Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fixing the Faucet...a Permaculture Lesson….part 1

by Alder

Yesterday I changed out the broken faucet in our new (to us!) 1976 mobile home we have just moved into in remote Tehama County, California. Yes, it really needed replacing….the handle was falling off because the metal seat of it was cracked. This is a good question to ask early in a project...does it need to be done at all. Remember the option not to. So we had obtained a new faucet kit at Home Depot, including all normally necessary components, so I thought it would be an easy, hour long project.

Almost nothing in a sustainable system, especially one attempting a light budget and a light footrpint, is easy or hasty!!

First check...no water shutoffs under the sink. I could have crawled up into the dark space under the mobile with the mice and perhaps snakes to see if there were shutoffs there, but instead opted to fill a few buckets for the interim and shut off the whole place at the well.

Second check….no easy disconnects, but rather archaic copper pipes with corroded fittings. Fortunately these were the same size as the flexible plastic hoses on the new faucet kit. So I immediately thought outside the box, as I’ve learned from years of homesteading….cut the copper and splice it, somehow, to the plastic (while also cutting off it’s brand new, high detail ends). A few hose clamps and the right size hose ought to do it.

Big lesson one….and a reiteration of why California has some catching me up and impressing me to do to replace Georgia….every permaculture homestead, especially a rural one, needs a junkyard. I kept a very organized one in Georgia. And in that junkyard was a basket of old dead faucets with their hoses and fittings and all.

As well as a pile of various size scrap garden hoses, which I found useful for many things...even for hinges. I spend six months sorting this stuff, making the judgment call as to what was worth putting into a $4K POD to haul across the country, and giving away or trashing the rest. Unfortunately the dead faucets and scrap hoses didn’t make the grade.

Lesson number two is tweaked from a gem of an old book I have, “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart. It deserves praise from many aspects, and I’d recommend it for any permie or homesteader’s library, but the part I was thinking of was where it applauded the creativity of those who made it out,. survived, or succeeded not with full preparations and tool kit in place, but when these have been lost or confused by the events of life.

We had just moved. All my tools are in disarray, and the space they are stored in so infested with mice and their offal that we fear to spend a lot of time in it for fear of hanta virus. Almost no “junkyard materials”. So the challenge was to use what I have to get what I want.

Points up a difference between an urban and a rural site too. Where we last thought to settle, (Cave Junction, OR), we were on the edge of a small, rural, isolated and therefore somewhat self-sufficient town. I could have gotten on a bike and gone to one or both of two hardware stores and had my pick of faucet parts, hoses, hose clamps, or whatever. I could have ridden back again later in the day if I forgot something! I’m reminded of the last time we tried, futilely , to live in town ( in Asheville NC). Where are we supposed to put our food? There’s no pantry in this house!...we thought….and then it dawned on us….we were attempting to live in a small house in a town in America after all. What pantry. Your pantry is the grocery store uptown. You’re not supposed to store a winter’s worth, much less a year’s worth, of anything in your house, least of all food!!

So here in CA, it’s a half hour drive to town to the nearest place we could get faucet parts, wire, hoses of any dimension, anything. And you sure wouldn’t want to have forgotten anything and have to go back later that day!! Don’t want to do that. Hard to get to the really good tools, and minimum junkyard resources ready to hand. What to do?

I catch a glimpse of our hose level, taped to two yardsticks, that we’ve used in a couple of permaculture classes. That hose looks just right! And the level can spare six inches of it. Cool! Next problem...no hose clamps small enough. No problem, I’ve used wire ties many times….using a pittance worth of wire to achieve what would otherwise cost a 50 cent hose clamp. ( I learned about this wire tie in a 1996 workshop about working with bamboo….it’s a way to do bamboo joinery without splitting the bamboo, but it works great on hoses too!) But darn, no wire...just aluminum electric fence wire ( which I made sure to bring, since electric fence is THE solution to critters getting into the poultry at night!….and, especially baited at intervals with peanut butter on aluminum foil tags, is a good solution for deer, too!). Aluminum wire isn’t strong enough for wire ties. But then, looking to the trash for my salvation, I spied a length of stout electric wire in the pile hastily swept together in the new “barn” of insulation, mouse manure, and other assorted, what I call “hopeless trash” (trash for which there is no imaginable use)….lesson...whether there is an imaginable use depends on how desperate or committed you are. I stripped one end of it and obtained five lengths of stout copper wire, and with these, I spliced the plastic hoses of the new faucet to the copper pipes of the old one, using two pieces of our hose-level hose!

ON goes the water, and….there’s a slight drip….since the new plastic hoses are, after all, plastic, and the wire ties didn’t bind tightly enough. So there comes to the rescue the fall-back…..bicycle inner tube to the rescue! If you don’t know this, know it now….don’t let any inner tube get away if you see it. It can patch just about any leak. Cut into thin strips, and then wind around again and again, tightly wrapping it in overlapping courses. Do it with the water on, so it drips through, and just keep wrapping till the dripping stops, tie off, and you’re done! I have fixed a high-pressure steam line to a four-kettle pressure canner this way once….the leak was at an elbow in a place so hard to reach it would have meant taking apart the shed the boiler was in. Little strip of inner tube, wound around again and again….solved it….and lasted for as many more years as that boiler was in service. (NOTE---If you use this for outdoor uses, such as for garden hoses---works good for pitchfork punctures, for instance….follow the innertube with a course of duct tape to keep the sun off. Sun is the rubber’s enemy and it will break it down in a few weeks otherwise. The plastic duct tape will go a year or two before needing replacement)

So there’s the kitchen faucet at Udan West….thanks to a hacksaw, a couple of pieces of hose, five copper wire ties stripped from an electric cord, and a couple of pieces of bike innertube!

1 comment:

  1. Good advice all throughout this. Good job on fixing it without your trusty junkyard at hand. We currently have a ninja mouse in our courtyard, he/she scales the door and pees while climbing up the glass pane to then make an almost vertical jump.