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Emergency Plumbing

Every so often, usually after Kalen and I finish a house project, my mom will casually ask, “What’s your next project?” and I’m always hesitant to answer this question. I’m learning that homeownership in general invariably involves a never-ending list of tasks, and even more so with an older home. Some of the tasks are just upkeep, like mowing and power washing and cleaning out gutters, but others are large, involved projects like fence repair, or replacing an old roof, or installing new energy-efficient windows. The list goes on and on.

Usually my hesitancy comes from trying to momentarily ignore the remaining list items and bask in the fleeting bliss of accomplishment on the one thing we’ve done. All home projects fall subject to constraints of time, budget, and motivation which must be carefully balanced. But I also have learned that no matter how we prioritize this list, the NOOT likes to rear its mischievous head and upend our plans. In simpler terms, sometimes the house decides what the next project is, regardless of what we want to work on.

We’ve done some plumbing work on the house and are in the process of replacing a lot of the older pipe with pex tubing. Like everything else about the house, the plumbing is piecemeal and our house has pex, PVC, copper, and old steel pipes that have oxidized to the point of creating tiny rocks within the water lines. To the best of our knowledge there are no more lead pipes in our house, but at this point it wouldn’t surprise me.

I have always had long hair, and I am therefore no stranger to slow drains. Dealing with this recurring problem only barely qualifies as working on plumbing most of the time. Clog remover is convenient, but it’s nasty stuff, a real risk to someone as prone to spills as I am, and it just can’t be good for the environment. We still use it now and then, though, because hair clogs are also nasty.

When our bathroom sink began draining more and more slowly, Kalen and I decided we should do the responsible thing and try to snake it out with one of those little grabby things. Sources tell me it’s called a drain snake. We grabbed one on Saturday while we were walking Pippin around the Blue Store to avoid the 100 degree temperatures outside, and even though I told Kalen I would take care of working on the clog during the week while he was at work (I try to be a good homemaker, sometimes), he went ahead and started it while I was taking care of some other things.

I have a somewhat fraught relationship with this bathroom sink. For one, I really wish our bathroom had a double vanity, or at least a little counter space, but the bathroom is small, and to make the best use of the limited space, it instead has a porcelain pedestal sink. It’s cute. And the basin is really pretty large, so it’s not too bad.

A few years ago, I became unusually motivated and, despite the fact we had no company coming to visit, I cleaned the bathroom. But as I cleaned the faucet it broke off in my hand. If this isn’t the best justification for not cleaning the bathroom, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the faucet matched the hardware in the tub, and I didn’t want to ruin the aesthetic, but the existing design had been altered a bit. After a little searching and time in contact with Delta’s customer support, I got the replacement in the mail. As is the trouble with most sink plumbing repair, all the necessary bits and bobs are nearly impossible to actually access with the appropriate tools. After several hours curled up in an uncomfortable pretzel while dictating a thesaurus of very colorful language and throwing various hand tools across the room in frustration, I did eventually get the faucet replaced.

I must admit, then, that when Kalen was snaking the sink (although, the tool was a “drain weasel” brand, so maybe he was weaseling the sink? No, that just sounds wrong), and I heard a short spattering of water followed by his slightly panicked exclamation of “Get a towel! Get a towel!” I felt relief that it wasn’t me this time.

This house is a mess. Not from the spattering of water; that was pretty easily cleaned. It’s a mess from a fundamental, integral perspective. Friends, the soft plastic weasel made specifically for dislodging hair clogs caught in drains punctured a hole directly through the metal s-bend of the drain pipe.

It was as though the house said, “I know you were planning on having a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but I have another idea.”

So we were back into the realm of trying to access corroded metal hardware in tiny unworkable spaces with clunky hand tools. Oh joy!

In trying to get the punctured segment loose, the other, larger piece of pipe ripped right open. We couldn’t figure out exactly what sort of oxidation or corrosion was happening on the chrome finish, but the pipes clearly had problems that went far beyond the surface.

We removed the broken pieces and gave ourselves a pep talk. It wasn’t the worst emergency plumbing problem. We could still use the toilet just fine, and shower. We could wash our hands and brush our teeth in the kitchen or upstairs if we couldn’t get this fixed immediately. It might be inconvenient, but it was certainly manageable.

But we also recognized that every home project requires at least a couple trips to the hardware store, so rather than burning daylight with fretting, we threw on some shoes and got the first trip to the Blue Store underway.

We spent a couple moments surveying the plumbing repair offerings before I found a kit that depicted a setup exactly like what we had just removed except that the pieces were PVC instead of some deceptively vulnerable metal. Kalen also looked at the tools to see if there was anything that might make reaching into these tight spaces easier on future projects.

As we looked, the section of lights flickered out above us, and I wondered if it was an omen that our project might be cursed. I guess we looked pretty scared and lost because a store employee came over and offered some advice on tools while another shopper, a private plumber based on his shirt and the conviction of his opinions, offered some opposing advice about what tools and parts we needed. We listened to both men and politely thanked them for their help before quietly parsing out the helpful bits of information.

In the end, we left the Blue Store with only the kit that I initially found, and I fought the urge to impersonate Ron Swanson.

I think we may have broken reality, though, because this one $10 kit that we purchased in a single trip to the Blue Store ended up being exactly what we needed, no more and no less. (And as a young woman, the satisfaction of getting the right thing from the hardware store, especially when two men were trying to convince me otherwise, tastes particularly sweet.)

After we tightened the final nut and ran a little water though to test for leaks, Kalen and I quietly backed out of the bathroom.

“I don’t want to jinx anything,” he said, “but that was….”

“Almost too easy, right?” I whispered back. “I didn’t want to say anything but, yeah.”

“Don’t let it hear you say that.”

“Not a chance.”

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