Thursday, October 29, 2009

Adventures with Plumbing

Our house is over a hundred years old. As such it came with some knob-and-tube wiring, 100 amp service, two bathrooms with one sink between them, and a mix of galvanized and copper plumbing. The first few years were heavy reno years where we expanded the upper bathroom to have its own sink and a bigger tub with proper shower, put in a proper kitchen sink with a standard height counter, and put in a 200 amp service with circuit breakers rather than fuse.

My husband replaced the knob-and-tube wiring and put in proper GFI outlets in the bathrooms and kitchen. For the upstairs bath reno, we took showers the day after Christmas and then tore the room apart to studs and joists. While the guys reinforced the joists that had been improperly cut through when the upstairs plumbing was first run, I played with 3-D thinking, ABS pipe, and pipe solvent. We used CPVC for the water supply. That was easy to join to copper, but not to the galvanized. We always had a minor leak where the new supply lines joined the galvanizied cold water supply.

The supply lines in the basement were a maze. I dreamed some day of replaced the galvanized with copper. We got some replacement a few years back when we had to replace iron drains that were being clogged with tree roots. The plumber that did that job that entailed jack-hammering through the basement floor also replaced our main valve and a lot of the galvanized that was attached to it. That valve never really turned completely off. He had to have the water turned off at the curb. The valve he took out was a mass of corrosion that would have soon given way and flooded our basement.

Now that we could really turn the water off we were in the position to get the galvanized replaced. My husband was working with an unlicensed plumber named Mark and he agreed to do it. So a little over a year ago I bought a bunch of copper pipe on sale. It sat on a high shelf for a year.

Finally Mark was able to come over to do the piping change early this fall. We were in the process of getting a tankless water heater and knew where it was going to go. He routed new supply lines there. Over the course of the day he and my husband took out a lot of galvanized pipe. The short pieces went to metal recyling the next week; the long pieces I'm keeping for plant supports. Mark does not get along with plastic pipe, so I had to secure the one supply fitting that went from the new copper to my bathroom plastic system. We had one full length and two partial lenghs of copper left over. Some will go from the new supply ends to the new hot water heater; the rest will probably go into the garden.

A couple of years ago we had problems with the kitchen drain. We were able to take apart the drain system where it met the main iron outlet and clean it out. We started to use strainers in the kitchen sink drains (these trap coffee grounds and up) and had no more problems until this past month. First the sinks drained slowly. Then more slowly. But the dishwasher discharge drained fine. Then it didn't. That's when we called Mark the plumber again.

My husband picked him up the other night (he was currently without a driving license) and then an hour later he was off to a music jam down the street. I was to get him if there was a problem (something that involved more brute strength than I and Mark could muster). So I started to hang out with Mark as he dismantled the kitchen sink drains. The sink drains themselves needed replacing and we were missing a washer. So off to Home Depot we went. We talked a lot lot, trading reno war stories.

He got the new sink drains in and increased the drop from them to the P-trap. But the sinks still didn't drain. He ran his snake through but it didn't quite reach the main iron outlet. It came out of the cranking case he had for it, so I fetched a garbage bag he could put the withdrawn snake into. He ran more water and listened. There was still a blockage and the running of water through the system didn't sound right. We have a cheater valve on the sink drain system so he took that off and found it was no longer working. I happened to have a spare in my plumbing supplies so we didn't have to make a dash to Home Depot, hoping to get there before it closed.

The sinks still didn't drain. We went into the cellar and he found a maintenance outlet along the long horizontal length of drain. He took his snake outside and got it threaded back into its cranking case. I listened by the main iron outlet and let him know when the snake began clanging in it. There was nothing on the snake when he withdrew it, but the blockage would have just gone down that 4 inch pipe once the snake pushed it there.

I went up to run the water and he listened. The drain was flowing again. Upstairs he listened again. We both listened as we heard the chug-chugging of air coming into the cheater valve and helping the flow of water downward and out.

I drove with Mark to an ATM machine to get his $40 bucks. It was worth it.

We still have to get that tankless water heater in and the old one out... But Mark doesn't have a gas certificate and the utility company owns the old water heater. But we do have that high tub we want to replace with a shower that's easier to get in and out of as we get older!

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