Roz Doyle: There's a cute new handyman in my building. I thought I'd just go home, slip into a negligée and rip out my faucet.
Frasier Crane: You think she’s kidding, don’t you.
—Frasier, “My Coffee With Niles” (5/19/94)
Several weeks ago, I noticed that the kitchen faucet had a bit of a drip. There were odd little variations: sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes it got worse when water was running elsewhere in the house, occasionally not at all. It’s a single-handle faucet, so it wasn’t a simple matter of changing out a washer or something. When I tried an Internet search to figure out what it would take to fix the thing, I discovered that, without more specific information, I was going to be in a real world of hit-or-miss.
I have to give this to the previous owners of my house: they saved practically everything when it came to appliances and such. Unfortunately, the kitchen faucet wasn’t among the owner’s manuals they saved. So I decided to bite the bullet and go purchase a new faucet.
Wife and I picked out a nice one a few weeks ago (Attention, Next Owner of My House: It’s a Moen Muirfield CA87520 with chrome finish), and one afternoon after work, I looked under the sink to see how complicated this was going to be. The answer was “not very”, but the supply lines went waaaay up, behind the bowl of the sink. I’d be working in a relatively tight space. I also realized that I didn’t have an adjustable wrench that was large enough to do the job. I decided to put it off until a weekend, when I had a little more time (and patience).
This past Saturday was the big day. My first stop was to the Home Depot, which is (as the crow flies) about a half-mile from my house. It’s the one on Perring Parkway and it’s usually not especially busy, which gives it the advantage over the Joppa Road location. I went into the tool area and looked about, and decided I was going to ask a pro. So I went to the plumbing area and described my issue with the small space to work in. He told me, “You need a basin wrench. Wait here.” He ran away and came back a minute later with the basin wrench. I was skeptical, but realized that the offset that it offers could get the job done. I paid out the twelve bucks and went home.
This wrench, let me tell you, is just plain magic. The head bends to one side or the other to give you not only an offset approach to whatever hardware you’re trying to get to, but it’s spring-loaded so it has a kind of ratchet effect so you don’t have to re-set it after each turn. And the handle is nearly a foot long, so you get a boatload of torque with each turn. It’s not often that I get jazzed about having a new tool in my box, so there you go. I turned off the water supply valves, got up behind the sink and opened up the lines with my groovy new tool, lickety-split. Then I removed the nut holding the side sprayer in place and the nuts that attached the old faucet to the sink.
One of the supply lines wasn’t 100% closed, but I figured I’d put up with the drip, since I wasn’t going to be much longer anyway.
(Ha, Ha! How young and naïve I was back then!)
Once I undid the nuts that held the faucet down, I got out from under the sink and gave the old faucet a tug to get it off the sink. That’s when I discovered that the old faucet was in much worse shape than I originally thought. The faucet base actually came away in two pieces, leaving me with a spout, handle and two connector lines in my hand. I had a lot of crud and whatever else to clean off the sink itself before I could put the new unit in place. This, incidentally, is tough when your source of water has just been removed, but I managed to get it done somehow. And now, to connect the new faucet to the lines.
This, of course, is the point where I realized that there weren’t any flexible connectors between the supply line and the faucet, nor were there any in the box that came with the faucet. When I first opened the box, I was all “Cool! Connectors!” but I didn’t realize that the “connectors” were really the hose for the new sprayer. So back I went to the Home Depot, to get me some connectors. Because the supply lines went so far up, I reckoned that I didn’t need long connectors, so I opted for the twelve-inch jobbies. Even at that length, I’d have to connect them in a loop between the faucet and the supply line. I had to guess at the size of the connector, but fortunately I guessed right in that arena. All right! Back to the house and let’s get this job done!
Back into the kitchen I go and this is where I have my next “What the hell was the previous owner thinking?” moment. If you look at the ends of the lines in the old faucet in the picture above, you’ll see that the connectors are what the plumbers call “male” ends. The flexible connector has two “female” ends, because the supply line coming from the valve is also typically “male”. In my kitchen, however, the supply lines were “female”. We can’t have a lesbian sink going on—that just doesn’t work—so I found myself at the Home Depot for the third time. As it happened, I got the same guy helping me this time as I had the first time, so I was able to thank him profusely for the basin wrench. Then I explained my problem and he told me that I needed a “nipple”. Plumbing is so sexy, isn’t it? He led me over to a bin and handed me a pair of nipples. Heh. Back to the house.
Now, one thing I learned long ago is that when you’re putting threaded pipe together, the smart thing to do is to put Teflon tape on the threads, for ease of threading and to help reduce leakage. I put the Teflon tape on the faucet threads, then I screwed on the connector hoses, then I put Teflon on the nipples, screwed the other end of the connector to one nipple, then screwed the other connector to the other nip—
—I screwed the other connector to the other—
—I screwed the other—
The connector didn’t fit. I re-checked the labeling and it was marked as the same size at both ends. I took everything apart and tried a different configuration, but no dice. I wasn’t making a mistake; one of the connector hoses had two different ends.
It may have been at this point that I seriously considered suicide as an alternative to having a working kitchen sink. I had to go back to Home Depot for a fourth time.
I went to the Returns desk and told the clerk I had to exchange the connector hose. The clerk asked me if I had my receipt. I reached into my pocket and pulled out three of them, all from that day, and looked through them to find the right one. She scanned it and credited my card for the bad hose. This meant that I had to get the good hose and, instead of saying “Here, I swapped it out!” I essentially had to buy it again. Being reasonably smart, I brought one of the nipples along with me to ensure a fit.I walked back into Plumbing, found a replacement hose, checked it with the nipple, paid for my new hose and high-tailed it out of there.
Remember when I said that Home Depot was about a half-mile from my house? I put eight miles on my car just from trips to Home Depot on Saturday.
But here’s the good news: once I got the new connector back to the house, I connected them to the faucet, the connectors to the nipples, the nipples to the supply lines, did a quick test, found a leak or two, re-checked the connections and all was well. I swear the water pressure is better, the water tastes better, the dishes are cleaner and the sun shone a little brighter for the rest of the weekend.
And this half-hour home improvement project took me only four hours.