Monday, December 18, 2006

Plumbing Woes

Plumbing doesn't usually frighten me. I don't like doing it because I'm lazy, but when needs must I'm usually not scared of a few bits of copper pipe and some hot solder. The Time Of Plumbing was upon me on Saturday.

I started out by deciding to make the best of the unseasonally warm weather by buying the sheetrock I would need after project "Make Some New Pipes For The New Sink" was complete and so Mrs Stevie and I decamped for Home Despot and purchased one sheet of 3/8ths of an inch sheetrock (for shimming out the walls to the levels demanded by The Builders1 and three sheets of green-faced "moisture resistant" 1/2 inch sheetrock. We wrestled these onto a trolley and made our way to the truck rental counter for to obtain a suitable conveyance for this 4x8 foot bounty.

Which was when I discovered you need an insurance card to rent a truck and I hadn't got mine. Mrs Stevie didn't have hers either, but volunteered to go home and get one while I waited. For once I hadn't simply left the required document on the coffee table. I had remarked to Mrs Stevie a week earlier that I hadn't got the card and opined that we might have to get duplicates from the insurance company.

I was beginning to wonder if she had stopped at Starbux for a couple of "Latte Trompe De Tete"s when she appeared with the cards which she apparently found still in the envelope from 3 Gize Auto Insurance that had sat under a pile of crap on the coffee table for months. Mystery solved and truck rented. We loaded it up, drove home and transferred the load into the garage after a brief hiatus to rearrange the crap in there and make some room. I returned the truck with help from the Stevieling who felt that such a hazardous undertaking as the driving of an empty flatbed 15 cwt truck required her presence, bought egg sandwiches for everyone and that was the morning gone.

I began the plumbing by erecting a portable vise on the jobsite. Since I had no wish to ply the torch in hazardous enclosed spaces I decided I was going to fabricate the entire run of pipe for each line and install it as a set piece. Slowly I built up the twisty pipe-runs necessary for routing the pipe around the existing fittings and architectural features to the location of the new taps, sorta. I cannot get to the actual required location without routing the pipe though Mrs Stevie's lingerie drawer and Mrs Stevie has refused point-blank to countenance this radical and exiting departure from "standard" plumbing practice.

Anyway, I planned to finish each fitting by sweating on the little taps that allow the water to be shut off under the sink. I had found some nice ball-joint types that require a quarter turn to lock them either on or off. Much better than the old screw type. I did the hot water pipe first, and it was a great triumph. No leaks I could see and everything in the right place. I anchored the pipe to a 2x4 support and got on with the cold water pipe.

This gave me some trouble. First it had to go down to duck under the wastepipe before going up again. You never want to make pipe that makes water under pressure go down, because it makes it harder to drain the system should you need to. Why would you need to? Check back to the beginning of this blog and read the account of the lawn sprinkler deployment fiasco. If a leak were to be found, the only way it would show is when the pipe was full and under pressure, but you can't solder the pipe if it has even a small amount of water in it because the boiling water carries off the heat you need to get the pipe to solder or to unsolder. However, in this case the geometry of the workspace meant the pipe would indeed have to go down, then up again. Oh Well.

I attached everything to the cold water line, and that's when I discovered that I had cut the pipe with the little tap on it about 3/4 of an inch too short. Nothing for it, I would have to unsolder the pipe and make a new one.

The problem with that was that I had decided to add a poor man's anti-thump device to each line. When water is made to travel round many corners at high speed, it can cause the pipes to recoil when the supply is shut off, like when you turn off the shower taps. These pipes had long runs of unsupported piping and the recoil could be noisy and potentially dangerous so when each pipe made the right-angle turn towards the little shut-off tap I used a T-piece instead of a right-angle bend and added a length off vertical pipe that would remain full of air when the pipe filled and act as a shock absorber.

I unsoldered the pipe I wanted from the T-piece, but the heat also caused the T-piece itself to let go from the vertical pipe it was attached to. This was a recepie for leaks if ever I saw one. Then I had to re-heat the joint to get the new pipe section into it (because of all the solder already in the joint) and the T-Piece naturally let go of the vertical pipe again. Gah! Many and strong were the Words of Power uttered that afternoon I can tell you.

It was with great trepidation that I turned on the water supply, but everything seemd okay. I tested the valves in the open and closed position by means of a very long riser-hose and a Home Despot orange bucket. I was just about to dislocate my shoulders with some overdue self back-patting when I spotted two tiny spots of water on the floor. I dried off all the pipes and watched for about five minutes. Sure enough, there was trouble in Eden. The hot water shut-off valve was dribbling a tiny amount of water past the valve even though it was tightly closed and the cold water line had a microscopic leak in the T-Piece, not in the many-times melted joint but in the joint made for the new pipe.

It was late by then so I shut off the water supply to the upstairs took a shower, and retired defeated.

  1. The fabled and ham-fisted Genaro

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