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Plumbing: makes me want to be a renter again
Old 06-03-2014, 08:54 PM   #1
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Plumbing: makes me want to be a renter again

Yesterday morning at 6:20, I noticed a drip from a landscape sprinkler connection outside our house. I said to myself, I said, "Self, I should epoxy that so it stops leaking." I ordered some wet epoxy online and intended to fix it later in the week or on the weekend.

Last night, at 7:30, I heard a loud *POP* and the distinct sound of water spraying outside. I knew immediately what it was... the PVC joint let go, and now water was spraying all over the place outside.

Like a good Sailor, I isolated the leak from the first valve possible, and attempted to provide an alternate path to control my "flooding." Unfortunately, the first isolable valve also happened to be the water supply line to the house... and I didn't get to tell my wife to use the bathroom before she left work!

No problem, disassemble the joint and plug the line, I thought.

Pipe wrench to PVC... PVC disintegrated, leaving the threaded portion in a rusted T-joint... which was stainless steel... which was connected to an adapter that was brass... which was connected to a pipe that was copper. Brilliant, thanks previous owner guy.

No hope of plugging said leak, I attempted a nipple extraction (this is the only place I can imagine that being a passable, legitimate statement), to no avail. The threads were in there good, and no chance to install the 3/4" PVC plug to stop the hole.

So... the water to the house remained isolated overnight. I'll call a plumber in the morning because once I have to start wrenching on pipes actually attached to the house, I'm in over my head.

I call said plumber, one comes out at 9:30AM.

After 20 minutes, he has diagnosed pretty much every plumbing problem I've fixed in the three years of owning this home to a failed regulator. Yes, that's right, 120psi water all through the house causes multitude issues. Oh, by the way, that isolation valve? Yeah, it was a gate valve that would only shut about 90% of the way, which is why I had a nice drip all night outside... and the piping was all jacked up from the installation and subsequent removal of a water softener and the new water heater.

Long story shorter... he fixed the outdoor problem pretty quickly and suggested a better way to connect the sprinkler than the Rube Goldberg project that was there before. He replaced the isolation valve and the regulator along with correcting the piping issues to a straight run of 1" pipe instead of the maze of 1-3/4-1" that was there, brazing and soldering all along the way... to the tune of $2000.

On the plus side, if you spread that cost over the life of the house, now 25 years old, it's not all that bad. On the down side, since this was apparently the first time the inlet plumbing had been looked at/fixed in that entire period, I got to foot the bill. Yes, the regulator was the original installed in 1989, and I got to see where the seal was failing and eventually going to flood my garage. The engineer in me was happy to see that I had correctly diagnosed a failing stem and a bound disc on the gate valve before ever seeing it.

Times like these make me wish I was a renter.

Or a plumber...

Anyway, $2000 got me a new regulator, isolation valve, about six feet of piping chopped/swapped (including drywall removal), a new gas flex plus fittings and valves on the water heater, removal of old Rube Goldberg and installation of new hose bibs and sprinkler connection outside the house. I know the parts added up to about $400 based on searching online... just wondering if you guys think we got fleeced in the pricing so I can be informed whether or not to use this plumber again. He did show me the pricing book he works from, provided a 10% military discount, plus another $100 off the "book price." The work is quality, he explained everything thoroughly and gave me options. I verified everything he was saying (failed this and that) with my own eyes, and he responded in less than an hour (non-emergency call).

Thoughts?
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:00 PM   #2
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Sounds to me like you got your money's worth. Plumin be berry berry spensive...
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:08 PM   #3
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Hard to tell on the pricing since the hours spent and rate are the key.

I sure hope you don't still have 120 PSI water running through the house plumbing. The engineer in me tells me that will cause a lot of headaches over time.

Oh, I hope the gate valves were replaced with good quality ball valves.
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:16 PM   #4
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Yeah, ball valves. As soon as he looked at the gate iso he said "That..." and I said "...needs to be replaced with a ball valve." Regulator now has us down to 50psi. He said we were around 100 before, though I didn't verify that with a gage myself. Hopefully we fixed it before any major issues crop up. Fortunately, we are in a condominium where any piping issues inside the walls (of course, not including the supply line!) or in the slab are the Association's responsibility.

He was here about six hours, as I said brazing/soldering, cutting... this was over my head.
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:40 PM   #5
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That's why I do all my own plumbing on my rentals.

But I bet at 120 psi, your shower pressure was awesome!
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:54 PM   #6
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Actually, I didn't even notice a difference in the shower I just took. Probably the shower head...
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Old 06-03-2014, 09:57 PM   #7
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One thing I am noticing is that our water usage this year is up, close to double where we were last year this time. I'm going to watch and see if the regulator change makes a difference. In theory, it should lead to less wasted water... we'll see. (Plus the leak being fixed means less use now, since I just noticed it, but it might've been there longer.)
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Old 06-04-2014, 07:32 PM   #8
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Just a thought.

Reducing the water pressure, would not reduce the volume of water you are using in the house. Right?

Any engineers out there?
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Old 06-04-2014, 08:19 PM   #9
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Pressure can effect the flow rate. Assume you have an unrestricted faucet in the kitchen sink at either the old high pressure or the new lower pressure. Turn it on for 30 seconds at the lower pressure and you get less water in the sink than you would at the higher pressure you had before. (assuming same 30 second run time)

Of course low flow fixtures and other restrictions make this a more complicated problem. If the restricted fixture is lower than either the high or low pressure you had from the supply line, you will see little change.

If the water is going to something like a washer or dishwasher that measures the amount of water, you would also see little change in water consumption. It will just change how fast the machines fill. But something like a shower that you just use for X amount of time and let the water flow down the drain could experience a major change. (assuming unrestricted fixture)

I took a shower at my moms house after years of having low flow fixtures at my house. Her shower must dump at least 5 gallons per minute. Which is more than twice what I am used to, but it didn't reduce my shower time that much.
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Old 06-04-2014, 09:35 PM   #10
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Oh, man, my hair's standing on end...

My plumbing travails are not quite as bad, but almost. For the lawn sprinklers, I spent the better part of a summer trying to rebuild my valve manifold with the (what I now know to be) crappy union components sold at the local HD, only to realize that just buying the cheap PVC components and gluing together a manifold was both cheaper and easier. I even had to scrap the first attempt due to a mis-measure; 45min and $6 later, I had re-purchased and rebuilt the thing correctly, including the trip to HD.

Latest adventure was having to do exterior open-wall surgery to replace kitchen drain pipes. Old PVC, discovered it had a seam which had split open. I discovered this only when my enthusiastic grandson omelet helper had stuffed a dozen egg shells down the disposal on top of the orange my wife had stuffed earlier, making a goo that collected some sixteen feet down the pipe. I'd run the drain snake through it, pull out a core of the stuff, and it seemed to simply close up again when I pulled out the core. All this work in the dead of winter...

Copper compression joints vex me. Tighten, test, regard leak. Tighten test, crap, still leaks. Tighten, test, spray water all over from the crushed fitting. PEX joints may be easier, but I'm out of patience...

Ironically, I find copper soldering to be easy and painless; probably due to all the electronic soldering I've done to scratch my model railroading itch. Disclaimer: I belong to the "Structural Integrity Through Solder" school, glomming on enough to feel comfortable that the joint will survive the heat death of the universe.

Plumbing... bah.
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Old 06-05-2014, 12:17 AM   #11
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Total charge of $2000 minus $400 for parts means $1600 for labor. With 6 hours of work, that's $266/hr.

Man, why don't more people become plumber? And I would demand a higher pay if the work is dirty, like dealing with drain pipe or sewer lines. Here, it is all clean water supply line.
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Old 06-05-2014, 07:36 AM   #12
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Total charge of $2000 minus $400 for parts means $1600 for labor. With 6 hours of work, that's $266/hr.

Man, why don't more people become plumber? And I would demand a higher pay if the work is dirty, like dealing with drain pipe or sewer lines. Here, it is all clean water supply line.
My divorce attorney charged lees than that per hour.

Hopefully, buried in that charge were things like an initial visit/diagnostic fee to troubleshoot the problem, supplies, "environmental fee" - scrap disposal, union dues contribution fee, fuel surcharge, pension contribution fee, sales tax, etc.
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Old 06-05-2014, 07:48 AM   #13
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Per the OP:
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Originally Posted by nash031 View Post
I know the parts added up to about $400 based on searching online...
I think it is a safe bet the 'retail' prices the plumber charged for the parts was 2x this amount.
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Old 06-05-2014, 07:50 AM   #14
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My divorce attorney charged lees than that per hour.
Yes, but he didn't have to work in the sewer...or did he?
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Old 06-05-2014, 08:50 AM   #15
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Plumbing problems are usually an emergency (leaky hot water heater, frozen pipe, etc.). I too have good luck soldering copper pipe now that I know to use new, CLEAN fittings and flux the cleaned, dry pipe ends.

Even for a retiree, these repairs need quick attention. If you're a working stiff, you probably need a plumber.
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Old 06-05-2014, 09:06 AM   #16
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Yes, but he didn't have to work in the sewer...or did he?
No, but I had a heck of a time shutting off the invoicing.
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Old 06-05-2014, 09:38 AM   #17
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I know the parts added up to about $400 based on searching online... just wondering if you guys think we got fleeced in the pricing so I can be informed whether or not to use this plumber again. ...
Thoughts?

Did he give you an itemized receipt? Labor hours and parts?

I'm guessing that your $400 online prices for parts would have been marked up 100% over that, it seems about typical, IME. So that leaves $1200 for labor, which could still be $200/hour if 6 hours work, $150 for 8 hours (was there more than one guy?). Seems high offhand, but I don't know what current plumber's rates are, and as you said you got quality work, and it sounds like he did what needed to be done (which was a lot), so I'm not ready to say it was or was not a reasonable charge.

Look at the bright side, you'd be more sorry if you paid less (or more!) and did not get quality work.

-ERD50
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Old 06-05-2014, 09:47 AM   #18
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I replaced a water over the memorial day weekend. I did it myself for around $600. Plumbers were 3x times that. Hardest part was fixing things the "Pros" had done wrong to start with.

For the connections I used SharkBite fittings ( available at the Orange Box ). They just slip on the copper pipe with push-fit connection.
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Old 06-05-2014, 09:52 AM   #19
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Plumbing problems are usually an emergency (leaky hot water heater, frozen pipe, etc.). I too have good luck soldering copper pipe now that I know to use new, CLEAN fittings and flux the cleaned, dry pipe ends.
I replaced my 14 year old water heater this year for just that reason. I figure that an emergency job would probably cost me more than what I lost if the heater had lasted a few more years with no problem. And if not, I still don't have to worry about an emergency and I did get a water heater that is more energy efficient.
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Old 06-05-2014, 11:56 AM   #20
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Sure, it sounds like you paid a lot.
But, at some point you have to ask "How long would it have taken >me< to do that work--and do it right?" Include all the time to do the research, go to the store, buy the supplies, buy any special tools, do (and re-do) the work, go to the store to get the right stuff you now know that you need, complete the work, clean up everything--and you still have no warranty. And, would it ever have occurred to you to test the water pressure (including buying the gauge to do so)?

Plus, it's one thing if this is a branch run that can be easily isolated, but another thing if the whole house is out of water and you are flushing the toilet using buckets filled at the neighbor's hose.

I think you did alright overall.
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