Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Word to the wise: plumbing edition

When in doubt about how long to let adhesive/glue/whatever-it-is dry and cure on plastic plumbing pipes that have just been joined, may I politely suggest that you let it cure a bit longer? Just for good measure?

We finally got someone over to fix a shower that has been dripping and dripping, not from the head but out of one handle. An earlier "fix" didn't last more than a day or two; it had become obvious that what was needed was something more along the lines of an overhaul. It's an old shower, with old pipes and fixtures. It was time.

So, we half-emptied the room adjacent to the bathroom, so the gentleman (who shall remain unnamed) could saw through the wall and take out old pipes and put in new ones, etc., without having to jockey around stuff, and so he'd have plenty of room to lay out his tools and pipes, etc. So far so good.

Our repairman turned off the water heater. Quite unaware of this, my husband used a lot of hot water in the other bathroom. This would be beside the point, but it turned out to be important. Still so far, so good.

We have never had a water shutoff valve in this house, not really. There's one you can reach at one toilet, I think, and there's a rumor there's one inside the wall behind the other toilet, and there might possibly be one behind a nailed down panel for the tub. There might be one for one or another of the sinks around here. Maybe. But for the shower, no. Not even behind the nailed down access panel in the mud room/utility room. To turn off the water to the shower, or anywhere else in here that doesn't have its own valve (or for the house in general), you must (as I understand it) go out and find a special very long rod with a special end and take it to a manhole out front of the house and figure out how to get the manhole cover off and then figure out how to use the fancy, special rod (of which we haven't one ourselves, but would have to run next door to the construction company's shed and borrow their's, if it's there, and if we can find it). And then, at a guess, you have to hope you're turning off your water. (I got checked out on this when we moved in, but obviously I've forgotten some of it.)

No, no, don't get ahead of me here. Our repairman thought it might be nice if we had shut-off valves for the shower, considering how much trouble it's been. Thank goodness for small favors.

So, after much sawing and wrestling and trips to the hardware store and finagling and maneuvering and gluing and tightening here and there, we were getting close. Toward the end, watching him brush the pipe ends with purple something or another before putting them together, I asked him if that stuff needed to sit for a while, to cure or set or whatever. "Naw," he said. (Which is a local way of saying, 'oh, goodness, no.')

You are now invited to get ahead of me here...

He got everything done to his satisfaction, then escorted me around to the bathroom to watch a demonstration of the new hardware. The demo went wonderfully. Very nice. No drips, either. Yay! Plus, the design of the new handle, while tacky-looking (we didn't pick it, the landlord did, out of what he had lying around, I guess), is much better for handicapped use, which is a wonderful thing for our family.

But then he turned the shower off. And seconds later the unmistakable sound of burst pipes and spraying water started on the other side of the wall. "O-o-h," says I, "that doesn't sound good." (Yes, I know, I know. A perfectly brilliant thing to say under the circumstances.)

He ran to the other room, and I followed, more slowly (honestly, you wouldn't think a man of his size and age could have moved that quickly). I was in time to see a surprisingly large spray of just-less-than-power-washer-velocity water hitting the ceiling light fixture, with lesser streams and mists going elsewhere in the room. I had to laugh. Honestly. A Hollywood disaster movie producer couldn't have found experts to have done it better for both dramatic and comedic effect. There is a shelving unit across the room from the plumbing; empty spots on the shelf were staying perfectly dry while stuff right next to the empty spot was getting wet. The cat box was getting its own swirling fog settling down onto it. I kid you not, you couldn't have planned the destruction much better. (Shattering a windowpane or two would have been more spectacular, certainly, but luckily we didn't go there.)

The repairman got the water turned off using the hot water shutoff valve he'd just installed. I did mention my gratitude for small favors, didn't I?

Yes, you read that right, by the way. Hot water valve. It was the hot water pipe that had failed. Which made it suddenly not the least funny, until we determined that, thanks to him turning off the water heater when he arrived and my husband using a fair amount of hot water in the meantime, the water coming out of the pipe was only very, very warm and not hot enough to do damage. (We achieved this partially by accident. If you attempt a similar project, you might want to put something like this into the plan. Just a thought.)

At this point I laughed again, this time at the water all over the floor, and at the dry empty spots on the shelves, and at the idea that we'd been very, very lucky, all things considered. And also because, quite frankly, it was without question one of the most ludicrous situations I'd been in the middle of for a very long time.

I don't own a mop, by the way. This is a house long on carpets (why anybody would put carpet in a kitchen or bathroom is beyond me, or in a dining room, for that matter). The flooded room happened to be the only plain hardwood floor in the house, and was mop-able, but no mop. So I ran for my husband, who had been sick in bed most of the day, and told him what had happened and said we could probably use his help deciding what to try to save first (is triage the word I want?) if he felt up to it, and then I grabbed towels and set to work while the repairman trotted outside and elsewhere to get a mop and mop bucket. Actually two mops. It seemed a two mop job. At least.

In the end, we were very, very lucky. When we'd half-emptied the room to make way for the plumber, we'd done ourselves a favor because there wasn't a whole lot left to move, and much of it was junk or barely better than that. And somehow the stuff that would have been ruined by a thorough drenching managed to get less wet than all that. And because of the shut-off valve, the deluge got stopped before we had a major flood. The floor was wet and then some, with standing water, but it was, what?, a quarter inch?, at a wild guess. (I didn't stop to measure.) Mop-able in short order, if you didn't dawdle, at any rate.

The repairman was a bit surprised by my laughing it off. I assured him it was because the situation was so incredibly ridiculous, nothing more, nothing less, "And besides, what else can we do? Really?" I asked. He didn't have an answer to that. I guess he's not used to people who don't really care about little things like a flood in a utility room/mud room/storage room. (We've lived here a year and a half, and we still haven't settled on what to call that room. Not that it matters.) After what we've been through in the last several years, a flood in the mud room hardly registers. Trust me. You get a bit better at recognizing trivia for what it is after your family battles nerve disease and drastic pain and other such challenges for a while.

When my husband got there (in surprisingly short order, actually), the repairman pointed to me, and exclaimed, 'She's laughing! The place is flooded, and it's the happiest she's been all day!'

Well, no. There's a difference between appreciating the ridiculous and/or being to laugh at oneself or at adversity -- and being happy about what's just happened. A big difference.

He shook his head at us, or rather at the spectacle of two folks just setting to work cheerfully enough, after pipes have burst, swapping silly quips that popped to mind.

He got my husband's attention again, 'Do you know what she said? "Oh, that don't sound good." Water's going everywhere, and she says, "Oh, that don't sound good."' He drew it out, and then repeated it a few times. "Oh, that don't sound good. Oh, that don't sound good." Not mocking, exactly; not quite incredulous, but somewhat amazed, I think. He probably would have sworn in a court of law that what I'd said was "Oh, that don't sound good." Never mind that I'd never say "that don't sound good" or anything like it, except for comic effect. File that away for the next time you hear eyewitness testimony, by the way. Often enough, someone will remember things in his own style instead of what really happened. Try something along those lines as a parlor game sometime, if you don't believe me.

Since my saying "Oh, that doesn't sound good" was, without question, ridiculous, and since the repairman seemed to have discovered the fine and too-neglected art of appreciating the ridiculous, we let it go. (Especially since it was better than what I've heard previous repairmen say when a job went wrong.)

We mopped, we set up fans, we lived with a dining room overflowing with evacuated wet stuff for a couple of days. But everything is more or less back where it was, except for the few things we found that we thought we'd lost in the last move, which are now where they should be.

Admittedly, if years ago I'd been subjected to the same mini-disaster, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have handled it this well. Age and experience and the gifts of grace all help keep experiences like this in perspective, and give a person strength, too. Thank goodness. And thank God.

Now we've moved on to the adventure of dealing with an very old, worn wood floor that has recently had a hot bath. Mostly it's plain, aged wood, but for variety it still has a bit of finish here and there. After the flood, it got dried soon enough to prevent warping or other obvious physical damage, but it seems a bit bleached or something...

The landlord has offered to put down linoleum. So we have that option if I totally mess up the clean-up. I could live with linoleum. It would be easier to keep clean, at any rate. But, just now, it's not my first choice.

It's too late to warn me not to use any oil on a floor you hope to refinish someday, by the way. That horse left the barn months and years ago with this floor, and I've compounded the problem quite recently, ahem.

My husband has floated the idea of painting the floor. (With oil-based paint, since water-based paint probably couldn't cope with the oil on the floor.) That could be fun, especially if a person got it into her head to not just do a Plain Jane job of it... I'm miserable with stencils, but I could probably still come up with designs of some sort... :) Ooh, that could definitely be fun...

OK, I don't know about you but I think it's high time I did an inventory of all the water shut-off valves I can find in this building. In writing. For memorization, and perhaps for posting somewhere, just in case we ever burst another pipe, or otherwise have an unwanted, unwelcome fountain in a room not set up for one.

Seriously, do you know where your water valves are?


Giacomo said...

Great post, great ... well, maybe not so much ... story.

I made a similar error with my kitchen sink about 2 years ago and ended up with a hot water geyser until I was able to brave the scalding H2O to get to the shut off valve.

Now? I don't do plumbing.

Kathryn Judson said...

Giacomo, Thanks for writing.

After this incident, my landlord gave me strict instructions that should I ever approach a hot water geyser to reach a shut-off valve, I should put on a jacket and gloves first. It sounds like a reasonable precaution to me.