Plumbing and Other Things in a Complex Society

February 11, 2012

A Plumber at work.

Image via Wikipedia

The basic wiring of a house is not a mystery to me.  I can look around my home and picture, in my head, how the wiring runs along the ceilings and walls.  I’ve even done a few minor electrical repairs through the years without electrocuting myself.  (Yes, I remembered to flip the circuit breaker before starting.)  Part of that may be because I helped my ex-husband frame in our ex-house and watched him wire the place after we’d closed it in.

Not so, with the plumbing.  By then, we’d divorced and I’d taken an apartment in Springfield to go back to school.  Therefore, I missed the plumbing lessons.  Yes, I can close the shut-off valves and drain the tap long enough to change a ring, washer or faucet. In my lifetime, I’ve even removed a toilet bowl, changed the wax seal and managed to get all the parts back together and working.  However, how all the pipes that connect those appliances to the water main are laid out between here and there remains shrouded in mystery.  I cannot picture it in my mind.  Nor, with my bad balance, can I get down the narrow stairs that run under the first floor to the converted root cellar (with no light) where many of those pipes and my hot water heater dwell in darkness.   I do have a big book of house repairs that purports to show the basic layout in a simple drawing, but I have found that each house I’ve lived in over the years is unique and I was never sure if the widget on my pipes really corresponded to the widget (or even the pipe) in the diagram.

Because of this, I’m left to the mercy, not so much of the plumber sent out as to the mercy of the home warranty company who sends him out.

I became cognizant of this once again this week when trying to report a couple of what I imagined were simple plumbing problems.  The dishwasher in the downstairs apartment had quit filling up and the man who put the wi-fi wiring in for the new tenant said there was a small amount of standing water in the cellar and we might have a leak somewhere.  In my mind, the dishwasher problem was simply a matter of unplugging the water line that led from under the sink to the dishwasher and, though I could not plumb the depths of a leak somewhere in the basement, I felt sure a competent plumber could handle both.

Having become a landlady a couple of months ago, when my son and his fiancé moved in together, I dutifully called my warranty company.  After a few minutes of trying to explain the problem to a machine with a long list of one-word options in terms a little more complex than “dishwasher” and “leak”,  the machine informed me a plumber and an appliance technician would call to schedule their appointments and the fees would be $X per call.  I tried to ask for an operator to speak with.  Alas, the machine did not understand.

Next, I tried to cancel the service orders and go to their online site, where I could at least ask for a plumber and put down a more complex reason for the order – in hope that the computer would recognize, both jobs could be done by the same person.  Silly me.  Not only did the computer not recognize that, it informed me that it could not put my orders through, since the orders had already been placed by phone and to please call the same number I had just called. (Clever computer.)

Back to the phone I went.  When the mystery machine coughed up the option, “status of order,” I took that option with little hope that it would make a difference.  To my surprise, a very pleasant human being answered and after explaining the two problems and that they could probably both be tackled by the same plumber, she told me – with much sympathy – that they simply couldn’t allow that.  The dishwasher repair had to be done by a licensed appliance technician.  I then explained that I really didn’t have the cash on hand to pay two separate service fees and asked if she would cancel the dishwasher repair until I got my check next month.  She agreed and said that they would be happy to try and work with me on the dishwasher repair later.  By that time, I was – quite honestly – afraid to ask what “try and work with you” might mean.  I thanked her and hung up to await a call from the plumber to let me know when he would be out.

That evening, when he had said he would, he came; he saw; he conquered.   He fixed a couple of things in the downstairs bathroom the tenant had mentioned, went to the basement and found that a part in the small pump that drew moisture out of the air had frozen up and its collector had begun to run over, said he would be back the next day with the replacement part and returned the next day to fix it.  Easy peasy.   I paid him the service fee, thanked him and that was that.

This morning, after a night when the temperature dropped to seven degrees, I woke to find neither I nor the tenant had hot water.  Imagining that a mystery pipe  somewhere in that dark cellar – that somehow branched off to the two separate water heaters – had frozen, I picked up the phone once again and began the journey of calling my warranty company  to ask for a plumber.  Of course, it  was not that simple …

There are moments, at times like this, I honestly wonder whether collapse could possibly be more daunting than the task of calling for a plumber in our complex society.

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9 Responses to Plumbing and Other Things in a Complex Society

  1. graveday says:

    Well that is just sad and frustrating. I hope you get hot water soon and would like to know what the problem was.
    There once was a book a sister had called “H.E.L.P.” for Home Emergency Lady’s Pal. It was really well written and helpful enough that I bought one for myself, but have lost it. I recommend looking for a copy and getting it and having your son read it.
    A broken dishwasher is still a good place to dry hand washed dishes, heh. gd

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Grave, well the water came back on about 20 minutes ago and the pressure in all the hot water faucets seems fine. The tenant told me the other day he could hear cats meowing up through the furnace vents and this morning when he went to walk his dogs, the cover to the under-house vent on the north side of that basement was laying on the ground. So he put it back over it and leaned a big rock up against it. I think cold air got in there and when he closed it back up, the heat from the house thawed the pipe by this afternoon. He and I both had left a cold water faucet running a bit last night, which has always worked before – even when the temp gets down to 0 degrees at night. So I expect that’s what happened. Anyway, it’s going to be down to 10 or so tonight, so if nothing untoward happens 😀 I’ll call and cancel the order tomorrow.

      Thanks for the tip about the book. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.

  2. Meditation On the Decline and Fall of Quality in Goods and Services

    At first, it’s hard to admit,
    But collapse is not going to quit;
    Every day, I submit
    Stuff becomes more unfit:
    Everythings turning to shit.

    Here’s what makes me berserk
    (Which you may think’s only a quirk):
    Things keep getting worse,
    So I swear and I curse;
    I hate it when shit doesn’t work.

  3. graveday says:

    Yes Ben, when you lean back in a chair and it starts to fall, there’s no cure.
    Linda, glad to hear you are back in business with hot water and more importantly, have an idea of why it happened. Damn, it’s cold where you are.

    • theozarker says:

      Actually, it’s been an unusually warm winter so far, but we do get cold air from Canada sweeping down this time of year when the jet stream takes a dip. Last night it got down to five, but with the vent closed, no problem. By mid week, we’ll be back up in the high forties with twenties at night. Go figure. 😀

  4. I have found that the worst part about plumbing is the soldering of the pipes, that and digging up pipes out of the ground!

  5. theozarker says:

    Never tried welding; did try digging up water pipes; did not work out well, which is another reason I leave it to the plumbers. 😀

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