Posted by John 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 ,lessons learned, plumbing
Posted by John on November 4th, 2013
Happy Tuesday! Instead of hitting you with the next installment in our TV stand build, I wanted to do a few posts here and there on some other unrelated home improvement projects. Wasn’t originally my intention of doing 8 furniture posts in a row, but that’s just kind of how it worked out. I haven’t worked on it lately anyway, since Lisa and I were in Florida this past weekend for a destination wedding. It was on Captiva Island. Awesome time. I’m literally covered in bug bites, but it was a blast.
If you’ve been following our blog for a while now, you may remember that we installed a reverse osmosis system under our kitchen sink around a year ago (actually last September). I wanted to do a follow up with our readers to let everyone know how it was going. Were we using it? Did we still like it? This was actually the second water filtration system we added to our house, with the other being the filter on the fridge.
Well, I wanted to let you know that we love it. Big time. We use it ALL THE TIME. It tastes great.
We quickly got sick of our in-fridge filter some time ago, but we’ve been solid fans of the reverse osmosis system from day 1. If you drink a lot of bottled water, then I’d jump to get one of these systems.
We use the water for everything… tea, coffee, pasta and of course plain ol’ drinking water.
We bought the system at Lowes. It’s certainly not cheap, retailing today for just under $150. The filters need to be replaced every six months and they can set you back around $95 per change out. It’s still cheaper than buying bottled water though, at least for us. If you spend around $8 a week on bottled water, then in the first year you’d break even after around 7.5 months. In the second year and thereafter, your entire year’s worth of replacement filters would pay for themselves after just 6 months. It’s like drinking for free half of the year. Granted, I still have to pay for the water from the utility company, but that’s not much at all.
Another advantage has been the lack of empty plastic water bottles around the house. I can’t tell you how quickly our recycling container would fill up with those things.
Installation wasn’t a big deal either. Just about anyone can put one in.
So that’s it. This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, I just wanted to let everyone know how it was going. I’ve always been curious about what a home bloggers project looks like 1 or 2 years after the fact. Thought you might find it useful, especially if you were thinking about picking one up yourself.
Later this week, we dive back into our custom media cabinet and make some doors!
Posted in Plumbing. Tagged in ,plumbing, reverse osmosis, water
Posted by John on January 25th, 2013
Hey everybody! Hope you all had a great week. If you couldn’t tell from the lack of posts this week, we’ve been busy. I’ve started up another grad class and we’ve been hard at work painting our toddler bedroom. I considered showing the before posts this week, but I think it’ll be better to just have the room completely painted. We hope to show you those on Monday!
Today we have a helpful guest post from Rachael from DIYMother on replacing water heaters. We installed one in our first home, going from a 30 gallon to a 50 gallon. Made a world of difference. Thanks Rachael!
How to Install Your Water Heater
A common household plumbing project, replacing your water heater can raise many potential dangers. When your water heater begins to leak, you have to replace it quickly. Here are the steps needed in order to properly install your water heater.
Remove your Old Heater
Before you can connect your new water heater, you will have to remove the old one. First, turn of the fuel source (electricity or gas) and then drain the heater tank. Open the hot water faucet to allow air into the system to assist in the draining process. On a gas heater, you will need to separate the vent pipe from the draft hood. The hood should easily lift off after you remove the sheet metal screw that holds it in place. After ensuring the pilot light is out, disconnect the gas line at the heater and cap it off.
You will then remove the heater from its water pipes. If the pipes are connected by removable, threaded fittings, take them apart with a pipe wrench. However, if your pipes do not have a removable, threaded fitting, you must use a hacksaw to remove them. A pipe cutter will also allow you to complete the job successfully. Once draining has completed, you will be able to remove and dispose of your old water heater.
Installing your New Heater
Using an appliance cart or dolly, move your new heater to its location. Then, position the water heater so your piping will reach easily. This is especially important if you have a gas water heater and need to line your heater up properly to reach the gas vent pipe.
For a gas heater, you will need to install the new draft hood. Many heater hoods have legs that insert into holes on the top of the heater, making it easy for you to install. A gas water heater requires proper venting that is no smaller than its draft hood collar. It would be in your best interest replace vent pipe elbows, as your old ones are most likely corroded. Make certain that your vent is perfectly vertical for as far as is possible. When you can no longer keep the vent vertical, the vent should slope upward one quarter inch per foot, with the lowest point being where the pipe goes from vertical to horizontal.
Next, connect the vent pipe with sheet metal screws. At this point, you are ready to make your hot and cold water connections. It is recommended to use flex connectors, which are easy to bend to reach the connection. The way to handle your water pipe depends on the type of pipe your house has. Regardless of size and material, the heater should be fitted with a cold water gate valve. Place this valve in a vertical section of piping to prevent sediment buildup.
When working with threaded pipes, you should have a removable, threaded fitting on both the hot and cold water lines, replacing the old fittings entirely, as your new fittings are manufactured to fit together properly. You will also need new nipples for the top of your water heater. The length of the nipples will depend on the distance from the fittings located at the top of your water heater to your fittings.
If you choose to use flex connectors, you will find that fittings are unnecessary. If your water heater has female-threaded tappings, you will need a pair of three-quarter inch nipples to connect the flex connectors at the bottom. However, if your heater comes with three-quarter inch male-threaded stubs, nipples will not be needed to complete your installation.
Flex connectors fit directly to the ends of the threaded pipe at the top of your heater. Some will install to copper tubing without sweat soldering. If you do sweat solder, make sure to do this before installing your flex connectors. This will help you avoid damage to the connector gaskets.
If you are using plastic piping, you will need “transition” fittings between the plastic pipe and the metal heater threads. Some manufacturers recommend using foot-long threaded steel nipples between the water heater and the transition fittings to create distance between the fittings and the conducted burner heat. Be cautious when buying piping. Do not attempt to hook up your new water heater with PVC, PE or ABS plastic piping, as these types of pipes will not take hot water.
Installing your Relief System
One of the vital parts of your hot water heater installation process includes installing a temperature and pressure relief valve and line. The relief system automatically releases excess heat and pressure in your system. With all of your plumbing installed, you can close the heater’s drain valve and open the cold water inlet valve in order to fill the storage tank. Then, open the hot water faucet to release air trapped in the top of the tank. Next, close the faucet as water will flow from it rather quickly, and then check for any leaks.
The final step in completing the installation of your new water heater is to connect your energy supply. For gas connections, you will want to add a shut-off valve on the gas line if there wasn’t one already installed. Use a new fitting to complete the gas line installation with a threaded pipe. For flex connectors, you will want to install a male flare adapter into the inlet opening of the water heater’s gas valve. Next, connect the gas flex connector collar to the flare adapter and tighten it with an adjustable, open-end wrench. When everything is complete, see that your thermostat is in the off position. Then, you can turn the gas on to your heater.
For electrical connections, the wires providing electricity to your heater must be the right size and provide the correct voltage and amperage that your heater was designed to use. Unless you know how to work with this wiring, it is recommended that you hire a certified electrician to wire your water heater. When you turn on the heater circuit, make sure to check the electric meter to see that it is spinning, indicating that the heater is functioning properly.
Rachael Jones is a Staff Writer for DIYMother.
Posted in Plumbing. Tagged in ,plumbing, water heater
Posted by John on December 3rd, 2012
Hey everybody! Sorry if I’ve been AWOL lately. Work has been pretty crazy and I’ve been unable to read or comment on my regular blog reads. I’m hoping to set aside some time in the next day or two to get caught up. In the meantime, I’ve also been busy with annoying, but necessary repairs around the house. This past week I had to replace our sump pump. As far as technically challenging repairs go… on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is around a 3 or a 4, where changing a light bulb would be a 1 and replacing a furnace is a 10.
So, we’ve lived in our current NJ house for a little over 2 years now and we’ve never, ever heard our sump pump run. Even during and immediately after hurricane Sandy it was quiet. About a week ago, Lisa had been noticing this recurring humming noise coming from the basement. In typical, ‘you’re probably hearing things mode’ I blew it off as just typical furnace noise. Then a couple days later I was in the basement grabbing some tools and I heard it first hand. Crap. The sump pump was running for 30-45 seconds, would stop for 30-45 seconds then would run again. It wasn’t raining, and it hadn’t rained heavily for a couple weeks. Something is wrong with this picture.
If you don’t have a sump pump or are not sure how it works, I can explain. Most new home foundations and a lot of existing homes are outfitted with a perforated plastic pipe that wraps around the outside perimeter near the footer or the base of the basement wall. It then gets covered in gravel to prevent sand and dirt from clogging its slits. This pipe, which can be sometimes referred to as a “weeping tile” (ala Mike Holmes) then runs into the basement into a large bucket. The bucket is equipped with a sump pump that evacuates the water back outside, except it does so away from the house, keeping the foundation dry and less likely to settle further or become disturbed from water erosion.
Here’s what our bucket and evacuation pipe looks like…
The small pipe on the left is the condensate discharge from the central air system. The larger pipe on the right is the outlet pipe from the sump pump. These systems are also vented and may have two large pipes as opposed to one. We DO have a vent in this system it’s just hidden in the basin.
That large plastic box is a check valve.
The check valve prevents the water that was just pumped out from coming back down the pipe and back into the sump bucket. It’s just a little rubber gasket that only opens in one direction. When this pump was continuously running, the first thing I assumed was the check valve wasn’t sealing and it was constantly sending the water back into the basin only to be ejected again. After taking the check valve apart, cleaning it, putting it back together and then plugging the pump back in, it was still running constantly.
Time to investigate further. So, I disconnected the check valve, slid the AC discharge pipe out of the way and popped off the cover to the basin. Couple things I noticed:
1. there wasn’t much water in the bucket, only a couple of inches.
2. there was a spider in there with a leg span about as long as my thumb and with WAY more hair on its legs than mine. I’m generally not afraid of spiders. I was afraid of THIS spider.
Sump pumps usually have some type of float mechanism so when the bucket fills high enough with water, it will switch on. This pump was running AND the float was a couple inches above the water. This thing is straight up broken. Now I could try to repair the switch mechanism or I could just go out and buy a new one, a new shiny one that didn’t have giant banana spiders hidden inside. I think you can guess which way I went on this.
They even sell these in stainless steel! As if it were going to be on our kitchen counter next to the toaster.
The replacement went pretty easy. I disconnected the old sump pump at the check valve union and just pulled it out of the sump bucket. Easy. The new sump pump and the old sump pump have different PVC fittings. Take note, the one on the right has a fitting that goes OVER the threads. The new one is a female type connection, where the PVC will need to go INTO the pump. So much for reusing that pipe.
Here’s a closer shot of the fittings…
So, after assembling a few pieces to the new pump, I glued on the male fitting to a small section of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe. Lowes and Home Depot sell certain diameter pipes in larger 8′-10′ lengths and a few at 4′-5′ lengths. Since this is a smaller section, I opted for the car friendly 5′ piece.
To glue on the male fitting (which I fitted up to the display pump at Lowes to make sure I had the right one), I just placed my pipe on a stable surface to start. You’ll need both the purple primer and the PVC glue for this part.
I applied the purple primer to both pieces and then the glue to both. You need to put these two piece together within a few seconds once you apply the glue or it will harden prematurely.
To glue them together, place the male fitting over the pipe, hold it steady for a few seconds, then try to give it a very slight turn. If you get resistance to the turn, you’re good. I like to hold the piece onto the pipe for maybe 30 seconds to a minute before letting go.
Okay. The new pump was then connected to the pump and placed into the basin. I marked both the new pipe and the old pipe for length taking into consideration a gap for the new check valve.
To cut the new pipe to length, I just used my miter saw.
With the new pipe cut, I added some thread compound to the male fitting and reinstalled the pipe to the new sump pump.
To cut the existing part of the discharge pipe that was hanging from the basement wall, I used a hack saw. You could also use a reciprocating saw, aka a Sawzall, but I find they shake the pipe too much.
The new check valve is a flexible rubber boot style and it slides over the pipes and gets clamped down. You just need to leave some extra room between these pipes for this valve.
Sorry that photo is a little blurry, but you get the idea.
After the new valve was installed, I plugged it in and tested it by lifting up the float. Success!
The flexible check valve let’s you get away with the pipe being slightly misaligned, which is nice.
So, that sucked. Any annoying repairs in your future? Any 8 legged monsters?
Posted in DIY Projects,Fixes,Plumbing,Repairs. Tagged in ,basement, plumbing, repair, replace, sump pump
Posted by John on September 10th, 2012
So, last week as you may recall, we added a reverse osmosis system (ROS) to our kitchen sink. How do we like it so far? We love it. The water tastes great and we don’t have anymore plastic water bottles collecting dust all over the house. Wasn’t terribly difficult either, although there were a few tricky steps, like drilling through the stainless steel sink and adding a section of pipe for the drain.
Now, I’m generally a cautious guy. Whenever I mess with plumbing, I usually keep an eye on it for a little while to make sure it doesn’t leak. With the water supply lines, you usually don’t need to do that. They are pressurized and they’ll either leak immediately when the water is turned on or not at all. They CAN have a slow drip, but even those usually materialize sooner than later.
The drain pipes on the other hand, can take a while. They aren’t under any pressure and leaks can be painfully slow to develop. The photo above is our kitchen sink the day after I installed the ROS. See that paper towel and the water pail? Yep. We sprung a leak. The entire left side under our sink had a nice puddle of water in it. The culprit? The right side p-trap. What’s weird about that? I modified the left side p-trap in our ROS install and didn’t even touch the right one. Apparently, I must have bumped it or something when I was messing around with the left side.
How to Fix a Leaking Sink
After a close inspection, I was able to feel a lot of water around the topmost p-trap fitting. So, the first thing I did to remedy this whole situation was to just put some muscle into that fitting and crank it down tight to see if that helped. Since this is a slow drip, I put a dry piece of paper towel under the p-trap and left it alone for a couple minutes. After a little while, I noticed the paper towel had some wet spots. Crap.
The only real option I have at this point is to replace the p-trap and the maybe the tall pipe that has the dishwasher port on it. They readily sell these at home supply stores and they’re very inexpensive. I paid under $10 for both of these parts.
I started the fix by removing the old p-trap. It comes out very easy. You just loosen the two nuts that hold it in place. They’re almost always hand tight. You don’t really need to use a wrench for any of this.
That long pipe came out next. Same deal as the p-trap. Once it was out, I laid it next to the new one and marked the new one so it had the same length. To cut it, I just used a pair of tubing cutters, but you can also use a hack saw.
With the straight pipe cut to the correct length, it gets installed the same way the old one came out.
With the straight pipe in place, the new p-trap is up next. Very simply installation.
So our finished photo looks identical to our first photo. Only difference is this one doesn’t leak. To be sure we corrected the problem, I left another piece of paper towel underneath the sink. This time, I left it under there for a couple days. No drips!
What was wrong with the old one? Hard to tell. It’s possible it got bumped and then maybe messed up one of the seals. Who knows? I’m not losing sleep over it.
So, that wasn’t very exciting, but hopefully you learned something about your sink!! Fix ay problems at your place lately?
Posted by John on September 5th, 2012
It’s time to say goodbye. It’s been a long time coming. This relationship is wasteful. There are better options out there. It’s true. We’re finally kicking the bottled water habit and switching to a reverse osmosis system (ROS). At any given time over the past year, you could find 5-10 empty bottles of Dasani or Aquafina lying around the house. On our dressers, on the kitchen counters, on the bathroom sinks. Everywhere. On top of our water bottle consumption, we own a Brita filter. It’s okay, but it’s not as good as bottled. We’re getting rid of Brita. I’ll let Vaughn take it from here…
Now, since this is a commercially available product (we bought it at Lowes a while back) with its own set of instructions, I’m not going to get to detailed with the how-to instructions. I thought it would be helpful if we showed you what’s involved.
Adding a Reverse Osmosis System
Since these units are installed either in a basement or underneath a kitchen sink, we’ll start there. We picked our sink instead of the basement.
Then we cleaned out underneath our sink. I’ll need the room.
The ROS takes up a good amount of space. We’ll reorganize it once we’ve finished. I’ll also need to turn off the water supply valves.
The ROS takes the water right from the cold water line under the sink. I added a tee between the water supply hose and the faucet pipe.
To add the actual ROS faucet we have the option of either using the existing hole for the sprayer or drilling another hole. Since we do actually use the sprayer once in a while, we drilled another hole.
It’s not easy to drill a hole through 1/16″ thick stainless steel, but if you go slow and use the right bit, it’s doable.
ROS’s also cycle out the waste that gets removed from the water and actually drains it into the p-trap. The existing drain piping needs to get modified to accept it. That’s not too hard though.
You can see the added pipe in the photo below along with the filter assembly and the reservoir tank. It’s all a part of the system. Not exactly sure how it works. Just trust it.
The water lines are just flexible tubes that basically get pressed into connections. It’s really, really easy to make those connections.
The faucet gets bolted to the sink top. We picked a chrome unit, despite the fact that our sink is stainless steel and our main faucet is brushed nickel. Weird right? Well, we’re probably going to be getting granite or some other solid surface in the next few years and we’re going to be switching the sink and maybe the faucet too. Besides, the main faucet doesn’t even match the sink anyway. We don’t mind the clashing in the meantime.
How’s it taste? Great! Well… as great as water can taste. It doesn’t have any odor or chlorine taste whatsoever. Good stuff.
How do you drink your water? Do you take it bottled or filtered?