Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thanks, Dad!

[Alternate Title: Wow, I had no idea I had that much to say about plumbing.]

The sink in our downstairs bathroom has had a leak pretty much since the house was built. Every once in a while, as I was sitting, um, nearby, I would think about how we really should do something about it, and wonder how complicated it was going to actually be. And how much damage the cinder block and other house-parts were sustaining, what with the continual moisture, and all.

It got worse. Costa Rica has occasional tremors and earthquakes, and Alex thought maybe one of them had contributed to the problem by further splitting whatever it was that was, apparently, split. Around the same time, he thought he noticed a slight improvement in the water pressure, so he further hypothesized that the water company was delivering better pressure, and that that had increased the leak.

Anyway, both sides of the cinder block wall were starting to blossom with mold or mildew or one of those fearsome things, and really we needed to do something about it.

Alex's response was, characteristically, "Get right in there and dig holes in the wall! Now!" Which he did. And verified that, yes, there was a leak. A steady one.

Also characteristically, having appeased his do-it-now instinct, he considered further action to be of secondary importance. We did start turning off the hot water at its source and shutting off the breaker switch to the water heater except when someone was actually using the hot water, since that seemed to be the side that had the leak.

(Lest you think me unsupportive, I was actively pursuing my own live-with-it instinct, adapting to the new status quo of gaping holes in the wall and using the hot water on a need-to-know basis without too much trouble.)

Finally, a week or two ago, he had a guy come over to look at the problem and fix it. This is the same guy who is laying the stone on our front walk; true to the Costa Rican skilled labor norm, he's multifaceted.

He agreed (and so did I) with Alex's thought that whoever first installed the sink hadn't consulted with whoever installed the pipes, and nicked the pipe when drilling the holes for the screw anchors. If this were the case, then the girls leaning on the sink when they wash their hands would be another factor that could have made it worse.

Well, Gilbert went ahead and finished digging holes in the wall, and it turned out Alex's theory was correct. The drill had made a dimple into the hot water pipe, and you could hardly even see the split, but it was enough for a steady, audible leak whenever there was water in the pipe. We all agreed that it would have been better if they had gone ahead and drilled right into the pipe, since then it would have been fixed right then. Oh well.

Of course, there was also a smaller leak on the cold water side, which was probably more recent and would have needed fixing anyway. Or might have gotten cracked when Alex dug his initial holes in the wall back in January. Either way.

In any case, I'm not actually here to talk about my leaky bathroom sink.

What I really want to discuss is (one of) my pet peeve(s) regarding the construction of this house.

Traditionally, Costa Rican homes did not have running hot water, and many still don't. It's more common to have an on-demand heater built into the bathroom shower head, and to do everything else exclusively with cold water.

So installing hot water pipes alongside cold ones is not automatically a part of home construction here. I get that.

Still, it's certainly not unheard of, and it has bugged me from the outset that the builders working on our house ran hot water to both bathrooms and to the kitchen sink, but not to the laundry room. In fact, they had to run it right past the laundry room in order to get it to the kitchen, but didn't leave even a capped-off pipe in there, and in fact buried the pipe itself in a cement sidewalk outside the house, so getting to it is a non-trivial affair. (Unless we were to go in from the other side, where the hot water pipe runs, exposed, along the surface of the back yard. Don't even get me started.)

I don't mind doing most of the laundry in cold water, although sometimes the gymwear would benefit from some heavier-duty cleansing.

But dyeing fabric is a whole 'nother issue. The dyeing process itself takes place in warm water, and is done in smaller containers anyway, so that's fine. But the final rinse has to be in hot water in order to remove the spent dye from the fabric, lest it bleed out during subsequent washings. This final rinse has to be done in very hot water, in the washing machine. Well, I guess it could be done without a washing machine, but I'm not going there.

I have experimented with carrying buckets of water from the sink to the washing machine, but aside from the obvious drawbacks of that system, the water isn't as hot as it should be by the time it gets to the kitchen sink. (Did I mention the pipe that runs along the surface of the back yard?) And then it cools off more while the bucket is filling, and even more as it's poured into the washer.

The last couple of times, I have dragged the washing machine into the bathroom (it's narrower than a standard US machine and just barely fits through the two doorways). Aside from the obvious drawbacks of that system, filling the washing machine by dropping the hand-held shower head into it meant that I had to be there to turn it on and off whenever the washing machine reached the appropriate point in its cycle.

Not being there when it needed to be turned on resulted in a lot of lost time.

Not being there when it needed to be turned off resulted in the uttering of a lot of bad words. Some of them directed at the builders of this house.

Anyway, when Dad was here for a visit, he looked over the setup and came up with the best solution, under the circumstances; the bathroom and laundry room share a wall, and the hot water could be routed over to, and then through, that wall without too much in the way of wholesale destruction.

And it turns out he was right. With the pipes exposed already, running hot water off to the side and through the wall cost about $10 extra in materials and took so little time (at $2 an hour) that I think Gilbert did it while I was out picking up the girls from school one day. By tomorrow, the cement will have had several days to dry and he'll re-hang the sink.

And yes, he measured the position of the pipes this time.


Dad April 22, 2007 7:01 PM  


(I hope that not all of my brilliant ideas take years to germinate...)

Of course, I can't take credit for the most logical part of all:
My thought had been to run the line through the wall and put a spigot there, so that you could attach a hose and run the hot water over to the washer. And until the final photo I assumed that's what was done.

Running the line (exposed, albeit not outdoors) up, over the doorway, and down to the washer was apparently too imaginative for me.

I'm glad Gilbert (Alex?) (YOU?) were intelligent enough to figure it out for yourselves!

Will there be anything else?


Jennifer April 22, 2007 7:24 PM  

That last bit was me.

And it's insulated pipe, made specially for hot water.

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