Monday, January 2, 2017

All's Well That Ends Well

The title of this post pretty much gives away the plot, so if you're pressed for time here's the summary: the house did not catch fire (but it very well could have) and for the first time in nearly a month I simultaneously have heat, normal electricity, and awesome water pressure.

Never again will I take those things for granted.

Shortly after I wrote my last post, whilst sitting up late watching television with Louis Cat, I noticed it was a mite chilly in the house again. (This was about 3 a.m. Thursday morning the 29th.) The furnace had stopped working again. Since it was a transformer the time before, and since the electricity was all wonky in the house, I decided to unplug everything in the house except the refrigerator. Everything. All the appliances both big and small, and every single thing plugged into an outlet anywhere in the house. I don't know if this really had any practical effect, but it made me slightly less fearful that we'd have an electrical fire.

Then I sat awake in the cold and dark wearing three layers of clothing and a stocking cap and waited for the plumber to show up. He didn't. Instead, he sent an electrician who works for him. That guy said "fuck" three times in the first ten minutes and then told me, "Call KCP&L [our electric company] and get em over here right away. You should have 120 coming in on both sides. Instead you've got 145 on one side and 106 on the other." I don't fully understand that, but I know it's bad and dangerous.

KCP&L just happened to be around the corner on something totally unrelated and the guy showed up five minutes later. He took the cover off the meter on the side of the house, fiddled with it for about 30 seconds, then said, "Go turn on something big in the house, like your washer." I did. It worked. Turns out the neutral was almost completely loose from whatever it's supposed to be attached to. This has nothing to do with the plumbers, because they were nowhere near the outside meter. "You're all fixed up now!" he told me.

Well, not quite. The furnace still wasn't working. The HVAC guy came out later that afternoon and replaced the transformer he'd just installed on Christmas Eve. When I left for work Thursday night, the cats were huddled together on a register purring.

I feel like purring, myself. Calamitous house fire avoided, electrical repairs free of charge, relatively inexpensive HVAC bill, furnace working, and better water pressure than I've ever had.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nesting Dolls

Someone once said to me that old houses are like nesting dolls: you see one problem and think you have it licked, but inside that problem is another problem and  then another and another and another...  That's true. Oh, so true.

Let me take you through the last go-round of nesting dolls. First, the obvious problem of no water pressure, so I hired a plumber. Second, the plumber discovered that the gas water heater vented into the same chimney as the furnace draws from, a situation that could potentially pump carbon monoxide through my house, so he replaced my gas water heater with an electric one. Third, a new breaker and electrical work. I counted the new water lines being on the outside of the walls as being the fourth, last, and smallest of the nesting dolls, the one that's the size of a thimble.  It undoubtedly still is the smallest doll, but it turns out a few dolls were missing from the set. 

I came home from work the other morning to find the house a chilly 50°. Fourth nesting doll now accounted for. HVAC guy shows up and discovers a blown transformer in the furnace, which, all things HVAC considered, is not all that bad. (I confess I feared it would be something terrible and I cried.)

Today I was washing dishes in the sink when I decided to stick them all in the dishwasher instead. Loaded it up, turned it on, and the kitchen lights flickered on and off, the dishwasher shut off then started up again weakly, and the range shut itself off. I cursed a blue streak, turned everything off, and crept down to the basement expecting to see tripped breakers and/or some other disaster. Everything looks normal. Clearly everything is not normal, but it looks normal. 

Then I decided to see if the washer worked, because I thought it probably wouldn't and I wanted to know sooner rather than later. It filled with water super fast (awesome water pressure!) but when I turned it to Spin the washer made a series of ominous clicking noises and shut itself off. Dammit, dammit, dammit. 

Checking the breaker box again revealed no tripped or half-tripped breakers still. Also no smoke or fire, which is always a good thing. 

So I called the plumber and asked him if he thought the new wiring for the water heater could be the culprit here, and he blew out his breath in one long sigh and said "Wow, I wouldn't think so but it is the only thing that's different." Then he asked me a bunch of questions about what I had described as "weird electrical stuff" in order to get a more technical idea of the issue. He thinks it might be a problem with the lug (whatever that is), the main wire, or the meter. The outside stuff is the responsibility of the power company to fix; the inside stuff is mine. He'll be out tomorrow to take a look. 

The nesting doll count is now at, I think, five or maybe six. I don't know yet which one is the biggest doll, but I hope it was the plumbing.  Meanwhile, here I sit at home, not running any major appliances, asking Louis Cat every half-hour or so "do you smell smoke?" as if he'll answer me, and feeling sickish about the prospect of the electrical being as easy a fix as the furnace was. 

I always thought those damn nesting dolls looked evil. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Put on the Rolling Stones.  Turn it up.

"You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need..."

What I needed was hot and cold running water in my house that did not involve a garden hose snaking up the basement steps.  What I needed was awesome water pressure, enough water pressure to do laundry in a reasonable amount of time and run the dishwasher. What I needed was PEX lines that never rust. 

What I wanted was all that, plus plumbing lines that are hidden.

Everything did not turn out exactly as I wanted.

It started out well, with these lines that run to the shower in one bathroom. 
Nicely hidden in a box.

Those lines ran over to the toilet and then to the vanity.  Visible, but not bad.

In the other bathroom, it started out like this. Immediately after this photo was taken, Louis Cat ran over to that little hole in the wall by the tub and squeezed himself down into the crawlspace underneath.  I had to fish him out by his hind legs.

They plumbed the tub and then brought the lines over 
to the toilet and the vanity, just like in the other bathroom.  
From there it got worse.
Then those lines ran up the wall...

...and across the wall near the bathroom ceiling, and then through the bathroom wall...

...where they made a turn and went across the kitchen wall and then
down behind the fridge to meet the other lines
coming up from the basement.

I think it looks ugly. I knew ahead of time that they were going to have to do it that way, and I knew why.  PEX can be fished through existing walls, but it's a whole lot easier to do that vertically than horizontally.  Horizontal lines mean cutting a channel in the wall and drilling holes through the studs, which is a big pain in the hiney no matter what kind of walls you have, but it's really difficult with plaster walls. The plumbers originally thought they might be able to run the plumbing up from the basement, through the laundry room floor, and then through the shared wall between the laundry room and the bathroom, but that plan was thrown out when we realized that part of the laundry room floor is concrete. They couldn't run the plumbing through the crawlspace (where the galvanized was) because it's an unheated space--not to mention that the crawlspace is only about 14 inches high.  (All the plumbing in the two bathrooms is in the "box" that was built onto the original house sometime after 1910, so the plumber's theory is that the galvanized lines were laid out on the ground before the addition was built.)  So, yeah, it's the only way they could have done it without the plumbing bill growing exponentially, and they did do it rather neatly.'s ugly. I can paint the lines the same color as the walls and the trim and after I do that they won't show up so much, and eventually I'll get used to those lines being there and I won't even really see them. 

Enough of that whining, though.  My water pressure is, by my best estimate, at least 250% better than it was before.  That means I can run the dishwasher and the dishes actually get clean.  I can do laundry and the tub doesn't take four hours to fill. Showers are so much nicer with good water pressure.  I'll be able to water my flowers with a garden hose this spring and summer. Best of all, PEX lines don't rust so I'll never have to deal with low water pressure like I had again.