You know it’s been an underwhelming second half of summer when one of the only things I can think to write about is a do-it-yourself project.
Now, I’m not really a do-it-yourselfer. I’m more of a don’t-do-it-at-aller, which is one of the reasons our home has maintained its timeless mid-1980s aesthetic. However, sometimes things get past the point of ignoring, and I either have to act or get someone else to act for me.
About a month ago, I could smell a musty odor coming from under the kitchen sink. The faucet itself was leaking, not any of the shutoff valves or other plumbing. I put a bucket under the leak and had a look. It appeared to be leaking from the hose. That seemed reasonable, as hoses do tend to wear out over time. The Kohler faucet wasn’t super fancy, but it wasn’t cheap either, and it had a custom hose that was going to cost nearly $50 to replace. I found the replacement hose on Amazon, ordered it, and had it in my hands two days later.
The next day I set about replacing the hose. The instructional video on the manufacturer’s web site shows a man gently squeezing a plastic part while pulling the original hose out of the faucet assembly. My experience on this only-six-year-old kitchen faucet was somewhat different. After spending nearly a half-hour under the sink, squeezing, tugging, and then finally grabbing the old hose with a set of pliers and yanking as hard as I could, it finally gave way. Then at least another half-hour was spent figuring out how to feed the new hose through the faucet assembly, several steps to which were carefully omitted from the video. I finally got the whole faucet back together, hose and all, and turned the shutoffs back on.
It was still leaking.
Since I’d already cleared the space under the sink, I got under again and had another look, this time with a flashlight. Upon closer inspection, it looked like the leak was coming from deeper inside the faucet assembly. Whether that was the origin of the leak all along or whether I’d damaged the faucet while trying to disassemble it, at this point I didn’t care. I shut off the valves again and removed the faucet altogether. As much as I liked the faucet, I wasn’t sure how much money I was willing to sink into something that was already giving me such a headache after only six years. Currently it’s sitting in a corner of my patio while I figure out how best to recycle it.
The next day I went to Home Depot and bought the cheapest Glacier Bay kitchen faucet I could get my hands on. It literally cost less than the replacement hose for the Kohler. Installing it took a lot less time than trying to remove the old one. It’s not pretty, but at least nothing is leaking now.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and I’m on the Amazon website to order something entirely unrelated to do-it-yourselfing. Of course Amazon has its algorithms for showing you things you might want to buy based on your past spending habits. On this day it decided to show me bathroom faucets. The bathroom faucets in our house haven’t been replaced in the thirteen years since I bought the place, and they weren’t very nice to begin with. They were already showing signs of corrosion ten years ago, and they certainly hadn’t improved with age. So I thought to myself, perhaps I should go ahead and replace the existing shitty faucets with some newer shitty faucets, just to buy us more time to decide what direction we want to take with the bathrooms. A couple days later, I had two new faucets for the double sink in our master bathroom.
The time came for me to install the first one, and so I started by turning off the shutoff valves. The cold one was a little difficult to turn, but I finally managed to get it into the off position. The hot one was also a little difficult to turn, but eventually the handle did give way.
Which is to say, it broke off in my hand. With the valve still in the on position, hot water blowing out full blast onto yours truly and our bedroom carpet.
I yelled to Kathryn, who was watching TV in the living room a few feet from the main shutoff valve, to shut off the water to the house. I heard her go outside, but with hot water still gushing all over me, I finally ran downstairs to figure out what the problem was. Kathryn was staring at the shutoff valve with a blank stare on her face. I pulled the handle a quarter turn, assuring we’d have no water in the house until the broken shutoff valve was replaced.
At this point, I had a decision. Call an emergency plumber, who would have charged a small fortune to come out and replace a less-than-$10 part, or do it myself. The compression-type shutoff valves under our sinks don’t require a whole lot of skill to replace, and I had all or nearly all the tools I’d need, so I decided to take the do-it-yourself option.
At one point in the discussion, Kathryn asked if I should call the “senior” Mr. Gilman, my dad. I’m certainly not too proud to ask my dad for help, but in this case, I decided to let him enjoy his retirement for a few more hours and keep that as a backup plan.
Back at Home Depot, I found the correct replacement shutoff valve, which was pretty easy since I’d already removed the broken one and brought it with me. As I was heading to the checkout, Kathryn called and asked if I should buy more than one. I told her I’d have to be pretty unlucky to have two shutoff valves break in one day.
By the way, that last sentence is what’s called foreshadowing.
I installed the new shutoff valve and then replaced the faucet. As with the kitchen faucet, the removal of the old faucet was far more time-consuming than the installation with the new one. Then I turned the main shutoff back on and checked for leaks. Everything looked good. Then I turned the under-sink shutoffs back on. First the hot side, which was silky smooth because it was brand-new, then the cold side.
Which, like the hot valve, broke off in my hand.
At least this one broke off in the off position, but it was still dripping from where the handle had been. Once again, I went outside to shut the main off, and then back to Home Depot again. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. Since I still had one more faucet to go, I bought a contractor pack of five shutoff valves.
For some reason, getting the second shutoff valve installed didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first one. The manufacturer recommends a three-quarters turn on the compression nut, but I could only get about a one-quarter turn with the tools I had. After much adjustment, I was still getting a slow drip around the compression ring. I didn’t have two wrenches that were big enough to hold the valve with one and turn the nut with the other, both of which were too big for the three-quarters-inch adjustable wrenches we had.
So I headed back to Home Depot, yet again, for a second one-inch adjustable wrench.
Although I was never able to get a full three-quarters turn on the compression nut, the extra eighth of a turn I did get was enough. With the main water supply back on, everything looked watertight. We kept a dry bucket under the sink for a few days to be sure.
The faucet also came with a replacement drain, which was a much easier project than the faucet itself. The only hitch was the old tailpiece was rusted to the drain flange, but that problem was resolved with a few squirts of WD-40 and a bit of patience.
In the end, what should have been a one-to-two-hour project took nearly eight hours spread out over two days, as well as three trips to Home Depot.
By the time I got to the second faucet, I took a look under the sink and noted a small problem. The drain tailpiece is apparently connected to the air conditioning drain. Since the new drain is a single-piece drain flange and tailpiece, I was going to have to get creative with the drain plumbing. I decided to punt. I needed to turn my attention to an upcoming dinner party and the new problem of water leaking through the upstairs ceiling.
Those matters, however, are posts for other days.