Saturday, November 14, 2009

Risk Management?

Driving to work a week or so ago, I saw a road worker standing in the middle of a very busy intersection. He was holding the stick for a survey team.

The intersection had nine lanes on one road (Imperial Highway) and six lanes on the other (Idaho).

The hard-hatted worker had four orange cones surrounding him and his tripod.

He was attentive.

I marveled at him from my safe, red-light vantage point.

As he looked around at the 18 wheelers and assorted vehicles driving by at 50 miles an hour, he lifted his hand to his shirt pocket... pulled out a pack of cigarettes... and lit up... eyes still scanning the traffic...

"Of course he's a smoker," I thought to myself and laughed.

The cars may never get him... but the cigarettes probably will!

PS: Took a walk today at Cal State Fullerton. The next few posts will feature pictures from my November 14th walk in SoCal.

Monday, November 9, 2009


My bathroom faucet had a stroke, but it took me several weeks to correctly diagnose the problem. Let me explain...

A month or so ago my bathroom sink (and shower) drains began to show signs of slowing. Usually I attach a Drain King to my garden hose and blast out the clog.

I used to use hand powered snakes, but I discovered the Drain King a decade or so ago. They have saved me hundreds of dollars.

Unfortunately, I decided to try something a bit different this time. I shoved a brake cable from a bicycle down the bathroom sink drain. The cable didn't break the blockage, so I tried the casing of the cable. That didn't work either, but I did pop a pea-sized hole in the bottom of the P-trap under my pedestal style sink.


Pedestal sinks are pretty, but they don't leave much room for working on the plumbing. They generally require a de-installation. We're talking $500 plus in plumbing bills, plus some tile work.

To make matters worse, we are a one bathroom family. Ouch.

We limped along for a week or two, thanks to my wife's patience, before I figured out a way to fix the P-trap myself, without the aid of a plumber or uninstalling the sink.

Unfortunately, in the process of repairing the P-trap, the water pressure in the sink plummeted. I diagnosed the problem as two failed turn-off valves that I had used during the P-trap fix.

Another week or two passed until I got up the nerve to attempt a double valve replacement. At least the valves were more accessible than the P-trap. However, they refused to get fixed. I took apart the cold water turn off valve four or five times, simply trying to install the valve wide open. Still nothing but a trickle.

A visit to the hardware store yielded nothing more than a clearer picture of what the inside of a valve looked like. I wasn't messing up the valve fix-it job. It's just that the valves weren't the problem.

Then what was?

I did a little more investigation. Tried a few things. Mopped up a few quarts of water. And then... I had an idea: maybe the valves are bad; maybe the faucet is.

I've never had a faucet go bad. I've had them start leaking, but generally they don't stop spouting out water.

I investigated. I was going to operate on the faucet's valves, but they were inacessible. As a last resort, I used some pliers to remove the screen that covered the spout. These screens are generally in place to aerate the water and catch any big hunks of sediment.

My home has soft water and copper. We don't get sediment.

I twisted off the screen only to find a flow-inhibitor behind the screen. The flow inhibitor is a solid piece of plastic with a hole in it about the size of a BB. This hole was plugged with a piece of sediment that had come loose from the valves when I turned off the water to fix the P-trap. (Oh. I guess we do have sediment.)

I had misdiagnosed the problem. The valves were fine. It was a clogged flow-inhibitor. Dang! That mistake cost me two or three hours.

Once I had properly diagnosed the problem, I was able to fix it in about two minutes. I removed the sediment, but then I decided to just remove the flow-inhibitor.

Water pressure was restored! (Now I understood why both the cold and hot water flows had been affected. Now I understood why the bathroom sink seemed to take so long to heat up. I didn't know I had a flow inhibitor!)

A simple piece of sediment broke loose (like plaque off an artery) and caused my faucet to have a stroke.

Go figure.

This misadventure caused me to ponder, "How often do we waste time and effort on solutions that aren't addressing the real problem?"

Too often I fear.

Sometimes it takes an unrelated problem to make me rethink some of my other persistent problems. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes and re-diagnose some persistent problems of your own.

Here's hoping!

(After I fixed the water flow problem, I reverted back to my Drain King and hand powered snake to clear the drains without further mishap. Keep the cables on the bike and out of the drains!)