There’s one thing in this world that can undo me faster than a belt buckle after Thanksgiving dinner: Plumbing. Alien invasion? No problem. Scandal season finale cliffhanger? I’ll work through it. Clogged sink? Get out the straight jacket.
And so it was this Sunday when the slow drip we’d discovered on Friday had evolved into a trickle and finally a steady leak. While new to us, ours is an older house with both lead and brass pipes, so plumbing issues are not unexpected. It’s like that super-volcano under Yosemite: You know it’s gonna blow eventually; you just hope it’s not today.
Someone with authority—I won’t say names; it’s not entirely up to code—suggested turning off the main water valve*, opening all the spigots in the house to drain them, and applying steel epoxy to seal the joint.
*We interrupt this blog post for an important public service announcement: Always know the location of your water shut-off valve. Most of you may already know this, but for the rest of us, like the name suggests, the water shut-off valve will immediately stop any water from coming into your home should an emergency arise. No sooner had a friend suggested I find where it is than it became the most important thing on the planet for me to know.
After turning the water off, we waited for the drip to stop. This is science, kids. It’s all about gravity and letting water drain out at the lowest point. It’s knowing “dry pipes good, wet pipes bad” when doing repair. It’s wishing that I had chucked my Liberal Arts education in favor of plumbing school. Plumbers are always working and they all drive Cadillacs.
But the drip never stopped, despite the main water line being off. A neighbor came over and tried to tighten the valve at the leak. Here’s what I learned about old brass valves and wrenches: They are not friends. The leak was now a spray and my basement was a wet mess. There was no turning the water back on. No going to the bathroom. No taking a shower—we’d spent the day outside doing yard work and looked it. And the soonest a decent plumber could arrive was Tuesday. Oh, and did I mention that this was all happening on the eve of Hubs’s big birthday? Turns out, the pipe was so corroded that, had my neighbor so much as breathed on the valve, it would’ve snapped like a twig.
The pipe wasn’t the only thing to snap. I was now two flushes away from a full-blown meltdown, so I did my family a solid and stepped outside. Feeling exhausted, stressed, and desperate, I dialed a friend of mine. “Just talk me off the ledge,” I told her. “I’m losing my mind over plumbing.” She listened as I recounted the evening’s events, then offered her house, only four blocks away, so we—the Kid, the Hubs, and I—could take warm showers. “Go get something to eat,” she said. “And call me when you get back.”
We hung up and I pulled my unwashed hair into a ponytail—we were hitting a local dive; freshening up was optional. Then, before we could even leave the house the grab dinner, my friend called back, “We’ll be there in five minutes.”
The “we” was my friend, her husband, and their neighbor who just so happened to be a plumber. Things to know: Everyone has a guy. Each neighbor I’ve met says the same thing, “If you ever need something done, I got a guy.” These “guys” do everything from plumbing to electrical work to landscaping to basic handyman work—and they’re all named Frank, George, or Carlos.
The plumber came in and quickly assessed the situation, but made no promises. Over the next four hours, the basement was a hot bed of activity—removing the old busted brass pipes, cutting new copper ones, and doing something called “sweating.” Then, at the stroke of midnight, the moment of truth: The sound of running water through my kitchen sink—and no one hollering from the basement to “turn it off!” It was music to my ears.
After a long night, I awoke the next morning to wish Hubs a “Happy Birthday”. . . then immediately hopped into the shower before another disaster befell. I also woke up with an overwhelming gratitude for my friend and all she did for me. Who knew just three simple words—”I need help”—would have such a profound effect! I feel so lucky, I might go buy a lottery ticket.
The update: Since then, we’ve made at least a dozen trips to the basement to check on everything. The new pipes are holding. The basement is dry. I’m hopeful my sanity may yet return.