The Good Thing About Indoor Plumbing Is The Same As The Bad Thing About Indoor Plumbing

The great thing about indoor plumbing is that it's indoors. The bad thing is that it's indoors.

At one point when I was looking up dew points for all of April, May and June I thought about it and just shook my head: Why does plumbing even need to be indoors? And, Who thought it was smart to put a toilet above a place where you prepare food?

Now if you're like me, you want answers. Why, for example, did the toilet waste line leak? Some might not care. But I was interested in avoiding further waste line disruptions, so I wanted to be prepared for the next time.

It could have been that we had upset the balance of things at Kawama. Maybe superstitions were real.

Or it could have been that I hammered away furiously at the extra lead from the waste line sticking up out of the floor so I could put in the new flange when I put in the toilet, peeling the old lead away and perhaps — perhaps (but not definitely!) — fucked up the waste line and caused it to leak.

Or — here was another idea — the lead waste line was an original, or at least an old, feature of the house and since lead is soft, over time, as the house settled, the lead line bent and broke. And since the waste line was angled down, the water collected in the line and then the pipes condensed when the dew point rose above 55 degrees, which accounted for the leaking.

I tried asking one of the guys who came to put in the new line about my theory and he kind of shrugged. Then I asked him if I put in the wax ring correctly on the toilet and he confirmed that I did. Small victories.

Anyway, it was fixed, so that was that. I could move on.

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

One thing they did that was odd — or at least I thought it was odd — was that when they needed a piece of cardboard to use as a bed for the cement around the toilet where they poked through the floor to install the new waste line, they just grabbed a pizza box out of the recycling. I mean, I guess it was clean:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

So one lesson I took away from all this is that I now know why the previous owners added drop ceilings:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

I guess waste lines poop out over the years and fuck up the ceilings.

It occurred to me that there were drop ceilings all around the house. Or more specifically, there were drop ceilings where plumbing was concerned: the kitchen, the bathroom, our bedroom (it being under the kitchen on the third floor). It's a lesson worth remembering: If you see drop ceilings, ask what's under those tiles. So yeah. That.

Cleaning up afterward, I had to retile the bathroom floor around the toilet, clear out the debris that fell (or at least as much as I could), and fix the ceiling tiles in the kitchen. While fixing the walls around the cabinets, I found where past handymen had plugged up various holes with newspapers. The pizza box suddenly made sense: grab whatever was on hand and plug up a hole.

I found two eras of newspapers. The first was a The New York Times from 2010. Actually, it was the business section from July 25, 2010, based on this article and this article. Things made sense: They must have done some work in 2010 in anticipation of selling the house. Maybe that's why the stove looked so new. It's probably when they painted the tile orange (don't ask; or, more accurately, we'll get to that, I suppose).

Newspaper Found In Kitchen Wall, Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Then there were the other pieces of newspaper shoved into spaces into the kitchen wall — and it corresponded to what I assumed to be the age of the kitchen, at least judging by the tile. These look like they're from the 1960s, and they probably are:

Newspaper Found In Kitchen Wall, Kawama, Astoria, Queens

The ad for the "burlesk" theater seems to be the Mayfair Theater on 235 West 46th Street; it shows up in this issue of New York Magazine from 1968. I think it's a Dean & Deluca now:

Newspaper Found In Kitchen Wall, Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Another clue — these pages look to be real estate classifieds. One notice (on the left) talks about some Mitchell-Lama project, with the requisite honorific shoutouts to those in charge: Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay and Commissioner Gaynor. Rockefeller was governor from 1959 to 1973. Lindsay was mayor from 1966 to 1973. But James W. Gaynor was New York State Commissioner of Housing and Urban Renewal until 1969. So this is from before 1969. Again, guessing the late 1960s (especially with those ads for mid-1960s Buicks in that second image):

Newspaper Found In Kitchen Wall, Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Newspaper Found In Kitchen Wall, Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Which is to say, the walls hold clues: Destroy the toilet waste line and dig around, you'll find something.

Posted: February 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , ,

Such Is The Power That The Plumber Wields Over His Subjects

By June we were beginning to starting to really settle in at Kawama. The carpet was up. The old tenant was out. The painting was done. The shower was grouted and in working order. We unpacked most, if not all, of the boxes. The lights were working. We now had a washer and a dryer. The sink and the toilet were both installed. Things were looking good. Life was getting back to normal.

Then one day I noticed a yellow stain over the sink. Uh oh. I felt around above the sink. Water was dripping from somewhere above, soaking the cabinets and dripping into the sink. I put a pot under the drips on the kitchen counter and went to work figure out where the leak was coming from.

I thought I knew what it could be. Except when I chipped out the tile and felt around the valve of the handle I broke, it was still completely dry.

Now you might ask, as I did, what was directly above the leak. That would be our toilet. What did I not want the leak to be about? Anything involving the toilet. So I set out to find a cause of the leak that didn't involve the toilet.

For me, the calculus was simple: Something involving the toilet, or at least the part of the toilet below the floor, was above my paygrade. The rest of it maybe — maybe — I could handle. And if all that did was delay the inevitable? Then so be it.

In this way, I ensured that the tub handles were completely caulked. I made sure the window frame wasn't leaking shower water back into the house:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Along the way I learned that it is incorrect to caulk window flashing (that thin metal protecting the window frame itself) because then there is no way for water to escape out the bottom:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Incidentally, if you walk around your neighborhood and look at window flashing, you'll see that most people have their window flashing caulked. It's kind of crazy, especially if what I read on the Internet is correct.
Goober and I went on the roof to see if maybe — maybe? — the leak above the sink on the first floor was the result of a roof leak three floors up:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

The leak of course was related to none of these things.

One thing made me scratch my head — the water didn't smell like waste water, which of course it would if it had been coming from the toilet waste line; after all, our shit did not not stink; we knew this. So I developed a new theory: I speculated that the leak had something to do with the humidity.

As I learned through substantial research, it wasn't really about the humidity as much as it was a matter of the dew point. See, you would see condensation on the pipes — and thus a leak (get it?) — if the dew point was above a certain point.

But then we'd have to figure out what the dew point meant exactly. Which I now know.

In short, the dew point is the temperature at which water vapor condenses. The domestic water supply in most places is about 55 degrees. So when the dew point is above 55 degrees, the pipes will condense. In the beautiful summer that happens in the Mid-Atlantic, we get high dew points often. So this being late June, I assumed that our pipes were just condensing and dripping into the kitchen.

Of course, right?

I mean, it just was so obvious that that was what was happening.

So for several days I tracked the dew point and noted when it went above or below 55 degrees, then checked to see if the leak got better or worse.

Eventually I realized that this was stupid, and just tore away at the ceiling tiles and looked up there for myself. Here was what I saw:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

The first image is the original ceiling, with the waste pipe for the toilet visible through the wood planks. The second image is the lead toilet waste pipe itself, attached into the main waste line flowing down the wall into the basement and out to the sewer, with what I believe to be condensation collecting at the bottom.

My theory was vindicated! But then, if you turn your attention to the upper portion of the image at the pipe, you'll see a tear in the lead. I think the technical term for this condition is "fucked up," which is what I told the plumber when I immediately called him upon seeing this. He said he could send some guys out that Monday. I said that would be fine with me. I did not ask him how much it might cost to fix because we didn't really have a choice. Such is the power that the plumber wields over his subjects.

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , ,

On Upsetting The Ecosystem

When the electrician was pulling the conduit wire stuff from the fuse box up through the drop ceiling in the basement, I took the opportunity to look around the space between the drop ceiling and the floorboards. There wasn't anything up there. Except for an envelope of some sort.

The next day I got Jen and Michael and we went to work dragging, pushing and prodding the envelope to a spot where we could pull it down from the space above the drop ceiling. While we sat there we all speculated what could be in the envelope. A stack of $100 bills. A will. Something very valuable. Some kind of secret. We finally grabbed the envelope and pulled it down.

The way the package was bundled made it clear it was something very important. It was thick, carefully taped and meticulously sealed. We took it outside.

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

We carefully cut away the tape and opened the package. Inside, it was like Al Capone's Vault, just a single scrap of paper:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

If I'm correct, it's a scrap of a publication called La Palabra Diaria, published by Unity Worldwide Ministries in Unity Village, Missouri (64065-0001). And . . . that's it.

I can't figure out if this is some kind of superstition or something. If it is, it's kind of, I don't know, underwhelming.

I still have the scrap of paper, though we did not return it to its hiding place.

Posted: February 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , ,