Cheater Vents, the ugly truth

Jan 26


Bruce Grant

Bruce Grant

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In the last while I have come across several cheater vents on recent inspections. They are usually black like the abs drainpipe but they may be ...


In the last while I have come across several cheater vents on recent inspections.  They are usually black like the abs drainpipe but they may be chrome too,  about 4 inches long,Cheater Vents, the ugly truth Articles closed at the top   with slots for air around the bottom, and around the same diameter as the plumbing pipe they are attached to. I usually find them under the kitchen sink or in a basement laundry area. Many times I will find them in add on bathrooms by master bedrooms, new  kitchen islands, anyplace that someone may have added plumbing during a renovation.  On a commercial inspection I found a chrome model in a building North of Orillia and only days later I found one of the black models installed well under the kitchen sink in a log home I inspected not far from Gravenhurst.

   This cheapie type type of vent is illegal for use in residential and commercial use and can be very dangerous. In the vent unit itself is not CSA approved for use in residential or commercial applications. They normally sell for 7 to 12 dollars at the home renovation stores. The packaging states quite clearly for use in recreational vehicles and mobile homes only. They are meant to be used in trailers and camper units. Better units are referred to as draw vents in the plumbing trades and there are some draw vents available on the market from plumbing wholesalers costing from 30 to f50 dollars that are CSA approved and are approved for use in limited circumstances under the plumbing codes.

  Normally any draw venting is never approved in new construction and only approved by plumbing inspectors in renovation work where it would be impossible to vent the sink or other fixture through an adjacent wall as  might happen with a kitchen island that sits in the middle of a large area.

  Draw vents, or cheater vents as they are commonly referred to, are often installed by home owners where a wall or ceiling would have to be broken open to run the separate vent pipe to the main stack or where it would necessitate installing another stack as when a new bath is added at the other side of the home from the original. It's an economy thing and a very bad choice. These  7 -12 dollar venting units will fail, when they do it may only stink up the building but it may also be much worse; it could be the cause of an explosion or fire or even the loss of a life.

  In simple terms draw vents work with a spring that holds a flap closed under normal conditions. When a flow of water goes past the short pipe the vent is mounted on, the suction opens the flap and lets water continue to flow past because it has equal pressure on both sides, gravity is pushing the water down the pipe. When the water stops flowing past, the suction stops and the spring forces the flap closed stopping sewer gases from coming back up the fixture and into the home.

  A normal venting pipe also equalizes the pressure and lets gravity push the water past the vent pipe opening so the water flows out of the fixture. The vent pipe then allows sewer gasses to flow up the vent pipe and out of the home into the open air above the roof. Note the difference between the two. One is open to the air the other has the sewer gasses filling the pipe and blocked from escaping at all.

  When a spring or flap gasket fails on a draw vent the sewer gasses enter the home, stinky at best. But, it can be far worse. Sewer gasses cause many deaths each year and not just among sewer workers. Due to several deaths at just one site, Toronto hydro workers were issued gas testers and it became mandatory for any worker entering a below grade vault, where electrical lines often share space with sewer lines, to test for sewer gasses before entry.

   Sewer gas is a foul-smelling combination of gases with a predominant presence of methane gas. It is produced by decaying organic material, residential waste and industrial waste, all often found in sewage and septic systems. These dangerous gases, when breathed in, can suffocate the victim to death. They are also highly flammable.  But an odour may not be noticeable as a by-product of sewer gas can also be carbon monoxide, which is odourless, colorless and just as deadly.

  If a pipe to a fixture with a cheater vent has a direct connection to the sewer or septic system, when it fails the fixture can vent gasses through the fixture trap or the failed vent. If that fixture is the bathroom between several bedrooms it can and has caused nausea and eventual death to sleeping people.   If that fixture is in the basement near the furnace, or near any open flame appliance like the living room fire place, escaping gasses could cause a fire. If the gasses had the chance to build up before the furnace or fireplace came on automatically..Boom!

   When I am inspecting a home, cottage, or commercial building I am on the lookout for these types of improper installations. They usually indicate an unskilled or unknowing homeowner handyman type of repair or renovation. That always puts my guard up while inspecting the rest of the building.

My clients deserve no less.