The plumbing staff at Whywait Plumbing every day see the results of the growing popularity of DIY home renovations, encouraged by an “explosion” in television programmes on home renovation. Despite the fact that it is illegal throughout Australia for anyone other than a licensed plumber to work on potable water systems or sanitary drainage systems there is an increasing number of people embarking on DIY renovations of their homes who purchase all of the fixtures and fittings and then set about installing them connecting to the existing water supply and sanitary drainage system.
It is frightening to see the number of cross connections that occur with wrongly sized pipes being connected to the hot water supply or the recycled water supply or the rain water tank supply by mistake. Even more frightening is illegal cross connections with sanitary drainage pipes being connected to storm water pipes leading to raw sewage being increasingly discharged into creeks, streams and rivers and ultimately into the ocean. This illegal sewage discharge has a devastating effect on the environment and especially on animals, birds and fish.
These illegal drainage cross connections mean that sewage discharge water that should be piped into the sewage system is being fed into ground and coastal waters. As the amount of cross connections increase there is a growing problem causing the degradation of smaller creeks, streams and rivers that are threatening invertebrate ecosystems and depleting fish stocks. The sewage removes oxygen, encouraging eutrophication resulting in increasing growth of algae and as a result the water becomes stagnant. Invariably this changes the ecosystem and the invertebrates which results in a bland range of invertebrates being available as food source which are crucial for young fish. These illegal cross connections have other unforeseen effects such as the problem of endocrine disruptor’s, which is the impact of medications such as contraceptive pills which can change the sex of the fish.
There has always been a problem was illegal cross connections. This has resulted in local councils and water authorities undertaking smoke testing of the sewer drains to detect smoke rising out of the illegal connections. Unfortunately this only detects illegal storm water connections into the sewer or sanitary drain system. Locating sewer being discharged into the storm water system is much harder and frequently only occurs when a plumber is called to a property and finds the cause of a blockage is actually a cross connected drain. There are increasing concerns that the problem could become even greater with the popularity of DIY home renovations to blame.
In the United Kingdom the problem is more pronounced as they have no plumbing licencing system resulting in almost anyone being able to undertake plumbing work. Dr Robert Keirle, pollution programme manager at the Marine Conservation Society, recently stated, “As DIY has become more popular over the years, aided by an explosion in property programmes on television, the problem has been growing. People see a pipe, think it’s the right one to attach to, and untreated water from washing machines, but also toilets, ends up going to the wrong place. It is also probably a result of the times we live in, with people unable to afford to call in tradesmen to do the plumbing.”
This same statement can also be attributed to Australia with the DIY enthusiasts unaware of the dangers they create by doing it themselves. Unfortunately most plumbing is out of sight in the walls, floor or underground resulting in the out of sight, out of mind impression. Unfortunately this is not the case and one result of not using licensed plumbers to undertake the work is that if there is ever an insurance claim resulting from the illegal plumbing work the likely scenario is that the insurance policy will prove to be null and void. This results in unfortunate home owners being out of pocket to the tune of many thousands of dollars all due to the deluded self belief that it is okay to do it yourself.
The natural human instinct of the DIY enthusiast’s is that its only me and what effect will that have, because of course one cross connection does not have a particularly dramatic effect, but in reality it is death by a thousand cuts to the environment. In reality it is like having a sewage treatment plant that does not work and just sends everything out to sea. Very simply there is an increasing amount of people undertaking DIY home renovations who think the law does not apply to them and do not understand that there is a huge difference between the pipe connecting to the sewer and the pipe that gets rid of rain water into the storm water system.