Monday, December 26, 2011

Piddling with the plumbing

Home ownership comes with as many jobs as joys.  I don’t mind most, from yard work to wiring, but plumbing has always held a special challenge for me.  Technically, it’s no more difficult than electricity or ventilation: follow the flows, remove the blockages, replace the fittings, clean the connections.  I’ve developed a special relationship with my local hardware stores, Ernst, Home Depot, McLendon’s, who always seem to be able to supply a diagnosis, a part, and a smile that puts me on track to getting the lights on and the heat through.

Not so with plumbing.

Innumerable times, I have replaced fittings, tightened connections, and turned on the water to get results varying from drips to geysers.  Water is relentless in finding gaps and flaws.  Then it all has to be taken apart, cleaned, reassembled, two times, three, before either finally working or triggering a call to a neighbor or plumber.  There’s always a temptation to solve problems with plumbers tape and bathtub caulk.

Toilet seals (simple instructions lead to dire consequences: seat the bowl over the wax ring and press down firmly; flush once), faucets  (filled with tiny springs and valves), and underground pipes (a favorite of moles and tree roots) hold special dangers.  Even today’s simple task, “Please replace the four leaky shutoff valves”, revealed unexpected complications.

Like compression rings.

Our fixtures are old and out of date, corroded and dripping, original to the house.  The shutoff valves are the likely culprit, so I bought four at the local Home Depot, turned off the main water (provoking howls from the daughter) and attacked the process of disassembling the pipes.

And quickly ran into the day’s challenges.

Lesson 1:  Turning off the main shutoff doesn’t disconnect internal reservoirs, such as the hot water tank.  I got caught full in the face by a geyser of (fortunately warm) water as the valve popped off the pipe.

Lesson 2:  Compression rings may turn but they don’t pull.  The ring slipped easily off the first pipe, with difficulty from the second, and refused to budge from the next two.  No amount of twisting and tugging set it free, yet the corroded wall plate and worn threads of the sealing nut meant it had to come loose.  Cutting off the pipe behind it was not an option: the Internet suggested a hacksaw (but don’t nick the underlying pipe).

Compress Ring PullerLesson 3:  Compression ring pullers.  Yes, it’s $20 for something I’ll seldom use (and probably lose), but it got the job done.  Insert the tip into the pipe, the collar around the ring, turn the handle, and it pulls the ring right off the pipe.  Lovely.

Lesson 4:  The value of a box of old plumbing parts.  The job was done, and I was reassembling the drain pipes.  The main one of the bottom of the sink wouldn’t attach, in fact, it looked like it had never attached.  I took pictures up to the hardware store (third trip of the day) and they said that the old ring had literally fallen apart. They gave me a new one, but that just slipped over the threads, refusing to pull the pipe and sink together.  Rummaging through an old box of pipe parts, Karen came up with a plastic fitting that happened to fit perfectly.  I’m a skeptic about holding onto useless boxes of miscellaneous hardware, but this one saved the day.

By late evening, double the estimated time for the job, the work was done and the water was back on.   Simple, really: just unscrew the old valves and replace them with new ones.

Except when it’s plumbing.

1 comment:

Gayle Manning said...

Unfortunately, plumbing troubles are inherent in any household. ;/ At home, our most recurring problems are leaky pipes even though we switched the whole system to copper tubes and fittings. It only goes to show that the quality of materials is important, but there are still a lot more considerations when it comes to plumbing. I am equally defeated when I first realized about the compression rings too, by the way. >.<