DIY Plumbing Advice??
January 28, 2011 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Plumbing question! I'm considering moving into a new workshop/studio space, price and location is perfect, the big downside being there is no toilet. It will basically just be me (and occasionally a few visiting friends who come to have a few beers) using the space. There is water and a sink in the space and I'm certainlay not considering using the sink! But, would it be possible to set up a urinal to go down the same set of pipes as the sink? I'm thinking - 'It ends up in the same place right!' But maybe someone in the know could tell me on a scale of 1 - 5 whether this is: Fine, A little gross, Gross, Really gross, or Disgusting... If this is off the table, are there any other solutions?
posted by halcorp to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Will any of your visiting friends be female? Some women are OK using a urinal, but most aren't.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:02 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's completely normal for toilets, sinks, tubs and showers to drain into the same pipes. They don't go through separate systems and then join up in the street somewhere; usually the pipes join up in the wall or just below the floor.

There might be a problem if the drain pipe connected to the sink is too small to handle the flow from a urinal.
posted by jon1270 at 5:03 AM on January 28, 2011

Best answer: Ignoring legality (which is always a terrible idea with plumbing and rented spaces), yes, normally all the waste pipes go to the same place. Your sink connects to the toilets down the hall and those connect to the sink downstairs and so on. (I say normally because in unusual situations different waste streams can be piped separately, such as when you separate grey water (eg sink water) from black water (sewage), but that is not common at all.)

So from a pure plumbing point of view, some pee down the sink pipes -- whether it gets there from a nearby urinal or via peeing directly into the sink -- is no big deal. From a zoning, code enforcement, property tax, and/or landlord point of view, it might be a really big deal.

Personally I'd just pee in the sink, but that's me.
posted by Forktine at 5:05 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Scale: 1

There isn't any code rule against it. Practically all systems join the assorted flows as soon as possible, often the toilet is up stream of the sink.

If you were willing to spend ~$900 on a masticating sewage ejector pump assembly and toilet you could even set up a toilet that would drain via the sink's plumbing.

Even a cheap urinal + valve + trap is a few hundred dollars.
posted by Mitheral at 5:26 AM on January 28, 2011

It's absolutely fine. Urine is sterile, unlike feces.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 AM on January 28, 2011

They even make toilet/sink combinations for just this purpose for small spaces and (I believe) some jails.
posted by Houstonian at 5:47 AM on January 28, 2011

If it is just guys, peeing in the sink is ok, provided everyone rinses well.
posted by orme at 6:07 AM on January 28, 2011

Urine is sterile, unlike feces.

Fresh urine is stale. As the nitrates break down (which happens very quickly), it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. That's why fresh piss is relatively odorless, but urine left in an unflushed toilet overnight smells funky.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:10 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

stale = sterile
posted by ixohoxi at 6:10 AM on January 28, 2011

The toilet/sink combinations are more about recycling the water (sink water drains into toilet tank). They still need a toilet drain.

Also, and I don't have a polite way of saying this, what are you going to tell anyone who needs to poop?

If you can use the compost, maybe a DIY composting toilet?
posted by shiny blue object at 6:16 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just a thought, but do you have any idea why it already has a sink and DOESN'T have a toilet? I'd be concerned that there's an existing plumbing issue and that's part of the reason it's being sold.
posted by misha at 6:54 AM on January 28, 2011

How private is the space with the sink? Adding a formal fixture (meaning a real urinal) gets you into all kinds of code issues -- bathrooms may have to be a minimum size, get inspected by the code enforcement guys, pay a fee for each additional fixture, etc -- but if it is totally private and no one will care you can just diy a "urinal." A cut up 2 liter soda bottle, some hose and hose clamps, etc, piped into the sink drain will get you a perfectly adequate (and perfectly illegal) urinal that your guests may find classier than peeing in the sink.

Here (halfway down the post) is a really fancy homemade urinal; you could do something a quarter as elaborate and be fine (until the landlord noticed, of course).
posted by Forktine at 7:02 AM on January 28, 2011

You could possibly retrofit a urinal in if the sink drain pipe is well below junk height. The urinal will have to have a drain trap so that adds to the height needed. Remember that water doesn't flow uphill so if your sink drain pipe is 2 feet off the ground where it disappears into the wall you may not be able to make this work physically. In that case you could make it very ghetto and put the urinal higher than normal and build a stair platform to get to the new height. Of course if you are going to have half-drunk guys trying to balance themselves in front of an elevated urinal it will lead to hilarious accidents. This would definitely not be code but I doubt if any bathroom in your space would be code.

If the sink is in the same room as your workspace and where your friends will be hanging out, I don't think any guy I know would be comfortable peeing in plain view of everyone else unless they were seriously drunk. The conditions would have to very special for this to be anything but disgusting.
posted by JJ86 at 7:11 AM on January 28, 2011

Can you see the stack that the sink arm feeds into? if so, or if you can cut into the drywall where the stack resides, you can have a handy friend cut in another arm, to which you could install a urinal. So drain isn't really a problem (assuming your stack is 2"). However, the water feeds for urinals need to be 3/4". I doubt you have that available, if the current water situation is just a lavatory.

IAAPE (plumbing engineer). IANYPE. The above is subject to local code compliance, inspections, etc.
posted by notsnot at 7:17 AM on January 28, 2011

What you need is an electric waterless composting toilet!
posted by mareli at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Most plumbing codes actually DO require the separation of waste streams until they go out of the building or even out to the street. However, this is a separation between "gray" waste (kitchen, laundry) and "black" waste (bathroom). This is to prevent troubles should the pipes back up. (There are multiple systems to prevent waste from contaminating kitchens, and this is just one of them.)

Another potential issue is one that exists in my residential building- the kitchen half of the plumbing system goes through an outdoor grease trap. The bathroom side doesn't.

So you need to find out what that sink is meant for. If that sink is on the other side of someone's kitchen, you don't want to be peeing in it.

On the other hand, if a building only has one system, then it is going to have to be of the bathroom type and it doesn't matter. Depends completely on what kind of space you are in.

Chances are good that someone on the building has a toilet, and that there is a toilet stack available to your space. So the effort of putting in a urinal half-assedly would be the same as just hooking up a toilet to an already existing (but walled off) toilet connection. Unless we are talking sub divided warehouse or something like that. If that's the case, seriously, just pee outside. You have NO idea if the plumbing is anywhere NEAR code, and lord knows where your urine is going to leak on or fester at.
posted by gjc at 8:02 AM on January 28, 2011

If your art includes any textiles, you could always set up an indigo bucket and have people use that. However, I've only known indigo buckets to be set up outside - kind of like the signs I used to see in granola-y western Oregon farmhouses asking men to use the compost pile instead of the flush toilet.
posted by catlet at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2011

ixohoxi's correction of his typo only confused it further, IMO. Here's what I assume he was trying to say:

Fresh urine is stale sterile. As the nitrates break down (which happens very quickly), it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. That's why fresh piss is relatively odorless, but urine left in an unflushed toilet overnight smells funky.

You can buy a simple T-joint for the sink drain; they are intended to join dual sinks together, but could just as easily bring in the drain from a urinal. Stick the pipe out the side of the sink cabinet (for support) and attach the urinal to the side, preferably with a vertical wall (2'x4' plywood, painted, would do) for aesthetic & real cleanliness (an unpleasantly large number of men can't hit the broad side of a barn). Should run you about $15 more than the urinal itself.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:06 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

What I'd do:

Buy a five gallon bucket, some trash bags, and some cheap kitty litter, and one of these. And probably a free standing room divider/screen.
posted by lemniskate at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2011

I guess I can't envision a rental space that doesn't have a bathroom — is that even legal? I understand warehouse/storage space wouldn't be required to, but if it's being rented as a studio or workshop space, that seems sketchy to me. Are you sure there's no shared facility on a different floor, or something? It seems like something that is zoned for this type of usage would require proper facilities. I would worry that I'd lose my lovely studio in some kind of landlord code violation mixup.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:10 PM on January 28, 2011

And if there's bathroom on another floor or down a hallway or something, then I vote 3. Gross. Just go there. Or the coffee shop next door!
posted by clone boulevard at 7:12 PM on January 28, 2011

notsnot writes "However, the water feeds for urinals need to be 3/4'. I doubt you have that available, if the current water situation is just a lavatory."

Both waterless and cistern flush urinals are available for installation in low water volume locations.
posted by Mitheral at 11:53 PM on January 28, 2011

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