Saturday, September 25, 2010


Today I managed to pull off a bit of plumbing repair. Plumbing is something that I usually approach with some trepidation: it seems deceptively easy (just connect the pipes, dummy), yet it almost always causes me grief whenever I take it on. Plus, unlike electrical work, where a few sparks will trip a breaker and you're all set, a plumbing problem will result in a great deal of mess and possibly some real damage.

But the situation was serious: our shower was failing. Unlike our kitchen, which was a main selling point of the house, we have no great love of the bathroom on the second floor. It is cramped, it's equipment is shoddy and poorly constructed, it looks like it was finished by a 7-year old, it has no logical storage for towels and the like, and it doesn't strictly speaking even meet code (example: there are no shutoff valves accessible for either the sink nor the shower). Our ultimate desire is to gut to it the studs and rebuild it completely. However, that is no small task, and is something we plan to wrap in with other, structural, renovations that are farther down the line. So, we have resolved to live with whatever aesthetic and functional deficiencies it presently has.

But the shower was failing. The mechanism built into the tub spout that diverts water up to the showerhead was no longer sealing very well. As a result, about half the water would be diverted up, and about half would spray from the tub spout. This meant that we were using a prodigious amount of water, and yet getting very little benefit from it. What is more, the initial priming of the shower spout - that first surge of water up the pipe to the showerhead - was increasingly loud. The noise and the waste annoyed me enough that half the time for the last few weeks I've been taking navy showers.

I had poked around at the tub spout a bit in the past, but found it fairly opaque in terms of its repair options. It is one of the very particular things I dislike about this shower's construction: you can't service any of it. The pipes, joints, fittings, and all crucial workings are sealed within the stud wall separating it from the toilet, and so there is no possibility of accessing them without half-tearing the wall apart. When we do embark on our grand renovation, I shall be sure that a proper access panel or three gets added, and all of the plumbing fixtures replaced with more sensible hardware.

Today I did finally resolve to figure out what was going on. Failing at that, I'd bite the bullet and call in the plumber. After some poking around and craning my neck, and some creative work with my Gerber tool, I was able to extract the cause of the problem:

The lever you see if what gets pulled up to divert water up to the shower. As you can see, it raises a sort of gate that, presumably, shuts off the tub spout. The black gasket is what is supposed to do the shutting off. The problem is that this gasket is supposed to be a nice continuous circle, not a torn C.

Reflecting on the design of this contraption, I kept hearing over and over a line about another contraption seen in The Ghost and the Darkness:

"Are you running a high fever, man? How could you conceive of something so idiotic."

Apparently, this kind of design for a tub diversion spout is widespread. And yet to think that sliding a circular gasket like this would work as a watertight seal after the first few dozen times is ludicrous!

Unfortunately, the current state of the world is such that I would have to spend a few hours scrounging around a junkyard to be able to hope to find a matching, replacement gasket. Perhaps a plumber would have [Holy Crap! while composing this a 3.1 earthquake came rumbling through!] a drawer of them somewhere, a vast array of ten different sizes from each of a hundred different manufacturers and models, but I would have no such luck. In the end, I had to replace the whole spout assembly - a $20 part - to be able to fix a ten-cent piece of rubber. A hassle-free shower is definitely worth $20 to the family; it's not the money that irks me. Nor is it even the time it took me to fix what I hold to be a terrible design. What bugs me is that, in our modern world of mass-produced consumerism, the best way to replace the nickel-sized gasket from a cheap piece of crap was to buy...another cheap piece of crap.

And don't even get me started on the slow drain!

No comments: