Monday, January 01, 2007

My Year of Plumbing Success

The year 2006 has been a good plumbing year for me. And it came to fruition in December.

First off, I'm not a lazy guy. I am patient, however. I will get out tools and install stuff or build it or repair it. But with limited time I am fully in the mode of "if it works well enough, that's good enough." I don't need perfection--I just need good enough.

So in my home in 2006, I have three toilets and four sinks. One toilet works just fine. One you need to hold down the lever for a couple seconds. And one takes ten minutes to fill up after a flush.

Of the sinks, two work just fine and two dripped. At first it was just seasonal. In the summer they didn't drip as long as you turned them off the right way--each one differently, of course. One you had to turn it off with the knob all the way to the left. The other straight up and down and hard.

Now, I did try to fix them after I moved in. I disassembled them ready to install new washers only to find they are washer-less. I fiddled with them for a long time and in the end I had a choice--replace the faucet assemblies or live with the drips. So I decided to live with the drips. I can do it but my time is limited. I would be on drip patrol and get the drips to stop using my special knowledge of how to turn them off. That would work well enough.

But in November when drip season began in earnest, the dripping was worse. It started to annoy me. The downstairs half-bath now had a steady stream of water rather than a drip. I tried to ignore it and tried to modify my turning off techniques but it was to no avail. I couldn't stop the drips and I couldn't accept them.

But the thought of replacing two faucet assemblies in the holiday season was daunting. So I hauled out my tools, turned off the water supplies, and disassembled the faucet downstairs. Yep. Staring at it disassembled game me no particular clues at first. No more than staring at a car engine will provide me. But as I fiddled I noticed that the straight up and down movement that used to provide closure should work if I could just get the darned thing to move forward just a little more. But how? I finally decided to try tightening the one large part that could be adjusted. I tightened it. I turned on the water and I had made it worse! So I turn off the water and contemplate my next move. Am I doomed to starting a household project when I still have shelves to install and Christmas presents to buy and wrap?

But I decide to take a leap of faith. Logically, if tightening the large nut-like thing made the drip worse, then loosening it should surely help! So with visions of loosening this mystery nut too much and having water spraying my ceiling, I shut off the water and loosened the nut. I turned the water on and it was much better. Still dripping--but much better than after my initial repair attempt. So I loosened some more and the dripping stopped! Loosening this mad it possible to move the handle forward just that tiny amount necessary to close it off completely! Success.

Giddy with my plumbing success, I headed upstairs with the knowledge of experience on the downstairs sink.

First I have to snap off the cover to the first screw. I had to glue it on after my first repair attempt four or five years ago. And to my horror, I see that the screw is rusted to Hades and back. I push in the screw driver as hard as I can to try and get some bite into the faltering screw. Nothing. I add oil to see if I can loosen it and go at it with the screwdriver again. I try the drill in screwdriver mode. I've only succeeded in removing the rust and completely smoothing out the screw head. Great. But I'm not lazy, like I said. Faced with a setback I am determined to finish what I started. I know how to stop the drip and I just have to get beyond this rusted screw to apply that knowledge!

I retrieve my pliers but there is nothing to grip. In what I can only describe as an inspiration from Neptune and whatever plumbing gods there are, I looked at the screw. I looked at my drill. Drill. Screw. Drill ... the ... Screw. What if I drilled into the screw?

Feeling very plumber like--I sensed my blue jeans settling just a little lower on my waist.

So I drilled into the screw head, hoping to drill out some depth in order to get some bite with a screwdriver head. I drilled away but I could not drill a groove. My saw would not work in the recessed cavity.

I remained unwilling to surrender. The jeans dropped a bit more.

I began drilling into the edge of the screw head. First one side and then the other. Plastic shredded as I worked but I was eating away at the metal. Finally, I could fit my needle nose pliers around the screw and I removed it! I then applied my leak-stopping knowledge gained from the first floor bathroom. Success! Yet the rusted screw had to go. Rummaging through my supply of nails and screws, I found an exact match for the rusted screw! I screwed the faucet back together, hitched up my pants, and packed away my tools. No drips and no new faucets. This would work just fine.

You'd think this would be enough success for one year but my year was not over.

The toilet I mentioned that took ten minutes to fill was the result of another repair effort from mid- 2005. Then, the floater arm snapped off at the plastic base. I had to turn the water off to keep it from constantly filling. I tried gluing the arm back but it kept snapping off at the weld. Weeks later, I finally bought a new tower head to install and put it all together. But when I turned the water back on, the assembly worked sure enough but the water did not flow freely.

I turned the water off and on. Off and on. Hoping to unstuck whatever was stuck. But nothing happened. So I have a choice. Live with a toilet that takes 10 minutes to refill or call in a plumber. I have two more toilets. The call was easy. Besides, I figured, the water pressure will eventually unclog whatever is halting the water flow. I'll make do. I used the upstairs to keep the downstairs ready for tinier bladders than mine. And I waited for that blockage to break free. Through the remainder of 2005 and into 2006. And it looked like I'd be going to 2007 but last night, at about 8:00 pm, I noticed the toilet was sure running loud.

I checked it and there was water on the floor and spraying out the back of the toilet tank through a small gap. Yikes! (And thank goodness I was home. A few hours of that and I'd have a flood. I shudder at what it would have looked like had I been at work.

So I open the tank lid and flush. And to my amazement it refills almost immediately! The blockage is gone! And the leak is from the arm head assembly that I'd replaced. I just needed to tighten it to deal with full pressure. I kept flushing to keep the water level low until I tightened the whole thing enough to stop that leak. After ten minutes, I had a fully working toilet again! Well, ten minutes, two years, and some odd months, to be fair. But it was a triumph of making do and not throwing money at a problem. And a triumph of plumbing patience.