to do is call in to Skyline Plumbing and Septic, Inc and ask for a free home plumbing inspection and we will send a tech out totally free of charge and inspect a customer's home for plumbing safety issues,water leaks and problems that may not be evident at the time that may show up while on vacation or while company is visiting.
I had a customer call me out to inspect her home's plumbing. I hurried over. I began the inspection by asking about any problems she thought she might have or had a particular interest in me looking at. I checked for stopped up drains, leaking toilet ballcocks, house in-coming water pressure, rocking toilets but when I got to the water heater my mouth hit the floor at what I seen.
The water heater was a natural gas water heater with a open flame burner. The vent for the fumes to escape up the vent and out of the house was not connected to the vent diverter at the top of the water heater allowing carbon dioxide fumes to escape into the atmosphere of the home bringing down the oxygen content of the entire home. The water heater was in a open closet in the kitchen area. I immediately told the customer of the danger. She replied, "Is that what is making my seven children act so crazy?" I told her that it sure wasn't helping the situation.
I corrected the vent problem for her free of charge because of the immediate danger to the life of the family.
She was very grateful and I felt that I had done a great deed, thankful that she had called me in for the inspection.
I received a service call from a box store in Hiram that they were having a bad odor in the front of the store in the morning when the morning shift opened up. The manager told me that last time it happened they had another plumbing company come in and run a sewer cable in the piping all the way to the street to clean the drain piping of whatever was causing the smell.
This didn't make any sense to me being the smell in the drain piping should never enter the store to begin with if the p-traps were full of water and the trap primers feeding the floor drains were working properly. I checked that the floor drains were full of water and that the p-traps under the lavatory sinks were functional.
I began checking other fixtures in the men's and women's bathroom and ask the manager had they noticed the smell more strongly in one bathroom or in some area of the store more than in other areas. The manager told me that the women's bathroom was always smelly.
Now I was ready to get down and dirty and find this smelly problem. It didn't take but a second when I walked into the right hand toilet stall, seeing the brown staining around the bottom rim of the toilet indicating that water was leaking around the base every time the toilet was flushed. If water is present then a way of sewer gas escape is present also. I grabbed hold of the toilet to see if I could move or turn it in any way. It came right up off the floor. The flange was broke causing the toilet to move and twist every time someone sit on it. This movement caused the wax to work it's way out of the toilet base causing water and sewer gas to leak from the base of the toilet.
I took up the toilet, cleaned the area well, installed a new toilet flange, applied a new wax ring and reset the toilet. Problem fixed.
The store manager told me that other plumbers had tried to fix that toilet but never could get it right. I reaffirmed that the toilet had been the source of there morning smell being that the store had been closed all night allowing a build up of sewer gas to float with the positive air system to the front of the store trying to escape through the front door where the air pressure of the building was trying to push through to outside atmosphere.
Mud!.....What you mean Mud?
Drain cleaning is part of my daily duties. It is a dangerous job to run a rotor rooter cable down a sewer pipe as many things can go wrong causing severe injury to the operator of the machine. Most common injury happens when the cable get in a bind and the torque causes the cable to twist violently. This action can break a finger, wrist or arm in a flash. It can happen to a Master Plumber just as fast as a novice.
Usually with a stoppage in a home's main sewage drain it's caused by some kind of pipe functionality problem. This problem is generally a broken pipe, cut pipe, separated pipe, improperly installed pipe or any and all of the before mentioned. A good functioning pipe just don't stop up with no reason. Another cause is heavy types of toilet paper that is soft and absorbent that gets heavy with water, finds a low place in the piping to sit or hang up waiting for other things to come down the drain to snag on to. These other things can be feminine napkins of all sorts especially the ones with the strings. They love to stop up main building drains and sewer ejection pumps.
For example. Just this week I had a call to a gentleman's home which had been flooded by a overflowing toilet downstairs that completely destroyed the carpet and hardwood in his front foyer. The problem began with a building sewer stoppage in the front yard that backed up to the lowest point of the home which was the first floor bathroom. His children was taking showers upstairs, as the water hit the stoppage it backed up to the first floor toilet, filled the toilet with upstairs shower water which began running over top of the toilet. At this point the mess began to be really, really bad. Everything in the building drain began running out onto the bathroom floor making it's way into the foyer area and adjoining bedroom.
When I got to the home the water had receded in the building sewer outside. I knew this by taking the four inch cap off the cleanout outside and looking into the pipe. I saw no water. I had to determine where the blockage was located so that I could alleviate the problem. The blockage could be between the cleanout and the toilet that was overflowing or it could be between the cleanout and the tap at the street where the building sewer tied onto the county sewer system.
To determine the location of the stoppage I had the gentleman flush the first floor toilet with the problem. It flushed fine and I saw the water flow by the cleanout where I was looking pacifically for the water to come rushing by. The rushing water let me know that the stoppage was between the cleanout and the street.
At this point I was ready to began the drain cleaning process. I took a water hose, inserted it into the cleanout, turned it on just to see if I could get the pipe to fill back up. In seconds it did. The stoppage was close. I unloaded my sewer cable machine, readied it for work and began by inserting the cable into the cleanout pushing it into the pipe until it stopped. At that point I hit the go pedal causing the machine to began spinning causing the cutter blade on the end of the cable to began cutting into the stoppage to tear it to pieces, causing it to flow on through the pipe. The water in the pipe instantly went down. For now the stoppage is cleared but with a problem. I should have been able to keep pushing the cable on through the pipe but it wouldn't go any further. I feared the worst.....a broken pipe.
I grabbed the cable and yanked it free of the piping, pulling it all the way out. I looked at the head and found a clump of mud on the end. This told me the pipe was broken and that the head had went out of the pipe into the dirt. A major repair was now necessary.
The gentleman was with me the whole time being a witness to all that was going on. When he saw the mud he asked, "What you mean mud?" He gave the go ahead to make the repair as I could not guarantee how long the pipe would stay unclogged.
Upon digging up the problem area I found that the four inch sewer pipe had been broken by heavy construction equipment when the home was built a couple of years ago. The repair was made as well as a new happy customer.
What's in the Air?
A local bank called with a odor in the entrance foyer that smelled like sewer gas. I went to investigate.
Soon as I arrived the bank manager introduced herself as she began describing the smell with when and where it was most prominant. Being that customers had already been going in and out of the front foyer the smell had disappeared for the moment.
The manager and I went to every bathroom, breakroom and plumbing fixture in the bank letting me try to determine where the smell was coming from. I suspected a dry trap (happens when a plumbing fixture is not used for an extended amount of time allowing the water in the p-trap to evaporate that the fixture drains in to. This allows sewer gas to enter the building through the p-trap whereas before the water in the p-trap sealed the gas from entering). I also suspected a defective air admittance valve (valve that is used in place of running an individual or common vent out of the roof generally found screwed onto the top of the plumbing drain under a kitchen sink or lavatory sink). I as a precaution ran water in every plumbing fixture to ensure that the sewer gas was sealed from entering the building and checked for sewer gas smell under all cabinets with a plumbing fixture.
We decided to try that and see if the smell was apparent the next morning.
A few days later the manager called again with the same problem. This time when I went back to the bank the heating and air company was there that had installed the HVAC system. I got with the service technician who was already checking out the system up in the ceiling space for a dead rat or some way that the system might have a cross connection with the plumbing system. We suspected a condensation drain that was dry that tied back into the plumbing system thus allowing the fan in the furnace to pull air from the sewer vent but that checked out to no avail.
It's back to the drawing board for me.
I began suspecting back pressure from the sewer. Back pressure is a build up of pressure in a sewer system that forces it's way through p-traps if the vent system is not correct. Back pressure can be caused by many things such as wind or even a blockage in the drain.
I began investigating this. I pulled the cap off the sewer clean-out outside of the building and was immediately hit in the face with a puff of blowing sewer gas.
I realized then I was on the right trail.
Next question I asked myself was, "why is this gas building up like this and not escaping through a vent stack through the roof? I began checking this question out by walking around the building looking for the vent stack penetrations. All looked good except for one.
That one, a three inch vent stack was venting the right side of the building's plumbing fixtures but I saw one problem- a cap was on top of the vent preventing air from flowing in and out of the vent as intended. This vent was also on top of the roof just above where I had previously opened the sewer cleanout cap.
I got a ladder and climbed up to the roof and took off the vent cap. Now the pressure in the plumbing system can equalize naturally whether than force it's way through the p-traps into the building, the plumbing vent system can breathe as designed to do.
The Smell of Victory
A retirement home called me out because they were having problems with a main building drain flooding out the hallway of the building when anything water in the building was used. I looked at the plumbing plan for the building and determined my course of action.
I got my sewer machine off the truck and brought it in to a clean-out that I had determined was the best to open and run my sewer machine cable in to unstop the building drain.
I along with several building maintenance guys were watching the water level in the clean-out because if the water level stayed high and overflowing then my machine cable wasn't doing it's job. If the water level dropped and emtpied in the clean-out then we would know the job was a success.
The water level began dropping slowly at first then it popped loudly as the building drain began draining at full capacity. The cable had worked at breaking up the clog.
The head maintenance supervisor walked in the door at the entrance to the hallway and said, "Boy, That's a tough smell." I replied, "I like it, it's the smell of victory." Because what he was smelling was the sewer gas blowing back through the open drain from the county sewer. If the drain was still clogged down range somewhere then you couldn't have smell the sewer gas.
OMG! My Ring...My Ring!
A customer called me in a panic explaining how her daughter had dropped her ring in the tub while taking a shower and it had washed down the drain. The ring was a very special ring. It was her daughter's wedding ring. Her daughter's husband had been killed in Afghanistan only weeks before. The ring must be found.
I got to her home quickly. The daughter was crying and in a panic believing the ring had been lost.
I looked at the tub drain and concocted a plan of retrieval. First thing I did was cut out the 1-1/2" P-trap in hopes the ring had been captured in it. As the cut was completed and of course the mother with her daughter was standing at the foot of my ladder watching the whole ordeal the P-trap broke loose with the final cut and I let it fall to my side. As it hit the side of my hip a rattle was heard. I knew it was the ring.
The mother grabbed a bucket and I dumped the contents of the P-trap into it. The ring made a big thump as it hit the bottom of the bucket. Many Thank You's started coming my way and tears of joy were seen from everyone.
I was thinking to myself "Today is a great day to be a Plumber".
It's all your fault!!
Some days can be a headache when I happen to be in the right place at the wrong time. What do I mean by that? Well, it like this. Sometimes when a customer has a problem and because of the customer not maintaining their plumbing system as well as they could it becomes a problem for me.
For example. Gate valves in a home's water piping system is the number one headache for me. Gate valves are located at the incoming water service line entrance into the home and is used for turning off the entire water supplying the home in case of maintenance of the system or an emergency. These gate valves are made of brass and because of debris and scale build up inside the valve it is like messing with the devil when turning one of these valves off. Why? Because when turning it back on the scale build up locks the gate by binding it in place preventing it from lifting when the handle is turned. It lifts and lowers by a screw which when turned counterclockwise screw the gate downward into the groove which when tight will close off water from one side of it t