07 November 2012

And the Golden Crimpers Award goes to...

And the Golden Crimpers Award goes to... Lemontree!! (The Golden Pipe Wrench just isn't appropriate in this day and age of modern plumbing materials, as the Pex crimpers are now a plumber's primary weapon.)

So, Monday we started cutting out our old plumbing and hooking up the new. By Monday night we were tired and dirty and had no water for showers, because we had a nagging leak at the well pressure tank. It started out as a small leak in one location, so I tightened the threaded pipe a little, which started a new leak somewhere else. Tightened that, and the leak got worse. That's odd, I thought, and tightened it a bit more... leaks even faster. Uh-oh. Yep, I cracked the complicated cast iron manifold that has a bunch of ports in it for the well pressure switch and pressure gauge and relief valve and things. No showers for us!

Concurrent with all this, we had also decommissioned the old water heater and had a licensed plumber move the exhaust flue/chimney to the garage for the new water heater. Scheduling was almost a disaster, because the plumber showed up late just as the roofers were leaving for the day. Fortunately, the roofing foreman and the plumber were able to put their heads together and come up with a plan for moving the water heater chimney that both parties agreed with. Poor plumbers were there until like 9pm... but they got the job done. They also tore out the old gas piping that ran along the back patio. It was ugly, rusty, and in violation of code (it had too little clearance from grade, and it had NO hangers for support -- it was just resting on a couple of wood blocks. Worse, it went across the threshold for the back door, so you'd step on the unsupported pipe if you weren't careful). (The new gas pipe runs in the garage attic, protected from weather and neatly out of sight.)

So -- next day, Lemontree buys a new manifold to replace one I cracked. I tried to transfer the old relief valve to the new, but it snapped off because the threads were welded into the old fitting. Hil-freakin-arious. So off Lemontree goes to get a new relief valve too.

That finally installed, the original leak at the well tank came back. Being careful not to crack any more fittings this time, I tighten... and tighten... and tighten it until I run out of strength on my biggest pipe wrench. Still leaks. We think rust flakes and sand (which the old well tank was apparently half full of) contaminated the threaded connection, so no amount of cleaning with a toothbrush could ever remove all the grit from the joint. So, off to Lowe's for a new pressure tank. $250 later we had a leak-free connection and could finally wash our dirty hands and hair and flush the toilets. You know, I used to hate showering in that nasty 70's puke-green bathtub with 41 years of hard water stains... but last night it seemed like the lap of luxury

So, the long and short of it was, Lemontree's dozens of crimped Pex connections has shown no leaks so far, while it was my ham-fisted recklessness that caused all our headaches. So Lemontree deserves the award.

I also discovered that copper compression fittings have to be ridiculously tight. At each of our stub-outs for the two bathroom sinks, kitchen sink, and toilets, we used shutoff valves ("stops") that use a compression connection to the copper stub. (Should a stop malfunction, this will make them easier to replace than if they were soldered on.) I thought I had installed them all pretty tight, but 6 out of the 9* seeped water out the joints. It took several rounds of tightening with my biggest crescent wrench until they made groaning noises and finally stopped leaking. So, too tight and you crack cast iron fittings, too loose and copper fittings leak. Sheesh, I can't win.

As an aside, it seems we needed a new well pressure tank anyway. The well pump used to short-cycle twice for a single toilet flush, probably because the old tank was clogged with sand at the bottom -- becoming effectively a 0-gallon tank instead of a 30-gallon. This is our first house with a well, so we had assumed such behavior was normal. Apparently, it's not! Now, we can get several flushes without the pump cycling, so pump should last longer now. I also upgraded the system with an added tank-shutoff-valve (so we can service the plumbing in the future without draining the tank and wasting 30 gallons of water) and an added union on the pump pressure switch so it can be removed without disconnecting the 240-volt wiring. I don't know why it was installed in the first place without a shutoff and a union, but then, there are a lot of things about this house like that.

By the way, I'm pretty sure the old water heater is also full of sand, because it too used to short cycle. And the day we moved in, we tried to flush it, but never got more than a trickle out of the bottom. So that's gonna be fun to drain and get it out of the house. Rest assured we will be regularly flushing the new water heater to prevent a recurrence, although I'm hoping the sand issue only occurred because previous owners ran the well dry by watering the lawn with well water (at least, that's what our neighbors tell us). Since we won't be doing that, I'm hoping the sand will not be as bad from now on.

In other news, our old roof has been torn off and new decking and tar paper laid down as of Tuesday evening. Our attic smells nice now -- all that new OSB smells like perfume. Today the roofers start shingling.

* 9 stops: 2 toilets, two each for 2 bathroom sinks, and 3 for under the kitchen sink -- code requires the dishwasher have a dedicated stop.

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