Of all the home projects I’ve taken on, do-it-yourself plumbing has been the least successful. I have learned to perform some minor plumbing repairs; restarting a stalled garbage disposal with an Allen wrench was a simple fix. However, real plumbing repairs have not been my strong suit. Most notably, my attempt to replace my bathroom vanity resulted in a half-success, half-failure.
The vanity top, sink and faucet in the guest bathroom in my home was antiquated and only partially functional. The house, having been built in the 80’s, was due for some major upgrades, but our budget was not up to the task. So, being a veteran of several home improvement projects, I thought sure I could replace the vanity myself. I browsed the Home Depot website and selected a moderately priced vanity top and replacement faucet, then ordered them.
I drafted my grandson to help me remove the old vanity top and my son-in-law to help reconnect the plumbing. Not being as young and flexible as I once was, it was difficult for me to get under the sink to separate the vanity top from the base, so my grandson was a great help with that. Having turned off the water connection, my son-in-law and I set about to disconnect the faucet and replace it. This is where the trouble started. I had purchased replacement parts for the PVC connections under the sink, since the old ones were quite old and a bit corroded. As we began to disassemble the parts of the main pipe and P-trap (the elbow-shaped connection that leads from the main water supply up to the sink), we noticed that the new assembly was a little different than the old one. The old assembly was one piece of curved PVC pipe, however the new assembly had an accordion-type contraption in the curved portion of the pipe which was made of a flimsier type of plastic than the original solid PVC pipe. However, we forged ahead and replaced the pipe, as well as the old turn-on valves, which had become crusted over with lime deposits with age.
Where I Went Wrong
We finally got the whole thing together and turned the water back on. It worked, and we were very proud of ourselves for having completed the project successfully. However, the next day, I realized the pipe was leaking; it seemed to leak at the bend in the P-trap portion of the pipe. I placed a bucket under the curved portion of the pipe and the leaking seemed to get worse with time. I had to empty the bucket every day, as it filled with water consistently. Also, the pipes began to make noise every once in the while when the hot water faucet was turned on. It sounded as if there was air in the pipes. We finally had to call a plumber to repair the problems. I learned that if you don’t have the expertise, or haven’t diligently researched the project, leave plumbing to the experts.
If I were to attempt this task again, I think I would have prepared for it better by researching the project more thoroughly on-line. There are many useful videos on YouTube and on DIY websites that can assist the do-it-yourselfer in successfully completing these home projects. Home Depot has several videos and project guides to help with the process. YouTube’s how-to videos demonstrate a number of ways to replace plumbing parts and fittings successfully, even whole bathroom re-do’s.
The lesson I learned from this project is not to begin the task until you have fully prepared by watching videos of it being successfully completed. Also, make sure you know what parts are needed to complete the project, as well as the size and material composition of each part and fitting needed. The proper tools are also important; there are some tools that don’t come standard in the average toolbox, such as a square-tip screwdriver and a basin wrench. Some plumbing jobs require PVC fittings; some use polished brass or chrome plated fittings, depending on the age of the home or its plumbing. Also, it’s not one-size-fits all. Kitchen and bathroom sinks use different width fittings; be sure you know which is which.
Find out how to clear the lines before beginning your project and whether or not joint compound or plumber’s tape is needed to complete your project. It is also important to know which type of sealant to use, plumber’s putty or silicone caulk, as plumber’s putty can affect the finish of your sink over time; marble and other composites can discolor unless you use a silicone caulk. These are all details that need to be sorted out before you embark on your plumbing tasks. Leaving your home without running water in the middle of a replacement is not how you want your project to go. Planning ahead for every step of the job is the only way to ensure that you don’t end up with a mess or a failed project.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
So, map out your project step-by-step, make a note of all the proper equipment and fittings you will need, and then watch plenty of videos of experts performing the tasks to completion correctly. When you are sure you have the process down precisely, buy all the tools and materials you will need and tackle the project with confidence. I don’t know if I will ever tackle another plumbing project myself, but at least next time I will know to arm myself with the proper plumbing knowledge, tools and materials to complete the job successfully. If not, well, at least I now have a reliable plumber to call.
Home Depot, How-To Videos, Plumbing/Bath, http://howto.homedepot.com/videos/watch/167517585001/How-to-Replace-Sink-Faucets—The-Home-Depot.html
YouTube, “How to Install a Bathroom Sink,” (various sources)