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Old 04-10-2018, 15:35   #1
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Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

Hi,

My first post and hoping some of the Vacuflush experts can talk me off the ledge. Here's where I am at the moment:

- over this summer, my pump starting cycling every 15 mins or so. I changed the duckbills, no change. Then I changed the switch on the accumulator tank because it was about ten years old, no change. I borrowed the vacuum tester and it looked like I had a leak somewhere in the toilet. I rebuilt that about 7-8 years ago (along with the upgraded pump) but since the toilet is 25 years old and had some cracks, I replaced the whole thing.

For the most part, that solved my issue but the system was cycling every 3-4 hours which was a little more than it used to. So, a small leak somewhere but I didn't try real hard to find it. Over the past month, the toilet has been working but the vacuum has sounded weak and got gradually worse. I removed my deckplate for the pumpout and tried again to rule out a vent issue. I did that, no change.

I popped the cover off of the pump and saw liquid on top of the bellows. I figured I just found my problem so I ordered a new bellows and o-ring kit and installed it yesterday. Initially I think I installed it wrong because there was liquid seeping out of the cover. I installed the small o-ring onto the cover first (which I guess is incorrect). I pulled it apart today and installed the o-ring onto the bellows first and put it all back together. It seemed to go together ok, ran it for about 2 mins and popped the pedal just to see if there was any vacuum - zero and the water isn't even draining out of the bowl now. I checked the top of the bellows and it was dry so I thought at least I solved that issue.

Figuring there has to be a clog, I tried a plunger but no luck. And, now I have liquid on top of the bellows again so either I didn't get it back together correctly or the plunger blew out the seal. But, this is exactly the issue I started with before I tried a plunger (liquid on top of bellows). I have a holding tank indicator but don't have the auto shutoff feature. The tank is reading a little over a 1/2 full.

I'm not crazy about the way the pump body went back together, I see a few gaps around the edge of the cover but it sounded like it was creating vacuum. I'm not sure if I have one or multiple issues right now.

Lastly, with the water staying in the bowl with the pedal depressed, I see a few bubbles every so often.

I've owned the boat for ten years and this is the first "out of commission" issue. I'm in the northeast so I have to get this sorted out so that I can winterize over the next week or two. Any advise appreciated.

Bob
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Old 04-10-2018, 17:10   #2
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

I have had two bellows develop pinholes and this is how they act. The pump should go together very smooth and the seal on top of the bellows should have a good contact on the top of the pump housing. If it felt wrong I would retry. There could be some curd on the lid to the pump that is causing the seal not to set.
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Old 04-10-2018, 19:13   #3
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

First, welcome aboard cruisers.com!

No vacuum and the occasional bubbles are a good indication that you have a clog. According to the trouble-shooting guide, these are the possible causes:
1. Pump does not run

2. Clogged vacuum line (hose)
3. Duckbill valves or pump installed backwards
(More than one person has removed the pump to replace the duckbills and set it down backward when they put it back...it's a mistake that's a lot easier make than you think.)
4.Vacuum pump inlet or discharge line clogged
5. Clogged vacuum tank

The bubbling/gurgling may be a good thing 'cuz it could mean that the clog is dissolving...that maybe trying the plunger few more times may work given a little time. If it doesn't, you may have to disassemble the entire system to find the clog and remove it. Let's hope you won't have to do that.

A few words about preventing this from happening again:
90% of problems with V/F are caused by using too little flush water, so waste builds up in the system--usually at the pump--creating a clog. So I have a question: how long do you leave the pedal down when you flush...after urine only? After solids? At a minimum it should be at least 3 full seconds after urine only...7-10 seconds for solids and always with at least 1/2 bowl of water added ahead of use. And I've always recommended flushing a full bowl of clean water through it once a day.

--Peggie
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:04   #4
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

Thank you both for the replies. I have been walking in circles the past two days (thinking about it but not doing anything). I decided that I needed to deal with the likely clog first and then the pump separately, at home. I plunged more, and twice I felt a pop and "felt" like I cleared the clog. But, because the pump wasn't building any vacuum, the water had nowhere to go.

So, with a 6 gal shop vac, I disconnected the inlet side of the pump and repeatedly sucked water/waste out while my wife cycled the foot pedal to stop the flow. We filled the shop vac and at the end, I was able to feel air blasts in/out out of the pump inlet hose when my wife used the plunger. That proves to me that everything up to the pump is clear.

I still might have a clog at the pump, I'm going to take that apart today. This seemingly simple pump (I've rebuilt transmissions ), has me stumped. The only thing that hasn't feel quite right is the smaller o-ring and the way it seats. Now that I know it goes on top of the bellows first, I thought I had it seated correctly. The first two times, it popped out as I pressed down and I could see part of it sticking out. This is exactly how it looked the first time I took the pump apart and had liquid on top of the bellows. I'm wondering if the clog and repeated cycling/plunging has been blowing out the seal and creating the leak? If so, maybe I did have it installed correctly this last time. What's the best way to bench test the pump once I get it back together? Am I better off using nuts/bolts to draw the cover down instead of the self tapping screws? Now that I've taken it apart three times, it feels like a couple of the holes might be slightly loose which I could repair with some epoxy.

Peggie, to answer your questions, the timing on flushes is about right but I need to be more diligent about the end of day/weekend flush. I have a pretty big holding tank so really no excuse not to do this. As I'm typing this, I just remembered that I did something that I've never done before and the timing is pretty close to when this issue started. The manual for the toilet recommends using a cup (maybe more, but whatever they recommended) of biodegradable detergent once a month and running the pump for two mins. Could that have loosened something up? I don't know but the timing is suspect.

Finally, I just ordered your book so great idea having that linked in your signature.

Thanks
Bob
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:31   #5
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

The pump will pull a vacuum into a tank that should be right before the pump. That tank can be isolated (remove the hose and plug the hole). The pump then should run until the vacuum reaches the level that turns off the switch. If the pump never stops you have a leak or the switch is bad. Since you replaced the one it has to be a leak in the pump or between the pump and the vacuum tank. Maybe where you replaced the switch? If the pump does stop then the leak is further down the hose towards the toilet. The toilet seals are the most likely but it sounds as if you have replaced the toilet as well so it would have to be in the hose or the connections. Could you have not tightened the hose onto the toilet enough? All of this assuming the duck bills after the pump are sealing so no air is leaking back from the tank. This would probably be the most common reason to have a air leak. If you have replaced the duckbills make sure you didnít get the fitting too tight. I had to get mine very tight to fit back into the holes and ended up cracking the pvc fitting slightly. Needless to say that leaked as well.
I feel for you about taking the thing apart many times. I have been there the first couple times I had to work on mine. You may actually be better off getting a new pump housing and keeping the current one as spare. It will allow you to do the epoxy repairs and test it in a more controlled environment. I didnít find that the pump top needed to be very tight but it did need to come down evenly on the seal. It means tightening screws that are 180 degrees from each other in pairs and then doing the final tightening after it is even all around.
It is kind of a pain but is fairly straightforward once you just systematically rule out a leak in each segment of the flow.
Good luck. I actually love my vacuflush even though I end up doing more preventive maintenance on it then I did the old pump type.
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:39   #6
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

Be very careful using a plunger on a vaccuflush head - it can invert a duckbill valve requiring a vac pump rebuild.
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Old 06-10-2018, 08:07   #7
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

If you check the VacuFlush troubleshooting guide, you'll see that it recommends using a plunger to clear a clog.


The VF has changed so little except cosmetically since Mansfield introduced it in 1978 that the same trouble shooting guide that's included in all the all the owners manuals works for all years, all models. It includes just about every symptom, probable causes and cures that a V/F can develop. I'll be glad to send you a copy if you'd like to send me a PM that includes your email address (no way to attach anything to PM).
I'll also be glad to send you a document I've written called "VacuFlush 101" that describes how it works (an amazing number of owners think they know but don't) and how to prevent problems with it. I was a V/F dealer/distributor for nearly 10 years and it was also the toilet on my last two boats...so I'm intimately acquainted with it.


--Peggie
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:08   #8
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

It would be hard to create more suction with a plunger then the pump creates on a duckbill. If you can invert it with a plunger you need to replace it, I suspect.
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Old 06-10-2018, 10:09   #9
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

I had a similar cycling on one of my pumps. There was a slight tear in the bottom of the plunger (plunger = bellows?). I replaced it and problem solved.
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Old 06-10-2018, 10:45   #10
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

Thanks for posting this, it reinforces my plan to have a composting toilet on my next boat.
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Old 06-10-2018, 11:19   #11
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

To me this easier then one or two emptying of a composting toilet. Having to occasionally deal with poop is one thing but to make it part of your regular routine would not be my cup of tea.
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Old 06-10-2018, 14:43   #12
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

I never liked those vacuum toilets. I much prefer the macerator-pump type which are for the most part trouble-free.

Check out the TMC el-cheapo systems. The entire toilet will cost you less than the fix-it kits of many other heads. I have used one for eight years with no pump problems--they just do not like the stones from fruit if you happen to swallow them. Keep a pair of barbecue tongs handy.

If a vacuum system is not working, the problem is usually the seat seal or the pump or one of the hoses has a fracture--even a small one in a hose is a problem that will allow water to escape or the vacuum to diminish..
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Old 07-10-2018, 06:17   #13
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

A bit of an update. I took the pump home and removed the duckbills and it "looked" like the inlet side was clogged. I replaced all four a few months ago but I'm going to install new ones again. This might prove that a plunger won't turn the duckbills inside out. I used a new style plunger which is designed to fit oddly shaped toilet bowls. I thought it would conform to the VF better than a traditional plunger which I already tried. The new plunger created a lot more suction and I plunged at least twenty times and all four duckbills stayed oriented correctly.

It's still possible that the clog was really in the tank/line and what I saw in the duckbill might have cleared if I was generating vacuum.

I'll provide a final update once I get everything working in the next few days. Just imagining how this would have played out if we were away on the boat....
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Old 13-10-2018, 06:43   #14
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

So, the nightmare is over with a strange twist. After using the shop vac to empty the system, I changed all four duckbills reinstalled, the o-rings/bellows and the system is holding vacuum for over 15 hours (maybe longer) without the pump cycling. I just haven't been away from the boat to know exactly. Even at that time, I'm over the VF spec and it won't be cycling during an overnight.

I think I had the smaller o-ring installed correctly more than once but I believe that the plunger created so much suction that it basically blew the o-ring out of position. If I plunged right away when the system was working, albeit slowly, I might have been ok. I waited until the water in the bowl wouldn't even drain so it had nowhere to go and my plunger exposed the weakest link. That's my theory anyway.

The strange twist was that the pump body has been installed backwards since 2010, possibly since the system was installed at the factory in 1988. By backwards, I mean the arrow on the pump housing was pointing towards the toilet instead of the holding tank. At first, I thought the arrow was just a reference to keep the duckbills facing in the right direction. It is, but the housing is different side to side so I guess it does make a difference. I called the guys who I buy parts from and they told me that it's not really possible to install the duckbills correctly with the pump installed backwards. Have I been using the system with only two duckbills functioning?

If I had another pump housing, I would play around with it just to see. If I get a spare, can I use a type "T" pump body instead of an "S" ? They seem to be easier to find and cheaper. I know those only have two duckbills but aren't the other two installed in the threaded adapters?

Anyway, there's no doubt I had the pump was oriented this way because I had to extend the wiring in order to reconnect it. With the change, the motor is on the other side and the wiring was about a foot short. I upgraded the pump motor in 2010 and can't think of a scenario where I would have re-installed it backwards. Even if I did, the system has worked great for 8 years.

I'll be hauling out by next week so maybe I'll realize next year that it's never been operating at 100%.

Bob
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Old 13-10-2018, 09:30   #15
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Re: Vacuflush issue (no vaccum, clog?) - stumped on this one

If I get a spare, can I use a type "T" pump body instead of an "S" ? They seem to be easier to find and cheaper. I know those only have two duckbills but aren't the other two installed in the threaded adapters?

The T-Pump is identical except for the two duckbills instead of 4 (and the PRICE!)...so yes, it can replace an S-Pump. In fact a lot of people have done that. But unfortunately, you can't just add two more valve nipples to the T-Pump because Dometic/SeaLand reverse threads the d'd things in the T-Pump...for the very purpose of preventing people replacing an S-Pump with a T-Pump. You'll just have to replace duckbills a bit more often, but it's easier to do when there's only two and two costs half as much as 4. Just be sure the arrow is pointing toward the tank when you set it back down.

Don't feel too bad about setting it down backwards...it's easy to do 'cuz both ends are identical. I've even done it...fortunately on my own boat, not a customer's.

--Peggie
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