2005-01-05

New Puddle in the Basement

The other night, I noticed a new puddle in the basement. It was in the back storeroom with the unfinished floor. So nothing was really hurt by this puddle. But the puddle was just a little different that previous puddles.

Previous puddles had always started against the window and worked towards the entry door. This puddle was in the corner at made it just to the edge of the window area. I vacuumed up the water, except for where there was a shelf in the way.

I looked at the window well - it was dry. Then I got a flashlight and went out in the dark to check the area outside the basement. No sign of water. It was very strange.

Then next night I checked again. The puddle was back, nearly the same size. Once again I wet vacced the puddle up. Then I listened. I thought I heard a slight dripping noise from behind the shelf. I couldn't see anything with the shelf of boxes in the way.

I wasn't in a rush to move the shelf, but I wanted to know where the water was coming from. I though perhaps the ground water level had somehow come up enough to by dripping down the wall. I didn't think the water table could get that high, but I didn't know what else it could be.

So I moved most of the boxes off the shelf. Then I moved the shelf. The dripping noise was a little more obvious. Looking up to the ceiling, the mystery of where the water was coming from became clearer. The pipe leading out to the faucet in the back yard went along the ceiling along this spot.

I got a chair and flashlight. There was a small drip from the copper pipes where the smaller source pipe connected to the larger pipe going out through the wall. I traced back the pipe, hoping I could just shut off the offending pipe. No such luck. That meant I would have to fix it very soon, and I would have to turn off all the water in the house to be able to re-solder the pipe.

I started the project the next morning. First thing I did was fill up the tub in the basement. You see, I would be using fire in a wood framed building, with the water turned off. I wanted to make sure I had a bunch of water just in case. I also brought a bucket of water in my work area. I set up some extra lights. I got the step ladder.

Looking at the placement of the pipe, I realized it would be very difficult to do the work in the small space. The main thing making it so tight where the water was leaking was the fact that the vent from the stove zig-zagged up at this spot, and went out the wall to the side next to the pipe.

So more tools to pull apart the vent. I took out two 90 degree pieces. Then I took out a 7 foot straight. Finally it was open enough to work on the pipe. I was hoping I could get away with a simple fix. I was hoping I could just add some solder to close up the hole.

I wet down the area first, to reduce the risk of fire. I put very wet paper towels before and after the area I was working on, to limit the heating. I kept another paper towel partly wet for wiping down the solder area.

I turned off the house water. I drained the pipe I was working on by turning on the water in the downstairs tub - the lowest water faucet in the house. But to get the water to drain out of the pipe I was working on, I had to open the faucet outside. This was the faucet that I had taken off the knob, so the kids couldn't flood the basement again. So I had to dig the knob out of the junk cabinet. This project was getting more and more complex.

The water drained out of the pipe quickly. I lit the torch and heated up the joint. I added a bunch of solder. Then I cooled off the pipe. I turned the house water back on to fill up the pipe. No gushing water from the joint. I need to check it under pressure. I turn off the house water. I got up and outside and close the faucet. I went back down and turned on the house water. The pipe pressurized. No gushing.

But it is still dripping.

So I turn off the water again. I go back out and open the faucet to drain the pipe. I heat the pipe, and try to separate the pieces. It takes me a while, but I finally figure out a solution. I have to unscrew the faucet from the house. So back up, outside and unscrew the faucet. I go back down and relight the torch. I heat the joint, and this time I am able to separate the pipes easily.

I go back outside and take the faucet and pipe out of the wall. I take it down to where I am working. I spend a lot of time sanding both pipes as clean and smooth as possible. The outside and end of the smaller pipe. The inside and end of the bigger pipe from outside.

Then I coat both pieces well with the cleaning solder flux. It looks a little like school paste. I take the faucet back outside. I push it back through the wall. Then I go back downstairs. I solder the pipes together. I use a little black mark to try to keep the faucet lined up well, so it should point straight down outside.

I cool off the pipe. I try turning the water back on for obvious leaks. No gushing. Water off. Then back outside to close the faucet for a pressure test. I notice that I managed to not get the faucet straight. It is about 15 or 20 degrees offset. That means resoldering it to straighten it out. But if the solder held, I would live with the faucet being a little askew for now.

I go back down and turn on the water. No sign of leaking. I carefully dry the pipe, and leave a piece of tissue on the spot to see if there are any really slow leaks. I start cleaning up from the project. When I check the tissue later, it is completely dry. The last step was to screw the faucet back onto the house. I manage to just get the screws to hold in the existing holes.

Due to air in the water lines, every faucet hisses and pops as it is first used again. I go around trying to get the air out of most of the spots in the house. It is now early afternoon, and we have friends over. I hated to be asocial, but I knew I had to finish the project.

While I am not ready to be a full-time plumber, I'm pretty happy with being able to fix these things. I also felt a little wistful to my father. I know I am very handy because of what he showed me. I also feel more confident because of knowing what he was able to do. I remember that in the first apartment we lived in Manhattan, he did some plumbing. He ran pipes for both a washing machine and for a custom sink for his darkroom. He built a platform for the washer and dryer. This has probably been the most wistful I have been since he died a few weeks ago.

2 comments:

Stef said...

I was wondering how things were going with you.

It's so nice to have the skills to fix things. My 18 year old can literally fix anything, because he's mechanically inclined. I think he inherited it from his dad, and I know his dad didn't show him how to do anything.

I hope things are going well. Feeling wistful about your dad is normal. I still feel that way about my dad, and he died over 5 years ago. We still tell funny stories about him, and that helps a lot. He's never far from my thoughts.

Stephanie, aka Tank's Grrl

blackdaisies said...

I think its nice that you are able to honour your dad's memory with your own life and skills passed on : ) What an epic journey of a dripping pipe made well, wish I were that handy!