Tag Archives: do it yourself

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.


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.

Smooth move

Some new friends are leaving Seattle this week to move back to sunnier, warmer, friendlier Florida.  We’re sad to see them go but know that they are returning to family and loving friends who can’t wait to have them back.  That’s good.

They have done a great job of getting rid of nearly all of their stuff through Craigslist, word of mouth, and Goodwill.  Congratulations, Nathan and Beth, not only for meeting the rigorous standards of a Smooth Move, but for doing so with a kid who’s less than a year old.  This is a rare achievement, and you have done it with grace and style.


And just what is a Smooth Move, you ask…  It is the gold standard for moving one’s household, and in all modesty, Susan and I set that standard the last time we moved.

We knew several months ahead of time that we’d be moving and we did not yet have kids, so we took full advantage of the lead time to go through all of our stuff.  Every evening we would focus on one thing in the house – a bookcase, a drawer or two, a shelf in the garage – and determine what to keep, what to give away, what to toss.  We made it our goal to pack two or three boxes every day if we could.  We clearly marked on each box what it contained, and after the deal on the house closed, we then wrote where each box should go in the new place.

30 friends helped with the actual move.  We invited them to join us for a leisurely breakfast at about 10:00 on a drizzly Seattle Saturday morning.  Three guys were in charge of packing the U-Haul truck; that team was led by a man whose workshop was meticulously organized, and who could load more dishes into a dishwasher than anyone we know.  The rest of the crew was carrying boxes and furniture out of the house to the truck.  Everything was packed, identified, and ready to go.  Susan and I didn’t move any stuff ourselves; we were busy answering questions and directing traffic.

Everything was moved out of the old house and into the new one in about four hours.  At the new house, Susan and I again answered questions and directed traffic.  By late afternoon our clothes were hanging in the closets, the beds were all made, the stereo was hooked up, towels were hung in the bathrooms, and the kitchen was unpacked and operational.  We had a wonderful home-cooked meal with the crew (I remember the stew that my Mom made) and felt like we were mostly settled in the new place that first night.  What a great gift from friends and family.  We presented the crew with commemorative T-shirts we’d made up as one expression of our appreciation for all of the help.

This was a sweet, clean, painless move for us and for those who helped us – they’d even tell you it was fun.  Started out with good food and coffee, then got right to work actually moving stuff.  No sorting.  No wondering.  No running for boxes.  No packing.  This, my friends, is a Smooth Move.  If you have to move, and even moreso if you are helping others to do so, I hope it’s a Smooth Move.  Amen.