Sunday, January 10, 2010

Purple Fingertips and Running Water

Texas has been unusually cold the past few days. Very unusually cold. Usually, we MAY get one or two days where the temp drops below freezing each winter, well we've now had over a week of temperatures below freezing including several days in a row where the temp never got ABOVE freezing. This is NOT something that we're used to. To begin with all the hose pipes that we use to water our critters froze solid and didn't even thaw out enough during the afternoon to let us fill up the water trough and buckets, so Foxfire and I would have to haul buckets full of water from the master bathroom out to the water trough and watering buckets. It certainly gave me a new appreciation of how people lived before electric pump houses and water on demand from a tap.

Okay, so we'd sort of gotten used to hauling water outside. We didn't like it, but we'd adjusted to doing it. But this morning we discovered that that was no longer an option. The pipes in our pump house had frozen and cracked and once things thawed out a bit, we had water running out of our pump house into our tank. Not the ideal way to fill your tank. And, of course, things finished thawing and cracking wide open right after I'd gotten into the shower and completely wetted down my hair prior to shampooing it. Fortunately, I hadn't actually put any shampoo in yet. I felt the water pressure suddenly drop then taper off to nothing and yelled for Foxfire to check and see what was wrong. He came back in yelling that there was water pouring out of our pump house. He ran out to try and turn the water off. I dried off somewhat, threw on some clothes and a hat (since my hair was wet and I didn't want it to freeze to my head) and went out to help him. Foxfire, not having grown up with a pump house, didn't know that you had to flip the breaker switches to turn the pump off and was frantically turning various faucet heads to try and stop the water. I reached over and, somewhat nervously, since I was standing in water, flipped the breakers. The pump shut down and finally the water stopped coming out.

We looked at the remains of our pipes. One elbow joint was completely broken into two pieces and a length of pipe next to it was badly cracked. We were both a bit stunned and tried to decide what to do. Obviously we could call a plumber and pay a lot of money and he would fix it. It would be very expensive and we didn't know how long it would take a plumber to get to us. I thought, looking at the pipes and thinking about SH who has talked about fixing his own broken pipes before, that maybe it was a simple enough repair that I could do it myself. Unfortunately, Foxfire could not stay and help because he had to go to the memorial service for the very close friend of his that had passed on a few days ago. Fortunately, he had showered before me and somehow the pipes had held together long enough for him to get clean. Apparently, the fates knew that he had to attend the service and arranged that he could make it. I suppose it wasn't as important to the universe at large that I attend. And I admit that I wasn't as close to this person, but I had wanted to be there for Foxfire. Ah well...

So... anyway, I called SH and asked about fixing broken pipes. He asked if they were metal or PVC and sounded relieved when I said PVC. He told me that PVC was easy to fix and gave me detailed instructions on what I needed to do. I thanked him for his advice and went to work. First I used a little hacksaw to cut off the broken pieces, then I brought the broken pieces to Home Depot to make sure I got the right sizes. I bought the stuff I needed and then went home. Unfortunately, the very first thing I tried to do didn't quite work. One of the pieces that needed to be replaced was actually screwed into a metal pipe and there was a specific PVC adapter piece that screwed in on one side and attached to the PVC on the other side. Well, the piece I had wouldn't screw in properly. I thought maybe there are different types of screw threads and I bought one with the wrong type of threads. So I went back to Home Depot. No, there are NOT different types of screw threads, they are all the same. Okay, maybe I simply had a defective piece. Since that particular piece was only about $0.35, I bought two more (just in case there was another defective one) and went back home. Well, guess what... neither of these pieces worked any better. I thought maybe something was gunking up the the threads in the metal pipe, so I used my fingers and a paper towel to clean it out as best I could. I also screwed the broken piece back in and out a few times to make sure nothing was blocking the threads. But, nope, the replacement piece still wouldn't screw in properly. Finally I just wrapped a major amount of silicone tape (the stuff you use to make sure stuff that screws together doesn't leak) around the screw threads and forced it in there. It was sort of crooked, but it seemed like it would work.

I then proceeded to prime, cement and connect the various replacement pipe bits. I got it all together, waited a few minutes while I sort of cleaned up and put away the various tools that I used, then turned the pump back on. The good news is that the pieces that I'd fixed didn't leak. The bad news is that a piece next to the pieces that I had fixed apparently had a hairline crack along its bottom for almost its entire length. I turned the water back off. Looked at what I would have to do to fix that section, sighed a big sigh, cut off the elbow joint that I had just fixed and the entire length of the cracked pipe with the elbow joint at the other end, and went back to Home Depot... again. I brought the cracked piece with me for reference, and the nice man working the plumbing section cut a piece of PVC the exact length that I would need. I'd asked if he would cut it for two reasons. One, it would make it easier to fit in the van, and two, even with the handy dandy PVC cutting tool that the nice man had recommended I buy the first time I went in(much faster than using a hacksaw, especially in confined spaces, and it leaves a cleaner edge), cutting PVC is hard, and it hurt my hand to have to exert so much pressure. I also grabbed a couple of more elbow joints and went home, hoping that this would be my last visit to Home Depot for the day.

I primed, cemented and connected the PVC much faster this time, having by now gotten the hang of it. I waited a bit for things to dry and seal and crossing my fingers and my toes, turned the pump back on. I watched... closely ... to see if any water leaked out anywhere. It was sort of hard to be absolutely sure since the area was soaked and new water wouldn't be immediately obvious, but as far as I could tell nothing was leaking. I kept watching... just to be sure. After a few minutes, I finally relaxed and decided that I had done it right and everything was holding together. I put the new insulation that I bought around the pipes that I fixed, and went inside and turned on the kitchen faucet. Yay!!! Water on demand!!! My fingertips were purple from the PVC primer, but I had running water.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget to put some pipe insulator on it too, if you haven't already. It might not prevent it from future breaks if we have many days of cold weather, but it should help some. Also, if you have power in the wellhouse (which you should for the pump), you might consider plugging in a small electric space heater to keep things above 32 degrees in there! But CONGRADS for fixing it yourself! Isn't it great to know that you don't always have to rely on an "expert plumber" to fix stuff around your own house? :)