15 March 2023
Plumb Stupid Plumbing...
OK folks, kick back and let me tell you a little story. Some of you will be able to relate to it better than others but I'm pretty sure all of you will appreciate the overall meaning of it. It is funny, frustrating and infuriating, all in one.
To start with, there's a reason that professional electricians, plumbers, roofers and other tradesmen charge what seems to be a ton of money sometimes. That seemingly exorbitant hourly rate includes specialized tools, insurance, vehicles, helpers and more. But mostly?... You're paying for experience. When you or your neighbor or your brother-in-law are willing to do it, but lack the experience, sometimes the job can be much, much, much more costly than just calling a professional to begin with. Such is the case with the poor lady that is the victim in this crime story. It's important to know that she purchased this house and the resultant headaches, the following is not her fault...
I have a dear friend in a nearby town that I help with certain things when she needs me. She texted me this morning in a bit of a panic saying that she had a pretty serious water leak at her rental house. So, I dropped everything and headed over there. What I found was water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Yeah, this had been leaking for a WHILE! Talking to the neighbor lady across the street, it had been running for about 10-12 days. My friend's water bill is going to be approximately $116,289.42... give or take $25,000.
So, T-bo and I started tracking down the culprit which took over an hour. We finally found that it was actually coming from inside a shop where there is a pressure tank for the well, AND where the city water ties in for back-up. The tank and the outgoing 1" PVC line are well insulated and encapsulated in wooden structures. So I started tearing into the structures looking for clues while T-bo was doing something else. (For some of you, this story is about to get interesting...)
About 12' or so from the pressure tank, I found the damnedest thing I had ever seen before as far as plumbing goes, and I've been doing this for a very long time.
The aforementioned 1" line comes out of the pressure tank just above floor level. It's wrapped with insulation batting and tied with baling wire. There is a 6" batt under it and 2 layers of 6" batting on top of it. It couldn't have frozen if it had gotten down to 67 below zero. HOWEVER, and this is important, whoever installed this pipe thought that the added protection of a heat tape was necessary (it wasn't). Fortunately, (or not) the heat tape burned in two at some point in the past (Picture #1) but the damage was already done. When I pulled the 3rd cover off of the wooden box that this was all encased in, I saw something that took me a few minutes to process. The pipe was obviously separated but it looked like it took a sharp turn upwards from the floor (Picture #2) and it was broken at the apex of this upward sweep. At this point, I'm still tying to figure out just what in the hell I was looking at. All the insulation, mold, rat poop and spider webs made the deciphering a little difficult. Then I saw it... an abandoned 2" line came through the wall from outside, came up the wall a foot or so, then crossed path of the 1" line.
Now then, understand what I'm saying here, it's going to be important in a minute. The 1" line is traveling along the floor, headed for the far wall. The 2" line came in, up and across where the 1" line was running, about 14-16" above the floor. Are you with me so far?
The next part of the story will be submitted to Unsolved Mysteries.
Instead of letting the 1" line just continue on its merry way along the floor, some genius thought it would be a great idea to run it OVER the abandoned 2" line! Now, in and of itself, that's not a deal breaker. No reason in the world to do it but, if that's what blows your dress up, knock yourself out. The problem was Mr. Super Plumber, whoever it was, didn't use any fittings to do this. He just laid across the top of the 2" line then let it droop down to the floor again and continue on its way. No rhyme or reason. The only thing I can figure is that it was intentional sabotage, resulting in a delayed action. I don't know. When I saw the upward attitude of the insulation, before I exposed the pipe, I figured that maybe they had switched to PEX or black poly tubing or something more flexible than PVC. Who, in their right mind, would do that with PVC?
Remember I told you about the heat tape earlier? Well, let me tell you a little bit about heat tape, if you don't already know. Not all heat tapes are created equal. Some are not suitable for PVC pipe. Heat tapes that are to be used on PVC should have a built-in regulator, or thermostat that prevents the temperature from getting over about 140°. It appears that the heat tape in our story may not have been the correct flavor. Anyway, back to our pipe crossing... the 1" pipe was quite obviously in a little bit of distress from crossing over the 2" and going back down. In addition to that, the heat tape was on the bottom of the 1", between the 2 pipes, ensuring that it was tight against the 1". Now get this picture - over a period of time, the tape has heated the 1" pipe up warmer than it should have been, probably keeping it that way for an extended period of time. The pipe gradually softened, ever so slowly. As it softened, the internal water pressure began to expand the pipe. I have no clue how long it has been swelled to the bursting point because the tape has obviously been out-of-order for some time. But, alas, it finally gave up the ghost and burst a week or so ago. The pipe swelled to about 1.5" or so before it popped (Picture #3). Picture #4 shows the difference in the thickness of the walls of the swelled pipe at its thinnest, and the same pipe wherenitnwas at normal diameter. A crack ran from the apex of the hump, over 2 feet back down the pipe. I was astonished by the time I figured it all out! I assembled all the pieces in the bed of the truck to show what it did (Picture #4).