DIY Mayhem in May

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. Not only we’re getting tips for scheduling a roofing maintenance check, but also 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 are officially a better nation now that Mr. ThreeYear’s a citizen!

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.

Is something… missing?

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.

This was the shower arm once we finally got it out of the wall!

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.

Lessons Learned

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.

This light fixture eventually went in our guest bath.

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!

Kitchen sink
The new kitchen sink light and the pendants.

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?

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

10 thoughts on “DIY Mayhem in May”

  1. When I first moved out on my own, I had an electrical disaster when attempting to change a light fixture. All of a sudden I got a shock and a shower of sparks fell on my head. I thought you just turned the light off and there was no electricity-I didn’t really know what a “fuse” was or think to turn it off. Then I called my grandfather, who was infinitely handy, and he changed it for me. Unfortunately he’s been gone now for almost a decade, so when I need something electrical done I call an electrician. With plumbing, my husband has relatives in the bathroom remodeling business, so we call them to fix stuff. I only DIY very minor things (painting mostly) because I just don’t have the time to learn to do it right. My husband can do some small things but for the most part, we’ll hire someone. The person who lived in this house before us was a major DIYer and we still live with some of his disasters today!

    1. Liz, that sounds like some of my DIY adventures! I’m glad you didn’t get hurt worse in the light fixture incident! Most of the time, we give up pretty quickly and call in the pros. That’s probably what we’ll do for the sink. It definitely takes more time to learn the skills, especially if there’s no one around to show you, like your grandfather. But it feels really rewarding when we manage to do something ourselves!

  2. I have two really great tips for DIY/home repair problems.
    1. When a crisis strikes, immediately grab a snack. Hunger makes you panic much worse in these situations and a blood sugar boost will calm you down. Also, taking a quick pause to reflect before you act doesn’t hurt!

    2. YouTube. Pretty much every home repair situation has an excellent video (or 500) featuring professional repairmen. We’ve successfully navigated countless home repair issues with the help of YouTube, and saved lots of money! I’ll admit we are pretty handy, but much of that comes from patience and persistence.

    1. Grabbing a snack is a great tip!! I’d been grabbing a glass of wine, but I don’t think that works as well! Lol. And you’re right, YouTube is a wealth of information. We definitely got some tips for the shower arm that way. I also think having the right tools helps a ton. That’s something we don’t have a lot of, but we’re working on our collection.

  3. I am pretty stubborn, and rarely call a professional. Sometimes it seems like between tool purchases, trips to the hardware store, and time spent that I would be better calling a professional.
    However, if a project teaches you how to combine a couple of tools to get better leverage to pry apart a shower arm, you can do it quicker next time. Every new skill you learn helps with future projects, and helps you save money if your skills consistently grow.
    I am a teacher who often has more time than money. If I had a higher paying job, it might be better to call a plumber.

    I agree with other comments that Youtube is the greatest.

    1. I like your philosophy, Mr. JumpStart! I agree with you– the lessons I learned in installing light fixtures many years ago inChile have served me for over fifteen years now!

    1. Thanks Troy! It was a happy day! Well, I have to say, after a few days of no sink, we’re ready to hang our DIY hats up on this one! Now if we can find a contractor to call us back!

  4. I agree with Sister Kerri: I usually look up tutorials before undertaking any risky DIY project, and I allow myself enough time to completely understand what is needed and how to handle the situation. That being said, when the DIY-project doesn’t go according to plan, I can get super frustrated and I have to force myself to take a break and to come back when I’m calm.

    I have also been asking for quotes for our windows – our front windows date back to 1956 and are everything but soundproof or energy efficient – and the quotes are about the same amount as your quotes for the roof. Major bummer! I’ll let it set in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks before taking any big decisions.

    Congratulations on the citizenship! 🙂

    1. Lena, those are great tips. I think having a plan and making sure you have what you need before you get started are part of the reasons the shower situation was so frustrating!

      Ugh–sorry to hear about your windows. Will replacing them make your place more energy efficient? At least that way you could recoup some of the money spent.

      Thanks–Mr. ThreeYear had his one week citizenship anniversary on Friday! 🙂

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