by Rick Ensley, SureSeal product manager, RectorSeal Corp.
Sewer gas rising from floor drains might be an unhealthy nuisance for commercial building owners and homeowners, but for plumbing service contractors, it should be a breath of fresh air for aftermarket and service call add-on sales that increase profits.
The common cause of sewer odors in floor drains is the evaporation of the gas-blocking water trap seal that prevents sewer gas egress through a floor drain P-trap. It’s especially common with infrequently used drains. Once evaporated, the trap seal is broken leaving nothing to block a steady supply of unfettered sewer gas rising up into the occupant’s breathing zones. Sewer gas is suspected of carrying airborne biological contaminants that can lead to SARS (Coronavirus), Legionnaire’s and other diseases.
Plumbing service contractors have four alternative remedies to this problem and not all of them are foolproof:
1) water-supplied trap seal primer consists of a vacuum breaker and works on a pressure differential concept. Disadvantages include:
- breaking up a floor for retrofits;
- ineffectiveness due to a building's insufficient water supply pressure;
- water piping supply blockages;
- potential contractor installation errors;
- Maintenance concerns.
2) drainage supply trap seal primer efficiently catches a smaller, more conservative quantity of waste water and directs it to the floor drain to keep it primed. Disadvantages include:
- breaking up a floor to retrofit;
- the unvented supply tubing length is limited;
- the absence of a nearby supply fixture;
- the nearby fixture is infrequently used and doesn't supply ample water;
- potential drainage supply line blockages;
- and other maintenance concerns, such as failures due to dissolved mineral residue accumulations from hard water.
3) deep trap seal is simply a trap that is longer, deeper and holds more water. It doesn't prevent evaporation, it just extends the protection time. Water in a standard trap seal that evaporates in one month at a particular location will take approximately two months to evaporate in a deep trap seal. Either way the building eventually experiences sewer gas issues.
4) barrier-type, waterless floor drain trap seal protection device is an alternative to the first two methods in that it doesn't use traditional water-based methods to block sewer gas and minimize trap seal evaporation.
The waterless floor drain trap seal features a one-way membrane that acts similar to a check valve. The membrane is sensitive enough to open from the weight of just four-ounces of water, but strong enough to stay closed and sealed to minimize evaporation and eliminate sewer gas odor.
The waterless floor drain seal circumvents the aforementioned devices' disadvantages, because it doesn’t require floor breakups or a water supply and needs no maintenance. Literally, anyone can install the device simply by push-fitting it into the drain pipe after removing the floor drain grate. A tapered rubber gasket around its circumference holds it tightly in place and also creates a tight, impenetrable seal between the device and the drain pipe interior. It’s available in common floor drain pipe diameters of 2, 3, and 4-inches and a 3.5-inch model for strainer installations.
Canadian codes and enforcement of all trap seal devices is vague at best and really up to the local jurisdiction, according to Julius Ballanco, P.E., president of JB Engineering & Code Consulting, Munster, Ind., and a renowned Canadian code expert. The National Plumbing Code of Canada, which is loosely based on the International Plumbing Code and other authorities, in that it calls for the protection of the trap seal via a trap seal primer valve "or equivalent." The "equivalent" covers the use of a waterless floor drain trap seal in new and retrofit work, according to Ballanco.
The waterless floor drain trap seal can save a project money, because it’s significantly less expensive to buy and install versus a trap seal primer valve.
Choosing the Right Waterless Trap Seal
CSA approval doesn't necessarily mean a local Canadian city inspector will allow the device or has even heard of them. The selection of a product tested and certified under ASSE-1072 can be a persuading talking point for uninformed code inspectors, because ASSE is the predominant certification authority for waterless floor drain trap seal devices.
Not all waterless floor drain trap seal devices are the same and easily fall under the "good, better, best," description. There are different degrees of ASSE-1072 certification and it's the contractor's responsibility to investigate which devices are fully-certified. For example, certification results will reveal some brands don't meet the requirements to withstand the effects of dirt, debris, floor wax, and mop strands, or are restricted to certain flooring materials. Generally, Ontario accepts ASSE-1072 certification, but some jurisdictions in other provinces may not.
Aside from certification, the device’s appearance can reveal its quality. If it looks cheap, it probably is cheaply made and won’t last long or need periodic maintenance.
A solidly built model with a sturdy membrane can cost anywhere from $45 to $60 wholesale and is recommended for a $15 mark-up, which is a profitable aftermarket sale considering it takes a contractor less than one minute to install. For plumbing contractors, it can eliminate costly call-backs from an unhappy customer that paid hundreds of dollars to clean a drain line and continues to smell sewer gas odors.
The waterless floor drain trap seal should be a standard inventory item on all plumbing service trucks along with product literature that can sell customers on this inexpensive sewer gas solution and a healthier lifestyle.
Bio: Rick Ensley is the SureSeal® product manager at RectorSeal Corp., Houston, Texas, a leading manufacturer of plumbing and HVACR products that acquired the SureSeal brand last January. Ensley spent 10 years as a plumbing installer, four years in plumbing wholesale, and three years with a plumbing manufacturer’s representative firm before joining SureSeal five years ago. SureSeal is a green, waterless, barrier-type floor drain trap seal protection device fully-certified under ASSE-1072 and accepted under The National Plumbing Code of Canada. Inquires can be directed to RectorSeal customer service at 800-231-3345, or firstname.lastname@example.org.