Stories: In This Case, About Water

Spring Fundraiser 2015, Day One

Today is the opening day of Gates of Vienna’s 2015 Spring Fundraising Week.

To readers who are new to this blog: for one week each quarter we appeal to those who find our work useful (or even just entertaining) to visit tip cup on our sidebar, as the spirit moves them. In this way we manage to eke out a living blogging the Counterjihad.

The theme of this week’s bleg is “Stories” — that is, any yarns that Dymphna and I feel like telling, as long as they include a coherent narrative. Which leaves us a lot of latitude. And suits us just fine, because both of us are inveterate storytellers, as attested by the frequently upward-rolling eyes of our close friends and family members.

Tip jarMy opening story for the week will help explain why we are pushing y’all so hard this quarter. We’ve got a good reason to bang hard on the tip cup with a pencil — or maybe with a pipe wrench; that might make a loud enough CLANG.

It all started more than a month ago, just after the last hard freeze of winter. Dymphna discovered an infestation of black mold in the back bathroom, and I went in to investigate it. This is the bathroom in the “new” section of the house, part of an addition that was put on more than twenty years ago to accommodate my mother-in-law, who lived in it for the last part of her life. While I was examining the mold, I noticed a noise coming from the crawl space underneath. It sounded suspiciously like — gulp! — water running. I went outside and opened the crawl space cover, and sure enough, there was an immense pool before me and the sound of water trickling somewhere further back.

After an emergency visit by the plumbers the following day we learned that we had several leaking pipes, which had obviously been leaking for quite some time. Our crawl space has a vapor seal, which means there is a layer of plastic between the house and the ground, so we had acquired quite a swimming pool down there. Hence the black mold in the room above.

To make a long story not quite so long, the issue was a particular kind of plastic water pipe called “Quest”, which was popular with contractors about twenty years ago. Those pipes are now experiencing the same kind of problems almost everywhere they were installed, provided that they carry hard water. Which our pipes most certainly do — we live in Red Clay Country, and our well water is so infused with iron pyrites that we have a filter on the kitchen tap that has to be replaced periodically. We use it for drinking water (mainly for the taste; as far as I know the iron is harmless) and to avoid a rapid buildup of scale on anything that heats or evaporates water.

Those Quest pipes had copper fittings, which tend to become corroded by hard water and eventually start to leak — or even break, but we’ll get to that later.

The plumbers replaced enough of the bad pipes for a temporary fix, but advised us that we really might want to replace the rest of them, rather than continue to suffer through serial leakages. The Quest pipe needed to be pulled out and replaced with something called “Pex” (if I’m spelling that right), which uses brass fittings rather than copper.

The company owner came out a few days later, went through the crawl space, looked at the above-the-floor pipes, and gave us a figure for replacing all of the Quest. It was, needless to say, a hideously large amount of money. So we tacked a few other things that needed to be done onto it, given that the plumbers had to tear up the house for three days, anyway.

The work was scheduled for this past week, beginning on Wednesday. That meant almost a month on the temporary fix, but we thought we’d be all right for that long.


The gods really enjoy toying with us insignificant little human-type creatures. On the morning of Sunday April 12 — three days before the work was scheduled to begin — I was standing at the kitchen sink making coffee when I heard a faint but distinct “clunk” somewhere underneath the house. It sounded suspiciously like it might be — gulp! — pipe-related. Then, a minute later, I turned the handle on the faucet and a very thin trickle came out, which immediately thinned even further. I hurried outside, pulled off the crawl space cover, and stuck my head inside. Sure enough, I could hear the merry sound of water chuckling somewhere under the back bathroom. I cut the pump breaker off and called the plumbers for another emergency visit the following morning. No water for 24 hours.

As I had expected, one of those $#@?!&%! unreplaced Quest pipes had popped completely off and drained the system into a new swimming pool. Another temporary fix, and pray that it would get us by for two days until the Big Fix.

The plumbers arrived early on Wednesday morning. They were very efficient, and the work went more quickly than expected. That afternoon the new pipes were in place, and they cut the pump on so that we would have water overnight. However (sound of those sadistic gods laughing), the stress of all the recent troubles had delivered the coup de grace to our pump and the pressure tank. The pump ran constantly, but the pressure never rose to normal, and there was only a thin stream coming out of the taps in the house.

The Big Boss Plumber came by again to assess the situation and determine what needed to be done. There was no help for it; the water had to be cut off again overnight.

And now we come to the funny part of this story: you see, that pump was the new pump, and that pressure tank was the new pressure tank. From my geezer point of view, that is. I mean, I clearly remember when that new pump was put in, and the old pressure tank developed a pinhole in the diaphragm and had to be replaced. It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Well… Yes, it’s true that the future Baron was no more than a rug rat at the time. But still…

Twenty-five years old is still “new”, isn’t it? Isn’t it?


So we had to have a new pump and a new pressure tank, too. Watch those wingèd dollar bills flying away over our heads! See those moths fluttering from our now-empty purse!

But the job is at last complete. We now have water pressure like we haven’t seen for ten or fifteen years. A shiny new valve in the kitchen sink that doesn’t drip. A new faucet at the well house. Various other odds and ends of plumbing that needed to be done, and are now done.

All of the above is why Dymphna and I are poor as church mice at the moment. It’s also why have to plead extra hard during this bleg.

But the good news is this: thanks to the amazing generosity of our readers over the past few years, we were able to put aside a little — not a lot, just a little — every quarter from the donations you so graciously gave us. Thus, instead of a series of temporary stop-gap fixes that would leave us with a permanent swimming pool in the crawl space and no real sense of water security, you enabled us to meet the recent plumbing emergency with a proper response.

For that capability, we owe an immense debt of gratitude to regular readers of Gates of Vienna.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

A final note: As always, we will send a tenth of the amount donated during the fundraiser to Vlad Tepes. Vlad’s video work is invaluable to this blog — without it we would lack the breadth and reach we have established over the last six or seven years. For that reason, we tithe to him.

The tip jar in the text above is just for decoration. To donate, click the tin cup on our sidebar, or the donate button, on the main page. If you prefer a monthly subscription, click the “subscribe” button.

18 thoughts on “Stories: In This Case, About Water

  1. Sounds like a nightmare. Here in Thailand, we have just finished celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year. It’s just one huge water fight.

    • Not a nightmare, exactly. An ‘extended period of dry’ , let’s say. We always keep water jugs on hand in case the electricity goes out – that’s only ever in the Winter – so we had those stocked up.

      The worst part from my point of view was missing a day of watering the grass seed that was lurking under the straw, waiting for enough moisture to turn into rain.

      And then there was – is- my experiment with straw bale gardening. You have to get them good and wet for a long time. I use a “weeper” hose on the top twice a day and then keep them covered with a tarp. That period let them dry out some, but I have hopes for restoring their water weight.

      The next step is to cover the tops with urea – I suppose I shall have to sign for it since that’s an ingredient in bomb-making. You spread the urea on top and I *think* that’s what brings up the heat in the bales, killing off the weed seeds. And then the next step is fertilizer…

      ….I hope this works.

      Sure made me realize how dependent I am on the hoses attached to the well house, though.

      Nor will I ever forget that sloshing sound of Lake Bodissey under the house.

      • So, you need urea for your bale garden. Isn’t “urea” related to “urine”? That suggests a homemade solution, an ecological solution that combines both water and urea, and that comes just on Earth Day, April 20. Synchronicity!

        • I need powdered cow urine. Urea. They use it in making bombs but also to increase the nitrogen in a planting medium. The clerk at Walmart’s Garden Center never heard of it. I’m sure all buyers are on a govt watch of some sort. No, I wouldn’t buy a pressure cooker with my garden supplies, even though I need one. Sheesh.

          I only have one book on the subject so I’ll have to ask a local fellow who successfully grew a whole bunch of potatoes in his last year.

          I may also ask the Baron to dampen down the sides…or maybe it only goes on the top. On second thought, I don’t care for that mind picture.

          • Hard to get a straight answer out of googling. The most popular use of the word urea is for a product one can buy to pass employers’ drug testing practices/policies. I love the free market: create a problem and some dude will figure out how to make money from it. No wonder some of our worthy ancestors left home in a hurry, came here and headed West.

            Anyway, ol’ Wikipedia has the skinny -it can be mostly trusted in non-politicized subjects, and apparently urea still falls in that category. This week, anyway:


            I did find out that urea is neutral: neither acid nor alkaline. I still have about another week before I have to do more than soak the darn bales, so some leeway in finding an agricultural place that sells this stuff…

            The bales are beginning to look at bit ratty. May have to use concrete blocks on the sides to keep them semi-standing as they get soggier.

      • You don’t NEED Urea; you need Nitrogen, in any form. It breaks down cellulose. Otherwise, the straw, mulch, or whatever cover will take N out of the soil, robbing your crop of what it needs to grow and remain green. Most fertilizers, like Ammonia Sulfate and Ammonia Nitrate, 34-0-0, are cheap sources of all N. The first number of the 3-numbers on the bag is the N content. 34-0-0 has 34% N, 0% Phosphorus, and 0% Potasium. Ag Supply outlets (Landscaper’s)charge less than $20 for a 60# bag.
        Pure Urea is too concentrated and more expensive to manufacture. It’s 46% N, but can cost double a 34-0-0 fertilizer. You can relax; they are all good bomb material and nobody keeps track of buyers in Agriculture areas, like anywhere in California.
        Usually, those fertilizers will acidify the soil, which is beneficial out West, where our Colorado River water is very alkaline, making the soil lock-up nutrients. Grass usually likes an acid soil, like most crops, and often that’s all they need.
        Read for all you need to know about fertilizers:

    • Oops. The B says I have to limit the information I give out. I thought it was okay; the Baron thought I “knew it already”.
      “It” being that we’d be inundated with junk mail if those bots found the address. I’ll never keep it straight. Sigh…

      I think I need a black trench coat and one of those big hats and sunglasses.

      • Unfortunately everyone on the Internet needs that kind of outfit. Personal info is just too profitable.

  2. Dear Folks, So glad to hear that you ultimately came out ahead in your water business.
    We recently discovered a major leak in our 1876 Victorian town house that was repaired after the plumber spent two days locating it. Unfortunately it will now cost $8000 to repair the damage down to the walls and ceiling in the process.
    Anyway I so rely on this wonderful website every single day and will be donating in the proper place.
    God bless.

  3. Baron and Lady D, I know at least partly what you went through, oh boy how I know! We have a 4ft crawlspace and leave the trapdoor open so I look into the space every day.

    Three years ago I looked in and thought OMG, that looks like a damp spot, it was, the leak had just started and it got worse as I watched, of course it was sunday evening, and the nice plumber charged me $163 for the call out–which I was glad to pay. He also happily told me my house and all the older ones in the large gated community where we live were built using grey polybutylene plastic pipe, which is subject to failure at any time. That was three years ago, and now, after there have been many failures in our community we have decided to have our pipe replaced with the white PEX!

    There are 656 houses in our community–hence the plumber’s glee! This is going to cost us $thousands.

  4. California’s Central Valley a parched desert becuase of the idiotic demands of the stupid eco-freaks the Tree Huggers/Granola Munchers

  5. Interestingly I just signed up for a webinar titled Best Practices for Installing PEX in Commercial Plumbing Applications, to be presented Tuesday, May 12, 2015 from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Eastern. If you have time, you might want to consider signing up for it. The URL for registration can be found at:

    Good luck! Plumbing problems can be a bear.

    • M.C. Ridge:

      If we had time, if either of us had the talent/skill/experience to do such things we would. But our friends would all have heart attacks from too much laughing.

      Back in the day, the Baron regularly did his own car tune ups and oil changes and checking fluid levels. But then cars got computerized, only not the kinds of computers at which the Baron excels. As he is (in)famous for saying: “I can do things which take intelligence but not skill”. He is in awe of those who are good with their hands.

      That hole left in the bedroom wall by the plumbers who had to remove the Qest pipe was going to get an Irish fix: move a bookcase in front of it. But as it turns out, one of the plumbers does handyman repairs on the side and will do it when we call him. He explained he can only do it on Saturdays; I said he could do it at midnight if that’s when he was available. It’s an ill wind and all that – the plumbing mess delivered unto me an experienced handyman who’s not insane. Boy, do I have a list!

      The Baron and I can tell I’m improving bec not only am I making lists for myself, but I’m making them for him, too. And now I have a new person to list up.

      If PEX is related to polybutylene tubing, that’s Qest. It leaks; it disintegrates in hard water. Our clay soil produces VERY hard water.Funny thing was, all the Qest put in at the same time in this area started falling apart at the same time. I am learning more than I want to know about our house’s innards. Fowl innards I can handle, but not the mechanical kind.

      People are signing up with class action suits but that’s bad for one’s karma, especially since they are paying ten cents on the dollar, labor costs excluded. Nope.

        • Nope, no fortunes in that foul work; just wanted some quail for dinner and I had several brace of them lying on the counter in the kitchen, feathers and all. A long story about how I became a cook at the age of eleven. Maybe I’ll use it this week.

Comments are closed.