Tuesday, January 04, 2011


My feeling concerning houses is that if you look after them, they will look after you. This attitude has, throughout most of my life, helped to keep me solvent.

I have lived in my present place for over 21 years. And during that time I have used a pedestal wash basin in the bathroom.

In the course of general cleaning, and curiosity about plumbing (viewing crazy French plumbing has given me great pleasure), I noticed that behind the pedestal and rather hidden by pipes and being fairly inaccessible, is a U-bend that maintains water in the U part to prevent sewer smells from entering the house from the main drains. Baths, lavatories and basins, all have them.

But this particular one is different. The U is squashed together and upright – presumably to fit in and hide behind the pedestal.

And on top of this white plastic U-bend contraption is a small reservoir-looking shape, with a screw-down cap at its top.

I often wondered why it was there, but ignored it. And as it gave no trouble, presumably had a use, and was virtually unseen, I did not touch it except for a very occasional dusting of pipework.

It so happens that this pedestal basin was positioned by the original plumber at the opposite side of the bathroom from the main, downpipe drain. So the fall of the waste pipe is minimal, thus having a sluggish flow and not well scoured by fast running water. Moreover, I had added a bidet near to the basin to share this waste pipe.

This meant that every so often, when the basin and bidet became slow to drain, I used a plunger to speed things up a bit.

Well, after washing my hair in the basin early one morning, I noticed a wet patch on the carpet beneath the pedestal. And it was foaming with shampoo bubbles. So an investigation was necessary.

I found that wastewater was leaking out of this odd reservoir thing. And at the bottom of the contraption was a pin.

I pushed this up and out flowed water when the basin was emptying.

So, after some difficulty in unscrewing the cap at the top, I found a plunger inside, with a washer attached.

This flexible washer was then rubbed clear of lime scale and its seating cleaned. I then re-assembled the contraption.

Water still flowed out of the reservoir’s base, and now even from through the threads of the cap on top.

Thinking that perhaps the rubber of the washer had perished over time, I took the plunger with its washer to two suppliers of plumbers’ needs. No one had ever seen one before, or knew anything about it, except to suggest that it might have something to do with an air vent. So I said to one of these plumbing experts that I might have to seal it up with superglue. A good enough idea, he thought.

So, with the glue spread with difficulty from the tip of a cotton bud, down went the washer. I gave it time to set.

The next move was to fill the reservoir with a filler that sets like an impermeable rock. On went the cap, with the threads surrounded by plumber’s tape, and all was left overnight to bed in and set fast.

The result was that there were now no leaks and I hadn’t blocked the drains. The sink waste flowed, if a little more slowly.

Now the carpet has to dry out, watched by someone who rather likes to tackle such problems, but is slightly frightened by plumbing matters, but willing to “have a go” in extremis.

Perhaps I will even find out at some time why the U-bend was ever designed with this odd plunger device.