Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Upgrading the bathroom plumbing.

 Why Johnny Can't Shower

A detailed description of how we replaced our bathroom faucets, added an automatic shower sump pump, relieved our aching thumbs, and cleaned up the myriad hoses within the utility closet.

The metal faucets in the heads on Triton (original equipment from Robertson & Caine, the manufacturers of our 45' Leopard catamaran, model year 2000) were not of particularly high quality.  That surprised us, because we are very impressed with the boat overall, and it is always a bit odd when you find something lacking in an otherwise great product.  The faucet's hand-held shower head was badly pitted and corroded (in all four heads), and the hose going to each head was badly worn and would often jam.  The faucets were also starting to leak at the handle, and it was only a matter of time before we emptied a water tank's worth of H2O into our bilge. So we decided to replace all of them.

To upgrade the faucets we used a plastic version from Home Depot, made by Moen, called "Banbury" Model CA87010V.  They can be used without the wide base plate, and were simple to install.  These fixtures were on sale at the time, and cost us about $100.00 USD from Home Despot.  I'm sure we could have found them cheaper online, but we were pressed for time.  None the less, they worked great!  Plus, they are almost exactly the same color as the original "bone" color of the interior fiberglass on Triton!

If you didn't know better, you'd think they came with the boat.  We've seen a number of emails go back and forth on the various catamaran newsgroups regarding the high cost of replacing faucets.  For what it is worth, whatever you decide upon, we recommend using something that is mostly plastic, and easily obtainable/replaceable.   The only downside with our solution is that we still need to create a holder that can be attached to the wall, so that the faucet can then be used as a hands-free shower head.  To that end, we'll probably make something, but if you hear of anyone selling just such an item, let us know.

You can grow quite old holding down
the button that makes these pumps work.
We also removed the two electric shower basin pumps (those really annoying ones that are slow and require the user to stand there holding down a button while the water slowly drains out the shower basin), and replaced them both with a single, automatic basin drain, which we located at the bottom of the hull directly under where the forward toilet would have been.

In order to do this, we needed to place the sump box below the level of the shower drain, so that the shower & sink water would gravity feed into it.   That meant we needed to create an access port to make the installation and maintenance possible, if not a bit simpler.  We also cut down a part of the wall beneath the access door (for the utility cabinet) when we added new thru-hulls.  This makes getting down into the bilge a thousand times easier.  Shown here is the initial cuts made in the floor and wall, where the forward head toilets used to be, before we cleaned up the edges and added a hinged access cover plate & door.

This is the floor where the toilet was bolted down.  Carefully
draw lines where you want to cut.  Stay within the lines!
Doing this turned out to be a very convenient thing, especially since we wanted to create better thru-hull mounting plates for the holding tank and saltwater intake, and those were buried down at the bottom of the bilge and very difficult to get to.   We also wanted to place the sink/shower bilge pump as low down as possible within the bilge, which meant finding room somewhere forward of the thru-hull valves.  That was going to be a tight spot to work in at the best of times, but we knew we'd need to get to it eventually (if not frequently) so we modified the boat by creating (gasp!) access hatches to make it easy on ourselves.   Please don't tell the Boat Builders Association, as this is a direct violation of their charter, and could result in our black listing by mechanics and boat repair men everywhere.  Hell, if word got out that it was easy to fix things on a boat, they'd be out of a job.

One quick note on cutting through the flooring.  We thought about a number of different ways to do this, but what turned out to be the easiest was drilling a 3/8" hole in the fiberglass such that the hole's outermost edge lined up with the cut line.  We made these holes about midway along each of the four lines.  That allowed us [editor's note: when I say "us", I mean the royal "us", as her majesty was off working during this part of the adventure.  I look forward to the day when she keeps me in the style to which I want to become accustomed.  In the meantime, "we" are not amused.] to then place a reciprocating saw in the drilled hole and work the cut back from each side, being careful not to go past the corners.   It helps to use a boat cushion (or some other kneeling pad) whenever you work on anything in the bilge, especially if you are over thirty years of age.  If you are over fifty, it helps if you can convince someone under thirty to do the work for you.   If not, go slowly, use a small toothed blade, and make certain there is nothing underneath the floor that you are going to cut through, like a loose hose, or wiring.  This is another good reason to cut the wall under the utility door down a bit further, as it eliminates the need to hang upside down while squinting into a dark hole until you black out or induce esophageal spasms.

Another item that will come in handy is flood lights.  Buy two or three of these and set them up inside the bilge.  You'll be glad you did.   And if your bilge has any hard to access corners or there are areas under which a tool or part could roll, I recommend you first tape that area off, unless you really enjoy spasm induced blackouts.

Once we'd created the hole we then had plenty of room to install the sump pump basin, and run hoses to it.  We installed the basin almost directly below where the old toilet sat, which meant we'd have easy access to the basin should anything go wrong.  That turned out to be necessary much sooner than we'd hoped.

Initially we used a Johnson Multiple Port Shower Sump and plumbed the bathroom sink and shower drains to it, but after only a few months of use, the filter became clogged with very long pieces of red hair and the filter then needed to be cleaned. [editor's note: if you need to choose between sailing away with either a pet, or a companion, choose whichever one is bald.]

When we tried to remove the filter, we found that not only was a small llama's worth of hair jammed up inside the clear plastic mesh filter tube (where you would it expect it to be) but a lot of the hair was also trapped back up in the black plastic manifold where the hoses attached. and we couldn't get the hair completely out of it.  To make matters worse, you couldn't get access to it from inside the box itself, even after you managed to unscrew the four screws in the lid (not the smartest idea), nor could you pull the hair out of the manifold, which meant having to remove the entire unit from the bilge, so that we could access it.   

How frustrating!!  Okay, we hadn't bolted it to the bilge floor yet, this should be easy, right?  We'll just unloosen these hose clamps and CRACK!  This is, yet again, another example of why you should never install any device that you can't readily repair, or maintain, in place, and should always make sure, a priori, that said device is completely bullet-proof.   Pay extra if you have to, it will turn out to be worth it in the long run.  In trying to remove the unit, one half of the manifold cracked off-- apparently it is two separate pieces of black plastic, the one just glued to the other.  That, plus the unnecessary and circuitous routing of the inlets made us wonder about the intelligence and quality of the design over all.   On the bright side, the folks at West Marine took back the unit (there was a 3yr warranty) although it did take them twenty minutes to find the original charge within their system.  

We have since switched over to an Attwood Shower Sump 750, which seems to be better built,  sturdier, with a much greater ease of access.  The lid snaps on and off (no screws), there is a very large, easily cleaned, plastic mesh screen to catch the hair, and best still the hose ports are directly attached and straight through.  We also liked the fact that the pump itself looks like it can be replaced with a standard, off-the-shelf Attwood Sahara automatic pump.   The Johnson pump seemed under-powered and difficult to obtain replacements for, whereas the Attwood system seemed like a drop-in replacement.   Much better design & ease-of-use, and you can reasonably stock up ahead of time, as those pumps can double as bilge pumps.

Our motto is "everything breaks too soon, usually at the worst possible moment" so we wanted to make sure that it would be possible to clean and/or repair it readily.  We recommend that approach for all mechanical, electrical and plumbing projects.  Assume you'll need to repair it when it is dark out, during a bad storm and you are seasick.  Make it as easy on yourself as possible, you'll thank yourself later on, and hopefully learn from our mistakes without having to make them yourself.

Oh, the other difficulty we encountered was that the bilge has a shallow channel running down the center, which happened to be just the right width to make placing the sump box directly on the bilge floor difficult.   To that end I created a shelf plate out of two of AnnMarie's plastic cutting boards, and attached the box to the shelf, and glued the shelf in place.   

[editor's note: this is actually the most dangerous project I've ever attempted on this boat!  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!  Especially if your spouse isn't very far away at the time.  It is probably safest if she has been away visiting friends for a long enough period that for she has completely forgotten that she ever owned two perfectly suitable cutting boards.]

View of the shower basin looking in
from the new access hatch.   

The next bit was to reroute all the plumbing.  We replaced all the hoses with this bright orange hose I found at OSH.  It was on sale.  No doubt we'll find out it degrades when exposed to red hair, but so far it has worked fine.  Since we no longer used the original shower pumps, we could remove them and re-purpose the anti-siphone valves.   We used one for the new shower basin pump, and the other for an additional (backup) bilge pump, which we powered off the shower's circuit breaker, giving us redundant bilge pumps via two separate electrical circuits.

We also refitted the stainless steel shower drain ports, removing them and rechaulking.  I'm not sure whose retarded cousin at R&C thought it was a good idea to create a shower drain that was guaranteed to leave an inch of standing water behind after every shower, but that is how it works, right from the factory!  I could understand if they were worried about creating some sort of sink trap, but there isn't even a screen to prevent something from getting into the large drain hole.  Why does such a great boat have to have such annoyingly lame minor details?

But I hear you ask "Why didn't you just run the sink drain out the thru-hulls instead of routing them to the shower basin?"  Well, as we mentioned in other blog entries, initially we did.  But we couldn't find a flanged Marlon valve in the 1" size (see the blog entry titled Thru-hull Flange Plate and Marlon Valve Installation) and our replacement thru-hull mushroom cracked, so we decided to just eliminate the thru-hulls entirely and run all the sinks drains into the basin, along with the shower.

"But even still," you query, "didn't your ultimate solution [routing all the sinks and showers to a sump pump] mean that every time you used the bathroom sink or shower, you would need to pump that water overboard?"  Well, yes.  Our thinking is that the amount of water we use in the sinks and showers while cruising is insignificant enough that we can afford to pump it, given that we expect there to be an abundance of solar, wind and generator power wherever we go.

Wishful thinking on our part, no doubt.  Furthermore, we foolishly believe that the reduction in thru-holes (coupled with the illusory notion of available power) justified the additional expense and maintenance of the sump pump.   Given that even one new Jabsco shower drain pump is about twice the cost (and we'd need two of them per hull, making it four times the cost) of a new Sahara 750 bilge pump, we figure that even if it only lasts for a few years, we are ahead of the game.  Check back with us in a while, we may have a very different opinion about this, but for now, that's our story and we're sticking to it.

None the less, we now have everything plumbed and can take showers without incurring wrist damage.  Better still, because the area behind the holding tank indicator panel and shower drain pump is no longer useful, we are planning to convert that area into a water-proof drawer in which to keep toilet paper and other hydrophilic items.   I've yet to be on a Leopard that didn't have at least one roll of soggy pulp hanging in one of the four bathroom cabinets on board.   Once we've figured out how to install that, we'll post details.

Oh, one other benefit from this modification is that we now have access to an enormous amount of space we didn't know existed.  There is a lot of room under the flooring there, and we are thinking of renting that space out as a sort of in-law unit.   Grab a flashlight and hunt around down there, you'll probably find your dinghy that went missing last summer.

No comments: