This month, the shower arm in our bathroom has broken, it has taken four different light fixture tries to replace the kitchen light above the sink, and our kitchen faucet has sprung a major leak. We’re getting quotes from roofers in the area to replace our roof. Because there’s a dearth of roofers in the area and the cost of labor and materials is so high, our best quote is $14,000. Yes, that is correct. The cost of a used car. One year of private school education. More than a years’ worth of groceries.
On May 14th, Mother’s Day, it snowed. It rained for fourteen days straight before that. Last week, we got two medical bills for a total of $2,000. We’ve been negotiating a new diagnosis with doctors and the school for our youngest child.
We’ve also had some awesome things happen this month. Mr. ThreeYear became an American citizen on Friday and my dad came up for a surprise visit. After the rain and snow, we got a week full of 80 degree weather and the flowers are blooming. Everything is green and alive. The school year is winding down–as of Wednesday, we’ll have just four more weeks.
We’re healthy, have a stable and happy home life, reliable jobs, and money in the bank to cover our expenses. In the grand scheme of things, the problems that have besieged us this month are minor annoyances.
Still, to be honest, as we’ve been going through them all, they’ve worn down on me mentally. I know, rationally, that I’m sweating the small stuff, because this can all be fixed. But living through it has gotten to me, especially as I make my fourteenth trip to the hardware store in as many days. How can you keep your eye on your big goals when it feels like everything is falling apart?
The Shower Arm Situation
Things started off well enough this month. We had recently gotten back from a week’s vacation in sunny South Carolina during Spring Break. Mr. ThreeYear decided we should change the shower head in the master bathroom because it was quite discolored from our hard water (we have a well and there’s a lot of sediment in our water). He grabbed a wrench and twisted off the shower head but it wouldn’t budge. I walked into the shower to investigate and decided to “help.” So I grabbed the wrench, tugged with all my might, and… the shower arm promptly broke off from the wall. The entire shower arm.
Mr. ThreeYear and I are not big DIYers. Since we are home owners, we have learned the ins and outs of basic maintenance, such as changing the filters on our whole-house water filtration system, cleaning the siding, and repainting. But we know very little about plumbing issues. In a panic, we called our handyman to come over and fix the problem. I drove to Home Depot and bought an $8 shower arm, then brought it home. Our handyman came over, as a favor, since he was in the middle of other projects, and installed the new shower arm for us. We put the old shower head back on, he tested for leaks, and left, after we paid him $75 for his time.
However, the next morning, as Mr. ThreeYear took his shower, he noticed that the shower was leaking from the wall. Definitely not good, since that could cause major mold problems in our walls. Our handyman, definitely not a details repair guy, hadn’t fully tested the shower arm and it leaked. Because he’d come over as a favor (he lives an hour away) we decided not to call him back and attempt to troubleshoot ourselves. I suggested it might be that the shower head we put on was a low flow version, so we should try a non-low flow shower head and see if letting more water through the shower head eliminated the leak.
I drove half an hour to Home Depot, picked up a new, non-low flow shower head for $20 (cheapest option they had in brushed nickel), and went back home to try it out. It didn’t work. So Mr. ThreeYear grabbed the wrench and tried to take the shower arm off himself to fix the leak. But… it didn’t move. We tugged and prodded, used every wrench in our toolbox, but nothing could make the shower arm budge. Our handyman had used a putty-type sealant on the arm. It didn’t stop leaks but it definitely stopped the shower arm from going anywhere.
It was at this point that Mr. ThreeYear and I took a step back. We decided that instead of scratching the shower arm any more than we already had, or potentially breaking it apart, we’d better go pick up some more tools. So, the next day, I drove another half an hour to Home Depot, consulted with a tool guy there, drove thirty minutes home, and returned with a new pipe wrench. We tried again that night. Nothing. The shower arm wouldn’t move.
We took another day off. At this point, we’d been taking showers from a garden hose, since we only had a shower arm attached and no shower head. A huge stream of water poured out of the shower onto our heads. At least we could regulate the temperature! But it was a strange showering experience to be sure.
Later in the week, I went to Ace Hardware, which is located, yes, half an hour from our house. I talked to a different tool guy, picked up a different wrench, and brought it home. We tried to loosen the arm again. Nothing.
A few more days passed, and Mr. ThreeYear got tired of the garden hose shower situation. One night, he grabbed his tool box, and used everything he could think of to loosen the shower arm. Finally, he grabbed a hammer, and used the claw to twist the end of the shower arm. Success! He loosened it enough with the hammer that he could twist it out of the wall. We wrapped Teflon tape around a new shower arm ($8) since the old one was terribly scratched, and reinstalled it with our shower head. It took about three tries, and lots and lots of tightening (plus one compliment about Mr. ThreeYear’s Superman-like strength) for us to get the new shower head installed in the right direction with no leaks.
We could have given up and called a plumber. It took tons of gas, $36 in parts (after we returned the worthless wrenches), and Superman-like strength, plus gobs and gobs of patience, but we managed to fix our shower head.
This situation taught me several DIY lessons, as well as several spending lessons.
- One: Don’t panic if something breaks in your house. Chances are, you can live without it for a couple of days. While it wasn’t ideal to live with a garden hose shower for close to two weeks, we managed. If we hadn’t panicked and called our handyman, we would be $75 richer and wouldn’t have had the leak to begin with, since we would have installed the second shower arm with Teflon tape to begin with.
- Two: Take a break. Our tendency, when we’re fixing things that we don’t know how to repair, is to yell and freak out. But we had the good sense in this situation to leave the shower alone for a day or two until we had what we needed. Sometimes, if you’re super frustrated and unable to make progress with a repair, the best thing you can do is to walk away until you’re calmer or until you’ve had time to think more about a solution.
- Three: Take the time to get the right supplies. We never found the right wrench for the job, but we kept trying. We knew that the wrenches we had been using weren’t providing enough grip and so we looked for wrenches that would work. Finally, Mr. ThreeYear thought creatively and used the hammer, which provided enough leverage that he could loosen the shower arm.
The Kitchen Light Situation
Concurrent to the Shower Arm Situation was the Kitchen Light Situation. We’d recently changed our pendant lights and had planned to update our light over the sink to match. As we do updates and renovations on the house, we are thinking about resale value. So we wanted the kitchen light to coordinate with and compliment the pendant lights.
I spent weeks looking online for a light fixture with a similar style to our pendant lights, to no avail. I bought two light fixtures at Home Depot and brought them home, only to ultimately reject them as being too small or not the right style.
I actually bought the second light fixture on one of my shower arm trips to Home Depot. But I decided it was too small for the space and returned it.
Just as we did with the shower arm, I decided to take a couple of days to rest before returning the light and looking for another. Finally, the day after we fixed the shower head, when I was returning the wrench, I found a light fixture that I thought would work. I brought it home and installed it. But it, too, was too small! Since I knew that the store couldn’t resell a light that had been installed for electrical safety reasons, I didn’t know what to do.
Then I was struck with a brilliant idea–the light fixture in our guest bathroom was the perfect size and shape! I could just switch fixtures, and use the bathroom fixture over the sink and the kitchen fixture in the bathroom. After an uncomfortable hour installing the two light switches, I was thrilled with the result!
The lessons here were:
- One: Give yourself time to think. Don’t try to rush your decisions. Take days or weeks to clear your head (no endless searching on the internet because that’s just overwhelming).
- Two: Be creative. Think outside of the box. That lesson also applies to the shower arm situation–in both cases, it was creative thinking that helped us solve our DIY problem.
In both of these situations, we were able to solve our house problems with patience and perseverance. I was sure at some point during both processes that we weren’t going to be able to fix our problems and I felt hopelessly frustrated. But both processes taught us the importance of patience.
So how do you keep your eye on the big goals when everything feels like it’s falling apart? This month has taught me to drastically lower my expectations for house projects. To majorly increase my patience. To know that I probably won’t have the answers or resolution for these problems all at once. But I will eventually get them.
Sometimes, I can’t keep my eye on the big goals. Sometimes, I get caught in the nitty gritty details of life, and the best thing I can do is go about the daily business of life, trying not to get behind on taking the recycling to the dump, making lunches, or setting up the coffee pot, and be patient when things break.
The Kitchen Sink Situation
Last night, while I was helping my son pick up supplies for his invention project for school, Mr. ThreeYear called to let me know our kitchen sink had sprung a leak. He called our friend, an engineer, who took the fixture apart but couldn’t find the source of the leak.
Right now, we have tape over our sink to remind us not to use it. The dishwasher works, which is great, but we absolutely cannot use the faucet.
So, dear readers, will we call the plumber? Will we give it time? If we take the faucet apart, we could learn some new plumbing skills. But we could also break our faucet and have to purchase an expensive new one. Maybe in this case, it pays to call a professional.
One thing is for sure. We’ve decided that increasing our plumbing knowledge is important and we’re going to be on the lookout for classes so that we can have these skills in the future, when something else will inevitably break.
In the meantime, we’ll be patient as we figure out what to do.
What would you do if it were your sink?