Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pipe Dreams

We recently had the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons regarding DIY plumbing problem solving, enough so that I thought it worth sharing, so perhaps others don't have to spend 3 days with a clogged kitchen sink like we did. We ended up trying 4 separate options to unclog the sink, only one of which actually worked. Lets break it down:

Unclogging Strategy #1: Drain-O (Or any other brand chemical-y drain clog blaster in a bottle)
We've had varying success with using this stuff in the past, and we had some leftover from some other clog scenario, so I went ahead and used it. Didn't budge the clog one bit. Complete failure.

Unclogging Strategy #2: Baking Soda & Vinegar
I have had complete success with this strategy in the past, so much so I was certain it would work this time around. For those who aren't familiar with this, you pour a sizable amount of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup or more of vinegar, and quickly block the drain opening with something (this forces the science fair volcano action to head down towards the clog instead of back up and out into the sink). Wait half an hour and flush with boiling water. Repeat a few more times if necessary. I did just that, about 3-4 times, and nada. My tried and true natural home remedy finally failed me.

Unclogging Strategy #3: The Snake
After pouring various substances down the drain failed me, I decided it was time to try the snake, which is basically just a small metal coil/spring on the end of a long metal wire that you shove down the drain, into the pipes, in hopes of breaking up the clog manually. I bought a small, sink-specific one at The Depot for about $6, and was actually feeling very Rosie the Riveter in my attempts to deal with the clog myself while Phil was at work. I get home and hit snags right away. First off, we have a double sink, and the drain opening on the side closest to the clog has a strainer built in, that looks like this:

So problem #1 was that the snake wouldn't fit through any of those little holes, and removing the strainer involves fancy tools and pretty much dismantling the whole drain. So, logically, my plan B became (those of you who know anything about plumbing, get ready to face palm) to send the snake down through the pipes via the other side of the sink, the side featuring the garbage disposal. This actually ended up being absolutely fine at first - snake went through the disposal and into the pipes like buttah. I sent it down as far as I could, wriggled it around for a while, and then, snag #2. Snake done got stuck in the pipes. Oops. At this point I hung up my Rosie the Riveter headscarf (its hard to be both a feminist and inept at things like plumbing at the same time) gave in to the fact that I screwed up yet another project, and sent Phil this photographic confession of my oopsie:

You can see the snake hanging its head in shame on the right. (And for the record, part of the clog was caused by coffee grounds, hence why the sinks look so nasty). 

So I waited for my trusty male counterpart to come home and remedy the situation. After gently patting my head and sharing that "Sweetie, you can't put a snake down a garbage disposal," Phil got to work dismantling the pipes in order to free the poor snakeypoo. We found where it was stuck (the opening inside one of the pipe joints was very small and while the coiled end of the snake went into it just fine, it got stuck on an internal lip on the way out), and freed it from that spot. But then came snag #3, wherein the snake also would not fit back out through the garbage disposal (again, in my defense, it went in so easy there was really no indication that coming back out the other way would be such an impossible task.) We tried cutting the coiled part of the snake off with wire cutters (and gardening shears), but the metal wire was too strong. So Phil dismantled the other end of the snake, so as to free the non-coiled end and thread that side through the garbage disposal and out through the now open pipe. And so the saga of The Silly Little Woman and Her Snake came to a close. Which brings us to...

Unclogging Strategy #4: Take Apart the Pipes
After freeing the snake, we went for the last option we knew of, which was to stick a bucket under the pipes, remove the U-joint and see what happens. This took approximately 30 seconds, and we were able to fully clear the clog by simply dumping the contents of the U-joint into the bucket. We spent days avoiding this option, as it seemed like people went to great lengths and spent lots of money avoiding this step. However, our biggest lesson learned is that this was the fastest, easiest, cheapest and most effective solution to our problem. Next time, I might try the baking soda vinegar trick once or twice, but if that doesn't work, I'm going straight to option #4. Oh, and the contents of the clog was just coffee grounds & eggshells- so another lesson learned, when using a dozen eggs all at once to make a couple epically delicious frittatas, don't put all 12 eggshells down the disposal. And don't follow that up with coffee grounds either. 

So many lessons learned on that one, but we were proud to have finally dominated that clog on our own (after shelling out over $300 to have a plumber come fix our leaky bathtub faucet, we vowed to avoid hiring out these little repairs at all costs). Hopefully someone out there can learn from our mistakes and not have to endure half a week of clogged sinks and mountains of dirty dishes like we did. And I'll continue looking for opportunities to earn the right to don my Rosie headscarf on days other than Halloween (and for the record, I don't actually wear a red and white polka dot bandana while working around the house. It's figurative, people).

Monday, July 1, 2013

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Yard

We finally are 99% towards the conclusion of a project we've had waiting on our to-do list pretty much since day 1 of living in this house.  Our backyard, while a decent size, came with this lovely swing set which took up about half of the yard.  

If we had kids, it would be a swell bonus.  And we did consider keeping it so that when that day comes (years and years from now) we'd have it handy (swing sets like this can run hundreds to thousands of dollars).  But, the thought of living with half of our yard being essentially unusable for years while we waited to have kids old enough to even make use of it was quite unpalatable and just didn't make sense.  Plus there's a super awesome park/playground a short walk from our neighborhood, so having a playground in our backyard didn't feel all that necessary, even when we do have munchkins.  So we knew we wanted to get rid of it and fill that space in with grass, but given the expense, did not do anything about it right away. Last summer, we did successfully sell the swing set on Craig's List, so not only did we get some extra $$ in our pocket, but we at least had more open, usable yard space (even if it was still a gravel pit).  This summer we made it a goal to finally turn that gravel pit into grass. We started by shoveling and hauling the gravel out ourselves, to save on the cost of labor. 

Piper acted as the trusty supervisor of the project, as you can see.  (Oh, and all that gravel is still sitting in a big pile in our side yard, so if anyone reading this wants some free gravel, PLEASE. Let us know, and come take it off our hands!) 

So we were left with a bare dirt patch after hours and hours of hard physical labor.  I underestimated how hard it would be to get rid of all that gravel, but I think I calculated that between Phil and I, we put in a solid 10+ hours of shoveling to get it all out of there. Phew. Also, it was crazy how much bigger that part of our yard seemed after the swing set and gravel were gone. It really felt like such a huge chunk of our yard, and made us so glad we were going to finally get that space back. 

Anyway, after the aforementioned physical labor, it was finally ready for grass! We hired out the rest of the work, because laying sod is quite an involved process and the margin of error felt very high and it would have been a risky gamble to try to DIY it.  We found a local landscaping company that gave us an extremely fair price, and in addition to laying our new sod, also reworked the sprinkler system to make sure the new grass got watered, and audited and repaired the entire sprinkler system in the front and back yard. 

Here's a mid-process shot of them at work. From what I could tell from creepily watching them out the windows every so often while they were working, they tilled the already existing soil, added quite a bit of new soil, and then plopped down the sod! Obviously it's more complicated and involved than I make it seem, they were working for a solid 8+ hours the day they installed the sod. 

After they were done, we had this! It was wonderful to see all that grass in place of the gravel/dirt that once was, but we weren't all the way excited yet because our new grass was inaccessible for two weeks while we waited for it to take root.  We fenced off the new sod so that Piper couldn't get to it, with some basic garden stakes and chicken wire. 

We wished we could have explained to Piper why we had to do that - we would see her gaze at the new grass through the chicken wire fence and she must have been thinking "Why, oh why, can I not frolic in the new grass? Cruel, cruel world." But the two weeks finally passed, and after mowing what had become a ridiculously overgrown lawn from two weeks+ of no mowing, I give you, our new yard!!

(Piper approves, as you can see). Here's the before shot again, for direct comparison:

It's crazy how much bigger it feels. Even though we had the same amount of space before, the gravel pit always felt unusable. Having that filled in with grass makes our yard literally twice as big as it was, and it's glorious! It feels so spacious. We still have to do some landscaping along the fence, where there is just a bare strip of dirt between the grass and the fence, but we hope to get that done soon, and then this will be 100% finished. And when that day comes, we plan to have a big 'ol BBQ to celebrate are awesome new yard, so get ready to come enjoy our new grass someday soon! Yay!