Friday, January 26, 2007

Basement flooring

After last week's plumbing debacle, I decided that the only thing that would make me feel better is to spend a little cash trying to get the basement prettier.  Sara and I went to Ikea and bought about 700lbs of laminate flooring (light maple colored).

This was two boxes over the limit of what would fit in the Jetta's trunk (and way over the limit of what the Jetta's springs are rated for), but we managed to get it all home without an issue.  Carrying the 25 boxes down into the basement was enough of a workout so I left them there to acclimate to the temperature and humidity of the basement for a couple of days.

Over the past three days I've been installing three or four boxes each night, which works out to about 50 square feet per hour; a solid average number for a first time installer.  I'm slightly disappointed, however, as I strive to be above average.

After a few nights, I'm through more than half of the boxes, and I appear to have covered substantially more than half of the floor.  I'm pretty sure I did the math right when figuring the area of the floor, so it's probably just an illusion (or further proof of the lack of my spacial skills).  At any rate, Ikea will take back the unopened boxes, so it's not a big deal (I just hope I haven't lost the receipt already -- I'm so bad with those).

It's pretty easy to lay, with click locks on the long edges and tongue and groove on the short edges; which is far better than some that are click lock on all four sides.  Those require you to assemble the flooring into long strips and then attempt to latch a 35' section as one unit; it's hard enough to latch a 54" section.

So far I've only screwed up two cuts, and I can probably fix them with some laminate filler.  They're on two boards that start a staggered row.  I cut from the beginning of the board, instead of the end of the board, so the cut is in the field instead of up against the wall.  I might also be able to just slide that piece out and cut a new piece the correct length and slide it back in.  That will require me to slide the entire floor to the right a few feet, which is possible since it doesn't go wall to wall (it will butt up against carpet that's yet to be laid), but I'll have to do it soon since the floor is already past the point of being able to easily move.

All in all, it's looking quite nice, it's easy to install, and I'm pretty happy with it.  Some of the edges don't fit perfectly, and it's a little too easy to hit the boards together too hard and get them to buckle a bit (which I'm hoping will go away when I put furniture down), but for $1.29 a square foot an a little bit of sweat, these sorts of things can be forgiven.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Plumbing nightmares

Two weeks ago I had my most serious plumbing problem of my life.  Luckily it was my house's plumbing and not my personal plumbing.

I had just come back from picking up Sara in Minneapolis because she had missed the last bus of the evening Thursday night when I pulled the stopper to drain some old dish water and nothing happened (well, actually a little water moved to the other side of the sink) and I went searching for the plunger.

I'm attempting to plunge with one hand while using the stopper to prevent the back flow from coming up the garbage disposal side and making absolutely no progress.  Sara comes down, after changing from her work clothes, and I ask her (in probably a very brisk way) to come over and help me out.  She looks as if I'm threatening to beat her with the plunger and takes a tentative step forward.  I assure it's OK, I just need her to hold onto the stopper so I can use both hands on the plunger.

I plunge to no avail, dinner is overcooking, and we call it a night.  I figure letting the clog sit for a while will help for the reattempt on Friday.

Friday evening rolls around and still plunging doesn't work, so I take the P-trap off and insert the only snake I have, a toilet snake, into the drain hoping to dislodge whatever is in there.  A little black sludge comes back, but the drain is still clogged.  I then move on to my favorite tool, a rubber bladder that connects to a garden hose that inflates with water to seal the pipe, and then sprays high pressure water to blast through the clog.  It appears to be working well, until I turn off the water, the bag deflates, and about two gallons of water comes shooting back at me, drenching me and creating quite a little lake in the kitchen.

An hour later and I've been able to create a paper-towel damn and mop up most of the water.  I decide that I need to get a real snake and head for Home Depot.  I get a 25' coiled model that lets you attach a power drill to it so you don't have to crank it by hand.  For good measure I decide to get some "10 minute drain opener".

With the snake and drill I'm still not getting anywhere, though when I force the issue I get the snake all wrapped up and nearly broken.  I bend it back into something resembling straight with a pair of pliers.  I decide to do an out flanking maneuver and go into the basement and snake upwards towards the clog.  I get about 23' of my snake into the drain pipe, but can't clear anything and can't find any evidence of a clog either.  However, I determine that pulling all the snake out of the housing means that you have to disassemble the housing to get the snake back in.

I notice that the cold air intake, which is (slightly) insulated, runs right along side the kitchen drain pipe over the top of the now finished basement ceiling and Sara's questions of whether or not the pipe froze seem much more on target.  In my heart of hearts, refuse to believe her.

But I try using hot water with my pressurized bladder, deciding to hook it up to the powder room's faucet so I can run the water until it's good and hot.  However, in attempting to remove the aerator from the faucet so I can screw in the garden hose adapter, I realize that the aerator is corroded on as I twist the soft copper internals of the faucet into a pretzel.  I put the garbage can under the open kitchen drain and run the hot until I get nice and hot water and then attempt to not repeat my previous experience.  This time I'm able to get the garbage can under the pipe as a gallon of hot water shoots back at me.

I pour in the "10 minute drain opener" and wait half an hour.  I snake some more.  Finally around 11pm I give up and decide to go to bed, but before I do, I reassemble the drain and pour about a cup of salt down the drain hoping that will melt any ice that might be in there, but still convinced that it wouldn't have frozen unless there was a clog in there to prevent the water from draining in the first place.

Saturday morning I wake at about 6:30am and begin to boil water to throw down the still clogged drain.  I pour an entire bottle of salt into the boiling water for good measure.  I pour the water into the sink and watch it go nowhere.  Then, suddenly, it starts to drain!  Into the cabinet!  A giant bowl under the trap and a quick glance shows that the metal sink and the plastic drain pipe no longer fit tightly under such thermal stress.  Great.  Now we wait for the water to cool.

More snaking.  I give up and tell Sara to call a plumber.  At this point I want to have nothing to do with the sink anymore.  Plumber shows up, takes a look around, goes into the basement and remarks about how stupid it is to run the drain next to the cold air intake for the furnace, and even dumber to run it over the basement since it's nearly impossible to get the required slope in such a shallow rafter bay, and then he gets out the big snake and tries to snake down from the kitchen.  He pulls his snake out and says it's hitting ice.  He tries again but can't bust through.

"It's going to get expensive." is his next comment.  However, he tells us what he would do and offers us the chance to try it ourselves.  If that doesn't work, he'll come back and completely rearrange our plumbing to prevent this problem in the future.  I pay him $125 for a few minutes work and for advice that I didn't want to hear and send him on his way.

I then disconnect the dishwasher, and pull it out so I can cut a large hole in the drywall behind it to get at the T connection that's the drain and vent pipe.  We then shove a hair dryer on max into the space, below the T and wait for it to do it's magic.  I decide to go to Home Depot to get a union so I can patch the pipe if I decide that I need to cut in to it if the hair dryer doesn't work.  When I get back from Home Depot the hair dryer is making a sound like it's going into some sort of thermal protection mode, and it smells funny too.  The pipe is clearly hot to the touch, but it still not draining (as I discover when I pour some water down it and it comes back up the disconnected dishwasher connection).

I cut into the vent pipe, above the T so I can get a nice straight run to the elbow that's below the floor and is probably frozen.  At first nothing happens, but after about 30 seconds of spinning the snake I suddenly get no resistance and I proceed to shove about 20' of snake down the pipe.  It all comes back perfectly clean.  There was never any clog in there.

It appears that the drain froze at about ground level as it makes it's 90 bend to go over the basement.  The guess is that condensation from sewer gasses froze and slowly built up.  I guess that means we don't use our sink enough.

The question is what to do about it now?  Put a vent in the ceiling to let warm air get into that space?  I already filled it with insulation (for sound deadening) when I put the drywall up.  Maybe it's just a fluke because it's been cold and we've had no snow.  At least now I have a union in the pipe so I can snake it easily if I need to.