Monthly Archives: April 2009

The History of Plumbing

Here’s something the Romans did for us – they invented plumbing!

By Adam Hart-Davis

Julius Caesar had a weekend native-bashing excursion to Britain in 55 BC. But I guess he didn’t enjoy the damp boarding houses with their fierce landladies, for he quickly went back to Rome, naturally claiming a great victory. Almost a hundred years later the emperor Claudius sent a powerful invading army, and the Romans then occupied Britain for the next 350 years. What did those Romans ever do for us?

Flushing lavatories

The Romans were keen on hygiene and built public baths in all their cities. Many of them have survived, notably the grand complex at Bath. The bath houses were places for social gathering, gossiping, and exchanging news. In the same complex were communal lavatories, often flushed with the used bathwater.

There is a well-preserved lavatory at Housesteads Roman fort, near Hexham, on Hadrian’s wall. The camp was home to some 800 soldiers, and the communal lavatory in the south-east corner must have accommodated a dozen men at a time, shoulder to shoulder, without any partitions. The sewage fell into a trench, and rainwater, collected in a cistern, flushed it away through the outer wall of the camp and into the civilian settlement outside.

A shallow channel in front of the sitting men also contained running water, probably to rinse the sponges on sticks that they used to wipe their bums. Each soldier probably carried his own sponge, since using one immediately after someone else would not have been appealing.

The Latin word for sewer is cloaca—the main sewer in Rome was called the cloaca maxima—and the Romans worshipped Cloacina, the goddess of the lavatory. There is even a poem in her honour:

O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,
Look on thy servant with a smiling face.
Soft and cohesive let my offering flow—
Not rudely swift, nor obstinately slow.

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Vaporooter Guarantee

Blocked drains are a major problem – any way you look at it!

Tree root invasion of sewer lines is a common cause of such blockages — BUT, when left unattended, tree roots will cause major damage to your sewer pipes (which, as you might imagine, can be far more troublesome than just any old blockage and the resulting sewerage backflow).

Replacing broken or collapsed sewer pipes can be a VERY expensive exercise …

Thankfully, there is a solution! … (but it’s NOT just a case of removing the tree roots).

The best solution available (and what we use ourselves) is Sanafoam Vaporooter. When applied to sewer lines correctly, the foam coats the interior of the affected pipes, seeping through any fine cracks which may have been created by the invading tree roots, and killing off any roots it comes into contact with. Vaporooter is so effective, that we guarantee the results for 12 months

Vaporooter: The BEST solution for tree roots in sewers!

What Happens When Tree Roots Grow In Sewer Pipes

The intrusion of tree roots in sewer pipes is probably the most destructive single element that faces those maintaining a sewer collection system today.

Sewers are ageing expensive assets that only attract public attention when they fail. There are more than 35,000 kms of water and sewer pipes in Sydney and 60% of all collection systems are made up of pipes with a diameter of 9 inches (225 mm) or smaller. The potential for tree root intrusion to inhibit flows, produce blocked drains and damage valuable pipes, is enormous.

Tree roots normally do not grow underwater and seldom cause problems where ground water covers the pipe. But in most areas, this is not the case.

Tree Roots Grow One Cell at a Time

When a seed germinates, it adds one cell at a time toward the best environment from which it might extract nutrients and moisture. The growing point of a tree moves best through loosely cultivated soil.

The most common practice used to lay sewer pipes is in an open trench. The back-filled soil offers a good growing medium for tree roots. Because the flow in sewer pipes is a higher temperature than the soil, this causes a condensation to appear on the crown of the pipe.

As the warm moisture from the sewer pipe evaporates up through the soil, the vapours offer an excellent trail for the tree roots to follow. If a vapour leak exists in the pipe, the roots concentrate its efforts at that point. Since some pipe joint compounds are of nutrient based material themselves (like rubber rings or sand cement mix), the root may entirely girdle before entering the pipe.

Roots Allow Accumulation of Debris

Once inside the sewer pipe, the root takes on the appearance of a “veil” or “horse tail” type structure. If flows in the pipes are fairly constant, the root mass hangs down like a veil to the normal flow level where they accumulate deposits of grease, slime and other debris.

Conventional methods of removing tree roots by cutting with an electric eel or a “Rattlesnake” high pressure water drain cleaner tend to increase regrowth; similar to pruning a tree. Removing tree roots inside the pipe solves the immediate problem of clearing the blocked drain, but does nothing to retard the tree root regrowth or destroy the tree roots outside the pipe.

This removal, regrowth and removal cycle of cutting and tearing roots can destroy the structural integrity of the pipe.

Herbicide Fumigants

Herbicide fumigants present  the most effective method to destroy tree roots and inhibit their regrowth without affecting the above ground plant life. Vaporooter is a root control herbicide that enters the sewer as a foam. Only tree roots within the pipe and a short distance outside the pipe are affected. Trees and shrubs immediately above ground are not harmed in any way.

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Plumbing Apprenticeship – ‘Giving back to the Community’

At The Lone Drainer and Pronto we like “Giving Back” to the community because the Plumbing industry has been very good to me and my family.

Every year around January we have anywhere between 5 and 20 boys (or their mothers) contact us looking for a plumbing apprenticeship. We have trained 9 apprentices in 20 years (plumbers apprenticeship is 4 years).

In early January we received the usual phone calls, letters and emails from people asking about plumbing apprenticeship. One day we received a call from a lady (she sounded late 40’s early 50’s) asking for a plumbing apprenticeship. I replied saying “with the greatest respect, you sound a little old to be starting an apprenticeship.”

You could almost hear this lady blushing down the phone… She said “I’m ringing for my son.” She told me all he ever wanted to be was a plumber! So we talked a little about her son and about his experience and she said he was very shy! I asked her to get him to ring and speak to me if he was keen about trying to develop the skills that he would need in his preferred occupation.

Three days later  her son “Francis” rang and he told me how they had laughed about my quip about his mum being “a little old to start”. He sounded like a great kid and I invited him over to our office to talk. I showed him around our office, workshop and store and let him touch plumbing stuff, pipes and fittings. He loved the experience! I could not give him a start at that time, but invited him to come back at his leisure and ask questions or check out anything about plumbing that he may have been interested in.

Francis came back twice over the next few weeks and about a month later, he rang me to say he had got an apprenticeship with a plumbing company near his home. He sounded completely different to the shy kid who got his mum to ring. He said he had the confidence to ask others for a job because the things we had shown him, the pipes, the fittings, the equipment, the jargon, had given him enough confidence to get him over the line at another job interview.

He thanked me profusely.

I see Francis at local plumbing suppliers and he always has a smile and a chat. It’s great to know our industry will be in good hands in the future.

The distinction!
No matter how simple, always try to pass on the knowledge, educate and inform!

It’s like sowing a crop!

Plant the seeds … Add water and sunshine …  Prepare for harvest.

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Symptoms of a Blocked Drain

As Easter approaches we make plans to get together with our family and friends, so there is constant use of kitchen and bathroom facilities. Make the holiday break memorable and keep an eye out for some of those vital symptoms that might indicate you have a slow or blocked drain rather than having to call an emergency plumber to rescue you and your family from a blockage.

Keep an eye out for the following:

  • The excessive rise or fall of the water level in your toilet. We call it syphoning, and it comes with a Glug Glug Glug.
  • Slow draining water or ankle deep water in the shower or bath.
  • Swarms of small flies  or sewer flies around smelly drains.
  • Your kitchen sink, waste disposal unit or dishwasher are slow to drain.
  • Toilet paper or dirty water around your sewer surcharge gully in the garden or yard.
  • Dirty water leaking from a retaining wall or garden bed that conceals sewer pipes.

These are signs of a blockage, and your pipes have been trying to tell you, that all isn’t well.

Because you have extra guests using the facilities if there is a problems in your pipes it may likely show signs then that you are able to pick up.

So have a look around you home for the symptoms and please do not ignore them.

Have a peaceful Easter.

I hope the Easter Bunny comes!

Blocked Drain Fixed with The Electric Eel!

I was on crutches and had asked Bruno the plumber to attend a blocked drain at a well known food shop in Bondi.

Bruno rang me to say that he couldn’t get the electric eel out of the drain pipe and could I come and help?  My wife (who was 8 months pregnant at the time) drove me to the site and I limped in and found Bruno with the electric eel over an access drain and the eel cables stuck fast!

“What happened” I asked. Bruno said “The eel cables just kept going in, so I kept on putting them in”.

“How much cable is in that hole”? I asked. “About 45 feet” (15 metres) he replied!

“How far to the blocked toilet”? I asked”  “About 10 feet” he replied!  I cringed!

I held on to my crutches and tried to help Bruno drag that electric eel out of that pipe. It wouldn’t budge!

Fortunately for us, the house behind the shop was vacant …. except for the “beast” that had been unleashed in the bathroom. The extra 35 feet of eel had come out through the back of the toilet, done a complete circuit of the small bathroom, then out the door and down the hallway towards the kitchen. The spinning action of the eel had allowed it to grab the old carpet hall runner in a “death roll”. When we had tried to wrestle the eel from the pipe, the old carpet had got stuck fast!

Of course we salvaged the situation, had the carpet cleaned, replaced the loo and successfully cleared the blockage.

Some 12 years later when I have a coffee with Bruno (who now has his own very successful plumbing business) and we laugh about our daily plumbing lives, telling those gathered about the dangers of the electric eel, Bruno still blushes and says “David, it’s just The Nature of The Beast“!

Plumbing Tip: Dont keep putting your resources into a black hole!

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