Know when to walk away

Some times, those DIY homeowner projects just don’t work out the way you plan. Who am I kidding, they NEVER work out the way you plan! In this particular case, though, even with the best intentions and days of planning and work, the project went completely belly up.

The idea was simple. My in-laws were going to be remodeling their kitchen. Part of this process included replacing their countertops. Since their countertops were in better shape than our countertops, and since the dimensions were close to ours, we decided that we’d swap ours out and replace them with theirs and we’d get a cheap kitchen upgrade out of the deal.

I helped my father in law remove the countertops from his house a day before their new ones were to arrive. Knowing that our sink was a different dimension than their sink, he cut the long countertop in two where the sink cutout was. Since the longest piece with the sink in it was much longer than the space in our kitchen, we were well aware that we’d need to trim this anyways to get it to fit, and the best place to hide a seam would be where the sink sat in it. This would be the most difficult part of the whole project.

That all took place a few weeks ago. Fast forward to this past Tuesday night, when work began at our house to remove the cupboard drawers, empty out the cabinet under the sink, and the prying up of our existing countertops began. I noticed a minor issue during this process – our sink didn’t have shutoff valves on it, meaning we’d need to shut off the water at the main. Not a huge problem. I’d just swing by Lowes on my way home the next day and pick up a couple shutoff valves so that we didn’t need to keep uninstalling and reinstalling the sink every night so that we could turn the water back on and shower the next morning.

Wednesday evening I walked into the plumbing department at Lowes and was greeted by no less than 187 different types of shutoff valves. All combinations of inlet and outlet sizes, F.I.P. vs. O.D., quarter-turn, half-turn, and multiple turn stared back at me. Of course, like any good DIYer, I was woefully unprepared with key information, like thread dimension, assuming that I could just eyeball it and find the right valve. So I placed the call home, where my father-in-law climbed under the sink to relay that the label on the flex connector going from the copper to the sink proclaimed itself to be a 3/8″ diameter hookup. Perfect! Now I had all the info I needed. I found a pair of 3/8″ inlet to 3/8″ outlet valves and headed home.

Within minutes of bringing the valves into the house, we realized a key discrepancy. Apparently the people who measure 3/8″ for flex hoses use a different English measuring system than those who measure 3/8″ for shutoff valves. The female end on the valve slid right over the 3/8″ male threaded end on the copper pipes. Compounding the confusion was the fact that the 3/8″ nut on the male end of the 3/8″ to 3/8″ valve fit perfectly over the pseudo 3/8″ threading on the pipe. Luckily, my wife and mother-in-law were soon headed out anyways, so we gave them the valve and instructions to head to Home Depot to try and find the correct valve. Stop laughing, I can hear you.

Shortly after they left, the phone rang. The conversation went something like this:

Amanda: Hi. I’m in the plumbing isle. There’s 187 different types of valves here. Which one do you need?
Me: The one that fits.
Amanda: Ok, there’s 1/4″ inlet to 3/8″ outlet, 3/8″ inlet to 3/8″ outlet, 3/4″ inlet to 5/8″ outlet, 5/8″ inlet to 1/4″ outlet…
Me: It’s a 3/8″ to 3/8″ valve, just like the one you have, but different. The nut on the outlet needs to fit on the inlet side.”
Amanda: …1/4″ inlet to 3/4″ outlet, 5/8″ inlet to 5/8″ outlet, toilet shutoff…
Me: No, just ignore anything that says 5/8″. That’s way too big.
Amanda: left ventricle to left atrium…
Me: Ok, try this. Find a 3/8″ flexible sink connector, find a Home Depot guy, hand it to him, and say ‘We need a shutoff valve that will fit inline with this.’
Amanda: *click*

Things are going pretty much exactly as I anticipated at this point. Including what happened next. The phone rings.

Me: Hello?
Amanda: Here’s Dave from Home Depot. Talk to Dave.
Dave: Hello?
Me: Hi Dave. I need a shutoff valve to fit inline with that flex hose my wife just handed you.
Dave: Ok, so let me make sure I understand. You have a copper pipe with a threaded connector sweated on to it, and this flex tube hooking it up to the sink, right?
Me: Yes, exactly.
Dave: Yeah, they don’t make a valve for that anymore. They thought 188 types of valves were just too many to carry.
Me: Oh?
Dave: Yeah, what you’ll have to do is cut that off – do you have a pipe cutter?
Me: Uh… yeah.
Dave: Ok, cut those connectors off and put this 1/4″ compression to 3/8″ output valve on it. That’s the only way to do it.
Me: *click*

Most homeowners will tell you that plumbing projects are the bane of owning a home. Our countertop project was not slated to include any significant plumbing work for that very reason. Now we were being faced with moving beyond the simple screw on installation of a couple of shutoff valves to cutting, fitting, and swearing on a whole new level.

To be continued…

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One Comment

  1. Derek,

    I feel for you man! When I remodeled my kitchen I was at Lowes no less than 14 times in one day buying and returning various pipes until my Frankenstein project, a combination of pvc and metal drain pipes finally worked to my satisfaction and stopped leaking. I couldn’t get the connectors I needed all in one type of material.

    Very much like you I showed up initially, god knows why, without any sort of reference material to match thread size, etc. I guess just hoping that divine intervention would lead me to the correct pipes.

    When I got my used house I noticed that there was a 1 inch gap between the sink drain and the pipe underneath. It was all corroded away, the only thing that kept the water going down the drain from spilling all over the floor was the fact that the sink was perfectly aligned with the pipe below.

    Well the good news is, for me at least, I actually got it all working in the end.

    Also the old man that had my house was a very amateur electrician. We had no less than 4 breaker boxes in my house. The other day a fuse blew and we couldn’t figure it out for the longest time. Finally I discovered yet another breaker box in a closet. 5 breaker boxes! Its as if the old codger added a breaker box every time whim struck.

    I guess what I am trying to say is keep your chin up! I bet it will work out for you in the end.

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