Friday, March 14, 2014

A Lesson in DIY Plumbing

I learned another lesson in do-it-yourself plumbing this week. It cost me $144.

The lesson can be summed up in three words I never seem to master: Don't do it!

Why is it that whenever I tempt fate by trying to fix a plumbing problem I am forever stymied and must resort to Plan B, otherwise known as, call the plumber? Case in point—about a year ago the lift chain in one of our toilet tanks ended its useful life. Seemed like a simple enough repair. After all, we all have those type of metal ball chains, like the ones at the end of nail clippers, but longer, lying around in overstuffed utility drawers. Took me longer to find the replacement chain than it did to install it. Piece of cake. That is, until the replacement died shortly thereafter, much too early in its useful life, if you ask me. I dutifully replaced it with another chain, only to be disappointed again, not to mention inconvenienced by not having a working toilet. 

Rick the Plumber knew right away what I had done wrong. I was using an ordinary chain which rapidly corroded in water. I needed to use a special water-resistant plumber’s chain. Who knew? 

Anyway, back to the current problem. The hot water lever in the master bathroom sink leaked. Last week I googled “how to fix a leaky sink faucet” and was rewarded with several easy to follow instructional Web sites. It would be a simple job. I merely had to remove the cylinder inside the faucet casing, take it to a plumbing supply shop to buy a similar unit, and return home to install it. 

I fathomed they knew what they were describing because their first step said to turn the water off at the shutoff valve under the sink. Seems like a no-brainer, but early in my home-owning career I tried to fix a leaking toilet with a repair kit Gilda bought in a local hardware store. The step-by-step instructions left out the all-important shut-the-water-off step, so it should not surprise you that I uncorked a gusher when I removed the plunger from the toilet valve.  

Water turned off this time, I took the decorative cap off the top of the faucet lever. I removed the exposed screw holding down the casing but could not budge it. As I didn’t want to break the casing, I reassembled the faucet and waited for the plumber to come later that day to install a basement hose hook-up for Gilda’s indoor winter  garden (FYI, she loves the new hose). He assured me the sink repair was an easy one to do, that I just had to more vigorously jiggle off the casing. 

So Monday I amassed the tools as per the Internet. Confident I wouldn’t break the casing I yanked it hard and off it came, exposing the top of the cylinder I needed to extract and replace. Only it wouldn’t cooperate. Indeed, by the time I decided to throw in the towel, I had chipped off part of the top, the part that keeps the lever from arcing too far. In other words, if the lever wasn’t lined up exactly, water would run. I called the plumber.

He came the next day (in itself, a small victory). Quickly it became apparent that my collection of all the tools necessary for the job had been insufficient. After being frustrated with tools similar to mine, Rick produced wrenches and outsized pliers only the most dedicated DIYer would have hanging from his pegboard. It reminded me of the time I tried to change the hoses for the washing machine shortly after we moved into our current home. I could not get them to budge. Neither could Jody the Plumber, for that matter. He had to use a blow torch to release them. Trust me, no normal Jewish homeowner possesses a blow torch!

Rick the Plumber finally extracted the cylinder and after returning from the supply store installed a new one. We’ve since been drip free, and $144 lighter.

The moral of the story for me: If you think you can do it, don’t! If you see a video or Web site that tells you you can do it, don’t believe it! If it tells you all you need are x,y,z tools, don’t be fooled, you’ll need a,b,c tools, as well! 

My bottom line is, I truly am handy—I write good checks. None of them ever bounce!


  1. I don't think it's bad to try and fix a plumbing issue by yourself, Murray. But I would have have to agree with you at some point. There are plumbing issues that you will really need the help of a professional for and that issue is one of them. Don't stop trying, though. Maybe one day you'll get the hang of it and you won't have to spend $144 for the help of a plumber. :)

    Lovella Cushman @ Perfection Plumbing

  2. Haha! Your tale is funny and downright accurate. As much as some of us want to go DIY and save up; the truth is, the task isn’t just for everyone. And we’re talking about plumbing here, which could be pretty complicated, depending on the cause of the problem. If you think it’s structural, then it’s best to heed your advice: don’t do it, and leave the job to the pros.

    Gordon Patton @ Bison Plumbing

  3. Well, at least you always had a plan B whenever you’re plumbing skills fail, and that is to call the plumber. Haha! But it’s a good thing that you learned a lot of stuff about plumbing, simply by researching about it. At the very least, you can easily pinpoint what the problem is, so that the plumber could go ahead and fix it faster. Thanks for sharing this with us, Murray. All the best!

    Levi Eslinger @ Capital Plumbing & Heating

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