November 24, 2007

Semi-Annual Plumbing Catastrophe

Having a blog means that whenever I have something interesting to write, or can write in an interesting way about something that's otherwise uninteresting, I have a bit of responsibility to myself to actually write it. Today, I'm coming off of a 2 day plumbing calamity (that's actually an extension of the previous plumbing calamity this summer) that I'm sure would make a great story. Yet, I want so much to forget any of it ever happened, so it's hard to even want to write it down. I know there's some great humor in here somewhere, but I'm just not feeling it.

For the sake of posterity and purging, I tell my story here, but in a severely condensed format more suitable to getting past it quickly. I understand there are some who will say to themselves, "Condensed? Egads! I'd hate to see the uncondensed version!" To those wags I would suggest they reread the title of this blog and either strap themselves in or bail out now, because it doesn't get any better.

There's two things you need to know to make sense of this story. First, the very act of fixing or improving something in this old house of ours will always cause other things to break, and all such projects therefore take longer than you'd hope. And second, you should be disabused of the notion that I should have called a professional for any of these jobs. Virtually every complication that comes up in these things would have been just as likely to happen to a professional. If the handle of a valve was going to break off in my hand, it would be just as likely to break off in a plumber's hand, and they wouldn't take responsibility for breaking it either, I'm sure. Sure, there are occasional things that are mistakes that a professional wouldn't do, such as on the water filter installation when I left the hot water valve open after replacing it, then turned the house's water back on, coming back in the house to find water running down the stairs. But, virtually everything else is just going to happen, no matter what.

The story starts at the beginning of July when I try to install a nice reverse osmosis water filter under the kitchen sink. It's a really nice filter, a birthday gift from my mom. It recirculates the unfiltered water instead of dumping it down the drain like most will. I wanted it for a long time, and I'm so glad I have it, and I so looked forward to installing it.

In the process of installation, the handle for the hot water valve under the sink broke off when trying to shut it off which meant that the whole house's water needed to be shut off to replace it. There were several trips to the hardware store due to getting parts then finding the parts to be mislabeled, then getting adapters to make sure every piece could connect to the one valve. There was the aforementioned kitchen flood. But, the project was eventually finished (the same day even).

Shutting the water off to the house means that all the sediment in our 50 year old pipes gets stirred up, and after this filter project was done, we discovered that some sediment had gotten lodged in the body of the faucet in our upstairs bathroom, completely blocking the hot water flow. Some sediment had also gotten lodged in the fill valve for the toilet in our renter Rhonda's bathroom, causing it to not shut off. Then, in trying to shut off the water to that upstairs faucet to see if it could be fixed, the handle for one of the valves under the sink breaks off. So, fix one thing, then have three other things break.

Rhonda had another problem with her kitchen faucet that would require replacing it, and the valves underneath her sink wouldn't shut off, so they'd need replacing too, so the whole house's water would need to be shut off again. So, I waited to find the right time to do all this crap when I could set aside a day or two to do it all.

Rhonda's out of town for Thanksgiving, and I've got a long holiday weekend, so I decided to give it a go. I shut the water off, get her valves and faucet replaced without incident, go upstairs to replace our valve to find that when I take the valve off the pipe, a piece of the pipe breaks off inside the valve. So now, I've got this jagged stub of iron pipe sticking out of the wall.

At that point, I have to either find a way to get the new valve onto that jagged piece of pipe, or I will have to go downstairs and cut off the whole section of pipes that go upstairs since I wouldn't be able to cut off just that one because they split off inside the brick walls somewhere. Then, I'd have to run new pipes to every upstairs fixture, and do it outside up the walls, since there would be no possibility of running them up through the bricks. Once I realized what was in store for me, I decided that I was either going to fix the end of the pipe somehow or I was going to burn the house down for the insurance money.

The jagged end of pipe was still within the threaded portion, so I though if I could just square it off, I'd be able to thread the new valve on. I couldn't really get a hacksaw in there because space was too tight. I thought I could cut it and smooth it out with my Dremel™, but my little battery powered Dremel™ was petering out too fast. Finally, after three hours of screwing around with it, I went to the store and bought an actual plug-in Dremel™ knowing that if that didn't work, I'd be out that cost as well.

After coming back from the store, I offered up my most sincere prayer for the squaring off of the broken pipe, and after 15 minutes of Dremel™ futzing, finally got the new valve to screw onto the pipe (and not even leak!). Moving on to the faucet...

I had got a warranty replacement for the old faucet, but didn't notice until yesterday that the replacement they sent me wasn't quite the same as the original. The original had some metal braided supply lines integral to the faucet, and those just connected right to my valves. The new one just had two bare copper tubes sticking out the bottom with no connectors or anything. It came with compression rings and adapters and things, but I couldn't put those things on before sticking the faucet through the sink or the faucet wouldn't fit through the hole. Putting them on after sticking the faucet through was almost impossible because the space is so tight I couldn't get the leverage necessary to get a tight fit on those compression rings (which have to be really tight so they won't leak). After two hours, I finally got them tight enough and connected to the water supply and turned everything on to find the faucet was actually leaking out of the body of the faucet, and all my previous work was for naught.

I could pursue another warranty replacement, but that's like a 4 week process, and we already went a few weeks without a faucet in that bathroom when we first tried to fix the faucet that came with the bathroom at the end of 2003. So today, I had to just go out and buy a new bathroom faucet, which, when combined with the cost of the Dremel™ and the toilet parts, adds over $200 to the cost of installing our water filter.

So, I spent like 12 hours on this project yesterday, causing me to get frustrated, get exhausted, and miss my running for the day. And, I still haven't fixed Rhonda's toilet, because the Home Depot I went to today didn't have the right fill valve in stock. And, I just found out that our downstairs toilet is leaking out of the tank somewhere. And, this is all coming on the heels of last week when Joey stuffed a bottle of bath salts into our upstairs toilet, plugging it up and causing us to spend $55 on a plumber to unsuccessfully get it out, then me spending several hours pulling the toilet up so I could dig the bottle out and replace the toilet (After Miranda did the same thing a couple of months ago).

I don't regret buying this house. I still think it was a smart move to pay so little for such a big house, and the work we have to do is the price we pay for this. I don't mind doing the work. However, I just feel like the plumbing thing isn't quite fair. If something's broken, I want to fix that one thing. Don't trick me by throwing other things at me in the middle of a job. Don't mess with me like that, House.

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