So, Saturday, I had plans: laundry (every Saturday), a class, with SF writer Mary Robinette Kowal (the Lady Astronaut series) and a nice grilled steak dinner afterward.
The day started out well, the class was good, and laundry was ongoing as I readied the grill and cooked the steak, potatoes and mushrooms. Just about the time I was going to start microwaving fresh Brussels sprouts, I went to the basement to move clothes to the dryer.
There was water all over the floor around the water heater! It was dripping down from above. A push-on elbow fitting in the copper pipe had failed. It never had looked great; there are three connections that I've been keeping an eye on, but that one hadn't been the most worrying. It was dribbling water now, though.
I started groping my way to the main water shutoff, yelling for Tam to bring a flashlight. The shutoff is in a dark section of the basement, past the furnace and water heater. It's a ball valve, so it only takes a ninety-degree turn to close. My first try was the wrong direction, but I had it off by the time Tam showed up.
We used the flashlight to check the damage, then wiped up the worst of the water. I wanted to try a quick fix, so I got the boxes of plumbing tools and parts, found my one spare elbow, got out the tong-type release tool for the fitting, and-- The badly chipped plastic collar you push on to release the fitting wouldn't cooperate. It just spun around. I gave up, checked to see if the pilot light was lit -- yes -- and let the problem sit until later.
Meanwhile, the steaks were about done. I loaded the laundry into the dryer and started it, helped Tam mop up as much of the remaining water as we could get and stashed the steaks on plates on the bottom of the gas oven. That kept them warm while the Brussels sprouts cooked and I brought in the potatoes and mushrooms.
We had dinner and watched an episode of Life Below Zero while we ate. The relatively inexpensive, grass-fed steaks were not very good; grass-fed beef has a gamier flavor that I usually like, but these were apparently a bit old. There was plenty else to eat after a few bites of our steaks.
And so, with some worried thoughts about the possible aftereffects of our steaks, we returned to the basement. The other release tool for push-on fittings is a kind of C-shaped collar, and it was able to engage enough of one side of ninety to release it. The other side was kind of stuck and when it came free, the body of the fitting came off, leaving a toothy spring-steel ring and the broken parts of the plastic collar still on the pipe. Needlenose pliers took care of that and I checked the pipe ends.
My introduction to push-on fittings came when a plumber in a hurry used them to repair the hot-water pipes over a decade ago. These would be those pipes. You have to deburr the ends of the pipes before you assemble the connections -- the rubber O-ring that seals the connection can be cut or the plastic parts damaged if you don't. It doesn't have to be pretty; it just has to be sufficient. Someone who does plumbing all day, every day usually has a good sense of just how much deburring is enough and they don't spend extra time at it. Usually-- There was a short, nasty burr on one of the pipes. I'm not a plumber; I carefully smoothed both pipe ends, cleaned them, wiped them dry and pushed the new fitting into place. I was a little worried about it; I had to wiggle the pipe ends around to get the new fitting in place and about a foot past the ninety, there's a tee that I have been watching. I didn't want to stress it.
The ninety appeared to pop into place all right. I gave both sides another push for luck and had Tam watch it while I turned the water back on. It didn't leak. We were back in the hot-water business.
The fittings have been holding ever since. And the steaks didn't have any dire effects later. Apparently the meat just wasn't very good -- disappointing, at the prices for even cheap steaks these days, but it could have been worse.
I need to pick up some more push-on fittings. It's a lot handier to already have them when you need them.
BUILDING A 1:1 BALUN
3 years ago