Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not What I Call a Solution

This afternoon, the neighbors across the alley had a tree service chipper out there, presumably taking care of the big spruce or hemlock that toppled over in the windstorm last week.
I was just out there with my dog and decided to "inspect" the cleanup work.

And this is the sight that greeted my eyes:

What on earth--? Why would anyone do that for? They took them all down! Sliced through at fence level! Of all the--!?
So now we're left with a big hole against the sky where those trees used to be. And I'm trying to figure out why my former neighbors took such a drastic measure.

Is it because the house is empty, and they figured they should cut down all their evergreens because they can't keep an eye on the property? In that case, why shouldn't every absentee owner cut down every tree on their land?

Was it because they figured if one tree's roots were loose, the roots of all of them must be? How would they know? And that assumes we get big winds like that all the time. Hey, at that rate, if you go to the dentist to get one rotten tooth pulled, have him pull all your good ones as well!

But maybe I'm being hypocritical. I had one of my arbor vitaes cut down to make room for a rose bush in September, and now because another one of them has fallen down, I'm planning on taking out the third as well. Maybe I'm theorizing ahead of my data. Maybe they discovered all those trees were infested with the dread Herplelopolipsis sprucius mite and taking them down prevented it from spreading throughout western Pennsylvania!

But somehow I can't believe it. Somehow I think this was a case of "What the hell, might as well!" on the part of my former neighbor or as instigated by the tree chipping company.

I hope they take out those rampikes. They look creepy standing there, like dismembered bodies.

Well, damn. It's too late now, but in my not very humble opinion, they should have left those evergreens standing tall against the sky. What they did is not what I call a solution.

Something More for the To-Do List

Today or tomorrow I have to send my computer processor away to be repaired. Which means for ten days to two weeks I won't be sitting in front of the monitor surfing the Internet.

The grand plan was to spend the time madly stripping woodwork. I still plan and hope to, but maybe not madly. I messed up my lower back muscles somewhat due to an intimate meeting between my car and a guardrail in early January, and they tell me at the chiropractor's office that if I do physical labor for more than a half hour at a time I'll tear them up worse.

But maybe with breaks (for the heating pad?) I can get something more done.

But as of this noon I have something else to put on my To-Do list. Last week's plumbing repairs left me with holes in my kitchen ceiling and the wall of my guest bedroom (Kitten Room!) closet. This morning, the drywall guy sent by the home warranty company came and did his work.

The plumber told me the surfaces would be left primer and paint ready. I was prepared to tackle that. But the plumber was wrong. Turns out the drywall guy's authorized only to patch the holes and apply the first coat of patching compound. Subsequent sanding and succeeding coats of joint compound are up to the homeowner.

Meaning me.

Could be worse, hey? I could be some helpless schlub with no clue about DIY or house renovation. I've got the ladder, the wet-sanding blocks, the drop cloths, and the plaster spatulas. I need to get another bucket of joint compound, but I've worked with it. I know how.

So even though I wasn't planning for this project in the next two weeks, I can do it.

As long as I don't spend more than thirty minutes at a time on it. Right.

And I learned something useful. The drywall guy used a product by USG, "Sheetrock Patching Compound," which can fill deep cavities without sagging on walls or on ceilings. It's said to be compatible with both drywall and plaster. It comes in 5-minute, 20-minute, and 40-minute workability grades. The 5-minute kind was used here today.

Hmmmm. I've got some places underneath the trim I've removed where the plaster or old patches to the plaster are in pretty bad shape. A product like this could prove to be very useful.

In other news, the concrete steps from my front walkway to the public sidewalk are crumbling so badly that I'm surprised the Borough hasn't come through and condemned them. I have to get them repaired before they give way under someone.

Of course, I have to be cute about it, even in this economy. Before I give in to the dismal reality of glaring white concrete, I want to get some bids on replacing them with stone.

Not sure exactly what kind of stone: the kind the house has as windowsills and entry stair cheekwall caps. I'm thinking it's Pennsyl- vania bluestone or else limestone that's gotten very, very dirty. The stoneyard guy who's coming Thursday afternoon to give me an estimate should be able to tell me what it is.

The tread edges would match the existing caps in thickness and cut. The risers, maybe in the same stone? Or maybe in soldier-course brick to match the house. That'd look good. All over a concrete base, of course.

That's the plan. Maybe I'll get on a computer at the public library and blog on what I find out. I do plan to update my woodwork stripping Project Tracker when I'm there, however. So keep an eye on it! 58% done now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Something Else It's the Wrong Time For

The west side of my house has three tall arborvitae shrubs.

Rather, it had three tall arbor vitae shrubs.

One I had taken down last September, because I really want to plant a climbing rose in its spot.

I'm not that fond of the other two. They've been going brown here and there and I'd really like to plant hollies in their place. But they shield the air conditioner unit and I've got enough to do inside without messing with non-crucial landscaping.

Rather, they did shield the air conditioner unit . . .

We had a big wind through here early yesterday morning. When I took my dog out to the alley I saw this in a neighbor's backyard.

I thought myself unscathed. Except for sticks and twigs, my maple trees were intact.

Then I came back in, and looked out the dining room window to check the level of the seed in the birdfeeder.

And I couldn't see the birdfeeder. All I could see were arborvitae fronds that weren't in view before.

Yeah, it's toast. Pulled up by the roots like a lot of other evergreens around here. And its companion is leaning ominously. Looks like I'm going to have to get a chainsaw at the secondhand tool shop and clear both of them out.

And start looking for holly bushes. Preferably the self-pollinating kind.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jumping the Gun

I've appreciated the warmer weather we've had the past few days in western Pennsylvania.

But all the same, there's something deceptive and meretricious about it; something disruptive and out-of-time.

Something like how it's whispering to my tulips, daffodils, and Spanish bluebells that it's time to wake up.

See that, in the middle of the photo, just this side of the drift of leaves? That's a tulip poking through.

And these greenish-whitish fingertips are the bluebells jumping the gun.

These shots are from this past Sunday. Today it's even worse: The spikes were higher, greener, and more numerous.

It's not time to get up, you silly bulbs! Winter's got five or six weeks more to run! Go back to sleep before your noses get frozes!

I mention the dilemma to my neighbor, out walking his dog. He says, "Stomp on their heads!"

I don't resort to such violent tactics. I've tucked them up in fresh blankets of fallen leaves, in the hope that the colder temperatures forecast in the next couple of days will convince them that the long night of winter is not yet over, and they've sleeping yet to do.

Curtain Call

This afternoon the plumber returned.

After greeting his buddy my dog, he mounted the stairs to the bathroom to tackle the challenge of the Crookedy Leaking Washbasin Pipe.

I went on up to my third-floor study and kept out of his way. At length, he called me downstairs.

"I think I've got it fixed," he announced. "But don't touch it, don't look at it, don't even think about it!"

Why? Because the pre-existing conditions made it such a tenuous connection that it might come loose simply out of spite.

Turns out the home warranty company had closed out the ticket on my plumbing job after the pipe that was leaking through the kitchen ceiling was fixed the other day. "I'm not charging for this," the plumber said. "The home warranty people probably wouldn't pay for it because it was that way when you bought the house. I did the best I could. Hopefully it'll stay dry for you."

I believe it. I saw how askew that pipe was the other day. I'm thinking that short of major surgery with the pedestal lav itself, if it leaks the only option is clear silicone caulk.

Too bad I can't redo the whole damn bathroom right now!

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Fun Never Ends

The plumber has come and gone. He found a bathroom sink drain pipe that was leaking badly through a compro- mised solder joint, and left me with a pipe that is booted and clamped and apparently not leaking anymore.

He also left me with a hole in the plaster and lath at the back of the guest bedroom closet, and a cavity in my kitchen ceiling that looks like it was carved out by one of those dot-eating, maze-running entities in an early video game.

I'll have that to amuse me until sometime after Wednesday. That's how long I need to wait to make sure the pipe stays dry. If it does, I'm to call the home warranty company and they'll send the drywall guy (or gal) out to patch the holes. It'll be intriguing seeing how he deals with the one in the kitchen.

The plumber also showed me how closely my bathroom supply pipes hug the underside of the subfloor. Meaning that if I ever redo the bathroom flooring, it might be wise for me to avoid underlayments that require driving nails.

(U wantz leek, ai shohz u leek!!)

But the fun is not over! Oh my, no.

For shortly after the plumber left for his next appointment, I noticed there was water on the bathroom floor behind the pedestal of the sink. Oops! He'd said when he first came that there seemed to be a little-- had he gone back to look at it? Don't think so!

Letting the hot water run into the basin and down the drain, I got down on the floor and took a closer look. And a closer feel. Oh, dear, yes, the drain pipe is leaking, and it's leaking from the place where the stupid old crookedy pipe that comes down from the drainhole joins with the straight run to the trap.

Surprised I am not.

I hung an old hand towel in the bend of the trap to catch the drips, and called the plumber back.

He's returning tomorrow to try again. I wouldn't blame him if he just shoots the joint full of pipe dope.

And I wouldn't blame my dog if he decides this plumber is his permanent new playmate and his tools, his new fun toys.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


. . . Yep, the kitchen ceiling leak was from the newly-unclogged washbasin. Maybe when the obstruction was dislodged it took part of the pipe with it. Or the clog was protecting a weak place in the pipe.

However it was, yesterday morning I only used enough basin water to wash my hands and brush my teeth, and the crack in the kitchen ceiling was dripping again.

Same plumber is coming back tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately, it counts as a followup call and won't cost me another service fee.

And God willing he can get at the bad pipe through the back of the bedroom closet. The home warranty company will redo plaster or drywall, but they won't pay to replace demolished wall tile. And I am not ready to redo my john!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Caulk Is the Solution to All the World's Problems"

At least, that's what one of my architecture professors used to say.

But at the moment I'm wondering it it can cause more problems than it solves. In the short run, at least.

This noon, meaning Friday the 6th, the plumber sent by the home warranty company to unclog my bathroom sink asked if the drain assembly leaked. I told him I didn't think so.

But after he left and I was cleaning up, I noticed this ominous low place in the floor just behind the sink pedestal. And I noticed all the other gaps in the sealant between the ceramic tile wall and the sheet vinyl floor.

Yes, ever since my toilet overflowed the last day of 2007 I've had it on my To-Do list to renew the caulk in the upstairs bathroom. And today-- yesterday-- I finally got around to it.

In the afternoon, I started on the wall that the toilet and lav back up onto. Dug out the old sealant, made sure the floor and wall were nice and clean and dry, and activated the tube of tub and tile caulk bought for the purpose months ago, which was waiting in the basement just for this occasion.

This came out to be a pretty decent looking sealant joint, even if I did have to use three lengths of foam backer bead side by side in that low place. The other joint, the one on the wall next to the toilet, I don't like so much.

For more than one reason.

I didn't get started on it till after 10:00 PM. For one thing, I wanted to give the first joint time to dry a little before I pushed the storage unit up against it, and for another, I was actually, finally putting away Christmas decorations.

That joint was a real job to accomplish, and I was reminded why I'd been putting it off. The flooring there is curled up and in some places sits nearly 3/8" above the toe of the ceramic tile base. You can reach your fingers under the vinyl, there's that much of a gap.

But I washed it out with Simple Green on a sponge and removed as much of the old caulk as I could get at, then washed it out a little more. I dried it nicely and pushed in a long length of foam backer bead. Then I recut the tube tip so it was about the size of the Mississippi delta and ran a honking big bead of caulk all along that wall.

It looks awful. It covers the toe of the tile. It'll probably shrink and I'll have to go over it again in a day or two.

But it's done and the bathroom is clean and that should be the end of that.


Sorry, not exactly.

For after all this was completed, I went downstairs to take my dog out for his midnight constitutional. In the kitchen I heard something almost like a scratching sound-- was one of the cats on the counter getting into things?

I looked, and confound me if water wasn't dripping from my kitchen ceiling, in the same old places it always comes through when I have a leak from the upstairs bathroom!

I checked: Toilet wasn't overflowing. The bathroom sink nor the tub were running. Everything upstairs looked perfectly dry.

Oh, God, please let it be that I used too much water cleaning out that damned joint so I could caulk it! Pleeeeaaazzzzz don't let it be that the plumber's snake this afternoon hit a weak spot in the pipes and it took this long before it started letting water through! It only started a little while ago, and I've been using the sink to rinse out cleaning sponges all afternoon and evening! Pleeeeaazzzzz???

Nothing I could do about it tonight but lay a bathtowel on the kitchen floor and hope for the best. Oh yeah, and worry.

. . . It's after 2:00 AM by now and I just went down to the kitchen and checked. The dripping has stopped. So if it starts again, it has to be the bathroom lav drain pipe. I could even put food coloring in the washbasin and find out for sure. I mean, I'll have to repaint the kitchen ceiling anyway!

Well, plumbing repairs are covered by my home warranty, even should this not count as a followup call for the previous problem. The question is, does that cover replacing the drywall in my kitchen ceiling where they'll have to tear it out to do the plumbing repair? Or the bathroom tile if they have to go through the wall?
I guess I'll see. If I'm lucky the leak will only be an unintended consequence of a well-intended application of much-needed caulk.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pis Aller, or Fun with Plumbing

Want to hear something amazing? The plumber the home warranty company sent came on time this morning. Actually, he came a little early.

I was right about what was stopping up the kitchen sink pipe between the garbage disposal and the drain with the trap. It was pistachio nut shells, all right. The plumber unscrewed the PVC pipe, emptied the contents into a bucket, and handed it to me to take out to the compost bin. Then he screwed the pipe back on and that was that.

Good grief! Is that all there is to it? I could have done that myself! Maybe I didn't need to call the plumber after all!

Upstairs in the bathroom, he was just as quick to remove the lavatory trap and the straight pipe connected to it. The assembly was full of water, of course, and when he emptied it out into the bathtub, a few gray flakes of calcium deposit dropped out.

That's odd. That wouldn't be enough to cause the rattle I'd heard before.

I picked it up and saw there was some greenish goo in it. So while he was doing something or other under the sink I ran hot water through the trap assembly. And this is what came out:

That's not lime flakes, that's bona fide pebbles! As to how they got there, my working theory is that my POs' preschooler dropped them in more than five years ago, but only now has it come to matter.

I figured that now the problem was taken care of, and once the pipes were put back together the basin would drain and all would be well.

But no. It was still clogged. When the plumber went to his truck to fetch his motor-driven snake, I decided that no, I couldn't have done this job myself.

It took two tries with the snake to clear the drain. Apparently the obstruction was pretty far down.

But there was still a problem. "This trap is on backwards," said the plumber. "Do you have leaks in this sink?"

"No-- I don't think so-- I mean, I've never noticed-- "

"I'm surprised if you haven't. This flange isn't designed to go on this end of the trap. Whoever did this put it on the wrong way."

So he took his little coping saw and cut off a few inches of the straight pipe so the trap could go the right way around. With that done and the pebbles removed, my drain could get a better scour and I won't get the buildup that had caused the pipes to stop up below.

But he tried and tried but couldn't get the trap to go on the correct way. Or he got it on and it leaked. Or he got it on and the gasket broke.

Why? Because whoever installed my pedestal sink failed to make sure it was resting on its pedestal. So the weight that isn't taken by the wall bolts is taken by the plumbing, with the result that the first length of drain pipe is at least 5 degrees out of true. And given the "creative" way some previous owner that adapted the wall tile to a cockeyed piece of trim, this doesn't surprise me one bit.

I sat there watching for most of this operation. Not sure what the plumber thought of it, but I like to know what's going on and learn. But after the plastic gasket broke, I figured I'd clear out of his way.

When he came downstairs, he was apologetic: "I had to put it back the way it was. That's the only way I could make it work with that crooked drain pipe."

So barring being pebble-free, I won't get the improved scour through the trap. Oh, well! The drain is flowing freely again, the water gurgling merrily down its gullet, and that is something that was long overdue.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Help Is on the Way

It's like this: My bathroom sink has been slow, yea, clogged for the past few months. And I've been putting up with it.

I've been putting up with it, because I knew what was wrong with it and it seemed like a really neat thing if I could Fix It Myself. I knew what was wrong, because after all the Liquid Plumbr and vinegar and so on, when I'd plug the overflow hole and go at the drainhole with the plunger, I could hear what sounded like gravel rattling in the trap. Calcium deposits come loose and slowing down the water flow, no doubt.

But I didn't have the right wrenches and I just never got around to buying any.

As an alternative, I thought I might get this friend who does his own plumbing to come over and fix it. He's got the right wrenches. But somehow, every time I mentioned it to him, he seemed strangely deaf . . .

But call a plumber? Forget it!

But last weekend my kitchen sink got stopped up, too. Knew what that had to be: pistachio nut shells. Not a good idea to put pistachio nut shells down the garbage disposal. They get past the blades and camp out in the pipe that runs to the other sink. They fill up with water and let little or nothing by. Glad I had the other sink bowl clear to run faucet water down. But frantically bailing out the overflowing stopped up bowl every time the dishwasher empties through the disposal is a little too exciting for me.

So I had a brilliant thought: Let's see if my home warranty covers plumbing clogs! And lo, it does!

So tomorrow morning the plumber cometh, and as for my own ventures into pipe wrenching, they will have to fly away to the realm of Might-Have-Been.