Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Living in an old house has its charms. But you can't have the good without the bad, and the bad thing about old houses is that, well, everything is old. As cool and retro as old things are, old things wear out and they're woefully outdated. And that loosely translates to costly repairs.

As if trying to find a replacement part wasn't painful enough, the exorbitant prices for these rare items is a perfect one-two punch combination. Trying to choose between paying the high price to replace an item or paying the high price to update and modernize whatever is broken is like trying to decide between getting kicked in the groin or in the teeth.

About a year ago, our kitchen faucet started to leak, but we could stop it by closing the faucet as tight as we could. The other day it sprung a small leak that wouldn't stop no matter what. As un-environmental as this sounds, I would have left it alone if it was the cold-water side and just let it drip down the drain. Afterall, the rate of leaking was the equivalent of about a gallon of water a day. It sounds like a lot, but the average shower uses between 2 to 4 gallons a minute. So I would've showered just twice less a month and called the water usage even.

But the leak was from the hot-water side. Which meant it kept the water heater running constantly, and would consequently drive up the gas bill. Being that Nathalie and I are short on finances, this drove me to try to fix the leaking faucet myself. Hiring a plumber was definitely not within our finances.

After realizing that a simple O-ring replacement wasn't going to work, I committed myself to replacing the faucet. An internet search for our waaaaay outdated faucet showed an average price of $250. Some were as high as $700! For a frickin' faucet! Nathalie and I had no idea there was this kind of money involved in kitchen faucets. Had I known this earlier, I would have definitely pursued plumbing as a career.

To add insult to injury, Home Depot sold a standard cheapo faucet for $20. But there was no way it would fit our outdated pipe layout. So a quick calculation to determine the cost of upgrading and modernizing our kitchen and pipes so that we could buy a cheapo faucet nearly led to a heart attack. The $230 I would save on the faucet would be a nice first month's payment for reworking the pipes.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I reluctantly decided that the least expensive option was to buy a replacement and went trudging over to the local Home Depot. Amazingly, they actually had something similar to our 1940's faucet that I could modify to fit our house. And to my disbelief, it cost less than $50. Nathalie and I left the store feeling giddy! We had avoided a financial disaster and made out like bandits!

Or so I thought.

After a hour of struggling, grumbling, and tinkering, I got the new faucet to fit our old pipes. Unfortunately, not being trained as a plumber, the first time I put the new faucet on, it leaked even worse than before I tried to fix it... which ultimately led to howls of frustration. But after a few more hours of cursing and tinkering, with another trip to Home Depot for more parts, I got the damn thing on with no leaks.

But the most eye-opening part of this whole ordeal was all the disgusting junk that first came out of the faucet when I initially took it off the sink, and then being able to see the inside of the pipes leading into the house. And they were fricking disgusting. Years and years worth of mineral deposits and rust had built up inside the pipes, and no amount of scraping or pounding would dislodge any of it. Not only that, I was afraid that messing with these old pipes would result in me cracking the pipe and more costly repairs, so I left it alone.

Nathalie: I'm not drinking anything that comes out through these pipes.

Me: Even if we filter it?

[We have a faucet mount Pur filter installed on the sink, and a Brita filter pitcher that we've been using to double filter the water prior to all this]

Nathalie: No way. I'm buying bottled water.

I can't stand having to pay for bottled water, especially when tap water is theoretically as clean and pure as the bottled stuff. But looking into the pipes in our house threw that theory out the window. In fact, the more I thought about it, I didn't feel that comfortable drinking that water either. It may have been clean when it left the water plant, but it definitely picked up some crap en route to my house. The pipes in my house are 60-years old. God only knows how old the pipes between my house and the water plant are...

So we ended up taking yet another trip to Home Depot, this time to buy a water cooler and several 5-gallon jugs of purified water.

Several hundred dollars later and many hours down the drain (ha ha), we had a new kitchen faucet, a fancy water dispenser, and reliably clean water to drink. Not only that, I had gained some new plumbing skills.

But most importantly, if it wasn't for the broken faucet, and my attempts to fix this myself instead of hiring a plumber, we would never have seen the inside of the pipes and would never have known the crap that we've been drinking over the years.