Monday, January 11, 2010

Activity Review - Home Repairs

There's an old country song with a lyric somewhere in there that goes, 'if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.' This song was running through my head all weekend (or at least, this line - I don't actually listen to country music, and have no idea how the rest of the song goes).

North Texas was recently slapped with what the news calls 'arctic conditions', and what the rest of the country calls 'time to put on a sweater.' For three days, the temperature was well below freezing, and we even had a little ice one morning. To say that North Texas is ill-prepared for cold weather is an understatement. We're ill-prepared for any temperature that requires a jacket. When there's ice on the overpasses, schools close down for the day and people burn down their houses for heat.

While we did not burn down our house, there were times when we were considering it. The first night that the temperature dove, our furnace quit working. We woke up to a house that was holding at a not-very-comfortable 45 degrees, and the house only got colder until the furnace guy finally came out (the next day) and fixed our heater. And while the furnace was failing to heat our home, the cold seeped right up into the pipes and froze everything solid. We did manage to keep running water in the bathroom, but every other pipe was blocked up. It took until Saturday to get the water running again, and that's when we found out how bad the damage really was.

As soon as the cold water started running again, we could hear the rumbling sound of a burst pipe. Since people in North Texas are effectively retarded when it comes to protecting our homes from deep freezes, we're fairly familiar with the sound, and we know what to do. The first step is to turn off the water to the house, which involves running out to the curb with a metal doodad and digging in frozen mud to find the shut-off valve, then cursing because you just dug in frozen mud and don't have any running water to wash your hands.

The broken pipe was underneath the kitchen sink, below the floorboards. There's not enough clearance underneath there for me to slide my fat ass up to it through the crawl space, so the only solution was to cut through the flooring under the sink. This was accomplished with a Dremel rotary tool using cutting bits so dull that it took nearly an hour and a half to cut a hole large enough to fit one arm. Then, once I could see the pipe below, I had to ask my son to turn on the water while I watched the pipe, so I could spot the leak. Predictably enough, this resulted in me being shot in the face with a jet of icy water - but I was able to spot the leak.

Then I had to go to the hardware store. This part is my least favorite, because I have to wander around the plumbing section trying to look even a little bit like my job does not involve sitting at a desk and making catalogs on a computer. When asking for help, I try to use technical phrases like, 'half-inch copper pipe' and 'elbow joint' and 'you know, that metal thingy that patches the gap.' I always end up spending more than I need to spend because I don't want to come back, and I always end up coming back because I always buy the wrong thing. In this case, however, I did buy the right thing but still had to go back. If you're ever trying to fix copper pipes, I can't recommend the Sharkbite push-fit fittings highly enough. Rather than having to mess with pressure fittings and wrenches (neither of which was going to be manageable when I could only reach the broken pipe with one hand), I simply cut the pipe using my little red pipe cutter and slapped the Sharkbite over both ends.

And that's when we found the second leak, which was right underneath the kitchen floor. Since there was still not enough clearance to get there through the crawl space, I was left with two options. I could call a plumber, or I could use my circular saw to cut a two-foot square hole directly into the floor of the house. Obviously, the sensible thing to do would be to call a professional, and not carve up the hardwoods in the kitchen.

The circular saw did a fine job, though I did wind up with a lot of sawdust underneath the refrigerator. Once I removed the floorboards and the subfloor, I could see the broken pipe quite clearly. A second trip to the hardware store and a second Sharkbite fitting, and that leak was patched as well.

And that's when we found the third leak. The pipe had broken inside the wall, behind the load-bearing beam that kept the back of the house from sliding into the yard. Cutting out the beam was not an option, unless I decided it was time to file a claim on my homeowner's insurance and spend a few weeks in a hotel. My options were to either destroy my house to fix a pipe, or give up and call a plumber.

I went with option three. Yet another trip to the hardware store (by now the employees were calling me by name) got me ten feet of copper pipe and a Sharkbite fitting that made a sharp corner. I replaced every damned inch of pipe between the cold water feed and the faucet, and now water in my house runs just fine.

Now the only thing left is to put my house back together. Enough plumbing, now I have to do carpentry.

Summary

Pros:
Buying a house lets you find out how much stuff you never knew you could do
Great sense of accomplishment when you avoid having to pay a plumber

Cons:
Entire weekend shot to hell
Bruises, scrapes, cuts and muscle soreness
Spending three days covered in grime because you don't have running water

4 comments:

Warren said...

I'm trying to think of a "Hey at least you've got indoor plumbing joke", but I can't ...

Jason Smith said...

So where is the weekend game review???????? Huh? Huh?

(grin)

Matt Drake said...

When I update like I'm supposed to do (as opposed to holiday season and narcolepsy), I'm reviewing two games a week plus one activity and/or event review. This week's activity was fixing my plumbing. I've reviewed paintball, a fashion show, a speech meet and a model train show. It all started here:

http://drakesflames.blogspot.com/2009/10/event-review-texas-state-fair.html

Matt said...

I know this isn't much of a consolation for your woes but... it made a good story! :P