“There is no rewind button in life,” Jamie Lee Thurston told me.

No, but if there were I’d surely use it to redrain my pipes better last fall.

It was a rough winter in North Puffin. Fortunately, I was in South Puffin at the time. We had a difficulty with the frig. And the coffee maker. And it turns out we also had some plumbing issues.

SWMBO started the house back up after its winter hibernation and called to say, “There’s water running everywhere.”

Uh oh.

“Define ‘everywhere’,” I replied wisely.

Split, Leaky PipesAfter we got past that exchange, she told me there seemed to be a split in the PEX manifold from the water tank. Splits in the cold water copper pipe to the domestic water coil in the furnace. Some separated fittings in the hot water out from the same coil. A couple of burst fittings over here. Another one over there. And so on.

Last Fall, we were very, very careful. I installed a new water makeup to pump propylene glycol in the furnace. I filled all the fixtures with potable antifreeze. Every toilet and tank, every sink trap, every appliance. I drained the water system from the top down. I even completely drained the PVC pipes to the outdoor faucet and shower. Let me repeat that. I drained the water system from the top down. There should have been no water in those pipes anywhere.

Note to self: close the washer lid to keep the mice at bay. They like the sweet smell of antifreeze and then can’t get out. That does not make a pleasant homecoming. SWMBO will not clean it out. Mouses are man’s work.

It was a brutal winter. Even the cellar froze. I think even the water in the cistern froze and it has never frozen.

I may be a great mechanic but I AM™ the world’s lousiest solder jock.

I can blame 10% of that on my torch and 90% on my technique. I can almost always sweat a clean, empty fitting. I can almost never sweat a clean fitting that has ever had any water within a mile of it. Oh, I know the “drain the pipes” trick. I know the “push bread innit” trick. I know most of the tricks. I’m glad they work for you.

The pipes in the cellar apparently didn’t all drain then. And a stub line on the porch blew out. Apparently it didn’t all drain, either.

I started the repairs by repairing the outdoor pipes and extending the stub over to a new hose bib I installed near the kitchen door. I’m good with PVC. That gave us cold water at the kitchen. We have a nice 5 gallon jug (a square-ish, translucent, left over container of teat dip) but that is a PITA to lug up from the cellar.

Then I fixed the PEX. Everyone tells me PEX won’t swell and split when it freezes. PEX swells and splits when it freezes. I’m good with PEX.

Copper. Sweating. Oh, my.

The pipes in the cellar drained completely when they split. I started at the furnace end and simply worked my way back. I took out a rat’s nest of copper around the furnace; a real plumber had added a mixing valve (sometimes called a “tempering” valve) several years ago. It allegedly mixes COLD water in with the hot water to “ensure constant, safe shower and bath outlet temperatures, and preventing scalding.”

Horse puckey.

I’ve had it replaced twice and it has consistently given us a minute (somewhere in the cycle) of pure cold water in the shower. Plumber said it was code. Same plumber installed a “boiler drain valve” (a sweated in stop valve on the end of an open stub) pointed up. Up? I took the mixing valve out and plumbed the furnace outfeed directly to my shower (and the rest of the hot water service). Fewer joints. Cleaner. That opened the bottom of the tee up so I could hang his drain valve pointing down, at the lowest point of the hot water system. Replaced a blown out elbow in the cold water feed and used a tee in that line to install a new drain valve pointing down, at the lowest point of the furnace cold water system, too.

So I had worked my way back to the cellar wall by the crawlspace under the kitchen. I added shutoffs and drains where they should have been, so each leg could be independently controlled. Hot and cold water everywhere but the kitchen, baby!

I tried an air pressure test on the hot and cold lines running into the kitchen. The cold didn’t hold air at all. The hot pushed air back at me, so it may be sound beyond one blown out elbow. I desoldered that fitting, drained and cleaned the pipes, installed shutoff valves, and replaced the blown out fitting. One side didn’t take, something I didn’t learn until I foolishly turned the water back on.

That’s when my 1968 torch crapped out.

It’s always been a bit cranky in that it doesn’t necessarily shut down the propane bottle, but I could solve that by taking it off the bottle. Now the valve is just plain stuck. I don’t think operating a propane valve with pliers is very safe.

No local store carries the self-lighting Mag-Torch I want, so I ordered it online. It should be here tomorrow. Or Friday.

The water system continues to frustrate me in spite of getting it working everywhere but the kitchen. I still have to struggle with at least that blown fitting, I’ll have to crawl around in the crawl space, and I’m really nervous about the life expectancy of the furnace.

The 36-year old furnace started right up and has been running as it should, but it is 36-years old and it lives in a dirt floor cellar.

Harper’s Second Law: Rust Never Sleeps.

At least we got to shower!

We changed the sheets, too.

I know there is an end to this job somewhere but I’m not getting anything on my own list done.

SWMBO is happy to have water in the rest of the house so now the fact that the coffee maker makes coffee but doesn’t keep it warm is at the top of her list.

I suspect the coffee maker is a separate issue from all the freeze damage.


Toilet Color Coding

If it’s clear, leave it here. If it’s brown, send it down.

Toilets are amazingly complex for such simple objects. In the end, so to speak, a toilet is simply a bucket of water you pour down a pipe but high-tech engineers with fancy titles have been tinkering with the design since Thomas Crapper owned the world’s first bath, toilet and sink showroom, in King’s Road. In fact, my alma mater built a five-story flushing facility quite appropriately on a Hudson River dock.

Head may express the force needed to lift a column of water those five stories but the head (or heads) on the other side of that dock is a ship’s toilet. The name derives from sailing ships in which the toilet area for the regular sailors was placed at the head or bow of the ship.

I’m not convinced my grandmother coined that phrase, but it was her watchword.

As far as I know, Nana never had to carry water in a bucket to flush an indoor toilet so I don’t know why she always saved water. My father grew up in a railroad station where his father, my grandfather, was station master. They had a sink and a bathtub inside but no toilet; they used the “private” side of the two-holer privy at the end of the station house lawn. The public side was on the platform side of the fence.

Necessary and Sufficient. The Colonial Williamsburg Journal tells us, “If something is faintly not nice, humans retreat into a fog of euphemism that merely hints at meaning, as if the words themselves were at fault. Consider the privy, which in the eighteenth century was called the necessary house or, more simply, the necessary. This little structure — of brick or wood, painted or unpainted, of vernacular or high-style design — was also known as a bog, boghouse, boggard, or bog-shop; a temple, a convenience, or temple of convenience; a little house, house of office, or close stool; a privy or a garde-robe, terms that descend from the Middle Ages. Or a jakes, a sixteenth-century term. Williamsburg’s St. George Tucker once defined a jakes as a garden temple.”

Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, the EPA notes, accounting for nearly 30% of an average home’s indoor water consumption.

Replacing all of our older, inefficient toilets might save nearly 2 billion gallons per day across the country or some 11 gallons per toilet in your home every day, dear reader. Not in mine, though.

I can save my 11 gallons just by not flushing twice.

There’s a minor blockage in the waste line from one bathroom here. The shower drains fine. The bathroom sink is superb. A toilet flush sometimes backs up in the shower. I’ve snaked and roto-rooted the pipes. I’ve sent a camera down. I think there is a root intrusion under the concrete slab but we can’t find it. My friend Chester, a plumber in real life, suggested a new toilet because they use less water so there wouldn’t be as much to back up.

We’re not allowed to install necessary houses.

The “effective flush volume” of a high efficiency toilet shall not exceed 1.28 gallons. A single flush, tank-type gravity toilet uses up to five gallons to clear the bowl.

toiletOne manufacturer writes, “High Efficiency Toilets should be able to flush using at least 20% less water than is mandated by law and should not need to be flushed more than once to do their job. They should require minimal cleaning with environmentally unfriendly detergents.”

I agree.

If a toilet is supposedly highly virtuous, flushing twice to clear the contents isn’t exactly efficient. The Victorians who hung the tank from the ceiling had the right idea. More head means more power to clear the bowl, even with reduced water.

Chester is wrong, by the way. Sending less water per flush just means the solids don’t move well past the blockage.

I should hang the tank from the ceiling. Of course, water might geyser like Old Faithful out of the shower floor drain.

Nana was right. Cutting out a couple of flushes saves the world, too.

Trash to Riches

My garbage man has to buy a new truck.

Vermont has very little municipal trash collection, even in our small municipalities. Many Vermonters contract private haulers to collect and dump our trash; others, like my daughter, load up their dogs and plastic bags for the Saturday morning outing to the transfer station.

Freelance Editorial Art by Roy Doty: Tom Ripley owns my garbage route. I like Tom. He’s friendly, always on time, and comes right up on the porch to pick up the trash cans. He even (usually) latches the storm door when he puts the cans back. He owns a couple of used garbage trucks that he bought at the state auction and usually has a couple-three pickups that he runs around his route every Sunday before church. Sadly, he’s leaving the business because Vermont says he has to buy a new truck.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-VT) moved us “towards universal recycling [to] advance Vermont into the next generation of solid waste management and keep more waste out of our landfills” with a new law he signed this year.

The mandate requires waste haulers to collect everything from yard waste to commercial food waste, and prohibits dumping any recyclable or compostable materials in landfills.

Did you know there is a U.S. Composting Council? Its executive director says that “Enacting the law over time will ensure its success on a number of levels.”

The timeline begins in 2014 when all mandated recyclables must be removed from the solid waste stream. In 2015 yard waste goes. Two years after that, in 2017 food waste must be gone.

The prohibition mandates that every hauler have compartmented trucks. And everyone is soooooo very pleased about how the law will be phased in to give haulers enough time to build the infrastructure.

Tom has to buy a new truck.

Of course by law, Tom won’t be allowed to charge extra for handling the recycled materials.

But wait! There’s more!

If a facility collects mandated recyclables from a commercial hauler, the facility may charge a fee for the collection of those mandated recyclables.” — Act 148

Tom has to buy a new truck.

But wait! There’s more!

Food residuals can’t go in the waste stream any more. In fact, “uncontaminated material that is derived from processing or discarding of food and that is recyclable, in a manner consistent with section 6605k of this title” (i.e. preconsumer and postconsumer food scraps) must be source separated. — Act 148

I have to pick out the wilted lettuce. Tom has to buy a new truck.

“Mr. Ripley could use his old truck and just drive the route twice,” one regulator told me. Or four times if our regulatory friend could count.

That makes perfect Green sense.

It used to be that when government usurped private property by annexing your land or legislated you out of business, it was called a taking. Times change. I guess the Far Green figures that a mandated purchase like Tom’s new truck is just another tax.

Follow the money. Somebody’s getting rich on this but it sure ain’t Tom Ripley.

For the record, Act 148 does allow new “taxes on all nonrecyclable, nonbiodegradable products or packaging.”