Plumbing the Depths

We have a can-do friend who has single-handedly kept our house from falling down around our ears all these years. I’ll call him Pete the Magnificent (not his real name).

I emailed Pete the Magnificent last week to say that “Help! the faucet on the laundry tub is leaking!”  He emailed back that, unfortunately,  he’d slipped on a patch of ice a few weeks ago and broke his leg, not just one bone but both tibia and fibula, and so he was out of the picture for the next few months.

But Pete also said fixing the faucet was something I could do myself, and emailed me step-by-step directions, Step 1 being Shut off the water supply to the house; the valve’s on the west wall of the basement.

I’ve watched Pete the M do this at least a dozen times when he comes to replace cartridges, so I knew exactly where to go and what to do.

And it worked, except…I couldn’t quite turn the water off all the way. A thin trickle kept draining from the faucet on the laundry tub. Not a problem, I thought. It probably takes a while to drain the pipes of an entire house.

But then 20 minutes went by and it was still trickling, so I figured the problem was in the operator and her keyboard-atrophied wrists. I tried to close the valve just a bit tighter. The water still trickled. I had a phone consult with P the M, who allayed my fears of breaking the valve, and then I tried to close the valve just a bit more tightly.

And the water kept on trickling.

And then I decided to turn the water back on and call our neighbor’s handyman. Perhaps to punish me for even considering letting someone besides Pete the M work on its pipes, the valve turned and turned and… uh oh. Is the stem supposed to be damp like this?

And then water started spurting from the valve.

So I gave up and called a plumber, and did not update Pete the M or my husband until things were fixed and I could calmly report that now we have a new shut-off lever instead of a round and knobby one that, while probably not original to the home, might not have seen the light of day since Dwight Eisenhower took the oath of office for his first term. And the nice plumber fixed the leaky faucet in the bargain.

Well, “bargain” might not be quite the right word.

I have decided that I did not break the shut-off valve. The valve broke when I was using it, true, but that’s different. It was probably just the valve’s time.

That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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8 Responses to Plumbing the Depths

  1. MaryWitzl says:

    Yay — I’m first!

    We once owned an old Victorian house with — hang on while I try to remember — TEN toilets, SEVENTEEN sinks, and I don’t want to remember how many radiators. I get sick just thinking about it. Until we met Dina, our wonderful Pete-like savior who owned her own crazily-plumbed rambling Victorian house, we pretty much kept the local plumbers in business.

    That valve’s number was up, believe me. We had valves and wiring dating back from Wilson’s time and we almost felt guilty that they weren’t in a museum.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      Thanks, Mary. I was feeling pretty bad about the whole thing, especially after Jim came home late and turned visibly pale about one more expense on top of the washing machine AND furnace. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d arranged to have the ductwork cleaned today as well.


  2. Christina says:

    Wow. I wouldn’t even have attempted to try. I’m impressed at your atempts! Great story.


  3. Susan says:

    Hoo boy, plumbing mishaps are no fun. Glad everything worked out in the end. And I definitely wouldn’t feel bad about it. I agree with Mary; the valve was gonna break no matter who touched it. Too bad it had to be you.


  4. Good job trying! There is a certain type of valve that works better when shutting off the water. I can’t remember what it is – this is just overhearing conversations my hubbie had with plumbers! Glad it got fixed!


    • Anne Bingham says:

      I’m guessing it’s the lever-style valve, Laura, like the one the plumber installed Monday. You pull it down, and presto: no more water! Much, much better than the old round kind.


  5. Z says:

    You didn’t break anything—probably the ancient o-ring inside the stem just crumbled away some time ago, but it didn’t leak because the mineral crud that’s built up in our pipes was keeping it water tight. Once you broke that loose, it was leak time!

    I love plumbing projects. They’re my favorite, because when you do ’em wrong, you don’t get showers of sparks or small gas explosions—nope, the only thing that happens is you get a little wet…



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