Plumb(er) tuckered out

“Can’t you get someone else to fix it?” one of my friends asked. “It’s not even your house.”

When I was visiting my hometown of Laurel, one of the first things I noticed was how much I missed seeing the trains. And then I started thinking about the skill and knowledge it takes to keep those giant locomotives rolling, and became very aware that I possess absolutely none of that skill or knowledge.

In fact, except for the basics of auto maintenance, I am mechanically obtuse. I’ve learned a few things by watching/assisting — I know how to replace a water heater, for example, and can patch drywall — but usually I assuage myself by saying: “This is the upside of renting: You don’t have to know everything.”

But the bathroom sink seemed different: A leaky faucet is something you should be able to fix on your own — it’s usually just a matter of a washer, so it should be as easy as replacing a toilet flapper or float. (Or, even, really, replacing the entire toilet. That was easy, even if the removal of the wax seal skeeved me out.)

So I decided this home-improvement project would also be a self-improvement project. I turned off the water under the sink, removed the faucet handles, screws and escutcheons to find … that photo up above. “Oh, this can’t be good,” I thought. I had already removed a plastic ring that had snapped in half, and the washer below was so degraded that at first I couldn’t even tell what it was made of. Metal? Ceramic? (Followed shortly by “Why would there be such a thing as a ceramic washer, you idiot?”) Off to the local Ace Hardware to find a replacement for the plastic ring.

“Nope,” the guy said. “That’s a Price Pfister, so you’ll have to go to a specialty store.” The specialty plumbing stores were closed — brilliant me started this project the Sunday before Labor Day — so I had to wait until Tuesday to hit up Central Arizona Supply, which has a store near our office.

“Nope,” the guy said. “That’s a discontinued style.” He was referring not to the outside finish but the whole setup (although I didn’t yet know how “whole” we were talking). He referred me to Brown’s Partmaster, which specializes in obscure parts … and is 20 miles from my house.

So up I drove over my lunch break Wednesday, clutching the broken plastic ring. The good news: The replacement piece cost 50 cents. The bad news: Everything else was going to need to be replaced, too. That rotted washer is actually part of the valve assembly, not a separate piece, and since I didn’t know its size, I would need to either measure it or bring it back to the store with me to could get a replacement of the same diameter.

Then I headed to Montana, where the trains reinforced my conviction that I would do this project myself. (“You can’t repair a train, but you can damn well repair a faucet.”) When I returned home, I had one day back in Arizona before I left for a business trip, so I spent my lunch hour on the highway to Brown’s again, this time with the valve assembly. Where more bad news lay in wait.

Sometime after Mr. Brooks and CPOS bought their (now-discontinued) faucet, Price Pfister resized its parts — the pipes are shorter and their diameter is now smaller. That also meant that the supply tube pictured above had to be replaced. (Each end encircles a water supply pipe, either hot or cold, and then they mix in the center, which attaches to a central pipe that runs up to the spigot.

I picked up the project on my first day back from New York, because the prospect of brushing my teeth in the shower grosses me out. Most plumbing parts screw on with nuts and bolts, but this supply hose had me thrown. Look: No threads for screwing onto the pipe! Which meant the old one needed to come off … somehow? Just pulling didn’t work, despite repeated attempts, so I went hardcore and used a hacksaw to score through the white plastic cap.

So imagine that these little stems stand upright inside the valve assemblies, and twisting part of them will begin the process that lets water flow. To sturdily connect the water hoses to the bottom requires a part called a spray clip connector — it looks like the illustration at left. It turns out that my new parts require a different-sized connector — the old ones are are of a metal that’s too big in diameter to fit through the windows. And it’s the weekend. So I shot over to Home Depot — hey, they bought Price Pfister, they should carry the parts, am I right? — and, coming up empty, MacGyvered a solution using a hitch pin clip (photo at right) with the right diameter metal.

We’re dangerously close to success now. I haven’t tightened everything supersecurely, because I wanted to make sure all elements were in place, so there’s a leak to be addressed today. And then my only real challenge will be replacing the part that pulls the drain stopper up and down. So my work here is almost done.

It might have been easier to just buy a whole new faucet assembly, which would include all the right parts from the get-go. I spent $75 on parts, while new Pfister bathroom faucets start at $90. (Although, had I opted to buy a new faucet, there is no way I would buy a Pfister, after this experience.)

So: two lunch hours, four hardware stores and the sprawled-under-sink time equivalent of an entire workday. I am glad I can say I know how to do the repair, should the need arise again. But when it does, I’m also glad that I have the name and number of a really good local plumber in my phone’s contact list.

WHAT SAM WORE: 9-16-12
Knee-length cotton pajama pants, from Uniqlo.

2 responses to “Plumb(er) tuckered out

  1. I absolutely admire your gumption to fix it without the plumber… (I am watching Bud replace the kitchen faucet as I type this)… Note that he is REPLACING the faucet… And after reading this… never ever repair… just replace…thank you for the valuable life lesson.

    • I would think that if it was just a case of a washer — which you can easily tell after taking off the flanges/escutcheons — then repair makes sense. But once you hit a certain level, I would definitely opt to replace. (And I suspect that my “level” is a lower bar to clear than other people’s might be.)

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