(From Resist Zine #47)
I’m more of a story-teller than a straight up DIY guy. When I wrote How & Why that kind of came back to bite me in the ass. I was asked to write it in ‘my style’ which pretty obviously is storytelling, but when I got done and sent it in, they cut 100 pages trying to turn it into a step-by-step guide. Articles came back split up into steps and had to be re-reedited in order to make any sense at all. I’ve had people claim that my projects are just ‘contraptions’ and that I admit as much. I don’t know about that. What I do admit is that I make mistakes and that sometimes in the middle of something I think of a better way of doing it. And I am admitting right now that I am a story-teller. I COULD sit down and write step-by-step do it yourself instructions but that’s not what I like to do. I like to tell stories. I think it’s more interesting when you get to read about how I completely screwed something up and then had to go back and fix it, or the thought process I had to go through to get it right. On top of that, I think stories tend to seal things in our memory and keep us from making those same mistakes.
So that said, here is how installing that exterior spigot worked out for me. First off, the perfect place I found, with the valves already installed and ready for me to add a spigot… Well, after moving our garden to the front of the house, having a spigot on the back of the house didn’t seem like the best idea. So I started looking for options along the front of the house. The fact that all the windows in the basement had been boarded shut made running a spigot to the outside of the house a bit easier since I didn’t have to bust/drill through the masonry block, I could just drill through a half-inch piece of plywood. Then it was just a matter of finding a place to tie into the existing plumbing. A laundry sink near the front of the house made that easy too.
I picked up all the pieces I thought I would need: a T fitting for connecting to the existing line, an exterior spigot, 10 feet of copper tubing, a valve and a few 45 and 90 degree elbows. I don’t think plumbing is as complicated as most people make it out to be, especially if you’re dealing with copper tubing. (The old iron pipe on the other hand can be a huge pain in the ass) It seems like you always end up having to make one extra run to the store, or running into one thing you didn’t really expect, but I’ve always been able to finish what I’ve started.
The first thing I did was solder about a foot of copper tubing to the spigot. Then I got worried because that particular spigot had a rubber seal and I was worried that I had melted it by not taking it out when I soldered the two together. But I took it apart and it was just fine. Then I drilled a hole in the plywood, slipped the tube in and screwed the spigot to the wood. I had planned to squirt some caulking behind it, to seal it, but I couldn’t find my caulking gun. Plus if you had seen our basement you would realize that it probably wasn’t going to make one bit of difference anyway.
Then I went to work inside, and this is where the trouble started. Now when you’re soldering pipe, you can’t solder wet pipe so you have to get it and keep it dry. So I turned off the water and turned on all the faucets so that the lines could drain. One thing I didn’t realize is that the upstairs and downstairs were on the same meter, so I was turning off the water to the whole house (including the upstairs neighbor) and draining his lines too. Fortunately I had run into him in the front yard with my supplies and told him I was about to do some plumbing, so he wasn’t shocked to find the water temporarily shut off. I cut the supply line to the cold water on the sink and used my plumbers brush (same as a battery terminal cleaner) to remove the paint from the outside of the tubing. Then I dry fit parts as far as the valve, which basically means that you cut your pieces and put them all together to see if they’re going to fit. Then I soldered the valve, elbow and couple pieces of tubing together before slipping the assembly into the T fitting and screwing it to the ceiling with a pipe strap. This would hold the T fitting at exactly the right angle while I soldered it. If I had soldered it first and gotten the angle wrong, it could have been a lot of work to get it right.
HOW TO SOLDER COPPER TUBING
Soldering (or ‘sweating’) copper tubing is pretty easy. You’ll want to rough up both surfaces that will be in contact. The easiest way to do this is with a plumbing brush. Just twist it around the outside of the tubing, and then inside of the fitting. Wipe off any grit with a rag. Brush plumbing flux on both surfaces and assemble the pieces. Next you want to heat up the joint evenly. I like MAPP gas because it burns hotter than propane, so it heats up the joint quicker. Move the flame around the joint until the flux starts to sizzle. At this point, the solder should melt when you touch it to the joint. Move the flame away, and start applying solder at the bottom of the joint, working all the way around it. I usually wipe it off with a rag while it’s still warm.
Now because there was still some water dripping through the tube, I had to do something to keep it from running up to the joint where I was working. I had done this before, but it had been well over 10 years so I forgot exactly how it worked. I knew you had to put something in the tube to absorb the moisture, but I forgot was it was. Actually it wasn’t so much that I forgot, as that I remembered incorrectly. I remembered it as being plugs of paper towel. I didn’t stop to think about it, I just slipped some into the tubing on either side of the joint, soldered it, and then turned the water back on. This is why I always add valves when I’m doing plumbing. If you have a valve, you can cut off water to just the spot you’re working without turning off the water to the whole house. Now I could turn on the water and finish the job. So I turned on the water and all my joints held fine, but the cold water in the kitchen was no longer working. That paper towel had clogged it up.
I ran to the computer to figure out what the heck I had done wrong. I typed “how to solder wet tubing” in the search engine, and watched a video of a guy putting BREAD in the tube. BREAD! That’s what it was. Not paper towels, BREAD! To be fair, paper towels do work if the other end of the pipe is open. Toilet paper would probably work even better because it deteriorates. Either probably would have come out of the laundry faucet, but it certainly wasn’t coming out of the kitchen faucet!
I’m ashamed to say I actually got the outside spigot going before I got the cold water in the kitchen working again. We went months without it. I tried disconnecting the faucet and opening up the valve, but that didn’t work. The bathroom sink was 2 steps away so it was easy to just step over there if you needed cold water. We got used to only having hot in the kitchen. (Better than only having cold) In the end I had to add a valve to that cold water supply so I could turn it off, cut it after that point, and then connect the hot water supply to the cold water supply (under the sink) and run the hot water backwards through the cold water pipe to flush the paper towel back out where I had cut it. Then of course I had to reconnect the pipe I’d cut to turn the cold water back on. This time I used bread instead of paper towels when soldering the wet pipes!
Finishing up the exterior spigot was easy. All I had to do was finish running the copper tubing from the valve to the tube I had left sticking out of the wall. I dry fit the whole thing, and soldered it up. Because none of this pipe had ever had water in it, it was a super easy job.
We got to use it for one whole summer of watering the garden and slip-n-slide before we were run out of the house by the new management company’s incompetence and money grubbing