It’s good to know your limits. (Plumbing is mine.)


My new tenants are getting settled in, and gave me a short list of things that needed attention in the apartment. As maintenance lists go, theirs was very short and simple: a slow drain in the bathtub (also a place where water was collecting in the bathtub, due to unlevel floors), and the rubber weatherstripping on the front door that was getting stuck to the new paint. Easy. (Or so I thought.)

DOING IT THE “RIGHT” WAY
I researched online the best way to clear a slow drain (I knew that Drain-o wasn’t necessarily the best thing for old pipes), and found an article saying to plunge the drain, then clear it with a drain snake. I went to Home Depot and purchased my very first drain snake, and told the tenants I would be up Saturday morning to take a look at it.

Well, the drain was clearly full of hair, some of which I could remove just with my fingers (and strong stomach). I plunged, flushed, pushed the snake as far as it would go, and started turning. The snake just started winding up on top of itself. Perhaps I should have gotten the one that attached to the drill after all. I removed the snake, flushed, plunged, repeated, but all of my efforts seemed to be making the drain worse, not better.

Not that I have any idea what I’m doing when it comes to clearing drains, mind you. I clearly did not. Had I known better how to operate a drain snake, I would have been in much better shape. And the directions I had found didn’t seem to help me.

OLD RELIABLE
I went downstairs and grabbed my jug of Drain-o. I’ve used it many, many times before, and it has usually done the job. With much less effort than the snake. Poured in half the bottle, and let it sit for an hour.

OH NO!!!
After my hour was up, I flushed the drain with hot water, and it was clear as a bell. Except now there was water collecting on the floor…not the desired effect.

The tub in question is an old clawfoot tub, so the drain pipes are exposed. There is one connection that had a gigantic ball of caulk surrounding it — something that the inspector pointed out to me, and told me to keep an eye on when I bought the duplex. I’m not sure if it was me shimming up the far end of the tub (to prevent the pool of water), or the drain-o, but it was the end of the line for the ball o’ caulk. And water kept dripping out, making it too wet to put more caulk onto it.

CALLING THE PLUMBER ANYWAY
The tenants are out of town this weekend; I went back upstairs today to put some caulk on the connection to keep the water flow to a minimum before the plumber can come out. I’ll be calling one first thing Monday morning; hopefully he will be able to come out the same day,and not charge me an arm and a leg for it. Really, though, even though I went through all of this effort to save calling a plumber, I’d rather pay the plumber to fix something the right way (i.e. removing the ball o’ caulk) than just to solve a simple clogged drain.

WHEN TO CALL A PLUMBER
Remarkably, I’ve been able to avoid calling a plumber for the last three years. I can do a lot of things myself; I’ve installed a new kitchen faucet and sprayer, replaced stems on the bathroom faucets when they were leaking, replaced supply lines and shower heads, etc. The connection on the drain pipe should be fairly straightforward; I probably could conceivably do it myself. However, I’ve learned in the past that dealing with plumbing that’s been in place for 100 years is very difficult, and frustrating for my low level of plumbing skills, and I’m better off calling in a professional. That, and I don’t want to give my tenants the impression that I’m tinkering around while not having a clue what I’m doing. If the problem was in my apartment, I would probably attempt it myself.

WHERE TO FIND A PLUMBER?

I know a good plumbing supply store that I’ll call tomorrow morning, they may be able to recommend someone. Also, I have a subscription to Angie’s List — I’ll do some research tonight and find some people to call who appear to have good reviews and reasonable prices. The final decision will probably come down to who can come out the quickest for the lowest price. If I like them, and they do a good job, next time I’ll have “my plumber” to call, and I won’t have to go through this again.

LESSONS LEARNED
“Simple things” are not always that simple. Especially in an old house, where the previous owners rigged-up and half-fixed a lot of problems.


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