Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Joe The Plumber Takes A Leak

Underneath our house, we've had a length of copper pipe eating at itself from electrolysis. The pipe buried underground coming from the well house is iron and is connected to the copper house-plumbing inside the foundation about two feet under the soil. This makes what amounts to a very weak battery and the result is that the copper pipe gives up electrons over time and springs a leak.

Well, alot of leaks.

Being a rather big fella, I hate doing work under houses. I don't fit well crawling under heating ducting and over waste pipes bound for the septic tank. So I don't like being down there and will exercise "male avoidance" strategies to keep myself above the level of the floor. I'll tell myself all manner of things to justify listening to a small and annoying stream of water hitting the floor insulation as each leak becomes audible from the room above.

"It's summertime. It'll dry..."

"I'll go under when I can hear two leaks..."

"OK three leaks..."

(I made the crawl twice, toting along some "quick fix" clamps, cursing the rotting pipe while slapping on what I knew were just band-aids over the inevitable. I would need to chop out the rotten pipe length and replace it with new pipe, and eventually replace the iron water pipe (buried deep, of course) with a PVC one. )

After listening to a stream of water striking the floor beneath Mum's living room hospital bed for five weeks, and feeling the ground temperature start to plummet, I run out of excuses and shut the power off to the well, turn the valve off to the house, kill the power on the hot water heater, shut its valve, and head under the house, crawling over wet black plastic and some mud, to cut out the rot.

So the first problem with this scenario, is now that the pipe is cut, and I have a mental idea of how long a piece I need to replace it (20 feet) I'm cold and wet and muddy and I can't take a shower. That's alright. I can change clothes and I do. Above ground, I solder two sticks of 3/4 copper to make up the twenty feet, add a coupler on one end to join the existing pipe, and shove this under the house through a foundation vent. Meanwhile, I'm draining the system and hoping to dry it out (dampness causes steam which causes pin hole leaks in a solder joint) so there is nothing to do but avoid heading under the house for a few hours.

I go shoot some hoops.

I leave Mum and her husband and promise to get it all fixed before dark after explaining that I had pre-filled the bathtub and several containers in the kitchen so that we can still flush and brush our teeth.

Several hours later, when there are no more excuses that seem rational, I head under the house with a roll of solder and assorted parts and a plumber's torch, and connect the new pipe with the attached coupler to the pipe coming from the well.

Good so far...

Then I've got to make a horrible, muddy crawl to the other end, which makes me want to be somewhere else.

Being somewhere else is actually easy. Close your eyes.

Imagine you are skiing...

Sunbathing in Bali...

Eating a corndog...

I'm actually pretty good at dealing with where I'm at if I'm somewhere else. "It's a gift", I tell myself.

I hold up the new pipe for length, cut it, and then shuffle around in the mud in the flashlight darkness to get a better position to clean the ends of the pipe and solder it with a new coupling, effectively replacing the rotting section with a bypass of new pipe.

When done, I crawl out of there and get naked again, putting on another set of clothes and go about getting the water back on.

Our well is over two hundred feet deep. The water is tasty and cold coming out of the tap, but when the power goes out (or the power turned off) water will drain from the well pipe and the system will need to be reprimed. I run a hose from the hot water tank out to the well, and then let it flow into the system through a spigot. The water fills the pump and flows into the well pipe, and the pump stops cavitating and begins to draw well water again.

Something was wrong.

Crap! I had emptied the hot water heater without an effective prime and now had no means to prime the pump. The system acted as if there was a break in the pipe, but that couldn't be. I had just connected both ends of the new pipe to the old system.

I know that because I was there.

It was all very odd. Maybe I just never cleared a bubble out of the well pipe? With an air bubble, sometimes there isn't enough draw to get the system flowing again?

That had to be it, because there was no way I was going back under the house to look for a break... I mean, I had just connected the pipes, right?

In times like these, I need a plan B. I arrive at a plan B and begin hooking up all of our garden hoses, 250 feet of them, and run this over to our fence and throw the end over. I make a short piece of hose with two female ends, so that I can join up with our neighbors water hose and use her water to prime our pump.

The trouble is, she isn't home and she has a big black dog that simply doesn't like me.


There is no way I am going in her yard without her home. I mean, I could take in a weapon and beat this dog off of me, but... no... I couldn't do that...

There is nothing to do but flush the toilets with bath water and wait.

(to be continued...)


Jeannie said...

I think this is why we have basements in Canada - so all our plumbing is accessible - as long as you don't finish your basement... I remember crawling under the cottage to drain the plumbing for the winter - it was pretty nasty with spiders and such - not muddy though because we didn't have the leaks.

Cheesy said...

ugh... worst job around crawling under the damned house... so sorry fella!

Is your pump submersable or above ground? I do mine with a water jug... only takes abour 2 gallons....

Anonymous said...

You lost me the first time you used the words "well house".

My amazing intellect tells me there's something wrong with your plumbing, right?

Hope you fix it soon.

Jeannie said...

So, is it fixed yet? Or are you still roughing it?

kario said...

Nothing is ever simple. I hate that.

Here's hoping you get a hot shower soon.

Billy said...

I live on a slab house these days, but in New Orleans all the houses were raised. There are unsafe creatures under there.

Shrinky said...

Ewwwwww, what a nightmare! Good luck hon, rather you than me..