Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Of Men and Home Maintenance

My Dad was an amazing handyman. He could do just about any kind of home maintenance project from tiny electronics to major construction. When the family gathered before closing Dad's casket, my brother slipped in a pair of pliers. He grinned and said that Dad was better than MacGyver. Dad could do anything with a pair of pliers  Another brother chuckled and said that Dad would be able to use the tool if the casket gave him any trouble upon resurrection.

My younger brother is an architect. Dad's handyman gene skipped me and went to my brother. Dad taught me enough about home maintenance that I can do many things. Over the years I have handled electrical, plumbing, insulation, roofing, fence building, painting, concrete work, landscaping, etc. I tried my hand at carpentry once before hiring a professional. I gave up on sheet rock and tile work before even starting. I'm fair at doing stuff that nobody has to look at, but you don't want me doing anything that needs to be aesthetically pleasing.

Still, the older I get the less I want anything to do with home maintenance. I can see chores that need to be done at home—fence repair and maintenance, plumbing fixes, landscaping improvements, wall repair, etc—but I just don't want to do these things. I put them off for as long as I can. When a project intrudes I quickly re-learn the validity of my basic rules of home maintenance, which are as follows.
All home maintenance/improvement projects:
  • Take longer than expected.
  • Cost more than expected.
  • Require more trips to the hardware store than expected.
  • Cause far more frustration, cursing, and injury than expected.
  • Produce worse results than expected.
Saturday evening's events provide a simple example. The shower head started dripping a few weeks ago. Having been through this many times I knew how it would work. With each successive morning we'd crank the shower handles off harder and harder to prevent water flow. Despite our strong-arm efforts, the shower head would drip, drip, drip more and more until one day it just wouldn't stop running.

By Saturday evening the shower was just at the point where strong-arming the valves was about to become ineffective. Surveying my schedule for the next couple of weeks, I figured that I'd better repair it before it became a steady flow on a day when I had no time to fix it. (Yeah, this kind of advance planning in the face of impending home repairs is uncharacteristic for me.)

Accordingly I fetched the tools I knew I needed: a Philips and a flat-head screw driver, a huge socket that I had ground to make flat spots that could be grabbed with pliers, and a pair of big jaw RoboGrip pliers. I fetched my collection of rubber plumbing washers, hoping that the size I needed was in there. For some reason I can never remember which size my shower uses until I have pulled the valve cores and can compare washer sizes.

I removed the knobs and external valve hardware before shutting off the house water. I wanted the water to be off for as short a time as possible. Next I climbed into the crawl space, turned off the house water inlet valve, and hurried back upstairs. I turned on the valves in the shower and in the bathroom sink to drain some of the water from the system.

Using my socket and pliers I quickly extracted the valve cores. A couple of years ago a plumber showed me that these things needed to be screwed in only until they were just past finger tightening. So they aren't that hard to remove anymore.

To my great surprise I soon discovered that I had exactly two rubber disks of the proper size. I installed them on the valve cores, returned the valve cores to their proper place, cranked them tight counterclockwise, ran downstairs, and turned the house water back on. I could immediately hear water running upstairs. I jogged up and saw that the water was running full blast in the shower. I cranked the handles clockwise all the way and the water was still running.

I soon had the house water turned back off. I again extracted the valve cores and noticed that the O-ring on one was pretty much shot. The other one wasn't in good shape either. I figured that the defective O-rings were allowing water to flow when it shouldn't. But I had no O-rings in my plumbing collection. So I headed off to the hardware store.

Now, I realize that for many guys a trip to the hardware store is like a trip to the candy store for a kid. Many guys like going to the hardware store as much as they like watching football on TV. I too enjoy a trip to the hardware store about as much as I like watching football on TV. Only, unlike the aforementioned men, I happen to detest watching football. So you can imagine how I feel about going to the hardware store. It seems like I can never get exactly what I want at the hardware store. I frequently end up making do with something that doesn't quite work for what I need it. And shopping at many hardware stores strongly resembles shopping in a landfill inside a massive bomb shelter. I just don't like it. (Besides, it usually means more work.)

Still, I made my way to the plumbing section. I brought my valve cores with me, but I couldn't tell whether they used 11/16 or 3/4 O-rings. Then I saw a board with threaded holes. I found the one that fit my valves and was surprised that it read 13/16. Accordingly I bought a packet of 13/16 O-rings plus a couple of packets of washers for future use.

40 minutes after running out of the house, I went to stretch a 13/16 O-ring over one of the valve cores, only to discover that it was too big. Why I hadn't thought to try this in the parking lot at the store is beyond me. I probably sounded like Ralphie's dad working on his furnace in A Christmas Story as I dashed out the door to return to the hardware store.

This time I bought two packages of 11/16 O-rings. But there was less dilly-dallying. So 30 minutes after leaving the house, I once again tried an O-ring on a valve core. This time I fit like a charm. I soon had both repaired valve cores back in place. I again cranked them counterclockwise, ran downstairs, crawled into the crawl space, and turned the house water back on.

But instead of feeling satisfied with a job well done, I felt dismay as I again heard water running upstairs. I ran upstairs to see the shower head running full bore. I'm sure I again sounded like Ralphie's dad. As I grabbed the knobs to crank them the other way I noticed that one stuck out a lot further than the other. The only reason for that would be....

I suddenly recalled that the last time we had hired a plumber to fix the shower he had replaced both valve cores. Instead of both closing by turning counterclockwise, one closed by turning clockwise. Of course I knew this. After all, I had been turning the water off and on in that shower daily for a couple of years since the repair. I deftly turned the one knob all the way clockwise and water stopped flowing from the shower head.

Part of the reason that I hate doing home maintenance or improvement projects is that common sense seems to flee from me under such conditions. It's like I put on my stupid hat when I start a project. Mistakes come so naturally. I just can't see some of the obvious realities and shortcuts that would allow for efficiency.

Well, at least I didn't make a third trip to the hardware store. And I only spent about $3.50 on supplies. Not counting the cost of driving to and from the store. And the water was only off for about an hour and a half for what should have been a five-minute task. But, hey, at least the shower head won't leak for about a year and a half. Unfortunately, by that time I likely won't remember what size of washer and O-ring I need for the job. Grrrr.

Don't even get me started on automobile repair.


BDH said...

HaHa Scott, great story. I think all of us "amateur" handyman types can relate perfectly to your situation, due of course, to our own similar experiences!

Unknown said...

Plumbing appears like a fairly easy task until you try doing it yourself.
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0s0-Pa said...

Haha, i totally agree with your points on home maintenance. I usually turn to websites like HouseLogic that can provide some helpful advice or tips to get the job done right.

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