One of the more pleasing sounds a homeowner hears is the gurgling noise water makes as it speeds down drain pipes and into waste-water oblivion. It is a sound of a system working well. ++ A sound that makes you think all is right with the world.
One of the most distressing sounds a homeowner hears is the slapping sound water makes as it strays from its appointed pipes, and lands on the floor. It is a sound that makes you wish you still rented an apartment.
Late one Friday night, I heard the gurgle and then the slap from underneath the bathroom sink. At one level, I knew I should forget about the slapping sound, go to bed, and deal with the problem on Saturday afternoon, the designated time for household disaster repair.
Instead, I investigated. I opened the door of the cabinet hiding the underbelly of the sink and saw a lake. The headwaters appearedto be a plastic bucket. When I saw the bucket, I recalled that I had put it under the pipes several weeks ago, when I first heard a slight slapping sound from a leaking pipe. The bucket had quieted, but not fixed the problem, and I had promptly forgotten about fixing the leak.
Now, at 11 o'clock on a Friday night, the leak was bigger, the bucket was overflowing and I was mad at myself, at my house, at plumbing in general. I did what I often do when I get mad -- I did something stupid. I dumped the bucket of water back in the sink.
This resulted in more water slapping on the floor. It gushed out of the drain pipe underneath the sink, and since the bucket wasn't there to catch it, it streamed over the bathroom. After mopping up, I went to bed and dreamed the dream of anxious homeowners.
I dreamed about The Big One. The Big One is the household
problem that at first looks like a simple repair, but after a few twists of the wrench, cascades into a bank-account-clearing project. A plumbing job, for instance, that requires moving bathtubs, disconnecting toilets, smashing plaster and replacing the risers.
As I understand plumbing jargon, risers, or branch lines, are the elevators of household water supply systems. They are the pipes that carry hot and cold water up from the basement to the higher floors. When they get old and clogged, it takes longer to fill the upstairs bathtub, especially if somebody flushes a toilet. Replacing risers, like replacing an old, slow-moving elevator, is expensive. Most people learn to live with old risers and slow elevators.
Thoughts of faulty risers and other calamities rolled through my head Saturday afternoon as I positioned myself under the sink and looked at its dark underbelly. The leak was located at the juncture of the pipe that comes down from the drain, a section called the tailpiece, with a curved piece of pipe known as the p-trap. I had replaced a faulty p-trap in my parents' home a few months earlier and, without really diagnosing the problem, was ready to yank this one out. That is the way it is when you develop a specialty -- the remedy for every problem becomes the one procedure you know how to complete.
Before I could pull the old p-trap, I got a pain in my shoulder. That happens when I work upside down, underneath a sink. The pain made me stop and stare at the pipes, and when I did I saw the real source of the problem.
The coupling nut connecting the two pieces of pipe had corroded. Because there was nothing holding the pieces of pipe together, water that normally would whoosh down the drain was instead shooting out of the space between the pipes.
Pushing the p-valve to the side, I slide the old nut off and carried it over to the neighborhood hardware store. The guys at the hardware store eyed the old part and found a new coupling nut and washer.
I went back home, slipped the nut and washer on the tailpipe, and after a few false starts, got the nut to join together what once had been asunder.
I tested my handiwork by filling the basin and letting the sink full of water run down the drain. The joint held. I heard the joyful sound of water hurrying down a pipe. It was all gurgle, no slap. Just to be sure, I left the bucket under the pipe.
This problem turned out to be a small one. And as I put my tools away, I felt a moment of triumph. But like most homeowners, I knew this was a temporarily victory. I knew The Big One was still out there, waiting to strike.