Sometimes it’s just about attitude

Today I spent the day completely breaking down and replacing the entire above-ground portion of my in-ground pool’s plumbing. I had some problems crop up with my multi-port valve, and I had to take a few things apart to troubleshoot and remove the pump as the source of a pressure problem (namely, there wasn’t any).

Without going into too much gory detail about the troubleshooting, suffice to say that, over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the pump house. More than I ever had to before. While I was in there I had some time to closely inspect the plumbing. While taking a break and sipping a home brewed scotch ale, I just sorta stared at each component in the line and thought about the logic employed in the overall project. By the end of my 5-minute break, I was not happy.

This plumbing was put in place by a contractor that was hired by the previous owner of this house. Thinking about that got me really steamed for two reasons;

1. I know the previous owner of this house, and he’s a great guy.

2. The contractor completely fleeced the previous owner :-/

The pipe coming out of the ground is 1 1/4″. It went downhill from there. Connected to the black pipe coming from the ground a 1 1/4 barb/thread adapter, and held in (in part) by a worm clamp. Actually – two worm clamps. And guess what screwed into there? A 1 1/4″ thread/barb adapter! Shoved onto *that* with two worm clamps was another length of the black pipe, which went to a very sharp, and *iron* threaded elbow joint which had a 1 1/4 thread/barb bit attached to connect the pipe. Yes, more worm clamps. From there there was an enormous, old, and broken brass or iron valve, and then we see our first bit of actual PVC – a union going into the pump.

Everything in that last paragraph has been completely replaced with PVC.

From the pump to the multi-port valve, there’s a PVC elbow that’s still in tact, but it had a simple barbed adapter, to which was attached 1 1/2″ vinyl tubing…. with worm clamps. The vinyl tubing connected in the same exact manner on the multi-port valve side.

Everything above was replaced with PVC, and the connections to the valve and pump are now either threaded or glued – but not barb fittings, and there are no worm clamps.

The return line (from the multi-port valve back to the pool), was, if you can imagine, even worse. A barb stuck out of the multi-port valve, and attached to that was the 1 1/2″ vinyl tubing – using worm clamps. The tubing attached to another barbed fitting on the other side that was screwed into another enormous brass or iron valve that was so broken it was not ever used. The valve actually sat on a milk crate, and I never really had any reason (or time) to consider why this is: it’s because instead of the valve being attached to some kind of rigid pipe with an elbow, it just sat on a milk crate and was connected to the ground pipe using….. vacuum hose.

Yes, that vacuum hose. If you had a pool growing up, you might’ve swung lengths of this stuff around over your head to hear the noise it would make. Or you might’ve tied up your little brother with it. The point is, it’s a toy. It’s not meant for this kind of application. It’s the wrong size, but of course, worm clamps to the rescue!

I know this is all kinda hard to believe, so I took a few pics of the “before” version of the plumbing during the takedown/troubleshooting phase of my project.

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So above, Note that big valve – that’s coming from the pool into the pump. See all that black electrical tape? Yeah – that’s bad to see in a plumbing design. There was also some shrink wrap stuff on parts of the pipe that are under this table. You can also see here the infamous milk crate :-/

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Here’s the other half – vinyl tubing, barbs and worm clamps. Oh my! In its defense, it sorta worked, and had the nice side effect of being able to see the water moving through the tubing. I guess that’s cool. Of course, my pump has a clear lid so you can see what’s going on, and there’s that nifty pressure gauge on the multi-port valve so….

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This is a shot of my ‘testing’ setup. It’s a closed loop – the water comes from the bucket, up the hose on the left to the pump, and out of the pump back into the bucket. This worked wonderfully and allowed me to prove to myself that I didn’t need a new $x000 pump 😉

The funnier part here is that you can now see clearly in the background that the return valve is connected (with a worm clamp!) to the black and white vacuum hose! 😛

I told you all of that so I could tell you this

Nobody ever questioned this monstrosity of a setup. Somebody came in and set this up, and somebody else paid for it, and was happy to not have to think about it. It was clearly shoved together with whatever parts the guy had lying around. And “shoved” is really the perfect word here. The bottom line is that this was a fiasco. An adventure. It was not taken seriously at all. I’m starting to see things like this more and more in both my professional and non-professional work. People don’t take the work they do seriously. They don’t think much about their work. They’re here today, gone tomorrow, and they’ll get paid on Friday, and that’s all that matters.

This whole plumbing system is just that – a system. Systems require thought. A well-functioning system is almost always the result of some amount of thought and design and perhaps (gasp!) discussion. Just because they’re locked away in a place nobody ever goes doesn’t mean they’re not important. In fact, most things that are put out of the way are put there specifically because they *are* important.

If you build systems, please take the building of those systems seriously. If you’re inheriting or coming into an existing system, or managing the building of a system, question it. Question everything. Ask why. Ask what the alternative solutions are. Ask what is compromised by doing it one way as opposed to another. Ask was is commonly done in your scenario and why. Be curious and skeptical. Look for red flags. Should $.10 tin worm clamps be used in a plumbing system? Won’t they rust to the point where they are unusable? Certainly this can’t be the optimal solution? What are some alternatives? Odd – I’ve never seen vacuum hose used in that way, can’t we use something else?

I know this is goofy, but this is how my brain works: every single thing you can learn is likely to be analogous to either a) something you already know or b) something you can more readily wrap your brain around. The good thing about that is that it means you can pretty much learn every single thing 😉

In this case, my pool plumbing system is analogous to a computing system infrastructure, inasmuch as both are systems, made up of many and varied components – and each component represents a decision that must be made, and a potential source of a future problem. Does the component fit? Is it made fo this application? Does it integrate well into the rest of the system? I could be asking those questions of almost any component of almost any system whether it moves bits or water.

Well, enough rambling for one night. There was a message in that somewhere, but it’s late, and I’ve been working with PVC all day. 😉