Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Plumbers Were Here

Laundry room drain pipeage pulled out of Casa Ché; center pipe shows the rusted out end at top.


When we bought this house in 2005, it appeared to be relatively complete though it was close to ruin as it had been abandoned for several years -- no one knew exactly how many -- and the interior was in pretty sad shape. There were broken windows, plaster was falling off some of the walls, the pine wood floors were badly deteriorated, there was smoke damage, the kitchen was in pretty awful shape and so on. The previous owner had replaced all the water pipes with plastic, due to the freezing and bursting of the galvanized ones, and she'd updated the electrical service (but not the wiring, bless her heart, some of which seems to date to the early 1900's.)  But apart from that, it was up to us and our contractor to make the place habitable. Eleven months after Mike started the work it was officially done. But we keep finding things that need doing.

There is a laundry room with connections for a washer and dryer, but we didn't have a washer or dryer here until we bought new ones this summer. We left the ones we had in California as we didn't relish the thought of bringing them with us and they were quite old (though functional) anyway. I believe that one of the people who helped us pack up took them, but I honestly don't remember!

So we got a washer and dryer this summer, and when the installers tested it, the drain pipe backed up pretty quickly. We rigged up a gray-water system to put the washer water outside in the beds in the side yard. The plants loved it; it was the greenest section of the property, no surprise.

But with winter coming on, it seemed to be time to figure out what was going on with the actual washer drain in the laundry room. The Roto Rooter man came -- same one we had to clean the roots out of the sewer line soon after we moved in -- and he climbed up on the roof and ran his snake down the vent pipe, but no matter what he did, he couldn't get it around the 90 degree bend at the bottom. We'd have to have "the plumbers" come, because he couldn't fix it.

"The Plumbers." Oh. My. God. Long time readers may recall my reports on The Plumbers who repiped our house in California after the water heater blew out and all the trauma that ensued. It was operatic. Would we have to go through the same thing here? Please. No.

The Plumbers came yesterday and started opening up walls and digging trenches and having a grand old time. We gritted our teeth.

Finally, Anthony came around and said, "Welp. We think we know what's going on. Want it fixed?" Sure, I said. What's it going to cost? "Oh, I'd say we could do it all for about $2,500." Eek. That's about twice what I figured. But then, this is plumbing, and that's what happened in CA, too, a $5,000 job turned into $10,000 in no time flat. And that didn't include all the wall repairs and repainting and fixing all the rest of the damage left behind.

So after taking a great big deep breath, I said, "Proceed." Anthony smiled a charming little grin; his young little partner -- who would actually have to do the heavy work -- looked glum, or was it appalled? Despondent?

I can't always tell.

They got to work, digging some more, sawing this and that length of pipe, and after a while, they found the real problem. It wasn't just that they couldn't snake the washer drain line, it was that it didn't go anywhere.

Oh. Well. Who'd a thunk?

After quite a struggle, the little guy, Caleb, pulled out a rusted closed T fitting from the ground under the laundry room. It had been on the end of the rusted out pipe that connected to the drain inside the house. The washer drain never did connect with the main household drain. It had never been connected to anything. There may or may not have been an intention to connect it to either the kitchen sink drain or to the main sewer line, but it had never been done. I could easily imagine that whoever had installed it decades ago started digging in the hardpan and said, "Eh, forget it." Filled up the trench and that was that. Until the pipe rusted out, the drain wouldn't have worked at all. After it rusted through, though, it may have simply drained the washer water under the house. While the house was abandoned the whole interior of the pipe had rusted so much that it was effectively blocked completely, so when we tried to use it, the water backed up promptly.

There was no way out.

Then Caleb said, "Man, you know it's crazy down there?" Where? "Under the house, the laundry room. There's almost headroom, and it's concrete at the bottom." I said, "The kitchen, laundry and dining area were built by enclosing an open porch. Maybe that's what it is?" He shook his head. "No, this is beneath that. There are steps going down. It's like a basement. A whole basement down there."


I looked but it's hard for me to bend down and my glasses fell off and it was dark, so I really didn't see what he was talking about, but the way he described it, there probably is a basement under the west wing of the house, or under part of it. There are steps under the laundry room floor that lead into what he said was a filled in area that was even deeper than the area under the laundry.

What fun. As I've said before, this house was self built, largely of adobe, around the turn of the 20th Century when this area was opened to homesteading after decades of court challenges by rival grantees. The railroad came through about half a mile away in 1903. The tracks were torn up in the 1950's, but we can still trace where they were. This was a ranch house until the 1950's when the land -- maybe 160 acres altogether  -- was subdivided into suburban-style lots, and this place became the oldest and largest house in this quadrant, an area hardly distinguishable from a typical suburb -- with the exception that it's out in the country, and down at the end of the street, two blocks away, there is an open prairie that stretches for about ten miles.

A basement, eh? Well, why not? I figured it was probably built as a root cellar or a storm cellar or both. Probably only goes under the west bedrooms, and maybe only one of those. But who knows? We'd have to dig out the fill at the bottom of the steps to find out. Like an archeological dig. Tutankhamen's  Tomb -- or "Motel of the Mysteries."

Maybe one day...

Meanwhile, what luxury. We can now do laundry without leaving the side door open for feral cats to get in and frolic until we chase them out. There is a very elaborate drain and clean out -- and a big ol' hole in the wall -- behind the washer, but the contraption does drain; they tested the whole thing for a good hour and pronounced themselves pleased as could be. They filled in their trenching so that you can hardly tell it was there, and they cleaned up after themselves so well, the laundry room was cleaner than when they started.

So I'm fine with it.

I asked Anthony about an outside freeze proof hose bib. "Oh, yeah," he says. "We can do that. How many do you want? Prolly run you about $1,100 each, plus however much trenching we'd have to do."


"And what about water conditioning? We're interested in using a chelating system with citric acid. Do you know anything about that?"

"Oh yeah," he says, "it's a tube that goes on the main water line and there's this cartridge with these little beads and shit?"

"Yeah, that's the one" I said. 

"Yeah, we'd do that. Cost about $2,000-$2,100 depending on how difficult it is to find a place to put it. You don't have much room in there. Oh, and your water heater was put in wrong." Yes, I know, but I figure as long as it works we'll leave it. But just on the off chance...

I said, "Another $600, right?"

He said, "Nah, about $750, but we'd get it right for you."

Mirth and merriment all around.



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