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calendar   Wednesday - January 25, 2012

So How Was Your Day?

Rollators and Fernco Donuts




Yup, that’s how I spent half of my day yesterday. Doing, fixing, researching and learning.

My mother in law isn’t in the best physical shape anymore. She’s old and ailing, and has been pretty much bed ridden for the past several months from a back injury. She finally seems to be healing, and wanted a walker to help her get around her house. She’d been using two little canes, the “stable” kind with the plate on the bottom that has 4 feet on it, but things were still quite wobbly, so a walker it was. But not just any walker, she wanted one with wheels on, and that kind is called a rollator. News to me. Naturally, being my mother in law, any old rollator wasn’t good enough. She’s short and heavy, so she needed the special kind built for people of her dimension. Hard to find. Oh, and it had to have a backrest, and a seat, a padded seat that is, extra wide. And it had to have a basket, thank you very much, or else it was no good. Oh, and exceptionally low handles, because the MIL is the size of a hobbit.

So we looked online, and went through dozens of different models. Hundreds? I’d never given these things a thought, and was rather surprised to find that there are hundreds of different models out there, in all sizes and materials, in a wide price range from “not bad” to “you’ve got to be kidding”. And good luck to you finding the useful specifications, such as seat size, seat height, and handle height range. They all look pretty much like this:

image

So we finally located one, and it turned out to be the least expensive model out there, and we could have even ordered it from Wal-mart. The box got shipped, she opened the carton, and without even putting the thing together we heard a solid week of phone calls telling us how no good it was. Gosh, so glad we spent hours and hours shopping online for you. We would have gone down there and put it together for her right away, but with work schedules and the snowstorm ... you know how it goes.

I was in the area yesterday morning so I stopped over and put it together, which was beyond simplicity itself. Take off the plastic wrapping, unfold it, and slide the handles into the frame. Turn 2 big knobs to tighten the handles. Done. 1 minute, no muscle required. And from her perspective sitting on the couch, it was still no good. The seat was too tall, her legs would dangle. The handles were too high, she couldn’t reach. Now, my MIL and I have a bit of an understanding, arrived at after all the projects I’ve done at her place over the years. The kind of crap she pulls on her daughters just doesn’t fly with me, and I’m not going to put up with her crybaby BS. I accept that there are many things she can’t do, and that’s fine, but I do expect her to at least give it a fair go. So I had her get up and give the thing a try. And after about 20 seconds of trepidation she was in love with her new gizmo, positively zooming around the house, doing donuts and K turns all over the place. It turned out that the handle height she’d been using with her canes was too low, and the slightly higher height on the rollator handles allowed her a better stance. And the high seat worked in her favor, allowing for a shorter drop to a sitting position so sitting down was easy, and which nearly stood her upright when she slid off the seat to stand up. And the higher seat lets her park the walker by the stove and she can cook sitting down. Given that little epiphany, I sawed off 4 little chunks of a 2x4 and slid them under the feet of her very low bed, and now it’s much easier for her to get in and out of that as well. And she’s zooming around the house like a kid on a sugar high at the country fair. Woo hoo!

While I was down in the basement cutting the lumber with the only saw in her house - a joke of a tool, a plastic mini saw from the $1 store - I found the big monkey wrench. Finally! See, she lives in an old one floor house, and the P-trap for the bathtub is in the basement, and her pipes have been terribly clogged for a long time now. The monkey wrench let me open the clean out tap on the old rotting iron P-trap and use a wire to try and clean out some of the gunk. It didn’t work, so I decided to take the thing apart. Like everything else in her home, which is one of what I call an “I built it” home, handmade by somebody with no idea how to do anything, her plumbing is a nightmare. So the 1 1/2” thin wall brass drain in the bathtub mates up to a few lengths of various diameter PVC downpipe, which has a rubber collar on the end to mate to the old 2” galvanized P trap, which in turn feeds into the 2” hub on the sanitary tee on the main stack. The whole thing dangles 4 or 5 feet from the bathtub up above. Hey, the rubber collar used to be held in place with twisted bailing wire. At least I got some good radiator clamps on it a few years ago.

What on earth is a sanitary tee? This is:

image

I didn’t know beans about pipe, so I learned a little, and found a whole new vocabulary of terms that only plumbers know. Pipe terms, not swear words. The sewer line in your house has a vertical part. This is called the stack. It is usually made up of many pieces of cast iron pipe, stacked together. Duh. The top end of the stack is open to the air, sticks through your roof, and is called a soil vent. It lets smell out and air in, so that no suction builds up in the pipe and things keep moving along. The bottom end of the pipe, the horizontal bit that runs out the side of your basement wall, is the sewer line proper, and is joined to the stack with a corner pipe called an elbow that has a removable plate on the side called a clean out. This is where the Roto-Rooter guy goes to do his thing when the line gets clogged. One end of each pipe piece is flared out to accept the next piece of pipe, and that flare is called a hub. The other end, unflared, is called the spigot. Spigots fit into hubs, and with the aid of poured lead and oakum are joined together permanently in a watertight manner. When side pipes - drain lines for tubs and sinks etc - have to join the stack they do so via a special pipe called a sanitary. There are sanitary tees, crosses, double tees, and so forth; a whole menagerie of interesting and unusual shapes. But they’re all called sanitary because the secondary pipes join in through a specially shaped corner bend, which is designed to minimize siphoning. That design keeps the poop in the line from being sucked back up into your bathtub, and thus the name sanitary. There are also regular pipe junctures - tees, whys, elbows, bends, four ways, Ess Offsets, etc - that don’t have that special corner, but they aren’t called unsanitary. They’re just regular junctures. Pipe is sized according to its inner diameter, so a 2” gavlanized mild steel pipe is actually a bit more than 2 1/4” in overall diameter, and the socket part of a 2” pipe hub is even larger, so that the plumber can have room to put the lead seal in. Or not, as the general move lately is away from lead anything, so gaskets, o-rings, and several types of adhesive are used these days instead. To make matters more complex, sewer pipe is made in 2 varieties, Service Weight (marked “SV” because it originated during WWII as a lightweight pipe that saved metal for the War Effort and thus was at first called “Service Victory") and regular weight (marked “XH” for extra-heavy duty), and the outer diameters of these pipes are not the same for a given inner diameter. The hub sizes are also different for the same reason.

So when I went to unscrew the top elbow for the deep P ( a regular P-trap keeps about 2” of standing water on either side of the bottom U-bend. This keeps the rank smell of the sewer line in the sewer line and not the rest of your house. A deep P does the same job, but uses about 4” to 6” of water on either side. I have no idea if one works better than the other as stink catching, or if the deeper design has some other advantage or meets some special need. ) the whole horizontal pipe pulled right out of the hub fitting. This was only a small surprise, as the hub was covered over with generations of caulk and putty to seal the join. Obviously it never was a proper tight fit; a well done joint is the closest thing to forever that exists, and usually needs two oxen and a large application of fire to take apart. Like I said, this is an “I built it” home, where stupid battles with lazy and cheap on a regular basis, and nobody wins in the end. But I finally had the whole P-trap thing removed as a unit, and I proceeded to removed the clogs with a stiff wire and a screwdriver. Then I went after the throat of the sanitary, which was also crusted almost solid. And that’s when I found the heart of the problem. Somehow a small plastic cup had got down the pipe, and was stuck right on the very end of the corner. A little thing, hardly bigger than a bottle cap, a hard to see bit of clear plastic the size of a quarter that was blocking most of the opening. Using two large screwdrivers like the most maniacal pair of chopsticks ever, I was able to capture the little bastard and get it out. Ta friggin’ Da! Now the tub drain should run like Niagara Falls. I put everything back together and sealed the hub with a whole handful of window caulk, which should be right. Then I noticed that the rotting old P-trap was cracked up the side. I had neither torch nor solder with me to seal it properly, so I kept the “I built it” motif going and slathered the thing with a big blob of roofing asphalt that happened to be sitting there in a can. That should hold for a couple days, especially since the old lady isn’t even using the tub right now at all because her knees are too weak to let her lift her calves up over the side of the tub.

And that’s why she has the salesman from one of those walk-in tubs for seniors coming Saturday. So we all have to go down there for that, to make sure he doesn’t twist her arm into signing up for some $10,000 deluxe spa device when all she really needs is a low edged shower stall, or one of those conversions where they cut a door into the side of your tub. I’ll use that visit to do some more work on the P-trap. It’s rotting apart, like I said. I want to replace the old galvanized parts with some nice new PVC parts, and that means I’ll have to clean out the hub on the sanitary tee. You can’t fit plastic PVC to a cast iron hub with the old poured molten lead method. You have to use a special rubber seal instead, and that means I need a Fernco Donut. Fernco is the company that makes the thing, and a donut is another name for the O-ring kind of seal:

image

They come specially sized for whatever kind of pipe you’re using, and I’ll be using standard Schedule 40 2” DWV PVC . This is a fairly common fitting these days, assuming I can figure out whether her stack uses SV or XH, and in theory you just have to hammer it in. Short work, easy project. Which means a 2 or 3 day effort at my MIL’s place. Call a plumber? Are you kidding? They’d charge hundreds just to remove the old seal, and hundreds more to put in a new one and rig up a new PVC P-trap. Plus, I know that my “I built it"s will last forever, because I build things to a standard that would make Mike Holmes blush.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 01/25/2012 at 10:05 AM   
Filed Under: • Daily Life •  
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Not that very many people ever read this far down, but this blog was the creation of Allan Kelly and his friend Vilmar. Vilmar moved on to his own blog some time ago, and Allan ran this place alone until his sudden and unexpected death partway through 2006. We all miss him. A lot. Even though he is gone this site will always still be more than a little bit his. We who are left to carry on the BMEWS tradition owe him a great debt of gratitude, and we hope to be able to pay that back by following his last advice to us all:
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