Well, we have been working on the downstairs bathroom nearly since we moved in, but it has been going very slowly. Since we have a bathroom off our bedroom, we haven’t had much pressure to work on it. But now that there is no grass to mow, we have gotten more serious about finishing the bathroom. We ripped out the drywall and tub surround quite some time ago, making the bathtub dysfunctional, but we have left the sink and toilet in a functional state, which has been handy when we have had guests. Now we are concentrating on finishing the tub, then tackling the sink and finally the toilet.
We bought most of the materials to tile around the tub several months ago, as well as a new vanity. We took Ellen’s advice and rented the “Hometime Tile” video from Netflix, which wa very handy. We learned that we should get cement backerboard instead of drywall to put around the tub, because it is more moisture-resistant. As we got closer to installing the backerboard, we started to realize that we should really install the new plumbing fixtures before the backerboard. So a couple weeks before Christmas I started taking off the old fixtures. I could not take them off all the way though, because that would create a leak, and the only way to stop the water to the bathtub is to shut off the water to the whole house. So, with that in mind, I wanted to make sure to start the project early in the day so I could make several trips to the hardware store.
So, with the holidays behind us, this weekend seemed like a good time to do the project. Saturday morning we got up around 7:30, had some breakfast, went to the bathroom, then turned off the water. As I started getting ready to take out the old fixtures, I realized more parameters I had not previously considered. For one thing I noticed that we would have to put it in a 2×4 as a backer for the fixture, and that we would want to make sure that we got it centered, at a good height, and at the correct depth from the wall. So I ended up cutting the backerboard and testing it in place to see how deep the 2×4 should be. Clare was of course very helpful in this as well. Once we had done all this, it was time to finally cut off the pipe to the old fixture. Unfortunately, we could not find the pipe cutter. On top of this, I had to go to the bathroom, and it was almost noon. So I went into town, got some lunch at Taco Bell and used their bathroom, then headed off to Pell’s hardware. I had a list of all the fittings and pipe I needed, and one of the guys helped me find everything. I also ended up buying a pipe cutter. I’m sure the old one will turn up someday.
Once I got home, I cut off the old pipe, and Clare helped me start measuring and cutting the new pipe, and cleaning the fittings. We were very fortunate to get a lesson in sweating pipe from Clare’s uncle Rich over the holidays. It really was a great exchange of information. We gave Rich and his family some advice on computers and digital cameras, and they gave us some advice (and tools) for gardening and home improvement. The main thing we learned from Rich is that the key to sweating pipe is that the pipe must be very clean. Cleaning it involves a special wire brush for the fittings, and some special sand paper for the pipe. After cleaning it well, apply some flux (soldering paste), and then start the soldering. We also learned that the area to be soldered must be completely dry, and that is where the bread trick comes in. There is bound to be some water in the pipes, and heating part of the pipe will cause that water to create steam, which lowers the temperature of the metal, meaning that it will never get hot enough to melt the solder. So, the trick is to shove some bread into the pipe where the water or steam would be coming in. The bread will act as a barrier for the water, but once the water is back on, the pressure of the water will easily flush out the bread.
So before doing any actual soldering, we cut all the pipe and stuck it together, to make sure it would all fit nicely. Once we had had shortened a few pieces, and made some slightly longer short pieces to go right by the fixture, we took the pipe into the kitchen to start soldering. It is kind of hard to sweat pipe in place and not burn the 2x4s, so we wanted to do as many of the connections as possible in the free and open. We successfully got 2 sweats done fairly easily, but then we started having problems for some reason. We were having difficulty getting the pipe hot enough for the solder to melt, even though the pipe itself felt very hot. One difference in our sweating from the test session with uncle Rich was that we were using propane gas instead of MAPP gas. Around this point, we also realized that there were a few more fittings that we needed, and that we might need to redo some of the connections that we tried but could not get right.
So, we took another trip in town. This time we bought some gas and used their restrooms, then we went back to Pell’s. We bought some MAPP gas (it was about $8 instead of $4 for propane), and the other fittings we needed, then got back to work. The MAPP gas definitely made a big difference. Now things were really rolling. We got all the sweats done we could in the kitchen, then moved into the bathroom. The first two sweats there were also easy. Clare used the torch to heat up the coupling joints near the top of the tub, and I came in from behind and below the tub with the solder.
Then I made a mistake. Clare went into the kitchen for something, and I was eager to see how good our sweats were, so I turned on the water. The sweats were good, but now I had just filled up the pipes with water, and we still had several more sweats to go. Rob!!!!
So, we decided to take a coffee break, and mull it over. Clare suggested trying to drain the water out somehow. There is a drain to the house which goes out near where the pipes go in. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Then Clare remembered her dad saying that if we turned the water on upstairs with the drain open, then any water on the first floor would drain out because of the pressure differential. Sure enough, it worked. We had a little dinner while the pipes were (hopefully) drying out. When we got back to work though, the pipe still would not get hot enough. Then we tried the bread trick. This seemed to help, but there was still water in the pipe. We could hear it sizzling. Eventually, we decided just to keep heating it until the water was all gone, which only took a few minutes. Then finally the solder melted.
After all this, I decided that I wanted to work a little bit more, but that Clare could do some other things if she wanted. I was almost about ready to finish off the project when Clare informed me that it was almost 10:00. So, instead I capped off the parts that go to the faucet and shower, and we called it a night.
On Sunday, Sam and Charlie came over for brunch. Naturally we spent the morning cleaning. We had some tasty vegan biscuits and gravy, played with Benjamin, and took a stroll through the woods on the unseasonably warm day (about 65ºF). Almost as soon as they left, I got back to the plumbing. It took a bit more fenagling to get the blocks to hold the shower and faucet in the right place, (and I ended up breaking one trying to hammer the shower pipe in place – nails stink). After another couple hours work though, all the pipe was in place, and there were no leaks!
Now we can finally start putting up the rest of the backerboard and start tiling. More adventures await.