A simple plumbing solution

I’ve been running longer than usual lately, so I’ll revert to “short and…” – well, come to think of it, talking about septic systems probably doesn’t qualify as “sweet.” In fact, it wasn’t at all when someone finally stayed in our little refurbished farm house and had to cover the bathroom floor drain with plastic wrap because of the smell.

When we finally got around to examining the mechanics, the problem was quite obvious. The toilet (which of course has a water trap built into it) dumps into a (how Pompeain!) concrete box. The sitzbad drain goes into the bathroom floor drain, then to this same box outside.

Uruguayan plumbing fail

So think about it: the residue from the toilet flows through this box to the septic tank (pozo negro), which then creates smelly gas that wafts its way back up the same pipe and follows the path of least resistance. The toilet is blocked by a water trap, and the concrete lid is more or less airtight, goes where does it go? Up the pipe to the floor drain, of course!

The solution was simple, and took just a few minutes: stick in a cut-off sifón (kitchen sink thingie) and make a little trap. The water in the bottom of the “U” stops gas in its tracks. (“Stop gas in its tracks!” I should be in advertising.) Anything to the right of the “U” I could cut off, but I left just because. You. Never. Know.

plumbing trap solution, Uruguay

Since I didn’t post it in my September 2013 Sitzbad post, I want to mention that the plumbing fail I describe here was balanced by ingenuity, a solution to the “geyser” problem of the floor drain when emptying the sitzbad. The next day Martín returned with one of his daughter’s glass marbles, dropped it into the bath drain, and – pim pam pum – problem solved! The marble reduces the flow by 75%, and it works!

I’ve mentioned before (I’m sure) that Uruguayans can be incredibly resourceful. Had we actually been using the farmhouse with its one bathroom, I have no doubt Martín would have sorted this, no doubt even more elegantly.

On the other hand, in testing this, when I went into the bathroom to turn on the shower/sitzbad water, one of the slate tiles on the step of his sitzbad creation came loose and dropped to the floor.

Of course.




Plumbing in Uruguay

Resolving a little plumbing issue in the country yesterday set off a cascading series of Uruguayan plumbing memories.

Some involve sheer incompetence, some … well, let’s start with the incompetence. If you’ve been with me a while, you might remember this gem from jack-of-all-trades Nestor (because anyone in Uruguay who sort of knows one trade thinks he knows every trade). The lower patch fills the first hole he made for the horizontal vent pipe above.

Uruguayan plumbing

A few years ago, a newcomer trenchantly reflected on Uruguayan plumbing, “Didn’t we see this in Pompeii?”

Yes, sweetie, just minus the PVC. Let’s trace the wastewater route from our kitchen. 1) First it goes into the 20 liter grasera that we had to buy to replace an 18 liter, perfectly functional, grasera. 2) It goes into another box. 3) It goes to another box. 4) It goes to another box. All of which are prone to clogging, of course, from grease that escapes the grasera..

Uruguayan plumbing

Before we get to box #5, I should point out that boxes 3 and 4 should not exist, but this being an owner-built house, the line went from box #2 to the big unmarked concrete top, to a septic tank not in the original plans. We only discovered this when we had to “regularize” our plans three years ago (a process which maybe will be finalized this year?).

So from there the water goes to box 5, which should have been a right angle turn, to box 6, where the downspout from the upstairs bathroom and pipe from the downstairs one join the party, to box 7 …

Uruguayan plumbing

… where it makes another turn to box 8, and finally to (9) the septic tank.

Uruguayan plumbing

Wherein lie a couple more stories. You’ll notice a dark square in the top of box 8. That is where I filled the hole in it with concrete. When our erstwhile know-everything handyman Martín cleverly used leftover tiles to cover the septic tank, he somewhat less cleverly decided that all it needed was an opening big enough for the “barométrica” (tank pumping) truck’s hose.

Uruguayan plumbing

When we launched into the above-mentioned “regularization,” we had to pay someone else to undo his handiwork, because an inspector had to stick his head in there to confirm that the septic tank was actually connected to the vent pipe in the corner.

Uruguayan plumbing

That may seem ridiculous, but the same Martín cleverly solved friends’ hideously-out-of-code plumbing inspection problem by installing a couple of plumbing boxes in the yard that made sense to the inspector, but weren’t actually connected to each other. Or anything else.

But that’s not my story to tell.


Christmas drear

And in case we needed another reminder where we are — well, let me put this another way. Do you think that a person who makes his living installing windows should know how to install windows? If you answered yes, clearly you haven’t spent much time in Uruguay.

Incompetent window installation, Uruguay

Incompetent window installation, Uruguay


What makes this even “better” — the guy who installed it has already been back once to fix the leaks.

And this is not BK Aluminios, an incredibly bad but high-profile business. It’s a little mom-and-pop shop that at least pretends to care.



—Several years ago, getting a quote on a large order, I complemented the local lighting store on their prices, which were much better than another place I’d just been. The kid behind the counter said, ”Sometimes they’re more expensive. Sometimes we’re more expensive. There’s no real competition here.”

He used the word competencia.

competition and competence in Spanish

And today his statement was again proven true (with a twist, twice!) with a phone bill address and delivery.

ANTEL bill delivery fail, Uruguay