Though we haven’t posted much lately, we haven’t stopped shedding. One irritation we celebrate ridding our lives of is our recurring underground water leak.
Casa de WIST isn’t all that old; it was built in 1987. That was the year Nimue and I met, in graduate school in Chicago. In the American southeast (where we now live), lots of new homes were going up, and not a few of them were plumbed with polybutylene pipe. It appeared to offer a great advance over copper and galvanized steel: it was cheaper and, since it’s flexible, quicker to install. But out “in the field,” polybutylene hasn’t held up well. The typically grey or blue material gets brittle and develops small cracks that soon widen into large leaks. Thousands of lawsuits about it cumulated in a massive class-action settlement.
We bought too late to get a slice of that, but nevertheless consider ourselves among the more lucky inheritors of the legacy; the pipes inside our house are copper. But between the city’s water meter and our foundation wall, we had a polybutylene supply line.
polybutylene water supply pipe
Nimue keeps a close eye on our utility bills, and thus our consumption of water and electricity. About two years after we moved in, our water use crept up. For one or two months we shrugged it off; maybe we’d washed a lot of clothes or something. But when it continued, we suspected our water line. I confirmed that we had a leak by shutting off the supply (there’s a valve in the crawlspace under the house) and watching the needle on the city’s meter. It kept slowly moving around the dial.
The plumbers we called found the leak handily by casting about for a wet spot in the yard. They dug down and revealed that a tree root had grown around the line and twisted it till it cracked. “You’ve got polybutylene here,” they warned me. “You might want to think about replacing it.” Well, how much would that cost, I asked. About $2000, they said. And the repair? Oh, some $200. Reasoning that we could repair ten leaks for the cost of one water line replacement, I declined.
But two years later, the whole scenario played out again. That time there was no oak tree to blame, just a jet of water shooting out of a hole in the pipe. Again, it turned a few square feet into a wetland and wasn’t hard to find.
But this spring, when our bills rose yet again, our plumbers couldn’t find the leak. They dug, they probed, but finally shrugged and departed, suggesting that it might have to get worse (so they could find it) before it got better. After they left, I probed and I dug, too, till the sweat of my brow threatened to make a wet spot on the earth. (Have I mentioned our soil is Georgia clay, the same stuff that gets baked into bricks?) But after hours of hard labor, I couldn’t find it either.
All the while, Nimue and I—who strive to be conservative in consumption if not our politics—were turning the water off at the meter when we went to bed at night and turning it back on before I made coffee first thing in the morning. It wasn’t all that demanding a routine, but it got tiresome quickly, especially with no end in sight. Except the end of doing the right thing and having the whole substandard line replaced. We checked our bank balance, sighed, and gave the go-ahead.
Kevin and Jimmy showed up the next day with a yellow mini-monster of an earth-mover and a will to get the job done. All along I’d feared having to cut our concrete driveway (the line runs under it), but they assured me they knew a trick or two. They found the two ends on either side of the slab, snaked a cable through the existing line, winched a splitter back through it, and then threaded the new line through the tunnel they’d made. It worked a charm. Before the middle of the afternoon they were gone, the driveway was still sound, the bill was $1300 instead of $2000, and we were looking forward to going to sleep without having to make the trek out to the meter in the dark.
In sum, when next we learn that we’ve got a structural issue that tends to lead to inefficiency or waste, we plan to address it sooner rather than later.
shedding style: replace
Comments welcome … have you a story about shedding waste by means of an upgrade?