Quick survey - who here has ever set about to do simple household maintenance and had it take as long or less time than planned?
If your luck is like mine, the answer is never. Yesterday was a perfect example of this. Now that the weather is warming up, I decided it was time to tackle some of our plumbing maintenance items, that even if they took longer than expected, it would be OK, since the warm weather would make it so hot water was not an absolute necessity. My list of items mainly centered around J's bathroom and the water heater. I needed to purge the heater (get rid of the sediment on the bottom of the tank to help extend its life and keep it working well"), auger the tub drain (it has been a very slow drain for a while), clean out the sink pipes, soak the shower head in vinegar to get off the mineral deposits, clean the exhaust fan of its years of dust, hair, and whatever build up. The other goal was to get rid of the awful smell coming from that bathroom, which was yet to be determined exactly what it was and from whence it was coming.
I started with the sink, first trying to remove the drain trap (the u-curve pipe under your sink). Normally there are two rings you unscrew to remove this. However, on this sink, there was not. It seems when the sink was replaced three years ago by an "expert", instead of putting the rings on both ends, he only did it on one and sealed the other end. I was not about to try to remove the other end, since this surely result in a trip to the local hardware store for some new piping. Instead I did the old dissolve any gunk in the drain by using boiling hot water and hoped for the best. This actually worked well.
On to the tub, where the drain plug seemed not to be working correctly, like it had become unattached to the actual part of the drain lever that plugged/unplugged it. I tried the simple solution first, scalding hot water down the drain to dissolve possible clogs. This was a strong possibility because J seems to dissolve a bar of soap a week, and we can't quite figure out how he does this or where the soap is going. While I let the hot water sit, I moved on to the water heater.
First, I tried to turn off the main water source to the heater, since it does no good to try to drain it if more water is still pouring in. I needed a ladder for this, since my heater is approximately 2 feet off the ground, tucked into a little closet area. As I got to the top ladder, to the end of my reach was the turn off valve, which had been spray textured! It seems the builders must of have forgotten to finish this closest before they put the heater in, and sprayed the wall texture on later. If you have ever dealt with an old painted-closed window, you know how difficult it can be to open. Imagine that difficulty x 10. I'm already on my tippy-toes, and now I have to attempt to whack the water handle into its closed position. After some sweating and swearing, I succeed. On to the next part.
On the bottom of most water heaters is a spigot that can be used to drain the heater. In theory, you should be able to connect any hose to this spigot and then put the end of the hose out the window or lead it to a drain. I found a length of hose for this job, attached it, ran it to the window...and found it was 6 inches to short. Argh. I then jerry-rigged the hose to go across our hallway, over a banister, and into J's bathroom, with the hose barely making it to the sink. I clamped the hose in place, a tricky balancing act of not too tight since then it would stop the flow of water and not too loose since then it would fall off, and headed back to the heater. At the heater I started to drain the water, only to hear a "clunk" as the clamp released and the hose fell to the floor. Quickly turning the water off I head back to the sink to reattach the clamp and hose.
Back to the water heater, I turn the spigot on, only to have the water overflow from the connection where the hose meets the spigot. For some reason or another, my hose connector is too big for the spigot.
After grabbing a larger towel than I already had to clean up the mess, I decide to drain it once basin at a time into a large bucket which I will dump as it fills. After I fill this 10 gallon bucket 6 times or so, the tank is drained and I ready to relight the pilot light. I turn my gas back on, dial the knob to pilot, depress the red button which releases gas and hit the ignite switch. Nothing happens. I click the switch again, still nothing. I continue to do this for about 20 minutes. By this time I am frustrated and getting a blister on my pointer finger from holding and click the switch. Thinking perhaps the pilot light area got wet when I emptied the water, I decide to move back to the tub, to finish that job.
The tub, it is not draining still, even after trying to dissolve whatever it is in the drain scalding water. Time to auger it, which means removing the overflow plate to run the piping. I do this, find some resistance, get through the resistance and remove the auger. In theory, the tub should now drain. Only it doesn't. What might help it is running that scalding water again, to flush out the dislodged "whatever" in the drain. Only, the pilot light is out on the water heater, and I don't have hot water with which to flush the tub.
Back I go, click, click, click, no success. I am tired and frustrated. What can I do? I certainly do not want to call a plumber out on a Saturday, can you imagine the expense? Then a light bulb goes off, I'll call my Dad, he has talked me through many a repair in the past. I call, no answer. I wait, I try again, this time Mom answers, Dad is not home, he's visiting their neighbor, his brother. She'll get him to call me back.
In the meantime, while I wait for the phone call, I decide once and for all to remove the excess grout that was dripped onto our tile floors when the house was built. We did not notice it when we moved in, but over the years it has gotten dirty and always looks like there are spots on our tiles, even after a fresh mopping. I get the Dremel tool, with a sanding stone attachment and get to work. Within a minutes time, a fleck of grout ends up in my eye. Realizing that I would like to maintain my current state of vision, I take another trip to the garage for safety glasses, and come back ready to sand. I must say, this was great. I was able to get off all the excess grout without damaging any of the tiles. I was even able to get off the lacquer that was dripped on the tile from when the lacquered our banister.
My father does call back, and I try to explain to him what the problem is. He agrees I'm doing what needs to be done, but now we need to take it a step further. I need to remove the safety plating. I explain that there are wires and tubes and such that I am afraid to just dislodge. Then a great idea hits us - Skype! We'll video conference. I bring my laptop to the computer, he talks me through the removal option, I get the casing removed, I look inside, and ...the pilot is actually already lit. Oops! It seems that the little glass opening that you usually look through is unusually opaque. The pilot was not bright enough to shine through it. Luckily, Dad taught me a trick for times when I think the pilot might be out but I don't want to unscrew the front plating. If I lightly tap the thin tube leading from the pilot dial, it sends debris into the pilot light, which causes it to flare and burn orange instead of blue, which is more visible.
I thank my dear father, who is truly a resource of knowledge that I do not want to ever lose, and go on my merry way. Shower head gets reattached, and water gets run through the tub, on extra hot. Hallelujah, my repairs worked, the tub drain looks like there is a whirl pool going on, the drainage is so good.
These little projects, which I thought would take me at best 2 hours, took me 5 hours. I had to go up and down my stairs (these projects were on the second floor) more times than I want to count, with multiple trips to our garage because the tool bag was lacking in the tools I needed.
Happily, I did get them done and I fell better checking off some items on my list.