Repairing pipe joints can be difficult, dangerous job

Paul Bianchina
Inman News

Q: My house was constructed in 1955, and in the basement laundry area I have cast-iron drain pipes that are oozing tar from the joints. What products/procedures would I use to repair them? –U. W.

A: Pipes of the type you describe are called bell and spigot. The male end of the pipe — the spigot — fits into a flared female fitting on the other end of the pipe — the bell. After assembly, the joint was sealed by first packing it with oakum, which is a thick hemp fiber saturated with tar, then sealing the joint with molten lead. The “oozing” that you’re seeing is the tar from the oakum, which typically indicates that the lead seal is failing.

The building codes no longer allow lead in plumbing systems, so to repair the existing joints you would need to repack them by first removing the old oakum, then forcing a metal fabric material into the joint. It’s similar to steel wool, and takes the place of the oakum. The joint is then sealed with a product called soil cement, which takes the place of the lead.

You can also cut the pipes above and below the bell and spigot joints and remove the old joints entirely. Cutting is done using a chain cutter, which uses a chain wrapped around the pipe that is slowly tightened until the pipe snaps (you can rent a chain cutter from most rental yards). After cutting, insert a new section of cast iron or ABS plastic pipe, and make the joints using band clamps, also called no-hub fittings, in place of the original bell and spigot joints. They consist of a thick rubber gasket surrounded by a metal band with two worm-drive screw clamps attached — the gasket is centered over the joint between the two pipes, and then is squeezed in place by tightening the band.

All of the materials you need should be available at a good plumbing retailer, but be forewarned — both of these repairs can be difficult and even dangerous for the do-it-yourselfer to undertake, so my recommendation would be that you use a licensed plumber for this one.

Q: I’m remodeling my kitchen and I was wondering if there is such a thing as a countertop-mounted exhaust fan, such as the kind used in Jenn-Aire cooktops? –Diantha L.

A: There are indeed countertop-mounted exhaust fans, designed for use in conjunction with standard electric cooktops. The interior portion of the unit is installed in a narrow slot in the counter directly behind the cooktop — the slot is about 3 inches wide and the same length as the cooktop. A powerful exhaust fan motor is mounted on the roof or on the wall outside the house, and a length of duct pipe connects the two.

Talk with the dealer you’re buying your new appliances from and have them show you what’s available. Look carefully at the installation specifications to make sure the unit will fit in your cabinets, and also that the exterior fan motor unit can be installed and wired without major alterations to your framing.

Q: I’m interested in purchasing a garage kit. What is the price range of these kits, and are there differences in quality? –Valerie S.

A: Some garage kits are sold by large regional or national companies, and others are made up by local lumberyards. In either case, the kits must meet all local building codes, so the quality of the lumber and the trusses is pretty consistent. You may, however, find some differences in the quality of the doors and windows, and sometimes in the quality of the siding. The price varies primarily with the size of the garage and any available options and upgrades, but a basic two-car garage kit is typically in the $5,000 to $6,000 price range, for materials only.

There are a number of sources for garage and barn kits on the Internet as well. If purchasing through one of these sources, as opposed to a local company where you live, be sure to get references on the company, understand what the warranty is, and get a full disclosure of exactly what is included in the kit and how much the shipping costs will be to get it to your building site.

Copyright 2008 Inman News

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