Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Partial plumbing fail

Don't you hate it when you forget to glue one of the joints?

The kitchen faucet works great, though, and at least I have cold water again.


  1. Try finding out when you turn the water on that you actually didn't wait long enough for the glue to set. Not one of my finer moments.

    I stopped your problem from happening when I decided to never, ever put a joint together without glue. Now, if it's together, it's glued. Using colored primer (purple) or glue (the primerless is blue) helps there, too. Most city codes require that, so the inspector can make sure everything's properly glued.

    Your tub looks like it's from the 40's-50's era. The original was almost certainly a free-standing one. In the 20's, "skirted" tubs were quite expensive, and were typically installed next to only one or two walls, with the skirting going around two or three. So the original brass plumbing to the tub was reachable from the front (the side facing the bathroom), and the standpipe was originally not in the way.

    I definitely wouldn't recommend you replace your tub unless the porcelain is trashed, and even then you can get it epoxy-coated with a new finish by a professional. Those fiberglass tubs are simply low-cost alternatives to a cast-iron tub when getting a new one. If you don't need a new one, don't replace it (unless you're doing a >$15,000 makeover of your bathroom). But definitely do not replace that old drywall around your tub with any kind of drywall--use Hardibacker or some other kind of cementitious backer board that's made to underlay ceramic tile.

    One other thing re: plumbing re-fits. Any time you need to transition from copper or brass to galvanized pipe, make sure you use a Sch. 80 PVC nipple or other fitting between the two, so you'll avoid long-term galvanic damage to the steel (that's sometimes pretty short-term).

    And many congrats on getting that sink ready to use! I've had a couple of houses I had to peel-and-sterilize on a room to room basis, living in the cleaned ones. I agree the feeling is great when you conquer yet another pile of stinking filth, etc., etc.

  2. I'm not going to replace the tub, because it's in excellent condition, just dirty. I can't even tell if it's stained or not, but I don't see any actual damage to the porcelain. So I'm keeping it.

    As to the vintage -- this is the carriage house. The original tub wouldn't have been expensive. But for all I know, it was a barn loft that was retrofitted as an apartment in the 40's or 50's, which feels about right, to be perfectly honest - the walls are plaster on sheetrock; if it were built in the 20's, I think they would have used plaster on a metal mesh. I could be wrong on that, though.

    From looking at it, the standpipe was an afterthought, probably due to the tub draining slowly. I'm convinced they installed it after putting in the faucet, and would loved to have placed it another half-inch to the east -- but it was already up against the stud.

    I just have an image of the guy saying, "Boy, whoever takes this faucet out is going to have a bad day, but what can you do?" Har.

    Re drywall -- yeah, we have mold allergies in the family, so I know about moisture management. I'm tempted to learn how to plaster, except plaster takes forever to cure and I want to move in this week. Although, given it's Thursday, that's looking less probable.

  3. This may be a problem of inattention on my part, but I still don't know where you are (I assume the Middle Atlantic states). But plaster construction is very region-dependent. If you're in an area where it was very common until the advent of drywall, you ought to be able to find a good choice of tradesmen and/or home repair folks who can redo or retrofit lath-and-plaster construction. Around here (Texas and surrounding states), plaster finish is the hallmark of very high-end construction, and those who can repair it are few and far between. Our old houses have ship lap walls--cheap (for back then) 2x6 lumber nailed, usually diagonally, to the studs (even when balloon-framing was used), with cheesecloth stretched tight, attached by smaller nails, and wallpaper on the cheesecloth. Since you keep finding drywall on studs, you're probably right about the apartment build-out in the postwar era.

    In that case, considering what you've said about mold allergies, and the problems you've had (and seen in your forensic work) with plumbing problems, I'd recommend the following course of action. And you won't like it, till you think about it for awhile.

    Remove all the sheetrock. Yeah, just gut it out to the studs. I'll bet you'll be surprised at all the nasties you find. You'll find that the plumbing, including gas and water, and even some of the electrical work, is quite accessible from below, and that you can fix everything without having to go into the wood floors again (I nearly died every time I saw a pic of a hole cut in a wood floor!). Then, after you have all the plumbing mess, etc., fixed, and have had the gas plumbing pressure-tested, re-do all the drywall with new. You may have to live without baseboards and some other trim pieces for awhile, but you won't have to worry about your family's health, and you'll understand the good feeling of living with a "new" rehab.

    You'll find that putting up sheetrock gets easier, almost exponentially, although I'd recommend you use old fashioned sheetrock nails rather than the cool new screws, because those old studs will be hard as iron. And the next time your dad comes over to help, you can get him to help you prop up the stuff that goes on the ceiling. (Normally, the ceiling is done with thinner, and thus lighter, material.) You can find info about texturing on the web, and you'll probably find, as I did, that you can get creative with that, since you're working for yourself, and not on a place you want to flip.

    One other thing, particularly when it comes to re-doing the plumbing in your house. Learn how to sweat copper pipe. It's easy, and you'll probably need it. Without that skill, you'll be looking at having to replace lots of very good plumbing, or paying a plumber thousands. Once you learn, you can just fix and grin!


  4. The main house is plaster on brick, very solid, with some very recent drywall done by a guy who knew what he was doing. (I won't say he knew what he was doing in matters other than drywall, but he was really good at drywall.) Some needs to be redone, because some parts of the roof still have issues.

    In the carriage house, which is what I'm discussing this week, and which structure was built in 1920 by the tax records, the garage area is also plaster on brick. The apartment area is plaster on sheetrock. When I say "sheetrock", I don't really mean drywall, I mean a drywall-like backing board nailed to the studs as a substrate for plaster. It's also quite solid construction, and the vast majority of it is in excellent condition, with some cracking here and there due to settling, but nothing I think affects its structural integrity.

    Unfortunately, plaster repair is somewhat of a lost art here in the area. If I want to do real plaster, I'm going to have to do it myself. Which I don't mind trying -- but not for the carriage house, which has to be more or less a quick fix. It's my spare house, after all.

    As to holes in wooden floors -- special cases, both. One is in an inaccessible area anyway; the other is in an area where I just didn't care; effectively an enclosed porch. (This house has a lot of enclosed porches, in a sort of accretional architectural style.)

    I hear what you're saying about gutting, but I don't consider it necessary. We'll see how right I am when the family arrives in two more weeks.

    Surprisingly, there is no copper pipe in the entire house I've seen so far; it's all galvanized, plus CPVC by the former owner and myself. Well, correction: there is one very short length under the carriage house bathtub, a kind of double elbow. But that's it. It's kind of weird. I have an assortment of technologies in every other system but the plumbing, like somebody did it all at once during the galvanized pipe era.

  5. Honestly, Michael, my main concern is that you'll find yourself spending nine months or more in the carriage house. Hate to be impolitic, but I've seen lots of house re-do's, mine where I've lived, mine for profit, and those of friends with both of the above motives. One of the indicators that you're getting good is being able to set a reasonable and realistic critical path, with timing. Since you're in the middle of the learning curve, you'll probably find that there are some things in the "real house" that take much longer than you expect. Just sayin'.

    I saw several houses in Tulsa that were plaster-on-gyp-board, when a friend was redoing some there. It's a bit more forgiving of repair work than real lath and plaster, but it only looks new when it's new. Sounds like your foundation hasn't moved around much, so there shouldn't be much problem. Congrats.

  6. Yeah, nine months in the carriage house is a distinct possibility -- but who cares? We have lots of sleeping and working space in the big house even if I get no infrastructure done there at all, and I'm still going to have a working bathroom and kitchen on-site.

    My basic list is: carriage house infrastructure and comfort, sans frills; cleaning upstairs in the big house; plumbing and basic functionality of the kitchen in the big house; heating systems in the big house; first pass at weatherproofing of the big house (stopping air flow in the basement and crawlspaces, caulking and window maintenance); upstairs plumbing of the big house (the two bathrooms; local on-demand hot water).

    That ought to take me well into 2010, possibly even longer. But that's the basic trajectory. The key is: there's no real hurry. As long as we keep moving forward, we're going to be happy. The key is not to lose momentum.

    And the real point of this is that once I have a basic level of livability, if all the paying work goes away, I can just stop for a while, and our expenses can be very low indeed. This is a recession plan.

  7. Sounds like a really well-thought-out plan. And getting the upstairs part of the big house fit for sleeping will take care of the overcrowding of the carriage house (and keep you from having to use the garage part as a living room!).