Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Ballad of The Shower Handles

For a while, I toyed with the idea of setting the following tale to song, or maybe even iambic pentameter (verily, forsooth, etc.). Back in the early 90's, I gained quite a reputation as a wit by doing that sort of thing (among others) which my boss would post on his office door. Eventually, I was expected to crank stuff out at birthdays, going-away parties and the like. I was the poet laureate of the department. Ah, those were the days…

But I digress. Get yourself a drink, this is a long one.

Late last week I finally put the period to a saga that had been running, off and on, for months. Four months, in fact (or nine, if you want to count the VERY beginning. More, much more anon). I was at last able to make my shower handles stop when shutting the water off. You might think this was a fairly basic thing, here in the 21st century, a problem easily diagnosed and simple to rectify. You would be wrong.

Back when we were determining the things we wanted to change in this, our new-current home, one thing I decided I wanted was water faucets that used levers to control the flow of water instead of knobs. You see, just before we closed on the house, we went to LA on vacation, and while there we spent several days at Disneyland. The bathrooms at the Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel were equipped with levers, and I fell in love with them instantly. I realized I was really tired of knobs that you had to grab and twist to use, often when your hands were slippery with soap or raw chicken or mud or whatever. And then you had to grab them again to turn them off, getting whatever you had just washed off back onto your hand. I'm no germaphobe, but this still struck as not a good thing, especially the raw meat part.

So when we returned I spent a lot of time in Lowes, Home Depot, and plumbing supply stores until I found the right levered faucets for the shower, tub, lavatories, and kitchen sink. And eventually, just before we moved in, they were all installed. It was only while we were moving in that I stumbled across an odd problem with the controls to the shower.

It is easy to show but harder to describe. I shall persevere as best I can. Okay. The handle starts in the "off" position. You then move it away from off, water proceeds to flow. The farther you get from off, the faster the water comes, until the handle comes to a stop. You cannot turn it any farther and the water can't come any faster. Only my shower didn't do that.

I turned the knob, the water flowed, only there was no stopping point. It just kept on going around until it came back to where it started, and the water ceased. It moved through a full 360 degrees. I spun it round several times, watching the water ebb and flow like a bad cosine function until I found "off" and hollered for my contractor.

He "hummed" and went for the plumber. The plumber sort of hummed but said that was the way those controls were. I asked him to check further, to see what might be done, but I later decided he didn't really care. The controls were in, he was done, and he was not terribly interested in mysteries. Despite several attempts on our part, he never really did anything, and we had more pressing issues. The controls did work, after all, and despite lacking a stopping point it was not hard to find the "off" spot.

But it continued to bug me. It was possible to leave the thing dripping until the lever was moved another half-inch into the "off zone". I also didn't want Jacob to scald the heck out of himself by accidentally spinning the lever all the way through "off" and back into "full blast". And I got tired of having to place the levers just so.

Eventually, I had reason to call out another plumber, and I had him look at the shower while here. He said that without knowing the model and type of valve he couldn't do much. But he did say that changing the handle might be sufficient. This was possibly good news, since when we got the handles we had also gotten new valves (the anti-scald kind, which makes the yelping noises you used to hear while flushing a toilet during someone's shower a thing of the past), and it meant that I might be able to handle this myself.

Some weeks later I dug around and found the receipts for the valves and handles. I went to the plumbing supply shop where we'd gotten them and told the woman at the desk the troubles I was having with my PP03-61XA's and my PP07-81BC's. But she was only a salesperson type and said I should talk to this one guy who apparently was the only person there who knew anything about actual plumbing. But said guy was busy at the moment. I hung around for a bit, but he didn’t get unbusy, so I went to lunch. When I returned, he was at lunch. I ground my teeth and left my phone number with an explanation of the problem.

Later, a message was left on the answering machine from the plumbing supply place suggesting I call the faucet maker's 800 support number. I confess I found the idea of a faucet company having an 800 support line pretty funny ("Your faucet is stuck? Have you tried re-booting it?"). Anyway, a few days later I called them. I got a very nice fellow who sounded like he was from India but for all I know was in Topeka, KS. I explained the issue with the PP03-61XA's and the PP07-81BC's and he said he would send out a new set of PP03-61XA's to take care of it. No muss no fuss, no charge. They didn't even try anything to confirm that I'd actually bought the things before. It struck me that unscrupulous plumbers could garner quite a few free supplies this way before they caught on. Still, it had been much easier than I had thought, so I was pleased enough.

About 10 days later, the package arrived. In it were two six-inch long brass valves (PP03-61XA's), wrapped in heavy protective plastic. I confess I despaired a bit when I saw them. Was I going to have to summon another plumber? A handle I could…err…handle. The valves worried me. I might be a Tool Man, but some areas I left to the pros, and plumbing was generally one of them. The hard plastic covering was a bit confusing too. Was that stuff supposed to remain on? I finally decided it was not.

I set aside some time, and a another few days later took the stuff into the shower, where I removed the handles (PP07-81BC) and stared hard at the exposed bit of valve (PP03-61XA). A small flange was exposed at the end, perhaps three-quarters of an inch long. It rather looked to me like the end points of the flange coincided strongly with an "off" position and a "fully open" position. I took another look at the valves I had been sent. Fitted neatly over the end of each was a small piece of white plastic, rectangular in shape and maybe a half-inch long. Also at the end of each valve was a flange identical to the one already installed.

I removed the bit of plastic from the valve I had been sent, and placed it onto the valve there in the shower. It went on smoothly enough once I found there was only one way it could go on. I reattached the handle, and turned it part way. The water came on. I turned it the other way. The water stopped -- and so did the lever. I turned the handle as far as it could go, noting that now there was a point that was as far as it could go. The water came out full blast. I turned the handle back again. The water stopped again. So did the handle.

I repeated the process for the other handle, and tested it. It worked like a charm.

So, there it finally ended. Nine months from inspiration to planning to implementation to correction, who knows how much time actually spent in the project, and it all came down to a half-inch bit of plastic that might have cost a nickel. There's a moral in there, somewhere.

I decided to keep the rest of the valve. Who knows? I might need it someday.

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