Tuesday, 10 February 2009

19 - The Plumbing

I don’t think mere words, no matter how eloquent or precise, could adequately convey the experience of getting all of the plumbing done for the house. I can only write about it now, so late in the game, because it is almost finally finished. Much of the time was burnt up in the search for a plumber that would take on the job after reading the waste treatment report outlining the intricacies involved with the grey water. For those new to my ramblings, the house’s waste system will consist of a dry composting toilet and a simple septic system for grey water. Only due to the unholy matrimony between our house site and council requirements, we could not have the septic leech field trench business near the house as it would have been too close to gullies (watercourses). There was one spot but upon closer investigation following a heap of rain we discovered it contained a spring. The alternative we decided upon was to have the water leave the septic tank via a sump pump and travel some 130 meters down a hill and up again to be connected to our existing trench that is attached to the septic that is attached to the shed that is what we now live in. This alternative suits us better in the end as we do not have to accommodate a large leech field near the house where we want to plant things and we don’t need to pay for new trenches and stuff to be dug.

So the details of all this were laid out in a rather wordy, numbery, and somewhat costly, report. We then gave this report to three different fairly local plumbers for quoting. Here’s where time started to slip away, slowly at first and then steadily increasing in both speed and intensity, much like an animated snowball. We didn’t think about this quoting process much before adhering to it as a logical course of action for people outside of town with a big job to pursue. Preparing a complex quote can be a lot of work for a busy plumber, and then there is no guarantee that their will be any money in it for them at the end. There are all sorts of bits and pieces to price. Many short weeks, awkward phone calls and empty promises went by and still no quote came in. We finally found out from one plumber that while he was pricing up some of the materials in a shop another plumber had a copy of our report and was doing the same. The second plumber said he was given the job from one of the other plumbers we had asked because he was too busy to take it on. Anyway it all ended in plumber distrust. The ones that were too busy were too busy and the one that would have done the job was put off after discovering that we had apparently asked every Tom, Dick and Harry with a pocket full of thread tape to submit a quote. This process of hearing nothing back went on for a few months. We were torn between demanding a response and potentially putting plumbers off by such a demand. In hindsight we should not have insisted on quotes for the septic system. The “I know a good plumber” in small towns is as good as a quote. We should have showed faith in any locally referred plumber who expressed an interest in taking on the job.

In the end we pursued a referral from our neighbour who knew a plumber through family links living on the Gold Coast, an hour’s drive away. He came in and had a look and said, despite not having done many septic hookups before he would take on the job. After seemingly offending the local plumbers we signed up our Gold Coast saviour. To help him out I started to source some of the materials he would need for the grey water system.

This decision sparked the second stage of snowballing time loss. It turns out this plumber was also rather busy and managed to spread the plumbing of the house, including the septic, over 3 months. There was about 8-9 days work in it. I guess in many regards this did not matter too much as we still had many little things to complete before we can move in. However, our anxiety grew as the time passed for we had a huge tank to fill and our rainy season was fast approaching without down, or storm, water pipes to welcome it. I am happy to say that the entire plumbing job is now almost finally finished as I write these words. There are just some fit off jobs to do after we make a kitchen and sort the bathroom out. We have a temporary hook up for the bathroom basin and the shower. I will discuss these with lashings of detail in a future post.

A Few Words on the Waste Treatment System

This is all completed now but not before a couple of minor complications. The first was the confusion over the tanks for the grey water system. The report stated that we needed two tanks that were both at least 1800 L. One was for the waste water to go into and then overflow into the second that will house a sump pump. At certain fullness the pump would come alive and pump water to the trenches I mentioned earlier. For our particular site these tanks needed to be plastic. I could only find a 1600L or a 3000L tank. I almost begged and pleaded with the consultant who wrote the report to allow me to use the 1600L size tank. “What’s 200 litres between friends?” I asked. He wouldn’t budge. His reasoning was that he had to allow a capacity determined by our potential household number of people, in case of pump failure. So if the pump breaks down we would have a few days to organise for it to be replaced before the second tank overflowed. Fair enough but we don’t use much water. I suspected that his figures were probably based on well washed folk on town water before restrictions. Anyway I was left with no choice but to buy two 3000L septic tanks. While we were over capitalising I figured I may as well get a baffle put in one, so I did. And remember all this was only for grey water. There will be no black water in the system because of the composting toilet. One consolation though is that if we ever sell the house and for some crazy reason the new owner does not want to use the composting toilet, then they will have the capacity to tackle their poo with a flush toilet and a septic tank system – boring.

The septics with the drain from the house feeding into them

The trench containing the polypipe on its way to our current residence - the shed

I did get to stray from the report a little which granted me the rebellious fix I was looking for earlier. It suggested using 32mm pipe to carry the water to the trench. Considering the friction loss one gets when pumping up hill over a certain distance the man who sold me the sump and I thought 40 mm would be better. So this is what we used. Ahhhh. Also the report stated that this poly pipe should feed into the end of the existing slotted 90mm pipe running through the trench and be drilled with 5mm holes and capped off. It didn’t say how far up the slotted pipe the poly pipe should go. In the end I thought it best to run in just over half way, which is where the shed septic tank tees into it. My neighbour thought it best not to cap the poly pipe completely in case of blockages in the 5mm holes. Fair enough. But then I noticed during one of many test runs that there wasn’t enough resistance to push much water out of these holes. My solution was to reduce the outlet down to a quarter of its size. This gave more resistance and hence flow to the holes and was still large enough to dodge the likelihood of blockages. Sorry for all the details, done now though. The reason I took on this job was because the plumber had left it for ages and the exposed end of the septic pipe, plus the last few metres of open trench were getting all grassed over and annoying.

The Tank Hook Up

Our plumber saw fit to leave the hooking up of the water tank to the house gutters until last. When this was suggested before he began work I was cool with it, however, after the work started and the time between his visits spilled over from clocks to calendars to seasons, we were getting anxious. We already had to buy one load of water to stabilise the tank and help test the other plumbing work. Despite the gutting effect this had on the old wallet, it barely made a dent in the tank’s capacity. We did not want to do this again in a hurry. Turns out we didn’t have to. The plumber returned for 2 and half days work in fairly quick succession, well, quick when considering the pace he had already set for himself. The storm water hook up is now finished and as I type, no, madly tap at the keyboard with two fingers as if my hands have been replaced by woodpeckers, the tank is full. It has only been a few weeks. What joy. Thank you rain. It does not take much to fill a tank when all the down pipes are hooked up to it. In this case about 135mm.

All Up
The bill for the plumbing came in at rather full figured. After considering the things I bought such as the storm water pipe, the septic tanks, the sump pump, the pressure pump and the 140 metres of pressure pipe along with the excavation work to bury the septics, running the drain in and burying the pipe up the hill, the total cost for the plumbing was about $13 660. I am very happy with the work, I like to admire it.


Michelle said...

Congrats on finally moving in Sean!
Would love to see some pics of the interior when it's finished.

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