I was revisiting a boiler bid with customers for whom we've done other work in the past, and we were going over the two-year-old bid to replace their aging beast in the basement. The boiler was really a bandit robbing them of heating dollars sent up the flue.
As we went over the many benefits an upgrade would bring them in terms of both comfort and economy, I spied new PVC plumbing in the basement ceiling joist area. UPC code stickers alerted me to the possibility that the homeowners might have done their own plumbing work, so I treaded lightly at first while inquiring about the manner in which the lines were installed.
As my eyes wandered along the length of the kitchen drain line, there were several sanitary Ts laid flat on their backs. Farther along, new drainage serving a bathroom appeared and, here again, more lazy-Ts appeared. The tub's P-trap was rendered unvented by the lavatory wet-vent because it turned down with a 45-degree ell, making it a 3/4 S-trap and, to add insult to injury, it terminated in yet another lazy-T!
"Does the tub drain properly?" I asked.
"No!" she replied, "And they've been back three times with no results or improvement in its performance."
Who "they" were turned out to be the remodeling contractor who, as my client put it, had its own "plumber."
“Was there a plumbing inspection?" I asked.
She didn't know the answer, but the Pennsylvania statewide IPC (International Plumbing Code) would have required a permit and inspection for the kitchen work due to the addition of an island sink —an unvented island sink served by a P-trap as it turned out! She told me that whenever the island was draining, it caused the kitchen to gasp for air in a slup-slup manner — a sure sign there's either no vent or a clogged vent serving that fixture.
One thing I knew for certain: The in-house "plumber" was no plumber, not by any stretch of the imagination if this work was an example of their skills.
Interpreting the code
The IPC code is quite clear regarding installing a tee on its back, with but one exception on the drainage side, and our local plumbing inspectors don’t always fully comprehend the code book in its entirety, or how to interpret its intent. From the IPC: 706.3 Installation of fittings: “Fittings shall be installed to guide sewage and waste in the direction of flow.”
Table 706.3 only allows tees to be used in drainage going from horizontal drains connecting to vertical stacks, and prohibits vertical to horizontal and horizontal to horizontal. I called up the township's plumbing inspector to ask if he would require a permit and inspection for the boiler installation. Technically, none was required because the new boiler's Btu/h rating would be the same as the old one (based upon a Manual-J calculation).
The code states no permit or inspection is required unless you're changing the fuel type or Btu/h sizing. In other words, do a proper heat-loss calculation and find the old beast is oversized for any number of reasons (such as beefed up insulation or new windows), and you'll be required to provide Manual-J calculations, obtain a permit and acquire an inspection. Or, simply toss in the same-old, same-old and avoid the permit/inspection process. Bass-ackwards thinking, but that's how our local AHJ is interpreting the IMC code!
We weren't required to obtain a permit or inspection, so I asked the PI if he permits lazy-T installations.
"Absolutely not," he replied and wanted to know why I was asking.
We discussed the situation at some length and commiserated with each other regarding the prevalence of professional licensed plumbers to install lazy tees, ignore distances from the crown weir of the fixture trap to vent, and dropping off with 45s to, in effect, create an S-trap. Then he asked me for the property address.
Now there's another dilemma. I didn't want to compromise our relationship with the homeowners, and she specifically asked me not to disclose their address to the PI. The remodeling contractor, on the other hand, shouldn't be permitted to continue foisting substandard plumbing onto unsuspecting consumers. Talk about being caught on the horns of a dilemma!
But, just as I thought, the PI was going to squeeze me for the information, he stopped mid-sentence and began thinking about which remodeling contractors had long established a track record of dodging permits. His first guess hit the bull's-eye! I left it for him to chase down the contractor and squeeze him for the address.
Lazy-Ts installed on their backs promote lousy drainage characteristics as the cascading effluent will be diverted both upstream as well as downstream. Over time, debris builds up on the upstream side and can also provide a hardened lump of waste in the center of the tee, causing poor or blocked drainage.
Additionally, in plastic drainage systems, a lazy-T is noisy, and more than a few homeowners have called us to determine why they hear long, drawn-out dripping noises in the basement after upstairs plumbing has been used, especially toilets.
That is easy to explain because toilet after-flush-refill inputs excess water into the bowl via the ballcock after-fill-tube to prime it for the next flush, and that creates a steady drip that is quite audible at the lazy tee in the basement. A wye and street 45 bend should be installed instead, with the wye turned slightly from the wye being vertical so that water is not only directed downstream, but so the drips or trickle of water will quietly slide along the fittings walls instead of falling through air inside the wye.
Don’t think a wye combo fitting cannot cause a noise issue? A good friend and competitor once asked if I would be willing to visit a job where an uber-fussy customer was withholding final payment while claiming he had installed a defective toilet. We both had the same supply house salesman, and he agreed to come along as well. The complaint centered around audible dripping at the laid-on-its-back combo wye fitting directly below that first floor bathroom. Drip, drip, drip shouted the PVC, which was still going strong after several minutes, and the lady was adamant it was the toilet. Changing out the toilet would make this No. 3!
After checking the tank’s water level and making sure the after-fill tube was properly positioned in the overflow tube to avoid siphoning, we flushed the toilet and waiting for the water level in the bowl to level out, I gently marked the level with a pencil.
A quick check of the after-fill tube revealed no dripping or siphonage. We went to the basement and waited for the dripping to stop, which felt like an eternity. Rechecking the bowl revealed the water level had not changed. The cure? Cut out the combo and install a wye with street 45 with the wye laid partially off vertical.
Silence was golden, and my friend was handed the retainer.