Homefix: Dwight Barnett writes about home-improvement projects. This week's topics: contractors and the importance of having the proper drain installed.
After performing more than 10,000 home inspections, I’ve come to the realization that two of the most important contractors in the home are an electrician and a plumber.
The problems I generally see are in the more rural areas, where codes are lax or not enforced at all.
If an electrician makes a mistake, the results are usually immediate, resulting in blown fuses, tripped breakers or house fires.
If a plumber makes an error, outside of a leaky pipe or a supply line, the error may take a lifetime for you to discover. What I’m talking about, in general, are viruses and bacteria that exit the waste system.
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Lately, I’ve seen several sinks and fixtures that have an “S” trap drain. “S” trap drains have been prohibited for decades and have been replaced with a “P” trap drain. To visualize an “S” trap drain, just look under your sink to see if the drainpipe forms an “S,” with the drainpipe going down through the cabinet floor almost directly under the sink. A “P” trap drain will form a “P” shape to maintain a water seal, and the pipe will either go through the wall behind the fixture or extend several inches away from the sink drain before exiting through the floor.
The mechanical purpose of the trap is to hold water to prevent sewer gases containing viruses and bacteria from entering the home through the drain. With an “S” trap drain, the trap is easily siphoned dry with each use and the water seal no longer exists. A properly installed “P” trap will always maintain a water seal. If you have an “S” trap drain and you notice odors in the room, you can run the water slowly for a short time to fill the “S” trap to maintain a water seal so the sewer gases can no longer escape to the home.
Plumbing drains also require a venting system that extends beyond the roof of the home to vent sewer gases to the outside and to provide atmospheric pressure to the drains to allow the drain water to flow freely. An example of a vent would be to place your thumb over a straw in a glass of water. You can lift the water inside the straw until you take your thumb away and the water drains out. If a vent is improperly installed, if it’s too short at the roofline and can be covered by snow or debris, or if it terminates inside the attic, your fixtures may either drain slowly or not at all.
Plumbing repairs should always be performed by a licensed plumber. The plumbing inside your home is so critical that every jurisdiction in the United States requires plumbers to be licensed.
I would also strongly recommend that electrical work be performed by a residential electrician. However, not all jurisdictions require licensing of electricians. When in doubt, contact your local building official or county health department. Always get more than one bid, and get three references from the contractor you select. There should be no down payment before the work starts. For small jobs, payment should be made upon completion. If you’re building a new home, however, you’ll most likely pay as the work progresses.
Remember: No professional contractor should ask for money before starting the job.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.