A short guide to Polish drainage

Approximately five hours of my life last Saturday was devoted to trying to unblock the drain in our daughter’s bathroom. The saga followed most of the normal tributaries that any such matter normally does here in Poland and is therefore, perhaps, worth sharing as a kind of mini-guide book for new arrivals.

1/ Understanding the problem

This was the easy part. When you flush the toilet and it fills up to the brim you get an idea something is wrong. When the rate at which the toilet water goes down is matched by the rate of sewage coming up the shower drain and forming a crust in the shower tray you know you need help! Much as playing Sink the battleship with turds in the toilet-lake is fun, it can’t last forever.

Understanding why this was happening was also pretty easy. After many months of tipping supposedly drain-friendly cat litter down the toilet accompanied by Zosia’s wet toilet tissue also supposedly drain-friendly, the drain just succumbed to a little too much friendliness.

So there it was, blocked drain, no drain rods, need to get someone in.

Newcomers may find that understanding the problem is not always this easy.

2/ Who can fix it?

Now the fun starts. I confess I am pretty useless with the Polish Yellow Pages and were I to open them I might find a section called Drain Clearance Services and a list of companies like Dyno-Rod Polska or Czysty Rury Kanalizacyjny Sp z o.o. In my dreams I’d call them and a brightly coloured van would arrived stuffed to the brim with the latest drain clearing gadgetry. They’d hunt the block down and exterminate it in double quick time, charge me a flat fee and everyone would be happy. From Dyno-Rod web site:

How we do it
We fit the tools to the task. So, we might use a simple tool or we might need to get out the high pressure water jet. Rest assured, once we’ve found out what the problem is we’ll usually have the right equipment on hand to take care of it.

Instead of that we embarked on one of those “who do we know” sessions where everyone gathers round and throws out names until we settle on the one most likely to make a good fist of it. As per usual, none of the people on the list were what you’d call professional drain cleaners. We settled on ‘DrainExBud’, or whatever, and the visit was set for Saturday at eleven.

3/ The appointed hour

Against all expectations they turned up on the right day and within 5 minutes of the right time. This is not something you should get used to. Getting people to turn up at all is tricky and to get an appointment when you’re not supposed to be at work is almost impossible. So, for them to appear on a Saturday and at the right time is a small miracle.

What turned up was a large white van with a very empty part at the back where the tools should have been. There were three guys though and they appeared eager to get something done – I refer you to my earlier post on bystanding.

4/ The ignoring of the obvious

I think I’m missing the magic words po polsku that make it register with people that I really DO know what I’m talking about because every time I explain what I think the problem is they just ignore that and go exploring every other alternative. I explained that this problem was local to the affected bathroom, probably the pipe under the bathroom floor from the toilet to the next junction. After three seconds consideration they left the bathroom and started hunting down all drain covers within a 6km radius of our home!

5/ The red-herring

There is always a false dawn with resolving Polish problems. That moment when you think “Aha, now this is going to be easy!” but then you find you’re now even further away from a solution than you were at the beginning. In our case this was the big drain under the trampoline. After a lengthy drain hunt, which when everything is covered with 1m of snow is not easy, we settled on a big one lurking under the trampoline. We cleared the snow off the trampoline and moved it, then we opened up the drain and started into the cavern below.

It was at this point I realised why three people were needed because one of them dived down the hole head first while the other two grabbed a leg each. After much torch waving we decided to run the water from the main bathroom, kitchen and other toilets to see where it appeared. Nothing came through our open drain, not a dribble. It was at this point our thought processes diverged. They were thinking “Why no water, this must be blocked by ice in a pipe somewhere close to Venus” and I was thinking “These guys are losing the plot, time to call someone who knows how this place was built”.

They had repeatedly mentioned something called a kratka regulacynyszczyjyzżź, or something like that. I had no bloody idea what they were talking about but it was clear that until they found it we were destined to move our drain inspections further and further away from home. I had visions of us opening drain covers under the Palace of Culture by nightfall.

It was all going horribly wrong!

6/ The headless chicken

This is the stage where having failed at the first attempt everyone runs around trying everything else all the same time.

I called the golden handyman of the estate, the one who had already been told to fix the drain and had buggered off to Germany. He told the three amigos where the kratka costam was – inside the other apartment for which we had no keys. He did however call the administration guy, let’s call him Hans (because he’s Austrian). He’s the other one who had been told we had a drain problem but had chosen to ignore it. The reason why I’d got my own three stooges here on Saturday.

Hans turned up on the scene with keys for the other apartment as well as his own opinions about what was wrong (which also involved manholes a long long way from our bathroom). We then entered the ‘headless chicken’ phase where there are people running around everywhere looking at a hundred things none of which are close to where the actual problem lies but they all seemed to be enjoying themselves so I had a coffee and watched. As usual in the midst of this we had the debate about “Did the builders of the place really put things where they were supposed to be?”. To which the answer is usually “No!”.

The big drain with no water turned out to be for surface water only – i.e. rainwater – and was therefore the red herring I mentioned earlier. I should have sussed that one myself to be fair! A smaller drain was found by Hans and that was the sewage one. At least 45 minutes was spent fiddling with that. The kratka costam inside the other apartment turned out to be the smelly one with a small lake of stinky goo inside. They fiddled with that one for a hour or more. Hans foolishly mentioned another kratka that was somewhere between us and the lake, about 40m away and was buried under ground (the ground in this place being under 1.5m of snow). That didn’t stop one of the three amigos spending half an hour with a shovel clearing snow and tapping the grass in the vague direction of where the buried manhole might be. He eventually gave up with that.

When everyone started running out of energy and ideas I decided to remind them of what I’d said at the beginning, now about 3 hours ago.

7/ The return to the obvious

By now the power of logic was beginning to return to everyone’s minds and the, rather obvious, conclusion was being formed. Everything in the apartment was working fine – main bathroom, two toilets, washing machine, dishwasher, kitchen sink – apart from the items in Zosia’s bathroom. This tends to rule out any general problem with the drains and draws attention to whatever pipe is leading from Zosia’s bathroom to the main drainage system. The thing I’d explained at the beginning.

So it was that everyone came back to the bathroom and started poking ‘spirale’ down every possible orifice. Getting nowhere with that, it was time to remove the toilet pan and find a bigger hole to play with. The pan came out and attention was paid to the main drainpipe under the floor. Here we struck gold, or to be more precise sand (aka disintegrated cat litter) and a collection of Toddies. A combination of ‘spirale’ and arm-down-pipe collected a bucket full of this mess and my hope of a resolution was growing.

8/ The missing equipment

It was at this point that no matter how many men we had and how eager they were to fix this it didn’t really matter because we just didn’t have the right equipment. The three amigos had arrived with two spirale and a hose-pipe. One spirale 15m long and as thick as my thumb, the other 5m long and as thick as my little finger. Neither of those were making a lasting impression on the beach we had lodged in our pipe. The arm-down-pipe tool was only as good as the length of an arm and the hose-pipe was a complete waste of time.

spirale

A ‘spirale’ drain tool

What was needed was the kind of stuff Dyno-Rod and other specialists consider to be essential tools for drain clearance, things like high pressure water jets and pumps. But they require the back of the van to be full like the one below rather than empty, like our van was. They also require that ingredient so often missing in Polish firms – investment of money in equipment.

aquajet

9/ The anti-climax

And so it was that we reached the all too regular conclusion of a complete anti-climax. This has to be the main lesson for any newcomer to this land – assuming you’ve got past the hurdle of having someone visit DO NOT assume that the first visit will see the problem solved. You have to remember it’s a process, one that has a beginning about five middles and then an end.

10/ No I couldn’t, could I?

We stood the toilet back over the pipe, we mulled over who might actually have the right tools, we said szkoda a lot. We did our best to clear up the mess that by now covered half the house and a couple of square hectares outside. The guys got changed and I offered them a token of my appreciation. They of course pretended not to be interested and I think they meant it to be fair but I was insisting and so some money changed hands and they can all enjoy a few beers on me.

This was not appreciation of having sorted the problem but more for them having come and spent five hours on a Saturday and tried the best they could with insufficient tools getting covered in cack in the process. Strange really, with Dyno-Rod in the UK I’d not consider giving them anything if they didn’t solve the problem and yet here I’m happy to fork out a little even to be left with a bathroom in worse condition that in started! It’s all about setting your level of expectation and here in Poland it is a lot lower than in the UK. Not because I want it to be, just that past experience has taught me that that’s where it should be.

We had at least proved my theory to be correct, we knew where the problem was and we knew what the problem was, we just couldn’t go that last hurdle and complete the task. That really is very Polish and in some perverse way more likeable than the Dyno-Rod way, although at times a little frustrating. I now look forward to going through a hopefully much shorter and ultimately conclusive process some other day!

I was wondering about this on the way back from watching ‘Avatar’ tonight. Is the fact (or myth) that every Pole is a DIY superstar holding the country back from developing a real network of proper professional technical service companies? Just a thought, there may be something in it though.

[UPDATE – we’ve found a company that has the right equipment but they want in excess of 600 PLN to come and do the job! That’s 130 quid and I’d estimate getting on for double what you’d pay in the UK for the same thing. As the image I used for the header suggests, you can get it done for $49 in Australia so 600 PLN really is taking the mickey. I refuse to be ripped off to that extent so the search continues.]

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34 thoughts on “A short guide to Polish drainage

  1. Pingback: The latest firm to join the ‘Hall of Shame’ « 20 east

  2. I know how it looks in Poland. Beware if you buy a consumer electronics item. Is it an upside of a device if it has five years warranty period of a nearest service centre is in Slovakia or Hungary and shipment and repair last two months?

    Aside from this digression, as a houseowner / flatowner you should insist on the builders, developer or previous buyer that they hand you detailed diagrams of electricity, waterworks, drainage and other pipe and their connection to public mains outside the house. Those plans really facilitate the work of those guys who come to mend it. Confirmed many times in practice!

    Long is the record of your adventures. It prompts me to write my own posts more concisely…

  3. Had a similar experience a couple of years ago – problem turned out to be collapsed drainage pipe, but not for love nor money could I get my hands on a set of drain rods over here!! Unbelievable!! Well, perhaps not. It’s like the ‘carpenters’ hammer. Never existed in Poland as far as I’m concerned pre (at least) 1997 – you know the type – standard hammer in uk with hook for pulling out nails. And try to find a proper wet plaster trowel or bricklaying trowel – in your dreams mate. Try to find a fast and neat bricklayer – concept is not understood in Poland! They all come from the slap it down and plaster over it school unless they work with klinkier and then their so ‘precise’ they take forever to do a job!!.
    Why is my eye twitching?

  4. This blog and the comments reminds me more and more of a colonial pub somewhere in Africa or India with a bunch of Brits talking about “the uncivilized” “dumb” “lazy” “unorganized” “primitive equipped” local people who do not even know what a proper XYZ is, and how to make ZXY. And in the UK of course there are the best XYX. In 5 minuets they can lay 1000 bricks and clean 1000 bathrooms…

    …this sentence beats them all BTW.

    “concept is not understood in Poland!”

  5. Guest: Scatts isn’t saying they’re uncivilized, dumb, definitely not lazy. Unorganized …well, did they or anyone else in this article seem organized to you? As for the equipment…

    The only problem I have here is that Scatts wasn’t up for paying the 600 PLN to the guys that do have the equipment. Of *course* it’s expensive. The equipment is expensive, guys that know how to use it are more expensive than people that prefer to jam their arm down a pipe and the van is probably even more expensive. Someone’s gotta pay for all that. Poland is not a cheap place to live if you want things done the right way.

    Few people know how to do it the right way since they spent a few generations with the “that’ll do” mind set. Few people have the money or inclination to spend the money to get the right people and equipment for their business. Few people wish to pay to have it done right because that is, sorry to be so painfully obvious, more expensive than having someone do it badly and incorrectly. Of course, that last point is only true if your time has absolutely no value and you don’t bother to add up all the incidental expenses.

    Not to rub salt – or sand – in the wound, but I personally would have just scooped the kitty litter out into a small garbage bag and chucked it in the bin like everyone else does, including myself. I’ve never heard of “flushable” kitty litter before but when I did just now I laughed a little. Scatts, you’re such an optimist!

  6. Tell me about it! I’m trying to find an electrician in the Midlands since early January! i;ve found 3 firms who charge 700-900 funtów, and one chap who came in on a 4 day notice, charged me 120, but connected the whole lightning in 4 rooms to one small fuse in the kitchen, and spirited off without leaving the bill.
    Do you have something like Dyno-Rod for electricity here?

  7. Dear Guest, I have spent almost 13 years in Poland, the majority of which I’ve worked in Project Management in the construction industry, from Tychy to Gdańsk. I’ve also worked in the same industry in Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Bulgaria. My comment did not say anyone was dumb or lazy. However, with regard to building work, I can only speak as I find. There are many fine professionals and skilled craftsmen in the branch, but their abilities were honed to the market they worked in and the prevailing architectural/ constructional fashions and materials. These are changing, whilst many skilled people have left for other countries and developed their skills to modern standards. There was a dearth of skilled constructuion labour in Poland recently, and getting a builder to take on a small job cost an arm or a leg or they were not interested because they have so much work (because there are so few builders).
    Drain rods are a technology that has yet to reach Poland.
    You experience may differ :)

  8. ‘A short guide’ – more like an epic, and yet unfinished, saga. However, that’s not a slight on the description, more just a sympathetic nod to to insane amount of effort involved in repairs of this order.

    I have found that for work like this to be sucessful, it does indeed involve a van full of equipment, and the ‘magic touch’ effect, where one repair guy seems to just be able to touch something and it’s fixed.

  9. Brad, I’m open to pay 600 if that’s really the market price here but as they were the first people we found with the equipment I thought it best to check a few more.

    I’d be surprised if we’re the ONLY people flushing the kitty litter that uses “flushable” as its main selling point. We used to bag the previous kind and will be bagging from now on, obviously.

  10. One thing is guaranteed on this blog, any comment other than “Poland is the most fantastic place on earth” will attract comments like guest’s one.

    Must go, need to find a few uncivilized, dumb and lazy Poles to clean my elephant gun and polish my pith helmet.

  11. Polka, not as far as I can remember. Some things have been made easier, like clearing drains, others remain a nightmare, like electrical work, carpentry and so on. Doesn’t surprise me you’re having trouble. Are there really no handy-Poles available in the midlands? We hear so many stories of Poles doing such work in the UK and here you are without one, not fair!

  12. Loud English builders putting up scaffolding construction waking me up in the morning:
    Should I take this pole down?
    What about this Ukrainian should I leave him up there?

  13. 90% of the posts here are negative
    9% neutral
    1% positive

    And no, i do not expect a cheesy blog, about how “fantastic” Poland is (because it is not). But a POL-rant-ian blog is not good either…

  14. Look ADTHELAD. The Brits did not rebuilt Warsaw, Gdansk or Wroclaw, you know ? The Poles did it with their own “technology” and their own “concept”.

    Maybe the Poles do not want to “understand” your brick layer (or whatever) concept ? It is like saying “why do the Brits not use/understand our “ZAKOPANE style” technology. Why do not they use the Polish concept and build their London houses in our Polish renaissance or whatever style ? …sounds pretty ignorant, right ?

    BTW it was a “Pole” who constructed the new wembley stadium in London, the olympic Stadium in Sidney, the highest railroad in the world, the world’s most difficult road from afghanistan to pakistan, and a dozen famous bridges and buildings in the USA…

    So next time just respect different “concepts” and if you want to use your concept, just hire some Brits or tell the Poles how to do it. ..because the Poles have their own concepts.

  15. Good post scatts.I am certain all who live here have had exactly the same experience once or twice – we certainly have.

    I say we put a kitty (no pun intended) together and purchase a set of those drain rods and have them ready for the future. They can be kept at scatts office under lock and key of course and dispatched to any of the ‘investors as needed’.

  16. Poland can switch role when she’s being compared to Malaysia. So no worries ok!

    Malaysians are more uncivilized, dumb and lazy.

    As for the UK,… what can I say ? They lost an empire over half a century ago, and found a new one in Europe.

  17. I have rather strong suspicions, that the overall quality of plumbing installations on the west side of the La Manche might at least contribute to the general availability of plumbing/drainage companies in the UK and Eire.

    (It seems that the builders here have rather cavalier approach to plumbing, they also seem to have immense amounts of hope that nothing ever breaks no matter how loosely it’s built. And don’t get me started on the excellent idea of separate cold/hot water taps…)

  18. Jubal, the longer I am away from the UK, the more stupid separate hot & cold taps seem to be. What on earth were the original ‘inventors’ thinking about? I suppose it just evolved from days when there was only cold water but even so, you’d think they would get it right eventually rather than just perpetuate the problem!

  19. Guest – thank you, that not only I’m fighting here. Lately I’m quite busy, so I fight for really important things not only with Brits!

  20. It is not about “fighting”. Form time to time our dear expats just need a little “reminder”, when their old habits take over and we have to read “why Poland does not have a Starbucks in every town ? ….and a British Dyno-Rod, and why do the Poles not build their houses in our style and so on.”

  21. Guest, I don’t think that’s fair to be honest with you. I admit that a number of posts can be taken negatively if the reader wishes to but those are usually a light-hearted giggle at how life really is here sometimes rather than a truly negative rant. All of them are true (apart from Jamie’s of course) so whether negative or not, that’s how it is.

    The stupid thing is that this was not intended, nor is it, a negative ranting post. The guys came, they tried hard, I appreciated their efforts, we all enjoyed ourselves. Where’s the negativity in that? Did they have the right equipment, no, did they finish the job, no, did they concentrate their efforts on the place where the problem was, no. Does this happen a lot in Poland, yes. These are just facts, not ranting negativity.

    Just for you, I shall try to be more positive in the future.

  22. I remember when I lived in the UK in the 1990’s – had to wear a winter glove on the right hand and an oven mitt on the left to wash my face

  23. last year we had a minor problem with our bath, and finding a plumber was not the easiest of tasks. and especially the plumber who wouldn`t charge 100 sterling for showing up only. the one who finally appeared charged us over 100 quid, and only partly fixed it. not to mention people who came to mend the door,wall and window after the burglary. their job was a disgrace, and so was almost every person`s who came to trim our hedge and lawn. some of them (“professionals”) required weeks of chasing, with excuses such as swine flu contraction or a broken leg. and so on. my experience with the “professionals” in the UK says: rather DIY.

  24. I had a drain blockage recently and a shop vac did the trick. Putting the suction end as far as I could down the drain, I flicked the switch and…voila…the clog, whatever it was, was in the tank of the shop vac. A quick rinse outside and all was as good as new.

    RDS

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