Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear Charlie:

I wonder if, in the 4-plus years I've been puttering around on this blog, I've told you all about Biff. No? Well, perhaps I've never mentioned him by name, but I've certainly talked about him.

Who is Biff, you ask? Well, Biff is the guy I bought my house from. Biff liked to think of himself as a handyman. And Biff seemed to think that this house was a good place to try all of his handyman experiments.

Biff has cost me a helluva lot more than what I paid for the house, let's say.

There was the time, right after I moved in, that I realized I couldn't run the fridge and the clothes dryer at the same time because the two-way 220 plug he'd installed in the wall couldn't handle the current from both appliances. Luckily, Dad fixed that one by putting in separate plugs for each of them and wiring them to separate breakers. Easy save, that one.

There's also the toilet issue. Long-time readers will know all about the toilet issue. Apparently, Biff thought it would be a good idea to leave half of the bathroom's plumbing underground when he redid the plumbing for the kitchen and added-on utility room, rather than just putting it all above ground. Now, there are roots in the pipes, and a couple of times a year (several times in unlucky years), I have to call a plumber to rooter out the lines.

There's also the time I wanted to put in a new faucet in the kitchen sink because the old one leaked. That was a real adventure. It's a good thing my dad decided that he didn't want to go this one alone and called a plumber, because good ol' Biff had used straight pipe all the way up from the basement to the faucet, rather than bothering with that pesky flex tube that you can actually, ya know, remove when you need to. The plumber had to take a Sawzall to the pipes, yank the faucet off by main force, and run flex tube up from the basement to the new faucet. He also added shut-offs in the cabinet under the sink, which Biff hadn't bothered with and which are kinda important.

There are so many other "improvements" that don't bear bringing up, mostly out of consideration for my own sanity. I simply don't want to remember them.

This one, though...really takes the cake.

So, I thought I'd make myself some soup. Sounds easy enough, right? I was thinking homemade noodles, but they're still really easy. However, there were a few dishes in the sink, so I bargained with myself that I'd definitely make myself some homemade noodle soup if I washed all the dishes first. We're not talking about a dominating pile, here, but I think I've mentioned that I'm a lousy housekeeper, and I seriously have to bribe myself to do even the most basic chores.

So, I'm washing the dishes. If there aren't too many, I just leave the water running while I wash instead of filling up the sink. I dunno why. Just one of those things I've gotten in the habit of doing. So the hot water's running, and then...ka-thunk!...the water practically stops.

I drop the plate I'm scrubbing and reach to shut the water off, automatically moving the little handle over toward the cold side as I do. The new sink doesn't have two separate handles -- just the one pivot handle that swings one way or the other to fine-tune the temperature -- and as it swings toward the cold side, the water comes back on steady. I turn it off. Then, I frown and turn it on again, back on the hot side. Burbling air, and no water at all. I turn it to the cold side. Cold water. A little less pressure than usual, but still running fine.


No hot water, but the cold water's fine. I go into the bathroom and try the sink in there. This sink does have two handles, and I try the hot one first. No water. Cold handle, water. Weird. I don't bother trying the bathtub.

So, I head into the utility room to see if maybe the hot water heater blew up, and as I open the door, I hear the faint sound of water rushing somewhere. Wincing, I walk over closer, and while I'm sure the water isn't rushing inside the house, I kinda fear that I'm hearing steam instead of water and that the water heater is gonna pop. But no, I lean my ear against it and it's dead-dead-deadsky, and the sound of water rushing is a little more clear.

Under the house. Greeeeeaaaaat.

Sighing, I grab up the flashlight and head outside. Toss open the cellar door. And, thank God, I don't have to go tramping around in the crypt because I can very clearly hear the sound of water pattering down onto the gravel under there. I just need to shut off the water.

Now, I might or might not have mentioned the time I told the plumber who came out to look at my toilet not to flush it because you can't shut it off again once it gets going when it's plugged. Of course, being a manly plumber type, he automatically assumed I was the usual useless damsel-in-distress and flushed. Then couldn't get it to shut off before it overflowed all over the floor and him and his wife/assistant.

I calmly informed him that I knew how to shut off a toilet usually, but that when I said it wouldn't stop running, I meant it. Duh. He sent his wife out to shut off the water at the source, then had to go do it himself when he realized it was still one of the old shut-offs that required a certain wrench. He said, and this is the important part of the story, that the city used to use those old shut-offs to keep people from turning their own water back on if it had been shut off for non-payment.

Thus, fast-forward back to current day, I know I can't quickly get my water shut off at the source, and I have quite a bit of water running down-cellar. Nonetheless, I call up the water company, figuring they'll at least have a suggestion.

The very nice lady at customer service asks me if I've tried shutting it off at the main line in. I tell her I can't shut it off at the source because of the old shut-off, and she calmly explains that there should also be a main shut-off to the house itself, separate from the source one. I ask if it should be down in the basement, again wincing.

I really, really don't like going down there. Cobwebs galore. And where there are cobwebs, there are Demons from Hell.

I mean spiders. Guh.

Thankfully, she says it should be on the line to the water heater, which shouldn't be in the cellar. She says it's a blue knob with "shut-off" written on it. I look and see three blue knobs, a red one, and a black one. However, only the black and one blue are on the "coming in" side of the water heater, so I eliminate the other three pretty quickly, much to the phone lady's relief.

Of course, none of them say "shut-off". That would be too easy, wouldn't it, Biff?

I try to turn the blue one, but it's stuck solid. It ain't moving. The black one turns, but the sound of rushing water doesn't slow the slightest. The lady on the phone, sounding almost as headed-toward-panicky as I feel, says she can send someone out to shut it off, but it's after hours and she'll have to charge me a small fortune to do it. I tell her that shouldn't be necessary, that I can call some friends who might know a little more about it than I do, and just about then, the blue shut-off gives juuuuust the tiniest bit. It hurts my fingers, but it turns.

So, giving a little whoop, I run for my big pliers, set 'em on the outside edges, and twist hard. Once it gets past that first stick, it turns easy enough that I just use my fingers, and after a small eternity, the running sound tightens up, then stops altogether. The water is off. Thank God.

I thank the lady on the phone and hang up, then go to the sink. And here's where the Biff part comes in.

On a whim, I flip up the handle and, even though the main water coming into the water heater is turned off...the cold water still works. Apparently, that "handy" man has this house's cold water supply run into the house separately from the hot. The hot water side goes through the water heater and the cold water just comes straight from the source.

Or something even more bizarre is going on. Which wouldn't surprise me.

But that's the only logical explanation I can come up with for why turning off the main switch still allows cold water through. Guh. What the hell??

Anyway, I'll be calling the plumber (not the idiot who wouldn't listen, but the good one who helped with the faucet) tomorrow to see if a pipe broke down-cellar or something else weird. I'm hoping it's something easy. I'm betting it's something hard.

After all, this was Biff's house. Dammit.

And I'm wondering if I should bother with the soup. I mean, really. I can only break something else, at this point, right?


At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Pesh said...

Let's not forget the upsidedown wallpaper. *snerk*

At 9:21 PM, Blogger GutterBall said...

Or the super-glued-on wallpaper in the bedroom. Or the great lumps of 5 layers of wallpaper that wouldn't come off that he'd simply papered over in the living and dining rooms.

I could go on. Poor Pesh -- you've pretty much heard them all, haven't you? Bless your heart.

On the upshot, I did get the problem fixed this morning. Both fittings on opposite ends of a hot water PVC pipe hooked up to copper on one side and iron on the other decided to let go at the same time. The pipe didn't quite fall off, but I gather it was a very near thing. At any rate, water was gushing out both ends and NOT out of my kitchen faucet. Heh.

It cost $100 to fix, but I consider that pretty light, considering that if it had been just about anything else, the bottom dollar would have been $200 easy.


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