February 11, 2012
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.