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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Perpetual Plumbing Travails

When I last left off concerning my plumbing travails mid-renovation (that was last year and I'm still in mid-renovation — c'est la vie en France!) I had a newly installed shower with running water, however, the plumber had left before I'd realized he'd failed to install the holder for the shower head. Exhaling, I resolved to make the best of the hopefully short-term lack of a showerhead prop. I stripped down, eager to experience my lovely, large walk-in shower for the first time. I dipped my fingers in. Nope, still cold. I waited patiently for several moments for the hot water  and waited, and waited. Odd, I thought. The new hot water heater was just overhead. Ten minutes later, I still had nothing but cold water. I was surprised that the steam coming from my ears wasn’t sufficient to heat the water.

Thank God it wasn’t the middle of winter, I consoled myself. It would be five more days before the plumber would reappear. My builder was apoplectic. He had other jobs and this was wreaking havoc with his schedule.

When the plumber finally did show, he made his way into the site of the future kitchen (the former bath), and began breaking up the old tile to get it off the wall and remove the shower pan. This time I was prepared. I’d typed and printed out a list of what had to be done going forward, what had to be done that week, and, most important, what he must complete before leaving that day.

Chris, my builder, was emphatic that the plumber run the waste pipe for the sink, dishwasher and washing machine, which would sit under the kitchen counter side by side. And I wanted an operational shower with hot water and the showerhead holder installed, and a temp hookup for the garden spigot as he’d removed the old line and the temps were predicted to run to 40 degrees Celsius/103 Fahrenheit over the coming days and my rain barrel was empty. (I had visions of myself filling buckets of water from the old kitchen sink and hefting them out to the garden, one after the other, in order to keep not just my flowerpots going but my tomatoes and squash.) The plumber nodded. Not knowing what else to do, I left him to get on with it and focused on my own work.

That evening, after he’d left, I stood and reviewed the new waste pipe in the soon-to-be kitchen. The room had been stripped of everything except the washing machine, which stood, unconnected, in the middle of the floor. There were three independent hookups, two with standard U-bends. Was this all really necessary, I wondered? And they stuck out rather far from the wall, more than than my unschooled eye suspected was appropriate. Out came the measuring tape. I measured the clearance behind the washing machine and then the depth of the pipes. Uh, oh… I pushed the washing machine as close against its future site as I could. It stood more than four inches away from the wall.

I headed out to the garage to assure myself of the actual depth of the countertop. Yep, the way the plumber had it set up, the washing machine was going to stick out at least three inches beyond the countertop instead of lining up with it. It was time to send another e-mail to Chris, my builder.

Half an hour later, the phone rang. It was Chris. I described all the work that had been done.

“What?” Chris cried. “First off, you don’t need u-bend waste pipes for the dishwasher or the washer! They get patched into the sink's waste pipe.” I closed my eyes.

“Second, these appliances have set depth allowances that leave space for pipes. Admittedly, this is a problem with Ikea appliances—they don’t leave you all that much space," he added. "But didn’t he look at the dishwasher to see how much space he had to work with?” He hadn’t asked me, I said, and I wasn’t aware of him going out to the garage to see it. It was still intact in its wrapping. “But the washer was right there in the room,” I added. “He had that to go by.”

"I'm coming over," Chris said.

Ten minutes later, he was surveying the future kitchen, his face grim. “It’s all got to go. You’ve got to tell him to rip all this out.”

I winced. The plumber had spent the better part of an entire day putting this in. Thank God I wasn’t paying him by the hour.

“This is what you have to tell him,” Chris said, and proceeded to fire off a list of instructions.

The next day, I steeled myself for the plumber's arrival.

“Nous avons un problèm,” I said, moments after he’d greeted me. He said little, as I explained, taking him out to the garage to show him the dishwasher design, taking out the installation manual that came with it that demonstrated how it fed into the sink waste pipe. For the umpteenth time, I thought, this guy’s probably acceptable with basic depannage, emergency repair, but he’s no good at visualizing a new system. 

As someone who also lacks complete visual conception ability, I was sympathetic. I am not someone you want to stop on the road and ask for directions, even if I know the way like the back of my hand. But I could not understand why he didn’t ask, why he didn’t gather as much info as possible before starting, if he knew he wasn’t capable of assessing what was needed and visualizing it before starting work. At least I knew my limitations.

Back to the drawing board, I thought, sighing. And this was his last day before his two-week vacation. Would this job ever get finished?

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