Saturday, March 12th, 2016

I have a funny story, sort of.

I was eating breakfast day before yesterday. Sitting alone at the table, I heard My Darling B rouse herself from bed and make her way to the bathroom. I usually wake up long before she does, partly because it’s my nature, and partly because that way I can take a shower and be done in the bathroom before she gets up. I like to have the solitary quiet of the house to myself for a little while, too.

B was in the bathroom for only a couple minutes before I heard her muttering to herself, “Where is it? Dammit! Where is it?” Then she came out of the bathroom and started searching through the hall closet. “Where is it? Dammit!” I waited, probably a little too long, to decide whether she was angry or desperate. The tone in her voice might have gone either way, and I didn’t want to rush to help while she was angry. There are times when people just want to cuss at something stupid. I certainly don’t expect people to come rushing in every time I start cussing. Sometimes, I just want to vent.

But it quickly became apparent that B wasn’t just venting, she was distraught. It took a little too long for me to twig to that. And then I heard the sound of water spilling.

I shot out of my seat and trotted across the living room to the hall as quickly as I could get around all the furniture in my way. B was in the bathroom again, dancing through a spreading pool of water as she threw every towel in arm’s reach on the floor. The toilet was overflowing, and for whatever reason the water would not stop running.

“Where’s the plunger?” B cried desperately. “I can’t find it!”

I should have pushed her out of the way and shut the water off at that point, but I wasn’t thinking entirely rationally, just reacting. I bolted from the room and ran downstairs where I knew I could find another plunger, grabbed it, and ran back upstairs with it. B was still standing over the toilet helplessly. I handed her the plunger; she gave the toilet a single plunge that unblocked it, and the water stopped flowing over the lip of the bowl onto the floor.

After that it was just a matter of sopping up the water off the bathroom floor, or so I thought. I gathered up the sodden towels, throwing them into the tub one by one, then wringing as much of the water out of the last one as possible before throwing it back into the puddle on the floor. On my hands and knees, I mopped up the water around the toilet when my eyes fell on the heating grate in the wall.

The bathroom was updated just before we moved in. It was either a do-it-yourself job by the owner, or it was done by a low-bid handyman. Cheap wainscoting wrapped around two walls, covered in a single coat of thin white paint. The heating grate had once been a more durable fixture, replaced by a diffuser made of stamped metal that they’d never fixed to the floor or wall. It rattled when the heat came on, and when I bumped it while cleaning, it skittered away from the hole left in the wall. The ductwork inside the hole ended in a jagged stump, and I could see into the basement through the hole.

I paused with the sopping wet towel in my hands and looked down into the hole. “I wonder how much water ran down there?” I said aloud. It was a rhetorical question, but B was standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder. “Probably a lot,” she said.

I knew just the spot in the basement where the water would have fallen: The hole was in a corner between two bookshelves that were stacked full of our most prized books. Luckily, most of the water ran down the wall to pool on the floor, where a cheap rug from Shopko was soaking most of it up.

But then I noticed a slow drip from a tiny hole I’d made to screw a lamp into the finished ceiling. A very slow drip, but still significant. The hole was about three feet from the wall. If the water made it as far as that hole, there might be more water up there. I found a hand drill on my hobby bench, just an arm’s length away, fitted it with a bit and drilled an experimental hole. Water ran steadily from the hole when I pulled the drill bit out. Not good. I drilled another hole about an inch to one side. More steadily running water. I put a bucket under the streaming water, then went to find a bigger drill bit.

Using a quarter-inch bit, I enlarged the first two holes. Water streamed as steadily from them as it would from an open faucet. I drilled a third hole another inch away but no more. The streams were as wide apart as the bucket would catch. When the stream slowed to a drip, there was about a gallon of water in the bucket.

And thus ended our most recent plumbing adventure, which has morphed into a post-disaster cleanup. I have to get my head up above the finished ceiling to see how much damage was done, for instance, and if I find that it’s all ruined, I’ll have to tear it out before it gets moldy. Then I’ll have to fix that heating grate so it won’t be an open drain to the basement. The fun starts today! And how’s your weekend?

plunging water | 9:13 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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