Pissed at Water, In General

Today (well, this week) has been a day where I’ve been pissed at water, and no, this isn’t a Donald Trump “golden shower” joke. The only glimmer of a rainbow is that things are better than this morning, when I was majorly pissed.

I should point that that water and houses are a particularly problematic area for me. In our last house, we had a continual leak problem from our roofing heating/air conditioning unit, which wasn’t properly flashed during a reroof. We had continual sewer problems due to roots, and constant problems with caulking around a bathtub.

In our current house, we’ve had different sorts of water problem. There were continual sewer problems, eventually resulting in a collapse of the Orangeberg line and having to do a complete retrench and resewer a few years ago. There was the continual caulking problem around a tub, which was eventually replaced. The new shower has also had leak problems around the door (I think I’ve got that under control), as well as leak problems with its outside window that was installed upside down, and not sealed properly. Again, I think I’ve fixed that. We had a leak in our pool (also fixed), and I still suspect there could be one more, but it could also be evaporation.

So what got me upset today.

First, our reroofing has started in preparation for the solar install. Yes, right in the break in the atmospheric river. The roof was ripped off yesterday, and the rain starts Wednesday night. This had me all worried that they wouldn’t get the watertight layer installed in time, but they got that done today and should have the roof done tomorrow. Before the rain. But the gutters won’t be there for two weeks. Additionally, the DirecTV dish came down today, and thanks to the DirecTV schedule and the upcoming storm, won’t be back up until Saturday (my birthday). About the only bright side there is that I’ll have to miss the inauguration. Damn.

Then, of course, is the hot water leak under the slab in the center of the house that started three weeks ago. We just confirmed where it was, and the answer to the problem is…. a whole house repipe. In the middle of reroofing. The bids have ranged from $7.2K to $10K. Ouch. This morning I was worried that we would have to be out of the house the first night of the rain due to the water being turned off. … and thus not there to find any leaks from the new roof. Luckily, it turns out they will keep one bathroom up and running that night. Then it looked this evening like the start of the repipe would be delayed until Monday due to crew illness. Again, our contractor saved us (actually, one of his customers did) by allowing projects to be shifted so he could start tomorrow. Needless to say, I’m thankful for that, although these are very unexpected bills.

(I should also note that our shower door has slipped, meaning we can’t close it completely. They’re coming next week to fix that)

So keep your fingers crossed, or whatever is your equivalent, that we make it through to next week dry.

(Perhaps I should run away and join the circus. Oh, right.)


Did You Smell That?

userpic=san-fernando-valleyI live in Northridge. Some know my community as the home of CSUN, but these days, it is better known as the community just south of Porter Ranch, home of the famous methane link courtesy of SoCalGas. This is being called a global catastrophe — I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is affecting the lives of a lot of people who are in the direct path of the odor, and it is having ancillary effects on many many more (think of all the business impacts from people moving out of the area, even temporarily, and the impacts on those just out of the area). There are only two sure things in all of this: the lawyers are going to make lots of money, and it will be all SoCalGas ratepayers that will be paying for it.

Most people, when they hear about the leak, think the gas company should fix this immediately. But it really isn’t that easy. I recently found a good summary in the Times that explains why. In short, here’s the problem. The area far underneath Porter Ranch was once a major oil producing field. After the oil was pumped out in the 1960s, the underground area was used to store natural gas that was pumped to California from other areas (which is why it was odorized). The leak is in one of the old oil well casings. After a couple of months of investigation, the Gas Company has identified the specific well and the location of the leak. The broken well site is near the top of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. The storage facility is more than 8,000 feet deep and the gas is stored in the mountain’s sandstone pores. It has a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet. The leak is somewhere in the casing of well SS25, which is 8,700 ft deep, and they believe it is above the 1000′ level. As the leak is below ground, the only way to stop it is to fill up the well casing with concrete. In order to do that, they have to relieve the pressure that is currently going up the well from the storage facility. To do that, they have to drill a relief well that will intercept the broken well near the bottom. This means locating and intercepting a 7″ pipe over a mile below the ground. Now, you should see why this is such a problem to fix.

What is so aggravating in all of this is that this problem could have been prevented.Evidently, SoCalGas knew about the corroding pipes a year before the leak, and did nothing to repair them. The pipes met the state requirements and they were inspected regularly, so they had no legal obligation. An L.A. Weekly report last week said that the 1953 well was designed with a sub-surface safety valve 8,451 feet underground. However, the valve broke and was removed in 1979, and was never replaced.

Remember what I said about the only winners being the lawyers, and the losers being all the SoCalGas ratepayers.

The post below from Erin Brockovich has been going around Facebook, and has a great diagram of the problem:

This is what the well in Porter Ranch looks like… it was completed in 1953 and was equipped with a downhole “safety”…

Posted by Erin Brockovich on Monday, December 28, 2015

Hopefully, now you understand why this is such a, to use an expression, clusterfuck. I know that those of us in the flats of Northridge, below Porter Ranch, do occasionally smell the methyl mercaptan, as it hugs the ground. I certainly smell it when I go up to the YMCA (which is in Porter Ranch) to work out. I know it is impacting our synagogue. I know it is impacting property values. Just a clusterfsck.

P.S.: This started out as the first item of the News Chum stew, but took on a life of its own.


I Hate Orangeburg

userpic=plumbingI hate Orangeburg. I hate plumbing. Today has been a day from hell.

OK, perhaps I should explain that outburst. Backspace. Rewind.

How come the plumbing always goes out when you have friends coming over? Tonight, a family we’ve met through Livejournal is coming to spend the night while they visit colleges in the area. This is a good thing — these are good folks who I’d like to get to know better. So, in preparation, last night I was cleaning the guest bathroom. I noticed the toilet was a bit sluggish, but was working. Later I was working at my desk when I hear “gurgle gurgle”. I investigated, and discovered that the toilet in my daughter’s bathroom was bubbling as she was taking a shower. Bad news. I was seeing similar bubbling from our toilet. What this meant was that the line was almost clogged, and pressure was pushing back air. We found a coupon for a rooter special, and made an appointment for this morning.

This morning the plumber came out and investigated. We had a major backup — so major that rooting could no longer fix the problem. Why? It turns out that most of the piping in our front yard is a product called “Orangeburg“. Orangeburg is fiber-conduit with walls made of ground cellulose (wood) fibres bound together with a special water resistant adhesive, and, thereafter, impregnated with liquefied coal tar pitch. It was used between 1860 and 1970. It is not great under pressure situations (e.g., as water pipes), but is great for gravity drainage (e.g., sewer pipes). It was made in inside diameters from 2 inches to 18 inches, and due to the materials involved, was able to be sealed without the usage of adhesives. It was lightweight, albeit brittle, and soft enough to be cut with a handsaw.

That’s the good news. The bad news is lack of strength causes pipes made of Orangeburg to fail more frequently than pipes made with other materials. The useful life for an Orangeburg pipe is about 50 years under ideal conditions. Our house was built in 1962, and has been through two major earthquakes. Do the math. You can see a picture of Orangeburg pipe here.

The plumbers suggestion was to repipe the master bath side of the house with polyethylene pipe from the cleanout installed a few years ago to the connection with the street.  The cost for that was $4,800. We agreed it had to be done, but insisted on it being done to code with proper permits. That adds $160.

But it doesn’t end there folks. Working on this, they discovered that the work we had done to install cleanouts had only done that — install cleanouts. We still had Orangeburg crap from the cleanout to the connection under the house. That all needed to be replaced as well. Reluctantly… add $1,800.

Of course, that still left the line to the guest bathroom and kitchen. That line is almost completely infused with roots. They cannot root it clear because… you guessed it… it is Orangeburg. They are temporarily fixing that and tomorrow… will replace that segment of line. Cost… you guessed it… another $1,800.

All told, we’re having an approximately (gulp) $10,000 repair. We have to do it, because to do anything else might mean full-on trenching if the Orangeburg collapse. Of course, this doesn’t solve all the problems, as the (city-owned) tree in the parkway has created problems for the (city-owned) piping under the street. We’re going to talk to the inspector to see what the city can do about it. If we eventually have to replace that, that’s probably another $5K. [ETA: It turns out it is less expensive to fix the line to the street since they’ve already dug the hole. We’re taking advantage of that — only $3,800 — for a grand total of $12,360 (possibly a bit more, if we decide to replace two toilets at the same time — what the hell, right?]

We’ll figure out how to pay for it somehow — no other choice. That’s why you have emergency savings. But that’s also why I hate plumbing. Sigh. I guess it could be worse.



I Hate Plumbing

userpic=plumbingGrowing up, I have a vivid memory of a plumbing break at my parent’s old house in Kenter Canyon. It was under the slab, and involved ripping up the carpet and padding, and jack hammering out the pipe. A royal mess.

At our previous house in North Hills, we had continual water problems. It was either leaks in the roof due to bad flashing under the air conditioning plenum, or clogged sewer lines due to tree roots.

At our current house in Northridge, the sewer line problems have continued. Again, we have the city tree in the parkway creating root problems in 40 year old clay piping, which has collapsed in places (and is equally problematic under the street, which is our responsibility, evidently). About every 6 months to a year, we’ve had to root out some line. The last major rooting was in October just after Thanksgiving, on the line from the bedroom side of the house.

Lately, we’ve been having loads of problem on the guest side of the house. The kitchen sink backed up the day after Christmas. My wife had me check the trap, which ended up not solving the problem and exacerbating cracks in the under-sink piping. We had a plumber out to fix; he fixed the under-sink piping, and rooted from the kitchen cleanout to the guest bathroom. This morning, the sink backed up again. We had the plumber out (under warranty), and it turned out to be cloggage in the line from the sink to the cleanout. This is all muck built up in the brass lines in the slab or walls.

This evening, with a load of guests in the house, guess what happened? Yup. The guest bathroom toilet backed up, overflowing into the shower (meaning that the clog is somewhere downstream of the shower, but likely before the Y to the bedroom wing, as the cleanout cap hasn’t popped). The plumber has been called; hopefully we can get him out tomorrow.

What a way to start the year. Plumbing problems. Grrrrrrrr.

ETA: The plumber was here on time, as promised. The clog was roots about 1 foot before the Y junction under the driveway. Total cost for this rooting (as it wasn’t connected to the earlier problem): $135. His estimate to replace the main sewer line from the 3″ clean-out until the property line with ABS plastic pipe, including the Y-line and up to the guest bathroom side, with a 25-year warranty, is $3,000. That’s a possibility, in the future. Inlining the 6″ clay sewer line from the property line to the city connection under the street would add about $1,500. to that amount.


Dishwasher Woes

At the end of 2009, we replaced the incredibly old and noisy dishwasher that was in our house when we moved in with a new technically advanced model from Lowes, a Samsung DMR78. At the time, it had gotten good reviews. It was expensive (around $930), but we hoped for the best.

I would not buy a Samsung dishwasher again.

Since that purchase, I recall that we had at least one warranty repair, as well as a flow sensor failure and water valve failure in August 2011 (that cost almost $300 to repair!). The water values and processor board failed again last month, prompting another almost $200 repair. Last night, after we got home from the theatre, we discovered the unit hadn’t fully drained. So I tried to do a cancel/drain to drain the bottom. There was absolutely no response from the front panel. None. I checked the circuit breaker, and nothing had tripped.

We’ve put a call into the service-critters, but I can seem them still attempting to charge a service charge, blaming something else, and finding new broken parts. At this point, I don’t think it is worth getting it fixed. Based on the product reviews, this product has turned out to be a design lemon.

We’ve looked at Consumers Reports, and the “Best Buys” are a tossup between the Bosch Ascentia (which is on sale at Lowes this weekend for $539.10) and the Whirlpool Gold. A Whirlpool Gold got good reviews in CR, but it was a GU23/24 model, and all I can see at Lowes are a WDT710PAYM model (on sale for $494.10) and a WDF750PAYM model (on sale for $629.10). We still need to look into the differences between the models. One additional impetus is that Lowes is doing their regular financing sale, meaning we can do 0% for 18 months, as we would be spending more than $299). Usually Lowes does free delivery and installation.

My gut is leaning towards the Whirlpool, simply because of the impression of reliability (both Bosch and Whirlpool are reportedly reliable per CR; Samsung isn’t even on their list). On the Lowes website, the Whirlpool gets slightly higher ratings (4½ ★) than the Bosch (4 ★). But the trick is finding the right model.

[I’ll note that Sears is also an option: They are also doing 0% for purchases over $499. They have the WDF Whirlpool for $569.99, but charge for delivery, and a Bosch (unclear if it is the Ascentia) for $629.99, again with a delivery charge.]

[Additional data point: Best Buy has the Bosch Ascentia for $594.99, supposedly with free delivery and 0% financing. With respect to Whirlpool Gold, Best Buy only has the various WDT and WDF models.]

[I’ll also note there is the question of what to do with the old Dishwasher. The service critters are scheduled to come out Wednesday, supposedly for no charge… but I’m expecting they’ll find something else is wrong and need to order parts ($$). My wife thinks we should fix the Samsung if we can do it for free on their nickel and then sell it; my thought is just to write off the Samsung. I guess it depends on when Lowes can schedule installation vs. whether the service critters need to order parts.]

[ETA: We ended up going with the Bosch Ascentia, based primarily on the recommendation of Ray M., Consumers, and the fact that the Whirlpool models at Lowes were significantly lower rates (below the Samsung, even). We get free delivery, get to take advantage of the sale and 18 month 0% financing, and get a Visa rebate card for the basic installation. We did have to buy new hoses, pay for the city permit, and we bought the 4 year extended warranty (just given our experiences — we normally don’t — but a single repair will likely offset the $108 price). It should be delivered late next week; if they fix the old one for free before that, we’ll sell it on Craigslist.]



Internet Service Frustrations

A quick morning post. Our Internet at home has been down since about 8pm last night. This happens occasionally with Earthlink, but always gets me thinking (especially as a spoke to a high-school classmate at the picnic who noted that Earthlink seems to be disappearing slowly). As background, we have Earthlink DSL, which is provisioned over AT&T (formerly Pac Bell/Pac Telesys/SBC) lines. We’ve been with Earthink, either as Dialup or DSL, for over 10 years, and pay $39.95/mo (although it could be $49.95—my memory is unclear). We have Verizon wireless for our cell phones and are happy with them; we use DirecTV for our TV service (the cable provider in our area is Time Warner).

So, given I’ve got the periodic frustruction, what should we do (results):

Note to Facebook users: You are welcome to vote in this poll. Just sign in with your Facebook ID.


The Joys of Being a Homeowner

Remember yesterday how I wrote, “We had a toilet back up a line and start leaking out the side, and the plumber is coming at 2pm. Forwarned is foreplunged :-).”

The good news: it turns out it wasn’t my fault.

The bad news: The gods of coincidence gave us a collapsed branch plumbing line, meaning they’ve got to dig up and repipe about 15 feet of pipe in the front yard (including a piece of brick walkway), to the tune of $2,300. Ouch! Evidently (according to my wife) this was a slow failure that was building over time. They should be able to complete the work by the end of the day, and we’re hoping they can put in a stronger pipe.

P.S.: Adding a final “grrrrrr….” to the day: The cafeteria here at work is closing early due to the Labor Day weekend. So they have a limited menu… and their only healthy, vegetarian, non-iceberg lettuce lunch is: Yoplait Yogurt. So guess what I’m having for lunch. You’ve got one choice.