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Robert Lamoureux: How to find the belly of the beast

Posted: July 2, 2010 8:47 p.m.
Updated: July 3, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Hi Robert,
We have a problem with a sewer line in our condo complex. We called the plumbers, and they tell us the line has a belly in it. The belly is causing a constant backup. Is that possible?  Also, unless they dig and look, how do they know there is a belly? Thanks,
Kenneth C.

Hi Kenneth,
If the line has enough of a belly in it, then yes, this is possible. Sediment can harden and build up. Many times pool workers will dump DE — diatomaceous earth — down the drain, by washing out the DE filters in the showers, and the DE will solidify.

It’s better to wash the filters in the shower than to let it run down the storm drain and out to the ocean. But if there’s a belly, the DE, which is silty, will settle in the bottom and will become hard. It will build up just like concrete. 

For the repair, you have to dig the sewer line up and raise the belly. What allows this problem to develop is the ground under the pipe, where it was dug out. If it was not compacted enough and settles over the years, the pipe drops. Many times, there’s not enough water pressure to push any sediments up out of the low-lying area, so it backs up. 

There are ways to determine if there is a belly without excavation. A camera can be run in the pipe. Watch the monitor and, if the pipe is dry for 20 feet or so, then disappears underwater for 20 feet and comes back up to dry pipe again, that’s indicative of a belly. The depth can be tracked from above ground with a locator.

Hello Robert,
We enjoy your column. The Health Department just cited us and said we need trash doors with a device that allows the doors to close one at a time. Do you know what they are talking about? We can’t seem to get an answer. Thank you,
Ted M.

Hi Ted,
The device is called a controller. It allows both doors to close simultaneously, but the door with the astragal will remain open about 25 percent until the first door closes and locks. Then the second door will close and secure the area in case of fire. Without the controller, if the astragal side closed first, the second door could not close. Once both fire doors are closed properly, the room is considered fire-resistant.

During a fire, a draft or wind is naturally generated and will push the doors open unless they are properly closed, allowing the fire to spread.   

Another device that should be in this room, especially if you have multiple floors, is a trash-chute door. It has a sliding panel, fastened on wheels to a track and mounted on an angle. It is held open by springs and a 155-degree lead fusible link. 

Hypothetically, let’s say someone throws trash down the chute with a lit cigarette that catches the trash in the dumpster on fire. Once the temperature reaches 155 degrees in the trash room, the lead fusible link holding the chute door will melt, causing the door to close. This prevents the fire from spreading up the chute and throughout the rest of the building.

You have to make sure that door moves freely with no obstructions. Inspect it every couple of months or so to make sure the track is clean and well lubricated. 

You also need a fire sprinkler in that room. Once the sprinklers are used, they need to be replaced. When replacing the heads, use Teflon tape on the threads.
Hi Robert,
I read your column all of the time. We have a problem with the cupola on our rec center. It’s copper and it is leaking. How is this repairable? Thank you very much,
Glen A.

Hi Glen,
If it is in bad shape, you need to get a sheet metal expert out to take the dimensions to rebuild the cupola. If the problem is at a seam, you can get a roofer out to solder and make the repair. 

If you have a hole in the sheeting, a new piece of copper can be cut and soldered in by a good tin knocker. Replacing one piece, or one panel, is far less expensive than replacing the copper cupola, but the new piece will not match because it won’t have the patina. 

Many HOA’s want to keep the aesthetic and don’t want to see a new, shiny piece of copper. One alternative is to call a painter and have it touched up to simulate the look of the existing copper. Or, of course you can rebuild the entire cupola.

Hello Robert,
One of the maintenance guys at our complex is using an electrical closet as his shop. I have complained to the board that this is not safe, but it continues. If you agree this is not the best idea, I can show them your response and hopefully this will put an end to it. Thank you,
Bill D.

Hi Bill,
I absolutely agree. This is not a good idea. I don’t know what kind of work he is doing in there, but the only people who need to be in an electrical closet are electricians.

For example, if he is sanding and has finite dust particles floating in the air, that’s no different than a bomb. If one of the electrical panels were to spark, collectively that dust in the air would explode. Just like a bomb. Remember a few years ago in Las Vegas when the flour factory blew up?  They found out that one of the fluorescent lights had a short in it, and the flour dust got into it.  That’s why anything electric is totally sealed in those types of factories. 

Is he doing any painting in there? Is he storing paint thinner or lacquer? Any of those products are extremely flammable and are not to be stored in an electrical closet. 

Nobody should be working in an electrical closet, except for electricians — and nothing should be stored in there, not even a broom. It’s not a storage closet. 

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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