Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Everything's fixed!

Well, after having what seemed like everything fall apart in the last couple of months, I'm pleased to report everything's fixed.

It all started in early September when our water heater went kaput.

Fortunately we had purchased a portable on-demand shower heater, so Don built an outdoor shower and we used this for most of September and October.

We ordered a replacement water heater, but its delivery was delayed for weeks.

During this waiting period, we had another project: Installing a larger propane tank. Last year we had a small tank installed, but larger tanks weren't available. This year, they were.

But getting this larger  tank was a whole ball of wax by itself. A large tank can't be installed against a structure; it needs to be placed away from the house, which meant digging a trench to bury the line.

This is the peaceful little side yard where the trench had to go, before all the chaos interrupted it.

In attempting to trench the ditch using a sub-soiler, Don inadvertently snapped the power line to the well pump, leaving us without any water whatsoever.

This led to yet another issue: the power line to the well, we learned, was not burial cable; it was standard household romex (the kind of wire that's supposed to be inside walls and safe from moisture). Who DID this? We have no idea how long this sub-par wire has been buried, much less how it managed to hold up to (presumably) decades of use. In the end we agreed it was a blessing in disguise that Don snapped the wire. Had that not happened, we would never have known where it was buried in the event of a future failure.

To fix the power line, a neighbor came in with his small backhoe and dug a trench from the power source to the well house, about 100 feet.

Then the proper burial wire was laid down, hooked up to the well, and the trench filled in. Took a few days, but at least we had (cold) water back.

But we were also on a deadline to get the trench dug for the propane tank. It sounds so simple, right? All we had to do was dig a trench four inches wide and twelve inches deep. One of the challenges was getting a hole underneath this concrete walkway. 

The trouble is, we're living on a bed of pure clay. Digging that trench was some of the hardest physical work we've ever done.

Don did what he could with the subsoiler, which at least broke up portions of the clay.

But after that, it was all hand work involving an enormous variety of tools: pick-axe, breaker bar, rock hammer, clamshells, Sawz-all, etc. The four-foot section between the walkway and the house alone took me hours, and mostly involved smashing the clay lose with the heavy breaker bar. (That's the old smaller tank on the right, that was being replaced.)

Once the trench was deep enough, we started hammering a pipe under the walkway using a sledgehammer, so the propane pipe could be installed. We'd hammer it in a couple inches at a time, then pull it out (using pipe wrenches), clear the dirt, and hammer it in some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

At long last, the tip of the pipe emerged from the other end.

Can you see it?

I spray-painted the opening to make it more visible for the propane installers.

Here are all the tools we used to dig that bloody trench.

When the trench was finished, we had a couple days before the propane tank installers came. The weather promised to be dry until literally the day they arrived. We were worried the trench would fill with water, so we covered it as best we could.

Those poor tank installers arrived during a torrential downpour.

They did NOT waste any time, let me tell you. They swung the new tank onto the pad we'd made.

They leveled and braced it.

Then they removed the old, smaller tank...

...and placed it next to the larger tank just long enough to transfer the propane from one to the other.

Then they buttoned everything up and fled. The poor guys were soaked. I wished I had some warm cookies or something I could have offered.

About a week later (in much better weather), the propane company came out and topped off the tank.

The view from the kitchen window is less picturesque now, but (I think) more beautiful. Having a large propane tank is such a nice secure feeling.

Meanwhile the new water tank finally arrived.

It promised to be a model of ease and efficiency. Famous last words, right?

I should point out the water heater itself is fine. It was everything else that went wrong. Don discovered a cascading series of plumbing catastrophes, mostly involving PEX hosing. He made more runs to the hardware store over the last four weeks than in the last two years.

The floor under the old heater had water damage. How long has that been there? Who knows?

The floor wasn't wet (at this point), so Don installed an OSB cover for extra strength.

Then the investigations began. He found a wet patch under the house, indicating something was leaking or dripping. He traced it to the dishwasher, an appliance we have literally never used since moving into the house nearly two years ago. Out it came.

Then he took a closer look under the kitchen sink and saw how badly it was plumbed. Honestly, who's responsible for all this? Not the people who sold us the house; they had only lived here three years.

I mean, look how the valves are embedded into the cabinets bottom. It's impossible to turn them.

The water leak under the dishwasher was pretty bad. And old.

We set a fan in front of it for about 12 hours.

Meanwhile Don crawled around under the house, taking out sopping wet insulation and tracing other leaks.

It turns out it wasn't just the dishwasher hose that was leaking; it was the line to the refrigerator. Remember all the issues we had with the stupid fancy refrigerator? This is why we prefer simple appliances!

So, working backwards, Don corrected all the issues. He replaced all the kitchen hoses, put in new PEX lines, installed dry insulation, and stapled up new "belly fabric."

Then he purchased a brand-new sink faucet and installed it properly

That took care of the ancillary plumbing issues. However there was still the hot water tank to install. And oh my, I don't think I've ever seen my saintly husband so frustrated in the 32 years we've been married.

There were a number of issues he faced. The old tank was installed when PEX tubing was apparently in its infancy, so Don was tasked with melding the old with the new. The old fittings and hoses didn't fit newer fittings and hoses. The copper tubing that fitted into the old PEX lines apparently doesn't exist anymore, and he had to order specialized fittings online (and wait for them to arrive). And things leaked! This leaked, and that leaked, and other things leaked. The crimping tool was sub-par and he had to purchase a better (and pricier) crimper. And to top it off, there was a fair bit of "operator error" as Don wrestled with a style of plumbing with which he had no previous experience. ("I learned a lot," he concluded dryly.)

And you want to know the irony? We have a brand-new on-demand water heating sitting in a box! We ordered it last year in hopes of installing it at some point in the future; but since we didn't have a large enough propane tank to support it at the time, we saved it for a future installation. In early September, when our water heater went out and we ordered a replacement, we had not yet contacted the propane company to inquire about getting a larger tank. In other words, the issues of which kind of water heater to install "crossed in the mail," so to speak.

All the plumbing woes, however, makes Don much more inclined to install the on-demand heater come spring. We can then sell the new tank heater when we hold our yard sale (which doesn't look like it will happen this year).

As you can imagine, the cumulative costs we've incurred over the past two months have been substantial. Ah, but now – thanks to Don's hard work and ingenuity – everything's fixed! We have hot water, we have repaired plumbing, we finally got rid of that silly dishwasher, the leaks are fixed, the understory insulation is dry, and things are back to normal.

We're in the process of dismantling the lovely outdoor shower and packing it away for a future need. And just in time, too; we have a major weather change happening by the end of the week.

Nighttime temps will be approaching freezing, and daytime temps will be about 25 degrees cooler than we've been having. No one wants to shower outdoors in these temps. Winter is on its way.

But ... we have hot water again. Blessings!


  1. Hot water is indeed a blessing! So is having a husband willing to tackle plumbing issues!

  2. Here in Tennessee, the best tool for digging a trench in the heavy clay, is what we call a maul
    It looks like a pickaxe, but one end is flat bladed, the other pointed
    A two-person effort -- the maul is used to bust up the clay, with the second person following behind shoveling out the broken soil
    multiple passes are made to get to the desired depth

    Holes under sidewalks are "jet drilled" -- connect a piece of pipe to a water source (household water at 50-60 psi works), and the pipe is pushed forward under the cement
    It gets messy (muddy water), but is easier than hammer drilling

    I can relate to the electrical issues -- on one house I bought 30+ years ago -- whoever wired it didn't know what the ground wire was for. After getting a mild shock, I started taking off the cover plates of all the switches and outlets, to find that the ground wire had been cut off where the Romex entered the box

  3. Living in Arizona we struggled with the caliche layer when laying irrigation lines to the garden, trees and pasture. My husband found the pressure washer worked great for getting through the hard layer or in areas the tractor couldn't go. The downside is the mud covered clothes at the end.

  4. Sounds like the mess factor here. I believe I may have posted earlier that it took 4 of us 6 hours to lift, shift a couple of feet, level, set, trench in a new line and fill our tanks. It also took both of our tractors, chains, clevis & pins, commercial battery charger, extension cord, grinder, and cutting wheel. Two of the 4 installers were the 'professionals'. (Plus, me and my son.)

    This past weekend we tried to light off the furnace for the first time - no go. The propane stopped at the regulator. The furnace lit and then went out once the propane was out of the line inside the house. I have had to dump enough propane into the atmosphere this year to make me cry - and now I know that is not over.

    My water heater is 300 pounds, concrete-lined, was installed in 1978, and is in the basement. It still works. (I am anticipating its death at any time - have been for years.)

    I could go on but no need. I feel your pain!

  5. Oh I understand your frustration and pain. We live in an 1898 Victorian mess and my husband has "learned a lot" too while fixing and upgrading the plumbing and electrical systems. We ask many times, "What moron did this?"

  6. We just went through a similar, although not as bad, problem. At 77 I no longer can do much so when I saw a wet spot on the ceiling I called the plumber. We do have a good one of those that we found at the new place. They came out and went up to the attic and after some sawing and other stuff they brought down a piece of plumbing that had a to small fitting that had been reamed out and the input was SILICONED in place! It did manage to last almost 10 years but give me a break!

  7. I can feel your pain. Prior to moving into our "new to us" home here in North Central Idaho, we found our our septic system was a collapse d 55 gallon drum. New septic had to be installed. Then there was the under wired rooms and the realization that no building code in our county brings many annoying problems. My husband to is always meeting the challenge unless it involves. Oh I forgot to mention the leak in our well line. We just replaced our water tank but were fortunate that we were able to walk into the local building company and buy one (local 15 miles away in town of 1400). Wouldn't live anywhere else!

  8. A few years back I had a similar problem, putting a pipe under a sidewalk. I ended up using a piece of schedule 40 PVC pipe with a hose fitting on one end and a small brass pinpoint hose nozzle on the other. You just keep pushing it in pull back a few inches and push again until it breaks through to the other side.

  9. Ah, the joys and surprises of moving into an older home. Years ago we bought a 50 year old home and had some similar surprises. DH ended up rewiring the whole place, replacing the kitchen cabinets and flooring, and doing some other construction work. We didn't get around to replacing the interesting heating system before we moved again.

  10. I had similar problems with a house built in 1902. but not all at once. Even I knew some things were done wrong! I would have to take a sponge bath rather than go out in freezing temps to shower. Yikes. Well, I am glad it is all done now.

  11. Oh, what an epic. Glad everything is fixed.

  12. What an adventure! I, too, like many of the other posters, have had similar adventures with older homes - and even a new built for me home. After the house was built and I had lived there for over a year a friend visited from far away who was an electrician and plumber and when he was looking things over he found that the main electric box was a rats nest where the electrician had just brute force pushed all the wires into the box and then screwed it closed. He insisted on taking it all apart, a two day job for him, and sorting everything out and making it neat and tidy so you could, at a glance, see what was attached to what. When he did that he found a wire that had burned about 3 inches of the plastic cover off. It made me so mad I could spit. My brand new house could have burned down! You can't just trust the competence of anyone anymore. You have to check it all out, every time. Lesson learned!
    So glad you actually had to do all of this because, as you say, now you KNOW it is done and done right. No surprises when there are feet of snow on the ground. No electrocution while walking over the ground after a good rain.

  13. Ah, the joys and frustrations of home/farm ownership! Sometimes I fondly dream of paying someone else to deal with the headaches.

    For us lately it's been our big, beautiful Angus steer that was born on our farm this spring. He's decided the fence is merely a suggestion and so carefully steps through four strands of wire to graze in ALL the neighbor's yards (we're surrounded by houses now, ugh).

    Most of the neighbors don't mind but, of course, one (there's always one, isn't there!) has complained and threatened and blustered about "our cow contaminating his well." Sigh. Days and days it's been now troubleshooting the fence. Why, why, why isn't it hot? It used to be. We've spent days tracing wire, weedwhacking fencelines, replacing and repairing, testing and retesting. We've ordered another fencer and a new battery. Nothing seems to be working.

    Our farm dogs chase the steer back into the pasture when they see him out but that just means he hurries through the fence and breaks another wire, again. Sigh.

    In the meantime a different neighbor has begun complaining about our farm dog . . . Sigh.

    The thought of moving our homestead makes me want to weep but the proliferation of city people building and buying houses on three sides of our farm (and then fussing and complaining about the realities of living near a farm!) has only added to the pressure of keeping the place up and running.