Tuesday, July 29, 2014

No Wrong Way

I have to laugh sometimes at the way the world works and the cultural references that go through my head. Not long ago I did some minor restoration on a Crane wall hung lavatory with integral spout. The job was for a pleasant and capable woman who, with her husband, is restoring a mid century home on the other side of Portland from where I am based. She called me regarding the lav. when the plumber on the job quipped that what was needed to fix her mid century Crane was a sledge hammer.

I love the Crane fixtures produced from the early twentieth century till the mid sixties. I see in them a superb balance of form and function. There are many of them around still, especially from the fifties, and so I have had the opportunity to become practiced and certain with them.

There was usually a reason for an old fixture to be set aside and replaced and time does not solve that problem, it compounds it by letting all of the gaskets and seals dry and shrink. I removed all of the components from the Lav. mentioned above. I did test it first to be sure, and yes it leaked from just about every possible place. I gave it new seats, new stems, and fitted the wide spread valve bodies back into place with new compression gaskets that I make in my shop. I straightened the bent pop-up fork, which had been the last straw for my beleaguered predecessor, and completed the assembly of the pop-up and drain with a new 1-1/2 by 1-1/4 threaded tail piece. All done, all good, except she paid two plumbers for the work.

Most home owners work on a tight budget when remodeling and there are usually plenty of budget busters to be dealt with. Restoration is even worse. Just as I do with my plumbing-geek web site I am always glad to answer answer questions for local clients. This young couple paid a considerable fee for the work I did on their wall hung Crane and I coached them through some of the mundane work on the kitchen drains to be helpful.

Over this past weekend I received a call from them about a new problem. The upstairs toilet was leaking into the main floor bathroom ceiling. The main floor bath is being redone and the new sheet rock was getting wet. Monday morning found me once more on the other side of town working on a fixture that had already been worked on by another plumber. My client called the plumbing company that had sent the plumber who installed the toilet to complain that the toilet must have been installed incorrectly. The boss of the plumber who had said the lav. should be fixed with a sledge hammer told my client that there is 'no wrong way to set a toilet', an absurdity that leaves one dumbstruck. I have long observed and told many a client that in contracting, birds of a feather flock together. That is the way the world works.The cultural reference that comes to mind is, if I were a comic book protagonist these guys would be my perfect antagonists. They create my work while refusing to learn from theirs. They refuse to acknowledge any error while making statements that would shake anyone's confidence in them. 

As I pulled and reset the toilet my client asked me what might have been done wrong. I chatted as I worked, as is my wont. I showed her the things I did, as I did them, in the order I did them, and told her why I did them. I reminder her that all this information is on my website to be had by all. Over the weekend they had pulled the leaking toilet, a 1975 Norris 5 gallon flusher, and set a 1.6 gallon toilet they had on hand in it's place on the wax ring that was under the Norris. I set the 1.6 and looked for problems with the way the Norris had been set. I looked at the Norris for problems as well. I concluded that there may have been nothing wrong beyond the fact that the 5 gallon Norris, which flushes just as aggressively as a 5 gallon "Standard" or a 5 gallon Crane, should probably not have been set on a wax ring with a plastic horn in it. That the horn would become a point of flow restriction that could have caused the wax ring to fail, especially if the toilet had not been perfectly clean and dry when it was reset. A seeming minor detail.

Here's the other cultural reference. It occurred to me, and I told the client that its like a line from the movie "The Matrix". One character states, while looking at a video screen showing nothing but streaming numbers, that one gets used to it, that he doesn't see numbers but blond, brunet, and redhead.
I no longer see just fixtures, I look at lavs, toilets, and tub valves and I see engineering.
I have been a journeyman plumber long enough to see not just the work, but the journey. 



  1. Letting all the gaskets and seals dry and shrink really could help when you are pulling something apart. Sometimes things just get too tight, and it would be best to just let it dry out, and try again when the gaskets are smaller. But, the problem with that is, you might have to replace some of the gaskets. They are not meant to be dry and brittle. Gaskets needs to be fresh so they can seal well. http://www.hoseandgaskets.com/gaskets-seals

  2. Good point.
    I tend to replace all gaskets in any case.


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