Thursday, May 15, 2014

A tale of two faucets

Yesterday, I told what happens when a pipe breaks. But a far more common problem is that sediment breaks loose in the pipes. Think about it, these cabins are older than I am—and that's pretty old, right!—and the water has been turned on and off every year. The violence of air being blown through them can't be doing any good. So, stuff breaks loose and it needs somewhere to go. We always remove the aerators from the faucets before we flush the lines and a lot of junk comes gushing out.

But, occasionally, the debris is too big to fit through the supply lines...

When that happens, the fun—and mess—begins. This year, I had two faucets that gave me only a trickle. One was the hot water in a shower; I thought about letting it go and making everybody take a cold shower! NOT! The other was the cold water at a kitchen sink. Hey, let them use the hot water for everything! OK, not practical either.

So, you start by turning off the water or you get a huge mess—don't ask! Then, you take apart the faucet and look for debris in the valve. If there isn't any, you put a towel and bucket over the valve hole—it's just a wide open line for the water to rush (we hope!) through. Then you turn the water back on. The theory is that that without the valve, the water pressure will push all the debris out of the line. If that works, you have a clean line—and a big mess of junk to clean up. Hence, the towel and bucket to control the flood.

If that doesn't work, you start taking apart pipes until you find the always hope that the flexible supply line is the problem because a) it's the closest and b) it's easy to replace if you can't clear it.

First I attempted to clear the kitchen faucet. Unfortunately, there wasn't a water shutoff valve under the kitchen sink. In fact, I had two options: I could climb underneath the cabin next door—Spruce, the claustrophobic one!, or I could turn off the main water to the cabins at the house. I chose the house—wouldn't you? But that meant I couldn't monitor the water flow; I had to guess how long to keep it on.

Being the type who doesn't enjoy cleaning up large masses of water, I chose to start with a 5 second burst. Nothing! The towel was barely wet. Back to the house. A 10 second burst. Not much better. OK, let's get daring...45 seconds. Still not much of a flow of water. The dish tub under the sink had about an inch and the sink about 1/2 inch. Sigh...

Let's take apart the supply line...There it was, a large piece of rusty metal, can I get it out? Grab the needle-nosed pliers, shake that line to get the piece as close to the large hole as possible. Grunt, squirm, wiggle my nose, generally make it think I know what I'm doing...there. Got it! Now, put everything back together again, making sure the connections are tight. Turn the faucet off! Now turn the water back on...test the faucet. Good water flow. Any leaks? Nope. Good. Now clean up the mess and on to the next one...

The hot water was in a shower—that means the water will probably hit the far wall, but at least it won't spew on the walls of the bathroom like a tub would. Remember, its coming from the faucet, not the spout. I turned the water off—why don't any of these problem faucets have accessible shut off valves? I had two choices: Climb through a narrow crawlspace access into an alcove like crawlspace that allowed me to access the shutoff valve through some mud, or turn it off at the house. Yep, the house won again.

I took the faucet apart—the knob was corroded and stuck to the valve. A good bit of hammering and pulling with a large 18" ChannelLocks™ helped to eventually get it off. The valve itself was all brass, at least these older fittings aren't junk that corrodes and breaks the first time you apply a little pressure. But they sure are tight! It finally came out—and so did some very dirty water. That faucet was jammed with junk! I made the mistake of turning it so that the stuff would fall down before I put a towel under it...yuk! It took about 5 minutes of cleaning and blowing and cleaning before it was finally clean. Now, just put it back together and tighten everything up...not too tight or I'll break something and have a bigger mess. Clean up the shower floor—and my boots!—before I track it all over the cabin. Turn the water back on. Success!

Wasn't that fun!? It wasn't even too bad. I just had to replace two other supply lines because the compression washers were disintegrated, and one shutoff valve. Oh, and that toilet water closet...that's a story by itself for another time...

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