Do It Yourself
Posted on March 20, 2016
I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy. And sometimes that gets me into trouble. Like this week, when I cut open 3 of main water lines and realized I'm not a plumber.
We had kept noticing the carpet in the corner of our house getting wet and the wall along with it, but we weren't sure what the issue was. My first guess wasn't even a plumbing issue. Whatever it was, it was time to get it fixed.
I didn't want cut that much drywall out by hand, so I bought a reciprocating saw. I really had needed one for some other projects before anyway. So I figured now was as good a time as any. I cut the drywall out and found all my main plumbing lines behind that wall. I had put a couple marks on the copper with the saw, but luckily not broken it.
The space between the copper pipes was so small that I couldn't use a standard pipe cutter. I thought about buying a tight space pipe cutter, but there wasn't even room for that. So someone recommended a rotary cutter tool. So I invested more money in the project. I bought all the copper pipe and fittings I would need as well.
The rotary cutter did the trick but left a very messy cut. I cleaned it up the best I could and discovered that my fittings wouldn't... well... fit. I took the part I had cut off to a plumbing supply store in Durant. They told me it looked like my pipes had frozen and swollen. Now regular fittings might not... fit. They recommended cutting it lower to see if it was less swollen further down. I knew the cuts I had made were too messy to sweat anyway. So now I bought the tight space cutters. More money invested in the project. Most of the day gone. I am now starting to freak out. We haven't had water all day. Our family van is in the shop. So my wife and kids are stuck at home. It's getting to be too late to call a plumber. We might not have water well into the next day.
The day before, the Foundation Repair guy
at the Chamber of Commerce's Coffee Network had talked about the importance of hiring professionals to get foundation jobs done right, and now I was really starting to think that I should have done the same for this. Could it really have cost much more than what I was spending now?
I cut the pipes and sure enough, the fittings fit, just barely. So I proceeded to apply flux and solder the fittings. A couple of issues: It was such a tight space I had to force it together all at once, which was nearly impossible. I had a feeling, from my little plumbing experience, that this would not be ideal for soldering. Also, water further down in the pipes decided it wanted to come steaming and bubbling out. Most of my fittings seemed to solder quite well, but one gave me lots of trouble. I kept heating it up and try-try-trying. I heated it so much that some of the other existing fittings that had been fine before, started to lose their solder. So I soldered over them the best I could again as well.
If at this point, you think I'm an idiot. Just remember, I grew up watching Tim the Tool Man Taylor, but didn't pick up a tool (basically) 'til I was a home owner. So... Maybe!
We finally tested the water. Praying while I went, I turned the water on. And my wife ran out of my house to tell me water was spraying out. I give up! Well, not quite. Torch. Solder. More torch. Fire on the wall. Fire extinguisher. Repeat.
What if I had cut the pipes too low? Well... I probably hadn't yet, but what if I cut it too low now in an effort to get off the fittings I had just put on - it was too tight of a puzzle to pull them off hot. Now I was going to have to cut a third larger pipe that I hadn't needed to before I messed up its fittings. What if it was too swollen to get a fitting on? This is the best way to spend your day off.
I decided against any further work with torch and solder. These would be my last cuts. I'd never worked with PEX before, but I could use push fittings instead of having to buy crimp tools or solder transitions. I drew out a plan that would give me more room to work with as well. Then I headed back to Lowe's for what must have been the fifth time that day. Don't forget the cost of gas - at least that's down.
At Lowe's, I was not feeling confident. I was no longer sure I could pull this off. So I finally did what I should have done a long time ago. I called a plumber in Durant
. Chase, from Wilkey plumbing answered. I explained my situation and asked him for an estimate. His first guess was about the price of my first trip to Lowe's. I'm going to be pessimistic and say it would have cost three times as much - probably not... I'm not trying to call him a liar. But if it had, I would have saved money, got it done a week earlier, and not spent all my day off stressing over copper. Once again, to be fair to myself, before the first trip to Lowe's I didn't even know it was a plumbing issue and his quote was affected by the fact that I had done half the work. The easy part of course: tearing things up.
I wasn't quite ready to give it up to the professionals yet. I bought PEX. I bought push fittings. I bought another new tool to cut the PEX - I may not have needed that... I'm new to this. I went back and got to work once again. I went back to Lowe's and bought the fittings that I had forgotten about. I got BACK to work again.
Finally, it was time to test it. NO LEAKS! I had fixed my leak.
I spent the next hour or two cleaning up my tools and mess and cutting a fresh piece of drywall to put in place. I had spent around 9 hours for what would take a plumber 1 or 2.
So here's the thing: If you're like me, you're never going to call me for your computer issues. And that's OK. But if you're THINKING about being like me. Learn from me. You can fix your computer! But it might take you all week and cost you a lot more in lost time, tools, and damage.