a sink that hasn't drained in eleven years
Sunday, July 27 2014
Since early in our life up in Hurley, there has been a problem with the drain in the sink of the upstairs bathroom. It drains very slowly and it's impossible to raise the sink stopper to create more than tiny crack for water to drain through. Normally I'd have someone else I could blame for such problems, but all the plumbing in that bathroom (all the way back to the stubs left by the people who built the house) was done by me, mostly back in 2002. For a long time now, I've had an expensive new pop-up drain stop to replace the crappy cheap one I'd originally installed, but I'd been putting off the installation because of how messy it would be. Today, though, I finally tore that sink apart and installed the new drain stop. The sink is a pedestal one, and to do this I had to remove that pedestal. Since it wasn't attached with any hardware, all I had to do was slide the pedestal out of the way, lifting off the weight of the sink as I did so (though the sink is also supported by bolts into the structure of the wall). After I did so, I could see all the grime that had worked its way into and under it in the past eleven and a half years.
Despite the new hardware, I couldn't make a leak-proof seal between the U-trap and the pop-up drain. Whenever water drained through the system, a subtle drip-drip-drip-causing leak would appear. Eleven and a half years ago, I didn't know much about drain plumbing, and when I encountered this problem then, the solution was to make a donut of plumbers' putty and pack it into the joint, which otherwise had to somehow seal around a nylon drain gasket (how could that possibly work?). I looked around for my old plumber's putty but couldn't find it; if I had, it probably would have had the consistency of limestone after all this time. So decided to go shopping at the Home Depot. I'd been hoping not to leave the house at all today, but I really wanted this job to be over with.
While at the Home Depot, I bought a brass U-trap, a plastic bendy U-trap extension (which is necessary for the unusual geometry of the upstairs sink), a bag of assorted drain gaskets, and a small tub of cheap plumbers' putty (just in case). But back at the house when I put it all together, I found the U-trap had come with rubber gaskets, which easily form a solid water-tight seal. That might just be the difference between expensive parts and cheap ones, a lesson I had not yet learned back when I was doing all the initial work on this house. The expensive parts fit together nicely and form perfect seals, and the resulting sink lasts indefinitely and just works. The cheap parts require plumbers' putty and work well enough for you to leave them in place for 12 years while you try to fit your life in around a sink that doesn't really drain.
I should mention that the old pop-up drain I removed from the sink had about 20% of its diameter clogged with hair that had slowly turned gelatinous over the years. As for the old trap, it contained several tablespoons of extremely fine, densely-packed sediment similar to natural clay. It had a dark bluish color, suggesting the drain environment is a low-oxygen one (if not exactly reducing).
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