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Troubleshooting a Plumbing Problem the Electronics Way

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przem
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Re: DIY Plumbing?
przem   5/31/2014 10:03:23 PM
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I have a simple $30/hour rule about DIY: I will spend money to  replace or fix something if it would have to pay myself less than $30/hour to do it myself. For instance, I don't change the oil in my car anymore, because after buying the oil/filter and having to schlep the used oil to the city dump, I don't save time or money.

Plumbing tends to be the other way: the plumber charges one hour minimum ($60-80) just for showing up, and you have to be there for the appointment, anyway, plus they tend to leave the cleanup to the customer, so I figure I might as well do the whole thing myself.

Another example is reading the car engine codes. A Chinese Bluetooth OBD-II reader costs less than $20, works with an app on my Android phone, and saves not only the $70 that the shop charges for readout but allows me to independently check the meaning of the trouble code ("No, I don't need to spend $2000 replacing all catalytic converters just because my check engine light came on").

The most important thing is once you learn a skill you are set for life and don't depend on anyone.

Bert22306
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Re: DIY Plumbing?
Bert22306   5/31/2014 6:45:53 PM
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Just reading the various posts gave me a migraine. Yes, certainly, I can usually determine what the problem is, but I also know not to tackle jobs that would take me days of agony to do. And then obsess over, and wonder if I shouldn't have done it better. For that sort of job, call the plumber! He is likely to have seen the same problem multiple times, to have figured out all the dead end approaches to fixing it, and he is likely to be in and out in a matter of hours at worst.

Certainly, attempting to solder a pipe when water is still in there is something any competent plumber has long since learned not to do. For those situations in which the water is at a low point, the plumber will most likely cut the pipe, siphon the remaining water out, or at least siphon enough of the water out (or suck it up with a turkey baster), and then solder in a new section of pipe. With the right tools and experience, the plumber can do this in no time, where I'd be sweating it out for endless hours.

I suppose it all depends on your personality. Some people don't mind punishing themselves, some mind it a lot!

zeeglen
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Re: DIY Plumbing?
zeeglen   5/31/2014 6:11:43 PM
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I think most eng types would carefully analyze the situation before paying for outside help.  This applies anytime something is broken (cars, air conditioning), not just plumbing.  But one also has to consider one's experience and capabilities in unfamiliar endeavours, aka 'learning experiences'.

One good learning experience for me was replacing a burnt-out relay in the outdoor air conditioner unit.  The relay was a no-brainer, but I learned something useful about botany - all the weeds growing around the A/C were poison oak.  I spent my honeymoon vacation with a huge rash on arms and legs.  I now know what poison oak looks like...

It's always good practice to ask for advice from those experts who have no pecuniary interest in your problem.  Like the time a puddle developed on the floor around my indoor A/C system - the A/C guy (who kept the A/C working for my wife's restaurant) advised that maybe the drip pan drain was clogged.  He was right - cutting open the wall and shoving a wire down the drain tube (which led to the bathtub drain across the wall) solved the problem.  Would have cost a few hundred to bring in the experts.

kfield
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DIY Plumbing?
kfield   5/31/2014 2:11:30 PM
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So how many of you out there do your own plumbing work, and how much do you think I get taken by hiring a plumber rather than doing it myself? I suppose I do save the frustration, but wondering just how much I should be thinking about plunging in (no pun intended)!

kfield
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DIY Plumbing?
kfield   5/31/2014 2:11:22 PM
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So how many of you out there do your own plumbing work, and how much do you think I get taken by hiring a plumber rather than doing it myself? I suppose I do save the frustration, but wondering just how much I should be thinking about plunging in (no pun intended)!

zeeglen
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Re: TIP: re working on irrigation plumbing
zeeglen   5/31/2014 10:42:46 AM
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@salbayeng So you basically use the nozzle to "saw" through the soil while the ejector sucks out the mud

Great idea.  Had to look up 'ejector' on Wikipedia.  Will remember this tip when I get around to repairing the broken lawn sprinkler popup and pipe, last winter some vehicle cut the corner of my lawn and drove over it.

salbayeng
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TIP: re working on irrigation plumbing
salbayeng   5/31/2014 2:48:35 AM
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Here's another useful tip for repairing irrigation plumbing, this is typically in PVC and can get brittle after a decade, and tends to get broken while you are replacing buried valves etc.  In this case the same tree root as in my earlier problem had also cracked a PVC pipe about 3ft away! And while trying to dig it up, I accidentally cut through the PVC pipe.  The problem is basically the grass roots and tree roots make a tough mat to dig through and the pipes are only 8-18" below the surface. And my soil is sandy, so it keeps falling into the hole, and water leaking from the pipe files the hole up, and the valve wiring is the same color and size as the grass roots!. 

OK here's the tip, you make up all the plumbing using standard 1/2" click-lock garden hose bits, and attach to the end of a garden hose
  • obtain a jet nozzle (or a 1/8" hole in a blanking piece works)
  • obtain an ejector (the aquarium/pond type works well)
  • get some 1" or bigger hose to attach to the outlet of the ejector (it won't push more than about 3' unless it's down hill
  • get a Y joiner with a valve on each leg
  • And plug it all together

So you basically use the nozzle to "saw" through the soil while the ejector sucks out the mud (make a sump in one corner of your hole, put the ejector in there, and just wash the dirt into the sump)  and moves it about 4' away.

So you basically wash all the dirt off the grass / tree roots in-situ , then cut the roots with scissors or pruning shears (or just tear off by hand). You can make quite a large hole very quickly without damaging buried pipes or wiring , and you can make access cavities underneath valves or plumbing that would be impossible with a spade. You do need to scoop out  gravel by hand , (and if the ejector sucks up a rock, just block the outlet with your hand to backflush) 

salbayeng
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Rookie
Soldering pinholes
salbayeng   5/31/2014 2:16:22 AM
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I've had two of these pinholes , the first was when I did some bathroom renovations and put a nail through the copper pipe, it didn't leak for a couple of months until the nail rusted away.

But I wasn't going to pull off the tiles from the bathroom having spent months gettiing it right !, so I went it through the outside wall by pulling off the cladding, fortunately it was a 1/2" pipe and 2' above the lowest tap, so no "capacitor" problems, but extremely awkward access for the soldering.

The second time , we could hear the hissing noise in the pipes, and the meter was slowly turning but nothing was wet, took ages to find the leak, it was where the main copper feed pipe (1" diameter) went under the concrete slab the house was built on.  A tree root had wedged itself in there, and stretched a 4" length of pipe to 5" , and a pinhole had formed due to the stretching.  Access was a nightmare, I needed to cut a section of footpath to get anywhere close, then cut up the tree root (about 3" in diameter) using successive attempts with a 1" drill bit. Finally I could get to the leak, but it was close to being the lowest point, So I had all the aforementioned problems with water pooling / syphoning / steam. I used a MAPP blowtorch, and I could get enough heat in to get solder to stick everywhere but the hole (due to steam exiting hole) took me a while to figure out a solution: make myself a brass or copper tapered plug, and wedge it into the hole, then solder over the whole lot. Once the plug seals the leak, it stops all the syphoning and glugging and the steam now pushes the water away, and the soldering operation is straightforward, and it's a lot stronger as it's a capillary situation rather than a gap spanning situation.

So here's my tips
  • Use a MAPP gas cylinder (twice as much heat as propane)
  • Make a wedge shaped plug of copper/brass

To suck water out of inaccessible places, you can use an ejector (also an easy way to prime a pump!)  You can buy them at aquarium shops or just use a vacuum source from a pick n place machine (from Ebay) they work with water just as well as compressed air.

przem
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Re: draining the pipes
przem   5/30/2014 9:45:41 PM
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The idea here is to let the air in at the TOP of the pipe stack, because otherwise the low pressure prevents the water from flowing out at the low end. It's the same idea as the nipple on the other end of  your gas can---http://www.pslc.ws/macrog/images/gascan.jpg ; you open it at the top of the can to help the flow out of the bottom.

zeeglen
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Re: draining the pipes
zeeglen   5/30/2014 6:51:02 PM
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@przem  open up all the faucets in the house,

That works if there is a faucet at a lower elevation than the leak.  In my case the leak was at a lower elevation than all the faucets.

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