Our First Leak
I keep thinking of things as "firsts" related to the house, because getting the house seems like passing a threshold. Makes it feel like I haven't been spinning my wheels in the mud for the last five or ten years in jobs that require skills I mastered by seventh or eighth grade. So humor me. Getting old, not sure how many "firsts" are left after 31.

Sunday night (3 AM Monday Nov 3) I heard a hissing sound in the cupboard behind the tub. The tube leading to the tub's hot water faucet is spraying like a sliced garden hose. The water already seaped through the floor of the bathroom/ceiling of the kitchen and set up a steady drip down to the kitchen floor. I run up and down stairs trying to figure out whether there's a valve I can shut off to stop water running to the tub. I tie a plastic grocery bag around the leak, which stops it from spraying, but isn't water-tight. Finally I shut off the main water supply in the basement and resolve to call the plumber in the morning.

Monday morning at 8 I wake up, eat some leftovers, and talk myself into calling Grampa Northrup (retired Master Plumber) to ask for some advice on how to fix it. The leak was at a joint in some copper pipe. I've soldered copper pipes before, probably fifteen years ago, under supervision from my father who was a pipefitter. But those were new pipes that were not yet attached to a system. What are the dangers or requirements when the pipe has been (or may still be) full of water? Just ask Grampa what I need to do, sorta walk me through it, and this will be a lot cheaper than hiring a plumber.

But I don't want to wake Grampa up or call him at a rudely early hour, on top of begging info from him, so I resolve to call him at 10. I set the clock for 10, rehearsing what I'll say to him as I fall asleep, dreaming of watery conflict.

At 10, I sit in front of the phone rehearsing what to say to Grampa. I don't want to impose. He's 81. Do I really need to ask him anything? I've soldered before. What's the big deal? Sure, it was 15 years ago or more, but it's like riding a bike. Solder, flux, heat the pipe until it's hot enough that the solder melts on it, don't try heating the solder and dripping it on. All I need is some reassurance that I don't need to find some important valve to let off the pressure or drain the water. But even if it's full of water, all I have to do is heat it until enough water boils out, right? I can do this without bothering Grampa.

I call Ma. Can I borrow a propane torch?

I drive to Ma's and discuss it with her and my stepdad Frank. Just need to drain the water out of the pipe by leaving the hot water faucet open downstairs in the kitchen, heat up the joint, pull apart the pipes (hmmm, hadn't thought about that, good idea) and make sure the leak was just in the soldered joint, not a hole in the pipe itself.

Frank says: Behind the hot water faucet on your tub? I thought you said pipe. You mean tubing?

Whatever, yeah, the thin stuff that goes right up to the the hot water faucet. Three-eighths inch or whatever.

He says just undo the nuts at the top and bottom and you should be able to get that tubing out...

I don't remember a nut at the top, but the bottom of the tubing is where it's leaking, where it's soldered to the thicker half inch copper.

Doesn't quite sound right to Frank, so he suggests coming out to take a look at it. [Yes please! Less chance of me screwing up!]

Frank came back to the house with me and looked it all over. Judgment: what we got here is two sizes of tube and pipe jury-rigged together by building up a lot of solder (apparently less professional than actually fitting two proper ends together of same size), and the thicker pipe below the leaking joint is very soft, scratches easily and deeply. Lead pipe.

Not cool. Remember lead poisoning? I thought this stuff went out with Roman aqueducts? They still used lead pipes in 1937?

Frank's not sure how to resolve it, needs a different kind of torch to cast heat at a low enough angle for the quick-fix, and wants Grampa's advice on whether we can get this lead pipe out without tearing out a hunk of floor, or how to go about tearing it out if we have to. Meanwhile, he shows me how to turn the hot water off at the water heater, so we can still get cold water everywhere, including flushing the toilet, without water continuing through the leak upstairs.

Since then, we've been too lazy or too meek to call Grampa yet, ask him to come out and size up the situation so he can advise us what to do. Like Frontier House, we take our baths by heating pot after pot of water and dumping it in the tub. Melinda reminded me they never heated bath water in the microwave back in frontier days.

In other news, Ma gave me a case of home canned jam. The lids say, "PEACH JAM '82." I probably helped her grind the peaches into sauce and spooned the finished product into jars back then. I would have been nine in the summer or fall of '82. This jam is old enough that it could now purchase alcohol, 21 years. I surfed for info about home-canning longevity and spoilage (eXtreme Canning!), plus asked around at h2g2. [Read or join the conversation if you feel like it.]

They talked me into it. No mold or dried-out stuff is visible in the jars. The lids appear properly sealed, bowed inward toward the vaccuum. No rust. They were stored in Ma's basement in a box, so they didn't get too much sunlight or too much heat. At 1:30 am on Nov 6, I popped a jar open with a resounding thwunk, so hopefully that means the seal was good. Smells fine. Tastes fine. I was going to make a peanut butter and peach jam sandwich, but Melinda talked me out of it. See if I get sick from the little taste I took, and wait a few days to try more of it.

If a doctor is reading this after admitting an unconscious, food-poisoned fool, it was less than a teaspoon, maybe half a cubic centimeter or less. I put plastic wrap over the jar and stuck it in the fridge, so it's still available for testing if you need it, or for that sandwich later. Center for Disease Control website says symptoms would usually manifest in 18-36 hours, so check back on Friday. Ta!


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