The joys of owning your own home!
Several days ago I noticed a small pool of water next to the bathtub. I wasn’t all that concerned, surmising that the wife possibly had neglected to close the curtain completely while showering. I mopped up the little pool and that was that. Or so I thought. The next day the pool was back. I began to think that I might have a minor plumbing problem on my hands. Given the layout of my bathroom, the toilet and bathtub are slightly elevated and separated from the actual sink (which, it turns out is pretty fortunate), I knew that the problem was centralized to that area, an area of roughly three feet in width, maybe six in length. This seemed like just a minor little problem.
Several months ago we had had a similar water pooling problem. The previous problem was from a crack in the small line that runs to the toilet. While it took me a while to find a hose of the correct size, it was eventually fixed pretty easily. I thought that this problem must also be toilet related, as the bathtub is sitting over the top of an empty hole in the foundation of the house, so if it was leaking the water would be absorbed into the ground, not leaking onto the floor. The first thing I checked was the toilet itself. There was no water coming from any of the connections, I could not find any sign of water around the bowl or the back. A visual inspection showed no cracks in the porcelain, no apparent damage to the junction between the back and the bowl, I was at a loss.
The next thought that I had was that maybe I just needed to replace the wax ring under the toilet. That is usually the place that water leaks near a toilet. However, had the wax ring been the problem, two facts would have been really hard to explain. The first is that if the wax ring is broken the toilet will only leak when flushed, which was not the case here. The second is that my wife uses a blue tablet in the toilet, so if it was leaking from the toilet, the water should be blue, the water was completely clear. This, of course, left only one possibility. Why the aliens had decided to deposit a gallon or so of water on the floor of my bathroom every morning is something that I still don’t quite understand.
Much like in my Arthur Witles story, the alien theory didn’t seem possible, well, not after I thought about it rationally anyway. Sure the water could have been placed there by aliens, but then why didn’t they abduct me? Why didn’t they mutilate my cattle (this is easily explained, as I have no cattle)? What could their motive possibly be? Is there some sinister alien race somewhere that really just wants to make people slightly uncomfortable by making them stand in a small pool of cold water while they try to pee? This all lead to me looking for a more earthly explanation for the mysterious pool of water in the bathroom (but, if you are an alien, and you have a garden hose, and I catch you in my bathroom, there is gonna be hell to pay!).
The water pipes that run behind the toilet (and later to the sink) come from behind the bathtub. The next logical step was to think that one of them was leaking. Much of the pipe is attached to the wall with mortar, and is not possible to inspect visually. However, the wall was not wet, nor was the groud right next to the wall. I mopped all of the water off of the floor and then dried it completely with a towel. I then layed squares of toilet paper over the joints in the tiles to see which one got wet the fastest. The strange part was that the one nearest the center of the room got wet a lot faster than the ones that were placed near the wall. So, while I was pretty sure that the leak was coming from somewhere in that wall, I was not able to understand why the water was able to pass to the center of the room without ever touching the other pieces of paper. I eventually dismissed that question, assuming that the water was running below the tiles. Which would all make sense, since water seeks the easiest path to the lowest point before it will begin to pool.
I put off going outside to look inside the access panel behind the bathtub for a few days. I thought that, at most, I would have to replace the hot and cold water lines from the bathtub over to the sink (about five feet total for each line). It just didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I had a couple of local contractors (the cheap kind) that were going to come and take a look at it on Saturday, but neither of them showed up. So late Saturday night I went outside to look at what I was dealing with behind the bathtub, thinking that I could go buy a couple of parts at home depot and do it myself. When I raised the door to the access panel, I knew I was in way over my head.
The access panel behind the bathtub is a small opening (roughly 2 feet square) in the side of the house. Being that the house is over a hundred years old, it is also the only access to any place where the house is not placed solidly on the rock hard foundation (which is because the plumbing was added long after the house was built. Which also means that all of my plumbing is visible [except the drain lines], and also explains why they added a new room to the house to add incoming water -you try to chisel through three feet of underground, solid stone to run a pipe and tell me how it goes-). It turns out that the little area behind the bathtub can hold damn near exactly seven gallons of water before the level gets high enough to start seepin through onto the floor. I know that since that is just about how much water I was having to bail out once ever few hours. I was still at a loss though, there was not a damn pipe there that was wet. Every line going to the toilet, sink or bathtub was bone dry. It seemed odd.
Eventually, I decided to go around and check the room with the water heater (this was the room that was added later for the sole purpose of handling the incoming water supply). I found the problem. It was about midnight at the time, and I was armed only with a flashlight, so I was only able to ascertain that the leaking was coming from the first line that came in. The first three feet (vertically, as the rest of it was buried in concrete) felt damp, and the floor was pretty clearly wet. I had finally found the damn problem! Of course it was far too dark to try to see where the leak was, so I went to bed pretty content, thinking that I would be able to replace an elbow or something and be done with it. I mean, really, these old, galvanized lines usually start to leak at the joints first, they never, ever, ever start to leak on the straight line, especially when they are buried in concrete.
Sunday morning I found out that the old, galvanized line broke on a straight stretch of line, which happened to be buried in concrete. It really sucks to be the one-in-a-million when it is not the winning the lottery.
The pipe runs under the little room with the water heater for a total of about four feet. There is one line (the very first actual water outlet in the entire system) that runs straight up just inside the shed. This runs to a simple garden hose outlet. This is where the pipe is broken. The break is at ground (concrete) level, so there is no way that I can just cap it off. Leaving me exactly two options, the first being to let it leak seven gallons of water every few hours and bail it out, the second to turn off the main water (at the meter) and turn it on when we need it. I chose the latter.
This is where most people would call in a professional. This is also where I can absolutely prove just how blindingly cheap frugal I am.
I did speak to a couple of professionals, and I came up with the conclusion that they generally charge by the hour. So, what I needed to do was to make sure that, were I to hire one, they could get in and out of here as quickly as possible. That meant, “fuck the old plumbing, lemme see if I can find a way around digging all the old shit up.” That also meant that someone was going to have to dig a trench, about forty feet long, in which to place the new pipe. I like to think that I am a pretty proud person, and I really believe that I am, I am especially proud of the forty foot long trench that I dug, with my own hands, thus saving me paying someone else to do it. It did take in excess of three and a half hours, and I developed, then broke, then developed, then broke a lot of blisters on my hands. I also got myself hit in the right eye with a chip of something that made it so that I could’t even open my right eye this morning, but I saved myself a buck or two, and that is what it is all about (the thing about the blisters and the eye are both totally serious, one of the bosses actually wanted me to take time off of work to go have my eye inspected)! Plumbing must be fixed.
None of the contractors that I had spoken to ever showed up, but, as luck would have it, I ran into a friend (of sorts) who is a retired contractor, just as I was going to lunch. I must say that he really admired the trench that I dug. That trench is a damn good piece of work, but, as it is with all trenches, it must eventually be filled in. Perhaps I will be able to get a wonderful snapshot of it before I have to bury it again (yes, I am proud of my trench). He did ask that I dig it twelve inches deeper near the water meter, other than that he had no complaints. I told him what my plan was, to circumvent the underground plumbing by running a whole new line, and he was a big fan of it. While this will still be a pretty big endeavor (as the water heater will have to be drained and removed until the lines are replaced), it seems so much more possible for me to do it basically by myself. I just want to have someone there that actually knows what they are doing, just in case I try to do something completely stupid. While I don’t think I would do something completely stupid (in relation to my house), I know that there is evidence that shows that I would do something stupid. I have tattoos, for instance, need I say more?
So the trench is dug, the plan is in place, all I need to do is dig just a bit deeper near the water meter and knock out part of a wall that has stood for over a hundred years (which sucks. But since it is behind the bathtub you will never see it anyway.). I have someone who is going to help me (someone who is not only knowledgeable, but offering his services ‘pro bono’, provided that I do all the labor (so, like a coach). He has also said that he will gift me the copper line to replace the outgoing water from the water heater (which would be nice to have, especially since he is going to show me how to install it).
This horrible broken water pipe thing is shaping up to be a pretty good learning experience for me. It would really have been nice if it was not happening on the cusp of Christmas, but what are you gonna do? The thing is that after I (do all the labor) watch him make the connections with the copper pipes, I will know how to do it, and I will know it for the rest of my life. So I will be getting the gift of knowledge, and really, is there any better gift? Well, possibly running water, but I am working on that, and the gift of knowledge comes into play there as well…