May 3, 2008

Oh, you wanted toilets?

Honduran bathroom
Note the PVC pipe snaking around the walls? Oops! Just an oversight. Forgot to plumb the water to all three toilets in this public restroom.

Honduran bathroomIt's just one of those things that happen in Honduras.

Seats are optional. Nice combination on the tiles, too.

See how the toilet is installed with one inch of concrete underneath? No wimpy plumbers' putty and caulk here. When I was in the US buying plumbing supplies, I asked about this method of installing toilets because I had been told, "That's how we do it in Honduras." The plumber guy looked at me incredulously and said, "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of!"

We had problems with our toilet installations, too. All of our toilets were rocking toilets! In trying to install the bolts at the bottom, they had busted the concrete floor too much and the bolts couldn't hold. Over time, El Jefe was able to fix all of them, but with great difficulty as no bolts long enough were available anywhere in La Ceiba.

The worst problem was in the master bath. The plumbers had plumbed the drain pipe about 6 inches farther away from the wall than it should have been. They had three choices:

1) Bust out the concrete and do it the right way. :-( (Huh? TIH! This is Honduras!)

2) Set the toilet 6 inches away from the wall. :-( (Owners were bound to notice that and no doubt a gringa would complain.)

3) Cover up the error by chipping away at the concrete to make a rough concrete canal to the drain pipe which would be hidden by the toilet. :-D (Yup. You guessed it. That was the preferred method.)

Okay, first of all, I don't know about the rest of the world, but toilets and the placement of the drain pipes have been standard in North and Central America for at least 60-70 years, so the spacing from the wall wasn't anything new to the plumbers. Next, the wax ring that seals the toilet to the drain pipe couldn't seal anything as half of it was sitting in the air over a canal.

As you can imagine, before long we began noticing odors in that bathroom and couldn't figure out why. Then a few months after that, because the "stuff" was basically expected to flow horizontally over jagged concrete, it didn't. Eventually the caulk gave out and black water began seeping out from underneath the toilet. We knew we had a big problem then.

Oddly, I remembered when the "plumber" was installing the fixtures that I was going around checking on him because they initially tried to throw away some faucet parts that they said were "spare parts" and not needed. The head plumber told me that they had never installed the drain stoppers before (always threw them away, too) and he couldn't imagine why I wanted them.

Whenever I went into that bathroom, the plumber would look up with a guilty look and then move to another room to work. I remembered thinking it was odd behavior. I should have known something was going on!

While I cowered in fear downstairs, El Jefe removed the toilet and discovered the scam. The concrete had to be busted out to make room for a drainage tube and elbow. I didn't go into that bathroom again until it was finished. I didn't want to know! It's been working fine for a few years now.

We ended up installing most of the sinks and faucets ourselves and are better off for it. The plumber quit when I refused to pay him extra for a sink that they had installed in the wrong place. We showed him the plan and measured with him to show him that it was in the wrong place. He refused to accept responsibility and I refused to pay for his error. We paid for correcting PLENTY of errors and I had just had it with the lack of responsibility!

We've been shown time and time again that Honduran plumbers don't realize that water flows downhill and that pvc pipes really do need to be glued. El Jefe has learned to be a pretty good plumber from correcting all the leaks and other problems from the plumbers' work. Thankfully so far that hasn't involved busting out any of our finished walls, only the ones behind cabinets.

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