The Delusional Homeowner’s Guide to Faucet Repair

My house was built in 1926, but I’m pretty sure the plumbing is older than that — the former owners appear to have found some ancient water pipes made of hollowed-out mastodon tusks and built a house around them. Some parts have been upgraded since then, but others haven’t, and the older ones have an unfortunate tendency to develop leaks whenever you sneeze on them, or breathe on them, or glance in their general direction.

What could be simpler?
What could be simpler?

The kitchen faucet developed some problems recently, and since it’s only seven years old, I decided I could probably fix it myself. The nice thing about modern faucets is that, according to approximately twenty thousand Internet sites, the solution to every faucet-related problem is the same: replace the cartridge (the cartridge is the heart of the faucet, or possibly the liver; whatever it is, it seems to be the only part that matters). And it’s easy! You just turn off the water supply, remove any non-cartridge faucet parts that are in the way, pop out the old cartridge, slide in the new cartridge, and then put back all the other parts and turn on the water supply. There are tons of instructional videos available; I watched one guy do the exact repair I needed to in six and a half minutes, and it only took that long because he kept stopping to explain things. Of course, I’m not a skilled plumber, so I estimated that it might take me as long as fifteen minutes.

I went out and bought a shiny new cartridge and then cleverly ate dinner and washed the dishes before starting on the repair. (I mean, it was clever that I did these things before dismantling the faucet, not that I ate dinner in a particularly clever way or came up with some new ingenious method for washing dishes). Then I took a picture of the new cartridge and posted it to my blog because, hey, I have a blog. Then I ran out of ways to procrastinate.

When I went to turn off the water valves under the sink, I noticed the hot water valve (or maybe one of the water supply pipes attached to it) was leaking. These are all old, original, mastodon-tusk parts. I considered giving up and calling a plumber at that point, but I decided against it because a) I’d already bought the replacement cartridge, so I was committed, b) I’d already posted on my blog about it, so I was even more committed, and c) the leak would probably fix itself, by magic.

I managed to remove all the parts in the way of the cartridge without too much difficulty. Then it was time to remove the cartridge. All the instructional videos say this is a two-step process: loosen the cartridge using the cartridge removal tool included with the new cartridge (this was actually pretty easy) and then pull the old cartridge straight out (this was impossible). So I googled some more, found out that there is such a thing as a “cartridge puller,” and rushed off to Home Depot to buy one (I got there literally 5 minutes before they closed). The cartridge puller works kind of like a corkscrew, except at the end, instead of getting wine, you get a corroded piece of faucet guts. But the important thing is that it worked, and I was able to pop in the new cartridge and reassemble the faucet.

Note that I didn’t say that I reassembled the faucet correctly. That took about half a dozen tries. Then I turned the water back on to verify that the faucet worked; I think it did, except that the hot/cold sides were reversed. But remember that leak I mentioned earlier? Somehow, it failed to magically fix itself (and I think I may have made it worse by jostling things during the faucet repair). So right now the water is off in the kitchen sink, and a plumber is coming to the house tomorrow. If he asks how the sink got into this state, I think I’m going to say that vandals did it.

I Am So Incredibly Good At This

Graph showing mood and real and perceived competence

One thing (well, really the only thing) I love about being truly incompetent at home repairs is that when I do manage to complete a DIY project, no matter how small, I get a huge feeling of accomplishment completely out of proportion to my actual achievement. I still remember how giddy I was the first time I replaced a washer in a kitchen faucet (with only three trips to Home Depot!) and the heady feeling of euphoria I got when I assembled my Ikea chair.
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