Keeping drains flowing free and clear

June 1, 2011
Have you heard that low-flush toilets cause drainline and sewer system clogs? Sure. A lot of people have. Except they’re never sure where they heard it or where it happened or why or what was the outcome.

Have you heard that low-flush toilets cause drainline and sewer system clogs? Sure. A lot of people have. Except they're never sure where they heard it or where it happened or why or what was the outcome.

All anecdotes, no data. That's why the Plumbing Efficiency Research Coalition wants to conduct serious research on drainline carry in commercial buildings. Yet two years after PERC identified drainline transport as its top research priority, and a year after the Alliance for Water Efficiency's Research Committee did the same, the money for the research has yet to be found. PERC has been a victim of circumstance, coming into being at the same time that R&D grant money dried up.

Click here to read our story on PERC's search for funding for drainline carry research.

AWE Executive Director Mary Ann Dickinson does a lot of public speaking and she told us that there’s always somebody in the audience who has heard that HETs clog drainlines. When she asks them to share more, they don't have specifics. They just heard it somewhere.

Bill Gauley, P.Eng., principal at Veritec Consulting Inc., Mississauga, Ontario, and the co-inventor of the Maximum Performance test for toilets, says that every time he hears such a story, he tries to get to the source to get actual data. There's never any data.

A few years back there was a story out of Augusta, Ga., that quoted water company officials as saying that low-flow toilets had created "super sewage." Gauley demolished that tale with simple arithmetic that you can read about in the story.

So residential is a non-issue. Commercial might be. The test proposal calls for runs as long as 300-ft. to mimic a worst-case scenario in a commercial or institutional building. The test protocol also calls for flushes that vary from 1.6 to 1.28 to 0.8-gpf, varying flushes of liquid only and solid waste, and loadings of varying amounts of Miso paste filling in for actual solid waste. They want to know the effect of different slopes or the use of intermittent high volume discharges to clear drain lines.

Unfortunately, AWE has only been able to get $20,000 out of a minimum $170,000 needed to begin the study. PERC's original plan was for a three-phase study that would cost $1 million. On the plus side, AWE and PERC partners Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, Plumbing Manufacturers International, the International Code Council and the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials have received pledges in the neighborhood of $10,000 from a major plumbing manufacturer, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The problem is that if you get 10 grand here and 10 grand there, pretty soon you end up with a partially funded study. The real money, Dickinson says, will have to come from the Feds, most likely the EPA Office of Research & Development or the Office of Water.

Plumbing engineer and PERC member John Koeller, Koeller & Co., Yorba Linda, Calif., says the Coalition has gotten interest from the U.S. military, which has a lot of old buildings to manage.

If the money comes from the EPA and the military, the testing would be done in the U.S., Koeller says, rather than Australia, which is one idea that has been floated. PERC signed a memorandum of understanding with an Australian group that is equipped to perform the work. Koeller says performing the study in the U.S. for $170,000 won't be a problem and that a number of facilities have been volunteered, including some independent test labs and a Navy facility in Southern California.

Let's hope the money comes through. This is crucial work for contractors and engineers who design commercial systems, for EPA and the future of the WaterSense program and for utilities like Southern Nevada Water that want to craft commercial incentive and rebate programs.

The industry has waited two years now. Here's hoping we don’t have to wait much longer.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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