Jerusalem Apartments - Plastic Plumbing and Clogged Drains

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

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Israel is built on plastic plumbing. I'm sure there was a time when they used metal, but that time was so long ago that I've never seen it in a building. Jerusalem's walls are full of plastic tubing, I wouldn't dignify it by calling it pipe, but I will admit that plastic tubing is coming into vogue in the U.S., especially with heating systems. Due to the possible long term health hazards some people worry about with plastic, I know counties in the U.S. that ban different types for drinking water, also called potable or sanitary, depending on your local lingo. In any case, the drainage piping here is all plastic as well, with a major downside in that it's noisier than iron pipe, especially in taller buildings when people flush toilets. All that said, this page is about cleaning the trap of a clogged drain. The trap is guaranteed to be the problem, and this particular plumbing system has some other issues as well, but the trap is a logical place to start. Once upon a time traps were "U" shaped tubes that may or may not have included a clean-out, but the plastic plumbing does in with a single large tub.
The drain worked very slowly when I moved in, occasionally backing up with water just sitting in the sink. I could always get it going good with the old "use your palm as a plunger:" trick, but the fact it would back up again a day later told me that there was a constriction pretty close to the sink. Plastic plumbing has a lot of flexibility in it, and because this particular system had an obvious leakage point a little further downstream, I wanted to be as gentle with it as possible. So, I held the rest of the piping firm with my left hand and slowly unscrewed the trap with my right. My assistant is responsible for the blurry photograph. I also put a pot below the trap for in case there was extra water still backed up in the few inches of drain pipe coming down from the sink. People who rush into snakes to unclog drains are making a mistake, and you would never be able to snake a drainage system with this type of trap in any case.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that the purpose of the trap is to catch your wedding ring if it falls of your hand while you're doing dishes. Nothing could be further from the truth, that's what garbage disposals are for. The purpose of the trap is to create a barrier between the open drain in your sink and the sewer system, into which the drain piping eventually exits. The trap creates that barrier by remaining full of water all the time, so that the drainage flow goes down from the sink into the trap, then rises up around the drain pipe until it reaches the exit point in the "T" to the left. The trap and "T" fixture is made special this way, with the interior pipe a much smaller diameter than the outer fitting. The system works pretty good, but because the large amount of surface area around the internal pipe, it may be more subject to build-up than the old fashioned "U" traps. You're usually going to get a little spillage when you unscrew the trap bottom because the water backs up as high as the bottom of the grey drain pipe exiting to the left,and boy does it stink!
The trap cup itself was pretty clean, but when I wiped down the inside tube of the fitting with a paper towel, all sorts of gunk came out. I suspect that a girl lived here previously and washed her hair in the sink from time to time (no sink in the bathroom) because there was a lot of long hair all wrapped around in there. You can also see that the center drain pipe in the trap fixture is white after the grey gunk you see on it in the picture above gets towelled off. I did the best I could cleaning the thing up without taking the system apart further, the rubber seal on the top of the trap thread looked fine, so I screwed it back together and intentionally dumped a full pot of water in the sink get some pressure and see if there were any leaks. Held up fine, but I'll be curious to see if the odor problem that comes from under the sink at odd times will clear up now. As I mentioned, the drain pipe a little further down the line obviously leaked, there were stains all down the side, and I was able to tighten up that joint be a full turn or so, so it was never put together right to start with.

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