Shower base -- this doesn't look right

Discussion in 'Shower & Bathtub Forum & Blog' started by Sean35, Apr 6, 2021.

  1. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Location:
    Cleveland, OH
    EDIT: meant to say shower base, no idea why I typed bed.

    Hi all -- so I'm a novice, but I'm trying to learn everything I can so that I can do things right the first time, so please excuse anything I say that may sound stupid.

    Story: House built in the 50s, purchased in 2013. The basement has a bathroom that was never updated (asbestos on the walls and ceiling, toilet that was manufactured when Eisenhower was president), other than that it appears the previous owner started work on either adding or renovating a shower. There is backer board, an old shower head and handles, and a sloped concrete floor leading to a drain, but there's no reason for me to believe that the shower had been used in the previous 30 years, if ever. I never used it except to test that water ran, but I decided in recent days that I should get to work on it. I cut off the drain, and when doing my research, sounds as if getting rid of the CI p-trap is a must. I started taking a rotary hammer to it this morning, and stopped after about 15-30 minutes when I started seeing sparks in areas where I didn't anticipate a pipe. Here is what I saw:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

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    I have not seen that before. Maybe some really old school plumbers have an idea. Could that have been a floor drain that they used? Looks to be a 4" fitting in the concrete?

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. wwhitney

    wwhitney Well-Known Member

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    Total guess--a floor drain branch was repurposed to serve a new adjacent shower drain, and they just left the old floor drain in place and concreted over it?

    Seems like the only way to proceed is expanding the area to be excavated to see what's going on.

    Cheers, Wayne
     
  5. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    I had some time at lunch to work at it at bit more:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]




    I tend to struggle at grasping physics at times, but I don't understand how the drain opening was able to be covered with concrete. Applied very slowly I guess?
     
  6. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Stopping for the moment because I don't know what I'm looking at, but I'm assuming this makes more sense now?

    [​IMG]
     
  7. wwhitney

    wwhitney Well-Known Member

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    I take it the edges of the concrete are the same as in previous pictures, and you removed a couple buried fittings? Were they cast iron or clay? Are the exposed pipe materials cast iron or clay?

    Is that a horizontal hub end pipe segment on the left, with a piece of an elbow going into that has been sheared off at the level of the top of the hub?

    Cheers, Wayne
     
  8. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    The edges were expanded a bit, mostly to remove the p-trap, which of course came out by hand. The pipes are clay, which I wasn't aware of until I accidentally broke off a big chunk with the rotary hammer. I kept breaking until I got to the elbow. Hopefully I'm not describing this poorly, but it almost looks like the female end of the elbow is lined up with the female end of a straight pipe?
     
  9. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    It may be that they never used that because the clay pipes don't actually connect to the sewer! Get down close, then have someone flush a toilet or run some water and listen to see if you can hear or see anything running in that pipe, or one connected to it.
     
  10. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Are you speaking in generalities, or do you mean my specific situation? I'll try that tomorrow though.
     
  11. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    While tile drain pipes were used, and they can last a long time, under a slab, they may not actually go to the sewer. So, yes, check yours. Hopefully, they are connected, but with the cement in the joints, crud going through them can literally eat the cement away over time. So, disturbing things can get messy.

    But, you do want to know if they are actually connected to the sewer, otherwise, you might be just dumping your shower water into the ground under the house! Keep in mind, you will also need a vent. You may need to crack a bunch of cement to figure this all out, and, you need enough slope to properly drain things, especially if it's tile, they may not be really well aligned, so a bit more slope may be called for to prevent stuff from just pooling.
     
  12. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Got it. If the drain ends up leading to nowhere, the shower will just end up being a closet because I don't want to deal with the asbestos abatement that would come with digging up the basement. FWIW, when I said I had no reason to believe that the shower was really used, it was more along the lines of the home likely only had the husband and wife living there for probably 20+ years before I moved in. The backer board looked much newer than the shower head and faucet handles, which are pretty dated. The base is already sloped, but I'm inclined to just start over from scratch if everything else checks out.
     
  13. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    OK, I ran an upstairs sink and listened in, and can definitely hear water running. "Drain that leads to nowhere" was one of my nightmare scenarios even before you brought it up.

    Also, to add to the age/use history of the shower, the shower door was made by a Modern Shower Door Co. in Cleveland, and I found zero information about them, but going off of the address on the door, I checked property records and the door almost certainly was made prior to 1975. House was built in 1951 and the toilet was built in 1954. It sounds as if Hardibacker wasn't released in the US until the early 90s, so I'm guessing the remodel attempt was started within the last 30 years.
     
  14. wwhitney

    wwhitney Well-Known Member

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    OK, if you're confident that the clay drain is connected to your building drain (a camera inspection would even better, would also let you check for downstream problems with the clay), then the next step is figuring out how to connect to the clay pipe with your new work. That will likely involve enlarging the hole in the concrete.

    I'm not sure if there is a way to make use of the hub end of the clay pipe (do they make donuts for that, and is the clay strong enough for a donut? or is cementing in a cast iron fitting a reasonable option?) If there is, you could carefully remove the remnant of the elbow from the hub and proceed.

    Otherwise, you need to carefully cut off the hub of the horizontal pipe and use an underground rubber coupling, those are available sizes for connecting to clay. Not sure how to cut clay cleanly, probably some type of abrasive blade?

    Cheers, Wayne
     
  15. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Heh, that was actually going to be my next two questions, if I should check things out with a camera and how to connect to the clay pipe. I was going to explore a donut first, but that's off the table now as the hub is gone. I cracked it when I was cutting the elbow off with an angle grinder. In hindsight, I should have practiced on the upper part of the elbow first. The eventual cut isn't entirely clean, but I can fix it if need be. It looks like there are 4x4 and 4x3 clay to CI/plastic Fernco couplings available. There's also a 4x2, but it isn't rated for clay.
     
  16. wwhitney

    wwhitney Well-Known Member

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    If you've already cut off the elbow and the horizontal hub in your last picture, then your obvious choice is a Fernco or Mission coupling (you want an underground rated one, those are 4" long and available in both shielded and unshielded).

    I'm under the impression that old clay and cast iron varied a fair bit in dimension. So measure the exact OD of your clay pipe end (you'd like a clean, smooth cylindrical region 2" long to connect to). Then check the OD against the ID figures on the manufacturer's page. Hopefully the nominal 4" clay will be the right size, but all you need to do is match diameters.

    How are you going to handle venting?

    Cheers, Wayne
     
  17. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    TBD on the venting. I wasn't able to do any more digging today, but it appears that just beyond what is visible in the previous pictures is a downward bend. It is possible that the clay pipe has a p-trap, and the CI one was just redundant and/or used to center the shower drain?
     
  18. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    Most drains require some space around the actual drain pipe to make the proper joint, so they could have used the clay pipe as a spacer...you won't know what's going on until you tear up some more of the floor.

    WHile there are some high dollar drain line cameras, there are a bunch of video inspection cameras that you might be able to use that are actually pretty inexpensive that use your tablet, computer, or smart phone as the display if you don't need to go all that far. Useful to examine what might be in a wall, or around your engine in the car, too. Amazon.com: DEPSTECH Wireless Endoscope, IP67 Waterproof WiFi Borescope Inspection 2.0 Megapixels HD Snake Camera for Android and iOS Smartphone, iPhone, Samsung, Tablet -Black(11.5FT): Automotive
     
  19. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    A camera like that might be on the agenda, but right now I rigged up something that should be usable for the time being. I have an old analog security camera that is only about an inch in diameter, so I wrapped the cable in some insulation hose, but I only had about 5-6 feet worth. I bought some more so that I can go further, but nothing I've seen so far looked out of the ordinary. It appears to be clay all around.

    Also, at risk of sounding stupid, why can't I find any vents? Obviously I know where the main stack is, but I can't find anything for the shower, sink, toilet, or the wet bar sink that is next to the bathroom. Same goes for the first floor kitchen sink, basement utility sink, and the tub/sink/toilet on the first floor. Everything has always drained fine (or if it hasn't, there was an obvious reason for it) and I've never noticed a smell from any of my drains. It's not something that I would have just gotten used to either, because when I removed the towel in the shower drain to run the camera, there was a definite smell that I could pick up even through an N95.
     
  20. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    An N95 filters particles, not gasses, so the smell getting through would be normal. A chemical or activated charcoal filter has a chance of blocking (absorbing) those unwanted gasses.

    Older houses got away with S-traps that worked for ages, but under some conditions, they could siphon. Even a P-trap can work in some situations without a vent IF the drain pipe it's going into is large enough. When a drain line gets closer to being full, it can pull a siphon or vacuum on the traps as it goes by...but, if the pipe is large enough, the waste doesn't fill it enough for that to happen. My mother's house ran things into a 6" cast iron main stack, and worked. Your inspector will want any new work to be up to current codes. Getting a vent from a basement to where it can connect properly can be a challenge. You might have to go to the attic if the fixtures above are not done to current code, or go all the way to the roof.
     
  21. Sean35

    Sean35 New Member

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    Thanks. I'm guessing that the 4" drain for the shower is probably overkill, at least based on what I saw on the camera when I started pouring water in it.

    I'm still wrapping my brain around the codes in Ohio, but I think that both the kitchen drain and the first floor bathtub arent compliant. Both head straight into the basement floor, and then who knows from there. The tub is pretty close to the main stack, but the kitchen sink is clearly not.

    Everything else is more or less on hold for the moment while I figure out how to proceed correctly. Since the shower base was basically just sloped concrete with no evident waterproofing (there was a layer of red not too far from the surface, but I'm inclined to think it was just paint, not RedGard), it is basically useless. I've at least got progress on connecting to the clay pipe. A 4x3 clay to plastic Fernco couplings works, and there is a reducing donut that I found at Menards (https://www.menards.com/main/plumbi...8181399646.htm?tid=8937141462024246486&ipos=2) that is a snug fit in the 3" inlet, so I'm debating using that as a way to go 2" to 4" instead of 2-3-4 or 2-3.
     
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