Troubled Water

When I bought my first house in December, I had big plans. I was going to transform this 76-year-old pile of potential into a thing of beauty. I would replace the roof, which was on its last legs and made of some kind of material that baffled everyone who saw it. I would paint the kitchen so that it stopped making me imagine Miss Piggy trying to overdose on Pepto-Bismol. I would turn the backyard murder shed into a charming studio, where I would write blog posts on a vintage typewriter while drinking steaming cups of coffee from quirky homemade mugs. I had dreams.

I have the hardest time with this thing's wifi connection.

I have the hardest time with this thing’s wifi connection.

Dreams, like everything, die, and soon reality reared its ugly head. It turns out owning a house is less about extreme makeovers and more about spending all your time and money at the hardware store just to keep the building warm and vaguely house-shaped. All that spending is cutting into my roof budget. The kitchen remains shockingly pink and lacy. The murder shed had to be torn down due to all the wasps and mummy cats it was secretly housing. My weekends are spent researching moderately priced lawn mowers and why there are so many dead cockroaches in my basement.

"It's not because of ghosts, Stephanie."- The Internet

“It’s not because of ghosts, Stephanie.”- The Internet

Early Monday morning, I stumbled blearily into the bathroom and sat down to… think. As I was sitting there, thinking, I noticed that the edge of the bathmat closest to the sink was soaking wet. My roommate is a notorious spiller-of-liquids and dropper-of-things, so I rolled my eyes and started mentally designing the combination Velcro/towel suit I’d like her to wear for the rest of her life.

I stood up to wash my hands, as one should after thinking, and that’s when it happened–white, foaming liquid began gushing under the sink cabinet’s doors, soaking the bathmat and spreading slowly towards my feet. I screamed and wrenched open the cabinet.

Diagnosing the Problem

1. The liquid was clearly emanating from the sink, so I deduced that it was water. Since it was very early in the morning and I am not smart, it took me much longer to realize that it was foaming because of my hand soap and not because of some evil sewer chemical.

2. The water was coming from a joint in a U-shaped pipe. That’s not accurate, actually. The water was coming from a giant gap between two pieces of pipe where there should have been a joint.

3. Based on these observations, it became clear to me that I was dealing with a plumbing issue. I have not had good experiences with plumbing issues, so I panicked and searched my phone for my landlord’s number before remembering that I am the landlord.

I mopped up the water, stuck a bucket under the leak and put a sign on the faucet threatening anyone who used it with the curse of Mummy Cat. Then I went to work, hoping that the problem would be solved by the time I got home, either via the power of positive thinking, a surprise visit from my dad, or sink elves. I’m not an optimist, my dad lives 200 miles away and sink elves do not exist (happily–they’d probably be horrifying) so it was still broken when I got home. As usual, I turned to the internet in my hour of need.

"Seriously, Stephanie. There's no such thing as sink elves." -The Internet

“Seriously, Stephanie. There’s no such thing as sink elves.” -The Internet

Researching the Problem

1. eHow revealed a number of articles on fixing leaky sinks. I skimmed through them and then got distracted by a how-to on training your cat to wash dishes.

2. Thanks to “This Old House” magazine, I learned that the broken part was called the P-trap because of its shape, so I giggled about that for a while.

3. I watched three or four YouTube videos about readjusting my leaky P-trap (See? That’s funny.), practicing the tightening motion on a bottle of Coke.

4. I called my dad and threw around just enough plumbing lingo to reveal I had no idea what I was doing. He listened to me giggle about leaky P-traps for a while and then told me to go to the hardware store for a new one.

Armed with new pipes, knowledge bombs and an attitude, I hunkered down in front of the sink and got to it. Winston Purrchill supervised/stuck his head in the toilet. I hit my head twice, broke in some new curse words and ripped my pants trying to pull them over my butt crack because plumbing in real life is exactly like it is in the movies.

Solving the Problem

1. First I dismantled the entire P-trap like YouTube told me, thinking, “I’m literate. I know what a P looks like.” Once I’d done that, however, I couldn’t remember which direction the P was supposed to be facing. I tried a few variations before figuring it out.

2. My new pipes didn’t connect to the still-functioning old pipes that I hadn’t bought replacement parts for. “Maybe I can just sort of loosely hang this section on this other one?” I thought. Plumbing tip: don’t do that. I ran the faucet to test it and the whole thing erupted in tiny geysers.

Some tinier than others.

Some tinier than others.

3. My research had led me to believe that one of the rubber washers inside the pipe joints had lost its mojo. Confusingly, my new pipes didn’t come with any washers at all. The whole thing was turning into a disaster, so I dismantled it again.

4. I reassembled the original P-trap, found my problem washer and shoved the connecting pipe into it as hard as I could. I tightened the whole thing, then tightened it again, cursing steadily. I ran the faucet. Besides some light gurgling, nothing happened to the pipes. I ran more water. The joints held up.

I sat back against the toilet, soaking wet and worn out. Winston bit my head soothingly. “We did it, buddy,” I said. “We finally did it. We’re free now.”

And that’s when I heard something drip.

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17 comments

  1. pensitivity101

    Oh boy, been there, done that, but luckily there were 2 of us. Our house is 160 years old, and we thought it only needed a change of decor (Changing rooms 101, BRIGHT colours, and nothing matched, not even the door knobs either side any door). New kitchen, heating, roof repair, floors, plumbing, windows, internal doors (and knobs), it was endless and expensive. We visited the DIY store every day, and when we missed two days in a row, they almost sent out a search party. When we had finished, we offered their PR team to come visit our home to see their merchandise in situ for their marketing advertising. Sadly no takers.

  2. Greg

    Wow, that type writer is a beaut!
    Hope the sink holds. My brother was renovating a house one day and accidentally split open the water mains with a shovel. The water was coming out so fast that he had to get the water board to switch off water for a block for 10 minutes so they could fix it!

  3. skline2014

    I am impressed with your courage! There are things that live in the P-trap that would make your shed shudder. Kudos to your resourceful and patient self. This Stephanie would have turned to water off to the sink below and called the plumber like a cheater. :)

  4. herschelian

    There were times when we were doing up an old (Victorian) house in London where I thought it was akin to digging a big hole in the garden and throwing money into it practically every day.
    HOWEVER, we persisted! we fixed pipes, replaced roof, re-wired, sanded down old wood floors, stripped and re-painted stair spindles, papered or painted what seemed like acres of walls; rebuilt the kitchen etc etc. Cellar flooded, cellar was drained and re- floored, I made curtains, we carpeted stairs etc etc.
    I re-planted the garden and nurtured it between work assignments; when my son was old enough for hard labour, he re-laid the terraces with stock bricks.. Time passed…24 years to my surprise! The kids left home permenantly, the house was too big, my husband took a job in China – then to our amazement we sold our house for a fortune. Money in the bank, a secure old-age. All the grief at the beginning was worth it, and kind of interesting at the time. Crash on Listful, all will be well in the end! You are at the beginning of a funny, irritating, fascinating, exhausting journey – and at the end you won’t regret a single moment ( well maybe when the cellar floods with backed-up sewage. but apart from that..) I wish you well in your home

  5. Miriam Joy

    You clearly have mad plumbing skills. An alternative career option?
    In all truth, hope you get things sorted and don’t end up flooding everywhere again. Though I did laugh pretty hard at this post, because as usual you manage to phrase things in a way that cracks me up.

  6. Susannah Ailene Martin

    I feel your pain. I generally attempt to not do any sort of maintenance work. I once changed the oil in my mom’s truck, filter and all. And then, she totaled it not a week later. I can’t even imagine what would happen if I tried to fix plumbing.

  7. Lorna's Voice

    I admire you for taking this on yourself. Your leaky P valve (it is funny) is the reason (among others) that I left my big old house when my husband left me and bought a fairly new condo. The fact that a tall, dark, handsome, handyman showed up and we’re now living together was just a real nice bonus!

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