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Gary Borders: DIY doesn't apply to plumbing

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Plumbing issues pop up often in our house, especially lately. They always occur at night or on weekends.. Twice I have called a plumber on Saturday to clear roots out of a clogged sewer line. Two fellows came out and used a giant metal snake to clear out the line. The lead man handed me a bill for $300. Double time.

Several weeks ago, the P-trap beneath the kitchen sink began leaking. Not much, but enough to require me to take everything out from under the sink and attempt to fix it. P-traps have a deceptively simple design and come apart quite easily. But P-traps and I have never gotten along, as with all things plumbing-related. I tried tightening the plastic piece that seemed to be leaking. It got worse. Before I was done, the sink drain was also leaking. It was time to call the plumber and write a $130 check.

My life is littered with spectacular plumbing mishaps. In a previous relationship, we had just purchased a nice home in Nacogdoches. I was attempting to hook up the copper pipe to the refrigerator icemaker and managed to break the cutoff valve, which sent water spewing all over the kitchen floor and into the dining room. Since we had moved in just hours later, I had no idea where the main cutoff was. I found it easily enough but my tools were still packed. I went running up the street, knocking on doors, asking if anyone had a t-bar to turn the valve. The plumber arrived to replace the copper cutoff. It was a Saturday.

At another house, a kitchen sink spigot was leaking. I decided to fix it while nobody was home. Inexplicably, I did not turn the water off under the sink before taking apart the spigot. Water shot up in an Old-Faithful-like geyser, hitting the ceiling. I knew there was a cutoff under the sink and contained the damage after about 20 seconds — and a roughly equal number of cusswords. A lot of water can flow in 20 seconds. I managed to put the leaking spigot back together, sop up the water with towels, and get them washed and dried before the peeps returned, none the wiser. I called a plumber. It was a Saturday.

I have retired from plumbing. The latest breakdown was my shower valve, which had become increasingly hard to turn off. The valve was stripped. I stood there in my birthday suit trying vainly to turn off the water. No luck. So I toweled off, announced the bad news to the peeps. I would have to turn off the water until morning.

I called our latest plumber. He promised to be at my house by 7:30 a.m. I went outside with channel locks and a flashlight to cut off the water, after my wife filled a few jugs for making coffee and brushing teeth.

I could not budge the cutoff valve outside. A new one was installed last year, made of plastic. I was convinced it was going to break off if I applied too much force. That would have likely shot a plume of water 30 feet in the air and require me to call the city’s emergency number. So I wisely gave up and told my wife the shower would have to run all night..

The plumber showed up as promised, and turned off the main valve with one quick twist. I have to work harder on my hand strength. He replaced a valve in the shower. I wrote yet another check, this time for $225.

It is still cheaper than if I try to fix it. I have learned.

Gary Borders has been an East Texas journalist and editor for more than 40 years. He works now as a freelance writer, editor and photographer. You can see his work at garyborders.com. He has written for World Wildlife magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer and Airstream Life.
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