Monday, November 20, 2006

A Plumbing Story From 2005

Another Plumbing Nightmare
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Friday I decide to take it easy on my bathroom restoration and do the “simple job” of changing out the faucet set for the bathtub. This tub is not a “claw foot” but some form of early built in unit. It still uses the hardware an earlier type of tub would use. I have seen ads for this particular model in my 1928 Home Builders Catalogue. The supply pipes are all exposed; this should be an easy job. Famous last words…….

My original plan is to just remove the existing faucet assembly, and replace it with a new faucet that I had bought years ago on sale at Historic House Parts located in Rochester, NY. All the connections are identical; I can use the existing supply pipes. The hot water supply separates easily enough. I don’t see any of the usual compression gaskets, just the remnants of fossilized string. This is not a good sign. The cold water connection will not separate no matter what I do. I am going to have to remove the water supply pipe and remove the entire mess. Normally this would be an easy job. In my case, when the bathroom was redone years ago the copper pipe fittings the tub supplys to attach to were cemented into the tile floor. The threads of the fittings are all that peep above the floor tile. The compression nut is removed and I try to remove the supply pipe. Again I feel like I’m in a Three Stooges short. There is about a foot of supply pipe shoved into the water line wound up with more string. By the time I get this supply line separated from the main pipe it is destroyed. Now the fun starts.

The supply pipes I need are not standard Homo Depot items that are carried in stock. It would take a week to special order the beasts if they even had them. I try the plumbing supply place not far from my house. I’m in luck; they have a set for $25.00. This is a “universal” set that can cover many different faucet sizes by using different gaskets and compression nuts. I get the right gasket and compression nut to get a rough fit. The new compression nut does not have the same thread pitch to match the new faucet set. The old compression nuts will fit the new set, so I will use them. There is only one problem: on the new supply pipes, a shoulder is attached for the gasket to fit against. The compression nut fits against the other side of this shoulder. When you tighten the compression nut to the faucet, this makes for a watertight seal. The openings in the old compression nuts are too large to accurately fit the shoulders on the new supply pipes,

If I was annoyed before, I’m really pissed now. It would be impossible to find the right compression nuts anywhere. There are no water shutoffs for the bathtub: The main shut-off valve has my house without running water. I must get this mess taken care of today.

This is where my watchmaking training comes into play. If I can make an insert to fit tight against the shoulder and fit snug into the compression nut that should work. Sorting through my washer assortment I find a pretty close fit. Using a large “vise grip” to hold the washers steady, I drill out the inside hole of the washers. Then using the file I file down the outside washer diameters to make a tight fit into the compression nuts. This should work.

There are a series of bends in the supply pipe that must be made to get the pipe to line up to the faucets and main water fittings. This is so much easier said than done. That is the main reason I wanted to reuse the original supply pipes. There is a tool I use to bend up this supply pipe that slides over the pipe when putting in bends. It stops the pipe from kinking. After a lot of aggravation and cuss words I get the pipes all bent up.

Thank God the pipe fittings hold tight in the cement so I can get the new compression fittings watertight.

Testing the new faucets, I find water is leaking out of the cold water handle. Here we go again: After much fussing this problem is remedied. So long as no water is leaking out when the faucets are off is all I should really worry about. I can’t remember the last time I used this bathtub for bathing. Since I installed my outside shower, that is pretty much all I ever use. I guess it is just my obsessive-compulsive tendencies showing through!

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