Plumbing with Murphy

In case you’re wondering how I spent my yesterday, it was under the downstairs bathroom floor, and thanks for asking. Let me clarify that there was no under in the bathroom floor area. I had to dig out an under part, but beforehole-in-ground that, I learned once again, to never, never cement in your access to plumbing and think you’re done. Murphy will catch a detail like that and giggle with anticipation.

It’s not like I’ve got a custom plumber crack, or was born with a channel lock in my hand, but I’ve done a good bit of water and waste management in my time with hardly a drip on the floor. Our house in Missouri had a strange mix of copper, pvc and garden hose, which is par for the course in Missouri. I was able to correct the plumbing issues but not the rest of what was wrong in that part of the country. Out here on the lone prairie, I’ve replaced all the mismatched copper with PEX and had a tremendous increase in happiness when you turn on the faucet. Where you get into the hand wavy part of plumbing is making stuff you put in the porcelain throne, leave and never come back. Without the correct diameter, slope and air pressure, you’re gonna be unhappy, I guarantee.

We’ve finished the downstairs bathroom and adjacent mud room. I have a small punch list and the Mrs has one more coat of paint and that’s a wrap. However… we’ve yet to use the bathroom. So, I figure, no time like the present to kick the tires and take it for a spin around the block, as it were. Sink works, shower works, the door works. Lights, both of them, go on and off, just like they’re supposed to. Toilet, um, doesn’t work. I heard giggling in the background and it wasn’t the wife. I’d gone the extra mile to make sure the toilet had the right slope and gave it it’s own vent. It’s called an air admittance valve (AAV). You put them in places that require venting. Ideally, in conjunction with a vent stack, but in odd cases, it would do the job on its own. The valve will detect a vacuum, say when you flush the toilet, and let air in to chase the, um, stuff down the pipe. Our toilet did a short gulp and didn’t drain, in fact just kept filling up if you flushed again. I could see where this could lead to marital problems down the line.

from-toiletWhat made the whole thing extra happy to think about was the fact that I had just put in a concrete wall to block off access to that part. We had placed the toilet in the way back part of the bathroom and it sits under the top part of the stairs. I had put a doorway that goes into the root cellar area, basically the rest of the under the stairs part. There is not a lot of space in there under the stairs. The root cellar has a dirt floor, and the mud room and bathroom have concrete or wood flooring that is about a good 12 inches higher than the dirt. Which means, where the concrete ends, you can see what’s under concrete floors. Mostly rocks, spider webs and a frog or 2. The wife is not squeamish about crawly things, but I didn’t really want to leave a welcome mat out for the under floor citizens. I blocked it off with a couple of bags of Quickcrete, before I ever thought about checking to see if all systems were go in bathroom land. Shmart.

Back when I had the floor open and was working on the waste line I installed a 2 inch branch, off of the 3 inch wastefrom-root-cellar line. If I would have left it like that, I would have been somewhat golden. But, I remember not having enough 2 inch pvc and because I was plumbing by the seat of my pants, put in a 2 inch to 1.5 inch reduction and carried the vent line out from there. Now the toilet was installed, flooring installed, drywall installed, electrical installed, all painted and had a fresh concrete wall blocking access to the unhappy area. It was this moment when Murphy chose to remind me that you always build for the next guy, cause it’s quite often you. Well poop. That’s a plumbing term and a problem.

I did what most amateur plumbers do when they get something caught in their crack, went to the internet and searched for wisdom. After a half dozen screens of kitty pictures to calm my frazzled Zen, I found out that a 2 inch vent for a 3 inch waste line is what the pro said to use. It was said to get a larger air admittance valve too. And I did. Got one that everybody bragged on. Because I was really trying to fix the problem without too much work, I put the new AAV on some 2 inch pvc and stuck that on the 1.5 pvc coming out of the floor. I figured, at most that would leave a section of about 20 inches of 1.5 line between the 2 inch line with the AAV on it, and the 3 inch line on the other end. If I was really lucky and didn’t think about things too hard, it might work. Crossed my fingers and flushed the toilet. It gulped and the water just sat there. That was plan A. Plan B was more involved. My new concrete wall was the gateway to under the toilet. And, there was about 2 inches of space when you got past the concrete. Plus, the confined space did not allow you to use a full sized shovel. Of course not. Sometimes, life’s most remembered lessons are the self inflicted, painful ones. And it was 4pm in the afternoon.

I trudged down to the shop and grabbed my impact chisel and lugged that and my air compressor back up to the house, and got busy. 40 minutes later, I was looking at concrete rubble and the 2 inches of space under the floor joist of the toilet area. It was dang near 5pm and time for a brew and a brood. I can’t say I got a lot of sleep that night, because I got up at 2:30am and sat there, in the dark, sipping my bitter coffee, scheming my bitter schemes. When it got light, I grabbed a 5 gallon pail and hauled out about 6 loads of concrete chips. Then I went and found my military surplus trenching tool. The kind they gave you in boot camp and you had to dig fox holes and such. And I dug. We live on a rock ridge and I was concerned that I might have to use dynamite if I hit any big stones, but Murphy must have been out getting a coffee, and the digging was easy. Took me about an hour to dig a tunnel under the floor joist and into where I needed to be. The dirt was stacked up high behind me and it was lots of fun wiggling down the dirt ski slope and under the floor. I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I don’t wiggle as good as I used to.

As I got my first look at the situation, I could tell this was going to be a right handed problem to solve. Meaning, I had to lay on my right side and extend my right arm to the problem area. If I laid on my left side, I would be facing the back wall and not be able to do anything other than look pathetic. My right side had the added bonus of that saw-handbeing my busted shoulder side, but the up side of that is I am a lot more flexible with that shoulder now that most of the ligaments aren’t there to restrict me anymore. Always gots to look on the bright side of things. I got a good look where the problem was and came up with a plan. I had almost no room to use a hand saw to cut out the, by now, hated 1.5 inch PVC, so I modified an old Japanese saw by taking the handle off and using a glove to hold it, because it had teeth on both sides. I was able to get a 2 inch saw stroke, and in 10 minutes or so, the reviled 1.5 inch PVC line dropped off. I wiggled out of the hole and found I looked like mole man with PVC shavings in my hair and covered in moist dirt. The Mrs told me to take my clothes off before coming into the kitchen, but I told her I just wasn’t in the mood. I drank my bitter coffee in the Mud Room, so I wouldn’t muss up the rest of her house.

Once coffee time was done, I cobbled up some 2 inch line with an elbow and a rubber union and it took some finagling, but I got her in and glued up. Installed the big AAV on the end of the 2 inch line, which is now 2 inches all the way down to the 3 inch line. I figured Bob’s got to be my uncle by now. Brushed the dirt from myself, approached the toilet and flipped the lever. It gulped once and nothing else happened. I knew now, what we had here, was a failure to communicate. All my plumbing was right with the plumbing gods. I didn’t think we needed to sacrifice a virgin just to flush the damn toilet, so back to the internet. Turns out, we bought a weak sister toilet, that in all it’s EPA mandated splendor, doesn’t draw enough of a vacuum to activate our super duper AAV. Which also means what you put in the potty, will stay in the potty. No Bueno!

Plan A was for Assume, which you know how that goes and it did.
Plan B was for Burrow, and that worked just like I wanted it too. Got the right parts retro-fitted in and everything.
Plan C is for Change, as in change out the weak sister toilet and I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. I want something that when I flush the toilet, it will do so with a sonic boom. The neighbors will know when you go boom BOOM! And this being bible thumping, gun toting, flyover America, the neighbors will probably stand in the front yard and salute you. It makes for great church potluck conversations.


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