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Cat Urine a Septic System Problems

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bobbob
bobbob Member Posts: 70
What are some of the worst hazards to your health that you have encountered at some of your jobs?

My friend Denver worked for the phone company. A woman somehow got a hold of the company to inform them that her phone was not working. Denver volunteered to go trouble-shoot and fix the problem. Upon arriving at the home he discovered that the lady had cats. Lots of cats. Probably a hundred cats. There were cats running around loose and cats in cages in the basement, and dead cats in cages. He told me that when he walked through the carpet cat urine would splash under his boots like slush does in winter. Found out right away that the phone jack mounted on the baseboard had rusted (from the cat urine) and that was why the lady's phone quit working. He replaced the jack and headed home to shower and do laundry. I could not believe he actually even went in there. A couple other employees had refused. I can't think of anything that smells worse or is more potent than cat urine!

When I did home improvements I was called to widen the bathroom doorway in a home just outside of town. This was a nice home of a doctor and wife. He had suffered a severe stroke and was in a wheelchair. That was why they needed a wider doorway. When I arrived at the home to size up the situation and submit a price, the lady was wheeling him out of the bathroom. The stench was enough to permanently disable Chuck Norris. I ASSUMED that the doctor had had a horrible accident and his wife had just completed cleaning up. I didn't want to embarrass the nice people, so I said not a word about it even though my eyes were watering and I was doing all I could to hold down my dinner. Anyway, I looked things over, gave them a price and said I could do it the following day. Fine and dandy. The next day when I arrived I was hit with that same smell. I thought, does the poor man have diarrhea all the time? I actually put on a dust mask which softened the intensity of the smell a little. I worked all day holding my breath most of the time. When I got all done with the job, I went to wash up in the lavatory and noticed that when I ran water the smell greatly intensified. I finally concluded that something bad wrong was going on in the septic system. I tried the same thing several times. I concluded that when the water was draining it broke the seal of the trap momentarily, and was allowing the septic gases to enter the home at a greater rate. The most unbelievable part of the story is the couple did not smell anything at all. Nothing. Zilch.
I called the lady into the bathroom and showed her what was going on. I begged her to call Roto-Rooter or plumber or something without delay. I told her about cases I knew of where sewer problems had removed houses and people from the planet. Besides, inhaling that day- in and day- out could not be good for anyone. I hope she made that call. Looking back, I wish I had actually made the call for her. Sometimes you have to help people help themselves.

I can think of a number of jobs I did that I would refuse to do now. But I liked to eat, so...
SuperTech

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  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,553
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    Gosh. 
    Retired and loving it.
    ChrisJ
  • bobbob
    bobbob Member Posts: 70
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    Dan--I LOVE your one-word response. I mean after all THAT, all you had to say was "gosh."
    Now I am certain that you have been inside some pretty lousy places in your lifetime. I'd love to hear some of yours and other's stories. Some of you have probably been through worse!
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,553
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    I was agog at your story, Bob. Brevity seemed appropriate. I was afraid to take a deep breath to say more. 😉
    Retired and loving it.
    SuperTechSolid_Fuel_Man
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,095
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    The advantage of being self employed is that you can be "too busy" or "too expensive" for some jobs.

    The phone and data guys don't have this luxury, they must go.

    I had a guy stop and want me to look at his steam system.
    He pointed out to not call him right after the first of the month as the phone company just about always shut off his phone....non payment...

    So that was the first flag.

    I had a job in that town so I thought it would be interesting to have a look.
    It was a really great old high end house.....at one time.
    Had a 2 pipe, possibly vapor system at one time.

    An oil burner was another flag.
    The fact that he sold the tank and oil and wanted LP when NG was 75' away was another flag.
    People who want LP when NG is right there are in arrears with the NG company.

    BTW, the chimney was collapsing and the building has been frozen for several winters. A high 5 figure ballpark number got me down the road.

    But, there is more. The local phone guy had clued me in on the credit issue of this guy. When I was in the basement it was dry but had that particular aroma.

    Phone guy told me that a couple months prior to my visit, he was called for phone install/connection to this house when they just moved in.

    There was a foot of sewage (with floaters) in the basement. The wife insisted that no wires run on the outside of the house. The phone guy called his boss and said that no way in hell was he going into the basement. The husband agreed to run the wires in the basement (serious boots needed) and phone guy did connections on dry land.

    This family was actually just "squatting" in this house, with some promise of purchase or rent. A single payment perhaps, was all they would come up with and then you try to evict them.
    Also each time they would move they would have the electric and phone (complete package of internet and TV) connected in one of their children's name as parents had bills in arrears with these companies.

    Another trick people of this sort would use is to call in a trouble ticket a week before phone would be disconnected. This phone co could not unhook if there was a trouble ticket on the books.

    We both wondered if there was some underground newsletter with all these helpful hints of avoiding payment.
  • bobbob
    bobbob Member Posts: 70
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    jughne--your red flag warnings are priceless. In all the years I did home improvements no one ever beat me out of a dollar. I had to chase a few people down though to get paid. I found out that if the customer was home when I finished the job I would always get paid. If they were not home then I would leave a bill on the table, and I almost always had to call and call, leave messages, chase them down, or meet them at their convenience. One time I had a customer I had dropped everything for to take care of her problem. It was $260 she owed me. I called and called and left messages dozens of times. Never an answer back. Weeks later I caught her at Lowes' as she was starting to leave. I recognized her car. I wheeled around and blocked the entrance with my truck so she couldn't leave. I got out and walked back to her car and there she was--writing out the check for me! She was a business owner herself. I don't think she meant to stiff me. It was just how she did business. She called me some months later for some more work, but I just never returned her calls. I wished there was some way that contractors could pass along to other local contractors who to stay away from.
    (sorry Dan--I am long-winded!)
  • MaxMercy
    MaxMercy Member Posts: 514
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    I was in a cat house like that. No dead cats that I saw (no smell of decay either) but the smell of urine stayed with me for hours like it was embedded in my sinuses. Walking on the carpet felt like walking on jute padding soaked with pine tar - my feet were literally sticking and lifting the carpet as I walked. I'll never forget that.

  • bobbob
    bobbob Member Posts: 70
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    Years ago I did some work for a lady who was really nuts. Movies could be made about her. She was an animal lover. This is no lie--she found a machine which would attract bugs and it had a fan that blew them into the thing where they would fall into water in the bottom. You added some dish soap as a surfactant to the water so it would cause them to drown. She could not bring herself to ZAP insects with a bug zapper.
    It was just so inhumane! I don't know about you, but I think I would rather die by being instantly zapped than by drowning. Besides, the only good bug is a dead one. I never mourned over the death of one.
    Anyway she had a house full of cats, and one of the jobs I did for her was the paint the utility room, which happened to be where the cats congregated. The room was so filthy and full of cat hair that it would have been impossible to clean it. I just painted over the hair and poop and all.
    Have any of you guys ever been that hungry?
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 755
    edited February 2022
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    Got referred a new Service and panelboard job at a very dilapidated house on the North Side. Owner was, to quote my mother in law, a "katzenmutter". Similar to bobbob's tale, lakes of cat piss and mounds of feces. The cats looked pretty mangy and malnourished. Added to that the owner was a serious hoarder- piles of junk, rotting garbage etc. inside. There was a serious reek- even at the sidewalk if the wind was right.

    Skipped that job, and called Animal Control. I'm more of a dog person, but that was unconscionable. The house was condemned by the City a couple of months later.
    Trying to squeeze the best out of a Weil-McLain JB-5 running a 1912 1 pipe system.
  • ScottSecor
    ScottSecor Member Posts: 863
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    Might be hard to top some of your stories and I may have written about these years ago?

    My youngest brother was working for us at the time and he enjoyed working by himself. We helped get the steam boiler into the basement and left him to pipe it in and make a bunch of repairs, was going to be a long two days. Knowing he was going to be coming back the next day, he left his tool bag and all of the fitting and pipe nipples spread out on the basement floor. When he arrived the second day he was greeted with dog poop in his tool bag and urine on his hand tools. He was not happy. In addition, the customer thought it would be a good idea to borrow his new wire strippers at night and cut some steel objects (nails?) with them. He learned about the strippers when he went to wire the boiler.

    On another occasion, we had a customer that would call when old Betsy was starved for oil for the umpteenth time after they 'forgot' to have the tank filled by the oil company (again). Since I was more familiar with oil than my guys, I decided to be the hero and go on the night no heat/no dhw call. After driving by the house a few times I finally guessed which house it was (none of the houses had the outside lights on in this neighborhood, religious reasons I suspect). After knocking on the front door, the customer opened it and asked me to come to the back door. I obliged and walked around the house to the back door. Ten minutes later they finally opened the back door for me. I entered and started to walk down the basement stairs when the owner warned me to watch my step. Little did I know the stairs were covered with trash bags, full of...trash. As I got near the bottom of the stairs, I noticed the pile of trash bags was getting higher. When I searched the floor with my flashlight I noticed more trash bags. You guessed it, I wasn't the only one that could smell the trash. Based on the droppings that I found on top of the boiler and near the burner, mice (or rats) were eating pretty well. I did the quickest tune-up/start up I've ever done on an old oil boiler and couldn't wait to get out the door. The odd thing was this was in a nearby city with garbage collection twice a week. Never went back and never asked why they stored their garbage in their basement.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,870
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    Gosh. 
    That about sums up my thoughts....
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    mattmia2
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,553
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    Yep. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • bobbob
    bobbob Member Posts: 70
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    scottsecor--I've run across alot of people in my 70+ years who must have had some emotional attachment to their garbage. Makes me think of that redneck joke: If a tornado goes through your property and causes $50,000 worth of improvements, you may be a redneck!
    ScottSecordelcrossvCLambSolid_Fuel_Man
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,024
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    A couple of years ago there was a discussion about the color of the flame. Mine was more yellow than I cared for. Among the discussions was one where the guy had a litter box near his boiler and when he moved it away, the yellow went away.

    The basement in my building has an old rough concrete floor with lots of dust on it and when I bend down to look at the flame, it is yellow. But if I lay still on the floor and wait a few minutes, the yellow goes away..No it's not cat stuff, just a human being walking around a dusty floor.

    You never know what you are going to find out.
  • flat_twin
    flat_twin Member Posts: 352
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    Retired telco tech here. Yes, cat lady houses were sometimes a horror and I felt bad for some of them. Why some cats have the habit of pissing on the phone jack I'll never know. Back when we had party lines there was a woman who lived alone with her cats on an old horse farm. She told me the cats had taken over the farm house years ago so she moved into the apartment at one end of the horse barn. Problem was her cats would often knock the phone off the hook. If she wasn't home I had to disconnect her line so the other people on her party line could use the phone. We'd get a report that she was home and to please come reconnect her line. If her phone had problems inside she wouldn't allow me to come in (thank goodness) so I resorted to rigging up a length of inside wiring with a jack on the end and a new phone. She would hand me her old phone and wiring thru a window. I'd repair it and pass it back to her. There wasn't enough hand cleaner to get rid of the smell.

    Another one I won't forget is the house where the basement floor was several inches taller than it should have been because of the mix of old trampled laundry and dog feces. My ankles were covered with fleas by the time I got out of there.

    The one that really stands out was the "bells don't ring" report. This house had been sprayed for cock roaches and I noticed a strong chemical odor when I walked in but didn't think anything about it until I took the cover off the wall phone. It was so packed with cock roaches hiding from the spray that they prevented the clapper on the ringer from moving. Back then the company owned the phones. Old telephones were refurbished and used again. This phone was quickly bagged and taken to the nearest dumpster! The supervisor had no problem with losing a phone from my inventory.
    ScottSecorSolid_Fuel_Man
  • MaxMercy
    MaxMercy Member Posts: 514
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    It was so packed with cock roaches hiding from the spray that they prevented the clapper on the ringer from moving. .

    The worst roach motel I was in was about 20 years ago. I was there to service a console TV. The TV was an early 90s with a one-board chassis. There were so many roaches in this apartment that they were literally walking on the walls.

    I took the chassis board out and called them with an estimate. Damage was from roach droppings. I rebuilt the board which included a full immersion cleaning (which meant removing all transformers and anything else that could trap liquid). When I returned it to them I told them that I warranty my work but they needed to get a handle on the roaches so they didn't damage the TV again.

    Fast forward about 18 months and they called back - TV was out again. I told him to remove the back cover and see if there were roaches inside. He never returned my call.

  • bobbob
    bobbob Member Posts: 70
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    Looks like I am not the only one who did things I wouldn't do today
    Solid_Fuel_Man