Plumbing disaster

Well it seems that I decided to go ahead and take another week off of posting. Not that it was a conscious decision, just something that I noticed when I was uploading my last post to the archives. It seems that time goes into a bit of a warp during the holiday season. Either that or I was abducted by aliens and am actually typing this only a few hours after I last posted. The former seems more likely.

So, Happy 2005! I can honestly say that I don’t know where the last few years have gone. The last new years celebration that I can remember is the one leading into 2000. That is not due to the alcohol either. I think it is because that was the last time the wife and I actually went out to celebrate it, really celebrate it anyway. Not to mention that everyone made such a big deal out of it, being the changing of a millenia (if you choose to view it that way, since technically the next year would be the actual change). Which really doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. They could have picked any arbitrary day throughout human civilization to start counting, they simply chose that one, now we celebrate it as if it is the day the universe were formed, which it clearly isn’t (except possibly to the very religious; though they don’t even seem to know exactly what year God finished the only week of work he has done is his fictional, omnipotent life). Yes, anyway, Happy New Year!

• Now on to the plumbing disasters!

A couple of weeks ago I began to talk about the plumbing disaster. Unfortunately, the situation sat in limbo until yesterday. It had to be fixed yesterday, regardless of cost in money or loss of limb, but I will get to that later.

Since this happened during the holidays, not a single one of the people that were supposed to come by to help ever did. This annoys me to no end. It is not like the people in question are really close friends, but they are people that I have done favors for in the past. Of course one doesn’t do favors for people expecting a favor to be returned, but when you are in a crisis and they are in a position to help, and choose not to, it really makes you think twice about the possibility of helping them later. Spite can be very powerfull, it seems.

The water situation had been getting progressively worse every day since the last mention of it. It was at a point where I would have to go out and turn the main water supply on and off at the meter when we needed to use it. Honestly, that wasn’t all that much of a hardship, but it was monumentally annoying. Imagine my wife trying to cook Christmas dinner, while I had to go out and turn the water on when she needed to use it. It was also pretty embarassing in that respect. I am a thirty year old man, I should be able to deal with such trifles on my own, instead I was feeling all but helpless. Especially since the water meter doesn’t shut off completely, meaning that even while it was off the situation was getting worse, and with the hardware stores opened really screwy hours due to the holidays, even if I had the knowledge to do it myself I likely wouldn’t have been able to buy the parts.

By Saturday the situation was pretty bleak. I turned on the water only long enough to jump into the shower and wash my hair. By the time I got back out to turn it off, the leaky pipe had managed to fill the 35+ foot trench that I had dug for the new line, nearly to the top. Being that the trench was fourteen inches deep, that was a lot of water. That was when I knew that there was no way I could turn the water on again, for any reason, until it was fixed. It was also that night that I once again spoke to Danny Padilla, who swore that he would come over just after church on Sunday to help me. He never showed, of course.

At 8:45am on Sunday, I went out to start the work. The first thing that I had to do was drill a second hole through the 18 inch thick brick, mortar and adobe wall. The first hole happened to come out exactly where an existing pipe was running and there was no way to get a connector on the new pipe, as it was far too close to the wall. The problem with drilling the hole is that your average drill bit isn’t 18 inches long. In fact, it isn’t even 8 inches long. They do make bits that are that long, and in the size that I needed, I priced one at the hardware store, it was 53.95, and it would not have worked with a standard 3/8″ drill anyway. What I had to do was buy a drill extension and use the largest masonry bit that I had to drill a center hole, with five more surrounding it, then find a way to clear out the rest. The cheapest, easiest way to clear out the rest was to use a spade bit, which is meant for cutting through wood, not brick and stone. It was the only option that I had to make the hole the inch and a quarter that it needed to be. There were sparks flying as the little bit chipped away the stone, smoke was coming back as it slowly made its way through the wall. It took almost ten minutes of constant drilling, with a lot of pressure on the bit, but I did get through the wall (again; the first time I drilled it through where it was wet from the leak, it was much easier, that was why I chose that location the first time…Too bad the existing plumbing was in teh way), the spade bit looks a bit more like an arrow than anything else now, I wonder If I could return it.

The hole in the wall was (what I anticipated to be) the second hardest part of the endeavor. With that behind me, I ran the PVC through the wall, slapped on some elbows and connected it to the pipe that I had already run under the sidewalk (If you have never tried to run a pipe under a sidewalk, btw, you really should give it a go sometime, best several hours of your life). Then I went ahead and laid thirty feet of pipe towards the main water hook up, leaving only a short section to make the final connections. Then I went back to the other side of the pipe in the wall and added an elbow and a ball valve, my house would finally have a water shut off! It was at this point that I realized that even though I bought way more connectors than I thought I was going to need, it would likely not be enough. I made the trip to the ACE hardware in neighboring Coolidge to buy more parts.

Funny thing really, when I got to the ACE I started to put parts into a basket. At first I was putting in just the parts that would be necessary if all went well, then I decided I better figure out the worst case scenario and make sure to have enough parts for that as well, since the worst case is usually where I always end up. Good thing I did too. (Much on a side note, I knew that PVC was cheap, but I had no idea just how cheap. While planning the worst case scenario, and buying the necessary parts for it, I went ahead and bought enough pipe, connectors and the such to replace the entire cold water line in my house. Total cost, twelve bucks, added to the twelve that I had already spent, so, 24 dollars to replace the cold water line from the meter to everything in the house. That is counting only the PVC though, the connectors that you need to actually hook into the faucets and water heater are far more expensive. In fact, I bought the connectors for the hot and cold lines in and out of the water heater today, brass nipples and copper pipe, for a total of 36 dollars. The only other expensive parts are the angle stops that let you shut off the water to the toilet, or the faucets under the sink, but those only go three or four bucks, so still not that much.) Back home I went, hoping that I hadn’t missed my plumber friend.

Mr. Plumber friend didn’t show up while I was gone, and not after I got home either. I whiled away a bit of time playing roller coaster tycoon, but by 12:30 I knew I had to get going or it wouldn’t get done. I went out to the water meter and, very apprehensively, cut the main water line. I made a major mistake on that; I had to make two cuts and I cut the higher one first. Being that the water doesn’t shut off completely at the meter I had to make the second cut underwater, as I could not pail the water out of the hole fast enough to keep it from being submersed again. Even after I had made both cuts (leaving just enough room that I could get an elbow onto the main line, completely bypassing the old one), I had to dig the hole quite a bit deeper to allow me to try to glue the connectionw while they were not underwater. With all of the connections made to the water meter, I went to check my newly installed ball valve. As hoped/expected, the water started to stream out of it within about a minute. Now, PVC glue is not meant to be used on wet pipes, so I didn’t want to actually shut off the valve and build up pressure in the line, so I loose-fitted a line to the shut off that ran ten feet away from the whole situation. I let it run like that for about an hour, just long enough that I was confident that the pvc cement would be able to hold the little bit of pressure it would be getting when I shut off the newly installed ball valve. For the first time in several weeks I had no water leaking on my property, of course I also had no way to shower or wash my hands. It was time for the hard part.

Several calls to the plumber friend had gone unanswered, and I had already cut the main water line and spliced into it, we had no running water until this was done. I decided to bite the bullet and try to make the most difficult connection myself. The problem there was that I had to try to cut through the old galvanized line, twice, to remove an elbow so that I could splice back into the indoor plumbing. The problem was worsened by the fact that 1) my hack saw blades were worn to shit, and 2) The most difficult connection was directly behind the water heater, leaving about six inches of workspace. I started sawing away with my little hacksaw, and sawing, and sawing. I spent about a half an hour trying to make just one of the cuts and I knew that it was just not going to happen. What I didn’t know then, which I do now that I have showered, is that I bloodied three out of eight exposed knuckles while trying, two on the right hand and one on the left. It was at this point that my wife suggested three things, 1) That we call her dad to see if he could help. 2) That I go to Circle K (kind of a code for buy some beer). 3) That I leave it alone for a while.

Turns out that she was right on all three counts. The father-in-law happened to have a Reciprocating Saw (most people call them sawzall, regardless of the brand), which was exactly what the operation required. I had a couple of malt beverages while awaiting his arrival, which really did soothe the anxiety a bit, and I wasn’t nearly as pissed off at the plumbing when he got here. It seems that the more angry you are, the less likely you are to deal with things rationally, or something. I am starting to believe all of those “temporary insanity” claims on murder charges might be at least partially true; I was going to kill the plumbing, and I really doubt that I was thinking that as a sane person.

The reciprocating saw couldn’t really fit in the space alloted, so we did have to pull the water heater out. It was probably better that way anyhow, as the natural gas line was actually so close as to be nearly touching the pipe I was trying to cut. Once the water heater was removed, the reciprocating saw took care of the pipe cutting in about one minute, for both cuts. As I look at my little knuckles I can only think that I really wish Mr. plumber friend would have shown up, that saw is quite the time/flesh saver. With the water heater safely outside, the worst case scenario presented itself; The “T” that I was hoping to join into was stuck fast, even though the line itself was loose all the way into the house. Thankfully, I had purchased all of the parts necessary to replace the whole damn thing. Within an hour (after the water heater was drained) we had it all hooked back up.

There are a couple of extremely minor leaks in the finished product, but I did purchase parts to fix them. I have yet to actually do that though, since I plan to replace all of the rest of the plumbing over the next couple of weekends. One drop of water per minute doesn’t really qualify as a leak in my books anyway, at least not when I think about what I was facing just a couple of weeks ago.

There are a couple of upsides to this whole thing, well at least one. Replacing that line has made it so that we have much better pressure on the hot water line, to the point that you can actually fill up a bath in less than three hours! Further upsides will come when I replace the rest of the existing water lines, but now that I have a main shut off valve, I am going to do that an hour or two at a time, on the weekends, so that I don’t stress myself out so much as I have done over this.

Finally, for plumbing related issues, it has been raining all damn day. That makes it so that I don’t want to go out and slop mud back into the water-filled trench to cover up the pipes. Is this proof that there is a GOD, and he really, really hates me?

To be fair, I really must thank my father-in-law for helping me when I really needed it. I guess they say that that is what family is all about. I wouldn’t really know. What I do know is that my wife’s father was the one that was here to help after all friends and acquaintances who said they would help didn’t. I am grateful for that, and I know that if the situations were reversed I would have done/will do the same.

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