Monday, January 28, 2013

Further adventures in plumbing

Not all that long ago I had to replace one of the taps in my kitchen; this time the problem was in the bathroom – and it was just a little bit more dramatic.

It was as dramatic as it was because it was the hot tap rather than the cold and ­– and because this time it happened when the plug was in the sink. I'd put some water in there and turned off the taps when I noticed the hot tap dripping; I reached across to turn it off and was more than a little surprised when it came on full blast.

No doubt I stared at it dumbly for a couple of beats before my brain made the connection between the furious outpouring of water into the sink and the fact the plug was still in. But then it hit me; the sink was filling up and there weren't too many options available to me to stop it before it reached the top and overflowed onto the floor of the bathroom.

So I stuck my hand in to try and pull the plug out. Missed it. Tried a second time. Missed it a second time. I'm guessing it would have looked a little like the scene from The Simpsons where the Squeaky-Voiced Teen drops the taco in the deep fryer and tries to fish it out ("Ow! Ow!").

Now with a sore hand and the water level racing toward the top of the sink, I realised it wasn't going to work – so I dashed off to the kitchen to get a knife with a long enough blade to reach the plug. I got back with the water only a few millimetres from flowing over and managed to stab the plug (it's a rubber one, fortunately) on the first go, before any spillage happened. Of course there was some splashed around, but that I could cope with.

Obviously that wasn't the end of it; I still had a gushing hot tap to deal with, and I wanted to deal with it quickly - so, still in dashing mode, I went out through the back door to where the lever that controls the water supply to my unit and turned it off.

At this point I wanted to go to bed and deal with it in the morning, but my hot water system was making an unusual amount of noise, and I had no idea why. But then it hit me: the hot tap was still 'on', effectively, meaning that water was coming out of the hot water system but none was going in.

So, not good. While I expect that the device has a cutoff switch - it's a fairly modern electric unit1, which I only had installed a few years ago - I wasn't 100% sure, and would rather deal with it straightaway than risk dying in my sleep from a freak explosion. Or being woken up, which I'd also hate.

To the toolbox! Or, in my case, the shoebox in the laundry; I don't really own enough tools to justify a real toolbox - there are rules about these things, you know. So, I grabbed my shifting spanner and set to it. Of course I wouldn't have been able to do much if I didn't have a spare washer, but I'd luckily bought a packet of six when I was fixing the kitchen tap so I had plenty to choose from.

That part was about as straightforward as it gets. But after the last time - where I replaced the washer only to find that in doing so I'd stripped the thread from the taps and needed to replace the entire fitting as well - I wasn't going to signal the all-clear2 until I'd switched the water back on and not had the hot, miniature equivalent of Niagara Falls happening in my bathroom.

Back out in my slightly creepy backyard3, I flipped the switch and listened carefully. Nothing. The sweet, sweet sound of water not pouring into my bathroom sink.


1Yes, it's electric despite the fact I work in the gas industry, and the guilt sometimes keeps me up at night.
2No, I don't know who I'd be signalling the all-clear to; don't be difficult.
3I'm a terrible gardener, so there are a lot of dead plants out there – and at night they're a bit scary.


  1. Your analogies to The Simpsons and Niagara Falls, as well as your footnotes, had me chuckling. That aside, I have to commend you on sacrificing precious sleep to get your tap fixed. While the steps you took painted a somewhat comical image, you did eventually get it fixed, saving you from having to possibly deal with an even bigger issue come morning. Thanks for sharing, Jamie!

  2. While it may sound hilarious, I shudder to think what my reaction might be if this situation happened to me. Probably overflowing hot water and a lot more panicking... definitely a lot more.

    Levi @ Capital Plumbing