Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Adventures is Plumbing

The Monday before Christmas, the shower in our master bath stopped working.

My wife called me as I was on the way home from the gym. I was taking the week off, and had been looking forward to catching up on my exercise. Ironically, this was the very day that the appraiser visited, which had us quite worried that we would be written up for "non-working appliances" or something that would crater our home value for our refinance. Fortunately, he never actually tested the appliances, but we still had a broken shower.

Our shower has one of those single control handles where the temperature is controlled by how far to the left the handle is twisted. Pretty standard, I think, although I don't know all the technical details. I'm not a plumber.

I attempted to unscrew the hex bolt holding on the handle to expose the mechanism behind it, but the buildup of whatever gunk is in our water system prevented this, and I had to basically rip the handle off. This exposed what is known as, alternately, a "manifold", or "universal rough", depending on whom you ask. It's the device that controls the mixture of hot and cold water (pipes 1 and 2) going to the shower head (pipe 3). Not knowing what else to do (I'm not a plumber), I took a hammer to the bathroom tiles to expose the pipe connections. The master bath is relatively new compared to the house, and the shower piping is copper instead of the galvanized metal we have most everywhere else. Being copper, the pipes had been soldered to the manifold, which means that replacing the manifold would require cutting the pipes to free them from my broken manifold.

Resisting the urge to call an actual plumber, I consulted with the good folks at Lowes on how to attack this problem. They happily sold me a $250 shower set (manifold and pretty new handle and head), an itty bitty pipe cutter to fit inside the itty bitty space I had to work, plus these really nifty connectors that would snap onto my cut pipes and screw (rather than solder) into my manifold. (Yeah, I know, I was skeptical too, but really they work pretty well if you put them on correctly. Which I did. Eventually. After more consultation at Lowes.)

It took many, many hours working my itty bitty pipe cutter back and forth, back and forth, to cut through my copper pipes, but I eventually freed the dead manifold. With little attention to the directions, I then tried to put the new manifold in place. I discovered that, with the snap on connectors, I hadn't taken enough copper pipe off. So more hours of cutting. I connected the new manifold and the connections leaked. Back to Lowes for more instructions, and at least one new connector. I brought it home and set to reconnect. Would you believe that, in my haste, I had grabbed a female instead of a male connector? Lowe's is twenty-five minutes each way!

Eventually, I had the new manifold in place. I still needed to replace the tile, but I wanted to test it to make sure that it worked. I turned on the water source again and lo: the water poured out of the shower! But it wouldn't turn off, no matter which way I twisted the plastic tab to which I assumed my pretty new handle would eventually connect!

I turned off the water source and consulted the directions. Wherein I read words to the effect of "unscrew the flange of the manifold and insert the shower control".

"Open up the manifold . . ."?

The manifold opens?!?

I leaned back and let out a breath. I now had several days and $300 into this project, and I still had to repair the drywall and replace the tiles in the hole in my shower wall that I had made to tear out the manifold. And now, come to find out, that there was in all probability nothing wrong with the manifold I had cut out of the wall, but only with the shower control that went inside the manifold, and all I would have needed to do was unscrew the flange holding the control in place and replace it with a new $30 control?

The blogger formerly known as Bobvis once wrote a post about the difference between disappointment and regret, and how the latter emotion was much more crushing than the former. He was right. Finding out that I would have to spend my Christmas vacation doing plumbing: that was disappointment. Finding out all that work and expenditure was unnecessary: that was regret.

1 comment:

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...

i thought this was going to be scary far-right nut