If it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all

My mother was a superstitious woman. It was a trait that I’m sure she picker up from her Grandmother.

Don’t put that loaf of bread away upside down, it means there will be a fight!

Ringing in your ears, that means someone is talking about you behind your back!

Itchy palm meant money coming or going (I forget which hand meant which).

I’ve never paid the superstitious any mind, however, my mother used to say “If it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all”. I’ve been having a rough patch over the past few months and that saying seems very fitting right now.

The latest in my string of bad luck came last week. I received a phone call from my wife that our realtor was out at our old house and came across a fountain in our front yard. It turned out to be a leak in our water supply line.

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Ground Water

A couple of days prior to that phone call from our realtor, my wife and I were at our old house getting ready for an open house. I noticed that our front walkway was wet and easily traced the source to a small hole in the lawn.

At the time I felt confident that it wasn’t a leaking pipe. I was under the impression that our water suply and soil lines came onto the property in the same general area and ran straight into the house. The soil line was on the opposite side of the walkway, about 50 feet away.

Our house is cut into a fairly large hill and the weather has been awfully wet as of late. I chalked it up to some ground water but wanted to keep an eye on it. Best case scenario it was just some water from higher up the hill. Worse case scenario the water supply wasn’t where I thought it was and I had a leak.

Calling in the Township

A couple of days later we received the call. The trickle of water turned into a fountain and a steady stream of water was now flowing across the lawn and down our walkway. I did the only thing I could think of and called the township water authority.

“Hi. I’m having some trouble with my water and was hoping you might be able to send someone out to take a look?”

“Sure, what seems to be the problem?”

“Well, I think I may have a leak in my water supply line but I’m not sure. My house is on a hill and I want to make sure that it isn’t just ground water”

“The water is leaking into your basement?”

“No, it is bubbling out of the grass in my front yard”

“Oh, I’m sorry sir but that sounds like it is on your side of the hookup. There isn’t anything we can do for you. It is the responsibility of the home owner to have that repaired”

The phone call basically ended there. I was working from the private lounge at the cigar shop at the time so I hopped in my car and raced home to load up my vehicle with any tools I might need to repair the problem.

Just as I pulled into my driveway I received a phone call from the township water authority. They were going to send someone out to take a look just to make sure. I thanked them and loaded up the car.

While one the way to my old house, I received another phone call.

“Mr White, I’m here at your house and have located your problem. It is definitely a leak in your water supply. It is bad enough that I had to shut off your water. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it, you’ll need to call someone out to make the repair then we can turn your water back on.

“Ok, I understand. Could you do me a favor and locate the pipe so that I have a starting point?”

“Sure, I can do that for you”

When I arrived at the house, the first thing I saw was the water supply shutoff valve uncovered. They had to uncover it (grass) and it was nowhere near where I thought it was. As I walked up the walkway, I found a 3′ wide circle around where the water was bubbling out of my lawn.

It wasn’t directly in line with the shut-off valve but it seemed like a good place to get started.

False Alarm

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About twenty minutes after I began digging, my brother arrived to lend a hand. Before long we hit a buried wire for a nearby lamp post (which I had disconnected in the house because it wasn’t working properly). We were down about two-feet and things were becoming very cramped.

It was unavoidable, we needed to expand the area so that we had more room to work. I went about a foot and a half from the hole and began cutting away the grass tight again my walkway. I cleared away the top layer of grass and hit a galvanized pipe buried an inch below the surface.

Instant dread set in when we uncovered the pipe. It was directly in line with the shutoff at the curb and I had absolutely no idea what to do. It is no wonder the pipe was leaking, it must have froze because it was buried so shallow.

My brother and I uncovered about twenty feet of pipe when my father arrived. The three of us discussed a couple of options, none of which were good. Digging up and re-trenching the pipe to the proper depth simply wasn’t an option that I could afford. The distance between the curb and my house is about 150 feet. It would take weeks working weekends and around my daytime work schedule.

To be sure of what we were dealing with, my brother grabbed a sawzall and cut into the pipe. Instant relief washed over me when we found an old shorted-out wire inside. At some point this pipe acted as conduit for the wire running to the lamp post. It must have shorted-out and been left in the ground when a new line was run.

More Digging

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We got down about three feet as the sun began to set. We hadn’t found the pipe yet but the consensus was that turning the water back on was our best bet. If we could see where the water was flowing into the hole from we could expand our search in that direction. I called around to a few hardware stores, looking for a 5′ Curb Key, and was able to track one down for pickup the following day.

The following day I did just that. About a minute after I turned the water on it began to fill into the hole. I had to dig farther uphill and towards the walkway. I spent the next couple of hours digging and re-checking the water source until I eventually found the pipe buried under my walkway.

Repairing The Pipe

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I cleared away dirt from a section of pipe and found a hole the size of a pencil eraser. I snapped a photo and headed down to the local hardware store for supplies.

My experience with this particular hardware store has been awesome. Lowes and Home Depot may have more in stock but this place always has better advice and they always seem to have what I need to complete a home repair project.

I showed them the photo…

“It is hard to tell from this photo but I think that pipe might be steel. I know this isn’t what you want to hear but you can’t just repair this. You’re going to need to call in a plumber to cut and re-thread that pipe for a lifetime fix”

Calling in a plumber wasn’t an option. Money has been very tight and will continue to be until the house sells and we get out from under the weight of the mortgage. On a whim, I drove over to Lowes to kill some time and see what they had in stock.

I left with a stainless steel saddle clamp. It wouldn’t be a permanent fix but it might just get me by until I could figure something out. I cleaned up the pipe the best I could and bolted on the clamp. It didn’t seal and leaked heavily.

When my brother was finished with work he gave me a call and we discussed the problem . Having experience with well repair, he suggested I try to track down a Dresser Coupling. I posted the photo on Facebook and a few friends (that know their stuff) suggested the same fix.

I tracked down a Dresser Coupling and met up with my brother later that afternoon. We couldn’t get the coupling to seal and were running out of options. I climbed down into the hole and got a real good look at what was going on. The coupling seemed a little too large and the rubber boots weren’t sealing square.

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We hopped in the car and drove out to a nearby plumbing supply store (which I didn’t know about until a friend recommended them on Facebook). We took a small section of pipe and they set us up with a smaller Dresser Coupling.

Getting the coupler on the pipe was a lot of work (very tight) but it sealed perfectly and there was no leak when I turned the water back on. After about fifteen minutes with no leak, under pressure, we began filling in the massive hole.

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All Done

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We packed away our tools just as the sun began to set. It took us about a day and a half to repair the problem at a grand total of about $100 (it would have been $43 if I had bough the curb key and the proper coupling the first time around).

I’ve done a few plumbing repairs over the years (I hate plumbing) and, to be honest, this was probably the easiest of the repairs. Granted, I had to make multiple trips to the hardware store and there was a ton of digging involved but the actual fix wasn’t too bad.

I don’t know how much money I wound up saving by doing the repair myself but I’m sure it was substantial. My father and brother were a big help (especially my brother – he never hesitated even after working long hours at his job). I’m very proud of this fix and hope to never have to do it again.

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