frank called me a little bit after 8:30am, said he was on his way. he called again 20 minutes later, said he just arrived at the star market parking lot. i ran out to meet him with the visitor's parking permit as we drove back to my place. along the way i explained to him the problem, which i thought would be a quick fix, but he saw it as something more substantial, that we may need to drain the plumbing from the whole house before we could get started.
i showed him the water main in the basement. after the initial inspection to see what he was getting himself into, he asked if he could use my bathroom first.
back in the basement, frank turned off the main valve located at the bottom of the plumbing close to the wall. "do you hear that?" he asked me. i heard nothing. "that valve isn't working. water is still running." that might be true, but 3 ft above that was another valve the previous plumber sean had installed, a much better ball valve, which would stop the water from coming into the house. frank shut off that valve as well.
the other problem was the water already inside the pipes from the rest of the house. we needed to flush all that out so water won't pour out once we disconnect the water main pipe. we went outside to turn on the outdoor spigot where the water initially came out in a steady stream but quickly petered out. i went inside to turn on the cold water faucet in the bathroom but by that point nothing was coming out. that's a good sign. frank also wanted me to turn on the water upstairs but i didn't think anyone was home. he said it was okay, as long as nobody used the faucet while we worked. earlier i sent paul a warning text and an e-mail, just in case he might be home.
one last thing was to turn off all smoke detectors, because his torch would be creating a lot of smoke. we only have one in the basement ("you should really think about getting a hardwired detector," frank said) and i couldn't figure out how to remove the battery so we just left it outside for the time being.
frank then unscrewed the spigot above the ball valve. some water poured out which he caught with a bucket, but not much, and eventually the plumbing ran dry, which was a good sign that we flushed out enough water in the pipes to work. with a small piece of rubber tubing the length of a straw, he became to siphon the small amount of water that was still in the pipe above the ball valve. it didn't seem very efficient, i think he could've easily done it with a longer tubing. the final bit left in the pipe he sucked out with his mouth, spitting the water into the bucket.
next frank turned on his heavy-duty propane tank (i think it was propane) and fired up the torch with a stubborn lighter. i love playing with fire as much as anybody else, but propane torches always scare me, that i'm always inches away from setting the whole house on fire, or maybe the tank exploding. frank began heating up the brass pipe fitting. he did it for a long time and i was afraid he was going to melt the pipes but the fitting would not come loose. at one point he had me nervously hold the propane torch with gloves while he gently tired to pull apart the piping but it still wouldn't budge. could the previous plumber had used some more advanced way to fuse the pipes together?
things weren't looking too good until frank put the spigot back in place and gently struck it upwards with a mallet while i continued to heat the brass fitting. that finally seemed to do the trick as we managed to release the piping. "there's no solder in here!" frank exclaimed when he looked into the copper pipe. he said the previous plumber didn't do a good job sealing it and it was a miracle the pipe wasn't leaking even more. he said sean should pay for this repair and he (frank) saved sean some serious liability claim had the pipe did burst and flood the basement.
frank went about cleaning up the plumbing, using an emery cloth to sand the outside of the copper until it looked shiny and new (he even sanded it vertically, said that helps to draw in the eventual solder), and a fitting brush to clean the inside of the pipe and brass fitting. he then applied some flux to both ends of the pipe before socketing everything back into place.
next came the soldering, as he fired up the torch again. my job was to hold the lamp so he could see. once again he was having problems, as the soldering wasn't taking. "i might have to remove this whole section and install a new brass fitting," he said. sometimes pipes get heated and repaired enough times that it loses its ability to fuse properly. frank said he'd try something else, something calling "buttering" which is just to apply even more solder. that seemed to work better. while he soldered, he used a paper towel to haphazardly flick off the excess molden solder. at one point some solder flew in my direction. "sorry," frank said.
buttering seemed to do the trick. frank put back the spigot as well (applying new teflon tape and some teflon paste). he asked me to go and close all the faucets (outside, inside) before he slowly turned on the water. i heard the gurgle of water coming back into the plumbing. the newly fused joint was not leaking anymore. a success!
we went outside and turned on the outdoor spigot. nothing came out at first, before a few spurts then a steady flow of water. we did the same inside the house, first some gasps of exhaling air before water came out. frank used the bathroom once more before he packed up his things. i helped him carry his tool box, which must've weighed 80 lbs. easily.
we sat on my front porch as he wrote out an invoice. at one point he was crunching some numbers with a calculator, which is never a good sign. the final cost came out to $232.75, $12 of which was in parts (for the solder, teflon tape, flux). it was a little more than i was expecting, for a job that after seeing frank do it once, i could easily do myself in the future. when i paid $100 last time for him to remove the cleanout drain at my parents' place that felt more like a bargain since that wasn't something we could do. but repairing a leaking pipe? it looks easy, something i could do myself. let's just say $200 was for the lesson. besides, my upstairs neighbor would be paying 60% of the bill, so it wasn't that bad. paul actually came out of the house while we were still outside. frank explained to him what we did, but i could see paul feigning interest, my upstairs neighbors are the least handy people i've ever met.
i wrote frank a check and thanked him for coming out. i went back inside the house to scan the invoice and drop off a copy for steve.
i didn't leave the house the rest of the day. i had some oatmeal for lunch then for dinner i heated up a can of soup.
i called lucas once in the early afternoon (he didn't answer) and once in the later afternoon, where i finally reached him. he gave me a tentative install date of the 20th, but nothing finalized yet, and said he was trying to schedule an install on one of these saturdays, since our project has been on the wait list for such a long time. i said i'd call him back either thursday or friday to check again.