Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why God invented Plumbers

I shouldn’t say this and I’ll probably regret it, but at least half of the major problems that have plagued my adult life involve water, so I hate water.  Not all water – I can successfully shower without incident most days, for instance.  I’m talking about the kind of water that ruins stuff, like carpets, subfloors, ceilings and cars.  If the Great Flood ever returns, I’m pretty sure it’ll start in my laundry room.

When we got back from our sick-shortened vacation (she probably drank the water), I noticed that the water pressure in the kitchen was pathetic compared to the Annapolis Doubletree’s bathroom sink.  Twice I drenched the front of my pants by foolishly turning on the hotel faucet to wash my hands.  Now years ago I installed a cartridge water filter to remove sediment from our well water.  This contraption is in the main water line and uses long cartridges that are made by wrapping some string around a plastic tube (brilliant!).  After about 45-60 days, these cartridges get clogged with rusty dirt and fool’s gold flecks.  I picked this particular unit because it used compression fittings (non-plumbers can look it up, plumbers can just laugh knowingly).  Anyway, that means no soldering is needed to install it and based on my past soldering experiences, this is a wonderful, winning feature.  Changing the cartridge is a simpler matter of turning off the water, unscrewing the body of the unit, spilling water all over the floor and then moving to step two.  Since the water is now off, step two gets tricky.  You need to rinse out the body before putting the new cartridge in.  I saw the plumber do it once by turning on the water a little while holding the body underneath the unit to put some water in it, then turn the water off, swish the thing around, dump, and presto!  When I do it, water goes everywhere, mostly on me and in the big puddle on the floor.  Anyway, I figured the low pressure would be helped by a new cartridge.

There are two shutoff valves involved, one shuts off water from the well pump, the other needs to be shut to keep all the water from the pipes from running back down and into my puddle, which is by now threatening to expand to the family room and garage.  I have a rag draped over the pipes to help turn these balky valves off, and it was already soaked.  It wasn’t soaked by steps one or two, but was soaked from you guessed it, a leaky valve.  When I turned the water back on, the leaker was putting out almost a stream of water it was dripping so bad.  So I go to the garage to look for a wrench to tighten the valve and of course, if you never put things where they belong…  I improvised, first trying vise grips, then pliers.  This puppy wouldn’t quit leaking.  I put the dishpan under it and went upstairs to plan a repair.  I figured it I bought a new valve, I could just take the new one apart and put the new stem and washers into the old valve, since the soldered joints are still sound.  I went to Lowe’s and bought a new valve, and when I got home I discovered that like every component of the plumbing system in my home, “they don’t do it that way anymore”.  In fact, “they haven’t made those in years”.  These new parts are not interchangeable with my antique (circa 1981) valve.
I then researched what I would need to buy in order to solder on the whole new valve.  I have propane bottles, so I just needed the nozzle and the consumables (solder, flux), or so I thought.  Lowe’s website has about ten options, running from $8 to $80 and using four different types of gas.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that propane is for homeowners stuck in the seventies.  I was particularly enamored of this one that looks like a ray gun and has this cool trigger and you don’t have to light it or nothing and its only twenty bucks!  I’m leaning that way when I go to Lowe’s the next day.

As I’m standing there admiring the ray gun, I was smacked over the head by the reality fairy who whispered in my ear, “you’ll screw it up and have to call the plumber anyway, and then you’ll never use the ray gun again, so why not buy the package containing the old-style, very low-tech propane torch, the flux, brush for the flux and the solder for $17”.  I really wanted that ray gun, but I had no credible defense, so I did what the fairy said.  Amazingly, before I even left the aisle I realized that I need when of the lighter thingies that has a flint or something in it and you squeeze it and the propane lights (plumber’s have a one-word name for it, but that’s why they charge $90 an hour, so I’ll call it whatever I want since I’m free).  Well let me tell you, it is so freakin hard to get this thing to light the torch, I really thought I was either going to have an explosion or be overcome by propane.  Now you have to heat the old valve until you can melt the old solder and knock the valve off the pipes (one joint at a time) and then you have to heat the new one on the pipes to solder it in.  I think I must have had to light that thing ten times at least – every time fearing for my life.

I got the old valve off, cleaned the pipes thoroughly with the Dremel and a sanding drum, liberally brushed on flux and soldered away.  This valve sits about a foot away from each wall in a corner and you can’t really get behind it, so some of this process gets awkward.  I get all done and turn the water back on.  One solder joint is holding tight with not a drop of water showing, the other side is leaking more than it was with the old valve and the Dremel with the sanding drum on it is plugged into an extension cord that is now under water.  Death is imminent.  Unsolder, reclean and resolder and finally the flow stops.

You’ve just read one of my least awful plumbing tales.  Normally, we get a leak or a pump breaks, or no heat or no hot water and after breaking down and calling a plumber after my own failed attempts to fix it, I have to get a new deck, or a car or completely remodel a bathroom.  I hate water.

Just so you know, I used to play golf.  I could lose my ball in water that was on a hole two holes away.  I stopped playing golf when I couldn’t find a plumber to play with me.

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