Sunday, June 08, 2008

Still Livin' in a Hell Hole

As everyone who knows me knows, the house I live in is a dump, or, as I put it in a previous post, a hell hole.

Of course, it's not all bad, livin' in a hell hole. At least you know where you stand in a hell hole. And sometimes folks lend a hand in a hell hole.

But the fact of the matter is that I could easily spend a week just making a list of the things that need to get fixed around here. And one thing on that list would be the plumbing.

The genius who designed the 1940s remodel (or more likely some subsequent remodeling job) decided that the washing machine belonged in the kitchen, and it drains into the same line as the sink. I' sure that at one time this arrangement worked well enough, but it seems that over the years the pipes have narrowed like a Cajun's arteries. ("The Louisiana diet will kill a man as surely as a sword.")

As a result, when the washing machine drains, the water will overflow onto the floor if the pipes are already full of water from the sink. But I found that a bit of lye now and then keeps things running smoothly, and generally prevents a puddle on wash day. I used to use Red Devil (the powder, not the liquid), but it seems to have disappeared from the market, and I switched to Drano Kitchen Crystals. Like this:

But just keeping the drains draining isn't enough. A few months ago, water started dripping out of the cabinet under the sink whenever the sink got much use. In a rare fit of initiative, I decided to fix it.

It turned out to be not too big a problem. The washer under one of the slip joint nuts had deteriorated almost to the point of non-existence. In case you were wondering, this is what a slip joint nut and washer are supposed to look like:

This is what the ones under my sink looked like (the washer is the gray-green crud):

I replaced the washer, and things seemed to work fine for a while (except for the washing machine drain occasionally overflowing), but then about a month ago another leak developed. I figured it was another bad washer, but couldn't seem to muster the initiative to do anything about it. There were lots of things that needed doing more, and besides, the occasional leak gave me an excuse to mop the floor.

Which brings us to this morning.

A house-guest of mine, laboring under the absurdly optimistic misapprehension that the sink had a garbage disposal, removed the strainer fro the drain so some food scraps could get ground up by the non-existent appliance.

Not a good thing.

But I had a can of those Drano Kitchen Crystals next to the sink, and I figured they'd dissolve the clog. So I poured some down the drain, and ran a bit of water over them to wash them down.

By the way, in case you were wondering:

And if you're wondering if that applies to plastic pipes as well, not to worry. Just read the fourth line down:

Well, maybe to worry a little. As the crystals interacted with the gunk in the drain and the noxious vapors bellowed forth, a very bad sound came from under the sink, followed by a gush of water. The pipe (the one whose washer I had replaced a couple months ago, as it happens) fell off the sink. And it didn't fall off because I put it on wrong. It fell off because the pipe, having been significantly heated by the chemical reaction within, had lost all its rigidity. It was sort of like a garden hose, only not nearly as stiff.

I tried to push the pipe back in place, but only succeeded in getting my hands covered with an extremely caustic mixture of sludge and lye. And a couple globs of wet Drano Kitchen Crystals splashed onto my arm and gave me a pretty good burn. I went to the bathroom to wash it off, but something about that slimy feeling that wouldn't go away reminded me that if you have a chemical burn from a base, you need acid to neutralize it. (I finally found a use for those high school chemistry classes!) Fortunately, I had a big bottle of vinegar on hand.

So I poured vinegar all over everything, but especially my hands and arm, and then spent about an hour cleaning up the mess. I didn't think the under-the-sink cabinet had ever been cleaned. At least not in my lifetime. It wasn't pretty. It took about an hour just to clean up the mess.

Anyway, here's what the pipe looked like after it had cooled and stiffened up again:

You may have noticed that, in addition to no longer being a proper cylinder, the end of the pipe isn't even round anymore:

And it certainly wasn't straight:

But somehow I managed not to appreciate the fact that the pipe was no longer pipe-shaped when I made my first trip to Home Depot to get replacement washers and slip joint nuts (I figured I'd replace them all, just to be on the safe side).

Of course, when I got home and picked up the pieces to put them back together, I realized that there was no way that was going to work. But at least I found out where the leak came from. It seems that something had eaten a hole through the side of the "T" junction:

Given the odd shape of the "T" junction, I'm guessing that the hole was the result of a previous run-in with Drano.

Once I got the mess more or less cleaned up and figured out what I really needed to do the job, fixing everything was surprisingly cheap and easy. I made another trip to Home Depot and got the parts to replace everything for about ten bucks. And it only took about fifteen minutes to put it all back together. Now it looks like this:

The cabinet's still disgusting, but at least the plumbing's sparkling clean.

But then, after it was all done, I found this in the sink:

I didn't put it there, and I've never owned silverware of that pattern. The only explanation I can come up with is that it must have been stuck in one of the old pipes and fallen out somewhere along to way.

Finally, in fairness to the good folks at Drano, the directions say to use one heaping tablespoon. I may have used somewhat more than that, in keeping with the seriousness of the clog.