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Lessons Learned

My Expensive DIY Plumbing Lesson

Posted by on May 21st, 2014

In today’s post I want to share a story with you from back in the days when I wasn’t very skilled in the ways of home improvement. I believe that you learn much more from failures than you do from successes, so I’m not in the least bit embarrassed to discuss this episode.  I hope this story helps put your home improvement challenges in perspective.  The only real failure is if you don’t learn anything from your mistakes.


In 2004, I was about six months into owning my first home.  I had just learned how to wire a house and I was getting the hang of interior trim work.  I was scrambling to get the place drywalled before a big work trip overseas.  The day before my flight, my dad had come down to give me a hand with some other house work.  Back then I hired out all my drywall work and I had a few guys hanging the sheetrock in another part of the house.  It was a cold and rainy day, typical for that time of year in Philly.

Shortly before the sheetrock guys were to quit for the day, my dad and I noticed water had started to drip heavily from an archway just near one of the windows.  My first reaction was to assume it was from the rain.  The home was 100 years old and a bit of a money pit at the time, so of course that’s where my mind went.  I opened up a window to see if I could identify where the rain was entering the house and instead noticed the rain had pretty much stopped, but the drip inside the house was getting worse.

At that moment, the drip started to appear more in the center of the archway and my father and I realized that one of the drywall screws probably punctured a copper pipe.  Crap.

After turning off the water, we had the drywall folks rip down a small section of their work and we were able to quickly identify where the leak was located.  Rather than call a plumber, we decided that we could easily handle this repair.  All we had to do was cut through the puncture and solder on a coupling sleeve over the cut.  We thought this would be simple.

Let me tell you something, 2014 John would have that leak fixed in about 15 minutes. 2004 John and his dad were in over their heads.

We headed over to the hardware store and picked up some propane, a pipe cutter, solder, flux, sandpaper, some flux brushes and a few couplings.  We cut the pipe right on the puncture, sanded it, pulled one of the pipes out of the way to slide the sleeve on and then set out to heat the pipes.  We had heard that you could use bread to keep the interior of the pipe dry while soldering and that seemed to work okay.  Confident that we had totally nailed it, we turned the water pressure back on and promptly had multiple jets of water spraying into the room.  Crap.

For the next two hours we essentially repeated that process four or five times.  Once it got to about ten o’clock my dad had to leave and I called an emergency plumber.  I couldn’t just leave the water off while I was away.  I had two roommates at the time that in all likelihood would require use of the shower and toilet.

The emergency plumber showed up and fixed the leak in about the time it will take you to read this post.  He was FAST.  He also charged me $250.  Oof.  Here’s where I got my money’s worth though: I asked him what I was doing wrong and he taught me some tips that I’ve used countless times since.  Instead of a $250 repair, it was a $250 one-on-one pipe repair training session.  Money well spent.

Here’s what he did differently:

- He didn’t try to use one coupling over the punctured area, he cut out the entire section and soldered in a short section of pipe with two couplings.  The punctured pipe had been too deformed to get a solid seal around it.

- He used MAPP gas instead of propane since it burns hotter and heats the pipe and coupling up faster.

- Immediately after the solder was sucked into the joint, he used his flux brush and brushed a light amount of flux on the outside of the joint, which appeared to further smooth and even out the solder.  It looked much cleaner and more professional as a result.

These types of lessons aren’t limited to plumbing obviously and while I hope you find his tips helpful, that’s not the point of this post.  Sometimes, we just need to step back when we get stuck and ask for help.  It’s not a surrender or a defeat, although it sure can feel that way sometimes.  It’s an opportunity to learn.

If you’ve had an expensive home improvement lesson, I’d love to hear about it.  Please share your story by leaving a comment.

Posted in DIY Projects,Lessons Learned,Plumbing. Tagged in ,,

Painting in Progress

Posted by on January 13th, 2012

Last week, we posted on some of the lessons we learned when we hired a professional painter.  This week we’ve had the opportunity to put some of those lessons to the test to see how well they’ve worked.  The photo below shows the current state of our family room (well, we’ve actually moved our furniture back in place too).  I ran out of painting time and still need to finish this up.

First thoughts… we still love the color. It’s amazing how much darker the room looks now. Maybe it’s not amazing.  Maybe it’s because I took this photo at night and the floors are dark and the paint is darker.  Yeah, that’s probably why.

Anyway, this is the first room I’ve cut-in without using tape.  I’ve got to admit, it’s a lot easier and faster than I thought it would be.  You end up painting slower than if there’s tape, but it’s much cleaner.  I’m using a 2.5″ wide, angle cut Purdy brush.

The other recommendation we got from our painter was the paint roller.  He uses a Collosus roller also by Purdy.  I remember seeing this thing in action and it looked like a giant mop head.  So, I picked one up at our local Sherwin Williams.  Apparently, it comes in a couple different nap lengths.  Naturally, I went for the longest nap, the 3/4″.  Check this thing out…

Ridiculous right?  It puts a LOT of paint on the wall.  A LOT.  If you’re going to use it, be prepared for major drippage.

Another tip we noticed from the painter was how he prepped the receptacles and the light switches.  I’ve used ziploc bags to keep the switch plates in with the screws.  Although, sometimes I’ll just leave the screws on the counter.

Here’s what the painter did…

He put the switch plate screws back in the switches.  Not monumental, obviously, but smart and convenient none the less.

Do you have any paint tips?  Next week, we’ll be showing you what we learned from our hardwood floor install.

Posted in Lessons Learned,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,

Lessons Learned #1: Pro Painter Skills

Posted by on January 6th, 2012

I want to try something a little different here so bare with me.  I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of hiring a contractor to do something that I can do on my own.  It’s just not in my nature.  I’ll make exceptions to that rule, like when I’m too afraid of heights to paint our 2 story vestibule or like when the scope of the work is above my time and capacity (like building a home myself).  Other than that, if I can do it, I want to do it.  That’s why they call us DIYers right?  So when I DO hire someone, in addition to getting the work done, I’d like to learn something from the experience.  That’s why I’m starting this post category, to share what I’ve learned from an experience after the fact, whether it be from a contractor or from a job that I’ve completed myself.

The first time I had the idea to learn something from a contractor I was in a bind.  Way back in 2004, I had just bought my first home and some guys were hanging drywall (I didn’t really know how to do much DIY back then).  My father was over and we were doing some other small project.  All of a sudden, we had water pouring into our living room.  We had no idea where is was coming from.   It was raining at the time, but not heavy enough to account for the amount of water building up in the house.  I immediately turned off the water supply and we discovered that one of the drywall hangers had punctured a copper pipe with a drywall screw.  To make matters worse, it’s 6pm and the next day I was going to Japan for two weeks and I had a roommate that needed that water while I was gone for obvious reasons.  No problem.  My father and I would repair it.  We went to the local hardware store and got some couplings, some flux, sandpaper.  We got this.  After four hours of trying, we failed.  This little pipe kept leaking.  At 10pm we made the decision to call an emergency plumber.  At around 1am this guy stopped by and knocked this repair out in 5 minutes flat.  For $250!  Knowing this would not be a cheap fix (relative to the size of the work), I asked the plumber to show me exactly how to do this and he explained to me what I was doing wrong.  I felt much better about the expense of the repair knowing that I basically got a plumbing lesson out of it.

When I hired the painter for my vestibule, I genuinely didn’t think I would get much of a lesson out of it.  But I did learn a couple things.

1.  Taping.  This guy didn’t tape a thing.  He free-handed everything.  I did a comparison to his work in the vestibule to mine in the living room.  Despite the fact that I tape my trim, his cutting-in was cleaner.  Let me show you what I’m talking about.

I taped and painted the molding around this banister. You can clearly see that I had bleed thru from the paint. That occurs where the tape doesn’t create a solid seal. I have this problem in several areas throughout the room. It’s not a big deal, but it does require some touching-up.

Now take a look at his trim painting.  It’s perfect.

What was his secret?  He used a quality brush and he has a LOT of practice. According to him, he uses a Wooster brush.  For the rest of our painting, I picked up a Purdy brush, so we’ll see if I can improve on my earlier work.  I’ll try working without a net tape.

2.  The roller.  He used a serious roller.  They looked like mops.  I’ve always used disposable rollers and haven’t had any issues.  I like the idea that you can take them off and throw them out when you’re done with them.  But my rolling occasionally makes areas with varying shine to them, almost like I missed a spot.  And that’s with two coats.  His work was even with a consistent appearance.  He told me he uses Colossus rollers by Purdy.





So that’s my lesson’s learned from hiring a pro painter. I hope you get something out of this, I sure did.

Have you ever learned some tips from hiring a pro?  Did it make it easier to justify paying for it?

Posted in Lessons Learned,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,