The Big Gulp
Great moments in building history: When working directly over a newly remodeled dining room, be extra careful
A few years ago, I was working on an apartment-remodeling project in an exclusive retirement community in central Pennsylvania. For this project, my company was taking two one-bedroom units consisting of a bedroom and a bathroom and making one larger apartment with a tiny kitchen. Because the units were on the second floor, directly over a newly remodeled dining room, we were warned to be extra careful in our work.
Once the walls were down and the debris removed, it was time to take out the tub. To keep down costs, we were doing as much of the plumbing work as possible ourselves. Consequently, we were going to be cutting and capping the water lines. The day this part of the job was scheduled, I was working alone.
Having shut off the water to the entire second floor of the complex, I had to move as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to the lives of the complex’s residents. After checking with the maintenance chief that the water was off, I got busy.
I worked the pipe cutter as fast as possible, slicing through the 1⁄2-in. copper lines. In my haste, though, I didn’t consider that I was cutting the pipe below the level of the tub outlet—and I didn’t stop to consider that there was going to be a lot of water left in the system.
I was in trouble. Water started to pour from the freshly cut pipe, and I instantly remembered the cautions about the refurbished dining room below me.
Right away, I pressed my thumb over the pipe, stopping the flow of water. But as I sat on the floor with my thumb over the pipe, I realized that every apartment on the second floor was now going to drain out of my freshly cut pipe.
My first thought was to rush to my toolbox and get a hammer or vise or anything I could use to close off the pipe. The problem was that my toolbox was located on the other side of the apartment. By the time I reached it, gathered the tools I’d need, and returned to the bathroom, a lot of water would have escaped and found its way to the diningroom ceiling.
Then I thought about calling for help but decided against that for two reasons. First was my pride, and second was the reality that no one would have heard me even if I had yelled.
So I had to look behind door No. 3 for my solution: I slipped my thumb off the pipe, got a mouthful of water, slipped my thumb back over the pipe, stretched around the corner, and spit the water into the tub.
My idea worked great. None of the water was escaping, and I was going to get out of this situation with my reputation intact.
After 30 minutes of uncapping, filling, capping, and spitting, the flow showed no sign of letting up. The worst part was that as soon as anyone opened a tap, a fresh flow would start up. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
After five more minutes, the stream of water seemed to be slowing down; in another five, the problem was solved. I had emptied water from 20 apartments one mouthful at a time.
As soon as I’d gotten the cap soldered on, the maintenance chief came up to see what was taking so long. I smiled confidently and told him everything was great and that he could turn the water back on at any time.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers