Thursday, February 28, 2013

Il Sifone

The biggest problem remaining with our apartment was the awful smell which would fill the apartment when we were out for a few hours. It was definitely a sewer smell coming from the sinks in the kitchen. Our first fix was to leave the plugs in and fill the sinks with water. The plugs don’t hold water perfectly, so if we were out too long, the water would drain out, but with the plugs in, the smell was noticeable, but not overwhelming. When the landlords returned, I told our landlady about the problem. I opened the doors under the kitchen sink and told her I thought the problem was that there was no water blocking the sewer smell.

 (Every sewer in the world, including the ones in Afton, Wyoming, smells pretty much the same. To prevent the smell from entering the house, a goose-neck pipe is installed so it is always filled with water. The water blocks the odor of the sewer from entering the house. All drains must have this type of system for the same reason.)

In our apartment they were using something called a “siphone,” or syphon. Specifically, this one is called “un siphone di cuccina” – a kitchen syphon. (See picture to the right) It is kind a sink trap. The bottom unscrews so debris that is too heavy to float can be emptied from the trap so it doesn’t clog the pipes. I decided to remove the trap to see what it looked like because I couldn’t imagine how this kind of trap could also act as a block to the sewer odor. Our landlady didn’t like me doing this at all. She worried that I would ruin all the plumbing under the sink. Against her protest I unscrewed the trap. I tried to do it carefully so I wouldn’t get water all over, but it slipped out of my hand and dumped a cup or so of water onto the bottom of the cupboard. Now she was really worried. She said to stop what I was doing because she was sure the “sifone” was working properly. They had just had someone repair it. This made me very uneasy. If “someone” repaired it, it was probably her husband who is a great guy, but not a very careful repairman. I stopped my exploration and let her leave wondering how we were going to eliminate this amazingly offensive odor.

As I was lying in bed the next morning, half awake and half asleep, I suddenly realized how a trap like this could also be a block to the sewer smell. It seemed like a mini-revelation, but it was so simple I wondered why I hadn’t figured it out before. There must be a pipe inside the trap that extends straight down from the sink below the level of the discharge pipe. So, the trap which I had removed and which looked like an upside down cup was not the important item. It was the device above that holds the trap that I had to see.  I immediately got up and took all the plumbing under the two sinks apart, being careful not to spill any water this time. Sure enough there was a pipe extending down just like I imagined, but it was all chewed up. So it was not making a complete block as it was supposed to, but was letting the sewer smell through. It looked like someone had tried to put some kind of putty or something on the chewed up parts to fix it.
Chewed up center of sifone. Shadows make it difficult to see.
Cup which screws on is on the left.

I took the chewed up part down to the landlords to ask them where I could purchase a new one. All the pipes are made of plastic, so I knew it couldn’t cost much. They laughed at the idea that 1. I thought I could actually repair it by myself and 2. That I could find a store which sells plumbing supplies. Finally, the landlord decided he would accompany me to a store. As we got to the parking lot, he said “Just a minute,” and proceeded to open his little garage. Inside his garage (which probably comes with our apartment) he found another sifone. It looked like it might work.  So we went back up stairs and installed it. Unfortunately, it was a little wider than the original and there is a little sliding rack under the sink where sponges and cleaning stuff are stored. It wouldn’t close all the way because of the additional width of the new sifone, but I figured we could live with this. So, he left and I thought we had solved the problem.
Two non-working siphoni with traps unscrewed. Chewed up
 one upper left, leakyone lower right (notice how the pipe
 inside the wider one is not chewed up at tll, but a
 smooth circle.)
That evening we discovered that this sifone leaks about a drop every 30 seconds. The problem was still not solved. I went to the location where the store the Landlord had suggested was located to purchase a new siphone. The store was closed – out of business -- looked like it had been closed for some time. So I asked our gas station attendant whose station is nearby for a reference. He suggested we try a ”ferramenteria,” hardware store. I was carrying the old siphone in the pocket of my jogging (make that walking) jacket and I showed it to the men in the hardware store. They were a little surprised to see me pull a sifone out of my pocket, but they recovered quickly. They didn’t have one but suggested Idrotermica Russo. I looked it up on the internet and it is located on Via Parini 13. My Tom-Tom came in handy and I soon found a little plumbing supply warehouse. They said that they didn’t use sifone any more, although they had one for sale like the one which was leaking which was too big. I asked what they use now days and they said an “S.” What do you know, an “S” is a goose-neck, just like back home – amazing, we are now full circle.

They sold me a goose-neck kit for 11 euros which had all the parts including gaskets (guarnizione). I took the kit home, and with some old parts and some new parts managed to get things hooked up pretty well. At least, it hasn’t leaked for 24 hours and the smell is gone.
Finished new plumbing under sink. White parts are new, gray
parts are old. Red basket slides forward and closes nicely.

Our water heater. (Two pics
spliced together - upper and
lower.) The white adapter with
blue holes was the culprit.
Just a quick note on another successful fix-it job. A few mornings ago we woke up and there was no hot water. Fearing that the condominum had shut off our hot water because we were using too much with our laundry and showering every day, I thought we might be in trouble. Then I remembered seeing an on-demand water heater on the wall outside the kitchen door. I went out on the terrace and looked at it. I noticed a power switch and a gas line and not much else. There was also a row of little holes that looked like they might be indicator lights. Nothing appeared to be powered up. I suspected the outlet adapter. Sure enough, when I plugged a lamp into the socket there was no power. They had used an inside adapter instead of an outside adapter. By reversing the adapter to the other side, and plugging the heater in, we had a power light. Then there is a little hole labeled "reset" which looked like it might be important. I used a match stick to try to feel a little switch inside, and after fooling around a while and with the help of the Elders, we found the reset switch and everything took off. I love hot water.
We have invited Flavia’s family to have dinner with us Saturday before her baptism. Our friends the Steuers are bringing Flavia’s friend Laura and her husband Antonio down from Rome and the Steuers will be staying overnight with us Saturday night. We thought they would like something to eat after their long drive. ...and we want to get to know Flavia’s family better, so we thought having a lunch before the baptism would do the trick. We originally thought there would be about eleven people. But, it turns out that Flavia’s mother and sister are also coming as well as her friend from Milano, so there will be 14. We want to have the apartment as respectable as possible for all this company, so we are furiously trying to get everything ready. At least we will have hot water and the house won’t smell like sewer any more – hopefully…

1 comment:

  1. Thank heaven that men think about plumbing in those sweet moments between dreaming and waking!