Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Leaky Times at Fernley House

Yesterday around Noon, Lisa was doing some yard work while I worked on Day Jobbe. She burst into the living room and said, "You need to call Marraccini Plumbing right away!"

I followed her out to see what the problem was. It was big, wet trouble: a significant water leak was flooding the area behind the house near the garage.

Artificial Spring
Behind the house in an area we rarely go, water was burbling up from underground. The actual exit point was to the right of this grating. It's a good thing Lisa's yard work took her back here because otherwise we could have had a lot more flooding than we did. She dug a a trench to channel the water away from from the buildings.

Lisa managed to get the water shut off at the main connection (not easy, but she got a wrench on it) and I called our plumber. They were at lunch, but their answering service was able to connect me with Steve, the plumber who has done so much good work for us. He was in Yerrington but told us he'd be up as soon as he could be.

Digging Out the Leak
A while later Steve came and with Lisa's help started digging out around the leak. In this photo, the white pipe running near the bottom was a conduit with low-voltage wiring for a sprinkler system that we never used. With our permission, Steve cut the line out. The pole at the right was once part of a gate to the dog-run along the back of the property.

Fixing a Pole
Steve and I managed to get the pole (with its concrete footing) dug out and I hauled it off to another area to give him more room to work.

Probable Source
After a couple of hours, Steve had to call it quits. The work was very hard, not because of the digging, but because the whole area was full of tree roots. From the appearance of the dirt here, we think that there must have been a leak here for years, probably predating our purchase of the house. The hydrant you see here is a freeze-proof faucet installed to feed water to a swamp cooler, but that we've never used.

Inadvertant Soil Creation
You can see how soaked the soil was here.

Lisa had told Steve to stop working earlier, concerned for his health, but he soldiered on for a while before making arrangements to get a helper for tomorrow. He warned us that this would not be cheap, primarily due to how long it would take to get all of those tree roots cut out. We said we understood and told him to get some rest. He's had one heart attack and we didn't want to be the cause of another.

Lisa had had the presence of mind to refill the travel trailer's 40-gallon tank and several gallon jugs of tap water before she shut off the main feed from the city, so we had a little bit of water, but no main feed until the leak was repaired. She and I went to Big R and bought a new freeze-proof hydrant to replace the one already installed. There was no immediate proof that it was the source of the leak, but it was getting rusty and we decided that replacing it would be prudent, as we do think we may install a swamp cooler that would be fed from here someday. Then we went out to dinner at the Black Bear Diner. Having no running water is always a good excuse to go out to dinner.

This morning, Steve brought his helper, Angelo, and we gave them carte blanche of our tools as well. Unfortunately, one tool they wanted and neither they nor we had was a pick.

The Little Dig
Angelo got to work while Steve attended to other calls in Fernley.

There's Your Problem
After several hours, Lisa summoned me out to the Little Dig site and pointed at the source of the problem.

The pipe running from bottom to top here is the main feed from the city water. The connection to the utility is to the bottom, and the line continues toward the top (north in this view) to eventually dive under the house and feed the rest of the building.

There's Your Problem
This T connection is the first place where the property taps the main, with the line to the left feeding the freeze-proof hydrant and the sprinkler system. A large crack developed in the T. Again, we speculate (based on our water bills) that this thing has been leaking away since before we bought the house. It may be the reason why we have so much growth around the area. The trees certainly were happy about it, filling the space with many roots.

The Broken Joint
Here's he actual broken joint, later after they cut it out to replace the pipes in the area and cut out the unused sprinkler system.

New Main Feed
After lunch, they installed new pipe and a new T joint to run to the new freeze-resistant hydrant. The bulge along the main line (right to the city feed, left to the house) is a variable-length pipe to fill in for the length of pipe that had to be cut out.

Hydrant In Place
Lisa pointed out that the original hydrant hadn't been properly installed in the first place. The way these things work is that when you shut them off, the water drains out the bottom of the line through a valve several feet underground, so the pipes generally won't freeze. However, you're supposed to put in a dry well around the base of the hydrant so it doesn't just get embedded in mud. She went and got a bucket of gravel and later packed it around the base of the new hydrant before filling in the hole.

We paid the $1240 bill for the repairs. (Well, at least I'll get Amtrak miles for it.) We don't begrudge Marraccini the money. It was hard work, and I'm grateful that they came so quickly. Indeed, Steve-the-Plumber told us that originally he was going to tell us when he got the emergency call from the answering service that they were too busy to respond, but when he heard the address and realized who it was, he went ahead and made the extra trip. (He likes Lisa. She knows what she wants and when she helps, she's actually helpful.)

After Steve and Angelo replaced the broken joint and pipe and installed the new hydrant, they told us to let things sit for several hours to allow the joint adhesive to dry before turning the water on. This gave Lisa time to build a new tool.

Getting the water off was a hassle. The water main valve really needs a specially shaped tool on a long pole to work efficiently. They sell such tools at Big R, but they're made in China and Lisa resented the idea of paying that much for what is really just a few pieces of rebar welded together. She has a welding kit and there's various bits of scrap metal around the property, so she decided to make her own water valve tool.

Implements of Construction
In the center of this photo is the completed tool, fashioned from a bit of cast-off pipe she found under the house on an earlier expedition along with some spare bits of metal. She used the electric welder and grinder and the other tools here to fashion the necessary fitting on the long end of the pipe.

Restoring Water Service
Shortly after 5 PM, Lisa used the newly-constructed tool to turn the water back on. There were no new leaks from the repaired pipe. We went inside and turned the water on. It popped and burbled, then ran dirty for a while, and indeed we were concerned that one of the lines had gotten clogged with mud, but after a bit the lines were running clear again.

Lisa had turned off the water heater when she shut off the water feed, as there seemed little need to heat water when you couldn't run it. About 30 hours later when we turned the water back on, the water coming from the hot tap was still decently warm, which says good things about the insulation on that water heater.

Filling a Hole
I returned to Day Jobbe (working late because of the mid-day disruptions associated with the plumbing work), and Lisa sometime later came and got me to show that she'd been further productive, pouring the gravel for the dry well and filling in he hole. Because of all of the tree roots, there's less dirt to fill in than came out, but that's not a problem. We'll leave things for a few days and fill in the remaining hole with dirt from other parts of the property.

So we were without main water for a bit more than a day, but it was never truly a crisis. As it happens, we're close to the day when the regular water bill cycles. We are very curious as to see what the water bill after the next one is going to be and whether we'll see a drop. We certainly expect to see a reduction in usage, and in these severe drought conditions, we're very glad that we're no longer leaking away at Fernley House.
Tags: fernley, house, lisa, plumbing

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