Monday, August 30, 2010

Tapping Into My Inner Rage

I decided on Friday evening that I would have to do something about the leaky bath taps in our upstairs bathroom, since the steady drip I had grown to loathe had now turned into a most healthy (and costly ) dribble.

I couldn't remember how the taps came apart even though I could vaguely recall replacing the hot tap mechanism some years ago. The taps in question are decades-old "Delta" type remote faucets, an interesting design that puts the actual internal workings of the taps inside the wall, typically just out of reach of the typical human finger. I was also concerned, for reasons I won't go into now, about mould forming in the walls and so I though I'd remove one wall tile by cutting the wallboard behind it with my Dremel Tool configured as a rotary saw, and e-acquaint myself with the wheres and whyfores of the taps mechanism with a quick eyeballing. I was confident that I would be able to replace this tile-shaped section of wall with reasonable ease.

Since this would be a relatively quick job1 I turned off the water to the whole house using my Stevie-installed nifty ball-valve shut-offs. Then I removed the tap handles, the little square lead adapter blocks that allow one to fit taps handles with splines to faucet stems with a flat key, unscrewed the chromed cylinders that encase the remote faucet internal mechanism, pulled out the remote extender spindles and grabbed the Dremel for some quick and easy wall segment removal.

Naturally the Dremel tool bit was wider than the inter-tile gap and thus couldn't be used.

Nor could I find my large razor saw, my backup tool of choice2 and so I came up with the Other Other Plan, in which I would employ my scroll-saw to do the job.

It turns out that a scroll saw is manifestly unsuited to the job of removing a section of tile-encrusted wall without damaging the tile, and it cracked in two places and chipped in two more before I had the thing in my left hand while I swore into the hole in the wall.

It was then a simple matter to divine the tap-innard removal technique: Re-insert the 3 inch screw that holds the tap handles to the mechanism and pull.

I went out to Arse Hardware and got a "replacement" fitting that looked similar3 for both the hot and cold taps and returned home for the final fitting.

I pushed the new fitting into place but it wouldn't seat. I removed it and compared the length, diameter and outline with the old fitting, and re-fit the old fitting just to check I wasn't going mad. The old one slipped in easily. The new one couldn't be persuaded to seat down no matter how hard or with what I belted it.

I felt around inside the bronze fitting, which was when a little cap of rubber and a small spring fell out. Here was another piece of the puzzle, a spring-loaded seat for the faucet mechanism I was unaware of, but for which I had replacement parts for in the new mechanism's packaging. Bonus!

I carefully assembled the little spring and rubber cap from the new pieces I had, and attempted to fit them into the tiny hole set into the back of the bronze fitting. It turned out to be nigh-impossible to do without some fourth-level Words of Power delivered in a loud, high-pitched shriek of rage. Extinguishing the small fires my language had started in the wall insulation - some sort of asbestos-wool/sheep's hide composite from the look of it that probably dated from around the time plains apes were belting each other round the head with antelope thigh bones in front of a giant oblong monolith - I again attempted to fit the mechanism into the housing, but it would not cooperate.

Realising that Mrs Stevie was about to reappear in theater, I dashed downstairs and attempted to isolate the upstairs plumbing from the rest of the house using two pre-Stevie installed handwheels. If Mrs Stevie came home to no water there would be hell to pay.

The reason I didn't use these handwheels to shut off only the upstairs water is that they are situated in an awkward place and are difficult to activate. The cold one is easily reached by entering the two-foot space between the laundry room and the basement wall and reaching up and around some piping - the handwheel is in an access space in the laundry room wall itself. The hot line is controlled by a handwheel that is situated right over the laundry room wall in that same access space, but due to some bizarre design ethic employed by the original plumber, points directly towards a large iron wastepipe and is thus most difficult to turn in any way, shape or form without a Stillson's pipewrench. Not only that, the pipewrench is needed to cinch down the wheels of both taps because they don't make good seals (and I don't have the room to take them apart and make them work properly) and the pipewrench is quite difficult to maneuver in that tight space. It is all very tiresome.

However, I did get the wheels cinched closed and turned the water back on just as Mrs Stevie came home.

Pausing only to drink twice my weight in orange juice and ginger ale I then removed another section of wall over the hot tap since if I was going to replace the little spring and cap in that tap I would need to be able to get my finger down inside the fitting and I couldn't do that with the wall in the way. This naturally cracked another tile, and the struggle to get the replacement bits in the tiny hole they were "designed" for was, if anything, even more protracted than with the cold tap. Just for giggles I tried to fit the mechanism that would not go into the cold tap fitting into the hot side.

It fit perfectly.

This caused me to waste another 15 minutes attempting to fit the second replacement mechanism into the cold fitting, but to no avail. I pulled it out and carefully catalogued the differences between it and the one that came out earlier that day. There were some, but nothing I could see that would cause the thing to not fit at all.

So I hurtled off in the Steviemobile in an attempt to find a real plumbing supply place that was a) in existence and 2) open at 4:30 pm on a Saturday. In this there were two factors working against me: The almost complete absence of plumbing supply stores in the aftermath of Home Despot and Blowes and what few there were left close typically at 1pm or 2pm on a Saturday (which is part of the reason they are almost all gone of course).

I found Vic's Plumbing Supply and Taxidermy on Sunrise Highway was still in business, but not at 4pm, Vic being of the 2pm school of Saturday closing thought.

So I stopped off at the nearby Blowes and half-heartedly took a look at what they had to offer. And they had an almost identical "drop in replacement" for my fitting, so I bought it and made my way home to the accompaniment of the low-gas light flashing on and off on the Steviemobile's dashboard. "It doesn't get any better than this" I thought.

The fitting did fit, didn't leak and worked as expected when I turned the water back on. The new fitting, however, had a bizarre operational mode. When I turned it on a little, it poured out hot water. When I opened it full, the water delivery rate dropped to about half. I looked at my watch and declared myself finished for the day, blanked off the hole in the wall with plastic taped to the tiles, had a shower and refused to talk to anyone for the rest of the evening.

On Sunday I went back to Blowes and bought another of the "drop in" replacement fittings, returned home and swapped it for the one I put in the day before. It worked, but the tap was working backwards.

This is an annoying feature of the design - you can use the same fitting to install regular capstan-type handles which you crank anti-clockwise to operate, or to install the L-shaped handles that you twist inward (usually) to get water, which involves one faucet opening anti-clockwise and the other opening clockwise. It is all in how you put in the mechanism, which can be installed with the cam on the right or the cam on the left.

I can never remember which way is which and the result of that had been 15 years of weird taps in the upstairs bathroom4 that had to be rotated in opposite directions to get water out of them. I had vowed to correct this lamentable state of affairs with this job and so had to descend two flights of stairs, turn off the water, ascend two flights of stairs, dismantle the faucet, rotate the mechanism 180 degrees, reassemble the faucet, descend two flights of stairs, turn the water on again, ascend two flights of stairs and re-test the whole thing. It worked.

So it was then a "simple" matter of replacing the bits of wall. this was achieved with the aid of some lengths of wood glued across the hole with five minute epoxy to which the tile-bearing wall sections were in turn glued. Once that had set up, I re-grouted and went downstairs for dinner.

Another weekend I'll never get back.

  1. Hah!
  2. It reappeared in theater five minutes after I had finished the job, as expected
  3. but not absolutely identical it turned out
  4. The last time I had done this job the Stevieling was still in a car-seat. We still speak of the time I had driven everyone around trying to get a replacement fitting for the one that had been fired across the bathroom in a spectacular failure during Mrs Stevie's shower. Failing to secure one all morning I had taken them all to lunch. On the way home, driving down Sunrise Highway I saw another Home Despot and pulled into the lot. The Stevieling, who was too young to read at that time, saw the distinctive orange sign, and in a tone of disbelief and disgust thundered "This again?!! I responded in placating tones, saying "Honey, I have to find the part for the faucet". She, with almost prescient perspicacity said "You know they're not gonna have it!", and she was absolutely right. They didn't

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