I am the least handy of people you are ever likely to meet. So when something breaks around the house I am more likely to call someone in than to attempt to repair it myself. So when the water-hammers in my shower started going berserk, thundering like foghorns on a sinking ship, I called Omega Plumbing.

It wasn’t a big job. Dale, the plumber, knew exactly what the problem was and had it fixed in minutes. I felt a bit embarrassed, calling him out for something that seemed so simple.

Dale said I was wrong to feel that way. The water-hammer problem was only simple for him because he’d been trained to identify it. I must have looked dubious because he went on to tell me this story:

Cluttered student houseSeveral years ago Omega Plumbing were called out to a large but rather unkempt house near Sydney University. It was a typical student residence – crammed with books, sheafs of paper, the entrails of computers, pizza boxes and empty beer bottles. The students had encountered a problem with a blocked drain, and being students they sought to solve the problem themselves.

In an effort to unblock the drain they filled every basin in the house with water. Then, on a pre-arranged signal, everyone unplugged or flushed everything at once. It was hoped that the sudden large volume of water would wipe away whatever was blocking the drain – and thus avoid the expense of calling a plumber.

I imagine it would have been great fun for the students: Identifying the problem, posing solutions, and then putting their ideas to the test.

There were two bathrooms, a laundry, a kitchen with two sinks and two toilets – each with its own hand basin. Friends were had marshalled in so that every utility sent water to the blocked pipe.

Once all the cisterns and sinks were filled each person called out and waited. The person whose idea it was blew a loud blast on a whistle and everyone flushed and unplugged at once. Close to one hundred litres of water went rushing into the pipes beneath the house.

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite as hoped.

To begin with, the students thought they’d been successful. The water drained from the basins without a gurgle.

Then someone noticed a smell.

Soon the smell became stronger.

Omega PlumbingUnable to take the strain of so much water an effluent pipe had burst allowing raw sewerage into the earth a scant few centimeters below the lawn. If it hadn’t been such a serious health issue it might have been funny.

‘It costs so little to clear a drainpipe,’ Dale said, smiling and shaking his head. ‘The cost to replace a broken pipe is another story; especially when you’re on a student income.’

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