Monday, December 15, 2008

Week o' Plumbing

I have been a landlord for exactly 15 days. And I must say my two tenants at Club Petworth have been more than accomodating, since in that time, the heat only half worked and the upstairs bathroom never worked. But since I wish to keep these tolerant tenants, I took decisive action this week.

Situation #1: No Heat The heat only worked on the radiators in the back of the house. I guessed it was a broken circulator pump, but wasn't entirely sure. Normally I would never bring in a "professional" before trying to fix something myself, but since these freezing kids are paying me rent and some parts of boiler operation are mysterious to me, I called Magnolia Plumbing. $700 later, the pump was fixed.

I am not going to knock Magnolia. The guy they sent was professional and knew what he was doing, so I have no complaints. But at the end of the day, I paid over $400 in labor to replace a part that was held on with four bolts. Of the 3+ hours in labor at $120/hour, at least one of that was spent going to the store to pick up the replacement parts, and another one was spent draining and refilling the system, bleeding radiators, and generally waiting around to make sure everything was OK. Like I said - not knocking Magnolia, it's not like they could have done it any faster or better... but I could easily have done it myself.

Although it pained me to see how easy this repair was, I'm not bitter, but rather reassured that my diagnostic skills were on point. Next time something screws up on the boiler, I'm going in.

Situation #2: No Water I became aware about a week ago that I really had to re-do all the plumbing in this house. This revelation took place when I was trying to hook up a clawfoot tub shower conversion kit to the showerless tub in the primary bathroom. This task was an utter failure as a result of the ancient steel pipes being ornery and too tight to the tub for any wiggle room at all. And besides, the water pressure sucked (shocker) since typically 100 year old steel pipes are so corroded that the inside looks like a bad medical condition.

So my hand was forced- I had to replumb the house. That began at 9:00 AM yesterday. It ended at 11:45 PM with several significant cuts but otherwise complete success. The irony. I paid a professional plumber $700 to do a repair on my boiler that makes changing the oil in my car look complicated. I retaliated by ripping out every inch of plumbing in the house and replacing it with over 120 feet of new copper pipe in a single day. Cost of materials: approx. $450. Something is wrong with this picture...

Anyway, everything's working now. There were a couple dicey moments - like when I was trying to put a new valve on at the service entrance and I realized the first pipe connected after the old shutoff valve was cracked and leaking. It had to go. But I couldn't shut off the old valve completely because it, like many 100 year old plumbing fixtures, didn't really work any more. It was impossible to unscrew the old pipe because it was basically fused to the fixture, and I was afraid if I worked it too hard I'd either break the fixture, or worse, crack the soft lead water main to which it was attached.

I ended up having to cut the cracked pipe out from inside the old valve with a titanium carbide cutting bit. But if I had damaged the threads on the valve while doing this, I'd have been competely screwed since I wouldn't be able to attach a new pipe to it then. Once you mess up the only thing standing between you and thousands of gallons of high pressure water, there's nothing left to do but cry, or simply run fast and far.

Anyway, overall it wasn't as bad as what I had to do at House #1. And when I turned on the water, for once, there were NO waterfalls! Every time I've done a plumbing project in the past I somehow failed to flux ONE joint, which means it doesn't hold under any sort of pressure. And it always seems to be the one in the really hard to reach area. This is incredibly depressing because you then have to drain the system again to fix it. But this time I finally got it right on the first try.