How to repair a plumbing leak inside the wall, a tale of high adventure.

I have a lot of projects on tap before the infernal summer heat comes to Arizona. This is not one of them. After chasing down the source of a leak feeding our guest bathroom's bathtub, (here) and punching through the soggy drywall, the first order of business was repairing the plumbing.

With the section of pipe cut out of the wall, I had to plug the end and blow on it to find the minuscule pinhole that had been wreaking havoc on our home. It wasn't a failed solder joint, but a hole right through the elbow, near a tiny dab of corrosion.

Awesome! this means the rest of our 1979 home is simply a ticking freaking time-bomb. Good luck sleeping tonight, folks in homes from even earlier decades.

I've done a little soldering before, and been generally successful, although admittedly not always on my first attempt. It's a theoretically an easy process, if you've watched enough of the reigning Grand-master of Plumbing, Richard Trethewey, on This Old House (and I have).

First I cut the pieces to size and dry fit them. It was extra with an original part to copy.

Next, I cleaned the connections with sandpaper and applied flux to both pieces where they would mate. They never show it on TV, but I know it's important to wear a Detroit Red Wings shirt. I suspect Richard hides this step from the cameras, because he'd be lynched by rabid Bruin's fans.

I did the soldering on the floor of the tile shower, with a flame protective shield, since I didn't want to burn the horrid 1970's acrylic, gold veined counter-top, I didn't get a photo of the process, because it was an absolute train-wreck and I was too frustrated to pick up the camera. It went nothing like the easy cake-walks on This Old House. The solder didn't melt well, then when it did, it beaded and ran down the outside of the joint. It was almost like the flux repelled it. I made two attempts, wasting parts, even my spares. It was obvious it wouldn't hold water.

It's like dropping a whole sheet of burned cookies in the trash.
Great. I noticed the solder was lead based after breathing the smoldering crap. Back to the drawing board, and with daylight dwindling, I went out and picked up a load of new stuff. 

Step by step this time, out in the fresh air of the driveway as it grew dark I set up for another attempt. I was under the gun, with the water turned off in the house. It was nearly time for a pint-sized, evening brushing of teeth. Go time.

1.) Cut the pieces to size, with a fresh bladed mini-cutter, and dry fit them again.

2.) Forget the sandpaper; Daddy picked up a new tool and cleaned both mating surfaces with this sweet wire brush widget that does both 1/2" and 3/4" pipe. 

3.) Apply the flux to both sides of the connection. This fresh new batch looked more like creamy deli Dijon mustard than my old stuff, which resembled something a sick dog might cough up.

4.) Next, my friends,...I bring you FIRE!!! 

"I am Fire..."
                                  -Smaug the Terrible

5.) I heated the pipe until the flux started to bubble, keeping the heat on, and  I touched the seam with solder. The silver flowed like it was alive, perfectly filling the space, slithering greedily around the pipe before cooling and gripping the pieces, permanently in its tight clutch.

By God! I have engaged in torch-ery this day!

DIY Soldering copper plumbing pipe

My friends, I torched like a warrior-poet. I torched because I was the very essence of fire.

In the end, I rose victorious. A champion solder-ist. A self-crowned welds-man of the first order.

DIY Soldering copper plumbing pipe

Again and again, I returned to the fray, spewing blue hell-fire and molten metal into seam after seam, each time better and faster than the last. I attacked my task, in front of that filthy, unwashed Honda, beneath the deepening desert sky. Frustration was a thing of the past; I actually began to enjoy the battle.

Suddenly, it was done. A gleaming prize copper beauty. Would Trethewey give me the nod of respect? I like to think so. Would it hold up to the pressure of city water? I pray so.

My gleaming, fresh-forged success in hand, I returned to the crime scene,... with one more trick up my sleeve.

I've soldered inside wall cavities before. It was hell. I could never feel certain that I'd gotten a good weld on the portions I couldn't see and I always had this pesky fear of blasting fire inside the walls of a tinderbox, dry wooden house. But, this time, a magical little beauty had caught my eye when I was buying parts. Check out this Sharkbite push-fit fitting. I had bought a little orange horseshoe looking tool too, to make sure I could remove the fittings if necessary. With luck, I would spare the walls from my flame.

I pushed one of these push fit couplings on each end of my freshly fabricated piece by hand, making sure I'd cleaned the ends nicely first.

Here's the sweet part. I reached in and installed it by hand. 20 seconds. Done. Tight. No torch. No fumes. No kidding.

Of course, a beautiful, gleaming copper and brass plumbing assembly is nothing but scrap copper and brass, if it won't do it's sole task, deliver water without leaking. So it's a quick trip back out into the dark to turn the water valve back on... 

... followed by a break-neck sprint back into the house, bouncing off walls in an mad race to the scene. I'd need to pull a quick turnaround and race back to the valve, if it was gushing. 

Oh sweet, drip-free dryness, how I adore you.

We are whole again. The shower will work. Now it's a matter of drying out and cleaning up the mess, before serious wall repair can be done. It's a shame this wasn't a planned renovation, I'd really like to replace that shower valve with a modern, scald free version while the wall is open. It's just not in the budget or the schedule.

But, the existing valve is nasty looking. It's also horrible when someone flushes the toilet and the temperature spikes. Probably unsafe.

Aghhh, The expense. The time. The third trip to the hardware store.


It's going to be a few days before I can attack it, but it's going to happen before I seal that wall up. Those other pesky projects will wait,... crown molding will taste paint, two trees will be felled, and doorway will get its new casing. Eventually.

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Surprise! Finding a leak inside the wall.

When I returned home from Jack's karate lesson, Sweetie told me I needed to check the toilet in the guest bathroom. It sounded like it was constantly running. I'd just replaced the valve in the master a couple weeks ago, so I figured it must be time to replace the other one. BUT, when I popped the tank open, I realized the sound was not coming from the toilet, but from a couple feet to the right,... in the bathtub,... but there was no water dripping. Uh-oh.

I could hear something inside the wall. NoteThis phenomenon, is generally what we like to call in the homeowner business, "bad news". Rarely, do noises in the walls turn out to be the shifting of gold doubloons sliding off a big bundle $20 bills onto a pile of 30 year old Apple Computer stock. No, it usually means you are going to spend money, lots of it. It is, however, a perfect opportunity to practice up on your curse words.

With the shower valve opening too small, I couldn't see into the wall, but I could hear water spraying. With the crud-circle buildup around the valve cover as a guide, I cut the hole larger with a rotary tool. The fumes and dust of cutting fiberglass were pretty strong, so I opened a window, turned on the exhaust fan, and slipped into the manly-pink 3M Professional Multi-Purpose Respirator I'd bought for attic work.

cutting into a shower wall with a rotary tool and a 3M respirator
"No Luke, I am your Father" - D. Vader

The Great Divide: Installing the Living Room Transition Molding

Our new bamboo living room floor floor joins an existing tile floor. Although I installed the living room floor in January, it took until Mid-March for the flooring store to finally get the t-molding in stock for me to finish. It's a frustrating tale I may share in a future post, but needless to say, We probably won't be returning to the same store in the future.

T-molding is a transition strip molding that bridges the gap between two flooring materials of similar height. It should be a simple install, but whoever installed this floor (me) didn't do such a good job keeping the edge uniform. Slopping that godawful adhesive at a rapid pace, made me sloppy on that last detail. It was left with this ragged edge.

The Great Fix-It yourself Contest Winner!

A couple weeks ago I shared some of my DIY stories and asked about yours:

What have you done to save the family budget and keep stuff from the landfill? What's the one thing you're glad you fixed rather than throwing away? What fix it job are you most proud of?

Crucial Vacuum sponsored the contest for a $100 gift certificate.

The Great Fix-It Yourself Contest - $100 prize!

On this blog, I like share tales of "Fixing Stuff". Now, we want to hear yours.
One comment / story is going to earn a $100 bounty, a glorious gift card from our friends at Crucial Vacuum!
Over the years, I've taken advantage of the internet's easy accessibility to repair parts and educational resources to fix stuff that I would have either thrown away and replaced or paid someone the big bucks to repair for me. It's become my first reflex to tear stuff apart and fix it. I've saved tons of money in the process. 

Repairing a Shopsmith Dust Collector
Replacing the cord on the dust collector.