Tag Archives: DIY

Plumbing joke

Our kitchen faucet has been dripping for months. Unlike so many other problems that fix themselves when I ignore them, this one just got worse.

When I mentioned to a plumber that I was reasonably handy,* he said it wouldn’t be difficult to replace the faucet’s cartridge. I believed him (my first mistake) and promptly fell into one of my oldest and most familiar traps: “I should be able to do this.” After all, why would I want to pay a professional who knows what they’re doing and could do it quickly, and thereby deprive myself of the injuries, the aggravation, and repeated trips to the hardware store?

* Probably time to re-examine this assumption

One of the plumbing people at McLendon Hardware sold me the $25 cartridge and loaned me a special tool to help remove the old one. Despite applying all of my might, I failed to get the cartridge out. I did, however, succeed in destroying the faucet.

Back to the hardware store. Returned the $25 part and selected a new faucet for about $180. Now for the simple matter of removing what was left of the old faucet.

No, sir. The twisted metal would not yield, even to the persuasion of an almost two-foot-long pipe wrench. I grunted, thrashed, sweat, swore, and bellowed. I cut my hand on some jagged metal, producing plenty of blood but no progress.

Enter Zack. “How can I help, Dad?” Were there ever sweeter words from a 16 year-old? He crawled under the sink, studied the situation with a flashlight, and soon discovered a hidden nut holding the ruined assembly in place. A few smart turns later and the old faucet was out.

Against all better judgment I had started this project late in the afternoon and it was now almost 11:00 on Sunday evening – time to go to bed. Dirty dishes sat piled up on the counters, and a big assortment of tools and the contents of the under-sink cabinet covered the kitchen floor. Not a good way to end a day or a weekend…

Monday morning I set the new faucet in place and realized one of the supply lines would not fit the existing shutoff valve. Hardware store trip #3. While there I told this joke (one of my Dad’s favorites) to the woman at the plumbing counter:

A plumber had just spent 20 minutes fixing a leak in the basement of a doctor’s home. When he presented his bill for $750, the doctor’s jaw dropped. “You haven’t even been here 30 minutes, and you’re charging me $750? I can’t afford that!”

The plumber nodded. “I know – I couldn’t either when I was a doctor.”

Happily the new faucet went in without further incident. No drips. No leaks. Looks good and works perfectly.

Zack saved the day and my few remaining scraps of sanity. When I apologized to him for being severely frustrated, he said, “I would have been frustrated, too.” What an awesome kid. Maybe when I grow up, I can be as mature as he is.


Home improvement, chapter 1

I go back and forth between thinking I’m “pretty handy” and thinking I’m completely inept.  A call from a good friend tonight has me sliding toward one end of this scale.  See if you can guess which one…

My friend “E” needed to replace the cover over a patio.  Doing so required him to tie the replacement structure into the roof of the house.  When he pulled back the roofing material, he found composition on top of old wood shingles.  He tore off both layers of the old roof and realized there was no plywood sheathing underneath.  E took care of all that, and by the time he’d put on the new roof, reports that he “more or less” knew what he was doing.  (Because he’s that kind of a guy, E also cut (from his tree farm) and milled the timbers that he used to make posts and beams for the new patio cover.)

Finding himself in the middle of a classic while-we’re-at-it scenario, E decided he “might as well” put in more energy efficient windows and get the tax credit for doing so.  Naturally that also involved putting on some new siding, which has him thinking about painting the exterior a different color…

Now change the scene to our house, “The Center for Casual Living.”  The kids long ago stopped riding tricycles and other vehicles in the entry and the skylight hallway, and we’ve needed to repaint the walls.  Hundreds of dings and dents needed spackling, and I glopped on the first layer.  It took about a year and a half before I got around to sanding and applying another coat.  Just want to make sure it’s dry, right?  By that time Susan’s “honeydew” list had become a “you’d better get this done or you’re moving out” list.

I’m pleased to report that in the last couple of weeks, the walls in our entry hall have been sanded, respackled, sanded again, primed, and painted.  We selected a color that makes us want to lick the walls or drink a cup of really rich hot cocoa.  I even repainted the ceiling, and the space looks beautiful.

Not to take anything away from this magnificent accomplishment, but our entry hall is about 6 feet wide and 8 feet long, and there’s a built-in shoe bench, a coat closet, a door, and two windows in it.  A year and a half?  E did all of his projects this summer, and he’s working full time.  And you’ll note that I painted the entry hall, not the skylight hallway, which is about eight times bigger.

Thankfully, the little entry is providing enough inspiration to keep me from slipping into a “completely inept” frame of mind.  It may even offer enough grace to move the skylight hallway back onto the honeydew list.  That’d be good, as I’d like to get it finished soon.  And I’d really like to keep living here.

In and out of hot water, part 2

I understand the concept of a straight line, but I have yet to meet one.  Sure, a reasonably straight line can be painted on a highway, but the notion that one’s life moves from Point A to Point B in a straight line…  come on!

Any do-it-yourselfer knows what I’m talking about.  I’m a fairly handy guy, and figured that replacing our dishwasher a while back would take about two hours.  I allowed four.  Our house was built in the 1950s, so of course there would be a couple of trips to the hardware store.  But funky supply and drain lines and a hard-to-access corner installation required five trips to McLendon (the hardware store) and fourteen hours of DIY labor.  I was foolish enough to declare that my third trip to McLendon would be the last, setting myself up to be the “butt” of some plumbing department “cracks.”  Didn’t see a single straight line on that project.

Which brings me back to the current hot water heater installation.  We’re on Day 4 without running hot water, which is a little bit like camping in the house – heating water in the tea kettle for sponge baths and washing hair in the sink.

I got the pretty new water heater installed and plumbed and filled with water all by myself and with no leaks.  Sometimes I amaze myself.  However, the junction box that I ass-u-me’d had the wiring to connect it to power turned out to be something else.  It’s all very complicated – switching from electric to gas when we first moved in, circuits dedicated to other purposes when we added on to the house, having to rearrange the circuit breaker panel.

Before discovering we’d need an electrician, I called McLendon’s electrical department to ask how to determine if the wiring in the boiler room was live.  After explaining how to do it, the guy told me, “Be very careful.  It only takes two amps to kill ya, and you’ve got 30.”  That had a chilling effect on my DIY ardor.

The electrician should be here soon.

In and out of hot water, part 1

Where was that dripping sound coming from, anyway?  And why was the boiler cycling on and off so frequently?

As soon as I stepped into the boiler room in my socks, I knew I was in hot water – about a half-inch of it on the floor.  More was gurgling from a couple of the pipes criss-crossing the space.  Not knowing which valve did what, I just shut off the water to the whole house and did what any thinking man would do:  I called my wife.

Of course Susan was sympathetic and empathetic and ready to be helpful.  I mostly needed to let somebody know what was going on and hear some reassurance to smooth my ruffled feathers.  Mission accomplished.

By the time I got out some old towels, the carpeting in the rooms on either side of the boiler room had already soaked up a surprising amount of water.  Wet, squishy carpet is one of my least favorite things; can’t think of a single instance in which it means something good.

Okay – now I’ll call someone who can figure out what caused this mess.  No need to call Rossoe Energy Systems, original installers of the boiler and indirect hot water tank.  Every other company that’s subsequently serviced or repaired our system has shown us evidence that Rossoe really didn’t know what they were doing.  Color me ‘dissatisfied customer.’

A guy from Evan Conklin Plumbing & Heating was here less than 90 minutes after I called, and boy, was he great.  Friendly and knowledgeable, he diagnosed the problem quickly, explained what had happened, and left me with several helpful suggestions.

The boiler heats our baseboard radiators as well as our domestic hot water.  I was worried that we’d lost both heat and hot water just as a cold front may keep us below freezing for the next few days.  Thankfully heat for the house was not affected.

So I’m off to do some Christmas shopping – for a new hot water heater.  It wasn’t on my list, and I was laid off November 30, so the timing’s not great.  But as a neighbor who serves at a local food bank just reminded me, we have everything we need and more.  Time for us to get our butts over to that food bank and help out.