The most intimidating part about taking off a “P-trap” or the curvy pipe beneath the kitchen or bathroom sink is the thought of the water, spit, hair and dirt trapped inside.
“There will be a build up of sludge,” warns Ron Dotzko, an instructor of plumbing apprenticeship at the Humber School of Applied Technology. “Think of what we do with a basin in the bathroom.
“We brush our teeth. We wash our hands. There is a build up of soap sludge, possibly bacteria gets stuck inside there."
I spent part of a morning with Dotzko at a Humber training facility at 110 Carrier Dr., learning how to take apart a P-trap, on the off chance I drop something down the drain.
Watch the video here
The trap is designed to hold a quantity of water which prevents sewer gas from coming through your pipes into your home. (So brace yourself for a whiff of gas, or the smell of whatever is sitting in the water.) It’s also a catch basin for dropped earrings, hair and grit.
Learning a few simple plumbing skills and the proper tools required to do the job right is on my list of things to learn during the year I spend working at becoming more self reliant.
We work on a metal trap, the kind commonly found beneath bathroom sinks. In kitchens it is common to find plastic traps, with a screw like valve (like a plug) at the bottom that can be removed with a set of pliers to drain it as needed.
Dotzko, who has found everything from syringes to condoms in sink traps, strongly recommends wearing gloves and something to protect your eyes. He also suggests using a pen or hard object to poke around if needed, not your fingers.
We begin by placing a bucket (or use a towel) beneath the pipe to catch the small amount of possibly foul, grungy water waiting to drop out.
Then, with one hand supporting the curvy part of the pipe we use a pair of channel lock pliers, another option is something called plumber’s pliers, to loosen the back and front nuts. When you loosen that first nut, a bit of water will spurt out. But unless the taps are on, there won’t be a gushing flow.
We manually unscrew the nuts the rest of the way and the u-shape loop of pipe basically drops out with very little pulling. Taking it off and putting it on takes about two minutes. Of course, we are water and sludge free and not factoring the time to clean it out.
Dotzko, 48, has been with Humber for about five years, teaching plumbing for 15 and working in the field for 25. He studied English and History at University of Toronto, with the intent of becoming a teacher and ended up doing office work. After a few years he realized it was not for him and headed to George Brown College to learn the trade.
One of his larger projects as an industrial plumber was the drainage system at the Rogers Centre, installing 20- to 24-inch pipes.
When school is out, Dotzko goes back to construction jobs.
Clearing P-traps is one of the simplest skills taught to entry-level plumbing students. The more advanced courses cover septic systems (the gas can cause unconsciousness, leading to fatal accidents) and boilers (dealing with massive pressure and scalding heat).
I have a close friend (Bob) who works as an industrial plumber for a living. It is intensley physical work that requires a level head and a great deal of skill. For a visual of one of his more difficult days, imagine yourself 100 feet in the air, then add dirt, oil, scalding steam and fire. Not to mention thousands of pounds of steel being hoisted in every direction.
About 400 to 600 students enroll in a variety of eight-week plumbing programs at Humber College every year, taking basic, intermediate or advanced courses. Skill requirements depend on the course taken, but all students must be in an apprenticeship program, hired by a contractor and registered with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, says Dotzko.
I am a long way from installing a sink, but if you drop your wedding ring down the drain I can handle it. Actually, based on how long this one took, so can you.
One more reason to start shopping for tools, still not sure if it is better to buy a box or build up one at a time. Anyone?