Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why I Don't Want To Be a Plumber

Plumbers are awesome. I highly respect their abilities and I'm glad I know a couple who will come at a moments notice and make everything alright. However whenever I go to do a plumbing project myself, my poor skills and the problems that I always run into make me glad I chose a different profession. See above.

I opened up the floor beneath the old shower which by the way had been leaking down the backside of it for awhile by the looks of things. All it needed was some plumbers putty behind the trim ring for the valve handle and it wouldn't have leaked at all. The floor was rotted out a bit but since I had to remove it to get at the plumbing no harm no foul. I need to move the two copper pipes two feet to the left for the new and larger shower. I also have to move the drain pipe over about 15 inches but that is for another day. 

Because their isn't any shutoff valves for any of the bathroom showers, I have to turn off the entire house water supply to work on it. So to fix that problem, I wanted to put some ball shutoff valves somewhere between the water supply and the three bathrooms that are essentially stacked in a cluster together. While looking for a good spot for the shutoff valves, I noticed what you see above, a badly corroded junction that had evidently started leaking recently judging from the dark spot on the concrete below. I have half inch copper fittings and pipe but no three quarter stuff so off to the store I went.

The entire drive I was mulling over what kind of fittings and such I needed to fix that spot but when I went to the supply store, I saw the fellow up above. It was exactly what I needed. I bought a stick of three quarter copper pipe and another stick of half inch copper pipe for a later project, some splice fittings and headed home. I shut off the entire house water supply and cut out the bad spot. That went okay but it took forever to drain the entire system. Since this spot was one of the lower spots in all the plumbing of the house, I had to wait awhile. Note this was a hot water line which will come in play later in my tale.

So while I was soldering up my joints, a chunk of molten solder fell onto that oh so sensitive area of skin right near the finger nail causing me to drop the torch into my catch bucket full of water that I had just drained from the pipes. I quickly pulled the torch out and shut it off and then swore a few silent words at my hurting finger. I located a pair of leather gloves, something I should have started off with, and tried to relight the torch but it wouldn't fire up. I tried blowing out all the orifices with the air compressor but at best, all I got was a feeble blue flame. Thinking I could evaporate the water out I left it lit for about five minutes but whenever I tried turning up the heat it would snuff out. So, I made another trip to the store to get a new nozzle and another tank since that one was on the low side anyway. With gloved hands, I finished up the repair to the hot water side.

As you can see, my repair job looks  terrible but it doesn't leak. Part of the reason it looks so terrible is because there is a heating duck just out of sight at the top of the picture so there wasn't a lot of room to get two hands up there trying to heat things up enough to melt solder and not melt my finger tips. The biggest part of why it looks terrible is because I'm not a plumber and this is only my second attempt at soldering since I owned this house. My other house was all pvc which I can deal with quite well. I must say however that I prefer copper because it doesn't crack when old and you are working on it and finding the necessary fittings and pieces are pretty straight forward compared to pvc.

So after way more time fixing the leaking pipe, I finally turned my attention to putting in the shutoff valves in the ceiling above the downstairs shower where I can easily remove a ceiling tile and access them. I cut the pipes and let them drain out. The hot line took seconds but the cold continued to dribble and dribble and dribble. After ten minutes, I suspected something wasn't right and went to the entire house shutoff valve and discovered that it hadn't shut off all the way. So I corrected that problem and fluxed the pipes and valves and started soldering again, this time with gloves. I got the first three joints with no problems but the last joint just wouldn't take solder. The solder would just break up in chunks and fall off. I took the pipe out, recleaned, refluxed and put it back together but still the solder wouldn't leach into the joint. I tried again and still no luck. So I hit the internet which wasn't very useful. I found that it could be because the joint wasn't hot enough, too hot or because there was water in the line. So I let it cool down, stuck a chunk of bread up the line to dry up the water and tried again. This time I was successful so I still can't tell you what I was doing wrong.

So five hours into a 30 minute job, I finally have two shutoff valves. Tomorrow I hope to use those shutoff valves so I can move the copper piping in the first photo and still have water to the rest of the house, just in case it take me longer than I anticipate!


warren said...

Ever use SharkBites? They are a little expensive but makes a long and crappy job done fast. I have soldered joints and used sharkbites and they are both still holding just fine. They are rated for behind-the-wall use too...just a thought

Ron said...

Wow... it's a good thing you found and replaced that corroded pipe before it burst on you...

At some point on our older house, I grew to hate soldering. There were some joints that were textbook... easy peasy... but others presented all sorts of difficulty due to location, water in the line, torch problems, etc. Eventually I'd get the joints done, but the process did not leave me with a lot of confidence in them.

Ed said...

Warren - I haven't used them mostly because of the price. I can get a hole bag of fittings for the price of one of those. I'm also leery about using that kind of stuff in enclosed spaces, even if they are rated for that kind of stuff.

Ron - That though crossed my mind when I saw it. It certainly would have done a lot of damage. Even though I'm like you and have the occasional problem with solder joints, once I complete it and it doesn't leak (and I've never had one leak), I'm fairly confident that I will never have to touch that joint again. PVC on the other hand, doesn't give me that confidence. You do have me leaning towards PEX when I build my dream home.

Lovella Cushman said...

This is inspirational. We own an old property and have spent a lot of dollars on renovating it. I keep trying to persuade my husband to have a go at plumbing (plumbers in Saskatoon are expensive) but he just says he won’t dare work with old copper pipework. I’m going to show him this blog and maybe it will finally change his mind. Thank you!

Lovella Cushman @ Perfection Plumbing