A Pinned Cleanout Can Solve Sewer Problems


Most professionals in the corrections market are familiar with the stainless steel combination water closet/lavatory secure plumbing units in cells, steel-plated maximum-security air devices, and barrier grilles in ducting that penetrate the secure perimeter.

In my experience, however, few in the correctional industry are aware of the pinned cleanout, which has become a standard component for architectural firm HDR Architecture Inc. in every corrections project.

Information is virtually non-existent regarding the originator of the pinned cleanout, but regardless of its origin, its simple design and function helps to address a common, fundamental and costly problem in correctional facilities — the flushing of items by inmates to create a disturbance or to avoid sanction for contraband possession.

Inmates commonly flush jumpsuits, bed sheets, towels and other large items, so the location and number of cleanouts can be very important for maintenance staff. When a pipe becomes clogged, it usually leads to flooding and other damage, which is exacerbated if an inmate continues to flush the toilet repeatedly. Damage caused by inmates can be very costly for the correctional facility and the jurisdiction that manages the wastewater treatment facility.

To combat the problem, plumbing designers have utilized sewage grinders, which are very effective systems. However, the high initial cost of the sewage grinder often leads to its elimination during the value-engineering phase of an over-budget project.

The pinned cleanout provides a simple, effective and budget-friendly alternative.

Pins in the Pen

Every facility plumbing system incorporates standard cleanouts, and all horizontal drains and building sewers must have cleanouts at least every 100 feet. Cleanouts are also required at each change in direction greater than 45 degrees in the building’s sewer, drain, horizontal waste or soil lines. Without cleanouts on plumbing lines, there would be no direct pathway to an obstruction within the pipe.

Maintenance staff cannot locate the obstruction within the branch or main without the services of an auger, which is used to travel into the pipe and remove the obstruction. The location and removal of obstructions is typically a messy, time-consuming, frustrating and costly process for staff, and it is not unusual for a facility to need the services of an outside contractor to remedy the problem.

A pinned cleanout generally costs about $25 more than a standard cleanout plug. The pinned model incorporates a stainless steel pin — to withstand the highly corrosive environment — that protrudes from the cap and extends down into the pipe to catch any flushed objects. Large objects cannot pass the pin to cause problems downstream.

Although every plumbing fixture carrier communicates directly with the plumbing chase, regardless of the chase concept utilized, HDR recommends the use of pinned cleanouts that are located in the chase in the horizontal piping, directly behind every housing-cell fixture. This configuration prevents the passage of objects into the sanitary sewer main — generally regardless of the number of flushes — and clearly identifies the source of the attempt to clog the pipe and disrupt the system.

(Above) The hooked cleanout and pinned cleanout provide simple, effective and budget-friendly means of reducing facility plumbing problems. (Below) The pinned cleanout is a standard component on HDR corrections projects.
Once the blockage is located — generally behind the cell of the inmate that reported the problem — the plug is unscrewed and pulled out. If the object is too large to fit through the plug opening, the banded coupling may be removed to take the no-hub tee out. Once the obstruction is removed, the fittings can be reassembled. Many manufacturers offer a cleanout hook instead of a pin. Like the pin, the hook captures large items that may be flushed and caught in a vertical pipe installation.

Pinned, or hooked, cleanouts are available in the marketplace from several manufacturers of secure plumbing fixtures. However, if you peruse any of their Web sites or product catalogs, you will be hard-pressed to find many details about pinned cleanouts.

Some creative plumbing subcontractors have inquired about modifying a standard cleanout plug in the field by brazing a stainless steel rod into the cleanout plug cap. Regardless of the pipe size, it is important that the length of the pin not extend beyond the middle of the pipe. Modifying the unit with a pin that is too long can lead to problems passing the solids that are intended to pass within the sanitary waste line.

Obviously, the pin or hook will not catch everything that a disruptive inmate attempts to flush. For baggies of drugs, shanks and other small contraband items, HDR plumbing designers recommend water shut-off valves in the mains, which can automatically shut off water to a housing pod or dormitory prior to a cell search. Without water, inmates cannot flush anything, regardless of the size of the object.

The shut-off can be easily integrated with the electronic security system, allowing the supervising officer to close a solenoid valve with the touch of a button prior to entering the housing pod or dormitory area.

Shut-off valves can be installed on a cell-by-cell basis to isolate problem inmates completely; however, this can prove cost-prohibitive.

Maintenance personnel in correctional facilities already face many challenges, trying to do more with less, as quickly as possible. With limited operational budgets and manpower, pinned cleanouts can provide a safety net for maintenance personnel in any correctional environment.

Scott McMillan, PE, is an associate with HDR Architecture Inc. and a member of ASHRAE Technical Committee TG9.JF — Correctional Facilities. Contact scott.mcmillan@hdrinc.com.